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. []
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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. []
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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 []
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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. []
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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?



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Franciscan Spirituality (SP 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 NT (Thomistic), SJ (Ignatian), and NF (Augustinian).

Bernardo_Strozzi_-_St_Francis_of_Assisi_adoring_the_Crucifix_-_Google_Art_ProjectAlthough around 38% of people are the sensing-perceiving type, at the time of Michael and Norrissey’s research, fewer than 10% of serious Catholics were. This is, of course, a challenge to the Church to see how her approach may be leaving Franciscan types behind. Franciscans are action-oriented, open, and flexible, tending to be rather impulsive. Generally optimistic, they are more focused on the present than the other types and thus are more easily able to live in the freedom of the Spirit. They need tangible, physical things to aid them in their prayer, such as sacramentals, incense, or movement in prayer. St. Mark, whose Gospel uses the word “immediately” 40 times (as opposed to Luke’s 7 and John’s 4), seems to have been Franciscan. And, of course, the Apostle who typifies the impetuous Franciscan is Peter.

Franciscan prayer is an experience of Christ through the senses. As such, it is more rooted in the physical than other types of prayer. Nature and visual art may play a bigger role, as will acts of service, which can themselves become prayer for the Franciscan.1 Though Franciscans have the least need for formal prayer, the authors of Prayer and Temperament still recommend at least half an hour each day, aided throughout the day by moments stolen to be mindful of God’s presence.2 Prayer should be more spontaneous, driven by praise and gratitude, rather than being characterized by the more rigid routine of the Ignatian. Often a simple conversation with Jesus will be most fruitful.

Franciscan prayer will be more creative than other spiritualities, possibly involving some work done with the hands (drawing or whittling), music, or a particular posture that leads one to prayer (such as standing cruciform or lying prostrate). Sacramentals may be helpful inasmuch as they engage the senses. Acts of service and self-sacrifice should be intentionally undertaken as forms of prayer and as a way of mortifying the Franciscan’s tendency to indulge the senses. More than anything, Franciscan prayer is incarnational, centered on the events of the life of Christ—particularly his passion—more than his teachings, though meditating on parables may also be quite fruitful. As such, the Gospels will be the most important Scriptures in Franciscan prayer, as well as the Psalms and canticles of praise (such as Daniel 3).

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

Take a walk through the woods or fields or along the road and look for signs of God’s love, beauty, power, wisdom, goodness, balance. Praise and thank God for revealing himself in all the events of history: in one’s personal history, in the history of the world, and in the history of salvation. Think of some of the mysteries in God’s creation which we cannot understand or explain—for example, the problem of sin and evil in the world. Try to make an act of blind faith and trust in God’s wisdom, power, and love even when we cannot see clear manifestations of his wisdom, power, and love.

Visit someone sick or old in a nursing home and talk to him/her about God. Before you leave, pray with this person and ask God to bless and help him/her. If you do not know anyone ill or aged who lives nearby, simply go unannounced to some nursing home and ask permission to visit some patient who seldom has visitors.

As a couple:

If you are musical, sing a hymn or praise song to the Lord. If you’re really musical, compose one. Or listen to a classical piece—Vierne’s Kyrie or Rachmaninov’s Bogoroditse Devo, perhaps.

Make a massive list of all the ways God has blessed you, taking time after you write each item to be still in God’s presence and thank him for his love.

With your children:

Go for a silent hike (or be more reasonable and spend 5 minutes of your hike silent). Ask your kids how they felt when they were walking silently with the Lord. Ask them if they noticed more what was going on around them than when they were running and talking. Find a particularly lovely place to sit and be silent for another 5 minutes.

Ask your children to think of someone who’s hurting. What can you do to help that person? (Write a card, give up dessert and donate the money you would have spent, clean the kitchen.) Discuss before you begin how helping God’s people is the same thing as giving Jesus extra love while he was suffering. Encourage them throughout the day to make little sacrifices to show Jesus extra love.

Have each child create and decorate his or her own prayer corner. Encourage them to sit and pray for just two or three minutes several times a day.

Other suggestions:

Go somewhere beautiful (I recommend Montana) and revel in the majesty of God.

Hold a crucifix while you pray.

Pick a small but regular sacrifice (no sugar in your coffee, no condiments, no added salt). Thank Jesus for his sacrifice every time you make yours.

Do something mindlessly physical while you pray–run or crochet or paint a wall. Engaging your body can make it easier to surrender your mind.

Every time you check your watch (or switch browser windows or change the channel or turn the page or something else frequent) stop for just a moment to remember God’s presence with you.


Are you Franciscan? What other suggestions would you add?

  1. Here I must interrupt to beg the forgiveness of those who pray this way. “My work is my prayer” and “I find God in nature” always seemed to me to be ways of avoiding the serious business of prayer. It turns out that they are real ways of praying as long as they are undertaken as prayer and not instead of prayer. Mea culpa. []
  2. Check out The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. []
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Temperament and Prayer

If there’s one glaring absence I see in the modern Catholic Church (in the west, at least), it’s that we spend far more time telling people what to do and what to believe (or, worse, telling them to do and believe what they like) than how to love God. Morality and doctrine matter, of course. After all, how can you know God if you don’t know anything about him? And how can you love God if nobody’s told you what he asks of you? But most of us—even those of us who have spent years and years following him—have never been taught how to pray. We’re told to go to Mass and possibly handed a pamphlet on the rosary and then our pastors and teachers wash their hands of it and go back to whatever good or useless lesson they were teaching.

I’m guilty of it myself. There’s so much to learn about the faith that it’s awfully hard to take time out of the classroom to spend it in the school of prayer. I always figured if I could keep them Catholic by defending the faith beyond possibility of attack, someone else would teach them. But with rare exception, nobody really does.

2015-09-09 20.44.28The trouble with teaching prayer is that it’s hard. It’s hard because prayer is hard, but also because there’s no systematic way to do it. There’s no one-size-fits-all style of prayer. And while the Mass is certainly the highest form of prayer, other devotions can’t really be ranked in effectiveness or importance. So, what? Throw everything at people and see what sticks?

Well, yes and no. For all I play up the importance of the Examen when I speak, I know that it’s not as easy as just saying, “Tell God about your day and then you’ll be a saint.” Prayer is much more complicated than that—and, as it turns out, much more individualized.

Because I’m particularly self-centered, I assume that everyone is (or ought to be) just like me. As it turns out, though, God has made all different kinds of people. And just as different kinds of people learn differently or relate differently or love differently, they also pray differently. Some people pray really well with Scripture. Others need to find God in creation. No, really—this isn’t some hippie cop-out about meeting God in nature (as I may have assumed for several years). It’s an ancient expression of spirituality and a genuine encounter with the divine, just as much as the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours.

Prayer and temperamentLast fall, Fr. Stephen Billington1 handed me a copy of a book to flip through, thinking I might find it interesting. The cover of Prayer and Temperament had me thinking it might not be the most helpful book I’d ever encountered, but I flipped to my personality type to give it a shot. There I found a minute-by-minute description of my prayer regimen. So I looked at the Bible passages it recommended; I had fully half of them memorized already. That’s when I began to think this book might have something to offer.

Prayer and Temperament, by Fr. Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey, uses the Myers-Briggs personality types to explain how different people might profit more from certain types of spirituality. It’s a fascinating read, although I would recommend skipping the chapter on liturgy entirely and remembering throughout that the book was published in 1984 and is occasionally quite dated.2 It’s certainly worth picking up a copy just for the prayer suggestions, which I won’t be able to reproduce in full here.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a summary of the authors’ findings in an attempt to help you all discover styles of prayer that you’ll find more fruitful. Many of us, I think, expect prayer to follow a particular model. When that model proves frustrating and fruitless, we abandon any serious attempt at prayer. My hope is that this series (and the book, if you’re inclined to read the whole thing) will help you to find the way that you/your children/your spouse/your students/your friends pray best and that in doing so you come to a deeper love of the God who loves you more than you will ever know.

So if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs personality test recently, click over to this one (or recommend a more accurate one in the comments). According to Michael and Norrissey, there are four major schools of spirituality, determined by your MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). These types are SJ (ESFJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, ISTJ), NT (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP), SP (ESTP, ISTP, ESFP, ISFP), and NF (ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, INFP). For a little clarification on the vocabulary, S stands for sensing, perceiving via the senses rather than intuition, and N for intuition. F is for feeling as opposed to T for thinking, a distinction about how decisions are reached. Finally, J is for judging, those who tend to see situations objectively, while P (perceiving) takes people and situations into account when making a judgment call.3

Take the test to figure out where you fall, then read on and prepare to be amazed. (Or, if you can’t wait for it all to be published, listen to the podcast explaining it all.)


Ignatian prayer, Augustinian prayer, Thomistic prayer, Franciscan prayer

  1. Whose house I’m actually at right now. []
  2. Theologically dated, which is an odd thing to say but quite true. []
  3. I’m really no expert on this, so hopefully my attempt to put it all in layman’s terms isn’t entirely inaccurate. []
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On Praying in Churches

Some time ago, I was in Europe chatting with a young American priest. We were discussing the state of Catholicism in the different European countries I’d visited and I was going on and on about Bavaria, the Texas of Germany, where churches are unlocked all day and so many people show up on Holy Days that they put speakers outside the church for the masses to hear the Masses.

“And the best thing, Father,” I gushed, “Is that they actually pray in their churches!”

He looked confused.

“No, I don’t mean for Mass. I mean, throughout the day! Every time I go for my holy hour, four or five different people stop through to make a visit while I’m in there. It’s unreal! Americans don’t pray in churches. I can go weeks without seeing another person in the sanctuary outside of Mass.”

“Oh, that can’t be true,” he protested. “At the parish I worked in, we had people stopping through all the time.”

“That’s wonderful, Father,” I said tentatively, “but it’s not typical.”

“No, no, I’m sure it’s more common than you think…” he began, but trailed off. “I suppose you have more experience of this than I do.”

“I’m pretty sure I do,” I said apologetically. “And I’d say that of the 45 hours or so that I spend in churches each month—outside of Mass, of course—I’m alone for all but 5 hours. At best.”

Now, this isn’t counting adoration. And I suppose it’s possible that I’m just going to the wrong churches or at the wrong times. But I have reason to think that’s not the case.

church with sunThe biggest reason, of course, is how often churches are locked. It’s gotten to the point where I call churches before heading over to ask if the building will be unlocked. Even in posh areas during business hours, the answer is often no. And when I ask to be let in to the church, people are confused.

“What for?” they ask.

“To pray.” I answer. It’s not a ridiculous question, after all. I might be there to practice the piano or to sketch the statues.

Sometimes, apparently, that’s not a good enough reason, and I’m told I can’t go in. Other times, the confusion remains, but they walk me over. Still other days find me staying after Mass for my prayer time and being asked to leave so they can lock up. I’ve been kicked out of more churches than most people will go into in their lives. And I understand that some churches need to be locked, especially in more crime-ridden areas. I certainly don’t expect anyone to allow a stranger to hang out with gold candlesticks at 10pm. But the fact remains that many (most?) Catholic churches in the United States seem to have no sense that people ought to be able to pray there.

There is something wrong with a Christian culture where I am looked upon with confusion and even suspicion for wanting to enter the presence of God incarnate to talk to him. This is the culture I’ve encountered in hundreds of churches across America. Even if it is possible to get in to pray, it’s so unusual that people look upon me with concern when they see me in the pews. After all, if a young woman’s come to church outside of Mass, someone must be dead or pregnant or something equally distressing.

I don’t think this has much to do with increased vandalism or lower rates of church attendance. I think it’s a reflection of the poverty of our faith, particularly our faith in the Eucharist.

Easter adorationIf we really believed Jesus was present in the Eucharist, wouldn’t we make some kind of effort to spend time with him? If we understood that the King of the universe was waiting, alone and rejected, our Prisoner of Love in the tabernacle, wouldn’t we stop by? But most of us don’t. Even if we drive by unlocked churches on our way home from work, even if we walk by chapels in our hallways, we don’t stop in.

It’s not your fault that you don’t. Or not entirely. Has it ever been suggested to you that you make a chapel visit? Is your church open if you wanted to? Can you find the tabernacle if you do get in?

I spent years following the Lord before I was convicted that I needed to do my best to get close to him physically as well as spiritually. And I really think it makes a difference. Sure, you can pray in your bedroom or your car or your office or anywhere at all. It’s not like Jesus isn’t present everywhere you turn to him. But the advantage of praying in a church isn’t just the lack of distractions (or the more sacred nature of the distractions). It’s that the God you address is really there, ten feet away, gazing with love on you. His spirit is omnipresent, but his body and blood are waiting in the tabernacle.

Witnessing this faith in the real presence was a transformative moment for Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). Walking through Frankfurt one day, she saw a woman with a shopping basket stopping in to pray at the cathedral. “This was something totally new to me,” she reflected years later. “In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited before, people simply went to services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot.”

I know a man—a Catholic father of five—whose first step toward Rome was a moment of wonder at the silence in a Catholic sanctuary before Mass, so different from the friendly chatter of his Baptist church. There was something different here, he remarked, some reverence paid particularly in this space. It was the silent visit of hungry souls to their Eucharistic Lord that first called him home.

There is something different about a Catholic church. Though the architecture might be oddly asymmetrical and the art unworthy of the name, though the plaster might be peeling and the pews painful, though the drafts might be bone-numbing and the sound system useless, he is there.

The Protestant (formerly Catholic) Cathedral in Edinburgh. A lovely building but he's not there.

The Protestant (formerly Catholic) Cathedral in Edinburgh. A lovely building but he’s not there.

Caryll Houselander tells a striking story of a woman who first realized this difference:

“A Catholic who had never been inside any but a Catholic church was taken to see a pre-Reformation cathedral now in Anglican hands. It was filled with fine old carving, the tombs of Crusaders, a famous pulpit and font, and so on, but she was struck by only one thing: the absence of the Blessed Sacrament. ‘But it is empty!’ was all she could say. Until that time she had not had any special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, but from that day her devotion began.”1

His presence matters. And our life ought to be a response to that. I’m not saying you have to make a holy hour every day, although some of you certainly could make time for that. And maybe the only church is so far out of your way that it can’t be a daily thing.

But maybe it’s not. Maybe you can spend ten minutes a day in the very presence of the God who gave you everything.

If your church isn’t open, talk to your pastor and see what can be done. Maybe the retired Knights of Columbus can volunteer to be in the church six hours a day—an honor guard of sorts for the Lord—so that the powers that be feel comfortable leaving the church unlocked. If the church is only open during business hours, you could ask for an hour every evening that it will be unlocked for those who work days. Perhaps there’s a code that could be put on the door, available for all parishioners (or hobos) who ask the office. If you’re building a new church, figure out a way to have a room that’s open 24 hours with a view of the tabernacle.2

All I know is it’s not okay that we treat the very presence of God like it’s no different from any other room. And rebuilding a culture that hungers for our Eucharistic Lord starts by being the change—by spending time with him in his Real Presence and by encouraging others to do the same.

2015-08-30 21.20.17

Dear Fathers, preach on it. Parents, take your children. Working people, mention your lunchtime chapel visit. Teachers, take your students for ten minutes on Fridays. Take time on your knees after Mass. Start your date night with the Lord. Make it a part of your parish events. A love of Jesus in the Eucharist is evidence of that personal relationship with Christ that transforms and animates his followers and the only way I can see to learn to love him is to act like we do until his grace makes it true.

Are you ready to join me in that strange, strange practice of being in the presence of the Person you’re talking to? I’d love to hear how you plan to keep him company—and any of your stories of confusing people by praying in churches.

  1. From The Reed of God which you simply must read immediately. []
  2. If they ask my advice for the next Code of Canon Law, I’m going to say this ought to be required of all new construction. Also, all churches in developed nations must have websites with Mass times prominently featured on the home page and bulletins uploaded in a timely fashion to inform people of changes to the usual schedule. I’ve been bitten way too often by canceled Masses that you could only know about if you heard the announcements the Sunday before. []
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The Best Rosary of My Life

2014-08-23 18.07.56I’ve made no secret of my struggle with the Rosary. And while I’ve continued to struggle through fifteen years of dry Aves, clinging to my beads simply because sweet Mother Church said I should, I’d become fairly convinced that this pious practice would never be anything but a chore for me. “The Rosary just doesn’t suit my temperament,” I said, committed to praying it regardless.

And that might be true. But our God is a God of surprises, of generosity that knows no bounds, of foretastes of the Promised Land amid forty year treks through the desert. And last night he had something better for me.

I didn’t grow up with Mary. Getting to know her has been awfully hard for me. For years, I wasn’t entirely convinced that Marian devotion wasn’t paganism. Then I read Scott Hahn’s Hail, Holy Queen and determined that, as with everything else where I’d tested her, the Church knew what she was about. (And for proof, here’s everything I’ve written about the Blessed Mother.)

But accepting the Marian dogmas didn’t at all mean really loving the Blessed Mother. And I didn’t.

Or rather, I don’t.

Oh, I try to. I know I should. But there’s still that Protestant inside me screaming about my blasphemy, that 21st century Catholic wondering why I should even bother. I know all the answers on an intellectual level, but Mary’s never really been my mom. The best I’ve gotten is that she’s my best friend’s mom. Given how close I am to my best friend’s mom–I’ve gone on vacation with her while my friend stayed home–that’s pretty good. But it’s not the same.

Thirteen years ago, before I had any idea who Mary was, I got positive peer pressured into making the Total Consecration to Mary. I was pretty sure it wasn’t idolatry, so I went for it. And it changed absolutely nothing.

But Mary’s been stalking me a little. And I knew I needed to renew my consecration. Everyone raves about Fr. Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Last week, I opened the introduction while killing time at a shawarma place in Atlanta. I read through the usual Mariology and settled in for more of the same.

Until this:

Mary’s task is to give spiritual birth to Christians, to feed and nurture them with grace, and to help them grow to full stature in Christ.

Now I’ve read John 19:26-27. I’ve taught those verses. I’ve made people memorize them. I get that Mary is my mother.

John 19 26-27

But I didn’t.

See, I was treating Mary as my stepmother. She’s the woman who came along when I was twenty-five standing at the foot of the Cross and now she comes to Thanksgiving at my house and maybe sometimes tells me about her Son until I get bored and tune her out.

But Mary isn’t my stepmother. She’s my mother. Adoptive, perhaps, but my true mother just the same.

The Lord speaks really strongly to me in allegory. Through images of princes taking the death penalty their adulterous brides deserve, little girls caught up out of poverty to become daughters of the king, husbands speaking words of forgiveness to their wives. Like analogies, allegories limp. So you’ll have to bear with me on this and be gentle. This is my heart.1

Andrea_Solario_-_Madonna_of_the_Green_CushionI am a poor orphaned infant adopted by the King and languishing for hunger. But the Mother of his Son has been nursing his other children so she takes me into her arms and puts me to her breast. No stepchild or foster child, I am her true child, the daughter of her heart become the daughter of her flesh. To be the daughter of my Father, I have to be nourished by the Mother of his Son.2 And so the food he gives to her becomes my food, the spiritual milk Paul tells us must be our food before we can eat meat.3 But where can we get this milk except our Mother? So she nurses me, as the King sits beside her and strokes my little head. My eldest Brother, the crown Prince, stands nearby. It was he whom the King sent out to rescue me, he who was scratched and beaten and bruised to bring me to the Father. In her arms, I become his. As I nurse, I toy with her necklace, a rope of beads with a crucified man hanging from it. And she tells me the story of my Brother’s love.4

When Jesus went to John to be baptized, he was joining in the struggle of all who sin, all who will die to sin. And your Father split open the heavens. “This is my beloved son,” he shouted. That’s the same thing he says about you, sweet girl. “This is my beloved daughter.” He loves you just that much. And all those people, they didn’t know what to think! Some thought it was thunder or maybe an earthquake. But a few, a very few, heard the Father’s words. And in that moment, they began to wonder if they couldn’t become beloved, too. Jesus had that effect on people, you know. When they looked at him, they knew just who they could be. And some people got angry and others felt hope and most everybody knew they needed mercy. But that brother of yours, he is mercy, sweet girl. Even to the ones who never ask.

And I’m looking up at her face and twisting her beads between my fingers and she’s stroking my hair and there’s nothing else but this—her, telling me about him.

Oh, that wedding feast was a marvelous one! They were some of my dearest friends, you know, and when the wine ran out I knew how desperately ashamed they would be. Jesus said he wasn’t planning on doing anything miraculous, but he couldn’t just stand by. I sometimes wonder if he didn’t hesitate at first just so I would know he was doing it as a gift for me. But no matter, he did it. He brought joy to that banquet just like he brings joy to anyone who turns to him. But the celebration was different afterwards. There was a solemnity to the joy, like the people knew something sacred had happened. Their laughter didn’t run to debauchery. They saw each other, really saw each other, and spoke the words of love they’d never had the courage to let out. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? That freedom to love.

Still I can’t look away. Every time my eyes stray to the window, her gentle voice tugs me back, reminding me that I need this, I need her, to help me become his.

And you should have seen the way they followed him after that! People pushing to get to him like he was their last hope. Which, of course, he was. “Master, heal me!” “Rabbi, teach me!” “Lord, save me!” Most of them not knowing who he was, just seeing that he had something they wanted. But Jesus saw past their ailments to their true need. So he healed a leper here, raised a dead girl there. But others he left broken. That’s what they needed. And oh, how he preached. Stood on a hill and spoke for hours. About love and mercy, yes, but about sin and judgment, too. About peace and violence and prayer and action but always, always about your Father. That was the whole point, of course: to bring these dear ones to your Father. Every word he spoke, every limb he healed, every child he touched, every beggar he fed: always to speak the love of the Father, to draw their hearts to him.

The stories sound different in her voice. I’m hearing them for the first time but she’s telling them for the thousandth. They’re the stories that make her life, make my life, make every life worth living.

Poor Peter. He was so tired. Jesus had told his friends that was going to be killed and no sooner had they picked their jaws up off the floor than he made Peter, John, and James climb a mountain. They were fishermen, not shepherds, and mountain climbing didn’t come easy. So you can imagine, dear heart, how they slept when they reached the top. They might have slept right through the whole thing, but the Father knew they needed that moment to keep them going. And there Moses and Elijah were, finally seeing the Son, the one they’d been pointing to their whole lives without knowing it. And poor Peter, always a man of action, tried to build a tent. I’m sure James was trying to understand it all, figure out how they got there and what it meant. And John—sweet John—just standing there taking it all in, just being. Doing and thinking and being. They’re very important, all of them, but I hope you, my sweet one, will have the courage just to be. That is the truest path to the Father.

The Father stops by and kisses me on my forehead and I only know him because she’s telling me. Her voice pulls me in and shows me just who he is.

Sweet girl, I hope you will never know the pain of that last night. Or maybe I hope you will, if it will bring you closer to the Father by showing you what his love is worth. But your Father is such a mighty King that he made that ugly night a gift beyond compare. Jesus was about to be made a sacrifice to bring you home. You, dear one. Isn’t he marvelous? All that, just for you. And there were his friends, oblivious. Except for John. They all caught Jesus’ mood, but only John was beginning to see. “The Lamb of God. The one who takes away the sin of the world. The paschal lamb whose body is broken, whose bread becomes our food. And tomorrow the Passover.” That meal began his greatest gift, his journey to hell and back to save you, my love. He gave you his body. Do you understand what that means? No, no, of course you don’t. But you will.

And as I feed on his body given to me through her, as his flesh becomes her flesh to become mine, there’s a peace and a stillness I’ve never felt here, an intensity that isn’t from me. She pulls me off and sits me up and delights in me because I am his. Hail, holy Queen.

I don’t know how long this will last, but I get it. I finally get what the rosary is about. I don’t know if you can have this experience, or if you even want to, but it was so much more real than any other time I’ve told my beads before. It’s the storytelling—which I’m becoming more and more convinced is key to evangelization—and the way those old stories are new again and finally understanding that I need her. For an inveterate rosary-tolerator like me, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Praise the Lord.

  1. One hazard of studying theology is that you see heresy in every misplaced preposition in your prayer. I’m trying to stop obsessing over correctness—which isn’t quite the same thing as truth—and let love speak. So today I offered this prayer: Father, I want to love you completely but I know I don’t know how. So I ask you to redirect my misplaced love. If I love the Blessed Mother too much or ignore your Son for love of you, be merciful on a stumbling sinner giving you her heart. []
  2. Obviously I’m not maligning adoptive mothers of older kids here or women who are unable to nurse for whatever reason. But back in the day if nobody was nursing you, you weren’t going to make it. []
  3. 1 Corinthians 3:2 []
  4. Not a vision or a locution, just a meditation. []
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I’m sorry if you clicked through because you wanted my reaction on yesterday’s ruling.1 I’m not here to talk about the news. Or rather, I am.

Last week, a terrorist walked into a church and continued a long line of crimes against Black Americans. This week, emboldened arsonists continued the attack on Black churches while almost a thousand people died from the heatwave in Pakistan. Yesterday, ISIS seems to have carried out coordinated attacks in 3 countries.


It’s been all over social media, being shouted from the rooftops by people radiant with joy for their futures and wild with excitement for their friends and just proud of their country. “Love wins!” they shout, as they dance and cheer and celebrate love.

And we whose reaction is less celebratory nod and smile, perhaps in spite of ourselves. There is much we may disagree on, but in this we can rejoice together: Love wins.

It has nothing to do with the news today. Or rather, it does, but it’s old News.

Love won two thousand years ago when he became flesh to cry out his Love for us. Each time he consoled adulteresses or welcomed Pharisees, Love won. He healed and corrected and challenged and gave life because Love wins.

Love won that black day when he took our sin upon him and destroyed our death. He shattered the hold sin had over us, ransoming our souls and winning us for the Father who is Love.

lovewins Jesus_crucifiedLove won when he broke the bonds of death and emerged victorious from the grave. He won when he came back for us, reminding us that not our denial or our doubt or our outright betrayal of him could stop his Love.

lovewins_empty_tombLove wins every time we see a person and not a label. Love wins when we refuse to define people by their sin or their closed-mindedness or their bank statement or their dress size or their age or their ability. Love wins when we too console adulteresses and welcome Pharisees. In each moment of reconciliation, of generosity, of compassion, of witness to the truth, of mercy, Love wins.

Despite evil and hatred and war and disease, Love wins. Because not even death can end his merciful Love. In the face of a world gone crazy with rage, we stand before the void and cry out this truth: Love wins. Because Satan has been defeated and the victory is ours. Because the victory of Love is not a victory of feelings but the promise that Love will never leave us or forsake us, that in spite of our feelings Love has triumphed and will fight for us until our last moment and perhaps beyond.

lovewins Eucharist_monstranceLove won last week in Charleston when victims stood up and forgave the one who murdered their loved ones. In a moment of mercy that will become a lifetime of trying again to forgive, they showed us just what it means when we say that Love wins: it means that Love is always more powerful than hatred, even when it seems hatred is triumphant. Evil has forgotten about the eternal epilogue.

And Love will win on the last day, when he drags every sorry soul he can get his pierced hands on into the kingdom. Despite our pettiness and our ugliness, despite our constant rejection of his Love and our desperation for cheap imitations of it, he will win.

Perhaps it’s more a cry of hope than a jeer of triumph, this declaration that Love wins. It’s the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail, not that they won’t seem to. It’s a challenge to us never to speak (or tweet) from bitterness or judgment or despair but to let God be God and trust in a love that makes us new.

Whether you found yesterday glorious or discouraging,2 in the end Love wins. Our task is to live for that Love. Whatever side you’re on, drop your weapons. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. You want Love to win? Live like it.

  1. But let’s be real. If you agree with me, you already know everything I’m going to say. And if you disagree, today’s not the day you’re going to listen. []
  2. And either way, I love you. But forget me–Jesus loves you like crazy! []
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