The small television that sits on our kitchen counter between the knife block and the coffee maker was flecked with dried brown batter bits from my son’s attempt at making brownies the night before. As I carefully scrubbed the splatter with the corner of a sponge on Saturday morning, I watched the news, which was concluding its coverage of the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings that left eight people dead—most of them women of Asian descent. As the segment ended, the cameraman zoomed in on two glass prayer candles that burned brightly where they were left on the sidewalk as part of a makeshift memorial. The countenance of Jesus that graced one slender, intricately decorated candle was beautiful and serene.
In the days following the Atlanta spa killings, debate has ensued over whether or not the shooting was a hate crime. What is not up for debate is that violent attacks against Asians have skyrocketed over the past year, and many Asian Americans are afraid.
Prior to Friday night’s brownie baking debacle, we were in the kitchen eating pizza, as Lent + Friday = pizza for many Catholic families with teenage boys. In between bites, my husband admitted that the violent acts targeting Asians had him worried, and my oldest son nodded in agreement. They are Chinese—my husband (and therefore, my sons)—but I was surprised to hear that they were worried. Looking at the three of them towering over the open pizza box, I saw only a confident and robust wall of men. Granted, they were likely more worried for female relatives, especially older ones like Bobo (“grandma” in Chinese). But they were truly concerned, and I, of Anglo-Saxon descent, felt guilty for not innately and instinctively feeling what they felt.
It is always comforting to remember that “light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it” (John 1:5). In a year that has been blighted with incidents of violence aimed at racial minorities, there have been bright spots. For example, the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC, hosted a virtual "Christianity Beyond East and West: A Celebration of the Lunar New Year" event last month. My husband’s grandfather was a Chinese Catholic author of some renown (as well as China’s former ambassador to the Vatican), and a reading of his poetry was part of the celebration. How great is that—an event to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the shrine of Saint John Paul II!
I think it could help for us to take a moment and recall what made Saint John Paul II such a beloved peacemaker, not only among Catholics but among people of various religions and ethnicities worldwide. He was a pioneer in interfaith bridge-building, recognizing Muslims and Jews as partners in spirituality. He made pastoral visits to 129 countries during his time as pope. And he spread messages of love and acceptance wherever he went.
Let us pray for the victims of the Atlanta-area shootings, and for all lives violently lost at the hands of men who did not love as Christ loved.
I leave us with these words from Saint John Paul II:
“Yours is the gigantic task of overcoming all evil with good, always trying amidst the problems of life to place your trust in God, knowing that his grace supplies strength to human weakness. You must oppose every form of hatred with the invincible power of Christ’s love.”
I have been avoiding writing this post for hours. I keep finding excuses to get up and walk away from the keyboard. It’s the combination of feeling like I have nothing to say and yet, so much on my mind. And my heart? Well, it’s just a confused mess. I keep thinking that the Lord is going to show up and help me carefully construct a deep, well-written blog post, backed up by Scripture and inspiring stories. And He did show up. Oh, He showed up alright. But He didn’t clear things up for me. Instead, He challenged me. “Speak from the mess. Preach from the confusion.”
And so here we go.
I have been praying the 54-Day Novena for a loved one. If you’re not familiar with the 54-Day Novena, it is a beautiful devotion that consists of saying the Rosary for 54 days in a row. The first 27 days are said in petition—asking Mary for her prayers for a particular intention. The remaining three novenas, said over the last 27 days, are in thanksgiving—whether or not you received what you brought to prayer. This is my second time praying the 54-Day Novena for the same intention. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me feels like the first go at it “didn’t work.”
Last Sunday, on day 27 of my novena, I received a call at 2:00 AM. If you’ve ever received a call at 2:00 AM, you know that rarely is it ever good news. And do you want to know what the very first thing was that came to mind? “It is day 27. The asking is over.”
Just a few hours later, I slipped out of my bed, lit a bright fire, and on bended knees, began the second portion of my novena—the thanksgiving. There in the glow of red and orange flames, I thanked God for answering my prayer, despite the fact that the phone call tempted me to believe quite the opposite. And yet, in that moment, this was not difficult to do. I am a firm believer that some things need to get worse before they get better; that the breakdown always precedes the breakthrough. This was just more breaking down. I fully believed that my prayer was being answered. That it had been answered. It just didn’t look like it from where I was sitting. And so I clung onto hope and resisted the doubt, choosing to walk by faith and not by sight.
Only God sees the bigger picture, after all. With my head bowed in humility, I accepted my sliver of the story and continued whispers of thanksgiving.
But today? Today, thanksgiving feels hard. Today feels like nothing is happening. And if something is happening, well, it feels like moving backwards, away from the prayer. And if you know me at all, you know that I actually prefer being in chaos to feeling like nothing is happening. Chaos allows me to feel like I can still control things. But nothing? You know what nothing does? Nothing ushers me into the waiting room, asks me to take a seat, maybe offers me a cup of coffee, and then...it leaves me there. And oh, how I try to fill nothing with something.
I know! I will listen to a podcast!
I know! I’ll get out my essential oils and make rollers to give away!
I know! I’ll make a phone call!
I know! I’ll get myself a bowl of almonds!
I know! I’ll make a pot of coffee!
I literally did all of these things, practically at the same exact time, because hello lack of focus, so nice of you to join me in my state of nothingness. Have a seat and feel free to confuse me even more! But praise be to God, for He truly can work with anything! Today, it was through the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Have you been silent before the Lord?” she asked. And then she continued, “So often I think that I am praying, but what I am actually doing is repeating my worries over and over to the Lord. Telling Him, ‘I don’t want this’ or ‘I can’t do that’...minimizing all that He can do.” (And yes, I grabbed a pen and paper and made her repeat that because it is GOLD.)
Honestly, friends? No. I have not been silent before the Lord. I am praying my novena and reading my Bible, but silence? As in, just sitting? Not speaking? Not asking for something? No. I have not done that. I have been repeating my worries and calling it prayer.
Forgive me, Jesus.
Perhaps the nothingness I feel today is actually God’s invitation into the silence. It is so hard for me to slow down. I am addicted to projects and filling the space, because it gives me the feeling of being in control while taking my mind off what I have zero control over. And when I do this, I so easily forget that my prayer—that one thing that I repeat over and over again, as if the Lord has forgotten...as if He forgets...as if He isn’t on it—is a battle that belongs to the Lord. And no matter how much I keep trying to convince God that He really needs my help with this, He hands me a day of nothingness instead of promoting me to the fourth person in the Trinity. He reminds me of my nothingness. And He invites me to be silent so that He can speak.
Do you have trouble sitting in the silence before the Lord?
Is waiting on the Lord not at the top of your “fun things to do today” list?
Do you prefer chaos to nothingness?
Are you repeating your worries over and over again and calling it prayer?
If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone. And while I am no expert at waiting in the silence, I do want to share with you what my friend and I have chosen to do in case you’d like to follow along. For the next 30 days, we will be setting aside 20 minutes a day for nothing but silence. Yes. I said 20 minutes. I know...it’s not going to be easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is. And we have kept the plan super simple.
Will distractions creep in? You bet. That is why I will dump everything out into my guided prayer journal before I begin.
From the time that I sat down to write until now, a steady snowfall has begun. Birds of gray, red, and white are flocking to the feeder, storing up seeds before the storm. And me? Well, I am going to pour another cup of coffee and marvel at the quiet that is literally falling from the sky, blanketing the earth in perfect silence. And it is right here in the nothingness that I will wait; wait and listen for the Lord.
Speak Lord. Your servant, at long last, is listening.
My sister, a mother to five children, was having a particularly difficult day of parenting. Giving in to the frustration and feelings of powerlessness, she raised her voice at her children, slammed a few doors, and angrily stomped her feet on every step as she made her way down the stairs. And amid her meltdown, she happened to look up. Hanging on the staircase wall was the most peaceful portrait of Mary, the Immaculate Conception. My sister paused, took in a long, deep breath, and exclaimed, “What are you looking at? You had one kid, and He was perfect!”
It can feel this way, can’t it? We can try to make excuses for our sin because Jesus was perfect (and how can we live up to that!), and we could make the same excuse that Mary was also perfect. Surely, if you or I were conceived without the stain of original sin, we would never raise our voices at our children! We would float around the house in a flowy blue dress, hands folded in prayer, wearing a permanent smile while smelling like roses! Unfortunately, Eve messed everything up. My sin is her fault. Not mine. And honestly? Who can relate to Mary, anyway? That’s an impossible standard that leaves me feeling more discouraged and hopeless than I already feel. Obedience to God was easier for Mary.
That’s what I used to think. Until Mary appeared to me.
She didn’t appear in the way that you might think. I didn’t have a vision of Our Lady. She didn’t show up in my laundry room floating on a cloud. And yet, she has been profoundly present. She has been the quiet comfort when pierced with the sword of a life I did not plan. She has been the gentle nudge in the right direction when fear and anxiety tempt me to choose my way. She has been the warm embrace when I find myself staring at another prayer having gone (seemingly) unanswered. She is the presence of something greater to come when life in this world feels weary and bleak. And maybe you are wondering how I can be so sure this is Mary if I have not seen her with my eyes? It’s a good and fair question. And I have a good and fair answer.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, whose feast we celebrate today, is as Father Peter Cameron writes, “the living, breathing conception of God’s ineffable goodness, truth, beauty, fidelity, compassion, justice, mercy, peace and love.” The closer I grow in relationship with Mary, the closer I grow in relationship with her Son. And this, my friends, is what our faith is all about. Relationship. It is the very thing the serpent went after to destroy in the garden of Eden and what God ingeniously restored through the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The very grace and holiness that God offered to Mary is offered to us as well, and it is through the Immaculate Conception that we are invited back into relationship with God! You might be wondering how. How does one get to this level of grace and holiness? How does one foster a relationship with God the Father and Mary the Blessed Mother? The answer is prayer.
Let me ask. Do you hate that answer? Do you find it unhelpful? Because I used to. I knew I was supposed to be praying, I just wasn’t sure how. Plus, I am a perfectionist and a control freak and wanted some kind of "in my hands" proof that what I was doing was right. And while God doesn’t give prayer receipts to shove in the back of my Bible as evidence, I have discovered something that is even more effective and gratifying than a paper receipt. Prayer journaling. In my closet, I have a stack of over twenty journals filled with the longings, sorrows, joys, and hopes of my heart (give or take a few grocery lists). These empty pages are where I dump it all out—the clutter and the fear and all the things that tempt my mind to wander when I sit down for some quiet time with the Lord. Once I have unraveled my mind, I can be fully present to God, offering Him an open heart, ready to receive. Prayer journaling, which I believe is prompted by the Blessed Mother, has been my guide into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Why do I say prompted by the Blessed Mother? Because Mary pondered. Mary thought deeply about the circumstances in her life. Mary considered all things and treasured them in her heart. Mary held every situation up against the backdrop of God’s promises, which she knew to be true. This is precisely what happens when I prayer journal! More than a list of wants and needs I hand over to the Lord, journaling allows me to create a sacred space of receptivity. It allows me to sort out the lies in my head, guiding me to the truth of who God is. As Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes, “prayer journaling is how I transition from my perspective to His.” Who lived life from God’s perspective better than Mary?
I had a parenting day similar to the one my sister had just the other day. I was sideswiped by a child in crisis, and those familiar feelings of powerlessness and frustration got the best of me. I can honestly say I was free-falling fast into despair; my worst case scenario thoughts steering me straight into a brick wall. And then Mary appeared to me. No, not in a vision, but as a gift in my mailbox! The new Walking with Purpose guided prayer journal, Praying from the Heart, miraculously arrived at the moment I needed it. (Because moms are like that. They anticipate their children’s needs.) And I wish we could sit face to face over a cup of coffee and pore over the pages of this journal together, because, my friend, it is unlike anything you have ever seen. If Our Lady were to create and use a journal, this would be it! And on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, you can bet that my first entry will start with praise and adoration for a God who loves me so much to give me such a mother as Mary. As Father Cameron so beautifully says, “In Mary the Immaculate Conception we are given a corrected conception of the image of God: The Mother takes all our fear away in the way that only a mother can.”
Thank you, Immaculate Mary, for always looking out for me, taking all my fear away, and guiding me to pray from the heart.
 Father Peter Cameron, Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, 2010), p. 17.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Praying from the Heart: Guided Journal, (Walking With Purpose, 2020), p. 4.
 Father Peter Cameron, Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, 2010), p. 17.
It’s Thanksgiving week, and although COVID-19 has messed with a fair share of travel plans, I would guess that many of us will still be sharing the holiday with loved ones. While this is something that can result in joyful feelings of anticipation, it also leaves some of us worried about how people are going to get along around the table.
If only we all agreed on religion and politics.
If only awkward and hurtful things wouldn’t ever be said.
If only we knew how to encourage one another in a way that really hit the mark. Wouldn’t that make things easier?
I think we often conclude that the only way to get through holidays with sticky relationships is to keep things on a very superficial level and not talk about anything that really matters. But when we settle for this, our relationships aren’t very satisfying. How can we take things to a deeper level without things getting fractious?
I believe that asking certain questions and truly listening to the responses can be a game changer. Here’s a link to some conversation starters that we’ve created with diverse groups of people in mind. Most of us have different views represented around the Thanksgiving table. These questions help us to get to know one another on the heart level without focusing on our differences.
Perhaps there is someone on your heart who you know is not open to God and spiritual growth. If the opportunity presented itself and the groundwork has been laid first with good listening, you might want to ask him or her, “What if there’s more?” Allow that question to sink in. Respect the question enough to allow time for silence and processing. Don’t hesitate to leave your loved one with the question hanging. It’s a good one to wrestle with.
When asked how to evangelize in a culture that is indifferent to God and religion, Bishop Robert Barron has said that we should begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which points you to the truth. We need to show that Christianity is attractive. As Blaise Pascal famously said, we are to make good men wish it was true.
So how do we do this? How do we begin with the beautiful? Creating a lovely Thanksgiving table is a quiet way of ministering to the heart. Beauty breaks down barriers. Another way is to increase our exposure to beautiful and good literature, art, and music. The imagination can offer a spiritual opening as we begin to consider the possibility that there is something of meaning, something that moves us, something more than the superficial things that surround us.
Bishop Barron has said, “Agnostics are often deeply interested in beauty, goodness and truth. Find out which one they are interested in—that’s your hook. That’s your string that you need to follow. Keep going in that search for ultimate meaning. The passion for justice is an echo of the voice of God in you. It’s summoning you. The conscience—what is it—what is calling you to something better, something good, something just? Could that be God?”
Perhaps there is someone at your Thanksgiving table who is spiritually searching, but he or she is searching in the wrong direction. You are probably really tempted to point out what is wrong about their search. I would encourage you to resist that temptation. Instead, you might want to consider pointing out the things he or she is doing well. Is he seeking truth? Desiring a life of purpose? Let her know you are proud of her. This is something we never stop needing to hear.
I pray that you start having more conversations with your loved ones about the topics of meaning in life, purpose, what we want out of life, how we can be truly fulfilled, and how we can be happy. I pray you’d be able to enter into these conversations and listen. To resist the urge to give the answer. To allow your children to talk.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, you might want to pray the following for the loved ones who will be around your table and those far away.
I ask that you would give my loved ones a heart to know you, that you are the Lord, so that they will be your people and you will be their God. May they return to you with their whole hearts. (Jeremiah 24:7)
I pray that you would give my loved ones a new heart and a new spirit…that you would remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
May you open my loved ones’ eyes and turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in you. (Acts 26:18)
I pray that you would grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
God, we know that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. May you draw our loved ones to you. (John 6:44)
May you overwhelm our loved ones with the reality of your love, so that he or she can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
For I declare that “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)
I declare that you “will contend with those who contend with us, and you will save our children.” (Isaiah 49:25)
I declare that “not one word has failed of all your good promises.” (1 Kings 8:56)
I declare that the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers. (1 Peter 3:12)
I declare that all my children shall be taught by the Lord; and great shall be my children’s peace. (Isaiah 54:13)
I declare that you have begun a good work in my loved ones' lives, and you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!
Grace and peace,
Today is a significant day in our country—one where we are able to exercise the incredible right to vote and influence our society. This particular election finds our country polarized along political lines. Many lament our collective inability to take part in civil discourse, fueled no doubt by the influence of social media. Distance demonizes, and many people feel burned out and deeply discouraged by the political process.
I can think of no better response to the current political climate than to go to our knees in prayer. Not to talk about prayer, but to pray; because prayer moves the hand of God, and with God, all things are possible. All things are present to God, all at once. He is above time, above knowledge. He is still in control of our spinning world. This is where our hope lies.
I don’t think any verse addresses this better than 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
When God addresses the issue of a land that needs healing (and I think we all agree that ours does), who does He begin talking to? Is it the group of people who are far from Him? No. He begins by talking to HIS OWN PEOPLE, the ones who are called by His name. He starts with family talk. And what’s the first thing He asks us to do? To go out and convince people to look at things the way that we do? No. The first thing He asks is that we’d humble ourselves. That we’d seek His face. That we’d turn from OUR wicked ways.
This isn’t where we want to start. Our desire for justice all too often causes us to look outside of ourselves. That's where we want God to start making things right. But He insists—the place to begin is within each of our hearts.
I invite you to join us today at 1 PM ET to pray the rosary for our country. We’re going to do the very thing described in 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’ll start with confession. We won’t just be confessing sins that we have personally committed. We are confessing on behalf of our Church, in the same spirit that the prophet Daniel did when he confessed on behalf of the Israelite people in Daniel 9. Daniel was known for his holiness, but perhaps he was able to confess in this way because his humility reminded him that there was nothing the Israelites were capable of doing that he wasn’t capable of doing, and that the sin of one affected all. We are all in this together.
Another thing we’re going to pray for is that people would experience conversion of heart. There is nothing more critical than this. Nothing. All too often, what we begin with is a focus on outward behavior. We jump right away into discussions about how we are supposed to act as Christians. If this is as far as we go, then we have done an enormous disservice to the gospel. The heart of the gospel message does not begin with us cleaning ourselves up and behaving in the right way. The critical starting point is an acknowledgment that we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior. We need Jesus. It is only when we are in a relationship with Him that we’ll experience the Holy Spirit giving us what we need to be holy. We do not start with behavior. That leads to self-righteousness and moralism. We start with confession and the gospel. That leads to Jesus.
I love this quote by Pope Francis: “The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.” So let’s turn our eyes to Him. Let’s go to Jesus, through His mother. I hope that as we pray, we’ll catch a glimpse of His beauty. I pray that we’d be overwhelmed with gratitude for the costly grace He offers us—paid in full, by Him, for us, because of His love. Let’s go to our knees, on behalf of our country.
Join us in praying the rosary for our country today, Tuesday, November 3, 2020, at 1 PM ET. This is a free event but you must register to receive the Zoom link. If you are unable to join us for this live event, we will post the call on our website.
 Homily, Mass with Seminarians and Novices, July 7, 2013.
I am an Audible junkie. Seriously, my favorite day of the month is the 20th, when my Audible subscription renews and I can dive into the life of a different historical figure whose story is often stranger than fiction. Last month, in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, I decided to listen to the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor who was executed for his involvement in the conspiracy to take down the Nazi regime. He was a deeply faithful man who left us beautiful writings such as “The Cost of Discipleship,” and “Life Together.”
Hour 8 of the 22 hour biography tells of Bonhoeffer’s attendance at a youth conference in Fano, a small island off Denmark. It was 1934, and Christian leaders had gathered together to pray and discuss how the Christian Church should exist in Germany as it was falling under Nazi control more and more each day. As the author described Bonhoeffer's time at the youth conference, he commented, “What made him stand out to some as an inspiration, to others as an oddity, and to others as an offense was that he did not hope that God heard his prayers but knew it.”
When I heard this line, I had to stop my household chores and rewind the audiobook. I listened again. Bonhoeffer lived through the darkest times his country had ever seen and he would eventually become a martyr. Through it all however, he knew without a doubt that God heard him.
I felt like I had been found out. I asked myself, “Do I pray because I believe as a good Catholic I am supposed to or do I pray because I have full confidence that the living God hears me and responds in my everyday life? Do I know that my life, lived in the folds of Christianity, actually makes a difference in my life and relationships, now, and forever? Or, do I live my life as a Christian because I made the choice out of passion years ago and I am now cruising on autopilot?”
I have to confess that I am not even sure that I answered these questions before just shrugging and moving on. Life is so busy after all, but in my heart of hearts I knew the answer. While I know somewhere deep down that God hears and answers prayers, a large part of me doesn’t believe it. While I know somewhere in my heart that my actions as a Christian make a difference, my daily behavior suggests otherwise as I make excuses and tell myself that it doesn’t matter all that much.
As a result, I sit down to pray and talk myself out of asking for the big stuff because well, it’s just me in my house, this problem is too big, and God is going to do what God is going to do. Too often, I talk myself out of a simple kindness because I am too busy and I don’t think the gesture won’t matter anyway. Too often, I talk myself out of sharing the truth that knowing Jesus Christ has been the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, because I don’t want to be perceived as a weirdo and it won’t change a life anyway. These are all lies that I subtly believe, and they keep me from fully participating in the type of prayer and action that helps redeem society. How smart of the devil to take my passionate conversion and quell it into moderate belief divorced from action, because at the heart of it, I just don’t think it makes a difference.
Two Saturdays ago, all of this changed as I sat down to pray. I, like everyone else, have been shaken to my core from all the tragedies of 2020. From the angst and uncertainty of the lockdowns, to the horrifying death of George Floyd, and the division, hurt, and misunderstanding that has followed, I forgot to remind myself that my prayers don’t matter and I cried out to God for the big stuff, out loud, for a long time. In the middle of my lamenting, the Lord reminded me that He hears me. He hears the cry of His people and weeps with us. His heart breaks with ours at the reality that things are not as they should be and He answers us even when we can’t see it. Our actions also make a difference now and in eternity, even the small ones, even those little acts of kindness that we pass over because we think they aren’t enough to change anything. They do bring about change. They will be enough.
Pastor Bonhoeffer knew that God heard him. It shaped the way he prayed, and it shaped his actions in such a way that he had an impact everywhere he went. As my former youth minister used to say, “Someone who is on fire with the love of God can’t help but leave a spark everywhere they go.” Bonhoeffer’s love for God changed his friends, his family, his jail inmates, and even some of his jailers.
This is what the Lord wants for us. No matter where we are or what we are doing, He wants us to live as though our relationship with Him makes a difference. Every single prayer and act of kindness is an offering that He can use to change a life, or possibly even a society. Where are you today? Are you scrolling through your social feed wondering where we go from here? Are you wondering how you could possibly make a difference? Put down your phone, close your computer, and get on your knees. Ask God for the biggest things you can possibly imagine and expect to see Him working. Follow through on those acts of love that you dismiss when they enter your mind. They make a difference.
 Mataxas Eric, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet Spy (New York: Thomas Nelson 2020) Audible edition
She scrolled through the list on her phone -- at least fifty names -- one name after the other, along with a description of how far she had gone with each. Most of them she'd slept with on the first date. Longing desperately for love, she wondered if she would ever find it. With confusion in her eyes, she asked why they never came back for a second date.
I can't get her question out of my head. This is not because I don't know how to answer it; it's because this precious young woman is not an anomaly in the millennial generation. The level of lostness, confusion, sexual experimentation, lack of purpose, and anxiety among young women has reached a crescendo that I find deeply concerning. They cannot answer the most important questions: Why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose? How can I be happy? I am talking about our daughters. Our granddaughters. Our nieces. Our loved ones.
St. Paul spoke prophetically about our times in 2 Timothy 3:1-7:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman...haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it…Among them are those who make their way into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and swayed by various impulses, who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (emphasis added)
By the millions, young women scroll through their social media feeds, listening to anybody, but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth. This isn't just true of them; this is true of our society.
In his book How Now Shall We Live, Chuck Colson writes:
When we embrace nonmoral categories to explain away moral evil, we fail to take it seriously,and we fail to constrain it. When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end, it will destroy us.
In any society, only two forces hold the sinful nature in check: the restraint of conscience or the restraint of the sword. The less that citizens have of the former, the more the state must employ the latter. A society that fails to keep order by an appeal to civic duty and moral responsibility must resort to coercion-either open coercion, as practiced by totalitarian states, or covert coercion, where citizens are wooed into voluntarily giving up their freedom.
When morality is reduced to personal preferences and when no one can be held morally accountable, society quickly falls into disorder. Entertainers churn out garbage that vulgarizes our children's tastes; politicians tickle our ears while picking our pockets; criminals terrorize our city streets; parents neglect their children; and children grow up without a moral conscience. Then, when social anarchy becomes widespread in any nation, its citizens become prime candidates for a totalitarian-style leader (or leader class) to step in and offer to fix everything. Sadly, by that time many people are so sick of the anarchy and chaos that they readily exchange their freedom for the restoration of social order-even under an iron fist. The Germans did exactly this in the 1930s when they welcomed Hitler.¹
My friends, in this regard, we are vulnerable. It is time for us to stop wringing our hands, and go after the hearts of the next generation. How do we do this?
First, we pray. This is not a second-rate action item to be used only after we've tried everything else first. The biggest block to God reaching the hearts of our children is stubbornness and pride. Yes, the cultural myth that faith and science are contradictory has, unfortunately, been taught to and embraced by many of our children. Yes, the difficulty of reconciling a good God and the suffering and evil in the world can create a barrier. Yes, many of them have been convinced that faith in God is just a crutch. All these things get in the way of our children finding God. But if a heart is proud and stubborn, it doesn't matter how much proof is presented. The heart will still resist. And the only one who can get into the heart and soften it is the Holy Spirit. So praying for this softening is critical and the first step.
Second, we cling to hope while taking action. I realize our children are leaving the Church in droves. But how many of them are setting off on this path, hoping for misery? That would be zero percent. They are all searching for authentic happiness, and we know that true, transcendent happiness is found in Christ. It is possible to be fulfilled, satisfied, and clear about who you are and why you are here. There are answers to their deepest questions. But it's critical that we meet them where they are, help them to explore the questions they care about, and give them space to journey at their own pace. You may be wondering exactly how to do that. I have spent the past two years noodling on this very topic with a sense of urgency and passion that I haven't experienced in a long time, and things are starting to become much clearer to me. This is why we are throwing open the doors to all women (ages 18+) for Flourish 2020, our first-ever women's conference on March 13-15, 2020.
We are creating a curated experience that encounters women on their search for happiness, and leads them to the only One who will satisfy. Please join us. Please bring your daughters. I am writing this content for them. I know it isn't easy to work out the costs and logistics for a women's conference, especially if it isn't in your neck of the woods. I know it's hard to talk your daughter into coming to something that sounds religious, but getting yourself and your loved one to this conference is going to be worth the effort. Instead of a birthday or Christmas gift, ask your daughter to give you the gift of her presence with you for the weekend. I promise you, God will meet her there. And He will meet you, too. The deepest desires of your daughter's heart are likely your desires as well. God alone will quench the thirst.
¹ Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 191, 199.
As I navigate a long suffering as a result of loving a wayward child, it is not uncommon for well-meaning friends to assure me that, “This too shall pass.”
But I have to wonder... will it?
I think we say this out of the goodness of our hearts. No one enjoys seeing a loved one suffer. It is good to offer encouragement to a weary soul. However, it is important to note that “this too shall pass” is not in Scripture. It is up there with “God won't give you more than you can handle.” While we say these things out of compassion, they are actually not biblically correct. According to Saint Paul, God absolutely gives us more than we can handle so that we stop relying on ourselves and rely on Him (1 Cor 10:13). According to every Bible…. nowhere will you find the phrase “this too shall pass.” And I don't know about you, but when I am suffering, I need to stand on Truth.
There is a verse that I cling to that could be misinterpreted as “this too shall pass,” and that's 2 Corinthians 4:17: For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. Saint Paul isn't simply stating that we shouldn't worry because eventually our trouble will go away. He is declaring something far more powerful and essential to our understanding, our faith, and the role suffering plays in our lives. He is sharing, quite possibly, the very key to the door that unlocks all of that grace-the grace we need to endure our trials and tribulations. How do I know this? Well, when I feel like I am getting anxious and too much up in my own head, I dig even deeper into God's Word. Something that has helped me tremendously is to meditate on a verse by reading all of the Biblical translations. I did this with 2 Corinthians 4:17, and when I read the Common English Bible translation, light poured over my blindness and a deep peace rushed in:
Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison.
You see, our sufferings are not something to wish away but something to embrace. Why? Because they are necessary! In suffering them well, we gain eternal glory. In this short time of distress (which I know hardly feels short), the result will be God's richest blessing upon us... forever. So, that thing you are struggling with? That circumstance that has had you on your knees for years? Those millions of tears shed for the one that you love? Every single painful thing is meant to be endured for everlasting life. I know this isn't easy, but I promise you... your present trouble is preparing you for a glory that is incomparable and immeasurable. Rather than praying for it to pass, thank God for entrusting you with it instead. It is your golden ticket. Your “admit one.” Your Disney Fast Pass. Don't lose it.
Saint Louis De Montfort writes, “It is no small matter to lose or gain the Kingdom of God.” And I know that the only way to the Kingdom is by way of the cross. If “this too shall pass” implies a desire that my suffering be removed here on earth, dare I say... no, thank you. My suffering is preparing me for glory. It will all pass soon enough; in that I am confident. But I've got Jesus on my heart and my eyes on that eternal stockpile of grace. As De Montfort encourages and reminds me, “At the hour of death, what shall we not wish to have done, to have suffered, and renounced for the sake of Heaven?”
With confidence in the hope of good things to come,
“I used to believe that prayer changes things. But now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.” - St. Teresa of Calcutta
Raised in a faith-filled home that affirmed the power of prayer, I also grew up in a family of eight whole-heartedly believing that the Lord had empowered me to be self-reliant. After all, hadn't He knitted me into the bossy, older sister and consummate planner whose family nickname was “Mrs. Take Charge”? I was confident the path was mine to direct, and any roadblocks on the journey were my responsibility. I felt that the Lord was leaving it to me to figure it out, shake it off and get on with it. And so I did through college, career and marriage; keeping God at arm's length as I plotted our path.
Our journey veered off-course dramatically when our second child, Will, was born. He came into the world with an extreme leg length discrepancy and offset right foot. We questioned what this would mean for his life. Would he ride a bike? Run the bases in Little League? Even walk on his own? So I mapped it all out to God very simply-heal his leg. And I prayed. And prayed. Multiple experts told us that other than casting and bracing, there was nothing we could do for 5 years; we'll watch and see, they said, to monitor his growth and analyze what could be done surgically. So I soldiered on, waiting for Him to answer me and bring the miracle.
For seven years, Will wore a heavy brace 24/7, and underwent physical therapy 3 times per week. At every hospital scan, I prayed while waiting to see how much the leg length difference had grown, and through decisions to be made as to when to subject him to the arduous surgery and the painful recovery required. And I made my plans; I prayed that the Lord would take this decision from us by growing Will's leg.
When Will turned seven, a sequence of surgeries and ongoing physical therapy were offered. This radical treatment included the insertion of metal rods and screws that we needed to adjust daily to pull the bones apart. My GPS wasn't syncing with my plans, but my prayers had changed.
Along Will's recovery, my prayers for miraculous healing for his bone evolved into prayers for the Lord's strength. I asked for His strength to comfort Will, to encourage a loving father who couldn't bear the painful exercises, to soften the heart of an older brother often overlooked during those difficult years, and to reach out those who stayed away because they found it so hard to witness. I realized that I had turned over my map to the One who had written the plan long ago.
After two more surgeries, the miracles of God's design came into focus. As we read in Isaiah, His ways are so much greater than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God's miracle was found in our family's providential move before Will's birth to a sleepy little town a 45 minute drive from one of only three hospitals in the U.S. that offer the radical orthopedic procedure needed. God's miracle was the gift of a pediatric physical therapist who lovingly and diligently worked with William multiple times a week for over 8 years; a seemingly guardian angel on earth. God's miracle was the community who fed us, made Will laugh, and just showed up. God's miracle was the science research that created a way to grow bone 3 inches so a child born with a mangled leg could grow up to play tennis on his high school varsity team.
The greatest answer to the prayers I did not ask is our son's unwavering trust in the Lord and his unwavering faith. Not once did Will ask why he had been born with this condition or refuse to do what was needed-not one day. I asked Will if he'd ever felt abandoned by God for all he'd been through. He pondered a minute, then responded, “Mom, you took care of me, Dad took care of you, and God took care of all of us.” He carries this faith to this day as a college student, through campus ministry and ongoing volunteer commitments that allow him to share his incredible gift to call out and walk alongside those who suffer. While I would love to take credit for this incredible faith, I cannot. I confess that it is a gift I never considered asking for; I was too busy trying to navigate the journey on my own.
I am most certainly a work in progress; I constantly wrestle with my desire to map the route for God when the path winds off-road or becomes overgrown with brambles. But when I am at my weakest, I reflect back on all the ways the Lord has responded to my petitions. I am strengthened through prayers of surrender and buoyed by the sisters in Christ I have since found at WWP.
Through my WWP parish program, I found direction in the Lord's Word, insights in our lessons, encouragement from daily prayer, and welcome from a group who didn't judge me for trying to “take charge” of God. And now, working for WWP, I am honored to work alongside a dedicated team who demonstrate daily their beautiful faith and commitment to help Catholic women and girls across the U.S. to open their hearts to Christ.
For those of you still struggling with your own road map, please know that I am praying for you. And for those of you who now rest in the joy of having crossed the finish line, I pray that you will share the miracles now illuminated.
With love in Christ,
Laurie Baschwitz is the Director of Participant Experience at WWP; leading our expansion, customer support and regional area coordinators to support our parish programs and independent studies for adult women, young adult women and middle school girls. She resides in Westchester County, New York with her husband and two sons.
At the close of a Religious Education meeting, we were handed a prayer card, and in unison, recited it together. It was the Prayer of Abandonment. A beautiful prayer. And by beautiful, I mean terrifying and dangerous.
“Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will….”¹
When we finished the prayer it took everything inside of me to not stand up on top of my chair and shout out for all to hear, “Really, everybody? I mean, do you really mean that? DO WITH ME WHAT YOU WILL? Or, do you have no idea what you even just prayed?”
I want to give it all over to God. I want to do His will. But not always. It's not like I enjoy carrying my burdens alone. It is not like I want to add weight to my cross. I would love nothing more than to cast all my cares (plus a few loads of laundry) on Him and move on with my day; anxiety free, iced latte in hand, and yes- make that a Venti, with coconut milk, thank you very much. And yet, there is always something that trips me up. Always something that gets me running back to the foot of the cross to pick up a few items I had laid down, because I mean... what if He doesn't take care of things in the way that I asked? If you ask me, this whole surrender thing, while great in theory, is downright scary.
In my quest to uncover the secret to surrender, I have learned some valuable things. The biggest surprise of all? Fear has nothing to do with it.
Uncovered secret #1: Surrender is not a “one and done” deal. When I had to make a difficult call that involved the well-being of my own child, I was under the false impression that if I did this one hard thing for God-surrendered it all and trusted in Him-surely, the trial with my child would end. This, sweet friends, was not, and is not, the case. Surrender is not some big gesture we make just once, wipe our hands free of, and sit back with a bag of chips; as fabulous as that might sound. But rather, it is a daily choice. We surrender right up until our very last breath.
Uncovered secret #2: Surrender is not the same as compliance. Why do so many addicts do everything right in treatment, get discharged, only to relapse hours later? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with will power, and everything to do with surrendering to HIS will. It is no coincidence that the 12-step program, which is so successful for those who work the steps, begins with admitting you are not in control and handing yourself over to a higher power.
And I suppose, in many ways, I have been nothing more than a religious addict; eager to comply with all of the rules and regulations so when I come face to face with my Maker, He can look at my life and see how well I highlighted verses in my Bible and recited my morning prayers. But this isn't what God wants from me, is it? A life of compliance disguised as surrender might get me out of trouble for a while, but it won't secure my safety. If I simply check the boxes without the buy-in, I'm not really letting go of control, and let's be honest... I'm not fooling anyone. Not even myself.
A few days ago, I found myself wrestling with the enemy's invitation to use this past week's “latest upset” as reason enough to take the reins out of the Lord's hands and put them firmly back in my own. Sure, a few trials back I was good to admit that God was in full control, but now? Now, I am not so sure. And as I struggled to understand how it can be possible to remain at peace when things are in pieces-how I could possibly surrender all to a God who appears to have bought me a season pass to the world's fastest roller coaster of events and emotions-I realized why surrendering to His will and letting go of mine was so hard. It wasn't because I was afraid. It was because I was discouraged.
Disappointments are a part of life, but allowing them to give way to discouragement is something we choose. In Charles Stanley's Life Principles Daily Bible, he writes, “You should not allow the challenges that arise to steal your enthusiasm or confidence in Him.”² I'll admit. I love this. I agree with this. But I fail at it often. And by often, I mean yesterday. Thankfully, Stanley uses Matthew 1:24 to support this life principle: “Joseph did not allow his initial disappointment to give way to discouragement. Rather, he accepted God's will, obeyed the Lord, and brought Mary home to live with him.”
As someone who so easily allows unexpected circumstances to take control of me, I find great comfort in this. I have come too far to allow disappointment to steal my joy, and I will bet you have too. As Stanley says, “You never have to be the victim of your feelings. You can choose to look to God, listen, learn, and move ahead.”³
Today, you have the power to let go and surrender from whatever it is that has you held emotionally hostage; to really buy-in and give it all to God.
Accept God's will, obey the Lord, and bring Mary into your home.
Put yourself totally in His hands.
I promise, there is no safer place to be.
¹ Prayer of Abandonment, Br. Charles of Jesus (de Foucauld)
² The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20
³ The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20