Chapter 1: Fantasy World

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

Most people grow up believing in the myths, fantasies, and fairy tales that their time period presents them. Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Superman may be harmless in their own right, but our desire for fairy tales does not seem to go away easy. And there is a kind of fairy tale that many adults ascribe to that is not harmless. In fact, this fantasy world has plagued human happiness for all of recorded past. Now we stand in a special time in history where, for most of secular culture, it not only goes unrestrained in practice, but also in theory. Most notably in more recent times, the sexual revolution of the 1960s has polluted our way of thinking and given us all kinds of rhetoric that positions itself on the shifty sands of deception.

For example, things such as “someone can do whatever they want with their own body” or “I can look, but I just can’t touch” lose any kind of credence when we simply stop to think of the implications of these claims. Ask yourself honestly, “Do you mean I can seriously use my body to do anything I want?” or “So you’re fine if I just keep looking at you like this?” Okay, so you throw the caveat that you can’t hurt anyone in there. But guess what? A lot of consenting adults have been hurt because of the idea “I can do whatever I want with my body.” Not even consent is enough to protect us from being hurt when men and women attempt to make their sexual fantasies into realities.  The concept of “I can look, but I just can’t touch” creates a fiery furnace that leads us down the dark road of dependence. This fiery passion is only fueled more and more by the moral standards of various media outlets today. From movies, television, internet, and even the books people read – all cater to a fantasy world that does not find any true reflection in reality. Therein is the difference between a good fantasy and bad fantasy: good fantasy may draw us away from reality to give us perspective on the truth whereas bad fantasy draws us completely outside of reality and has nothing to do with truth.

Since the beginning of history, the number one cause of immoral acts is immoral thoughts. It is extremely rare that someone actively engages in immorality without previous deliberation. In fact, according to Jesus, entertaining a lustful thought is a form of immorality in itself (cf. Matt 5:27-30). Why would he say this? Because living in a mental fantasy of a sexual sort that has nothing to do with our reality in life pulls us away from truth and reason. It simply leads us to use someone – a person who has no idea we are using them and who quite probably has no desire for us to use them – for something that impersonates real and true love. Though it is within the realm of possibility to have these fantasies, it is not our design. Just because something gives us pleasure, doesn’t mean it is the clearest path to happiness.


A Brief Psychology of Bad Fantasy

While the world reels from many traditional explanations of our psyche, there are many ways in which Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas have provided a perspective that touches reality more simply and deeply than the likes of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, or any of their followers. To explain the ancient psychology plainly, our sense perception leads to thinking and our thinking leads to choosing and acting.[1] This seems so apparent that it is a position that hardly needs an argument. The Freudian position, for example, requires a lot of imaginative power, accepting assumptions about lingering childhood inclinations, and tends to take large tomes to sort out. The Aristo-Thomist view of human psychology is much simpler and resounds with human experience. And ultimately means that – as has already been stated by Jesus – bad fantasies are irrational in themselves and cannot lead to good actions.  Let’s take a closer look.

To start off with some examples, can we say it is wrong for a married man to have lucid sexual thoughts about someone who is not his wife? First of all, ask his wife. Or is it wrong for an unmarried man to have such thoughts about someone who is not his wife? At some point he will realize he’s not married to her and have fodder for despair that would be completely unnecessary if he would have simply controlled his thoughts. Sometimes, unfortunately, a married person will let himself entertain these thoughts such that he despairs and wishes that he is married to the person who is the source of his fantasies instead of the person to whom he has actually vowed his life. Nonetheless, these fantastic thoughts may lead to using our bodies to hurt other people, physically or emotionally, or to creating an unrealistic desire in ourselves that will never be satiated. Either way, in sexual fantasies, happiness is ultimately exchanged for something that will hurt us, someone else, or both.

The psychology of sexual fantasy has its beginning when we feel, see, hear, in a word, sense something overtly or covertly related to sexual acts. At this point our brains begin to process it according to our imaginative powers and log it in our memory. After this – and it may not take long – it moves to our intellect. We become aware of what we are thinking about. Then we are able to identify the goodness (or lack of goodness) in the thing about which we’re thinking. Now we are left to choose. As fantasy, there are many scenarios that often get entertained that do not correspond with the reality of our lives.  When entertained, these fantasies invariably lead to either a form of despair or infidelity, as stated previously, sometimes both.

So, at the level of perception, there will be sights, sensations, sounds that can be related to sexual activity.[2] This is a fact of human life. We will tend at times to use these perceptions for some kind of immediate, though unrealistic, pleasure. This is a result of Original Sin.[3] There is something disordered in us that draws us to desire people sexually that will not ultimately lead to happiness. Often in our fallen nature, our instincts like to latch on to these memories and we become tempted to envision others as a sort of physical or emotional thrill. This temptation leads to bad fantasy if whatever we’re thinking about doesn’t attach us to anything real about the world. It is just fantasy pure and simple. When we have the power to continue to entertain the thought or stop entertaining the thought, it has moved from merely the realm of a perception in the mind to the realm of our intellect and will. At this point, we can choose to entertain the bad fantasy and continue in the thrill of the thought or to discontinue the bad fantasy and return to the realm of reality.

The disunity between the way people think and reality leads to the classic definition of insanity: we keep doing the same thing but expect different results. It’s almost as if we think that if we keep meditating on these thoughts that it’s going to actually bring us some kind of lasting joy or happiness.  Again and again, however, it keeps us pining for more until we need these images, thoughts, fantasies to be more vivid and more frequent. They will either grow in their imaginative capacity or grow in number, until we consciously decide that they lack authentic power to fulfill us. It is at this point that sanity may take root and we can return to reality rather than perpetuating more bad fantasies.


Pretending and Depending

One of the most basic truths of human life is that we are creatures of habit. This truth is as ancient as it is self-evident. Aristotle grounded his entire moral system of virtue and vice on the concept of habit. This is as proper to our internal actions such as thinking, desiring, lusting as it is for our external actions of stealing, lying, generosity, or honesty. In fact, our external habits are formed by our internal habits. So, it is very important to form rightly ordered internal habits (and it is also the reason why freedom from lust must begin with our way of thinking). But many of us suffer from just the opposite. Our internal habits can so easily lead us to lust in a thousand ways. But physiologically something happens to us when we do this. Lustful thoughts activate some very powerful things in our brains: Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and the newly connected vasopressin.

It all starts with dopamine. Dopamine is the neurochemical that results in the exhilarating pleasure of immediate gratification. When we indulge in an image or lustful thought, dopamine is activated in the hypothalamus and we get excited about the prospect of the image in our minds. When unchecked, we begin to entertain these thoughts more often in order to return to the exhilaration the initial image gave us. At this point, a habit is forming within us. After the exhilaration of dopamine, the role of serotonin kicks in, reminding us of the exhilaration and bringing the images to mind when we are separated. Serotonin has been discovered to be found in the similar amounts in people who are newly in love as it is in people with OCD. Just like it keeps us hooked on those we love and are away from, serotonin also keeps us hooked on images that have given us a sense of pleasure.

Later, as we become more accustomed to lustful thoughts, we become attached to them by oxytocin from the pituitary gland. The signal is sent to the hypothalamus and, when it arrives, the pleasure center receives the oxytocin. Oxytocin is the classic bonding chemical that gives us a deeper, longer lasting sense of satisfaction. It is designed to increase trust, decrease stress, and give us a sense of security around a person; it is biological proof that humans are designed for monogamous relationships and the reason why break-ups can cause extreme psychological damage. Oxytocin and newly linked vasopressin are usually initiated by some kind of physical contact like a hug, holding hands, a kiss, and most intensely, during sex, most especially at orgasm. They can, however, be activated by our fantasies as well, especially if the fantasy is also accompanied by some kind of masturbation or some kind of physical comfort or gratification. All of this is to demonstrate the depth and power of human habits. Even when it comes to our thoughts, we can become deeply physiologically attached to our bad fantasies.

Simply bringing images, sounds, and scents to mind will activate our pleasure center and help us feel like that is where we need to be. The amount of dopamine and oxytocin that we experience in fantasy, however, is a bit of a tease. We were actually made to experience much larger quantities of it when our sexual appetites are awakened. In the very way we are built – to reiterate the point – from the stand point of science, we are creatures of habit. And so even if we do not allow ourselves to “go all the way,” our brains will crave the comfort of these fantasies and find solace in them. Needing fantasies, whether simply mental or pornographic, is never a comfortable thing to bring into a marriage. People have told horror stories about needing to imagine other people while having sex with their spouse or needing to use porn to get aroused. When we reach statuses as ugly as these, we are living in the fantasy and have started rejecting our own reality in life.

If you asked Tiger Woods, whose infidelity was made so public, whether he wanted a divorce from Elin Nordegren, I think it was clear at the time of the divorce that he still wanted to be with her. The problem is that Tiger couldn’t escape the fantasies that he created for himself. And he had the status to make his fantasies into realities, or at least attempt to. The problem, as with all things in the world of sexual fantasy, is that they didn’t fulfill him the way he imagined they would. So after his escapade, he would want to go back to his wife but simultaneously couldn’t stop his nasty little habit.  His story is bad enough, but it is a microcosm, a case study of the general culture of sex today. Whether people have the ability to act on their fantasies, the fantasies are the driving force for both infidelity and disappointment. I’ve heard people rejoice when they’ve lost their phone or deleted themselves from Facebook because it gave them a sense of great freedom. This is because we have hopes that these things will bring us a satisfaction that they rarely obtain. Imagine if you didn’t have thoughts that incessantly cause you to desire more than you have at the present moment. Imagine if you were genuinely satisfied just being who you are right now. Freedom from having our minds controlled by fantasy will lead us to a contentment and satisfaction that no lustful thought ever could. Unfortunately, we already have all these bad habits of lustful thinking, and habits die so terribly hard.


Reality and Sexuality

Skeptics and liberals in the area of sex may know that they already disagree with the following claims and not even give them a chance. But this once again proves that their open-mindedness only goes as far as their agendas. Though often suppressed and misrepresented in popular culture, the Catholic Church actually puts forward a beautiful and holistic view of human sexuality. This is demonstrated by considering our natural way of existing, loving, and ultimately, propagating the species. That sex should only occur in the context of a life-long relationship that has the possibility of procreation is written into our design. This relationship should be the result of an unshakeable commitment made before God and others. This commitment and relationships links us to another person physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Such a strong link is naturally the best environment for raising children. Unfortunately, there are many circumstances where this reality was not held in view – either from the outset or at some point after – and people engage in sexual activities and thoughts driven by our broken nature rather than the clear design. This is why we have so many cases, which used to be viewed as marginal but now are so common, where a couple must separate and sometimes the children must suffer the intuitive pain from the result of a broken union that was meant to last till death.

The design of procreation and rearing of all of humanity finds its source in the really special unity of man and woman. It’s not primarily special because of the feelings of love shared the couple, but because of the powers essential to the unity. Man has what is necessary to fulfill the clear design of woman and vice versa. Out of this compatibility, new life emerges naturally into a context of life-long love. How is this not beautiful and simultaneously not true? It is beautiful and simply true.  The reality of our sexuality is not that the joy and fulfillment end when the sex ends. The reality is that the enjoyment of sex is meant to lead to the deeper, longer-lasting enjoyment of love in our family life. Children who share the same genome as their parents will be more readily understood, in their skills and in their flaws.  This is not to say that children in families who do not share the same genes cannot be loved just as much. In fact, when that is the case, it is the result of extraordinary love on the part of both the parents and the children.

In any event, the reality of sex bonds two individuals and establishes the basis for family to spring up naturally in an environment of self-giving, life-long love. When we attach ourselves to premonitions and fantasies that do not reflect this image of our sexual design, we cheapen the deep bond of love as self-giving to something we can use for a more immediate albeit fleeting pleasure. The idea behind love is to take the joy that you have in your life and give it to another, that your whole life would be a gift to another’s life. This is the Church’s understanding of sexuality. The Church is not the bad cop simply trying to get into the bedroom and control us, as the rhetoric would suggest. Rather, the key to understanding sexuality is to understanding the simple truth: You are a gift. And this gift is to be selflessly given to benefit the lives of others, especially in our immediate families. The Church is calling us to something beautiful! She wants us to clear our minds of bad fantasy and open our hearts to being a life-long gift and to bring up a new generation that knows deep, committed, and selfless love. Love is meant to be a life-long gift that is expressed through our bodies, not only our thoughts and fantasies. The Church wants us to help us slow down and realize that we are made for more than jumping from one pleasure to the next. Once we slow down, rid ourselves of sexual fantasies and fleeting pleasures, only then will we hear that the entire universe never ceases to confidently whisper to us, “You are a special gift.”

[1] This is following Thomas Aquinas’ enumeration of external perception (the five physical senses), internal perception (phantasy, memory, estimation, and imagination), and the rational qualities of the soul (intellection and volition).

[2] We take in information through our senses and form them into something called phantasms, which are things that can be logged in our memory and recalled later. Imagine your favorite childhood toy, hiding place, tree, or the smell of the tree or the smell of your childhood home that no longer exists. When you do this, you are recalling the phantasm of the toy, tree, or smell. As you just did, you can recall these images whenever you like to. The same goes for any perceptions that relate to sexual activity.

[3] As Tolkien said in a letter to his son Christopher, “Every story is about original sin.” G.K. Chersterton said, “The most self-evident claim of Christianity is original sin.” Our world has lost touch with the concept of sin because it’s inconvenient. But just look at the world in every generation: war, corruption, violence, lying, stealing, and cheating, in a word, human failure. Original Sin is the only and best explanation of this state of things in every generation of human existence. Getting rid of Original Sin has also conveniently downplayed the culture’s acceptance of a Savior.

Don’t Be Lame: 3 Saints Who Knew How to Adventure

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

To be a saint doesn’t mean you have to be lame, rigid, and secluded all of the time – even though there are times when a serious reverence is appropriate. Ultimately, to be a saint means you fully dive into the adventure that God has placed in your life. In the life of most every saint, even in one as sweet and gentle as Therese of Lisieux, there has been a holy recklessness, a sense of adventure, and a great cosmic mission. The saints are the ones that teach us about the adventure the Church has for us. Today, I’d like to point to some adventures God might have for us if we decide to follow Him more recklessly. We can find a great deal of adventure in the examples from these three saints: Gabriel Possenti, Francis Xavier, and Therese of Lisieux.


Gabriel Possenti

St. Gabriel Possenti was a marksman that loved hunting and gambling. In his youth, he got sick three times and Mary appeared to him each time telling him to become a priest. The first two times he got distracted with petty things and went back to hunting and playing cards. The third time Mary told him to become a priest or his illness will kill him. This time he listened. He joined the Passionist order in Italy and began studying to become one of their priests.

One day marauders came through town. The monks were praying in the chapel when Gabriel heard a woman scream. This is not something he would allow. So he went to the rescue of the lady taking guns directly from the holsters of two marauders. He showed off his ability to shoot by blasting off the head of a lizard 50 yards away. He then held the two at gunpoint and ushered every single marauder out of the city and forced them to return everything they had stolen. No one was hurt but St. Gabriel chased a bunch of thugs of a town. That’s a bit of an adventure, right?! See what I’m saying? If Gabriel Possenti doesn’t respond to the call that God has for him, that adventure never happens and that town would not have been saved from all the evil that the marauders would have done. For more on Gabriel Possenti click here.


Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier was born into a noble family in the kingdom of Navarre (a part of modern-day Spain and France). The king of Aragon invaded Navarre when Francis was six years old and the fighting continued for the next 18 years. Francis’ family was much embroiled in the fighting, but to get away from it, Francis enrolled in the University of Paris. He became well-known for his athleticism, excelling at the high jump. Being away from his family, the party scene was commonplace for Francis and he had many aspirations to gain worldly success. But there he also met Ignatius of Loyola.

Castle of the Xavier Family now under the care of the Jesuits

Ignatius worked on Francis for years to get him to become more religious. Eventually, after Francis’ roommate had left to study for the priesthood, he found Ignatius as one of his only companions. On August 15th, 1534, Ignatius, Francis, and six others met in the crypt of a church just outside of Paris and made vows of poverty, chastity, obedience to the pope, and to missionary work in the Holy Land and other places around the world.

When it comes to missions around the world, it is impossible to overestimate the credit which Francis Xavier deserves. With the possible exception of St. Paul, the Church has not seen a missionary like him. His first task: bring the Gospel to the newly established territories in India. This was not an easy assignment because the “Christian” settlers in India were causing scandal for the message of Gospel because of their immoral actions with the locals. Francis Xavier also was pigeon-holed by the caste system in India. The Brahmin class tried to keep him from interacting with his heart’s true the desire, the poorest of the poor. Francis Xavier followed his heart and spent most of his time learning the culture and language of the people, tending to the poor, and teaching them the Christian message, often times lambasting the actions of the Portuguese settlers. Because of Francis’ adventurous efforts, however, Catholicism has a strong presence in India still to this day.

To see the real adventure in Francis’ life, we must look at his work in Japan in particular. Francis eventually made his way through many island territories, China, and found his way to the people of Japan. There Francis established missions and over the course of two years gained a number of Japanese to the Catholic faith and the Jesuit order. After establishing Catholicism in Japan, he left to go back to India leaving behind others to run the communities of Japan. In 1620, less than one hundred years after Francis established Christianity there, the Empire banned Catholicism and killed all the priests and attempted to stamp out what Francis has built. Communication was lost with all the Catholics in Japan until 1865. In that year, it was discovered that a small group of Japanese had continued ritual baptism, belief in clerical celibacy, the primacy of the pope, and devotion to the Blessed Mother. For nearly 250 years, because of “the adventures of St. Francis Xavier” and the way he built the community there, Japan had retained a Catholic presence in secret, unknown both to the Japanese government and to the rest of the Church.



Therese of Lisieux

God is not calling people to be a flock of sissies. In some ways, we are to be more like lions than sheep. Speaking of that contrast, St. Therese of Lisieux is an example of a saint who seems very gentle but actually had the heart of a lion. While it’s true it hard to see a lot of adventure in the Therese’s active life, there are many quotes from her Story of a Soul that demonstrate her adventurous attitude. To start, in discovering her vocation, Therese finds what her adventure within the Church is, and in a real way it is every human being’s adventure. She says, “Then, overcome by joy, I cried, ‘Jesus, my love. At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and then I will be all things.” For Therese, the great adventure of this life is learning how to love in all the little ways. We see this clearly in this famous line that was often referenced by Mother Teresa when she says, “You know well that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions,nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”

Therese sees this life not as a destination, but a journey of learning how to love. One day, she desires to be with Love forever, when the adventure is over. Referring to this life she says, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” For Therese, the journey of this life is holiness, which is found in the perfection of love. To perfect love, one must be well aware of God’s desire for his or her life. “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be,” says Therese. In her longing for God’s will, we see one of the most adventurous things that she has to offer us and her reckless desire for nothing shy of everything God wants of her. Even despite the ways others annoy and distract her, she endeavors to love in all things. When the trials are heavy, she reminds herself and all of us that “when one loves, one does not calculate.” If that isn’t the idea of adventure that burns in your heart, you are very much different from Therese and myself. What greater adventure is there than reckless abandon for the highest cause? Tolkien, Lewis, even Twain, Melville, and DeFoe made their careers based on the same movement of the heart: to abandon yourself to life’s greatest endeavors.

For Therese the adventure is to sail the ship of this world in a way that it leads to heaven. The way to stay on course is to always be solid in prayer, even if it is challenging. She says, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Therese was adventurous even in her approach to prayer, seeing that the process brings trial and joy which occur simultaneously.

Finally, Therese always tied her life’s adventure to the adventure of the cross. “To dedicate oneself as a Victim of Love is not to be dedicated to sweetness and consolations; it is to offer oneself to all that is painful and bitter, because Love lives only by sacrifice and the more we would surrender ourselves to Love, the more we must surrender ourselves to suffering,” she says. She understood the great battle within her and around her. A battle all of us are called to engage in still today. She says, “Each time that my enemy would provoke me to combat, I behave as a gallant soldier.” Even in the heart of sweet Therese there was the presence of a fierce and unruly desire to follow Christ in his Church. If only more of us would find the same adventure in our lives as sweet, small, gentle, and simple Therese found in hers!


There are so many other saints that have lived lives of adventure from St. John the Baptist, St. Paul the Apostle to St. John Paul II, the mountain loving, soccer playing, skier pope that changed the face of Catholicism and instigated the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The point is, to be a Catholic saint means to be totally awesome. Jesus’ awesome adventure was the cross. And as Hebrews 12 states, it was because of the joy that was set in front of him that he endured the cross. The joy for Jesus was that one day he gets to be with you forever. He went on a great and reckless adventure and gave his entire life just so he could be with you someday. He has now asked us to follow his model of recklessness. To live an adventure. The Church needs great and adventurous saints to set the stage for the third millennium. It can and should be us. In our own unique way, we can live the adventure of following Jesus and being a great saint.

Wealth in Poverty: No Greater Love Than This

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles


Whispered whimpers.

A shadow against our sunny day in Rome.

We’d emerged from the tunnel crossing below the street to St. Peters basilica, and I paused. The form materialized into an arched back, dirt-crusted hands, and a tattered black veil.

A woman.

The group continued ahead of me as I felt through my jacket. Hungry fingers scratched my empty pockets. It was the end of our trip, and I’d given away all euros I had.

I bowed my head to her. My hands, like hers, held only air and a prayer.

I quickened my pace to re-join my group. My friend glanced over at me. His eyebrows scrunched.

“You smiled, but a frown flickered across your face,” he said later. “And I knew something was wrong. Then I saw her.”

He turned around and went to the woman. He spoke to her. She answered in mumbled Italian; my  friend only knew English. As he blessed her with his words, though, he handed her a crumbled euro bill.

At the same time, he blessed me.

The corners of my mouth lifted. In that moment he made up for what I was lacking, using his strength to complement my weakness. My friend saw my need—and HER need—and he filled it. In a simple way, he was my partner in God’s mission that day.


“How wonderful it would be,” Pope Francis said in his recent surprise appearance at the TED 2017 conference, “while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and the sisters orbiting around us.”

How wonderful it is, that while I was aiming for my metaphorical ‘faraway planets’ during our pilgrimage in Rome, this woman near St. Peter’s—and others like her throughout the city—caused me to attend to those in orbit around me. She, the people I’ve encountered beside the highways in Kansas City, and the friends who ask for prayer are all instruments of God’s invitation to me. They cause me to look beyond my personal duties, recognize the souls in faces, and remember my daily mission–of love.

Our universal call to love requires sacrifice in small or great ways. Be it speaking words of encouragement, praying for specific intentions, offering dinner to friends with tight budgets, or handing over the largest dollar bill in our pockets, we are each made to offer all we have. We are created to give.

Almsgiving is one form of giving, and is especially close to Pope Francis’ heart. It is “a gesture of love which directs us toward those we meet,” he said on April 9th last year, during the Year of Mercy. “It is a gesture of sincere attention to those who come to us and ask our help. We should not identify almsgiving simply with a (hastily given) monetary offering, without looking at the person, and without stopping to talk, to understand what they really need.” Almsgiving, the Pope stresses, must carry within it the richness of mercy; the Italian word for alms (elemosina) derives from a Greek word referencing mercy.

If we are merciful in our giving, we are to give out of desire for another’s good and not let fear prevent us from acting. Pope Francis pointed to a common concern, that someone begging may use money to buy alcohol or drugs. “If he is drunk, it is because he does not have another path!” Francis explained. “What do we have hidden that no one else sees? Yet we judge a man who only knows how to cope with existence via a glass of wine?”

God has mercy on each soul; in our call to imitate Christ we are invited to share in this mercy.


A few weeks after Rome I met Michael in downtown Kansas City. John and I were walking to my car after the Chrism Mass, and we saw a person huddled over the pavement. Our steps slowed. Man or woman, we couldn’t discern. We stopped.

“Hey. Do you need help?”

Our words were soft. Night traffic swept loudly past us.

“Excuse me…”

The person remained sitting, the crown of his or her head almost touching the sidewalk. John and I looked at each other. I had a twenty dollar bill in my jacket. I began to reach for it.

Then—the person jerked up.

This humbled soul had a thick, tangling white beard reaching from his creased, reddish-pink face. His head crooked left and right. His blue eyes shot open—and looked right into mine.


“Like St. Michael, the archangel, you know,” he said later. He spoke with a gleam in his eye of his Catholic upbringing, and his chapped lips made a crooked smile when he shared Mother Mary has never denied him anything he asked. His eyebrows scrunched when he mentioned his wife, his child.

As John and I knelt to join him on the sidewalk, he reached into one of his bags.

“I’m sorry, folks. Excuse me for a moment while I indulge.” He turned and took a swig from the bottle, hidden in the shadows. “I can’t help it.”

We were silent and watched.

“See, folks, to put it bluntly: I’m an alcoholic. I should stop but—” he shrugged and spread his hands wide, palms up.

He was drinking Vodka that evening, as he does many nights.

Michael put the bottle away. He prayed with us. He talked longer with us, using words that revealed a true childlike faith.

The night grew late.

We had to go home.

We left Michael and returned the next evening with my roommate. The three of us sat with him. We chatted.

Together we prayed. We reminded him how to pray each Our Father and Hail Mary in the Rosary. I felt the blessing of being a teacher in this small way, yet at the start of each decade he snapped his eyes shut, bowed his head, and rocked. He led us in prayer. In this way, Michael gave us greater blessings.


“The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you and still more will be given to you,” we read in Mark 4:24-25. God wants to bless us: God yearns for us to be open to receiving all good things. The woman in Rome, and countless others whose names are unknown or forgotten now, know the fullness of asking and receiving more than I do. They, the poor and meek, show me a softness of heart—a receptiveness of love—that for years I was very closed off towards. I did not want it. Now, I see:

There is such humility in begging. To recognize our needs, which we cannot fulfill on our own, is an opportunity to seek aid in our lowliness. To ask for help in any situation and capacity is to practice great humility. My recent encounters caused me to reflect on a life spent relying completely on strangers, without shelter of a job or home. Those who do so may be seen as pitiable, poor—yet they are incredibly blessed. Blessed, because they go through their days with such meekness. Blessed, because they have no earthly fetters to prevent them from fully trusting in God. Blessed, because Jesus boldly assures them—and all of us—in the Beatitudes, ‘blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’

Throughout my child and young adulthood I was closed off to such blessings. I struggled in asking even for simple things like help from teachers on an assignment, permission to drive my dad’s car from school to a tennis match, or extra muscle to carry grocery bags. I didn’t want to tell my friends or admit to my parents I needed help: in my pride I shirked that potential humility of asking anything of anyone. In doing so, I denied my family the opportunity of loving me through giving. I blocked out the graces; I denied the blessings.

I, in the hardness of my heart, in my desire to be ‘independent’ and ‘strong,’ denied myself something that brings us closer to Christ—for He Himself made his needs known. In recognizing our reliance on others, we share in the sorrow of Mary and in the heaviness of reality she carries. We feel the burden of Simon carrying the cross, and the submission of self which Christ demonstrates with His life. These moments in Scriptures are shared by the meek. The reality of these moments are in the humble who have bowed their heads to receive the blessings of strangers. Blessed are they! The humble in spirit! Blessed are they! Those who depend on God’s gifts.

We must be like the woman in Rome, hands open to receive any blessings God gives us—and to receive without denying ourselves those gifts. He is a father, and if fathers so love and enjoy seeing their children’s happiness at the gifts given—so then does God.


“Why does the poor person enrich me? Because Jesus said that he himself is in the poor.” ~ Pope Francis

“Christian poverty is: I give to the poor what is mine, not the excess, but also what is necessary” for one’s own well-being. ~ Pope Francis

Do the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as unto the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord.” ~ Ephesians 6:6-8

“The world calls for and expects from us obedience and humility. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man.” ~ Pope Paul VI

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:13

Spreading the Gospel: Tips from Acts 4

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

As a part of the Love InSight program I’ve written a few Bible studies for parishes and parish life. One of them is based on the first seven chapters of the book Acts of the Apostles. The main question at the heart of this study is: what can we learn from the first Christians today? In this study, Acts 4 makes for our liveliest discussion. Today, I want to share with the rest of the world some of the fruits of that discussion. Note: I cannot recap the whole lesson; I am simply pointing out some major takeaways.


Summary of Acts 4

In Acts 3 Peter and John heal a lame man and give credit to the name of Jesus for this power. In Acts 4 the Sanhedrin has them arrested (presumably for going against Jewish teachings, which they were in fact doing). Peter defends himself by preaching that Jesus is the Messiah, basically saying, “you had him put to death, but now by him, this man is healed.” The major help in his argument was that the man who had been healed was seen crippled everyday at the Temple for over 40 years and was now standing right by Peter and John.

Given the evidence, the Sanhedrin cannot convict them and they simply say, “Do not go around using the name of Jesus.” Peter basically replies, “Sorry, but we can’t do that. Adios.” After persuading new converts (it says 5,000) they go back and pray together as a community. They don’t pray for deliverance from persecution, like you might expect. Rather, they pray for boldness in their mission. They don’t simply pray individually, as I said, they pray together, for their mission of spreading the news about Jesus. Finally, at the end of chapter 4, we see the famous passage where all the believers in Jerusalem put their possessions together, lay them at the feet of the Apostles, and hold all things in common and distributing according to each person’s needs.

So what can we learn from all of this? Here are 4 takeaways for spreading the Gospel from Acts chapter 4:


1) Establish credibility with the people you are evangelizing

Peter and John had the benefit of healing someone and that person became the testimony of their credibility. I’d say not enough Christians today believe that God will do powerful things through them and so powerful things like this are rare today. I credit a lack of faith, not a lack of God for this deficit. Yet, there are other ways to establish credibility other than working miracles. The primary way: becoming friends. If you’re only friends with perfectly good Christians (if those even exist), you’re probably not doing a lot for the work of evangelization (which all of us are actually supposed be doing). The key to this step of becoming friends: have some conversations that matter. Once someone trusts you in conversations that matter, you have at least some degree of credibility with them.

There are other ways to establish credibility that can affect many people at once. Think of the life of Mother Teresa or St. Padre Pio or many, many other great saints that by their holiness and model of selfless love were able to impact the lives of thousands of people (sometimes even at once). Whether you use miracles, friendship, fame, or best of all, selfless love, establishing credibility is the first step.


2) A noticeable proclamation of the Gospel

Immediately after Peter and John healed the cripple (established credibility), they stood in front of many people in the Temple and preached. The word in Greek for preaching or proclaiming is kerygma. Notice, they didn’t start with teaching or catechesis (didache in Greek), they started with preaching. What did they preach? The truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection so that people could become Jesus’ disciples. Before we go promoting the Church’s teaching on this issue or that issue, people should be invited to become disciples of Jesus (to get to know him and follow him). In the friendship model above, there is a subtle change. Instead of having conversations that matter in general, at some point we can begin to have conversations that matter about Jesus. So, when we say “proclaim” or “preach,” what we mean is: invite people, in whatever way is appropriate to your relationship, to become a disciple of Jesus.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were able to use more boldness since they just publicly healed a man. Mother Teresa spoke powerfully to world leaders at times because the whole world knew she epitomized sincere, self-giving love.  Regardless, in the endeavor to evangelize, at some point after credibility is established, some kind of conversation about following Jesus is paramount. There are probably many people in our own parishes that still need this kind of invitation. Parishes can even start programs that have this conversation for you. If you go this route, all you have to do for steps one and two is be friends with someone and invite them to come with you to the program at your parish.


3) Having an environment of prayer

Whether or not you bring the person with whom you had the conversation about Jesus with you, the first Church had space and a place where believers prayed together. I say “space” in reference to time. Sometimes we get so busy with our school or jobs or at home that we don’t even have a space for community prayer in our lives. The first Christians made space and they met together in one place. In this place, they didn’t just pray rote prayers, though they were often based on the on the psalms, which would have been routine for Jews in the 1st century. Instead of simply praying from memory, however, they added a certain spontaneity to their prayer by praying for boldness and that their mission would be effective. Notice: they didn’t pray that persecutions would cease. Instead they prayed that the Gospel would be spread. Is this the kind of thing we pray for in our communities, in our parishes, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Where two or more are gathered, Jesus is there with us. And if you pray for things you know God wants, he will answer your prayers. Jesus commissioned his disciples to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If you pray with others to be a part of that commission, he will give you the grace to do it. If parishes want to be centers of conversion today, it should by the power of the Holy Spirit, not just our own effort. In Acts 4:29-31 we see the house where they were praying shook as a sign that the Holy Spirit came in power. Thus, in coming together and praying for their mission, the deep burning desire to spread the Gospel that they had at Pentecost is renewed for them. Today, let’s also pray together more often so that we may continue in our desire for and grace to spread the Gospel.


4) A community that promotes selflessness

After the proclamation of the Gospel and praying together, the last part of chapter 4 shows the believers bring all of their stuff to the feet of the apostles to be distributed according to their need. Though we might get tagged as a cult if we did this today, there’s at least a very strong metaphor in the idea of selflessly bringing all of our stuff to the feet of the apostles. We all have gifts and abilities and, at the very least, we have the ability to love others. The first Christians did this selflessly, not thinking about their own needs, but submitting to the oversight of the apostles. Though it’s a good start, parishes should not only be a conglomeration of friends who enjoy each other’s company. I believe wholeheartedly that parish life would greatly improve if we began to use our gifts and talents to embody a true selflessness for each other and the message of the Gospel. When new believers are brought into an environment like this, they will want to stay. They will know that they will always be loved, accepted, forgiven, cared for, and have a mission in life no matter what challenges come their way.



God has a unique and unrepeatable plan for your life. As a disciple of Jesus, you have a unique mission for spreading the Gospel. Likewise, each of our parishes has a unique mission for spreading the Gospel (sometimes to members of our own parishes). We should start finding people who want to see the message of discipleship brought to the ends of the earth. We should unite our efforts with them and begin to make a difference with our lives that will last for eternity.

To close, here once again are the takeaways from Acts 4: 1) Establish credibility with someone; 2) before catechesis, invite them to follow Jesus (proclaim the Gospel to them); 3) pray together to live out our mission in the world; 4) live a selfless life of community amongst brothers and sisters on mission with you. If we do all these things, it does not mean we will have 100% success. It does mean, however, that we are doing what God has asked us to do, namely, to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). In the end, these takeaways lead us to a simple truth about the Christian life: Be a disciple, live alongside other disciples, and invite others to become disciples.


This is an important subject to me. I do not claim know everything about it. I’d like for you to kindly contact me or comment with additional thoughts, if you have any.

Love in the Waiting: How to Live (a Vocation of) Holiness

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

“You’re getting to be an old maid,” my dad likes to say now, “by St. Jo standards” (speaking of St. Joseph, MO). Up until a year ago he was giving me three options: he offered that I could marry a rich man, become a nun, or (due to my shin scars from falling kneelers and hard-edged theater boxes) marry a man who can’t see well. These were the futures he envisioned for me.

Apparently, in my 20’s, I’ve now reached the age of no return.

Waiting for God’s call is like waiting for Easter. We know He will call; we have faith He will speak to us and to our hearts. Yet at times we despair or question God’s timing. “I just want God to tell me what to do,” one of my friends said last week as we sipped tea in my living room. “I really want to know.”

This, on the heels of a conversation I’d had earlier that day with another young woman while she waited at an airport. She was feeling called more and more to marriage, though she recognized this wasn’t the time. God had yet to put a man in her path to discern marriage with. Until He did, she told me, she is praying for her future spouse—and working with God to heal from her wounds and mistakes.

She is treating this period in her life as Lent, though we just passed into the Easter season. She is letting God have this time to prepare her for whatever is to come. This period of preparation may be sorrowful or carry feelings of desolation, yet there is the hope of fulfillment one day. In other words Easter will come, though my friend doesn’t have the foresight of knowing what day God will invite her to love through a specific vocation.


Our specific vocations—be it single life, married life, consecrated life, or ordained ministry—are only pieces of a greater call. These vocations are the ways in which we live out the universal call. “The Lord called me from birth,” Isaiah 49 reads, “from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” God has a purpose for each person and destines each one for a great purpose. He calls each person from birth; He gives each man and woman a name by which they will be known, and lives by which He will be known. To glorify God and imitate Christ on earth is to live out the universal vocation: to live in holiness.

This universal vocation (which means ‘call’) begins at baptism. In baptism, Christians begin to know, love, and serve God—to live this is the reason for our existence, giving meaning to our lives. It is an ongoing call; it forever invites us to turn to God and align our will with His. While careers or professions allow us to support ourselves and contribute in some way to the good of society in a ‘horizontal dimension,’ our vocation involves the ‘vertical’ aspect of our lives. Living our universal call strengthens the spiritual relationship between each of us and God.

The meaning of a holy life differs for each person, though. Two women may both help children through social work, yet one may be a consecrated virgin living in a community of women while the other serves as wife and mother to three boys. They both are committed to loving God and people, yet this commitment manifests itself in two distinct ways. While God remains the object of their vocations, neither woman is living in a more holy way than the other.

Each woman is called in a special way, which is equal in importance for building God’s kingdom yet different from the other woman’s call. God speaks of a specific mission for each of us, one He imagines for us even before we are on earth. This is our vocational mission—out of our love for Him and His for us—to be husbands or wives, single laypersons or consecrated virgins, or ordained ministers. These vocations are unchanging. They are ones we can live out with hope, knowing that, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you’ (Jeremiah 1:5).

Before we can love God through these specific vocations, though, we need a time of discernment. If our wedding day or day for profession of vows is our Easter, and our lives thereafter the vibrant Easter season, then our lives leading to Easter are the 40 days of Lent. The weeks of Lent are, at times, weeks of desolation or sorrow as the Church contemplates Christ’s Passion. During Lent the Church recalls baptism and encourages penance. It is by these ‘the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God’s word more frequently and devote more time to prayer’ (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 109).

Lent, then, is a time of preparation. It is at time during which we give our sins to God and open ourselves to healing. It is a special time for prayer, sacrifice, and good works; Lent is a time of hope.

The period of singlehood before each person is given their vocation is the same. This time is a gift from God, through which He invites men and women to pray, fast, and let Him heal wounds. He offers forgiveness for past, wrong actions. He helps to forgive family members or friends. He takes twisted perceptions or expectations from former relationships and transforms them to trust and love of man. He helps in the practice of chastity (for, as St. John Paul II writes, ‘only the chaste man and chaste woman are capable of love).

This Lent, the Lent of the vocation journey, is one during which a person can learn to better love so that when God calls, at last, he or she can say yes. In this time of waiting he or she can practice sacrificing time and personal wants for the good of others. Each person, in this period, has the beautiful opportunity to grow in obedience, increase in fellowship with men and women, and better their ability to work in a team. Each person has the chance to ask questions and search inside themselves, as Christians do in classes and scrutinies to prepare for the sacraments. These are the ‘spiritual exercises’ of singlehood—these are the routine Stations of the Cross, penance services, fasts, and almsgivings before their Easter day.




In embracing this time and drawing close to God, each person seeking their specific vocation will open more to God’s will. Prayer is key. Pope Benedict XVI said, “To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God’s call. Programs, plans and projects have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call.”

Here lies the answer to my friend’s desire: prayer. She asks that God tells her, soon, what she is to do on earth.

God will answer her, in His own time.

And to her anxiety—as well as countless others’—God uses people like ordained priests and one Holy Woman to communicate to us: ‘Be not afraid.’

In an echo of these three words, Fr. Mike Schmitz declared in one homily that ‘God won’t ask you to answer a question that He hasn’t asked yet.’ Cardinal Sean O’Malley reminded us that our vocations are particular and singular to each of us; he emphasized that the joy, happiness, and fulfillment of others depends on ‘getting your vocation right!’ Yet, the Cardinal added, this is a choice we do not make alone.

Though each vocation is singular to each person, a man or woman is not singular in his or her journey to discovering God’s will. Parents may aid on the journey, holy couples may set an example of the beauty of married life, religious orders may offer direction, a parish may become a second home, roommates may become siblings as each of them asks the same question of God—‘What am I to do for you?’ Above all of these helpmates is the Holy Spirit, burning and speaking in each soul.

God will fulfill His purpose for us in time—if only we say yes. If we are swords and arrows, as Isaiah 49 infers, then God will use us only when He is ready; the soldier uses these weapons only when they are needed, in battle, and keeps them otherwise in their sheaths. Like the soldier, God will draw us forth for our life mission when we are sharp and He deems it right.

Easter will only come when the time of preparation has reached its fullness.

Christ only rises when God calls him onward.


To all those seeking their vocation, or yearning for one vocation in particular, I say: imitate Mary. Keep in prayer. Say ‘yes’ to God with every day of your life.

Know, like Mary, that there is sweetness in the waiting.

Make this time of preparation. Practice patience. Pray for your vocation. Gather information, and experience each vocational life as best you can. Pray with these things. Listen.

In the silence of your heart, when your hands are palms up and you are completely open, God will reveal to you your soul. Your destiny.

We Want Barabbas: An Easter Reflection

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

This year, during the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, I was singularly drawn to the words “We want Barabbas!” I began to think about why the people might want a guy like Barabbas over a guy like Jesus. Freeing Barabbas did not make sense on a number of levels and two inconsistencies are particularly glaring.

First, and most obvious, Barabbas was locked up for harming people. Apparently, harming people is not a big deal. Jesus, on the other hand, was locked up for being too good of guy and for using his unique powers to do good for others. He was making claims and doing things to confirm the truth of those claims, but the Jewish leaders at the time happened to not like it. (Note: Good guys always seem to have a hard time, but good guys should learn from Jesus that doing the right thing is ultimately the most thrilling and worthy way to live.)

Secondly, more than simply the quality of character between Jesus and Barabbas, the Jews were even more inconsistent in their arguments. While the Jews would declare they “have no king but Caesar,” they also asked Pilate to free a political radical whose goal was to drive the Romans and Caesar out of Judea. How does that make any sense?

The dichotomy of Barabbas and Jesus even has a deeper meaning when we think about the kind of liberator each of them represented. Barabbas was also a kind of messianic figure. He was more like what most Jews expected from a messiah. He was a political figure that would free Jews from Roman rule and establish a perfect, peaceful, and happy kingdom found in this world. Jesus was a messianic figure that professed that his “kingdom is not of this world.” In a way, the Gospels display a sort of messianic face-off. People have a choice: do I want a paradise of this world or do I want a paradise found in the world that Jesus preaches about?



Ultimately this reflection led me to think of myself. There so many Barabbai in my life. Why am I drawn to poor character qualities in myself and in others? Why am I so inconsistent in my thinking and acting? Why do I choose things that are obviously not good for me or for others, while I leave what is truly good to be left for dead? Why do I want Barabbas? Why do I yearn and long for complete and utter happiness in this life and in this world?

Barabbas personifies the lure of the world. Jesus personifies a more refined love. This love is sometimes hard to recognize especially with the more attached to the world we become. I easily become blinded because I get used to the way the world pleases me. I don’t want to be afraid or sad or lonely or broke or hopeless. The world has all kinds of promises of money, sex, attention, and success that will lead to some kind of ecstatic, unending joy. But ultimately, when pursuing the ways of Barabbas and trying to establish a worldly paradise, I only get filled for time and then emptiness ensues. When I continue to seek happiness in this world, I embark on a perpetual search to consume more.

Jesus wants us to pursue a more fulfilling reality. Experiencing this fulfillment actually requires detachment from some of the empty promises of this world. Sometimes I just want to be free from all sorts of shallow questions: How do I look? What do I own? Does anyone like me? Who do I talk to? Who do I not talk to? How well am I known? How much money do I have? How should I dress? Am I funny enough? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough? Am I personable enough? Do people respect me? Does anyone love me? All of these questions and more come from a worldly perspective and, if I want happiness, I need to reject these Barrabai and choose a more detached, heavenly way that Jesus demonstrated. With that in mind, here are three brief and simple things to help us become more detached:


1) Focus on the goal of heaven everyday, starting in prayer and extending into the rest of the day

God wants to fill us with Himself. Practicing His presence and getting to know how much He wants to give us, will change our lives. The problem with my life is not that I desire too many things. Rather, I don’t desire enough. My desires fall short and my eyes land on worldly things. If I desired more, I’d desire God’s love more purely. Finite things can only fill me so much, I need to stop searching for them to fill my infinite desire for love that only He can fill. No car, bar, house, or spouse can completely make me happy in the way I desire, only God can. Ultimately this means I need to focus more on heaven, where God will completely and perfectly fill all of my desires.


2) Having true friendships based on authentic concern for the well-being of others

Sometimes we have friends that listen to us because they just really care about our happiness and salvation. Sometimes these friends are not people we would naturally be connected to unless it was an intentional decision to befriend the person. This is healthy. If we’re only friends with people that we are attracted to, we will find a harder time practicing love in our friendships. Rather, we are only exercising friendship based on our needs and selfishness actually forms the heart of the friendship. We also need some intentional friendships based on higher concerns of helping each other get to heaven. and given time, they will become deeper and more fulfilling.


3) Commit to being a servant of others

Instead of saying, ‘what can I get out of life?’ I need to learn the attitude of giving life to others. This is a more fulfilling way. How can I improve the life of others? How can I care for their physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs? Learning to care for other people is a huge step in learning to live a fulfilled life. One sign that shows that we’re attached to the world is when we wake up and start thinking about only ourselves. Learning to bring to mind the concerns of others as one of the first things we think about in the morning will give us a mentality of service. We can learn to look at people with eyes of love, no matter what their level of need, everyone in the world is yearning to be loved, respected, and cared for. Even if it begins with just one good deed a day, becoming a servant of others will give us deep satisfaction and happiness.



In the end, Easter brings to the fore the conversation between choosing Barabbas or Jesus, this world or the next world. Barabbas was known for harming people, and Jesus was known for healing them. Sometimes we get short-sighted and forget that Jesus’ victory was so much greater than Barabbas’! We choose Barrabai in our lives, when we choose to listen to worldly desires more powerfully than our desire for God.

Harrowing Hell: Eternal Inferno?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

Today is Holy Saturday. Today our world waits in stillness. For a great reflection, read the second reading from the office of readings also found here. In this stillness, there is a world that has been set in a fit of rage, namely, the world of those cut off from God and His love. This world is what Dante called the Inferno. Today, I want to take a look at Holy Saturday as it is found in Dante’s Inferno.

It should be first noted that Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (which is a poetic telling of the reality of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise) is remarkably short on references to Christ. I do not think this is because he believes Christ to be inconsequential to the afterlife. Rather, I think Dante wanted to reserve a certain reverence for Jesus. In fact, though they are few, he is also poetic in his references to Jesus, avoiding the use of his name (Jesus) or his title (Christ).

Near the beginning of the Inferno in Canto IV, while they are in the first circle of Hell, Dante asks Virgil if anyone has ever left Hell. Dante says:

‘Tell me, my Teacher…did anyone ever leave here, through his merit or with another’s help, and go to bliss?’ And he, who understood my hidden question, answered: ‘I was a novice in this place when I saw a mighty lord descend to us who wore the sign of victory as his crown.

He took from us the shade of our first parents, of Abel, his good son, of Noah, too, and of obedient Moses, who made the laws; Abram, the Patriarch, David the King, Israel with his father and his children, with Rachel, whom he worked so hard to win; and many more he chose for blessedness; and you should know, before these souls were taken, no human soul had ever reached salvation.

Virgil informs Dante that indeed people have left Hell and that this was done by a Lord who descended with a crown of victory. This was the first time any human soul was saved.

Later, in Canto XII, Virgil draws Dante’s attention to ruins of rocks in the lower parts of hell. These ruins were not there when Virgil entered the Inferno. He then describes the events that led to the rocks being ruined. Virgil says:

‘Now let me tell you that the other time I came down to the lower part of Hell, this rock had not fallen into ruins; but certainly, if I remember well, it was just before the coming of the One who took from Hell’s first circle the great spoil,

That this abyss of stench, from top to bottom began to shake, so I thought the universe felt love–whereby, some have maintained, the world has more than once renewed itself in chaos. That was the moment when this ancient rock was split this way–here, and in other places.’

Here we see Virgil describing the fit of rage that Hell broke into when Christ descended to free the captives. It is interesting to note that Virgil describes all of Hell, from top to bottom, shaking; yet, he does not ascribe this to a frightful thing, but rather he ascribes it to love. When Christ descends to free the elect who are enslaved by sin, Hell is thrown into an uproar. This is not because of hatred, anger, or malice on the part of the One (Jesus), but because of love. Hell is where there is no love. Hell cannot hold love. Hell is endless unlove. Hell is a place many people in our world probably should work much harder to avoid. If we only truly knew the reality of it!

The opposite of love is selfishness. In the case of hell, selfishness gets mixed with utter sadness and loss. That combination creates an existence of self-loathing which will never end. Yesterday, we commemorated the salvific act of the perfectly righteous man who paid the penalty for sin (the wages of sin is death; cf. Genesis 3). Today, we see that Jesus shakes the foundations of Hell with his love. Instead of being like those who are perishing, let us fall in love with Jesus who has perfect love for us and has saved us from our selfishness. When we fall in love with someone, we begin to live more like our beloved. When we fall in love with him, we will begin to live more like he did, selflessly and for the true good and salvation of others.

God bless you and have a joy-filled Easter!


In case you were wondering:

Dante did not invent the idea of Jesus’ descent into Hell. Here are some bible passages demonstrating Jesus’ descent into Hell was something his first followers knew about:

1 Peter 3:18-20: “Being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey.” 

Ephesians 4:9-10: “In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” 

Note:  The phrase “Lower parts of the earth” refers to what would have been understood as the first of four parts of Hell common in that time.

Acts 2:24: Peter says, “But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of hell, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

St. Cecilia: Patron of Music, Strength of Womanhood

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

Although the story of St. Cecilia may be a myth, it is still endearing and inspiring. Two parts of her story are true: she was a real person in Rome and she was martyred there. The earliest appearance of her story comes from around the middle of the 5th century, and many of these hagiographic accounts composed in the 5th and 6th centuries were exaggerated and romanticized. Because of this, her story technically lacks critical historical value.

However, one thing I have learned in my personal experience is that when it comes to these kinds of myths, especially old myths, it can sometimes be hard to separate what truly is fact and fiction – and sometimes the most mystical parts of these stories turn out to be more true than they seem. In this case, there really is not much historical evidence to support the claims of the popular story of St. Cecilia’s life, but the story that we have of her is very beautiful.

Her Story

It is said that St. Cecilia was given to marriage by her parents, who were Christian, with a pagan nobleman named Valerianus. She did not want this. During her wedding ceremony, St. Cecilia was disinterested. Instead, in her heart, she sang to God. Because of this, she is known as the Patroness of Musicians.

After the wedding, when it came time to consummate the marriage, St. Cecilia informed Valerianus that she was betrothed to an angel who was guarding her body, so Valerianius was not to threaten her virginity. The implication was that if he did anything inappropriate he could face serious punishment, but if he respected her purity then he would stand well with the Lord.

Valerianus listened to her, but he wanted to see this angel. St. Cecilia told him that he would have to go to the third milestone on the Via Appia and meet with Pope Urban I to be baptized. Valerianus obeyed. After his baptism, he returned to his wife. Then her angel appeared to the two of them, crowning them both with roses and lilies.

Her influence did not stop there.

Even Valerianus’ brother, Tiburtius, was won over to Christianity. The two zealous brothers gave rich alms, and also buried the bodies of some confessors who had been martyred due to persecution from the local government. The local prefect, Turcius Almachius, condemned them to death for burying the confessors. But the officer appointed to execute them, Maximus, was converted to their cause, and he was martyred along with them.

Next the prefect sought St. Cecilia’s execution. Before her death she made arrangements for her home to be converted into a church. She was ordered to be executed by suffocation in her own bath. Her executors filled the room with so much steam that she could not breathe. But this attempt to kill her failed; she was not harmed.

Next the executioner tried to chop her head off with a sword. He swung through her neck three times, but he could not completely behead her. He ran away, but she continued to live for another three days before dying.

Pope Urban I buried her, along with all the martyrs and confessors mentioned in this story, in the Catacombs of Callistus. Today it is not uncommon to see music festivals pop up on her feast day, November 22, and one of the oldest musical academies in the world is still named after her in Rome, the National Academy of St. Cecilia. Her home is preserved in Rome, as a church, of course.


Today many film and media critics praise stories which feature impressive female leads, stories which show that women can be strong and independent heroines in the same way that men are often depicted as heroes in popular stories. The story of St. Cecilia, then, might give us pause to consider what real heroism is. In this story our heroine is independent, and she remains convicted to her values, but she doesn’t seek anything grand in this world.

There is no wondrous adventure to foreign lands. There is no discovery that she is really the long-lost princess of some other country. She does not complete herself by marrying a charming man – in fact, the man is the one who learns from her. She does not experience great career success despite difficult odds and discriminatory social norms.

She is only strong in her faith – and you have to be very strong to deal with multiple attempts to take your life – and she is strong in her purity. Today many scoff at the idea that purity should be held as an ideal for women because it can seem repressionist and puritanical. In reality, true purity, which is purity of heart, is the ideal for both women and men and leads to true freedom.

As Jesus taught us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

So the next time you play an instrument, hear the church choir, or even turn on the radio, consider taking a moment to pray to St. Cecilia, patron of music who sang to God from the purity of her heart.

Dear Singles, Put Flirting in its Place!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

Isn’t it kind of nice to hold someone’s attention, to laugh a little at petty things, and make brief but suggestive eye contact that draws the other to you for a while? Yes, I mean to say, isn’t it nice to flirt a bit? Wait a minute, isn’t flirting harmful to you and the other person? Isn’t flirting wrong or misleading and selfish? Wait a minute, what’s so harmful about flirting? What could be wrong with just a little innocent fun? No one intends anything more than just a good time! Okay, now I’m confused (and I’m writing this!).

Is flirting wrong or not a big deal? Why do people flirt? Is there a point to it? Even the commonly used sources of quick information in our media today hold differing insights on this topic. says flirting is “to court triflingly or act amorously without serious intentions; play at love.” While Wikipedia says that flirting involves “verbal or written communication as well as body language by one person to another, suggesting an interest in a deeper relationship with the other person.” In other words, our culture knows what flirting looks like, but like most people’s experience of it, we don’t know what it’s for or why it happens. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of flirting, check out this BuzzFeed video that shows some of the internal confusion that can come with flirting:

Often times Catholics are strong, rigid, and certain about what they profess. This is a trait that should never be disposed of because of the certain truths that our Church possesses. It can lead us, however, to believe that some things should never ever (ever!) be done when in fact they simply need to be ordered to their proper end. Flirting is one of these things. Flirting seems to be selfish and therefore it will impact other areas of our lives. In other words, if you let yourself be selfish in one area, you are sure to become selfish in other ways. For those of us familiar with human nature, we know this is certainly true. And selfishness is one of the more destructive and difficult vices to overcome when you let it root itself deeply in your life. So, for the hardliners out there, there’s a really good case for not flirting at all: flirting makes you become a more selfish person. And no one wants to be around a selfish person for years and years!

To me, however, this is probably a generalization that needs to be refined. Flirting is not okay if it’s purely for fun. I will stand with the hardliners on that. First, you’re making yourself a more selfish person, as mentioned above. When you become a selfish person, it’s generally not too noticeable to your acquaintances, but when people get close to a selfish person, the selfishness becomes a huge burden. Plus, flirting is a habit that is hard to break, even after you enter a relationship. In short, don’t flirt just for fun because it will become incredibly destructive to the deep relationships you desire to have in the future. Secondly, you’re probably leading someone or many people to believe that you are interested in them, even when you’re not. This is not okay. Who knows how many people’s hearts have been broken in silence thanks to “harmless flirting.” We’ll never know. But don’t be someone who does that to people! Being a good person means aligning your actions with reality. If you’re not interested in more than just being friends, don’t flirtatiously communicate to a person (verbally or non-verbally) just to get their attention for a while. If you don’t know what communicating like just friends looks likes, hang out with just your girlfriends or, if you’re a guy, just your bro’s for awhile and learn to have deep, self-giving friendships with people.

Okay, so now for the point of departure from the hardliners: Flirting is okay when it’s open to a deeper relationship with the other person (see the Wikipedia definition above). Go ahead and laugh at petty things, make somewhat extended eye contact, tell silly jokes (but only if you’re funny), poke fun at each other, say cute little compliments, and so on. Don’t make a habit of being selfish, but let yourself go a bit around someone you are potentially interested in. If more people did only this kind of flirting, think about the boost it would have on the dating scene. You could say, “Wow! It seems like so-and-so is interested in me!” or “Uh-oh! It seems like so-and-so is interested in me.” or “Yikes! So-and-so is not interested in me; I better back off.” and finally, “Yay! So-and-so is interested in me and it’s very mutual!” This would open the door to a Utopia of Dating of sorts. Unfortunately, in the current state of flirtation, things are not so easy to evaluate, and we will rarely be able to confidently say “I know that it’s mutual.”

But why not get there? I know that it would mean changing some of my habits. But I want to. I want to get there. I want my actions to align with reality. I want to be a good person, not someone who is selfish and misleading. So here is my challenge for all of us single people out there: flirt on purpose, not just for fun. Don’t confuse people that you’re not interested in, and make it clear to people that you are. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to a woman who is interested in having someone ask her out is to unleash all of signals. In other words, FLIRT and hold nothing back. Guys, if there’s a girl you’re interested in that is doing this, ask her out NOW! In the end, this is more than simply about being lovey dovey (though that’s really nice). This is about men and women entering their vocations and fulfilling God’s will for our lives. If we never flirt, we will probably miss someone that would have been a great spouse for us. If we always flirt, see above about selfishness and, worst of all, people that know us won’t be able to tell when we’re actually interested. If we flirt with purpose, we will be more open to moving into our vocation and therein God’s plan for our happiness, holiness and, most importantly, salvation.

So, let’s go! Let’s take back flirting and put it in its place!

Becoming: Beauty in Every Woman, and in Every Man

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Articles

Suddenly, I see them, Mother. All of the women, the women-to-be—coming and gazing, watching and waiting. They all gather around you. They flock and they gaze. They take pictures.

But do they know?

Do they know?


I see you, Mother. I see you in all of their faces. Young and old, whether they are on the eve of womanhood, married, or long-established on earth. They are seeking and searching, Mary. They are longing to be with you—to be you.

Mary, Mother.

They want to be beautiful.

But do they know?

They are already you. Made to be like you—these. These are your daughters.



I knelt in the caverns of St. Peter’s Basilica just a few weeks ago. In all of Rome, this was the church to visit. There were people crowding, clamoring, clashing together against the glass of a side chapel. They wanted to see Mary. When they did, they posed for a photo, checked that experience from their bucket list, and wandered the basilica for more magnificent statues.

How do they not see it? I wondered to God, the stone floor cold and hard against my knees. There I was in the great central church, in the throbbing heart of Catholicism. I was there, enveloped by sweeping ceilings, towering statues of holy giants, and echoing walls—walls echoing with a medley of tour guides, practicing Mass choirs, and footsteps.

There, in the bizarre space of travelers’ dreams. There, amidst hundreds of passing strangers, I prayed. There, I watched the ebb and flow of visitors.

I watched Her.

The Pietà.

They, too, had only eyes for her, Michelangelo’s masterpiece.


It makes sense many of us (we visitors and pilgrims) do not see what I saw while on my knees. Michelangelo’s Pietà is undeniably captivating. She was created to be the best sculpture in Rome, was the epitome of Renaissance sculpture, and was Michelangelo’s crown jewel. She and her Son were so significant Michelangelo hand-selected the Carrara marble for them; this marble was the most ‘perfect’ block he had ever seen. So precious was it, the Pietà in this splendid stone, that it was the only work Michelangelo ever signed.

The Pietà captures Michelangelo’s heart, and it captures the heart of every visitor in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the image of the Pietà is the dual emotion of our Mother: her sorrow at her son’s torture and physical death is combined with her calm acceptance of God’s plan. As at the Annunciation, Mary continues to say ‘Thy will be done.’

In this one composition, Michelangelo illustrates Mary’s pain and trusting resignation to God. He shows her at a moment in which she is grieving as a mother, yet maintaining joy as a handmaid to the Lord. This moment is not found in the gospels. It is not in the Stations of the Cross. This moment when Mary holds the broken body of her dead son in her lap is only in the imagining of the Church.

Christ appears in peaceful slumber, after hours of torture. Mary’s eyes are downcast. In their intimacy, the two figures (such a rarity in Renaissance sculpture) form a pyramidal shape: they are both stable and pointing upward. To God.

This occasion of Mother Mary with her Child is cause for reflection, which is the true purpose of the Pietà. Whether or not it was Michelangelo’s intention, or that of the French cardinal who commissioned it for his family’s tomb, the Pietà is meant to evoke compassion for our Mother and contemplation of Christ’s death. The image is more popular in French and German tradition, such as in the rough, wooden Röttgen Pietà from the early 14th century, which is why the French cardinal may have asked for this particular depiction of Christ.

The Pietà invites viewers to hold the body of Christ with Mary. It helps us to gaze, with Mary, on the gift of Christ’s face. At the same time, the sculpture helps us to draw close to Mary our Mother.

That is why I first stopped, why I paused in the middle of St. Peter’s side chapel not so long ago: I was encountering a tender moment. I was being drawn to consider Christ’s Passion. Mary’s demeanor was causing my thoughts to go silent—and to see only Her, to feel only with Her.


I stopped because there, in the Pietà, Michelangelo renders Mary’s character. The one we are made for.



Mary is our hope personified.

She is captivating, full of grace (Luke 1:28). She is obedient, humbled to God’s will (John 2:5). She bears fruit (Luke 1:42), which is every woman’s desire–be it physical or spiritual fruit. She is joyful with a desire to do God’s will (which is evident through all of Luke 1). She is also compassionate, and will suffer with the world for the promise of salvation.

She, as Fulton Sheen writes in “The World’s First Love,” is ‘what God wanted us all to be, she speaks of herself as the Eternal blueprint in the Mind of God, the one whom God loved before she was a creature. She is even pictured as being with Him not only at creation but also before creation. She existed in the Divine Mind as an Eternal Thought before there were any mothers. She is the Mother of mothers—she is the world’s first love.’

Mary is who we all yearn for. Mary, Sheen emphasizes in one chapter, ‘is the one whom every man loves when he loves a woman—whether he knows it or not. She is what every woman wants to be when she looks at herself. She is the woman whom every man marries in ideal when he takes a spouse…she is the secreted desire every woman has to be honored and fosters; she is the way every woman wants to command respect and love because of the beauty of her goodness of body and soul.’

Thus, thousands visit the Pietà every day. Mary invites us into her beauty: she is beautiful. Her manner is a mystery.

These pilgrims, who come and attempt to immortalize in two dimensions what Michelangelo does in three, see all of this in only a moment. They stare, they point.  Some of them flash a camera then turn away. Some pause longer, as if to absorb her majesty.

They see her, but they don’t see her.

They don’t see what I see.

They don’t see that she is in every one of them. The women with cropped gray hair and black boots, the three laughing teen girls, the woman clinging to her husband’s arm…


Mary’s beauty is not only in the Pietà, though.

Mary’s beauty is in every one of us.



How easily we forget that we are each made beautiful, each made good. We see the Smoky Mountains, the tops of clouds from the side of an airplane, the misty sunset over a foreign sea—and we wonder. We are in awe. We forget that if, in seven days, God builds toward His ultimate vision for the earth—then humanity is the climax. It is not the light, not the landscape, not the bird or woodland creature that is the greatest wonder: it is Man.

Man and woman are made as reflections of the Creator. Therefore, we are made beautiful. In the Catechism, the Church recognizes Man is made in an initial state of holiness and justice (CCC #384), endowed with a friendship with God from which flowed the happiness of existence in paradise. The Fall breaks this happiness and cripples man’s original state, but these are mended again in a man and woman the world meets two thousand years ago. Mary and Joseph work in cooperation with God. They are co-partners with the Creator: from this identity flows their joy and the hope of existence in a new paradise.

This is what each man and woman desires: paradise. Perfection. Mary and Joseph, as the two holiest and fully human examples we have, are who we are made to become.

If women are made in the image of Mary, men too have a model. Men, you have a saint who comes before you and paints and image of holiness. You are made to be like Joseph. Joseph, the man of faith and obedience who did as the angel of the Lord commanded him in the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Joseph, who was upright in taking Mary into the safe haven of his home. Joseph, who loved his family—and God—above himself, and doing all of these things played a part in our salvation (which is in line with some Medieval thinking in the cults and societies of St. Joseph, which honors Joseph as an aid to God in ‘trapping’ the devil by disguising Christ as the son of a man).

In an echo of Sheen, Joseph is the one whom every woman loves when she loves a man—whether she knows it or not. Joseph is the man every man wants to be when he looks at himself. He is the man whom every woman marries in ideal when she takes a spouse, when she unites herself with the man whom her children will call ‘father.’ Joseph is the secret desire every man has to be honored; he is the way every man wants to command respect and love because of the beauty, strength, and shelter found in his body and soul.


The potential to become Joseph is within every man, just as the potential to become Mary is within every woman. Each man is called to accept Mary into his home, to be a source of protection and strength for all of those in his life, to be open to God’s call in his heart or dreams.

We are in a constant state of becoming like Joseph and Mary—albeit in various ways depending on our temperaments—when we are open to God. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as the theologian and philosopher Edith Stein, writes in her ‘Spirituality of the Christian Woman’ that our lives are a process of striving for, succeeding in, and failing again at becoming more like God. ‘Our being, our becoming, does not remain enclosed within its own confines; but rather in extending itself, fulfills itself,’ she says. ‘However, all of our being and becoming and acting in time is ordered from eternity, has a meaning for eternity, and only becomes clear to us if and insofar as we put it in the light of eternity.’

Thus each human is a beauty to behold, for in gazing at another person we gaze a creature made by God, in the process of becoming more like God, and made to be like God.



Do they know? I wondered with God that day in Rome.

I looked at the women with high black boots and short gray hair, the three teen girls laughing, the gangly girl of twelve… My eyes traveled from woman to woman. Each woman was different.

And I smiled.

Each was the same.

Mary was in all of their faces.

Yet the hundreds of people passing by me to crowd at the stone rail and glass wall would only peer and point, flash a camera and leave. Oblivious. They peered at the face of Mary formed by human hands—Michelangelo’s—but they failed to see the face of Mary around them. They failed to see the Master’s work in themselves.


When we gaze at another person, we look at a stone being chiseled and polished—we see a perfect creation in progress.

When we gaze at another person, we gaze at the work of the great Master Artist himself.