If you died tomorrow, where would you go?

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Life is a funny thing.

That we can inhale and exhale, consume food and drink, create things with our hands, think things with our brains, witness beauty with our eyes, take in the scents of our surroundings, or choose to walk left or walk right is a funny reality, is indeed very strange.

Of course, it’s entirely normal as we experience it. But at the same time, all of those things which are so easily taken for granted are really quite peculiar. Our lives are constantly in motion. From the moment of our conception, at least some part of our being remains constantly–voluntarily or involuntarily–moving.

What’s more, our lives are in a constant state of alteration. Though much of it is gradual, like learning to walk or spending years in school, significant portions of our lives will undergo sudden–even violent–change, even (at times) to the point of death.

An example: The family in which I’ve grown up in has been blessed with mostly good health. Two of my four grandparents are still living, with the two deceased having gone gradually, a result of slowly depreciating health. But in mid-July 2012, I had cracked a beer and was headed out to enjoy the evening sun on my parents’ patio when the phone rang. On the other end was news that my mom’s aunt, on her drive to see a play and visit us, had been in a car accident and died.

It was a jarring time, to say the least, but as some years have passed it’s caused me to stop and ponder every now and again the life we’ve been given; more importantly how quickly it can end and what that means for how we ought to spend the time in between.

I’ve always liked the Garth Brooks song “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” mainly because Garth is the man. But also because the first half of the chorus provides a striking parallel to the spiritual life and addresses this very question rather poignantly:

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her?
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she’s my only one?

Replacing the woman in this scenario with God, it’s a sobering thought for anyone, and is especially so for us Christians. While salvation is a free gift from God (yes, Catholics believe this too), it’s the work that we do — the attitude of our interior life, how we act toward others — that puts us in a state to allow us to decide whether we desire heaven – eternity with God – or desire (according to our actions) hell – eternity without God.

Questions like, “Do my choices matter?” or “What choices do matter?” or “Is there something waiting for us after we die?” are asked by children, or by good buddies around a fire after a few beers too many, but how often is it something that we really think about in a sober and mature state?

Ask yourself: When was the last time you sat for even 5 minutes and thought about nothing but what would happen to you if you died tomorrow?

If it hasn’t been recently, it’s probably worth it to do that now.

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Five “Truth Bombs” About Marriage from the Catechism

Over the past half century or so, the institution of marriage has fallen on hard times. It’s not for lack of trying, though. The wedding industry is big business, taking up public consciousness for what seems to be all summer every summer (and year round on Pinterest….ladies). But sadly, I think the true perception of a wedding’s purpose is dwindling in our society.

It seems more and more people these days are understanding marriage as merely a legal contract between two people with romantic feelings for one another, as opposed to the much richer purpose and meaning that has been understood, at the very least in Christian culture, for centuries.

There’s SO much to be said about the latter understanding of marriage, and for that we look no further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a rich resource compiled in part by one of the greatest writers on love and marital flourishing the Church has ever seen, St. John Paul II.

Below, you’ll find five “truth bombs” on marriage from the Catechism that are so awesome, by the end you’re sure to be doing this (kinda like you did the last time):

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1. “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” (1601)

Some big concepts ought to jump out at us from the get-go here. First, a “covenant” isn’t just any old contract, but something much, MUCH more significant. It’s the same thing as what God made with Israel in the Old Testament and what Jesus came to fulfill by dying for your sins on the Cross — it’s permanent, it’s real, and it’s a big deal. Like, if-you-break-it-you-pledge-to-pay-with-your-life kind of big deal.

Second is the phrase “by its nature.” By pointing out that marriage itself has a nature shows us that it’s something whose qualities aren’t up for us to determine. Note, too, that part of marriage is the education of offspring, meaning parents ought to be the primary educators of their children (including faith) — something becoming exceedingly more foreign to our modern sensibilities.

2. “‘The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.’ The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. (1603a)

There’s that dang “nature” word again. As Christians, we believe that we’re created with a purpose and with a nature that is ordered toward a particular good given to us by God. In order for that purpose to come to fruition, we of course must cooperate with that call from God. This is true of people, of created things, and, most importantly here, of certain relationships as well. Just as the priesthood or the religious life is a unique vocation written on the hearts of men and women, so too it is with marriage.

Also, you’ll notice that “the married state” has distinct qualities: It’s a community, which means both husband and wife must cooperate and participate to make it work (that means sharing your feelings, husbands). It involves love and life, meaning a marriage isn’t a marriage unless it’s radically open to life, both spiritual (i.e. prayer) and physical (i.e. BABIES).

3. “Since God created them man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man . . . And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation.” (1604)

One of the first verses in the entire Bible seems to be one of the most overlooked — that being “be fruitful and multiply” from the Book of Genesis. If, as we just read, the marital union is meant to reflect the love God has for man, then it follows that it is also meant to bear fruit both in its utter openness to new life and the charge to “fill the earth and subdue it.”

But why is part of marriage to be open to new life? Because new life is good. To understand this concept we need only reread the Creation narrative — “God looked at all he had made, and he found it very good.” Being fruitful and multiplying doesn’t mean casting your prudence to the wind and single-handedly populating a small town, but is simply an openness and an understanding that new life is inherently good and is therefore to be desired.

4. “Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’ The woman, ‘flesh of his flesh,’ his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a ‘helpmate’; she thus represents God from whom comes our help.” (1605)

I couldn’t help but notice the lack of language about women being inferior to men…interesting that the Church doesn’t actually hate women, yes? What many seem to miss is that women being different from men isn’t the same as being of lesser value. Men and women are made for one another because they complement one another in both body and spirit — they are inherently different, and are made to be so by God.

The reason the vocation to marriage is such a special bond — indeed, honored as a sacrament by the Catholic Church — is precisely because it reflects God’s bond with His creation. Back to the “covenant” language from the first line above, God’s relationship to his creation is nuptial in nature, and our existence is meant to reflect that.

5. The experience [of evil all around and within us] makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. (1606, 1608)

We begin our marriages as broken people, and that’s just the reality. We’re born into a fallen world, and every person must battle against the forces of evil if he or she wishes to be strong in virtue. This is the most true when it comes to marriage. A good, holy, fruitful marriage doesn’t happen by accident.

A good marriage is the product of husband and wife first being radically aware of their own sinfulness — particularly their inclination to sin against each other — and second being willing to keep trying, to keep asking God and spouse for forgiveness, and, above all, to keep praying. At any given time in marriage, just as with anything else in life, the spousal bond is either growing stronger or weaker, and we alone make the choice of what to make it.

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5 Uncommon Reasons to Keep Your Unborn Child

When St. John Paul II walked out onto the balcony after being elected pope in 1978, the first words out of his mouth were, “Be not afraid!!”

Those were strong words back then, when many Christians across the world, including in his home nation of Poland, were being severely oppressed under Communist rule. Under those conditions, operating without fear was a tall order, and likely felt impossible for many. However, St. John Paul instilled in people a knowledge that there were greater powers at work, and that “the power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear” (Threshold of Hope, 1994).

With John Paul II’s encouragement, the faith of a fearless Polish nation sparked the end of Communism in that nation–no small feat.

I can’t help but think this is still appropriate today, albeit for entirely different reasons. When a woman finds out she’s carrying a child, perhaps one that was far from planned, I imagine that a crippling fear is the first thing to surface. The same goes for a young father–the thought of life being forever changed is often the scariest thing that person has ever encountered. I can speak from experience, having nearly had to deal with it myself at 18.

The natural instinct anymore is, “How can I get rid of this?” and sadly, with abortion being as readily available–even encouraged–as it ever has been, the short-term solution is the one that’s picked nearly 1,000 times a day.

Though it’s substantially more difficult to endure, there is another, better way to wrestle with the fear that accompanies an unintended pregnancy:

Let your baby be born, then love the child fiercely.

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Like John Paul II’s exhortation to Christians to “Be not afraid!”, this too is a tall order. When making your decision, don’t forget to consider these reasons too:

1. You CAN do it.

In a lot of ways, the deck is stacked against you. It’s increasingly the case that you’ll be encouraged to abort your child so “the problem” won’t exist any longer far more than you’ll be encouraged to keep it. Pregnancy itself will incredibly difficult. And after you carry the baby to term, it’ll be hard as hell a lot of times, and you might not know what you’re doing at first, but you can do it, and there are lots of people out there willing to help you care for that little life inside of you.

2. Living people are a gift to those around them.

Everyone (literally EVERYONE) walking around today has one thing in common: they were all carried in their mother’s womb and delivered into this world. Many, if not most, were surely conceived and born in good circumstances, but the sad reality is that many others weren’t. Some people have been conceived out of wedlock, others carried by a teenage mother, and still others have been conceived in horrific circumstances like rape or incest…but they’ve been given the gift of life, and we can be sure that person has had a positive impact and brought joy to at least one person. That alone should be good enough.

3. You were there once.

Referring to No. 2 above, the “one person” is nearly always the child’s mother (or father). I have a favor to ask: Next time you see a baby, ask the mom or dad if you can hold him/her for just a second. Then, being completely silent, reflect for a second on the child you’re holding in your arms. Think to yourself that you were once that small, that the smile you feel forming on your lips was once shared by the person holding you, and that you relied 100% on someone else for a good chunk of your life to allow you to be where you are now.

4. You’ll never know how much joy your child will bring you.

There’s a reason videos of babies laughing are the best. As Larry the Cable says, “I don’t care who ya are…” when a baby smiles at you, there’s a darn good chance you’ll want to smile back. Why is it that even the most hardened, grizzled, tough guys are melted by a little baby? The joy you’ll find from even the smallest things–their first words, playing peek-a-boo, them getting birthday cake all over their face, when they start to walk, that dandelion “flower” they picked you from the yard, the masterpiece they painted in kindergarten art class–an abortion takes away the chance that any of those things will ever happen.

5. Your child could change the world.

I recently read a story about a young man whose birth mother canceled her abortion appointment and decided to give her son up for adoption instead. Now? That young man became a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln (Nebraska).

In 1936, a 17-year-old girl found herself suddenly pregnant. Instead of finding a way to abort her child, the girl’s mother and father offered to raise the child, and the little boy grew up thinking his birth mother, June, was his sister. The child? Jack Nicholson.

The most striking story, in my estimation, is of an Eastern European woman named Emilia Kaczorowska. When she and her husband became pregnant in 1919, Emilia was suffering from the after-effects of rheumatic fever. Due to her illness, her doctor worried about the strain to her heart valves and advised she abort the son growing in her womb. Emilia said no to the advice and gave birth to a son, Karol, on May 18, 1920. Karol became a priest, then a bishop, and in 1978 became Pope John Paul II.

There are lots of other stories of famous people who were nearly aborted, and I realize that few children will grow up to be rich and famous. But the reason I share these stories, and the rest of the reasons above, is that giving a child the opportunity to live gives them the opportunity to make the world better, an opportunity they wouldn’t get otherwise.

The first letter of St. John reads, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). With the 2015 March for Life in Washington D.C. happening this week, and during a time when so many around the country are joining 650,000 pro-life attendees in prayer and solidarity, John Paul II’s message is alive and well, the perfect remedy for one of life’s most difficult situations.

Be not afraid.

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