The Church memorialized the beheading of St. John the Baptist on Aug. 29. It is a liturgical event with a sad, timeless lesson: how a man–in the Gospel account, Herod–dominated by desires and pleasures of the flesh can destroy himself, his family, and his neighbors. Lust can shackle a man into living a sinful life. Consequently, it is important for men to identify lust and recognize its insidious forms.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, lust is a “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure,” perverting sex by making it self-serving and “isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (2351). Lust manifests itself in a variety of dark ways: masturbation, fornication, pornography, prostitution, and rape (2352-2356). A man corrupted by lust acts is a slave to his passions and sexual appetites.
The slavery of lust destroys men over time in a myriad of ways–publicly, privately, and with undeniably devastating consequences. Publicly, consider the most affordable, accessible, and legally protected (in most cases) form of lust available to “satisfy” the senses of modern man. I refer to pornography, which enslaves all of its participants. Its actors contract sexually-transmitted diseases and endure psychological trauma. Vendors marketing and selling pornography, regardless whether on-screen or in print form, operate as hostages to market forces which violate human dignity. And the men purchasing pornography form addictive, drug-like habits.
Many men don’t know that pornography heightens their senses to the point that their brain releases an intoxicating chemical cocktail that burns the images into their memories. This pleasurable rush is meant to form a loving bond within an ordered sexual activity between husband and wife, but pornography can turn this chemical mix into a dark toxin that poisons our thoughts and affections first, then our families and the larger society and culture. We only have to turn on the TV, watch a PG movie, open a magazine or listen to pop lyrics to know that there is a lot of disordered sexuality floating in our cultural atmosphere.
The slavery of lust can also lead men to crime. Rape–an unwanted sexual act against another–victimizes with such force that it “deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right” (CCC, 2356). Rape injures for life. Thankfully, many Christians reside in a society today that stigmatizes individuals simply accused of rape. But will the same stigma apply tomorrow given the trajectory of our globalized culture, where sex trafficking and prostitution are rampant? Just think how lightly sins of fornication and cohabitation are treated today–as though they are normal steps to adulthood.
Sexual sin can also be private, such as masturbation. Most males give into this sin in adolescence, when immaturity and curiosity may be the driving factors, but too many continue this activity into adulthood and even bring it secretly into a marriage. Masturbation is almost always accompanied (or incited) by some form of pornography and when the two habits feed on one another, they have the power to separate a man from his better senses, his reason, his will to do good and to avoid evil. A man who masturbates is like a habitual gambler who would place all his treasured relationships in jeopardy–his marriage, his fatherhood, his self-image and the image of God within him. Lust destroys slowly, eroding its victims over time from the inside out. It is a form of slavery that distorts a healthy, God-given desire for sexual pleasure into unhealthy actions that can injure men personally, their loved ones, and the community. Both in its public and private forms, lust will enslave men if left unidentified and unchecked. This week, let us learn from Herod’s sin and regret and pray for the Truth to set all men free from lust’s sad and sinful chains.
Jason Godin teaches US history at Blinn College in Bryan, TX, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Imagine waking up one day to find that every single woman in the US has disappeared.
Picture this, writes author and scientific journalist Mara Hvistendahl, and you will come close to understanding the magnitude of over 160 million baby girls being selectively aborted in Asia and East Europe over the last few decades.
Already critically acclaimed since its release in June, Hvistendahl’s book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, meticulously documents the phenomenon of “missing” girls and its dire implications for the future.
“It’s a huge problem,” Hvistendahl said. “What I want readers to take away is that this is a global issue on the level of something like HIV/AIDS or female genital mutilation.”
Hvistendahl said that aside from the basic issue of baby girls being aborted due to their gender in countries such as China, India, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, other human rights abuses are beginning to arise from the shortage of women in these regions.
“Women are being bought and sold–trafficked for sex work and for marriage,” she said, noting that the increase in bride-buying and forced prostitution in these countries is staggering.
The author, a Colombia University graduate who has worked as a Science magazine correspondent in Beijing, said that her interest in the subject of gender imbalances began to increase after living in China for a few years.
“I didn’t understand why sex selection was happening,” she said. “I just felt it wasn’t very well explained.”
Hvistendahl set off to find out more, traveling to nine countries and interviewing doctors, mothers, prostitutes, demographers, mail-order brides and men who would be forced into lifelong bachelorhood.
She began to discover a complicated web of explanations but eventually found that some of the ideological roots of the problem could be traced to zealous population control efforts from the 1960s and 70s.
Through funding from western organizations such as the World Bank and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, grants were being funneled into population control initiatives in eastern countries, with sex-selective abortion seen as an effective tool.
The results of these efforts show that in places such as China today, as many as 120 baby boys or more are being born for every 100 baby girls.
In addition to the current problems that women are facing in these countries, “the question in my mind was, How was this going to effect society 30 years from now when this hugely imbalanced generation grows up and there are many more men than women?” Hvistendahl asked.
“There is a danger in jumping too far ahead and making predictions about what will happen,” she added, “but I think this will be a major issue in China and India for social stability.”
“The governments in both countries are very worried,” she said, noting that men statistically commit more violent crimes in societies.
It’s a troubling prospect that Hvistendahl is not alone in noticing.
Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt–a political economist, demographer and member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health–has often referred to the problem as a “war on baby girls.”
He outlined the three major factors he believes have led to the current crisis of gender imbalance.
The first is what he calls a “ruthless” son preference that is present in numerous cultures and religious systems.
That, coupled with the second problem of smaller families due to population control efforts such as China’s “coercive” one-child policy, has made couples’ quests for sons even more aggressive, he noted.
“When parents have five, six children, the gender outcome at birth isn’t that critical,” Eberstadt said.
“But when parents are only going to have one or two children, the sex of that child seems to become something that parents want to have a say about.”
Eberstadt said that the third factor in the rise of sex-selective abortion in these countries is reliable, accessible and inexpensive prenatal gender determination technology, such as ultrasound machines, in areas with “policy environments of unconditional abortion.”
Despite the glaring human rights abuses caused by the practice, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been largely silent on the issue–a fact that’s been noted by Hvistendahl and other experts.
Dr. Susan Fink Yoshihara, director of the International Organizations Research Group and vice president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said that the population fund has played “a major role” in the increase of sex-selective abortion.
“They do this by refusing to condemn the practice and mainly by promoting its two main causes: fertility control and increasing (the) availability of abortion.”
If the UN fund “says it promotes women’s rights,” Yoshihara said, “why do its leaders refuse to condemn this egregious practice of killing girls?”
Its “leadership has instead issued directives to its employees time and again that show UNFPA is more concerned with promoting abortion than defending women’s right to life.”
Adding to the problem is what many call the ineptitude of US leadership in effectively addressing the issue of forced population control.
Vice Pres. Joe Biden sparked controversy during his recent trip to China where he told leaders that he “fully understood” the country’s one-child policy and was not “second guessing” it.
His comments came during an Aug. 21 appearance at Chengdu’s Sichuan University where he was discussing the US’ dilemma of paying for entitlement programs when the number of retirees exceeds the number of workers–a problem he said China shared.
The vice president’s remarks in Chengdu drew widespread criticism, particularly from pro-life activists and his political opponents.
“Instead of using the power the American people gave him to speak up for human rights, he ignored his responsibility,” Yoshihara charged.
“His scandalous comments are but one example of how easy it is for us to turn away from our responsibility toward the poorest of the poor, in this case, the unborn child.”
Eberstadt was equally critical of the Biden’s remarks, but observed that the “silver lining” in the recent gaffe could be that more media attention is brought to the issue.
He said that demographers in China estimate that half of the missing 160 million girls could be attributed to the country’s one child policy alone.
Eberstadt likened the problem of discrimination against baby girls to the issue of slavery during the 19th century, saying that sex-selective abortion needs to be stigmatized in the same way.
“I think that the only sure way of extirpating this–and it’s an abomination–is the way we’ve extirpated other abominations in the past,” he said.
“Which is through a struggle of conscience and the advent of a new moral understanding of why something like this should be absolutely anathema to a decent, civilized society.”
But an even deeper problem that needs to be addressed, observed Yoshihara, is the underlying human tendency towards selfishness.
“The fundamental problem is that we do not love one another. We do not see that the inconvenient or unwanted person is just as valuable, just as worthy of love, as you and me.”
“Ideologies like radical feminism that undergird UNFPA’s refusal to speak out, ideologies like communism that justify coercing or even forcing mothers to abort their children, and ideologies of utilitarianism that subtly pervade our own society,” she said, “make it easy for us to say nothing in the face of unspeakable human suffering.”
As I knelt staring at St. John de Brebeuf’s skull through the glass case at the Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ontario, I thought about the courage of our founding fathers of faith in North America.
In 1611, Jesuit missionaries first set foot on our continent. Within 40 years eight of them, (whose feast day is October 19) gave up their lives near the Georgian Bay and in upstate New York. This quadricentennial of the Jesuit mission gives us cause to look to our spiritual roots.
Much like the setting sun, we often see the full beauty of the Saints as their mortal light exits this world. This is especially true of martyrs. The following is a brief summary of a few of the deaths of these Jesuits, which sums up the heroism with which they lived.
When St. Isaac Jogues was received into the Jesuits his superior asked what he desired. His response: “Ethiopia and Martyrdom.” “Not so.” was the reply. “You will receive Canada and martyrdom.”
After years of ministry among the Huron, St. Isaac Jogues was captured and tortured by the Mohawk Indians. On the verge of execution, he escaped and was smuggled back to France by the Dutch. He quickly rose to “stardom.” Everyone regarded him as a living Saint and national hero. The Queen of France even stooped to kiss his mangled hands, fingers missing, having being cut or gnawed off by his torturers. St. Isaac could have retired in the safety of France but returned to his mission as soon as he was able. He was killed by a Mohawk brave with a tomahawk.
St. Charles Garnier was ministering to his Huron village when it was attacked. He ran from one burning cabin to another, baptizing and comforting his people when he was shot in the upper chest and lower abdomen. After regaining consciousness he saw a wounded Huron writhing across the room. He pulled himself up and struggled toward the dying man to help him. An Iroquois brave noticed and killed him with his hatchet. He died with hand outstretched, reaching to minister to the wounded.
St. Rene Goupil was a layman who worked side by side with the Jesuits. When St. Isaac Jogues was captured there was a time when St. Rene could have easily escaped but chose to stay with his friend. He endured weeks of disfiguring tortures, during which he comforted and converted fellow captives who were suffering a similar fate. He was tomahawked while walking side by side with Jogues for teaching a child how to make the sign of the cross. He fell to the ground saying the name of Jesus.
St. Anthony Daniel had just finished celebrating Mass with his Huron friends at sunrise when the war cries of the Iroquois rang out through his village. He went to those who had been butchered to comfort and baptize them in their last moments. When the Iroquois were headed toward his church to burn it down he sprinted toward them and commanded them to stop. They did for a moment, stunned by this unarmed man’s courage. Then they brought him down with muskets and arrows.
St. John de Brebeuf was a huge man with amazing courage. Though he lived under constant threat of death, a fellow missionary wrote, “Nothing could upset him during the twelve years I’ve known him.”
He was the first missionary to enter Huronia. In time he became like one of them. He wrote instructions to those who wanted to join his mission starting with, “You must love these Huron, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.”
Though he could have escaped, he chose to die with them when Iroquois raided their village. The younger St. Gabriel Lalemont, who had looked up to St. John, remained and died with him as well. Together they underwent some of the most gruesome tortures of any martyr in history for endless hours. Through it all they comforted their fellow captives. John reminded them, “The sufferings will end with your lives. The grandeur which follows will never have an end.”
Seven years after their deaths, the daughter of an Iroquois chief was born in the very tribe that killed them. She is known today as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be beatified, proving true the words spoken by Tertullian 1,400 years before these martyrs entered paradise, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church!”
These men set out into nations where a violent, gruesome death was constantly before them. We set out into an increasingly anti-religious culture where we might lose a few friends for standing up for the truth, or at worst, get mocked or sued, but probably not tomahawked. They set out on canoes into uncharted waters filled with tribes who were hunting them down. We set out in our cars to work or the supermarket to bump shoulders with a world that needs to be reminded of God through our words and our charity.
If only we had a little of the courage of our founding fathers in faith.
Speaker and author Chris Stefanick is Director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver. Visit him at chris-stefanick.com.
Fr. Robert Barron wears many hats. He is an author, speaker, theologian, the Francis Cardinal George professor of faith and culture at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, and the founder of the ministry Word On Fire. For the past few years, however, one of his major projects has been a 10-part documentary and study program about the Catholic faith that will appear in parishes, on DVD, and on TV this fall. Filmed in 50 locations throughout 15 countries, the program uses the art, architecture, literature, music, and the treasures of the Catholic tradition to illuminate the teachings of the Church. Barron recently took some time to talk to Catholic Digest about his adventures.
What inspired this project?
Well, part of it was that I was assigned by Cardinal George to do work in evangelizing the culture. And for the past several years I’ve been doing a lot of work with radio, TV, DVDs, podcasting, Internet, various things. But I was thinking about making a major statement through video that would reach out especially to people under 40.
The other great inspiration for me was Kenneth Clark’s series “Civilization.” He went all over Europe and talked about Western civilization, but he showed it by going to the great cathedrals and the museums. Why not use the technology we have to really show off the Catholic faith?
You’re specifically targeting the under-40 group. Why?
I feel so strongly that the Catholic Church has got to reach out to the next generation. Years ago we could trust that Catholics would come to our institutions and be evangelized. But I think now people aren’t coming as readily. So we’ve got to go get them. And, of course, they’re all attuned to the world of media.
In the trailer for the program you say that the Catholic faith is under attack, that its story is being told by the “wrong people,” and that we need to tell our own story. Could you elaborate?
This is coming about during this time of terrible scandal and crisis, the worst crisis in American Catholic Church history. [While] fully acknowledging the Church’s problem, very often, especially in the media, you hear the Church being characterized in a very negative way, and (its story) often told in a superficial way, or told only from one angle. I think it’s high time for us to tell our story, so that the Catholic reality–which is 2,000 years of spirituality and theology, the saints, arts, architecture, music, all of it–is not simply reduced to the sex abuse scandal.
What do you hope Catholic audiences will take away from it and, separately, what do you hope non-Catholics will take away?
I hope Catholics can take a renewed pride in their Catholicism and also be catechized and perhaps re-evangelized. For people outside the Church, I’ve always had in my mind the guy in his hotel room flipping through the cable and stumbling upon a program and finding something compelling. Maybe it’s something I’m saying. Maybe it’s just the sight of one of the great cathedrals. Maybe it’s watching Mother Teresa’s Sisters. My hope is that people outside the Church might be drawn in and find something beautiful or compelling about it.
The program is billed as a response to the New Evangelization. For readers who may not be familiar with that term, what is the New Evangelization and how does the “Catholicism” project fit into it?
It’s an idea of John Paul II’s that you have a lot of cultures in countries that have been evangelized, so they’re traditionally or historically Christian–think of much of Europe, much of the Americas. But in many of these countries the Catholic faith is fading away, or people have lost touch with it. So the New Evangelization is to reach out to these traditionally Catholic countries and to reinvigorate, to re-catechize these cultures. So that’s why this [project] fits right into that: It’s reaching out especially to the American culture, which does, I think, need to be re-evangelized.
How do you think Catholics should handle the challenge of being called to live out our faith and evangelize with the need to respect other faiths?
I think the charge is “Oh, you think you’re the one true faith and everyone else is wrong.” In fact the Catholic position is that the fullness of what Christ wanted to give his people is in the Catholic Church, but there is participation of that fullness in other Christian religions and even other non-Christian religions. And on that basis we can establish all kinds of links, dialogues, and conversations. I think religious people can have nonviolent and deeply respectful arguments with each other.
One of the points you make in the series is that on one hand, the Church needs to stay true to itself over time but that on the other, the Church is not a museum but it’s something living, ongoing. How, in your view, should the Church approach the question of when to evolve and when to hold back?
It’s a classic question we’ve always wrestled with. One of my heroes, John Henry Newman, isolates, I think, seven criteria by which you evaluate an evolution such as in a change in Church teaching. Is it legitimate or is it a corruption?
Let’s say you’re playing basketball and a person decides, “I’m just going to carry the ball around; I’m not going to dribble it.” Well, that’s not basketball anymore. That’s a change that’s actually undermining the integrity of the game. There’s something similar with the development of the Church’s life. In some developments, evolutions are a positive unfolding of the essential structure. Others undermine that structure or compromise it. Obviously people of good will disagree about that, but I think that’s the structure of the conversation.
Would you share a moving experience you might have had while filming the series?
The one that always stays in my mind is Kampala (Uganda) on June 3. The feast of the Ugandan martyrs is the biggest event in African Catholicism. You have 500,000 people in this one spot. As we were getting the cameras set up, I looked out over the crowd. There’s this (shrine) on the site where Charles Lwanga was martyred and it’s built like a pyre. I flashed back to 1886 when he’s lying there being burned to death for being a Christian. And then to see all around us half a million people gathered to celebrate him, that moved me to tears.
How did this project affect your faith specifically?
I think profoundly. I’d say I have a much greater sense of the international Church. And I think my faith … you just see the power of Christ raised over 2,000 years; its reality has endured, has unfolded, and still seizes people’s minds and hearts, you know? It confirms your faith like mad when you see it.
Through the saved, God very often searches for the lost. Quite often, loved ones of lost souls are the means by which the Good Shepherd finds his lost sheep.
This couldn’t be truer for St. Monica who, in the fourth century, followed her son, Augustine all the way to Italy from her home in northern Africa. At the time, St. Augustine was pursuing a career in teaching rhetoric. He didn’t particularly like her tagging along, so he tried to find ways to lose her. However, she was determined to track her oldest son down so that he could be won over to Christ.
In his younger years, St. Augustine was an intellectual who was given over to false beliefs about God and the world. He was also a worldly and sensual man; as such, he did not have any scruples about “shacking up” with his lover. Living the wild life, he presumed the Lord’s patience by praying, “God, make me chaste…but not yet.” As one might expect, a baby came from this out-of-wedlock union. The boy was given the name of Adeodatus. St. Augustine, being the wayward son that he was, would be the source of much sorrow for his saintly mother.
Mother Teresa once told a friend of mine that for those souls who need to be saved from moral and spiritual darkness–such as prostitution and drug addiction–a price needs to be paid. Jesus said as much to the disciples who failed to exorcise a man possessed with demons: “But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.” St. Monica, in a mystical union with our Lord, needed to pay the price for her son Augustine. She carried about in her maternal heart the dying of Jesus. (cf. II Cor 4:10) Indeed, her heart was broken that Augustine did not know Jesus Christ as his savior.
What was true for St. Monica is true for every Christian. And that is, “Christ’s sufferings overflow to us.” (I Cor 1:5) His Passion does not make our sacrifices unnecessary. On the contrary, Jesus suffered for sinners so that we too could suffer for sinners. St. Augustine’s soul was purchased with his mother’s tears; and those tears were mingled with the blood of Christ.
St. Monica, however, was given some relief through a dream she had. This was an indication her prayers were heard. In the book, Confessions, St. Augustine relates the following about what would turn out to be a prophetic dream by St. Monica:
“She saw herself standing upon a certain wooden rule (a measuring rod which symbolized the rule of Faith), and coming towards her was a young man, splendid, joyful and smiling upon her, although she grieved and was crushed with grief. When he asked her the reason for her sorrow and her daily tears–he asked, as is the custom, not for the sake of learning but for the sake of teaching–she replied that she lamented for my (St. Augustine) perdition. Then he bade her to rest secure and instructed her that she should attend and see that where she was, there was I also. And when she looked there she saw me standing on the same rule.”
Soon thereafter, St. Monica arrived in Milan, Italy only to join the company of a great bishop–St. Ambrose. She sought his counsel and how she might save her son from the erroneous sect called Manichaeism. In response, Bp. Ambrose said to her, “Only pray to the Lord on his behalf. He will find out by reading what the character of that error is and how great is its impiety.” She then implored the saintly bishop to talk to Augustine. But St. Ambrose refused by saying that her son needed to be willing to talk to him; that a conversation about the Faith should not be imposed or forced.
Nevertheless, she persisted, with tears flowing, in asking the same favor over and over again. Finally, St. Ambrose got annoyed and said, “Go away from me now! As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” (That’s right. Saints get annoyed too). In any case, instead of getting offended, St. Monica took it as a sign from heaven that her prayers and sacrifices would pay off.
The tears of St. Monica, in a real sense, washed St. Augustine’s soul before his sins were sacramentally wiped clean in the waters of baptism. When a son or daughter strays from Christ, sometimes the tears of a mother make up for the lack of tears we ought to have for our own sins.
St. Monica’s perseverance paid off. St. Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, entered the Catholic Church in the year 387 AD. After being initiated into his new life with Christ, he became the Bishop of Hippo, located in northern Africa. He would go on to lay the cornerstone of Western Civilization with his sanctity and theology. To be sure, St. Augustine is considered one of the most important Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church. All this was made possible by a mother who did not give up.
Joe Tremblay writes for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog. He is currently a contributor to The Edmund Burke Institute, and a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s, The Drew Mariani Show. Tremblay is also married with five children.
Dumb guys go for dumb girls, and smart guys go for dumb girls. So what do smart girls get? A cat!
That’s a little joke I have come across that’s pretty funny. Like all jokes, there’s an element of truth to it.
The first truth is that many smart guys do go for dumb girls. Whether they marry dumb girls or not is another question. But I have heard many women distressed about why these intelligent, devoutly religious men are attracted to what they call “air heads”. Well, needless to say, there is probably an objectively gorgeous woman carrying that air head.
But in fairness to smart men, there are plenty who do want a smart girl, and are actively seeking them. And they don’t choose the great looks over the quality brain (though undoubtedly they would like both).
Perhaps it would be better to identify this issue another way. I have heard the women express, “What are we supposed to do while we are waiting for men to figure out what they want?” Women feel like life could pass them by waiting for a man. They have a legitimate fear that if they configure their life in such a way, it will backfire on them.
Unfortunately, the person women become while they’re single and pursue a career can be unattractive to certain men. By certain, I am thinking about Catholic men who want a traditional role of provider, and hope to have a stay-at-home mother for their children.
Does that sound too old-fashioned and stereotypical? Maybe even shallow? Regardless, a serious Catholic man will not mind a smart woman, as long as she is smart enough to want to give up her career once children come along and stay home to raise them. That’s what they are thinking.
And this is where a HUGE misunderstanding occurs, and both men and women can mess things up. The fact is, smart, educated, intelligent, practicing Catholic women who are successful career women do want to give up their careers to stay home with their children and be homemakers!
But there is a catch, and a smart man would do well to display his intelligence by heeding this catch. Smart girls need proof that they are not being stupid to give up their careers. In other words, they are not going to just give up their life and their work for anyone who comes along with their charming smile, good looks, and empty promises.
A smart man should want a smart girl, and he should be smart enough to make every effort to provide her the enthusiasm, trust and security she needs in order to make such a drastic change in her life.
Many smart men are sadly too dumb to realize that these Catholic career women will happily give up their career to have a family. In fact, many of them are dying to do it. While they wait for a good man who will not be intimidated by her intelligence, level of education, and perhaps even that she makes more money than him, they become career single women with no incentive to be otherwise.
So they wait and they wait.
What are the advantages to having a smart woman as a wife? A smart woman can manage a home. She has been out in the world, paying rent or a mortgage, paying bills, budgeting, etc. She knows how to organize and be efficient with her time. Yes, perhaps she is a little obsessive, or penny pinching, or particular, but that’s all part of her charm. (But girls, it’s not good to over do it in these management qualities, especially if you try to do so with the person of your man).
A woman who has experienced life before marriage is an interesting woman. Do not underestimate the importance of being with a woman who is interesting. Men who just want a woman who is uneducated, uninteresting, and simply capable of bearing him children and being at his beck and call is likely not going to respect that woman nor treat her well. Slaves don’t make for good companions.
So what are men really afraid of when it comes to smart girls? Well, they are intimidated by a woman who can hold their own. She causes him to face his own inadequacies. Just who she is convicts him of his lack of courage to be with a woman who is capable of being his equal, and who can challenge him to be the best man he is called to be.
The very things that intimidate them are the things men need. Marriage should be the love between a man and a woman who are good friends, who respect each other immensely, and who bring out the best in each other. Education and life experiences help develop a person into a balanced and interesting person. Men should not be afraid to make a woman like this his wife.
I believe men are concerned that smart women become too hard, too harsh, too unfeminine, too worldly. Well, perhaps some of them have and should work to reclaim her “femininity.” But there are many great Catholic women out there who are intelligent, educated, successful, and are still very feminine.
A woman will give the world to a man she knows loves her, respects her, and accepts her for who she is. When she sees a future with such a man, he will experience love like he could never imagine.
Smart girls, stay smart. Men who are afraid to pursue you are not ready to receive what you have to give. They want the wrong things from you. Don’t give it to them, especially in the area of sexuality. But be careful not to assume the role of the male in relationships. A smart girl knows the man must be the man, and a woman must remain the woman.
Smart men, don’t be afraid or intimidated. Pursue a smart Catholic girl. Be confident that you are smart enough for her and capable of loving her as she needs. Don’t assume. She may be nothing like the stereotype. Make her feel comfortable about being an intelligent woman around you. Then enjoy the dynamic, exciting, and beautiful relationship that can develop with a smart girl.
Anthony Buono, married with seven children, lives in Virginia. He is the founder and president of www.avemariasingles.com and www.roadtocana.com. He also has a blog, www.6stonejars.com, that gives advice to Catholics on dating, courtship, and marriage.
The changing leaves of autumn always make me think about the colors of the liturgical calendar. The Church employs a tapestry of colors in its celebrations throughout the year–purple, white, red, green, and sometimes even pink–and uses them both to distinguish liturgical seasons as well as illustrate the mysteries of our faith.
Purple and Pink
Purple serves as the principal color when the Church celebrates the Seasons of Advent and Lent. During Advent, we light three purple candles to count the weeks leading up to the birth of Christ. Historically, the color purple distinguished leaders throughout the Roman Empire. Christians have long used the color to help prepare for the arrival of Christ, the Leader of all leaders.
Purple also is brought out during Lent. Otherwise barren sanctuaries have purple linens covering the altar in the days leading up to Holy Week. Purple helps remind us why we endure the 40 days of Lent; similar to Advent, it is a period of preparation. Christ prayed, fasted, and even encountered temptation during 40 days in the desert when preparing for his ministry (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As baptized members into a royal priesthood, Lenten prayer and fasting gives us opportunities to prepare for the trials of our own ministries as husbands, fathers and brothers in Christ.
Vividly, and no less important, we also find pink (or what some call “rose”) signaling us to pause and reflect during Gaudete Sunday (3rd Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (4th Sunday of Lent).
The Church uses white most notably during the seasons of Christmas and Easter, but also on days when celebrating the Lord (other than of his Passion), the Blessed Virgin Mary, holy angels, and saints who weren’t martyred. White also distinguishes the celebration of specific solemnities–All Saints (Nov. 1) and the Birth of St. John the Baptist (June 24)–and feast days–St. John the Evangelist (Dec. 27), Chair of St. Peter (Feb. 22), and Conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25).
I’ve always found “everything goes with white” applies just as well for faith as for fashion. White enhances and never distracts from liturgical celebrations or their fundamental meaning. The color illustrates the supernatural splendor of Our Lord, especially when celebrating his Nativity or Resurrection. Marian feasts traditionally find clergy wearing blue along with white. The blue reminds us of Our Lady–who appears periodically through history shrouded in a blue mantle–but never hides the white underscoring her purity.
The color red marks the celebrations of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the Lord’s Passion, Pentecost, the “birthday” feasts of the Apostles and Evangelists, and celebrations of martyred saints. The color of blood, red undeniably illustrates sacrifice. It indicates how Christ suffered and died for our sins. It also reminds us how others in human history, like those first emboldened by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, endured their own unique crosses when living, spreading, and ultimately dying as steadfast witnesses to the Word of God.
Green is used most of the liturgical year for Ordinary Time. Ironically, it is a season which proves anything but ordinary. Consider the Gospel teachings of the last four weeks. St. Matthew recounts how Christ built his Church upon St. Peter (16:18), revealed the conditions for discipleship (16:24-27), confirmed his presence in the midst of two or three gathered in his name (18:20), and shared the parable of the unforgiving servant (18:21-35). Nothing ordinary about that series of readings and the messages they contain. The Church uses green to remind us how she, alongside all of us, is called to spread the richness of the Gospel with an endless vitality.
Color helps remind us of the seasons. As autumn begins and the leaves begin to change, recognize in those colors that the reason for every season is Jesus.
Jason Godin teaches US history at Blinn College in Bryan, TX, where he lives with his wife and two children.
I stood with my daughter in the doorway of her 10th floor apartment in the District of Columbia, holding hands, staring deep into each others’ eyes, murmuring a Hail Mary. We’d been in the process of moving her into her first studio. Only seconds earlier, I had been doing what mothers do: cleaning her kitchen, organizing her food, offering a litany of detailed instructions on how to keep a studio apartment neat, cozy and acceptably hygienic. Only seconds earlier, she had been doing what patient, loving daughters do: nodding and noting my remarks as if she did not already know these things and more. We were deep into the ritual and its comforts when her building quite abruptly lurched and swayed like a tipsy drinker trying to step off the curb.
Being in the District of Columbia, our minds immediately suspected some explosive event but, being from San Francisco, our bodies knew from prior experience that an earthquake had interrupted our work. My passionate child became livid at the geographically misplaced act of nature and sneered, “What the heck!?!?! This is DC for heaven’s sake.”
The building stilled, as if it’d plopped onto the curb to rest from exertion. We moved quickly from the kitchen to the hall doorway, to tuck ourselves as we’d been taught repeatedly on the shaky West Coast into the protection of the building’s sturdier framed areas. Of course, we’d never done this together on the 10th floor of a building we both knew was not built to the earthquake standards taken for granted in the tremor prone territory we knew. With the door ajar, our backs against the door jam, we held hands as the building rose and tried again to move forward.
This time, the building was no longer tipsy, but slovenly drunk. It shook as it stumbled and wobbled, creating the sort of clambering noise that warns of an ill-mannered or even dangerous intruder. I watched as Carol’s bicycle flopped about on a wall rack several feet away. The floors and walls, solid only moments before, now groaned with pained, jerking movement.
We steadied ourselves by holding hands and, as if it might help, we took short breaths but the wave continued. I began a Hail Mary and looked deep into my precious daughter’s eyes thinking “this might hurt a bit” as my heart filled with longing to protect her from the possible pain. I knew that, if the floor began to break up before we made it to the stairwell, we could be caught in a falling jumble of debris with surely fatal but potentially slow injuries in store. “Lord,” I mumbled fervently, “if this is it, bring us home quickly I beg.” And I clutched my daughter’s hand determined that, no matter what, we would finish this upheaval together.
The only thing I hate worse than pain is my children’s pain. Simple vaccinations at the doctor’s office often caused me considerable stress not because I don’t like shots, but because the needle was going into my child’s arm. I often idiotically longed to take the shot for them, to spare myself the greater pain of watching them hurt and afraid. But I knew my instinct was misplaced–that their shots, like so much of the pain and displeasure they would encounter in life–would contribute to their better health and the well-being of the wider community. My job, I came to understand, was to help put their pain in perspective, to provide kindness, love and support even in the darkest moments.
Over time, I have gotten better at being kind, loving and supportive. This, after all, is what God’s given me as I traversed deeply painful events in my own life. As Christ and his Mother and the Saints all demonstrate for us, a good and worthy life is not a pain free life. In fact, so often it is our pain that turns our face and heart toward God in longing.
As I stood with my daughter in the 10th floor doorway of a quaking building, I was acutely aware that just that quickly our time on this trembling earth can end and our passage to the Lord begin. I was humbled to be in that moment with my beautiful daughter, to hover together in acute, pressing uncertainty what the next moments would bring–longing for normality but, more, wanting to make a final journey with the same love and support that God unsparingly showers upon me.
As the second wave of the historic East Coast earthquake subsided, my daughter and I broke from the doorway for the stairwell intent on making our way out of a building which surely could not have taken many more waves of jarring and jolting. But, like a drunk passing peaceably into a deep sleep, the building came to rest.
Standing on the sidewalk, several minutes into normalcy, my eyes teared watching my daughter gab excitedly with random strangers suddenly friendly in their relief. The grip of uncertainty had loosened, but not without leaving a profound sense of fragility and knowledge that it hurts a bit on the way to the kingdom.
Marjorie Murphy Campbell, JD, LLM, currently writes for Catholic Womanhood at Catholic News Agency and is completing her Canon Law degree at Catholic University of America.
They say you shouldn’t talk about religion or politics in polite company. In a jarring opinion piece on CNN’s Web site earlier this summer, a religion professor, seeming to talk about both, served up a poisonous cocktail of confusion, one that might deny souls the balm of God’s mercy.
“Can Catholics abide a saint who had an abortion?,” Stephen Prothero of Boston University asked, wondering if Dorothy Day should be considered an acceptable candidate for canonization. He later restated the question as: “Can you be a saint if you have committed the original sin of contemporary Catholicism?”
Given that original sin hasn’t changed since the fall, Prothero’s rewrite was as misguided as his original misfire.
This religion scholar was reacting, in part, to recent news of a conversation Day reportedly had in the 70’s with Daniel Marshall, a member of her Catholic Worker movement:
Then Dorothy said, “You know, I had an abortion. The doctor was fat, dirty and furtive. He left hastily after it was accomplished, leaving me bleeding. The daughter of the landlords assisted me and never said a word of it. He was Emma Goldman’s lover; that’s why I have never had any use for Emma.”
No doubt Prothero’s question was influenced by the scandalous mess of Catholic witness in recent decades. Indeed, Catholics are frequently seen using their professed faith to defend abortion rights, often out of a perverse, albeit sometimes well-intentioned sense of “social justice.”
It’s probably fair to say that Day is more readily embraced by those who are active in liberal, rather than conservative politics. But when looked at through a political lens, she presents challenges to all–and especially to those who don’t want to acknowledge that this woman who could be considered a hero of left-leaning Catholics also came to believe that abortion was a grave evil.
I can’t help but think that with his question Prothero was acknowledging this unholy divide. It is a question born out of a caricature, one that presumes anyone opposed to abortion would be outraged by the possibility that the Church would officially elevate one who had committed such a grave sin to the ranks of the canonized. For her promiscuity alone, Prothero seems to expect that a heckler would stand alongside the crowds on Day’s canonization day screaming “Jezebel!”
Perhaps someone would. Who am I kidding? Of course someone would. We are quite the varied mix of sinners, after all. And while we may be made in His image, to forgive truly is divine. Thank God for His mercy because life here at times would seem rather merciless if the dispensing were left to us alone.
But that anyone would take the time to write such a piece as Prothero’s, positing Day’s abortion as a saintly deal-killer, is a loud and alarming siren alerting us to widespread pain in our midst. There is great suffering surrounding abortion. It not only kills a life but leads souls straight to despair.
As committed prolifers, we must speak to this, and help lead the wounded to the solace of God’s mercy. As firmly as we must stand against legal abortion in our country, so too are we called to support women and men who, having made not-so-great choices, find themselves facing the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy–or the heartache of having procured an abortion.
Yes, Dorothy Day wasn’t living a chaste life prior to her conversion, but she had a conversion! She would change her ways and become a model of charity and peace. As Prothero notes, we do know that while she had an abortion, she would later develop a clear opposition to it–not just experience the disgust the newly-reported exchange reveals.
In a 1974 interview, Day said: “We do believe that there is not only the genocide of war, the genocide that took place in the extermination of Jews, but the whole program–I’m speaking now as a Catholic–of birth control and abortion, is another form of genocide.” (Something worth thinking about as the Department of Health and Human Services mandates that even Catholic organizations must provide health-care plans covering contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs.)
The Church gave us a great gift in the timing of the beatification of John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast which was so close to his heart. During his life and pontificate, Blessed John Paul II not only decried the culture of death but gave us a new language in his call to help build a culture of life.
He put Church teaching on love and responsibility to new music–what is known as the theology of the body. It is a vision of human sexuality ordered by mature self-giving and openness to children, a proposal meant to be presented always with mercy and love. To do otherwise would be like putting salt on the open wounds of a culture suffering the cruel and often bewildering effects of rampant sexual disorder.
I don’t know if Dorothy Day will be canonized. But to suggest that the nature of her sins might keep her out of the Communion of Saints is only to divide and hurt souls who should be uplifted by the example of the trajectory of her life.
Everyone who is pro-life–and we can be Right or Left or somewhere in the middle and be so–ought to take Day’s words about the genocide, about the disgust, to heart, remembering also that with God, all is forgiven–sexual sins, even lethal ones.
In 2000, the late John Card. O’Connor, bishop of New York, compared her conversion to St. Augustine’s.
In announcing the opening of her cause for sainthood, he wrote of Day:
“To be sure, her life is a model for all in the third millenium, but especially for women who have had or are considering abortions. It is a well-known fact that Dorothy Day procured an abortion before her conversion to the Faith. She regretted it every day of her life. After her conversion from a life akin to that of the pre-converted Augustine of Hippo, she proved a stout defender of human life. The conversion of mind and heart that she exemplified speaks volumes to all women today on two fronts. First, it demonstrates the mercy of God, mercy in that a woman who sinned so gravely could find such unity with God upon conversion. Second, it demonstrates that one may turn from the ultimate act of violence against innocent life in the womb to a position of total holiness and pacifism. In short, I contend that her abortion should not preclude her cause, but intensifies it.”
Whatever our sins, there is the confessional waiting. It is our way to freedom. The freedom to be a saint, fed and nourished by the graces of our lives lived in the sacraments of our Lord. Dorothy Day knew that freedom, thanks be to God. There is no foundation to a culture of life without it.
A version of this originally appeared on the Catholic Eye newsletter published by National Committee of Catholic Laymen.
Kathryn Jean Lopez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally-syndicated columnist.
“Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith”(cf. Col 2:7)
I often think back on the World Youth Day held in Sydney in 2008. There we had an experience of a great festival of faith in which the Spirit of God was actively at work, building deep communion among the participants who had come from all over the world. That gathering, like those on previous occasions, bore rich fruit in the lives of many young people and in the life of the whole Church. Now we are looking forward to the next World Youth Day, to be held in Madrid in August 2011. Back in 1989, several months before the historic fall of the Berlin Wall, this pilgrimage of young people halted in Spain, in Santiago de Compostela. Now, at a time when Europe greatly needs to rediscover its Christian roots, our meeting will take place in Madrid with the theme: “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf. Col 2:7). I encourage you to take part in this event, which is so important for the Church in Europe and for the universal Church. I would like all young people–those who share our faith in Jesus Christ, but also those who are wavering or uncertain, or who do not believe in him–to share this experience, which can prove decisive for their lives. It is an experience of the Lord Jesus, risen and alive, and of his love for each of us.
1. At the source of your deepest aspirations
In every period of history, including our own, many young people experience a deep desire for personal relationships marked by truth and solidarity. Many of them yearn to build authentic friendships, to know true love, to start a family that will remain united, to achieve personal fulfilment and real security, all of which are the guarantee of a serene and happy future. In thinking of my own youth, I realize that stability and security are not the questions that most occupy the minds of young people. True enough, it is important to have a job and thus to have firm ground beneath our feet, yet the years of our youth are also a time when we are seeking to get the most out of life. When I think back on that time, I remember above all that we were not willing to settle for a conventional middle-class life. We wanted something great, something new. We wanted to discover life itself, in all its grandeur and beauty. Naturally, part of that was due to the times we lived in. During the Nazi dictatorship and the war, we were, so to speak, “hemmed in” by the dominant power structure. So we wanted to break out into the open, to experience the whole range of human possibilities. I think that, to some extent, this urge to break out of the ordinary is present in every generation. Part of being young is desiring something beyond everyday life and a secure job, a yearning for something really truly greater. Is this simply an empty dream that fades away as we become older? No! Men and women were created for something great, for infinity. Nothing else will ever be enough. Saint Augustine was right when he said “our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you”. The desire for a more meaningful life is a sign that God created us and that we bear his “imprint”. God is life, and that is why every creature reaches out towards life. Because human beings are made in the image of God, we do this in a unique and special way. We reach out for love, joy and peace. So we can see how absurd it is to think that we can truly live by removing God from the picture! God is the source of life. To set God aside is to separate ourselves from that source and, inevitably, to deprive ourselves of fulfilment and joy: “without the Creator, the creature fades into nothingness” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 36). In some parts of the world, particularly in the West, today’s culture tends to exclude God, and to consider faith a purely private issue with no relevance for the life of society. Even though the set of values underpinning society comes from the Gospel–values like the sense of the dignity of the person, of solidarity, of work and of the family, we see a certain “eclipse of God” taking place, a kind of amnesia which, albeit not an outright rejection of Christianity, is nonetheless a denial of the treasure of our faith, a denial that could lead to the loss of our deepest identity.
For this reason, dear friends, I encourage you to strengthen your faith in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are the future of society and of the Church! As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Colossae, it is vital to have roots, a solid foundation! This is particularly true today. Many people have no stable points of reference on which to build their lives, and so they end up deeply insecure. There is a growing mentality of relativism, which holds that everything is equally valid, that truth and absolute points of reference do not exist. But this way of thinking does not lead to true freedom, but rather to instability, confusion and blind conformity to the fads of the moment. As young people, you are entitled to receive from previous generations solid points of reference to help you to make choices and on which to build your lives: like a young plant which needs solid support until it can sink deep roots and become a sturdy tree capable of bearing fruit.
2 Planted and built up in Jesus Christ
In order to highlight the importance of faith in the lives of believers, I would like to reflect with you on each of the three terms used by Saint Paul in the expression: “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf. Col 2:7). We can distinguish three images: “planted” calls to mind a tree and the roots that feed it; “built up” refers to the construction of a house; “firm” indicates growth in physical or moral strength. These images are very eloquent. Before commenting on them, I would like to point out that grammatically all three terms in the original text are in the passive voice. This means that it is Christ himself who takes the initiative to plant, build up and confirm the faithful.
The first image is that of a tree which is firmly planted thanks to its roots, which keep it upright and give it nourishment. Without those roots, it would be blown away by the wind and would die. What are our roots? Naturally our parents, our families and the culture of our country are very important elements of our personal identity. But the Bible reveals a further element. The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer 17:7-8). For the prophet, to send out roots means to put one’s trust in God. From him we draw our life. Without him, we cannot truly live. “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 Jn 5:11). Jesus himself tells us that he is our life (cf. Jn 14:6). Consequently, Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is an encounter with the Son of God that gives new energy to the whole of our existence. When we enter into a personal relationship with him, Christ reveals our true identity and, in friendship with him, our life grows towards complete fulfilment. There is a moment, when we are young, when each of us wonders: what meaning does my life have? What purpose and direction should I give to it? This is a very important moment, and it can worry us, perhaps for some time. We start wondering about the kind of work we should take up, the kind of relationships we should establish, the friendships we should cultivate… Here, once more, I think of my own youth. I was somehow aware quite early on that the Lord wanted me to be a priest. Then later, after the war, when I was in the seminary and at university on the way towards that goal, I had to recapture that certainty. I had to ask myself: is this really the path I was meant to take? Is this really God’s will for me? Will I be able to remain faithful to him and completely at his service? A decision like this demands a certain struggle. It cannot be otherwise. But then came the certainty: this is the right thing! Yes, the Lord wants me, and he will give me strength. If I listen to him and walk with him, I become truly myself. What counts is not the fulfilment of my desires, but of his will. In this way life becomes authentic.
Just as the roots of a tree keep it firmly planted in the soil, so the foundations of a house give it long-lasting stability. Through faith, we have been built up in Jesus Christ (cfr Col 2:7), even as a house is built on its foundations. Sacred history provides many examples of saints who built their lives on the word of God. The first is Abraham, our father in faith, who obeyed God when he was asked to leave his ancestral home and to set out for an unknown land. “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (Jas 2:23). Being built up in Jesus Christ means responding positively to God’s call, trusting in him and putting his word into practice. Jesus himself reprimanded his disciples: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you?” (Lk 6:46). He went on to use the image of building a house: “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built” (Lk 6:47-48).
Dear friends, build your own house on rock, just like the person who “dug deeply”. Try each day to follow Christ’s word. Listen to him as a true friend with whom you can share your path in life. With him at your side, you will find courage and hope to face difficulties and problems, and even to overcome disappointments and set-backs. You are constantly being offered easier choices, but you yourselves know that these are ultimately deceptive and cannot bring you serenity and joy. Only the word of God can show us the authentic way, and only the faith we have received is the light which shines on our path. Gratefully accept this spiritual gift which you have received from your families; strive to respond responsibly to God’s call, and to grow in your faith. Do not believe those who tell you that you don’t need others to build up your life! Find support in the faith of those who are dear to you, in the faith of the Church, and thank the Lord that you have received it and have made it your own!
3. Firm in the faith
You are “planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf. Col 2:7). The letter from which these words are taken was written by Saint Paul in order to respond to a specific need of the Christians in the city of Colossae. That community was threatened by the influence of certain cultural trends that were turning the faithful away from the Gospel. Our own cultural context, dear young people, is not unlike that of the ancient Colossians. Indeed, there is a strong current of secularist thought that aims to make God marginal in the lives of people and society by proposing and attempting to create a “paradise” without him. Yet experience tells us that a world without God becomes a “hell”: filled with selfishness, broken families, hatred between individuals and nations, and a great deficit of love, joy and hope. On the other hand, wherever individuals and nations accept God’s presence, worship him in truth and listen to his voice, then the civilization of love is being built, a civilization in which the dignity of all is respected, and communion increases, with all its benefits. Yet some Christians allow themselves to be seduced by secularism or attracted by religious currents that draw them away from faith in Jesus Christ. There are others who, while not yielding to these enticements, have simply allowed their faith to grow cold, with inevitable negative effects on their moral lives.
To those Christians influenced by ideas alien to the Gospel the Apostle Paul spoke of the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. This mystery is the foundation of our lives and the centre of Christian faith. All philosophies that disregard it and consider it “foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23) reveal their limitations with respect to the great questions deep in the hearts of human beings. As the Successor of the Apostle Peter, I too want to confirm you in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32). We firmly believe that Jesus Christ offered himself on the Cross in order to give us his love. In his passion, he bore our sufferings, took upon himself our sins, obtained forgiveness for us and reconciled us with God the Father, opening for us the way to eternal life. Thus we were freed from the thing that most encumbers our lives: the slavery of sin. We can love everyone, even our enemies, and we can share this love with the poorest of our brothers and sisters and all those in difficulty. Dear friends, the Cross often frightens us because it seems to be a denial of life. In fact, the opposite is true! It is God’s “yes” to mankind, the supreme expression of his love and the source from which eternal life flows. Indeed, it is from Jesus’ heart, pierced on the Cross, that this divine life streamed forth, ever accessible to those who raise their eyes towards the Crucified One. I can only urge you, then, to embrace the Cross of Jesus, the sign of God’s love, as the source of new life. Apart from Jesus Christ risen from the dead, there can be no salvation! He alone can free the world from evil and bring about the growth of the Kingdom of justice, peace and love to which we all aspire.
4. Believing in Jesus Christ without having seen him
In the Gospel we find a description of the Apostle Thomas’s experience of faith when he accepted the mystery of the Cross and resurrection of Christ. Thomas was one of the twelve Apostles. He followed Jesus and was an eyewitness of his healings and miracles. He listened to his words, and he experienced dismay at Jesus’ death. That Easter evening when the Lord appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not present. When he was told that Jesus was alive and had shown himself, Thomas stated: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).
We too want to be able to see Jesus, to speak with him and to feel his presence even more powerfully. For many people today, it has become difficult to approach Jesus. There are so many images of Jesus in circulation which, while claiming to be scientific, detract from his greatness and the uniqueness of his person. That is why, after many years of study and reflection, I thought of sharing something of my own personal encounter with Jesus by writing a book. It was a way to help others see, hear and touch the Lord in whom God came to us in order to make himself known. Jesus himself, when he appeared again to his disciples a week later, said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (Jn 20:27). We too can have tangible contact with Jesus and put our hand, so to speak, upon the signs of his Passion, the signs of his love. It is in the sacraments that he draws particularly near to us and gives himself to us. Dear young people, learn to “see” and to “meet” Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present and close to us, and even becomes food for our journey. In the sacrament of Penance the Lord reveals his mercy and always grants us his forgiveness. Recognize and serve Jesus in the poor, the sick, and in our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and in need of help.
Enter into a personal dialogue with Jesus Christ and cultivate it in faith. Get to know him better by reading the Gospels and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Converse with him in prayer, and place your trust in him. He will never betray that trust! “Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 150). Thus you will acquire a mature and solid faith, one which will not be based simply on religious sentiment or on a vague memory of the catechism you studied as a child. You will come to know God and to live authentically in union with him, like the Apostle Thomas who showed his firm faith in Jesus in the words: “My Lord and my God!”.
5. Sustained by the faith of the Church, in order to be witnesses
Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29). He was thinking of the path the Church was to follow, based on the faith of eyewitnesses: the Apostles. Thus we come to see that our personal faith in Christ, which comes into being through dialogue with him, is bound to the faith of the Church. We do not believe as isolated individuals, but rather, through Baptism, we are members of this great family; it is the faith professed by the Church which reinforces our personal faith. The Creed that we proclaim at Sunday Mass protects us from the danger of believing in a God other than the one revealed by Christ: “Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 166). Let us always thank the Lord for the gift of the Church, for the Church helps us to advance securely in the faith that gives us true life (cf. Jn 20:31).
In the history of the Church, the saints and the martyrs have always drawn from the glorious Cross of Christ the strength to be faithful to God even to the point of offering their own lives. In faith they found the strength to overcome their weaknesses and to prevail over every adversity. Indeed, as the Apostle John says, “Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn 5:5). The victory born of faith is that of love. There have been, and still are, many Christians who are living witnesses of the power of faith that is expressed in charity. They have been peacemakers, promoters of justice and workers for a more humane world, a world in accordance with God’s plan. With competence and professionalism, they have been committed in different sectors of the life of society, contributing effectively to the welfare of all. The charity that comes from faith led them to offer concrete witness by their actions and words. Christ is not a treasure meant for us alone; he is the most precious treasure we have, one that is meant to be shared with others. In our age of globalization, be witnesses of Christian hope all over the world. How many people long to receive this hope! Standing before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, who had died four days earlier, as he was about to call the dead man back to life, Jesus said to Lazarus’ sister Martha: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (cf. Jn 11:40). In the same way, if you believe, and if you are able to live out your faith and bear witness to it every day, you will become a means of helping other young people like yourselves to find the meaning and joy of life, which is born of an encounter with Christ!
6. On the way to World Youth Day in Madrid
Dear friends, once again I invite you to attend World Youth Day in Madrid. I await each of you with great joy. Jesus Christ wishes to make you firm in faith through the Church. The decision to believe in Jesus Christ and to follow him is not an easy one. It is hindered by our personal failures and by the many voices that point us towards easier paths. Do not be discouraged. Rather, look for the support of the Christian community, the support of the Church! Throughout this year, carefully prepare for the meeting in Madrid with the bishops, priests and youth leaders in your dioceses, parish communities, associations and movements. The quality of our meeting will depend above all on our spiritual preparation, our prayer, our common hearing of the word of God and our mutual support.
Dear young people, the Church depends on you! She needs your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope. Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church. That is why World Youth Days are a grace, not only for you, but for the entire People of God. The Church in Spain is actively preparing to welcome you and to share this joyful experience of faith with you. I thank the dioceses, parishes, shrines, religious communities, ecclesial associations and movements, and all who are hard at work in preparing for this event. The Lord will not fail to grant them his blessings. May the Virgin Mary accompany you along this path of preparation. At the message of the angel, she received God’s word with faith. It was in faith that she consented to what God was accomplishing in her. By proclaiming her “fiat”, her “yes”, she received the gift of immense charity which led her to give herself entirely to God. May she intercede for each one of you so that, in the coming World Youth Day you may grow in faith and love. I assure you of a paternal remembrance in my prayers and I give you my heartfelt blessing.
From the Vatican, 6 August 2010, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI