Thursday, April 17, 2014

Divine Mercy: Becoming a Living Martyr

Often times those who oppose and challenge us contribute more to our growth than those who support us. That is what has happened just recently with me. I just did a post entitled "Are We Judge or Healer" which you can read HERE. In this post, I discussed two recent speakers at Catholic High Schools, Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P. and Father Rocky Hoffman, who gave separate unrelated talks at different schools regarding homosexuality and Catholic teaching. Both of these speakers were met with outrage from many of the students and parents who felt the talks were bigoted and hateful. The problem for the rest of us is that no one outside of the talks knows what was said because no recording or transcript was made of Sister Jane's talk, and although Father Hoffman's talk was recorded, that recording has not been released. So all reports basically amount to hearsay.

That has not stopped the Catholic blogosphere from launching into major attacks against those parents and teachers who complained about the lectures, with the bloggers condemning those who complained for not accepting orthodox Catholic Church teaching. And it is most likely true that the parents and students do not understand and/or accept Catholic teaching.

But my problem with attacking the parents and students is that we don't know what was said, so we really can't make a just judgment. Further, I see the reaction of the parents and students as a wake-up call to the rest of us not so much that there are Catholics who reject the teachings of the Church as the fact that they are spiritually wounded, and condemnation is not going to help but will most likely only drive them further away from the Church and from Jesus Christ. I believe that our Lord would have us lead them to the truth not with harsh words and condemnation but with mercy and compassion. I gave the example of Pope Francis' statement of the Church being a field hospital for the wounded.

This did not sit very well with a few readers, and they let me have it. I was accused of wanting to "pamper" sinners, and told that my ideas were basically protestant, and even go against common sense. The discussion evolved into one about Divine Mercy as given to us through St. Faustina, and I was again told that I had no idea what I was talking about. Those commenting argued that I was misinterpreting Divine Mercy and the words of scripture, which the commenters feel is a sure road to disaster.

For the record, St. Faustina wrote this in regard to the difference between judgment and mercy:
O my Jesus, when shall we look upon souls with higher motives in mind? When will our judgments be true? You give us occasions to practice deeds of mercy, and instead we use the occasions to pass judgment. In order to know whether the love of God flourishes in a convent, one must ask how they treat the sick, the disabled, and the infirm who are there. (Diary 1269)
How does Divine Mercy work in leading people away from their sins and to the saving graces of Jesus Christ? The message of Divine Mercy as given to St. Faustina involves much more than just being "nice" to people. Divine Mercy involves us doing penance and reparation in order to save the souls of sinners. It involves uniting ourselves to the greatest act of Mercy ever known, that of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  Here is an example from St. Faustina's Diary:
On one occasion I saw a servant of God in the immediate danger of committing a mortal sin. I started to beg God to deign to send down upon me all the torments of hell and all the sufferings He wished if only this priest would be set free and snatched from the occasion of committing a sin. Jesus heard my prayer and, that very instant, I felt a crown of thorns on my head. The thorns penetrated my head with great force right into my brain. This lasted for three hours; the servant of God was set free from this sin, and his soul was strengthened by a special grace of God. (Diary 41)
Notice the actions of St. (then Sister) Faustina. She saw a priest "in the immediate danger of committing a mortal sin." Her reaction was not to go and verbally warn the priest, or to say anything at all to him. She, instead, asked to join with the suffering Christ.  Our Lord obliged by allowing her to suffer the pain of a crown of thorns for three hours, which is something that I cannot even imagine.  This example of St. Faustina shows that the answer to sin is prayer and penance.  Her reparations joined with the sufferings of Christ saved a priest from mortal sin.  This priest, I am sure, never knew what a great sacrifice St. Faustina had made for him.

There is another example from the diary in regard to St. Faustina's own sister.  
My sister [Wanda] came to see me today. When she told me of her plans, I was horror-stricken. How is such a thing possible? Such a beautiful little soul before the Lord, and yet, great darkness had come over her, and she did not know how to help herself. She had a dark view of everything. The good God entrusted her to my care, and for two weeks I was able to work with her. But how many sacrifices this soul cost me is known only to God. For no other soul did I bring so many sacrifices and sufferings and prayers before the throne of God as I did for her soul. I felt that I had forced God to grant her grace. When I reflect on all this, I see that it was truly a miracle. Now I can see how much power intercessory prayer has before God.
Once again, St. Faustina pulled back another person from the brink of eternal destruction mainly through prayer, reparations and sacrifice.  St. Faustina says in this passage that "for two weeks I was able to work" with her sister.  We don't know exactly what this means, but this passage mainly brings out the great healing effect of prayer and reparation.

These are only two examples of the suffering and reparation St. Faustina did on behalf of sinners. There are many more examples given in her diary.

Most of us are not capable of the great sanctity shown by St. Faustina nor are we able to bear such suffering as she did.  But in Diary paragraph 246, she gives a list of "small mortifications" that we can consider:
Small Mortifications

To recite the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy with outstretched arms.
On Saturdays, to say five decades of the Rosary with outstretched arms.
To sometimes recite a prayer [while] lying prostrate.
On Thursdays, a Holy Hour.
On Fridays, some greater mortification for dying sinners.
In Diary #243, she gives a further list of mortifications that she engaged in for the sake of others:
I will thank the Lord Jesus for every humiliation and will pray especially for the person who has given me the chance to be humiliated. I will immolate myself for the benefit of souls. I will not count the cost of any sacrifice, I will cast myself beneath the feet of the sisters, like a carpet on which they can not only tread, but also wipe their feet. My place is under the feet of the sisters. I will make every effort to obtain that place unnoticed by others. It is enough that God sees this.
In the comment section of my post regarding Sr. Jane and Father Hoffman, one person said that we need to confront people and tell them they are "dirty rotten sinners headed to hell."  St. Faustina would not agree:
235 O Jesus, I long for the salvation of immortal souls. It is in sacrifice that my heart will find free expression, in sacrifice which no one will suspect. I will burn and be consumed unseen in the holy flames of the love of God. The presence of God will help my sacrifice to be perfect and pure.
Many of us believe that our words to sinners are what will save them, that we have to confront them with the evil they are involved in. But how many of us are wise enough to truly understand the hearts of others, to know exactly what is motivating them? We don't know the experiences of their lives that may have brought them to the sin they are involved in. For example, many homosexuals were abused as children, spiritually and emotionally wounded. Despite their outward show of pride and defiance, they are really dealing with the constant pain of self condemnation. Our words of condemnation will only drive them further away from the saving graces of Jesus Christ.

The diary of St. Faustina shows us that the greatest way to bring sinners to repentance is to join with the suffering Christ. to spiritually hang on the Cross with Him:
To suffer without complaining, to bring comfort to others and to drown my own sufferings in the most Sacred Heart of Jesus!

I will spend all my free moments at the feet of [Our Lord in] the Blessed Sacrament. At the feet of Jesus, I will seek light, comfort and strength. I will show my gratitude unceasingly to God for His great mercy towards me, never forgetting the favors He has bestowed on me, especially the grace of a vocation. 
I will hide myself among the sisters like a little violet among lilies. I want to blossom for my Lord and Maker, to forget about myself, to empty myself totally for the sake of immortal souls – this is my delight (Diary 224)
In Diary #324, Our Lord told St. Faustina, "When I was dying on the cross, I was not thinking about Myself, but about poor sinners, and I prayed for them to My Father."  In Jesus' greatest moment on earth,  when He was hanging on the Cross literally pouring out His Precious Blood for the salvation of mankind, suffering beyond comprehension, He said He was thinking only about "poor sinners."  Notice the complete lack of condemnation in His words.  He was talking about us, the ones responsible for His horrendous death, and yet all He shows is compassion and mercy.

In this same passage, #324, Jesus tells us the way to save sinners:
There is but one price at which souls are brought, and that is suffering united to My suffering on the cross. Pure love understands these words; carnal love will never understand them.
In the very next paragraph, #325,  Our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Faustina and emphasized the importance of prayer:
My daughter, what I demand from you is prayer, prayer, and once again prayer, for the world and especially for your country.
This statement from Our Blessed Mother echoes almost exactly what she said at Fatima less than 20 years before the time of St. Faustina:

The angel of Fatima also told the children to pray and sacrifice for sinners:
What are you doing? Pray! Pray very much! … Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the most High…. Make everything you do a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country…. Above all accept and bear with submission the suffering which the Lord will send you.
Nowhere in any of these statements or examples are we told that the way to convert sinners is to confront them with their sin.  Even Our Lord saved sinners not by confronting them but by His Death on the cross.

In the Diary of St. Faustina, Jesus praises those who make great sacrifices:
To comfort you, let Me tell you that there are souls living in the world who love Me dearly. I dwell in their hearts with delight. But they are few. In convents too, there are souls that fill My Heart with joy. They bear My features; therefore the Heavenly Father looks upon them with special pleasure. They will be a marvel to Angels and men. Their number is very small. They are a defense for the world before the justice of the Heavenly Father and a means of obtaining mercy for the world. The love and sacrifice of these souls sustain the world in existence. (Diary 367)
St. Faustina would often feel that she was not accomplishing anything, but Jesus assured her otherwise:
In the evening, I saw the Lord Jesus upon the cross. From His hands, feet, and side the Most Sacred Blood was flowing. After some time, Jesus said to me, All this is for the salvation of souls. Consider well, My daughter, what you are doing for their salvation. I answered, “Jesus, when I look at Your suffering, I see that I am doing next to nothing for the salvation of souls.” And the Lord said to me, Know, My daughter, that your silent day-to-day martyrdom in complete submission to My will ushers many souls into heaven. And when it seems to you that your suffering exceeds your strength, contemplate My wounds, and you will rise above human scorn and judgment. Meditation on My passion will help you rise above all things. (Diary 1184)
In Isaiah 55:8-9, God says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

What may seem to be "common sense" to us is not the way of God but the way of the world which will only lead to death. Certainly we need to speak out against the evil in the world. Our Lord commanded us to preach the Gospel to all creatures. That is the purpose of the Church. We must never hesitate to proclaim the Word of God. But if we are truly sincere in wanting to save sinners, to pull them from hell, then we must be willing to suffer with Jesus on the Cross. If we put our main efforts into condemnation of sinners, we are no better than Satan, the great accuser.
In the book of Numbers, the children of Israel had rebelled against God, and God had sent deadly snakes among them as punishment.  Many people died from the poisonous bites of these snakes.  Our Lord instructed Moses to put a brass snake on a pole and hold it up for the people to look at, and when they did so, they would be healed of the poisonous bites of the snakes:
Numbers 21:4-8:
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
Moses and the brass snake
The brass snake on the pole is a picture of Christ on the Cross and the healing that comes from His Great Sacrifice.  If we want to help save people from their sins, we must turn them towards the Cross, let them look at Christ's Sacrifice, from which all true healing comes.  We do that by joining our sacrifices to His.

We should also be aware that our acts of mercy towards others may well decide our own fate:
If a soul does not exercise mercy somehow or other, it will not obtain My mercy on the day of judgment. Oh, if only souls knew how to gather eternal treasure for themselves, they would not be judged, for they would forestall My judgment with their mercy. (Diary 1317)
In this Holy Week in which we are commemorating that great sacrifice that saved us all, let us not stand in condemnation of the world but instead truly endeavor to become one with Jesus Christ, and bring healing and hope to those in such dire need. As John 3:17 says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." If we are to be followers of Jesus and allow Him to live in us, we too must be about saving the world, not condemning it.

Some final words from St. Faustina:
I often communicate with persons who are dying and obtain the divine mercy for them. Oh, how great is the goodness of God, greater than we can understand. There are moments and there are mysteries of the divine mercy over which the heavens are astounded. Let our judgment of souls cease, for God's mercy upon them is extraordinary. (Diary 1684)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Are We Judge Or Healer?

There has been a lot of buzz on Catholic websites and blogs during the last couple of weeks over two speakers at two different Catholic high schools. Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P. gave a speech about Catholic teaching on sexuality to a Catholic high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sister Jane is an experienced speaker and has never met with controversy in any of her previous talks. However, this time something went wrong, and as the Charlotte Observer reported on April 2:
Nearly 1,000 parents gathered at Charlotte Catholic High School on Wednesday night to air complaints about a recent speech to students by a nun who made what many considered inflammatory comments about gays and lesbians, divorce and single parenthood.
So many parents lined up to speak that the meeting with high school officials, the school’s chaplain and the Diocese of Charlotte’s vicar of education lasted more than an hour longer than scheduled.
The article goes on to state:
Diocese spokesman David Hains acknowledged after the meeting that the Rev. Matthew Kauth, the school’s chaplain, apologized to the parents for a March 21 speech by Sister Jane Dominic Laurel that was not the one he expected her to give.
Hains also said the high school committed to developing new policies that would better scrutinize visiting speakers in the future. He said the school also wants to do a better job of communicating with parents ahead of time when such speeches will deal with sensitive subjects such as sexuality.
“Parents should have been better informed,” Hains said.
Most Catholic bloggers and websites immediately rushed to support Sister Jane against charges made by the parents and students of this high school. Father Z typified many of the responses by Catholic bloggers to this situation. I don't mean to pick on Father Z. I am using his posts because I think they are representative of the thinking of many Catholics. He posted several times on this issue, always in support of Sister Jane. On his first post, entitled, "Sister explains the situation. Spittle-flecked nutty, bullying, intimidation ensue" [HERE], Father Z wrote this:
This is [what] we are going to experience for a long-time, friends. If we Catholics (read: faithful to the teachings of the Church concerning faith and morals) actually dare to speak in public about the Church’s doctrine favorably or attempt to govern our lives by it, the blow-back will be instantaneous, relentless, savage.
There is one big problem with this statement:  neither Father Z nor anyone else who was not at Sister Jane's talk knows exactly what she said.  And we will never know specifically what she said because there was no recording and no transcript of her remarks.  As the title to Father Z's post implies, he feels, even though he does not know exactly what was said, that the problem is entirely with those who were in Sister Jane's audience, and it has nothing to do with her.

In a subsequent post entitled, "Nun Under The Bus", which you can read HERE, Father Z wrote:
I suspect [emphasis mine] that what happened, to build this up into such a thing, is that parents heard vague reports – I say vague because teens are such great sources of accuracy in reporting – about her remarks from their politically-correctly conditioned children and, stung in conscience, got out the pitchforks and torches.
This is a very inflammatory statement on Father Z's part, which he admits is based on assumption, not actual knowledge.   In this same post, Father Z ironically wrote, "Surely there is something of a mob mentality building, and swiftly."  Canonist Dr. Ed Peters was the first to comment, and he made a very wise statement:
My hunches are almost exactly like unto yours, but hunches don’t cut it in the kinds of battles around us now. No one who has not heard (apparently there is no recording) or who has not read (apparently there was no text) Sister’s talk CANNOT weigh in on what she said, for the simple reason that they don’t KNOW what she actually said. Lesson: Keep a record, people.
Unfortunately, neither Father Z nor any of his readers heeded this statement by Dr. Peters, as you will see if you read the comments.  

Sister Mary Sarah, O.P., President of Aquinas College, posted a statement [HERE] on the school website which read in part:
The events around the recent talk by Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P. in Charlotte, NC have produced a great deal of speculation from many sides. Among the commentators, there are few who were actually present to hear the talk, which was not recorded.
. . .
We believe it is our privilege to bring the best aspects of our faith tradition to bear on the moral and cultural questions of the present age. In her presentation, Sister Jane Dominic spoke clearly on matters of faith and morals. Her deviation into realms of sociology and anthropology was beyond the scope of her expertise. Sister is a trained theologian from a Pontifical University and has the credentials to contribute to scholarly bodies of work. This she has done in the past with distinction. The unfortunate events at Charlotte Catholic High School are not representative of the quality of Sister’s academic contributions or the positive influence that she has had on her students. The students at Charlotte Catholic were unprepared, as were their parents, for the topic that Sister was asked to deliver. The consequence was a complete misrepresentation of the school’s intention to bring a message that would enlighten and bring freedom and peace.
Of course, for those who already had their minds made up, this statement by Sister Mary Sarah will make no difference.  Typical of one comment from Father Z's post:
I am just a sinner who reads the CCC and tries his best to live the teachings of our Church. But from my perspective, and the available reporting, I would take Sr. Jane Dominic over Sr. Mary Sarah, hands down. As I recall, we are here to afflict the comfortable, not cater to their delusions.
Why do we feel we need to take sides? The person who posted does not know either Sr. Jane or Sr. Mary Sarah, yet he has already made up his mind that he will "take Sr. Jane Dominic over Sr. Mary Sarah, hands down." Why is he pitting one against another? Why is he making the judgment that Sr. Mary Sarah is somehow the "bad guy" in this situation?

Another very similar situation happened just recently involving Father Rocky Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio, who gave a talk to teens at a Rhode Island school on sexuality. You can read about this story HERE. Once again, parents protested against the speech as being divisive. Once again, Catholic bloggers and websites, without knowing exactly what was said, rushed to judgment to support Father Hoffman and condemn those who complained against him.

As in the situation with Sr. Jane, the school involved in Father Hoffman's situation also apologized for the comments made by Father. In an email sent from the school to the parents:
My intention in inviting him here was to have a priest articulate Church teaching in a manner that was pastorally appropriate, doctrinally sound, and deeply respectful of the trust the students showed in bringing these questions forward for answer. My prior knowledge of Fr. Hoffman and his program gave every reason to expect this outcome,” [Principal David] Carradini wrote. “My expectations, and those of the faculty and staff, were not met, and for that I am deeply sorry. Several of the answers provided were not entirely representative of the full breadth of Church teaching on a number of complex and sensitive issues. Several members of the student body, faculty, and staff – including me – were personally offended by his manner of presentation.
This statement, like the one by Sr. Mary Sarah, only brought out more condemnation from many Catholics, who are convinced that all of these people are Catholic in name only and really want to destroy the Church.  Many Catholics look at these fellow Catholics as the enemy.

The world is in very bad shape right now. People have completely lost almost all sense of right and wrong, good and bad. What use to be completely taboo in our culture is now accepted and even embraced. For those of us who are trying to live according to traditional moral values and, most especially, for Catholics, the world has become an alien, antagonistic and hateful environment in which we have no place. Here in the United States, even our government is trying to force us to violate our own beliefs with such actions as the HHS mandate. And it is much worse in other parts of the world where Christians are paying the ultimate price for their beliefs.

The question is, how do we deal with this situation?  Who is our real enemy here?  

As I write this, we are beginning Holy Week in which we commemorate the great Sacrifice of our Creator who poured out His Precious Blood on the cross to save all mankind from sin, and that includes those Catholic parents who are seemingly protesting against Catholic orthodox teaching. When Our Lord was hanging on the Cross and the last drops of His Precious Blood were pouring out of Him after having been brutally beaten on every inch of His Body, He looked down at those who had inflicted this unspeakable punishment, and said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Does this mean we should never point out sin, that we should never let people know when they have strayed from eternal truth?  Absolutely not.  But it does mean that we may have to re-think HOW we present the truth of the Gospel to this post-Christian world.  We can't just say, as far too many have, that if people won't listen, then let them burn in hell.  This completely defeats everything for which Jesus died such an excruciatingly painful and humiliating death. 

We have to realize that many people are victims of our anti-God culture.  In one interview he gave, Pope Francis said the Church is like a field hospital:
“I can clearly see that what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of faithful, it needs to be by their side. I see the Church as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed. The rest we can talk about later. Now we must think about treating those wounds. And we need to start from the bottom.”
In this regard, Father Kevin Cusick, a chaplain for the Marines, wrote a fascinating article explaining just what a field hospital does.  You can read his article HERE.  Father Cusick explains the function of a field hospital:
Why does a field hospital exist? Where there is a war or a battle there will be the wounded and the dead. In support of the fight the field hospital must function to keep as many as possible in the battle for total victory. Those whose wounds can be treated on the spot and sent back out to join the others in battle continue to be force-multipliers and better enable the military unit to achieve its objective. In more serious cases the wounded will need to be transferred to the rear for more intensive surgery or therapy.
Father Cusick explains how a field hospital functions in aiding those who have been injured.  He then explains how this relates to the statement by Pope Francis:
What is Pope Francis getting at when he compares the Church to a field hospital in a war zone? I believe he wants us to remember that our faithful often have wounds, though we cannot see them, perhaps, and those wounds have tremendous spiritual and other effects on human beings that hamper a full, free and joyful relationship with God as offered in the Church. I believe he wants us to adapt our care to include sensitivity to those wounds that prevent others from partaking fully in the Church’s life and the Lord’s healing from sin and other realities that hurt them and burden them.
I think far too often many of us look at others who are spiritually wounded, whose spiritual legs are broken, and we condemn them because they can't walk like we can. But is this how Our Lord looked on those who were so spiritually lost? Think of Luke 13:34, when Jesus said, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the [city] that kills the prophets and stones those that are sent unto her, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen her brood under her wings, and ye would not.

From Father Cusick:
If we Catholics are to now see ourselves as workers in a field hospital, what kind of mindset do we need? We must be concerned with customer care. We must be ready to meet others where they are before we know what they need, to get where they need to be. We need to be with them enough to “have the smell of the sheep” on us, as Pope Francis says. In this way we will be able to truly care for them, to prescribe not some arbitrary medicine but to focus on their real needs. This way others will begin to experience the love of Christ truly present already in the Church and in the local church of the parish.
If parishes are to be like field hospitals, what kind of things do they need to do differently? We must always operate with the knowledge that grace builds on nature. If families or children are not getting to Sunday Mass, if families are not attending together, there may be human reasons underlying the symptom that need to be treated first. Parenting skills must be dealt with before parents are prepared to see they are leaders in the home, the first teachers of our children in the ways of faith, and then to act on that God-given role. Our witness must be one which compels our recently confirmed young people to pursue their faith and to continue to attend Mass. Our religious education must be effective in handing on the truths of faith to our young people, and so on.
Our proclamation of the Gospel and teaching of the Faith will not have effect without a knowledge of those we are sent to serve. We must take the time to examine and diagnose the spiritual illness before able to effectively offer a cure. This takes time and love.
These are very wise and loving words, from someone who truly cares about others. I think that far too often we are more concerned with being right than helping others. We are so quick to condemn, to point the finger, to write people off as hopeless. We hear bits and pieces of situations, and we think we know all the facts and can accurately judge what is happening.

Like Dr. Peters, I suspect that both Sister Jane and Father Hoffman gave very orthodox talks on Catholic teaching.  I don't believe this is the issue at all.  I believe the issue is whether these talks in the format in which they were presented were helpful to those who heard them.  The answer seems to be an obvious no.  So do we just walk away from these people?  Or do we, instead, try to find another way to reach them, because it would seem that they are obviously among the spiritually wounded.  

We need to ask ourselves what our purpose is as Christians.  Is it just to uphold our own righteousness and look down on those who don't agree with us?  Where would any of us be if Our Lord had done that?  Our Lord has shown great patience and love with us, gently correcting us and leading us in the right way.  Don't we owe that to others for whom He also died?      


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