Some takeaways from “Encountering Mercy” in Aspen

Whenever a group of people gathers in Aspen, Colorado, the reason typically has little to do with matters of faith, and is perhaps often devoid of faith altogether. But with a new movement beginning at Aspen’s local Catholic parish, that may become the case less and less.

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Fr. John Hilton, leading Friday’s bike ride along the Rio Grande Trail

In the heart of downtown sits St. Mary’s Catholic Church, its white steeple towering over most buildings in Aspen, keeping watch on the quaint mountain town. Both priest and flock at St. Mary’s are extraordinarily vibrant, simultaneously solid and joyful, and eager to share the love of Jesus Christ with the people of Aspen. It’s as if Christ himself was repeating, as He placed such a parish amidst Aspen’s aggressively secular culture, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Aspen Catholic is the initiative that blossomed from a cultivated passion for evangelization at St. Mary’s. Led by her pastor, Fr. John Hilton (known by many as The Pedaling Priest), and Judy Dunn, Director of Aspen Catholic, last weekend saw over 60 individuals gather to greet the Lord, meet each other, and “Encounter Mercy.”

Here’s some takeaways from a fantastic weekend in the mountains.

Creation is meaningless without God

Dr. Jonathan Reyes, one of the weekend’s featured speakers, quoted C.S. Lewis in his presentation Saturday evening, noting that every human being will outlast the mountains and valleys: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

Bishop Robert Barron often talks about the Creation story as a liturgical procession, as if each piece spoken into existence by God had its place in a giant cosmic liturgy. The final part of any procession – in the Mass, for example – is the priest, the presider of the liturgy whose duty it is to direct and care for all who walked before him. In the great Creation story, Bishop Barron notes, this is man, the culmination of God’s creation, made in the image and likeness of the Creator Himself.

What this analogy implies at its core, especially when pondering how each portion of Creation takes its place in such a procession, is order and meaning. With every piece of the procession being intentionally placed, we can intuit that there must be a mind – God – from which that intention came. Remove God, and we’re left with a by-chance progression, brought together accidentally and left utterly devoid of any meaning whatsoever.

Especially in a place like Aspen, finding truth and beauty in its fullness must start here, with an understanding that life, all that we know, is intelligible, important, overflowing with meaning, precisely because it was spoken into being by God.

A happy life requires encounter – encuentro

Perhaps the most valuable building block from the weekend was Dr. Reyes’ talk of  encuentro (the Spanish form of “encounter,” it turns out, is much richer in meaning).

The Feast of St. Cajetan, a huge celebration each year in Argentina, was a favorite of Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio before he became the 265th Successor of Peter. Despite having to miss the annual August celebration in 2013, his first summer as pope, the Holy Father sent a video message to the pilgrims making the trek to the Shrine of St. Cajetan in lieu of processing with them.

Referring to beggars on either side of the road during the pilgrimage, Pope Francis had some intriguing questions for pilgrims:

I sometimes ask people: “Do you give alms?” They say to me: “Yes, Father.” “And when you give alms, do you look the person you are giving them to in the eye?” “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really notice.” “Then you have not really encountered him. You tossed him the alms and walked off. When you give alms, do you touch the person’s hand or do you throw the coin?” “No, I throw the coin.” “So you did not touch him. And if you don’t touch him you don’t meet him.”

For all we know, as Dr. Reyes pointed out, that person on the side of the road hasn’t heard so much as their own name spoken out loud in weeks, maybe even months. How easily do we take for granted such seemingly small things?

Looking someone in the eye, touching their hand, speaking their name – This is what Pope Francis means when he says he wants a “culture of encounter.” This is encuentro. Every Christian – every human – ought to be striving for this, because encuentro is how we allow Christ to reach us, and how we ultimately come to live life to the full.

A healthy prayer life is within reach for anyone

The weekend’s other featured speakers, Dan Burke and Dr. Anthony Lilles, focused heavily on prayer and the “mysticism of mercy”, particularly through the wisdom of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina, and Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity (hipster saint alert – you’ve probably never heard of her).

But since an active prayer life can’t be had with the wave of a wand, practical tips always help, even for the most seasoned of prayer warriors. Dan gave six pieces of advice – three elements and three conditions – that improve the quality of one’s prayer life in the measure that they’re present in a person’s life.

Sacred time and sacred space must come first in order to regulate when and where we pray each day. Even 15 minutes daily is a sufficient start, as is a small space in one’s house reserved solely for prayer. The third element, sacred attention, is all about cultivating a “focus on God and God alone” while in prayer. Though it requires nurturing, sacred attention means, as Dan mentioned, removing “iAnything” from the space where you pray – nothing that will distract your in order to enter effectively into prayer.

If the elements involve ordering the space in which one prays, the conditions – clarity, community, and accountability – refer to the ordering of one’s life in general. Clarity is the rule of life by which we live: The things we do and don’t do, music we do or don’t listen to, etc. Community is a reminder that no man is an island, demanding that a person find other people, even a small group, in order to grow in the spiritual life. Finally, accountability involves both the external – a commitment to attend Confession on a schedule – and the internal – a daily examination of conscience where we ask “How have I loved you today, Lord, and where have I failed?”

Attentiveness, surrender, and willingness to suffer are absolutely essential

As it turns out, there can be no such thing as a Couch Potato Christian, if indeed a person is serious about their prayer life and relationship with the Lord. Dr. Lilles drew out this idea by explaining three different ways in which the spiritual life requires action.

Attentiveness to God’s grace working in our lives is important because we live in a temporal reality. Because time is precious, missing and not accepting an opportunity to receive grace is a moment we lose forever. As Dr. Lilles mentioned, we can never get that grace in that way ever again.

Surrendering to the will of God is tied up in our ability to trust. Dr. Lilles pointed out what St. Faustina learned through her encounters with Jesus in the Divine Mercy: Misery is the only possession that we humans own entirely. As our Lord said to St. Faustina, “Daughter, give me your mercy, because it is your exclusive property.” How can we ever truly and freely give a possession to another unless we trust them completely?

The willingness to suffer, is obvious if only by our call to follow Jesus in all things. The spiritual life is no walk in the park, and it was never supposed to be. What’s more, Christ’s mandate to “take up your cross and follow me” implies a need for an active disposition when dealing with all three. Attentiveness, surrender, and suffering are things that require a continuous “yes” to God.

As Dr. Reyes rightly noted, “The only way the Devil can beat a Christian is to get a Christian to quit.”


Aspen Catholic’s “Encountering Mercy” retreat was a fantastic experience and a perfect example that the Holy Spirit is alive and well, working and guiding His Church in the most unlikely of places.

Keep Aspen Catholic on your radar as they hold more retreats in the coming months. The people at St. Mary’s in Aspen are doing great things, and you won’t want to miss out.

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Religious Misconceptions and the Catholic Church

NOTE: This column appears in full at Spokane Faith & Values. It has graciously been given permission for reposting at MtnCatholic.com.

When I think of religious misconceptions and the Catholic Church, I legitimately have to stifle a laugh as I think to myself, “Where do I even start?”

It’s almost as sure a thing as death and taxes, in my experience, that misconceptions abound about the Catholic Church — what she believes, the ramifications of her members behaving badly, whether or not her teachings are outdated. One could look anywhere and find them.

A quote from the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has always said it best for me:

“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

It’s a very intriguing statement, when you think about it, and I believe it’s profoundly true.

There should be no doubt that the Catholic Church is a tour de force in our world, and has been for centuries. For better or for worse, everyone who’s been to a university, been treated in a modern hospital, or lived virtually anywhere in the world has been affected, directly or indirectly, by Catholicism.

One example is Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last September; for those days, the American public was treated to the “most positive news week I have ever seen,” as one writer put it.

But two questions still remain: Why should I care? And how can the good things matter when so much bad has been done by the Church over the centuries?

READ THE REST at SpokaneFAVS.com.

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Ignatius of Antioch quote (3)

C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and the Scourge of Gossip

Those who have read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will remember well the book’s closing sequence — a battle between the White Witch and Aslan, who, accompanied by scores of animals from all throughout Narnia, eventually defeated her and brought peace to Narnia. Organizing his troops for battle, Aslan says:

And now! Those who can’t keep up — that is, children, dwarfs, and small animals — must ride on the backs of those who can — that is, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants, and eagles. Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is. Look lively and sort yourselves.

In battle, if an attack on the enemy’s line is to be successful, two things have to happen: the charge must be ordered in the minutest detail, and every soldier must know the role he has to play in it. If either of those things are missing, failure will follow.

Life is no different. If we believe that God is real, and that He loves us, then we know that each of us is willed into existence with a divinely given purpose. This is exactly what C.S. Lewis referred to in his battle sequence. God is the General, the Organizing Force. We are the soldiers, each unique in our own right, each with a different responsibility, each with the capacity to accomplish it. Our “battle plan” is, in essence, our vocation. It’s that particular calling each of us has, but also more generally the duty of striving for friendship with God: happiness in this life and heaven in the next.

What is perhaps the most intriguing from Aslan’s rallying cry, however, is the line: “Look lively and sort yourselves.”

Here, Lewis is alluding especially to each person’s need to mind themselves through both action and awareness. And yet, this is somehow difficult and almost foreign for us modern types. In a world where seeing the imperfections of others is so easy — through tabloids, social media, reality TV and the like — it’s often the furthest thing from our minds to instead look inward, examine our own imperfection, and take action to change it.

This sad phenomenon rears its head most through gossip — the sin of carelessly reporting the lives of others in conversation, almost always without the subject being present and more often than not about details that are private or otherwise sensational, spoken typically by people who have no business speaking them.

Gossip, innocent though it may seem, always divides, and never unites. Gossip by its nature accomplishes the opposite of Christ’s call for us to sow peace and unity by bringing down another person

Plus, our words matter. If we trust what Jesus said (even one little bit), then we should keep Matthew 12:36-37 in mind:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Jesus is indicating to us, once again, that our actions — good or bad — will always carry consequences along with them.

Lewis was keenly aware of the utter importance of understanding that each person’s story is between him and God alone. It’s a theme he emphasized many times in his writing, but most prominently in Book Six of the Narnia series, The Horse and His Boy:

[Shasta] “Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

[Aslan] “It was I.”

[Shasta] “But what for?]

[Aslan] “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own. (p. 159)

And again, later:

[Aslan] “The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.”

[Aravis] “Yes, sir. Please–”

[Aslan] “Ask on, my dear.”

[Aravis] “Will any more harm come to her by what I did?”

[Aslan] “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No-one is told any story but their own.” (p. 194)

See, though Shasta and Aravis were allowed to know details about others insofar as they related to their own relationship with Aslan. Details beyond that would only satisfy curiosity and thus be frivolous. Frivolity would only detract from the attention Shasta and Aravis should pay to themselves and the love they should show those around them. With God, there’s no room for frivolity, because time is not unlimited.

So it is with us. Gossip is nothing more than frivolous speech, wasting precious time better spent reflecting on ourselves and building relationships.

Pope Francis has made gossip a point of focus in various homilies over the past three years, equating the “tactics of a terrorist to the tactics of a gossip”, and connecting it to the 5th commandment (Thou Shalt Not Kill) in its tendency to “kill” a reputation or the subject’s self-esteem.

I think his inclination is worth listening to, not just because gossip kills others, but because, in some small way, it kills a part of us, the gossiper. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

“If you could kick the person in the pants

After all, no matter how much we point out others’ faults and ignore our own, we keep sinning nonetheless. In fact, because our actions, no matter how small, always affect the person we’re becoming, we only sin more the longer we let something like gossiping run unchecked.

But, as the story will always go in the Christian life, there will be hope for us to our dying day. At any moment we can choose to change our behavior. Any time we choose, we can opt instead to ask forgiveness, to better ourselves, and to love others radically. Because as long as we’re willing to ask for mercy, God will be there to grant it.

So go do something crazy. The next time you catch yourself talking about another person’s life, stop yourself and direct that scrutiny upon yourself. Doing so will only lead to a better you, and a better you can only ever lead to a better everything else around you.

In the end, if we wish to be better we must be aware and we must be active. We must look lively and sort ourselves.

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Understanding Pope Francis Requires More Than Shallow Thinking

Pope Francis just started Year Three of his papacy, and commentary has been rife with predictions and analysis of what’s still to come, the meaning of his first two years, whether he’s been good or bad, and on down the line. The quality of any article on this particular pope, given his personality and wide-ranging appeal, typically runs the gamut between “Spot on” and “Dude, seriously?” but one in particular may have set a new boundary past the latter.

The article, written by Nicholas Frankovich of the usually-spectacular National Review, bears the title “Pope Francis Enters His Third Year of Scolding Introverts,” so right from the get-go one could guess that the article likely won’t have a positive tone, and perhaps might just amount to a superficial smearfest, as is all-too-common lately in analysis of the Vicar of Christ.

The reality is just that — the article, while of excellent writing quality, is built on a foundation of sand, pointing lots of fingers without any attribution and extrapolating on a false dichotomy in the Church and elsewhere of introversion (which Pope Francis apparently hates) and extroversion (of which Pope Francis is apparently World Champion).

While I think the author’s intentions were good in pursuing this topic, the end result shows instead that personal bias, not critical thinking, came through the loudest.

Again, the basic premise of the article was pitting introversion vs. extroversion, with the author claiming that Pope Francis consistently hates on introverts and encourages everyone to instead become extroverted. This, of course, would be absurd and cause for uproar if it were true. 

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An army of straw men seem to have found themselves at the mercy of Mr. Frankovich, so here are four keys to understanding Pope Francis correctly:

1. Selfishness is not a synonym for introversion

One of Frankovich’s biggest sticking points comes not from a direct quote by Francis, but instead by another writer opining on the following quote by Francis:

If you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.

To me, this quote spoke of self-absorption and the selfish tendencies we have as humans in a fallen state — which is far from legitimately supporting a disdain for introverts. Indeed, put in the proper context (which wasn’t included in the opinion piece or Frankovich’s article) we see this is the case, since Pope Francis prefaced the line with, “Be giving of yourself to others.”

If we turn to Philippians, we can plainly see that St. Paul taught something similar:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but for those of others. (2:3-4)

The REAL issue (as it has been throughout all of human history) is not about introversion and extroversion, but about two other, completely unrelated things, which brings me to my next point …

2. This is more about “selfishness vs. humility” than it is about “extroversion vs. introversion”

The false dichotomy of introversion vs. extroversion manifested itself in a rather interesting way once Frankovich allowed it to play out. In pegging Pope Francis and Co. as extroverts, he necessarily had to plop all of the Church’s contemplatives — those monks and nuns, past and present, who gave their life in prayer and service to Christ. This poses a bit of a problem.

Lillian Vogl, a reader who posted a rather appropriate comment on the article, wrote:

The difference between extroverts and introverts is not how much they talk or like to interact with others, but how they “recharge their mental batteries.” Pope Francis isn’t criticizing those who prefer to recharge in private contemplation, he’s asking them to not forget what they are recharging their batteries to do. Which is to LOVE, which requires self-giving to others, not to admire oneself in self-satisfaction at one’s intellectual depth and orthodoxy. The Pope is criticizing those who do the latter, not those who find strength through frequent introspection to love their neighbors in any number of ways, whether quiet or bold.

She went on:

Healthy spirituality balances both the horizontal and vertical, and does not get offended about being urged to exercise those muscles which are not as naturally strong. [Speaking to Frankovich] You did not cite a single thing that Pope Francis has actually said to “scold” introverts. He has only scolded the “self-absorbed.” If you hear that and think he is talking about you, then that is a matter for you to work out in your introspective conscience, not to react by spreading the calumny that he is disrespecting introverts.

I don’t think I’ll add anything else … Lillian seems to have it covered.

3. “Being in the world” and “Worldliness” are vastly different things

At the 2013 World Youth Day celebration in Brazil, Pope Francis delivered a brilliant speech to young Catholics gathered there to “make a mess” and to “go out” and evangelize the world. In saying this, the pope was making the same missionary call to Christians that Jesus gave to his disciples 2000 years ago, to “Go!” and “make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19).

Francis went on:

I want a mess in the dioceses! I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, that is installation, that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut-in in ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions, exist to go out! If they don’t go out, they become NGOs, and the Church can’t be an NGO.

Dubbed as a “brain-bruising knot of contradictions” by Frankovich, actually understanding the context in which the Holy Father spoke would tell a great deal about the true purpose of these words. Francis is spurring young people to action (which is a great thing), he’s directing them to become more authentic Catholics Christians (which is a great thing), and he’s reminding the universal Church’s youth what the point of the Catholic Church is — to bring souls to Christ and to help people get to heaven through Him (which is the greatest thing of all).

By saying essentially, “go out into the world in order to fight worldliness,” Pope Francis is acknowledging that, though we are born in the world, we must rise above the temptations of the world. Once upon a time, there was a man named Jesus who was also born into the world, and who also rose above the temptations of the world — even with the Devil himself standing next to Him. That’s a valuable distinction that Frankovich missed.

It’s almost as if Pope Francis was alluding to the words of St. Paul yet again:

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

4. Pope Francis DOES have a robust prayer life.

Throughout the entire article, Frankovich implicitly assumes that Pope Francis is somehow opposed to people whose vocation called them to give their lives in prayer and service to the Church, and in so doing implies that extroverts (the pope included) just don’t have time for prayer. Really?

On his two-year anniversary, Pope Francis related his interior experience on the night he was elected:

During the vote I was praying the rosary, I usually pray three rosaries daily, and I felt great peace, almost to the point of insentience. The very same when everything was resolved, and for me this was a sign that God wanted it, great peace. From that day to this I have not lost it. It is ‘something inside’ it is like a gift. I do not know what happened next. They made [me] stand up. They asked me if I agreed. I said yes. I do not know if they made me swear on something, I forget. I was at peace.

It hardly sounds like a man who doesn’t have a robust interior prayer life and relationship with the Lord. Know what it does sound like, though? From Frankovich’s own hit piece:

From the gospels, we know that Jesus in his own life integrated solitary prayer with the busyness of his public ministry. The pattern was for the former to precede the latter.

Darn, it seems like the pope thwarted that shot too. In fact, Pope Francis is nearly as big a fan of the Blessed Mother as St. John Paul II was, having not only entrusted his pontificate to Mary, but also having said (among many other quotes) about the rosary:

Mary is the mother, and a mother’s main concern is the health of her children … Our Lady guards our health … helps us grow, face life and be free.

A prayer-less extrovert isn’t likely going to receive an interior peace from the Lord out of the blue, much less get elected pope of the universal Church. Good thing our pope is the furthest thing from prayer-less.

Vatican Pope

Looks like prayer to me…

You wouldn’t know that from Frankovich’s article, and that’s a very sad thing indeed. Our pope may not make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, but neither did Jesus. Our faith is not one of comfort. Our faith is equally difficult for extroverts and introverts, and sufficiently so for each — God guarantees us of that.

Saying Pope Francis is “shallow” or “at least presents himself as such”, that he “preaches mercy for everyone except [introverts]” or “leans left in his politics and theology” (which has been proven wrong time after time), and that he “has little apparent interest in the life of the mind” or “lacks the patience to think slowly” is simply uncharitable and profoundly disrespectful. Especially so when it comes without any attribution to Francis whatsoever, save for second-hand opinions of him.

On top of that, Frankovich puts the icing on the cake with three short sentences in stomping on the New Evangelization: “Drop that sourpuss, Counter-Reformation stance contra mundum. Engage the world with a smile. Let’s dialogue.”

Ultimately, Frankovich makes himself look silly in writing, as a friend of mine put it when bringing the article to my attention, an “article of shallow hating.”

The Catholic Church isn’t an island. We exist in the world with many other faiths, as well as hundreds of thousands of people who currently don’t ascribe to a single one. If we want to grow the Church, we won’t get the job done acting like it sucks to be a Catholic, and we won’t get it done if we don’t engage with others unlike ourselves. We especially won’t get the job done putting people in boxes labeled “Extrovert” or “Introvert” in place of pursuing true Christian virtue regardless of temperament.

We have to go out. We have to set the world ablaze. Whether we’re introverted or extroverted, we must do it authentically, because that’s the witness Christ asked of us.

But maybe most of all, at least for the immediate future, we have to stop bashing our leader, who’s doing a pretty darn good job, whether we think so or not.

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Compassion Always, Compromise Never: Why Spokane’s New Bishop Will Be Great

The Diocese of Spokane received its new shepherd, Bishop Thomas Anthony Daly of San José, California, a couple months ago, and honestly it was like an early Christmas present. Not having a bishop for all of Lent and the better part of 4 months was a bit of a bummer, so the long-awaited news was like music to my ears for more than just that reason.

In reading all the news coverage on the day of the announcement, all the while wondering how this new leader would do in Spokane and eastern Washington, I ran across a short quote Bishop Daly uttered at his introductory press conference that he said was his guiding principle:

Compassion always, compromise never.

Bishop Daly was speaking about his past role as a board member of Catholic Charities in San Francisco, but more specifically about how being a Catholic institution in such a “progressive” city caused them to face some tough questions in terms of what the Church believes and teaches. He clarified that by “compromise never” he meant never compromising the teachings of Christ, which are the fullness of the truth.

The words are profound enough in themselves, but they hold immensely more weight in considering who is speaking them. They show, at the same time, a softness of heart and a rich and abiding integrity of mission that’s both all too uncommon and desperately needed in our world today.

That, more than anything, is what a bishop ought to be.

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Many might take the word “compassion” to mean something along the lines of mere empathy, or perhaps an understanding and acceptance of people where they’re at, without an intent to push the person outside of a comfort zone for any reason. In reality, though, compassion literally means “to suffer with”.

In light of this, Bishop Daly’s words have such a large impact because it indicates not only his understanding that we experience suffering in our lives as Catholics wrestling with tough teaching and as humans wrestling with temptation and sin, but more so that he desires to share in our suffering with us.

Suffering, by its very definition, implies that there is something uncomfortable, perhaps even painful, going on. Suffering never comes about on its own; it’s always triggered by a prior occurrence, whether intentional or unintentional. Maybe the most vital aspect of understanding suffering is that we only experience suffering when that undesirable situation is also unchangeable.

When considered in the light of the radical requests of the Christian life, suffering carries even more meaning. In signing up for the Christian life, we choose to live a life not on our terms and choose to join an institution where the rules aren’t changeable, no matter how we feel. Compromise just isn’t an option, at least not if we want to live authentically as Christ asks us to live. The reason we still do it, though, is because the suffering that results will be redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

The fact that Jesus was fully human — that He experienced literally the same temptations and hardships that we do during his earthly life — seems to get overlooked all too often, but it’s the key to understanding compassion in the Christian sense. Jesus came to earth for precisely that reason: to show us that suffering in the life and circumstances God gives us can be redemptive; that it matters, despite its difficulty. More to it, St. Padre Pio once said:

“The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain”

This is precisely the abiding principle it sounds like Bishop Daly will bring to Spokane, and it comes at a great time. In a part of the country that was (and still in some part remains) particularly affected by the experimental kookiness of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, and in a place that, similar to many other parts of the country, is home to generations of un-evangelized Catholics and even more who have stopped attending Mass altogether, the assignment of Bishop Daly is just what the doctor ordered.

Bishop Daly has previously written that the Christian ideal is best exemplified by personal example above all else. In a letter written to men studying to be priests less than a year ago entitled Evangelization by Example, the bishop cited the importance of living an authentic witness with “generous, holy hearts.”

From the sound of it, what we’re getting is a shepherd who not only “smells like his sheep”, as our beloved Pope Francis called for his priests and bishops to be, but a bishop who seeks to uphold rather than overhaul the duty and doctrine he’s been entrusted with. He’ll be the general that leads from the front lines instead of the back, showing us the path to holiness by glorifying the Lord with his life first.

May God bless Bishop Daly in his new home in the Northwest.

Watch his installation at KHQ.com

UPDATED 5/18/15, 16:20

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5 Ways to See God in Ordinary Household Tasks

UPDATE: To hear an interview on this post with the author on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air Show, click here (fast forward to the 28:45 mark)

To say the least, God is easily misunderstood. Many take God to be a grandiose, out-of-reach source of guilt and outdated morals, and, in any case, seem to assume that God and everyday life simply aren’t compatible. That assessment couldn’t be further from the truth (though the “grandiose” bit is pretty spot-on), and yet even lots of people who are firm, faithful believers in God — myself included on many occasions — tend to feel that God is still somehow far away. We know He loves us and never leaves us, but man, can’t we just get a little affirmative nod from Above every once in a while?

Well, it turns out those little signs may be right under our noses, but we either are attentive to other things or simply don’t have an adequate understanding of the nature of God to understand that our day-to-day life is chock full of opportunities to witness the Divine. So much is made of lives being “exciting enough” anymore, that we all have a tendency to believe that somehow our lives in the day-to-day aren’t good enough.

I’ve previously used a quote by Fr. Robert Barron about the goodness of simple, seemingly insignificant daily occurrences. It also applies well here:

God is the unconditioned source of goodness, truth, and beauty. Therefore whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful participates in God and reflects God. And so…the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, a beautifully-proportioned building, a handsome face smiling in friendliness, an innocent child at play, a crisply executed fast break, a well-written television program, all these things in their truth, goodness, and beauty speak of God.

We’re driven by our culture to believe that something far beyond simple, daily tasks are needed to find fulfillment or worth in life. However, if we look in the right places and do those tasks with the right mindset, our lives will become infinitely more valuable than we ever though possible, especially in the eyes of the One who created us and our day-to-day life.

Here’s five great places to start:

1. Opening the blinds.

blindssuck

There’s something that speaks to the soul in opening the shades on a warm, sunny morning (or even a chilly, winter one) and letting the light of the new day into a cozy home. Light has long been an identifying characteristic of God — “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), the Transfiguration of Jesus, beautiful multi-colored cathedral stained glass windows — and It’s no different in this case.

Light is one of the most basic goods of our lives. Without it, we could do almost nothing, but light has value far beyond its mere use to us. As Fr. Barron went on to say, “Light is that by which we see, that which illumines and clarifies. But at bottom … light is beautiful.” There’s a spiritual aspect of ourselves being fed in the simple act of opening the windows and letting light into our lives. What’s more, doing so physically is bound to help us do so metaphorically in our spiritual lives as well.

2. Making food.

food

Whether we’re cooking for ourselves or for others, the act of preparing food to nourish our bodies is one of the simplest “goods” we can experience or accomplish in life. We were given by God a body which needs nourishment in order to live, so by the very act of nourishing ourselves and those around us, we actively participate in the will of God for us on the most basic of levels. Health and well-being are intrinsically good things, therefore acts that bring those two things about profoundly “speak of God,” especially when they’re done for others.

The next time we make a meal for someone, or even for ourselves, simply thinking to ourselves, “my hands are being used to prepare nourishment for someone who was created and is loved by God,” helps us to be better aware of both the Father’s immense love for us and for the dignity of ourselves and those around us.

3. Using a towel.

Drying dishes. Drying hands. Drying feet. Wiping your child’s face. Cleaning up messes. The night before He died Jesus used an ordinary towel to wash the feet of his disciples. What might be an odd or insignificant practice otherwise was made profound in the person of Jesus.

Source: Reuters/Enrique Garcia Medina
Source: Reuters/Enrique Garcia Medina

Feet, in the First Century, would get incredibly filthy from walking dusty roads, so it was customary for a host to provide not only water for foot washing, but also a servant who would wash them. It’s a great service when anybody does it, but considering that the Son of God/Second Person of the Trinity/Creator of the Flippin’ Universe knelt down and did a servant’s job in washing the feet of his friends makes the act all the more remarkable. Each time we use a towel, especially using it in service to another person, allows us to remember that humble act of Jesus and make our act all the more meaningful.

4. Dusting & Vacuuming.

vacuuming

Dance Moves: optional.

What on earth can dusting and vacuuming have to do with the spiritual life? One of the easiest traps in life to fall into is a sense of complacency, of allowing struggles in our lives we’ve successfully worked against to find a hold once again in our lives. Another all-too-common occurrence in our lives, if we’re not careful, is to let decisions “make” themselves instead of exercising our will and making a definitive choice according to the fruit of prayer and the whisperings of our conscience. In essence, it’s easy to let the dust build up on our souls just as it is on the coffee table.

Dusting and vacuuming, the routine sprucing up of the places in which we spend the most time, are good things on their own simply because taking care of our possessions is an intrinsic good. However, they can also serve a great symbolic purpose if, while doing them, we consider areas in our lives that have perhaps grown a bit dusty. Thinking through our day or our week while moving and shaking behind the vacuum won’t just result in a benefit within ourselves; the people we love most will also enjoy those fruits.

5. Cleaning the windows.

window

The dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding uttered perhaps one of the more classic lines in modern film when he said (repeatedly): “Just put some Windex on it!”  After all, what’s better: a smudgy window, or a sparklingly clear window?

Just like the cleanliness of a window is directly related to the ability to see clearly what lies on the other side, so too does the state of our lives directly relate to our ability to see clearly through that “window” into the spiritual life. If our lives become smudged, mud-splattered, or covered with bird feathers from those dang robins that keep flying into it, chances are good we’ll see a lot less clearly what the best direction for our lives are. Next time you bust out the Windex, we ought to consider the parts of our lives that could use a little of the blue stuff themselves.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the physically-small-but-spiritually-large saint best known for her “Little Way” of holiness, once said:

“Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.”

We can be partakers of this “Little Way” too. We just have to know where to look.

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Rabbits & Selfishness: Why Pope Francis is Being Perfectly Consistent

It’s been the epitome of “lather, rinse, repeat” over the last (almost) two years. Pope Francis gives an interview somewhere, somebody reports what they think they hear, then the Catholics are all like…

zomg

And all the people hoping the Church is changing something are all:

yaay

And THEN, somebody finally reads what he actually said, and in the proper context, and they make this face:

pls

It’s happened again recently, and the reality is no different. What’s the big deal this time?  

The Backstory

Just a few weeks ago, Pope Francis gave an interview to reporters aboard the papal plane on his way back from a trip to the Philippines. The particular line that got Catholics all aflutter was this:

Some think that — excuse the language — that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.

Boy, did that cause a stir.

“Another off the cuff remark gone wrong!” people exclaimed.

“What was the pope thinking?!” more chimed in.

Families of every size, but particularly large Catholic ones, were all in a dither once the media got hold of that line. That a pope would seem to deride parents with lots of kids, if it was true, was truly offensive.

The pope clarified, but many thought the damage was done. The dust eventually settled, and the media moved on.

Then, in his most recent Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said something that appeared to be just the opposite:

The choice to not have children is selfish.

This time, it was everyone else who got upset. A gander at the comment section at the National Catholic Reporter’s story would show the “liberal Catholics'” perspective, for one.

But seriously, the Pope gets on us about too many kids, then turns around and says that not having them is selfish? What gives?!

pope-francis-funny

The Real Story

A lot gives, really. Let’s look at the rest of those quotes in context.

On the plane to Rome from Manila, before and after the dreaded “rabbits” comment, the pope said this in addressing the issues of too many vs. too few children:

The key word … is responsible parenthood. How do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do carry out a responsible parenthood. That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven who were born with caesareans. That is a an irresponsibility. That woman might say ‘no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the language — that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors … that are licit and that have helped this.

Now on to last week’s General Audience, here’s the full context of Pope Francis’ remarks on that day:

A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society … If a generous family of children is viewed as if it were a burden, there is something wrong! As the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI teaches, having more children cannot be automatically viewed as an irresponsible choice. The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished!

Pope Francis is trying to make essentially the same point in both instances, and it boils down to two themes:

  1. Children are just plain good. Married couples should have children (note the plural).
  2. God gave us brains for a reason, so being responsible in childbearing is on us.

The whole of the Christian life is about giving to others in love, just as Christ gave his life for us on the Cross. Couples do this by giving themselves fully to their spouses in marriage, then later by giving their unified parenthood wholly to each one of their children. And in all of this, if the married life should be our vocation, we glorify God just as He called us to do.

But, though that formula is simple, our pope points out something that can slip by us if we’re not careful — there’s not a number of children that will complete your married vocation by default. Some may be called to have 9, others may be called to have 2, while still others might never be able to conceive, and are called instead to adopt. Pope Francis is keen in advising us to seek the counsel of our spiritual leaders, then to pray with and for each other in order to determine what that answer is for us. He is also keen to imply that the answers to that discernment might just be in front of our faces.

There is such a thing as irresponsibility in parenthood, but, as the pope notes, having more children is not necessarily an irresponsible action. The irresponsible thing, therefore, may be not having children. There’s a balance to be had and a nuance to be considered, but it can all be settled and discerned through one thing: a robust prayer life.

As the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel once wrote, “Don’t blame God if you walk off the end of the dock.”

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