Gifts for God-Lovers

I ran into some friends at Mass today and suggested that we get breakfast afterwards.

“But nowhere in a strip mall,” I cautioned. “We can’t park on Black Friday.”

They suggested Panera, which I pointed out was across from Best Buy, where you’ll find some of the worst Black Friday mania. I argued fruitlessly and finally insisted that we take one car so that when there was no parking we could stay together.

The lot was maybe a quarter full. Turns out Black Friday isn’t really a thing in Hollywood, Maryland.

If you’re anything like me, you’re avoiding malls like the plague today. That doesn’t keep your post-Thanksgiving mind from turning to Christmas shopping, though. And while I’m not so great at giving presents in general, I am pretty good when it comes to sacred gifts. So if you’ve got people on your list who love the Lord and want to love him more, read on!

For kids:

If you’re a parent or a godparent (or an aunt or a family friend or whatever), your job is to get these little ones to heaven. I’m pretty convinced that (aside from teaching them to pray) storytelling and holy play are the ways to do it. So buy them incredible books (these are my favorites) and holy toys and teach them the wonder of a life following God.

Almondrod blocksMy hands down, bar-none, buy-every-one-you-can-get favorites are my friend Lindsey’s beautiful blocks. I’ve told you about them before but she’s made some great improvements! Now the crafty among you can order the images and make your own blocks at a dramatic savings–if you get 12 people together for an order, each of you can make a full set1 for only $16.33 plus the cost of wood and shellac. That’s insane! She’s also got a great wooden Mass kit for your kids who like to play Mass.2 And from now through Monday, if you write Ora pro Papa in the notes section of your order (and pray for the Pope) you’ll get a free block! Hurry–last year she had to close her shop by December 8th and you don’t want to miss out.3


For book lovers:

For intellectuals:

On Being CatholicMy favorite book (yes, that is a terrifying thing to say, but I think it’s true) is On Being Catholic by Thomas Howard. His vocabulary is so ridiculous that I keep a dictionary close at hand when I read it, but it’s just beautiful. It’s the love letter of a convert to his Church and an excellent choice for someone who already loves being Catholic or a Protestant who’s open to learning more. It’s not hard-hitting apologetics, just poetry with truth at its heart.

For people who want to be saints:

My next favorite is The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ by St. Alphonsus Liguori (you can actually get it for 99 cents on Kindle but do be sure to get this translation). This book is so beautiful and challenging that I can’t read more than 5 minutes without needing to stop and pray. I once quit reading this book because I didn’t want to finish it but I missed it too much so when I did finish it I just started over again from the beginning. Buy it for yourself immediately, then throw a copy for a friend in, too.

For people who want to know the Saints:

Modern SaintsI’m kind of obsessed with the Saints, which you probably know if you listen to my podcast at all. I’ve been getting more and more into them but my desperate love of them was really spurred on by these books: Modern Saints (volumes 1 and 2) by Ann Ball. I’ve been recommending them left, right, and center because the stories are short and well-written–to the point that I really have trouble putting them down.4 Anyone who likes Saints or stories or history should love these, and at 6 bucks used, what’s not to like?

For lovers of fiction:

The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas changed the way I pray, the way I speak, the way I evangelize. It was responsible for this post and for the best rosary of my life. It’s a novelized story of the centurion who crucified Jesus and what he suffered and learned afterwards and it’s simply captivating. The stories of the Gospel have never been so alive for me.

For parents:

If you know a couple who love the Lord and are trying to raise kids who feel the same, there’s nothing better you can do than encourage them to pray together and with their kids. Trouble is, most Catholics aren’t sure how to do this. Amazon to the rescue! (To be fair, I haven’t had a chance to read either of these books, but they come highly recommended from sources I trust, so I’m buying them sight unseen and I think you should, too.)

  • Short guide to prayingA Short Guide to Praying as a Family, by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, has information for beginners in prayer as well as suggestions for the more advanced. The pictures are beautiful–beautiful–and the one section I read (on praying as a couple) was fantastic.
  • The Little Oratory gets incredible reviews, including from my friend Anamaria who writes book reviews for her diocesan paper and says it’s the only book she’s ever given 5 stars to. That’s enough for me.

I could go on and on about what books I love–and I have! Check out my suggestions here:

For everyone:

  • Sacred art! Find an Etsy shop you like (these are sweet and rather whimsical), find beauties by the great masters and search for prints, or get yourself a real icon (these hand-written Orthodox ones are lovely). Surrounding your children (or just yourself) with the beauty of the faith is so important.
  • chews lifeDevotional jewelry–medals and crucifixes and chaplet bracelets–can be beautiful, particularly once you start finding creative stuff on Etsy. I especially love the vintage look over at this shop. Or go to Organic Mama and get a beautiful rosary bracelet for mom (with a prayer-marker so she can remember where she was when someone suddenly needed a drink) and a fantastic chewable one for her baby. I love that.
  • Sacred music, for those who can only listen to “All I Want for Christmas Is You” so many times. The Benedictine nuns have some beautiful CDs for those with more traditional taste, while Matt Maher‘s a great choice if you like contemporary stuff. And my friend Joe is a legit Catholic hip hop artist.

For someone who has everything:

What about giving a real gift–one that you pick out specifically–that doesn’t technically go to the recipient? Some people will love being given a charitable donation, and here are some great ways to do it:

When I was a kid, we used to love giving to Heifer International, where you could send a gift of livestock to a family to get them on their feet. Going through the catalog and deciding between bunnies and a goat was thrilling for me, and I’m sure your kids will love it, too. It would make a great present for Grandma, or maybe as a Christmas gift you could give each child $10 to donate and they could pool their money to help others.

Catholic Relief Services5 has a similar concept with all kinds of aid you can offer, from tuition to prenatal care to fruit trees.

I don’t have a favorite charity for refugees yet, but the Catholic Near East Welfare Association does great work for those who are still in the Middle East and you can pick the region your donation serves.

But I’m an amateur at this–just throwing together a few favorites instead of shopping on Black Friday. You know who’s a pro? Jessica at Shower of Roses. Head over and see a few hundred more suggestions that will really finish up your shopping list.

  1. Select 72 images form the drop-down menu []
  2. Pro tip for those whose girls want to play Mass: make or buy a costume beard and tell them they can pretend to be a priest as long as they’re wearing the beard. Avoids confusion. []
  3. She pays me nothing for this. I’m just obsessed. Seriously, ask any one of my friends. I show this picture of St. Felicity like she’s my own child. []
  4. She’s introduced me to so many new friends I’ve half a mind to hunt her down and thank her, though the books are 30 years old, so that might prove a challenge. []
  5. I know they’ve been under fire in recent years, but the Bishops are satisfied with their explanation and so am I. []
Posted in Random | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Advent Boot Camp 2015

I put out an Advent Boot Camp two years ago and the response was great, so I thought I’d do it again. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup;Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings ((Click the Office of Readings tab)); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 7: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup;the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits

  • Day 22: 5 minute warmup; memorize Isaiah 9:5 (“A child is born to us…”); 10 minutes silence
  • Day 23: 5 minute warmup; Jeremiah 31; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 24: 5 minute warmup; 15 minutes journaling on why you need the incarnation; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 25: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 35; reading from St. Augustine; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 26: 5 minute warmup; Matthew 1:18-2:23; G.K.Chesterton “The House of Christmas”; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 27: Half an hour of prayer: your choice

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. If you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, though, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

A Moment of Grace

bonfireWe were standing around a bonfire at a remote beach, a group of Catholic college students surrounded by the sound of waves and the light of stars and nothing else. The conversation flitted past religion to politics and there we were talking about Planned Parenthood and the lies they tell and the women they hurt1 and somebody mentioned reluctant women being shepherded into the building by insistent boyfriends or husbands. All the usual pro-life rhetoric, recycled by people who were used to being agreed with.

“That’s what happened to me.”

And a pause. And I stepped toward her and she fell into my arms and wept. Wept and wept like a mother who’s lost her child. And the chatter stopped. As I held her and spoke gently to her, the dozen people circling us stood in silence and I knew—knew—that we were cocooned in prayer.

“Oh, dear heart. Your baby forgives you. You are beautiful and you are so loved. And this doesn’t define you. Nobody blames you. Your baby loves you. God forgives you. And he loves you so much.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said. It must have been five minutes that I held her, friends and strangers lifting us up in prayer, before she relaxed her grip and we stepped back.

“Have you been to confession?” I had to ask. Not for judgment but for healing.

“Yeah, two years after it happened.”

“Then you are forgiven. Absolutely and completely forgiven, like it never happened. And these people here? They love you. Just as much as before—more, even. And if anybody—anybody—ever tries to hold this in your face you hold up the cross that Jesus hung your sin on and you call them out as a heretic. Because that’s not yours to carry anymore and saying otherwise is just plain heresy. You’ve been made new. And one day you’re going to meet your baby and there isn’t going to be any judgment or shame, only joy.”

And she told us the situation—a school that would have kicked her out and a boyfriend who threatened to kill himself and her friends who’d chosen life and how jealous she was. And then she said that it’s hard to hear people talking about Planned Parenthood and not feel attacked. And we promised her that we were saying just what she felt—that we wanted her not to have thought that was the choice she had to make. We wanted her loved and supported through a pregnancy, not shuffled along to a procedure she’ll never stop regretting. And we listened and eventually laughed and the conversation moved on.

It was a beautiful moment. A healing moment. There was so much grace. But it’s a reminder: you never know. One in four women is post-abortive. And you probably have no idea. Be careful, be very careful—even when you’re preaching to the choir—that nothing you say ever sounds like anything but love. This beautiful woman had the courage to tell us her story. How many don’t? How many suffer in shame because pro-lifers glibly recite the arguments they all have memorized? Those arguments whitewash the pain of millions of mothers and fathers, some of whom maybe be standing on the edge of your self-congratulatory conversation. Speak in love.


If you have had an abortion, please know this: you are loved. God is pouring his mercy on you. The Church has nothing but forgiveness to offer. Please seek healing, through confession, through counseling, through a Project Rachel retreat. And please forgive us for the times we hurt you by forgetting your pain in our zeal for the unborn. We love you. You matter. And you are not alone.

  1. Try this for a start, but this post isn’t really about proving that PP is bad for women. []
Posted in Goodness | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

It’s Okay to Be Miserable

I was chatting with some ladies recently about the suffering of Christ when one of them drew our attention to his Mother.

“Jesus knew his suffering would end,” she pointed out, “but Mary didn’t. She didn’t know he would rise from the dead. For her, this was the end.”

Our Lady of SorrowsNow I don’t know of any definitive statement on this matter, but I can’t help but disagree wholeheartedly. There may have been quite a lot that Mary didn’t know,1 but I don’t think the promised resurrection was one of those things. Jesus hadn’t exactly been secretive about it, after all. Again and again he tells his followers that he will die and rise on the third day.2 And while they somehow managed not to understand what seems so clear to our post-resurrection eyes, Mary wasn’t blind the way they were. She knew just who Jesus was. She knew he could do what he said. So I simply can’t believe that Mary stood beneath the foot of the Cross not knowing his death wasn’t final.

And yet she wept.

Mary knew what was coming. She knew he would rise. She knew death would be defeated and the gates of heaven thrown open. And still she wept.

We call her Our Lady of Sorrows, this woman who was profoundly aware of the coming victory. We paint her swooning in agony with tears running down her face and a heart pierced by seven swords, all the while knowing that her son would be back in her arms a scant 40 hours later.

Despite the promise of joy, Mary was miserable. She knew—better than any of us ever will—that God would work all things for good. And still she mourned, her heart shattered. Because hope doesn’t banish suffering. It just makes it bearable.

Joy is the duty of the Christian, we hear, most especially from dear St. Paul who commands it as though it were as simple as sharing or paying your taxes.3 So we grit our teeth and smile through our anguish, determined that we will be happy regardless of our pain. Then we’re shocked when it all just makes us bitter.

Joy, you see, is not the same as happiness. Joy is much more akin to hope than to happiness. Joy means trusting that God is for you, that he loves you, that he will—one day—come to your rescue. It doesn’t mean calling evil good. It doesn’t mean stuffing down your pain and covering it over with a veneer of pleasantries. Often it means swooning in agony with tears running down your face.

It’s okay to be miserable. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust God. It means that pain hurts and evil should be lamented. When your sweet baby dies or your wife leaves you or the bank forecloses or you get laid off or a thousand other things, it is right and just that you weep. You may well know that it will all come out right one fine morning. But still it hurts. And that’s okay.

It is not Christian to deny people the right to suffer. The model Christian, who knew with absolute certainty that all would be made new, was sore distressed to see her son so wounded. I can imagine Christians of a certain sort standing by her cheerfully: “Oh, don’t worry, Mary. Everything happens for a reason, you know. I guess God just needed another angel.”

It’s banal at best and heresy at worst. Because the joy of Easter Sunday doesn’t deny the pain of Good Friday, it just completes it. To say that those who hope in the Resurrection shouldn’t mourn is to say that evil isn’t to be lamented. It’s just not true.

Should we allow our pain to drown out our hope in God’s promises? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean denying our sorrow or stuffing our pain down, plastering a Pollyanna smile over our anguish. It means standing with Mary at the foot of the Cross weeping over Friday while trusting in Sunday. It means that in our pain we look on Christ crucified and remember the promise of the empty tomb. It means that we follow “My soul is troubled” with “Father, glorify your name.”4

If you are suffering now, be gentle to yourself. Allow yourself to suffer. Remember that this is not the end, that God will triumph, that the battle has already been won. Remember that in eternity all our suffering will clearly have been to good purpose. Remember that God is working for you even when you can’t see him. But remember also that Jesus wept and Mary wept and go ahead and cry—you’re in good company.

  1. For all “Mary, Did You Know?” gets flack in Catholic circles, I think there are quite a few of those things that pregnant Mary didn’t know. []
  2. Mt 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19 and parallels []
  3. Phil 2:18, 3:1, 4:4; Rom 12:12; 2 Cor 13:11; 1 Thes 5:16; etc []
  4. Jn 12:27-28 []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , | 18 Comments

Because You Love Me

For all the hundreds (thousands?) of talks I’ve given over the years, I really only have one talk: God loves you. Or, as you likely know if you’ve heard me speak, “You are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you.” That’s at the heart of pretty much every talk I give, whether it’s on Theology of the Body, discernment, confession, Mary, or evangelization. That’s because it’s at the heart of the Gospel. Really, it is the Gospel.

Sunlight through a church windowIt shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me a while back, then, when I stood up to give a ten-minute talk before Mass and found myself saying that every moment of the Mass is a proof of God’s love. What else could it be? But when I asked the congregation to spend the Mass asking themselves how that was true at every turn, I knew I (or, rather, the Holy Spirit) was on to something.


So throughout that Mass, I kept repeating this to myself: “Because you love me.” We stood when Father walked in and I said, “Because you love me.” Then I thought about it. What does my standing have to do with God’s love? Standing is a sign of readiness, of willingness to go where you’re sent. Because God loves me, he asks me to go wherever he sends me. Because he loves me, he sends me to be still with him.

“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, I’m marked by the Cross of Christ. My life is lived not in my own name or in the name of success or pleasure or music or fads but in the name of the Triune God. Because he loves me, he sees not my sin but his mercy. How he loves me.

“Let us call to mind our sins.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, he doesn’t leave me in my sin. He makes me look at it in the light of his love and name it evil. He wants more for me than a life of empty selfishness and so he holds it before my gaze and then destroys it. Because he loves me, he calls me a sinner—and then reminds me that sinner is not my name.

“A reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, Paul was saved. Because he loves me Paul was saved. For himself, of course, and for every other Christian, but at that blinding moment on the road to Damascus God was also thinking of me. Because he loves me, he inspired Isaiah and Solomon and Moses and John. Because he loves me, he gave the sweet and loving things and the hard and convicting things. Because he loves me, he spoke straight to me two thousand and three thousand years ago, in poem and story and census and song. Thank God that he loves me.

“Alleluia.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, he gives the glad good news of the Gospel. Because he loves me, he asks me to stand to greet it, crossing my forehead, lips, and heart as I cry out (with Thomas Howard), “Let all in me that is not Gospel be crucified!” I hear the very words of the Word and am reminded of how I have been healed, fed, challenged, and consoled. Because he loves me, he came for me.

“Let us pray to the Lord.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, he listens to my prayers. Lord, listen to my prayers! Listen, because you love me. Because he loves me, he sometimes says no. Blessed be the name of the Lord.1

“Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, he accepts my simple offering of bread, the joys of my life handed over for him. He accepts my suffering in the wine. And he makes my life into his body and blood, poured out for the world. Because he loves me, he doesn’t disdain my poverty but transforms everything I entrust to him into glory. He lets me serve him. Not because he needs me but because he loves me.

“Only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, it is the deep desire of the heart of God that I be healed. Because he loves me, he spoke his Word, his healing Word who came into the world 2000 years ago to heal the blind and the lame and still today opens my eyes blinded to the evil of sin and heals my limbs so weary of doing good. He loosens my tongue to speak his name and dries up the flow of blood pouring from my broken heart. Because he loves me he shows me that I am wounded and that he is the only balm for my wounds. He awakens in me a hunger and then feeds me with his very self. What greater love could there be?

“Amen.” Because you love me.”

Because he loves me, he asks me to respond to his grace. He doesn’t just give himself without my consent, doesn’t just save me without my cooperation. Because he loves me, he lets me participate. And so I say amen, receiving his body and blood and offering him my body and blood. “This is my body, given up for you,” I tell him. Because this infinite God loves me enough to care about the pathetic gift I make of myself.

“Go in peace.” Because you love me.

Because he loves me, he doesn’t ask me to stay here. He could easily save the world without my help, but he asks me to be the instrument, to be the voice calling out the Good News, to be the hands and feet doing his work. Because he loves me, he doesn’t want me in a church 24 hours a day. He wants balance and leisure and rest and laughter and good food and community and the joy of knowing his love outside the church as well as within. Because he loves me, he has asked me to be fully human, fully alive, just as he was. He’s asked me to live in his love in the pew and the grocery store and the carpool lane and the cubicle and the bar and the airport and the living room. Because he loves me, he wants me to be a saint. It’s the most perfect love there is.



It’s a whirlwind run through the Mass, this. If I’d written everything God’s love could shed light on, it’d be a book instead of a blog. But I’d love to hear your thoughts. Will you try this the next time you go to Mass and share your most powerful insights?


  1. Job 1:21 []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Why the World Is Obsessed with Pope Francis and Kim Davis

Last week, the Holy Father came to America and everybody fell in love. It didn’t matter what he said or who ought to have been offended, everybody was talking and almost everyone was effusive. People adore Pope Francis. And the buzz when he left got us all wondering: is this our renaissance? Will we look back on this week as the week that sparked the rebirth of the American Catholic Church?

But the news cycle finished, the media drunk on papal elixir sobered up, and they remembered that we’re the Church they love to hate.

And then they heard about Kim Davis. And they pounced.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.59.09 PM

And suddenly the Pope of Mercy is a fiend again. Or a fool. Or whatever else your narrative requires. And we’re back to picking at whatever point we think gives us permission to ignore the Gospel. Or we’re harping on whatever doctrine proves our superiority. Why??

Because it’s easier.

When Pope Francis was here, we all saw so much more than just him. We looked at him and saw Jesus. When he grinned at those special needs kids, we felt how the Father loves us, even when we’re sure we don’t deserve it. When he blessed those convicts, we knew that God’s mercy was reaching out to us no matter what. When he served lunch to the homeless, we saw how our Savior longs to serve us, to lay down his life for us. When he spoke with such joy and passion, we felt the Holy Spirit stirring into flame the fire he lit in us at our baptism. We saw mercy and truth and hope and powerful love. We were drawn to that. All of us. And that’s a scary thing.

Because if we really come to know the Lord, our lives have to change. And nobody wants that. But you can’t argue against Jesus Christ. You can’t argue against the love in his eyes or the mercy he offers or the way he leads you to the Father.

You know what you can argue against? Infant baptism. The Immaculate Conception. The Church’s teachings on sexuality. The preferential option for the poor. Those things you can argue against. So when your Savior is staring you in the eyes, welcoming you home, begging you to be healed, you change the subject.

“You are deeply loved.”

“Yeah, well only bigots oppose same-sex marriage!!”

“You were made for more.”

“You can’t tell me I have too much money. That’s communism!”

“I died for love of you.”

“It’s awfully legalistic to demand that people go to Mass every Sunday, really. Pharisaical, I’d say.”

stopped going

That’s what we’re seeing right now. Pope Francis spoke the love of Jesus to the hearts of the American people and we had to choose between conversion and diversion. Enter Kim Davis. And the same sex couple he met with. And the gay monsignor on the eve of the Synod. Oh, good. Now we can go back to flinging mud at each other and nobody has to worry about becoming holy. Isn’t that comfortable?

It’s tragic.

And it’s typical.

It’s not just typical of the way we deal with the Pope. It’s not just typical of the media.It’s typical of every one of us. We’re afraid of the transforming love of Jesus so we get caught up in the details–either denying or defending–so we can stay comfortable.

We try to evangelize by leading with moral restrictions and we’re shocked when most people walk away unchanged. Because rules don’t change people. Only Jesus changes people.

We explain the Trinity with startling eloquence and wonder why RCIA isn’t bursting at the seams. Because somehow we’ve described the essence of God without speaking of his heart.

We spend our days debating the merits of lace on cassocks or decrying the “new” emphasis on the environment and not a word of it has anything to do with the Gospel.

Benedict encounter

This is the heart of Christianity: Jesus Christ. God made man to die and rise for love of you. You are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you. That’s worth dying for.

And that means chastity. And it means poverty. And obedience. It means pro-life and pro-peace and pro-marriage. These things are true. But it’s possible to be distracted by the truth. The Gospel is not sobriety or apologetics or caring for refugees, much though those issues are a necessary response to the truth of God’s love. And none of those things is the Gospel, nor does it do anything but distract from the Gospel if it isn’t all tied up in the love of God.

We serve the poor because they are loved by God. We confess our sins because God’s mercy is so powerful that he wants us to hear it out loud. We save sex for marriage because it’s a sign of God’s never-ending love.

Every single thing the Catholic Church teaches is about the love of God. And every single thing the Catholic Church teaches can be used to distract us from the love of God if we forget ourselves, just like Pope Francis’ brief encounter with Kim Davis is pulling people’s hearts away from the image he is of Christ. We have to choose, every time those petty voices pipe up again, to focus ourselves back on the image of Christ. If you find yourself in a Facebook argument,1 speak always about the love of Christ. If you’re discouraged by the apparent stagnation of Church doctrine, ask yourself what it’s trying to show about the love of Christ. When your sins threaten to drown you, remember the love of Christ. When the sinners you love are too much, entrust them to the love of Christ.

Jesus on the Cross

May the love of Jesus be ever on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. Church, let’s remember that the doctrines and disciplines and commandments and traditions exist only because of the love of Christ. Let’s stop losing the forest for the trees.

Why is the world obsessed with Pope Francis and Kim Davis? Because the devil couldn’t get us to stop talking about Pope Francis, so he got us to stop talking about Jesus instead. Don’t let him win.

  1. And I generally don’t recommend that you do so. []
Posted in Truth | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

America After Francis: 8 Ways to Keep the Francis Effect Going

If you are American, or know an American, or ever look at the Internet, you may have noticed that Pope Francis was in the US this week. And we may never be the same.

Boehner gifCNN broadcast hours of Catholic programming. Political leaders wept openly. A million people went to Mass with him today. Millions more watched. The top 5 trending topics on Facebook were Francis. And Americans–Catholic and non-Catholic alike–couldn’t get over how they loved him. Just search Twitter for “I’m not Catholic, but.”

This week, everyone is talking about the Gospel. Whether they know it or not, that’s what’s happening. They love Pope Francis because he loves like Jesus. And, like it or not, we all want to know that love. So people are drawn to him–to his mercy, his joy, his tenderness. But what happens tomorrow, when he’s back in Rome and the “news” is filled with Kardashians instead of Christ? How do we live so that the wonder and joy of this week lead somewhere?

1.Talk about it. This is the easiest it may ever be for you to start talking to people about Jesus. Everyone’s talking about Pope Francis–there’s nothing awkward about bringing him up tomorrow. Then see where the conversation goes.

“Did you see Boehner crying last week? I’ve never seen a politician so sincere!” Then you start talking about why he was crying. What is it about this Pope? He feels like Jesus. Why? Mercy. Love. Joy.

Well played.

Well played.

“Marky Mark emceed for the Pope this weekend. Where was the rest of the Funky Bunch?” Bet nobody saw that coming back when he was a thug. Did you hear he had a huge conversion? Yup–turned his whole life around.1 Just because some priest loved him. Ever known a priest like that? Pope Francis seems like that type. He’s willing to forgive anyone. That’s the incredible thing about the Church: mercy. Love. Joy.

“Did you see the Pope stop his car to kiss that handicapped boy?” He really loves the marginalized, doesn’t he? Prisoners, too. And the poor. He loves sinners a lot. He’s just like Jesus, isn’t he? Mercy. Love. Joy.

Francis homeless“How about Pope Francis skipping lunch with dignitaries to eat with the homeless?” They’re just as important as the movers and shakers. It’s not what you do that makes a difference but who you are, and every one of them is a child of God. Even the addicts and prostitutes. Incredible to see how he loves–and think how much more the Father must love us! Mercy. Love. Joy.

2. Lose the labels. If you read/listened to what the Pope was saying this weekend, you know: he’s not a Republican. He’s also not a Democrat. He’s a Catholic. Which means he’s wildly liberal and wildly conservative because Jesus was wildly liberal and wildly conservative. If your views are dictated more by your party’s platform than by the Gospel, rethink that. And then maybe find some common ground with people who are far from Christ by talking about immigration or human trafficking or global warming or any of the dozen other issues that Pope Francis agrees with them on.

Bet you didn't see that one coming, UN.

Bet you didn’t see that one coming, UN.

3. Agree with people. Did you notice that Francis didn’t go in guns blazing to tell everybody how wrong they were? Even when addressing Congress or the United Nations, he affirmed everything he possibly could to show them how much common ground there was. Then he led them–gently–to see where they were wrong. He met them where they were and then urged them to come a little further, all while loving them hard. Try that for a change. It’s not just a strategy, it’s a way of respecting people. Pope Francis is a pro at that.

4. Comfort the afflicted. The mark of a prophet–and a defining characteristic of Jesus himself–is that he comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. The mark of most Christians is that we afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable. We tell sinners just what we think of them, ripping open their wounds and rubbing in salt, while congratulating mediocre Christians on not being like those terrible people. And those who were far from Christ fall farther, convinced that they’re unworthy of love, while Satan woos the complacent. Instead, try loving those who are suffering, even if you think their suffering is “their own fault.” For a change, don’t try to fix them. Just love them. Francis spends a lot of time comforting the afflicted, and everybody loves him the more for it.

5. Afflict the comfortable. We didn’t hear terribly much of this during the Holy Father’s visit this time around, but those of us who live firmly in the Church’s embrace have heard a lot of it over the last two and a half years. Don’t make a whip out of cords and start flipping tables just yet, but pray about ways you can challenge decent people to be saints.

6. Lead with love. This is what really gets people: Francis loves them. He loves them so powerfully that they can’t ignore it. When they feel loved, they want to get closer. And when they get closer, they realize it wasn’t Francis loving them at all, but Jesus. Love hard. Tell people how wonderful you think they are. Even–especially–if you struggle to love them, find the things you love and tell them. Then maybe they’ll begin to hear the Father’s love as well.

My most popular Facebook post ever, shared 62 times.

My most popular Facebook post ever, shared 62 times.

7. Keep your eyes (and heart) open. My Facebook feed is filled with stories of people returning to the Sacraments after decades because of watching Pope Francis on TV this week. People are sharing about entire bars that were glued to the screens showing the Holy Father, all joining in for a Hail Mary at the end. In a bar. I read one woman saying, “I’m not even a Christian and Pope Francis is my favorite human being alive!” Our Churches today were filled with prodigals, I’m sure of it. Pay attention. Look around for people who might feel out of place. Listen when people talk about Pope Francis to see if they aren’t really asking about Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to say. And never, never think you know a person’s story. Everyone you meet is hungry for Jesus. We all show it differently. Your job is not to judge. Your job is to bring them to Jesus.

8. Smile more. He could have done nothing else and this smile would have gotten the country talking.

happy Francis

This could be the decisive moment in the American Catholic Church for the next decade–if you follow up. Seeds have been planted this week. Let’s work with the Lord to bring in a bountiful harvest.

I’d love to hear your stories of how the Pope’s visit impacted people around you–please share in the comments!

  1. Feel free to discuss the fact that his movies are still totally inappropriate–the Church is a hospital for sinners, after all. []
Posted in Goodness | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Augustinian Spirituality (NF Types)

Note: this post is part of a series based on the book Prayer and Temperament by Michael and Norrissey. This is only an overview and I’m indebted to the authors for most of what you’re about to read. Please excuse any confusion or errors on my part and turn to the original work for clarification. Part 1 of this series can be found here. Please take the test to know which type you are. Other personality types include SP (Franciscan), NT (Thomistic), and SJ (Ignatian).

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_ChampaigneFinally, those who are in the intuiting-feeling camp are Augustinian. Though only about 12% of people are Augustinian, the majority of canonized Saints are, as well as more than half of those who make retreats. It makes sense that people who are less driven by senses would have an easier time praying to a God who is pure spirit and that those who are less focused on the intellectual aspect of things would do better with a God who is beyond our capacity to understand. This doesn’t mean you (since if you’re reading this you’re more likely than not to be an NF) will necessarily have an easier time of it; it might just mean that more is expected of you. Augustinian types are generally optimistic and creative, communicating and listening well. They have big feelings and are people-oriented, which makes them quite conflict-averse. Idealistic by nature, they hunger for perfection and are future-oriented. More than any other type, they need silence. As best we can tell, St. Paul and St. Luke were Augustinian.

Unlike Ignatian prayer, in which one imagines oneself in the events of the past, Augustinian prayer brings the words of Scripture forward into the present. Augustinians ask, “What is this passage saying to me in my life?” They view Scripture as a personal letter from God and find great meaning in it, so they should generally meditate on shorter passages and find specific verses to memorize. This style of prayer finds great fruit in meditating deeply on small portions of Scripture and allowing the relationship with God to be deepened as a result.

Augustinians naturally feel the most drive for spiritual growth.1 The idea of a “personal relationship with God,” while essential for everyone, will resonate most strongly with Augustinians, who are very relational by nature and inclined towards deep relational feelings in prayer. Symbols, parables, and analogies speak strongly to the Augustinian, who may find journaling a helpful way to sort through all this. While Augustinians are moved more by spontaneous prayer and tend to struggle with the repetitive, they need a disciplined structure to their prayer life to avoid procrastinating. They will be drawn most strongly to Isaiah, the Psalms, the Song of Songs, the Gospels, Paul’s epistles, and the book of Hosea.

From the book: (There are a dozen more in the book. Buy it and see what you think!)

Read Isaiah 43:1-5. Change the words “Jacob” and “Israel” to your own first name. Try to imagine the Lord speaking these words directly to you. What meaning would they have for you in your present situation? Try to transpose the message from God to yourself today. What is the Lord talking about when he tells you, “Fear not”? What fears do you have? Water and fire were the two great dangers which aroused the fears of ancient people; what are the greatest dangers you face in your life? What is the Lord telling you to do in time of danger? Imagine Jesus saying to you now, “You are precious in my eyes, and I love you.” “Fear not, I am with you.” How do you see this to be true in your own situation today?

(John 8:1-11) “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord.” “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and sin no more.” Think of the faults you still have; consider them one by one. Imagine [people] bringing you to Jesus to have him condemn you. Instead he says to you, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and sin no more.” How would this make you feel?

As a couple:

Pick a verse (possibly from the upcoming Sunday) to memorize. Each evening, discuss how that verse informed your day. What did you understand more about it? How did it keep your actions or emotions in check?

Practice lectio divina aloud.

With your children:

Pick a verse to memorize together. (It might help to set it to music.) Throughout the day, look for situations where this verse is particularly relevant and ask the children what it can teach them. For example, Colossians 3:14-15: “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also do. And over all these, put on love.” Then as they angry, talk with them about God’s forgiveness. And when they’re being spiteful, ask what it means to put on love.

Try a simplified version of lectio divina:

  • Which part of this verse is most interesting to you?
  • What do you think it’s telling you?
  • Can you talk to God about that?
  • How does all this make you feel?

Have kids finish the sentence “God is like…” (or “God’s love is like” or “Being a Christian is like”) and illustrate their analogy.

Other suggestions:

Pray for an image of your relationship with Christ–lovers, knight and squire, father and child, king and slave, comrades at arms–and learn through that.

Treat the Mass like the sacrifice it is. The whole thing is about Jesus giving himself completely for you, so listen to the readings like a challenge to surrender. Then offer your joys to him when the priest offers the bread. Offer your sorrows when he offers the wine. Offer your whole self when Jesus gives himself to you in the Eucharist. Come out changed.

Pray the Our Father slowly. Take ten minutes to pray it once.

Take a word or phrase that speaks to you (“Jesus,” “Lord, have mercy,” “I am yours”) and pray it very slowly for 5 minutes, trying to let go of everything but that one anchor.


Are you Augustinian? What other suggestions would you add?

  1. “With great power comes great responsibility.”-the Gospel according to Spiderman []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Ignatian Spirituality (SJ Types)

Note: this post is part of a series based on the book Prayer and Temperament by Michael and Norrissey. This is only an overview and I’m indebted to the authors for most of what you’re about to read. Please excuse any confusion or errors on my part and turn to the original work for clarification. Part one of this series can be found here. Please take the test to know which type you are. Other personality types include SP (Franciscan), NT (Thomistic), and NF (Augustinian).

Ignatius01Conveniently, those who are sensing-judging types are considered Ignatian, after the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola.1 40% of people, it seems, belong in this category, and 50% of church-goers. This increase seems to be because SJ types tend to be driven by duty and obligation and so may continue to attend Mass even if they aren’t “getting anything out of it.” Ignatians are connected with tradition, very past-oriented and rooted. They’re generally practical and conscientious with a strong work ethic. St. James (the leader of the church in Jerusalem who was very focused on Mosaic law) and St. Matthew (who quotes the Old Testament more than any other evangelist) seem to have been Ignatian.

Ignatian prayer is often summarized as an imaginative approach to prayer by which we put ourselves into the Gospel stories and allow the Spirit to speak. (I have an explanation here and some guided meditations here.) This style of prayer uses the senses to enhance the experience, imagining what the scene looked like, what the weather was like, how the marketplace smelled, etc. More than just being a way to meditate on the Gospels, though, Ignatian prayer finds itself rooted in all of salvation history. The liturgical year is Ignatian by nature, leading us through the life of Christ each year and encouraging us to enter into his experience. It’s hard to imagine anything more Ignatian than the Triduum, where we have our feet washed, wait up with the Lord, cry out the words of the crowd, kiss the Cross, and rise again on Easter.

Ignatian types will benefit from an organized prayer regimen, often finding great fruit in traditional types of prayer, particularly the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. Reading longer passages in Scripture and seeing how it all connects can also be very helpful for them. When reading Scripture, they should look first to the Gospels and the historical books (especially Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, if you can believe it) as well as Acts, Isaiah, James, and the Psalms.

From the book: (There are a dozen more in the book. Buy it and see what you think!)

You, a devout Israelite from Ephesus, are a stranger in Jerusalem on your first trip for the Passover. It is Good Friday morning; you find yourself caught up in a noisy crowd leading a man away to be crucified. You have never seen a crucifixion, so out of curiosity you follow the crowd to Calvary and find the man’s name is Jesus of Nazareth. You are fascinated by the proceedings and by the conduct of Jesus. You stay until he dies. Close your eyes and in your imagination relive the scene and try to capture the impressions and conclusions you may have experienced. Draw some spiritual fruit for your own spiritual growth. What change is this experience going to make in your life?

(Luke 15: 11-32) Read the story of the Prodigal Son; try to place yourself in turn as the younger son, as the elder brother, and then as the father. Try to think of times in your life when you have acted as each of the three characters. What opportunity might you have in your present life to follow the example of the Father of the Prodigal Son?

As a couple:

Talk through a Gospel story together. Discuss how you think different characters may have felt. Imagine how you would feel in their place.

See if you can read the same character different ways. (For example, read John 11 with Mary as trusting and Martha nagging, as we usually do. Then read Martha as resigned and Mary dramatic.) How does this shed light on the events and on your own walk with Jesus?

With your children:

Lead children through meditations on Gospel stories. Ask them to imagine that they are in the scene as you tell them the story. Interrupt the story to ask them how they feel, what they think, what they hear, etc. Afterwards, work out with them what they may have learned.

Have children play at a Bible story (or Saint story), complete with costumes and props if you can. Try to pull out their impressions: “Ooh, Bartimaeus, Jesus is coming back to you. He heard you! How does that make you feel?”

Other suggestions:

Pray the Mass like it’s the Last Supper–because it is. Listen to Jesus like it’s your last night with him.

When you kneel before the priest in confession, be mindful of the fact that you’re kneeling at the foot of the Cross accusing yourself before the God who hangs dying to save you. Hate your sin but let him love you just the same.

Offer each day–all prayers and sacrifices and blessings–for a specific person.

Pray a scriptural rosary.


Are you Ignatian? What other suggestions would you add?

  1. Get it? Ignatius’s order is the Society of Jesus. SJ. []
Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Thomistic Spirituality (NT Types)

Note: this post is part of a series based on the book Prayer and Temperament by Michael and Norrissey. This is only an overview and I’m indebted to the authors for everything you’re about to read. Please excuse any confusion or errors on my part and turn to the original work for clarification. Part 1 of this series can be found here. Please take the test to know which type you are. Other personality types include SP (Franciscan), SJ (Ignatian), and NF (Augustinian).

681px-St-thomas-aquinasPeople whose decisions are formed by intuiting and thinking are considered Thomistic, after St. Thomas Aquinas. Only 12% of people seem to fall into this category and they generally make up the leaders of a community. In their research, Michael and Norrisey found that only 8% or those actively involved in the Church were NT types. Thomistic types are inclined to be contemplative, driven by a love of truth that can lead to perfectionism and a need to be in control. Self-doubt and fear of failure are often a result of their competitive nature. Though more inclined to mysticism than other types, their intellectual approach to situations can at times make them insensitive. Thomists are future-oriented with strong goals. St. John the Evangelist, the contemplative mystic par excellence, and St. Teresa of Avila, a close runner-up, both seem to have been Thomistic in spirituality.

Thomistic prayer is by nature a search for the truth that becomes a prayerful dialogue. The temptation is to replace prayer with study, so Thomists must be careful always to engage the feelings as well as the intellect to avoid allowing prayer to become an impersonal exercise. Generally, Thomistic prayer means reflecting on a virtue, fault, truth, or mystery, using the questions who, where, what, when, why, how, and with what helps to flesh out the depths of what is being contemplated. An examination of conscience is a Thomistic form of prayer.

Being very driven, Thomistic types benefit from setting goals in the spiritual life. They will be drawn more readily to contemplation, but must know that contemplative prayer is only ever a gift, not something that can be achieved. When meditating, they should be sure to take a short lesson or consolation away from their time of prayer, something they can continue to focus on throughout the day. They will particularly be drawn to the books of John, 1 John, Wisdom, Hebrews, Psalms, Ephesians, and Colossians.

From the book: (There are a dozen more in the book. Buy it and see what you think!)

(Matthew 11:29; Luke 14:7-11; 1 Corinthians 4:7) Take the virtue of humility. Reflect upon it, What does it mean? What is the connection between humility and authenticity? What does Jesus mean when he says, “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart”? If you have some good spiritual book, you might read what it says about the virtue of humility. Think of some examples of persons in the Bible who were humble (Moses, Mary, Joseph). Where have you been humble in the past? What are some examples of your failure to be humble? What changes do you need to make in your life in order to be more humble? What do you need to do in order to grow in humility? What might you do this day to practice humility? End the period of prayer with petitions to God, Jesus, Mary, and the saints to help you to be more humble.

(Matthew 5:20-26, John 2: 13-17) What is the difference between the anger of Jesus and the anger Jesus condemns in this passage from Matthew? Why is anger so wrong that Jesus equates it with the command against killing? St. Thomas defines anger as the desire to attack violently anyone who poses a threat to something we consider valuable. What about self-defense of our country, our family, ourselves? How far are we justified to go to defend ourselves? Is the anger you sometimes feel a justifiable anger, similar to that of Jesus, or the kind of anger Jesus condemns in the Sermon on the Mount? What does one do about one’s anger?

As a couple:

Pick a word or concept that’s significant in your relationship with one another or together with God, such as obedience, trust, or joy. Use a concordance to find instances of this word in Scripture. What does each verse teach you about this concept?

Pick a doctrine of the faith, such as the Immaculate Conception or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Read what the Catechism has to say about it, including any relevant Bible passages. Discuss how this doctrine actually applies to your day-to-day life.

With your children:

Discuss articles of the faith with them Socratically, encouraging them (using leading questions, if necessary) to discover these truths themselves. Possible topics could include why Jesus died, why we love Mary, or why the martyrs were willing to give their lives for Jesus.

Read a passage of Scripture together (such as the Sermon on the Mount). Interrupt the reading throughout to discuss the theological implications. (“What do you think it means to be poor in spirit?” “Does Jesus want us all to be poor?” “Who comforts people who mourn? How?”)

Other suggestions:

Read the same Bible verse in a few different translations. What light do the differences shed on the text?

Read the day’s readings each day. Write down five things you learn.

Do 15 minutes of spiritual reading. Spend 15 minutes talking to God about it.

Trace a character through the Bible (Absalom, Elijah, Peter). Make an outline of his life. What virtues or vices does he emulate?



Posted in Beauty | Tagged , , | 6 Comments