Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Holy Family Retreat

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SPIRITUAL FITNESS

It’s the stray cough from your neighbor or the crying baby in the back row. Sometimes, it’s the fidgeting toddler in front of you or the couple whispering two seats over.

We’ve all been there: distracted at Mass.

Whether it’s the fault of another congregant or the incessant nagging of your grocery list in your head, we have all experienced moments of distraction during Mass, especially during the homily. Full disclosure, I thought of this column idea during the homily at Mass this week.

When I first became aware of just how distracted I had become, my husband Matt suggested a trick he had learned in his divinity school studies at Yale. He said rather than fighting the distraction, follow the distracted line of thought, pray about it and resolve it. For example, if it’s a grocery list that your mind is making, take a moment and pray in gratitude for being able to afford groceries and resolve to come back to the list at another time. If it’s worrying about cleaning the kitchen before an evening dinner party, take a moment to pray in thanksgiving for being able to host said dinner party and for the friendship of your guests.

This follow-the-distraction-in-prayer trick certainly works, and I’ve found it to be helpful to acknowledge my distractions and quickly move past them in Mass. But author Matthew Kelly also gave me another idea that I find just as useful, if not more so, especially during a homily. When I remember — this week I did not — I slip a small notebook and pen into my purse and quietly slip it out after the Gospel reading and I take notes.

As a newspaper reporter, I’m rather quick at taking notes, but I don’t spend the entire sermon scribbling away as I would during an interview or at a press conference. Rather, during homilies, I just write down key points or phrases that really jump out at me while the priest is talking. I don’t need to remember the football joke, but it is nice to jot down the true gems that I want to remember throughout the week.

This practice, albeit a little strange, has actually helped me walk away with — and better remember — themes from homilies and the Gospels. When I remember my notebook, I’m more likely to remember what was talked about during Mass and think about it more often during the week.

In early December, I was reminded by a visiting priest to St. Thomas More in New Haven that true joy comes from God and we are called to relish God’s blessings and not be too focused on ourselves. The visiting priest from New Britain gave us homework: try to make other people happy and joyful in God’s grace. That’s quite an assignment, but writing it down helped me to think more about pointing out God’s blessings, rather than focusing on negativity in conversations with friends and family during the week. I think without my notebook, and the act of writing down that assignment, I wouldn’t have remembered the assignment past Communion.

It’s a habit I’m still learning, but I’ve brought a notebook often enough to miss it when I forget it at this point. And I’m hoping to continue the practice throughout this new year. After all, if I’m only in Mass one hour a week, shouldn’t I make the most of it?

ANNA JONES is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.

SPIRITUAL FITNESS

There are many awesome teachings in Christian theology true forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven, just to name a couple. But the one teaching that’s had the biggest impact on my life is this: It is possible to love a person without necessarily liking him or her.

I remember years ago when I first heard Jesus’ command: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I immediately thought to myself, “Are you kidding, Jesus? How can I love people who are total jerks and cause me so much trouble?”

Jesus is God, and therefore all-knowing, but sometimes I wondered if he had lost sight of the fact that during a typical day, I had to deal with so many unlovable bozos.

The problem is that the English word “love” implies affection. We say we love ice cream or puppies or sunsets. We can’t comprehend loving something unless we also are fond of it. And this goes especially for people. So, Jesus’ command to love the people we don’t like seems impossible.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and in Greek there are multiple words that are translated into the English word “love.” The word Jesus used when he said, “Love your enemies,” is the verb form of agape. This is divine love, the kind of love Christ showed toward us when he paid the price for our sins on the cross.

Here is one simple definition of agape love: truly wanting the best for the other person.

Now, imagine this scenario: There’s a guy at work, let’s call him Fred, in the Accounting Department, and Fred is obnoxious and rude. He gossips about people behind their backs, and lies to their faces in person. No one knows why he hasn’t been fired for sexual harassment because of all the lewd things he says. Most co-workers would not shed a tear if something terrible happened to Fred.

Everybody dislikes Fred, including you. But instead of just grumbling about Fred and secretly daydreaming that he gets fired, try this instead: Truly wish the best for Fred. In his case, it means he needs to have a total change of heart, put his faith in God, apologize to those he’s offended and drastically alter his behavior. It is possible to genuinely want the best for Fred without being fond of him. And if you’re able to change your attitude toward Fred and pray that God will bless him, you are following Jesus’ command to love him. And nothing says you have to like him.

Isn’t that liberating?

When I first heard about this concept, I thought of the people I really didn’t care for. It took a while, but I reached a point where I honestly could say that I wanted the best for them. For many of these people, just as with our fictitious Fred, the “best” meant they needed to turn to God, repent for some lousy behavior and start treating people differently in the future. I began to pray that God would bless them.

And you know what? The more I prayed for them, the less I disliked them. Also, the more I prayed for these people, the more I realized that I was not exactly Little Miss Sunshine in the way I treated others.

Liking someone is based on feelings, which we can’t control. But loving someone — true Christian agape love — is an act of the will.

Give this liberating concept a try. It may help you cope with all the Freds in your life. Or better yet, it may help you stop being such a Fred yourself.

BILL DUNN is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.

WORK LIFE

 

The expensive fitness-tracker watch I gave my wife Sandy for her birthday was on the bureau instead of her wrist. Was she abandoning our conjugal commitment to physical fitness? Maybe I should have given her a turbo-charged German vacuum cleaner instead. Or tapped into my flagging 401(k) and bought her a MINI Cooper. After all, it was a big birthday.

Once upon a time, this woman was obsessed with surpassing the American Heart Association’s recommended goal of walking 10,000 steps a day, and very often she tallied more than 20,000 steps by the time she put her head on the pillow. I don’t know how she did it, but I’m convinced she was motivated by an intense desire to outperform me.

Sometimes I’d find her running in place in the kitchen; other times, I’d go to bed and she’d still be exercising downstairs. For my part, I made an effort to put in as many steps during the workday so that I could satisfy the demands of my tracker by walking at least 250 steps an hour. I just hoped the boss wasn’t wondering about all that physical movement when I should have been chained to my work station.

OK, I admit that we’re both a little obsessive when it comes to exercise, but the experts say it adds years to your life.

One report I read from Dr. Oz — or maybe it was Dr. Phil or Dr. Seuss — said that regular exercise cuts the risk of colon cancer by 60 percent, the risk of Alzheimer’s by 40 percent, the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure by 40 percent and the risk of type II diabetes by 58 percent, along with preventing breast cancer and strokes. So why was her fitness watch on the bureau, instead of wrapped around her wrist so she could register her steps, heart rate, physical exertion, calories, stairs and miles?

“I’m tired of being a slave to a fitness tracker,” she said. “There are more important things in life.”

“What’s more important than taking care of your body?” I asked. The answer came to mind immediately — taking care of your soul. Your body dies. Your soul is immortal. Or to paraphrase Jesus, “Don’t worry about those who can harm the body, worry about those who can harm the soul.”

Can you imagine what saints we’d become if we put as much time and effort into spiritual exercise? My friends who wear fitness trackers are such fanatics they can’t resist boasting about their weekly progress. I wonder, however, whether they pay the same attention to their souls.

Not to boast — I’m boasting — but during one of my productive weeks, I logged 859 active minutes, 63.04 miles,133,446 steps, 23,497 calories and 158 floors. The thought of praying 859 minutes never crossed my mind. And what about spending an hour in eucharistic adoration or saying five decades of the rosary for 20 minutes or, most important of all, going to daily Mass?

With a program of regular spiritual fitness, I bet we could cut the risk of depression and anxiety by 75 percent, marital discord by 70 percent, family unrest by 65 percent, workplace agita by 63 percent, unhappiness by 85 percent, impurity by 80 percent and swearing by 95 percent.

Training our souls is far more important than exercising our bodies. Our bodies decay and die, but our souls last forever, so let’s do what’s necessary to get them in shape.

If we could see the condition of our souls, many of us would be shocked. I once read about a man who had a near-death experience and got a review of his life in intimate detail and suddenly realized he’d done the bare minimum for Christ. All that really had concerned him was making money, getting ahead and being a success in the eyes of the world. You might say he was a 98-pound spiritual weakling. The experience changed his life and his priorities.

I started to rethink my own goals. Instead of getting up at 4:25 a.m. to exercise before heading to the train for work, I got up at 4:25 and, in the silence of the morning, began to meditate and tried to listen to the still, small voice of God. I took out my rosary beads and said the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. On the way to the train station, I said the Joyful and Luminous Mysteries of the rosary. While I was on the train for the hourand-45-minute ride into the city, I said the Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries in addition to praying the Divine Office on my iPad.

At lunch, I crossed the street and went to midday Mass at St. Agnes. It certainly helped me during the workday. Whenever the challenges of the job or my co-workers or clients got a little too demanding and threatened to push me into emotional crisis, I said a prayer for peace ... and it was restored. The benefits were certainly there.

Cardio and weight training may help your body, but it’s good to remember the spiritual exercises that benefit your soul: prayer, fasting, meditation, sacrifices, Mass, eucharistic adoration and the rosary. I still exercise regularly, but now I’m more concerned about cracking a sweat ... spiritually.

JOE PISANI of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.

cram angel statueYOUR LIFE, PARENTING

Childish prayers

A child’s prayer is the ultimate in sweetness, isn’t it? Yeah, right. Like the time my 3-year-old prayed for her baby sister to move in with the neighbors, preferably for a very long time. Years ago when I misplaced my wedding ring, my young son confidently prayed to find it, then whispered his back-up plan. “That’s OK, Mama. You get married again, get another ring.”

Our children have asked God to make the tooth fairy less forgetful, turn the green beans into chocolate and send all mosquitoes to Rhode Island. Five-year-old Meredith once thanked God for the baby’s slimy belly button, and asked him to make sure there are no frogs in heaven. Skip prayed for quadruplet brothers. We drew the line when one nameless child asked God if he could please make the teacher sick for the rest of the school year.

Children’s prayers are not always sweet, or even kind, but they are genuine pleas from kids who understand that God cares about the details of their lives.

Let me tell you about one such plea.

As a young mom, I had a pen pal named Rosemary in Philadelphia. Rosemary wrote hilarious letters about her family’s escapades, giving me much-needed respite from my daily routine.

Shortly before we began corresponding, Rosemary and her husband John applied to adopt a baby from Peru. They had recently visited that country, where they’d fallen in love with a 5-month-old baby boy. Returning to Philadelphia, they completed the necessary paperwork to adopt him — or so they thought. Months later, they returned to South America to bring the baby home, but the Peruvian government refused to release the child. Heartbroken, John and Rosemary again returned to the States, leaving the baby in a Peruvian orphanage. In their hearts, this child was already their son. They had named him Anthony.

Our children prayed fervently for Anthony, and each update from Rosemary propelled them to pray still more. “Please, God,” the children would plead, “please bring Baby Anthony home so he can be with his family.”

We began praying in March. April came and went, then May. Around the first of June, John and Rosemary were told to expect Anthony by midsummer, but June and July passed and Anthony was still in Peru. In August, they marked Anthony’s first birthday from thousands of miles away.

And still we prayed. “Why doesn’t God bring Baby Anthony home so he can be with his family?” my 4-year-old asked often. I didn’t know. I could only assure her that God loved Baby Anthony even more than we did.

The weather turned cool. September passed, then October. “Don’t you think God will bring him home for Thanksgiving?” my 6-year-old asked.

But on Thanksgiving Day, we were still praying for Baby Anthony to come home.

The morning after Thanksgiving, I strolled to the mailbox, where I found a letter in Rosemary’s distinctive handwriting. I ripped open the envelope and read, “He’s home. Baby Anthony is home.”

I could not see the rest of the words through my tears. I flew into the house shouting, “He’s here! He’s here! He’s here!” The children dropped what they were doing and gathered around to read about John and Rosemary’s final trip to Peru. This time, they brought home their cherished little boy.

Our prayers that evening brimmed with joy. “Thank you for bringing Baby Anthony home to be with his family!” the children prayed. The 7-year-old blurted out, “Hey! Anthony was home for Thanksgiving! We just didn’t know it yet.”

Anthony’s story has a happy ending, but sometimes God’s plan does not match our own. Sometimes God tells us, “No, my child, I can’t give you what you want because I love you so much.” It’s not easy explaining this to a child. It’s not easy understanding it ourselves.

But prayer is so much more than asking for things; prayer fosters a relationship with God. And so, generation after generation, we bring our children to prayer, often assisted by grandparents, godparents and caregivers. Together, we teach our children to trust their Heavenly Father whose love is everlasting, whether he gives us what we want or not.

M. REGINA CRAM is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

bible study 862994 fbOne summer in my college years, I worked the morning shift at a local gym to earn some extra money. Each day when I arrived at 4:25 a.m., without fail, the regulars were already there, waiting for me.

I was always in awe of those dedicated few, and while they never said anything, I know they were not thrilled when I showed up at 4:31, a minute after the gym was supposed to open, because I hadn’t biked there fast enough or had hit the snooze button.

These people were dedicated to their physical health in a way that many of us can’t understand. I know I certainly can’t, and I even raced on a triathlon team in college. There are plenty of gym rats and exercise nuts out there, but how many do you know who arrive at the gym at a time many of us still consider the middle of the night?

When I stop to think about my own habits — personal fitness, spiritual fitness, diet, exercise and such — those early morning risers come to mind. I’m not thinking of rushing to the gym in the wee hours of the morning anytime soon, but it does make me stop and wonder about how I can be more disciplined, and what areas I maybe should pay more attention to.

There are examples galore of ways to aid in physical well-being at the start of a new year. Just ask the membership staff at the local gym what their favorite time of year is. But, I would guess that church attendance doesn’t surge the same way every January. Are there ways we can exercise more of our spiritual health in the new year?

If Sunday church attendance is already a habit, there are plenty of other ways to engage more fully in our spiritual lives this coming year. It could be making it to a daily Mass or special prayer service once a week. Maybe, for some, it’s getting to Mass on all of the holy days of obligation in 2017. Maybe it’s adding another five- or 10-minute period of prayer time to our day. Maybe it’s cracking open a Bible more often, or, as in my case, really, at all. Maybe it’s considering a return to confession.

Advent and Lent are common periods to set the spiritual reset button, try something new or engage in an activity or fasting that will bring us closer to God. Is there something you can put on your resolution list as an addendum this year? Or something that can be a new addition altogether? Is there something that probably shouldn’t wait until the month and a half before Easter?

At the start of 2016, my husband and I decided we were going to make resolutions that catered to three aspects of our health: emotional, physical and spiritual. We decided to make a poster with a list of things we wanted to accomplish in the year, and we weren’t going to shy away from any idea, no matter how unlikely it seemed. A tougher list would just push us harder to follow through, we said.

Well, it seems even making the poster was too ambitious, because I found the poster board in our closet the other day. It’s still blank.

But that poster board is actually going to make it to the wall this year, and with a little luck, hard  work and some of that channeled energy from those summer gym rats, we may be able to look at it again a year from  now knowing that we at least accomplished our spiritual health goals for 2017.

Anna Jonesis a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center community at Yale University.

beggars 1233291 640When I arrive for work at the Chrysler Building, a group of panhandlers is standing across the street outside St. Agnes Church, waiting for handouts from people leaving morning Mass. One fellow is in a wheelchair, another has a cane and another has his Starbucks Venti-sized cup held out so you can toss in some coins, or, even better, a dollar bill.

By midday, the morning shift is gone and there’s a new group at the doorway, which includes a woman in walker, a man with a sign that says he can’t work because of a disability and a fellow who just smiles at everyone and greets them with, “Hi, buddy, have a nice day. Can you spare some change?”

Panhandlers, or, to use the more biblical term, “beggars,” provoke a lot of anger in modern America. A few times when I was waiting for the morning train, I gave a buck to a guy who had a sign that said he was an out-of-work veteran — and my fellow commuters tore into me. They said I was a fool. They insisted the so-called hard-luck vet probably had a bigger house than I do and was driving a BMW, while I have to get by in a Toyota with 100,000 miles on the odometer.

They scoffed and said I had committed a grave offense: “encouraging scam artists.” It was a lot of abuse for the alleged crime of handing someone a dollar bill. (Just to set the record straight, I’m no paragon of charitable giving.)

Maybe the guy wasn’t down on his luck, but you can’t conduct a needs test every time someone asks for a handout. I’m also convinced our society has a serious moral blindness if begging provokes reasonably well-off people to anger.

A friend who teaches at a Catholic high school recently took his class to the inner city to do volunteer work, and the response of some students to the disadvantaged people they met was unsettling: They should get jobs. They should stop spending their money on drugs. They’ve been on welfare for generations.

Pope Francis has been vocal about the importance of charity. During one audience at St. Peter’s, he said, “When going down the street, we cross a person in need or a poor man comes knocking at the door of our house ... in these instances what is my reaction? Do I turn away? Do I move on? Or do I stop to talk and take an interest? If you do this, there will always be someone who says, ‘This one is crazy, talking to a poor person.’”

Christ was pretty explicit about giving. One thing he never said to beggars was, “You’re a fraud. You have no business asking these hard-working people for money.” (And he didn’t obsess over whether they had a flat-screen TV and a six-pack of Heineken in the refrigerator.)

However, Christ did say, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”

All around the city, you’ll meet people in need, lying on the sidewalks in sleeping bags, wandering the streets with no shoes and rummaging through recycling bins and trash cans. People who are down on their luck.

In New York, it has become such an epidemic that exasperated city officials have suggested a solution: If you stop giving to them, they’ll go away. Last year, one of the tabloids fueled the debate by writing a story about a panhandler who, with his dog, made $200 an hour and went home to a rent-controlled apartment.

We live in a world where there’s clearly an inequitable distribution of wealth, as Pope Francis often says. Very often, those of us who have enough want more and think that we’ve been unfairly denied when we don’t get it. Even if you factor in the need to save for retirement and pay for college educations, many of us still have sufficient resources to live good lives and give charitably.

What I’ve noticed is that greedy people — in every income bracket — are never satisfied with what they have. Studies on philanthropy often show that the per capita rate of giving is generally the lowest in states where the per capita income is the highest. Part of the problem is that we’re too busy comparing ourselves with people who have more than us. If we compared ourselves to people who have less than us, we might be more compassionate — and charitable.

This much we can be sure of: God is love and God is all about giving with a cheerful heart. And always remember that he’ll reward us for what we give to others, far beyond our wildest dreams.

Joe Pisani of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.

sad 1821412 640We gathered around the kitchen table for dinner, accompanied by the usual bickering, grumbling and hilarity. Our children ranged in age from 10-16 and they were really good kids. They just liked to argue. A lot.

My husband Peter did not not want to have the conversation I was about to begin. He feared that the children would blame themselves for my odd behavior. I insisted that they already blamed themselves, and besides, we're family. They deserved to know what was going on. If I was battling a physical illness, we wouldn't withhold the truth. Why should we withhold the truth in this case?

“This case” was my struggle with some amorphous mental illness. The previous year, I'd been incorrectly diagnosed with clinical depression after having suffered in silence for far too long. Unfortunately, I still didn't have a correct diagnosis. I was depressed, confused, irritable and ghastly thin. Most days, it was all I could do to get out of bed. Some days, I couldn't even do that.

As dinner drew to a close, I cleared my throat and began. I noted that I'd been crying a lot, listless, lying on the couch for days and not my normal self. The three older kids indicated that they had noticed. I filled them in on what I had done to seek treatment. I also told them honestly that, thus far, nothing had worked. I assured them that their dad and I would continue to seek an accurate diagnosis, then pursue effective treatment. In the meantime, we wanted them to know that none of this was their fault. We stressed that we loved them very much and that they were free to ask questions at any time.

The three older kids seemed somewhat familiar with mental illness. To my delight, they had none of the prejudices held by previous generations. To them, a mental illness was no different from diabetes — a medical condition that is serious but, in most cases, treatable. 

The youngest child, however, was combative. “How can you be sad if there's nothing to be sad about?” she charged in frustration. “Why can't you just be happy?”

The older kids jumped down her throat. “It's an illness! She can't control it!” hollered the 15-year-old. “Torrie, Mom is sick. It's a sickness. That's all,” added the 16-year-old gently.

But the 10-year-old continued her rant, so I intervened and wrapped up the conversation. Later, I spoke privately with the older kids. I explained that Torrie's frustration had nothing to do with insensitivity or prejudice; it had everything to do with the fact that she had not yet reached puberty. “Once a kid is an adolescent,” I said, “the brain is able to deal with abstractions. I'm sure that in 18 months, Torrie will totally get it.” The kids were skeptical, but agreed not to battle their youngest sibling. 

Six months later, I finally received a correct diagnosis. I was suffering from bipolar disorder, a mental  illness marked by uncontrolled mood swings thought to be caused by chemical fluctuations in the brain. Fortunately, bipolar disorder is usually treatable, so, with a lot of hard work and tremendous family support, I am fat and sassy again. 

I'm making it sound easy. It was not. Actually, it was horrible — and our youngest was still combative.

It took about two years for my condition to stabilize, by which point our youngest was in middle school. One day, I took her aside and asked if she was embarrassed that her mom had a mental illness. 

She didn't understand the question.

“Mom, you're sick. If you're sick, you're sick. Why would I be embarrassed?”

I wanted to kiss her, except that that would have embarrassed her far more than any mental illness.

Throughout my healing process, our parents and friends were incredible, bringing meals, touching base and reminding me how much I was loved.

The final step came when I began to feel God's gentle nudge to write about my struggle. “Are you out of your mind?” I asked God bluntly. “It was horrible enough to live through it. Why would I want to write about it?”

God sweetly persisted until I acknowledged that it was time for me to stop feeling ashamed. I didn't do anything wrong; I simply had an illness. And so, reluctantly, I wrote about it, and spoke about it, and owned it.

I hate having a mental illness; I think I'll always hate it. But in all things God works together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I wish he'd picked a different purpose for me, but this is what I have. To God be the glory.

 

M. Regina Cram is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.

Calculator casioOne day, Saint Peter said to the other disciples, “You know how Jesus is always talking about forgiveness? Well, I’m gonna ask him a question that will earn me some major brownie points!”

So, Peter approached Jesus and said, “Master, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive him, up to seven times?” Peter glanced back at the other disciples and winked. Forgive someone seven times? Surely, even Jesus will say, “No, no, that’s way too many. Two or three times, max.” Peter hoped Jesus also would add, “But that’s very generous of you, Peter, to offer to forgive someone seven times! Good for you.”

However, Jesus stared at Peter for a few moments, then said, “I tell you, not seven times, but 70 times seven!”

Stunned, Peter walked back to the disciples and muttered, “Not only did Jesus say we have to forgive, but now we have to do math problems!”

People often say the most powerful three words in the universe are, “I love you.” And that’s probably correct. But three other words are a close second: “I forgive you.” 

The words “I love you” are wonderful, and they take a good situation and make it even better. But the words “I forgive you” can be even more powerful because they take a bad situation and turn it around to make it good.

Jesus was well aware the disciples were not good at math (except Matthew the tax collector, who passed the CPA exam). When Jesus said to forgive others 70 times seven, he wasn’t offering a specific number, as if we have to forgive someone exactly 490 times, but on the 491st time, oh boy, that’s it, no mercy!

No, by giving the disciples a math problem, Jesus meant we have to forgive endlessly. No matter how many times someone sins against us, we must be ready and willing to offer forgiveness.

I’m Irish. Have you ever heard of “Irish Alzheimer’s”? That’s where you forget everything except the grudges. I hear it’s common with other ethnic groups, too. In many families, there are people who haven’t spoken to each other in decades, and no one even re-members what caused the feud in the first place. But neither party has any interest in being the first one to say, “I’m sorry,” and offer forgiveness.

Speaking of the words, “I’m sorry,” there is a stunning aspect of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. Jesus says we must forgive others always, but then doesn’t qualify his teaching with: “ … as soon as they apologize and ask for forgiveness.” Whoa, you mean we’re supposed to forgive even if the other person doesn’t ask for forgiveness?

Now, obviously, if the other person sincerely says, “I’m sorry,” and asks for forgiveness, and then we do indeed forgive him, that is pure joy. That is a complete and glorious reconciliation.

However, even if the other person does not ask for forgiveness, Jesus says we must for-give, anyway. Since that won’t end the feud, why should we bother? Because when we forgive others who sin against us, it keeps us from becoming bitter. It keeps up from sinning.

The most perfect example of this is Jesus’ words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If Jesus could forgive the people who murdered him, don’t you think we can forgive others who did far less to us?

The young and the faithful

by Anna Jones

Imagine a typical scene for TV commercials where the uncle, husband, boyfriend, dad, etc., are checking the game scores during the family event on their smartphones. Now, imagine a college football-obsessed family, most of whom are alumni or have a close tie to the University of Michigan, forced to sit in a church on a football Saturday in the middle of a highly anticipated game.

This reminds me of my wedding day.

One of my favorite pictures from our wedding is the moment that our photographer captured my reaction to hearing that Northwestern University, my alma mater, had just lost to Michigan, 28-0. Apparently, it didn’t end up being the nail-biter that had been forecast.

I didn’t try to lie to myself that members of my family would not be checking in on the game either during the ceremony or as soon as Matt and I walked out of the church as husband and wife. I love my family, and I wouldn’t change our sports-watching traditions for anything. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t talk to my mom about how nervous I was that people were coming to our Catholic wedding Mass, normally around an hour-long service, kicking and screaming.

What if it wasn’t just football that was a distraction? What if people were uncomfortable in a Catholic Church or were dreading the idea of an hour-long wedding service? Many of the prior wedding ceremonies I had been to outside of a Catholic church had clocked in at around 20 minutes or less, and I was already getting flak from some people about how long it takes the Catholics to get married.

My mom has always been supportive, and proud of my relationship with Matt and of how much our faith has been a part of our journey together. So, when I told her about all that I was worried about, she told me to remember that our wedding was an opportunity to invite our guests to catch a glimpse of an aspect of our relationship that was really important to us. Many of our guests were practicing Catholics, but we shouldn’t make changes in how we envisioned our wedding day for the ones that aren’t, we agreed.

With my mother’s encouragement, we printed all of the responses and even the readings in the program to be handed out at the entrance to the church so everyone could easily follow along with what was happening and we provided hymnals and invited everyone to sing the hymns during communion. How wonderful it was to hear the chapel full of congregational responses and singing throughout!

If for no other reason than the general politeness of our guests, I expected to hear about how people liked the flowers or the reception venue, but it was so surprising to also have received so many compliments regarding our wedding ceremony itself. In the weeks following, I was deeply moved as my family and friends alike continued to quote our priest’s homily, praise our music choices for the ceremony and tell us how happy they were to have been a part of the day.

As of the Feast of the Holy Family on Dec. 30, Catholic wedding Masses will look a little bit different from the way they have in the past. They’ll be a little bit longer and involve the congregation a little bit more.

The Order of Celebrating Matrimony, which will become the standard practice and replace the old Rite of Marriage, includes the congregation in more of the celebration, with an expansion of the introduction, the addition of the singing of the Gloria, additional responses by the congregation after the exchange of vows, and the option for two additional blessings, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

If these changes had occurred before my own wedding Mass, I would have been a little nervous. But, after seeing how much so many non-Catholic or non-religious family members and friends embraced and appreciated our wedding Mass, I have to say, I wish these changes had been put into effect a bit earlier.

Anna Jones is a writer who lives in the New Haven area.

The Catholic Difference

by George Weigel

At the risk of causing cardiac distress or cerebral incidents among the bloggers of the Catholic Left, let me begin by saying that I agree with the claim that the recent WikiLeaks dump of “Catholic emails” from the higher altitudes of the Clinton Machine is No Big Deal. But if so, why not?

It’s no big deal in the sense that anyone who’s been paying attention has long known that a lot of money, usually from secular sources allied to fanatic population controllers, has been used to create “Catholic organizations” that are little more than letterheads. And with those letterheads, expensive newspaper ads, press releases, and other forms of propaganda are confected, especially during election season. Catholics for Choice, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good are all examples of this scam: faux-organizations long on income and high in media visibility, but with virtually no base in the U.S. Catholic community.

This is an old tactic with an unsavory pedigree. “Catholic” front organizations were a staple of communist agitprop during the Cold War, as communist parties in central and eastern Europe tried to replace the real Catholic Church with a Catholicism more to the comrades’ liking. The most notorious of these gangs was the “Pax” movement in Poland, which, as one historian put it, was “almost more Stalinist than the Party”; its founder, Bolesław Piasecki, was a pre-war fascist who bought his way out of a Soviet prison by offering to be a kind of Trojan horse among Polish Catholics. Then there was “Pacem in Terris” in Czechoslovakia; the real Catholics called the toadies who were its fawning, regime-compliant members the “pax terriers.”

The mini-novum in the WikiLeaks material is the revelation that these richly-funded front organizations, and their co-conspirators in the Democratic Party, were after bigger game than electoral victory. They also saw themselves as also effecting a change in the Catholic Church’s allegedly retrograde “positions” on sexual morality, gender and marriage – as if these “positions” were something that could be changed as readily as Hillary Clinton’s position on free trade.

But here, too, there’s really nothing surprising. Self-styled Catholic progressives have never understood the nature of settled Catholic teaching since the meltdown of the progressive Catholic brain over Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on the morally appropriate means of family planning. That Senator Tim Kaine imagines that the church’s teaching on the nature of marriage is susceptible to change tells you something, I suppose, about the catechetical formation he received in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. That John Podesta and other Clintonistas imagined that they could spin Pope Francis with money from George Soros perhaps tells you a bit about the fantasyland these people inhabit. (If I were Mr. Soros, I’d want my money back. Spending $650,000 on a lobbying campaign to convince Pope Francis that income inequality is a problem is not strategically smart philanthropy, given the pope’s well-known concerns about poverty.) But there’s nothing really new here: only another trigger-warning about the soft totalitarianism implicit in the contemporary “progressive” project.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this WikiLeaks business for the difficult future that awaits the church in the United States, it has to do with the bishops becoming more assertive guardians of the “Catholic” brand. When Catholics for Choice takes out full-page newspaper ads asserting that “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value” (as happened during this election cycle), the local bishop should be at the forefront of the public challenge to such lies, making clear through the local press and social media that Catholics for Choice is not recognized as a legitimate Catholic organization by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – and perhaps calling the newspaper’s editor or proprietor to inquire why the paper is accepting blatantly false advertising.

The local bishop is the trustee of the church’s identity in the diocese entrusted to his care – just as he’s the guardian of the Catholic truths to be taught in his schools and the guarantor of the integrity of the sacraments administered under his authority. Given what’s coming in the near future, bishops had better prepare themselves now for being active defenders of the church’s integrity in all these spheres of Catholic life.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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