True Freedom

Today is the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist. The Gospel recounts the story of this event, and in it, there are two men, King Herod, and John the Baptist, one of them imprisoned and the other truly free.

Whenever I hear this story, I end up having some sympathy for Herod. He doesn’t seem to want to kill John because something about the prophet struck at his heart. When Herod “heard him speak, he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” Herod wasn’t free to do what he truly wanted. He was enslaved by his sinfulness, by his choice to marry his brother’s wife, by the opinions of his party guests, and by the fear of losing his reputation. Even though it was John who was sitting behind bars, it was Herod who was imprisoned.

St. Paul sums up this slavery to sin in Romans where he says, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if [I] do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Romans 7:19-20).

John the Baptist, on the other hand, was radically free. His whole life was marked by a desire to do God’s will, no matter the cost. He doesn’t appear in the Gospels like a man terribly concerned with the opinions of others or his social status. He cooperated with the Lord to such an extent that he was able to do what he truly wanted, even when he knew that would cost him his life.

This radical freedom possessed by John is also freely available to us. The Catechism says that grace frees men from our enslavement to sin and heals our wounds (Catechism 1990) and that “the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world” (Catechism 1742).

Grace helps us recognize our true identity as sons and daughters of the Father. From that truth about ourselves, we understand that we don’t have to earn our dignity and value from the opinions of others; instead, we are immeasurably valuable just because of who we are as children of God. And if we are God’s children then, just like the prodigal son, we always have access to the Father’s mercy and forgiveness when we sin. If we truly believed this about ourselves, like in the depths of our heart believed this, then we would no longer be enslaved by the fear of what others think or of losing our reputation. If we truly believed this, we would be able to do what we genuinely want to do.

So I invite you to sit with Jesus for a few minutes and in the quiet ask Him to show you where you are enslaved, to show you what prevents you from doing what you truly want, and ought, to do. And then ask St. John the Baptist, and all the holy martyrs, to pray for you for the grace that makes you truly free.

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Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation or read his work at Where Peter Is.

Destined for Radiance

The first reading today from Exodus describes a fascinating transformation that happened to Moses at Mt. Sinai. After conversing with God on the mountain, and whenever he spoke with God in the tabernacle, Moses’ face glowed. His skin shone so brightly that his brother Aaron was afraid of him and the people begged him to wear a veil. While this story may be odd, it offers us a beautiful image for what our own relationship with God should, and can, look like.

Catechism 221 says that the reason God created us, our destiny, is to share in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. And Catechism 460 says, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” We are destined, our ultimate purpose is to become divine. This idea goes by many names, theosis, divinization, sanctification, and growing in holiness, but they all express the same belief. As the priest says at Mass when he mixes the water and wine at the altar, “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

When St. Matthew wrote about Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain he had in mind the story of Moses’ glowing face in mind. The glorified and resurrected body of Jesus is the image for our own destiny.

The Responsorial Psalm today proclaims, “Holy is the Lord our God.” In the Old Testament, the holiness of God was a truly frightening thing. When God revealed Himself to the whole people of Israel on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19 and 20, they were so afraid that they begged Moses to make sure God never does that again. Even when Moses asked to see the Lord’s face in Exodus 33, God said no because the glory of the Lord’s face would have killed Moses on the spot.

However, God became man and bridged that chasm between divinity and humanity. Seeing God in his holiness won’t kill us; it will transform us into him. As St. John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

“I call you friends,” says Jesus. What an incredible thought. We can converse with God like he is a friend. Only God can make us like himself, can make us divine, but we must cooperate. This divine life is the treasure, the pearl of great price, that Jesus speaks of the Gospel. One of the primary ways we cooperate with this process of growing in holiness, of becoming like God, is through prayer, conversation with God.

In his document on holiness, the pope speaks about the necessity of prayer. At one point, he says:

“Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy” (Gaudete et Exsultate 151).

Just as Moses’ face became radiant when he basked in the presence of God, so to can our hearts, our whole being, become radiant through prayer. Take some time to sit with the Lord in silence. Share with him whatever is on your heart, your insignificant worries, and your deepest longings. Then sit in his presence and let Christ share his heart with you. Let him speak into your life. Let him make you radiant.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation or read his work at Where Peter Is.

Our Mother

In February of last year, Pope Francis gave the Church a new feast day. The day after Pentecost every year is now the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, has urged priests to make celebrating this memorial a priority and he said that the readings the Church chose for this feast “illuminate the mystery of spiritual motherhood.” So I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on the readings today and discover what it means for Mary to be the Mother of the Church and our mother.

The Church gives us two options for the first reading, one of them is from the Acts of the Apostles (I’ll get back to that one) and the other is from Genesis (Gen 3:9-15, 20). This second option is the story of when God confronts Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit. During that conversation with our first parents, God turned his attention to the serpent and made this remarkable statement:

“Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

This is the first prediction of Mary and Jesus in scripture. Adam and Eve sinned only minutes before and God already has a plan for how he’s going to fix things. The serpent (representing the devil, sin, and death) will be delivered a fatal blow to the head by a descendant of Eve.

There were only two women in all of human history who did not have original sin, Eve and Mary. Both women were given the choice of either obeying God or turning away from Him. Eve’s choice brought sin into the world whereas Mary’s choice brought Jesus (the destroyer of sin and death) into the world. Eve, whose names means “mother of all the living,” gave birth to sin and death. Whereas Mary gave birth to the Messiah and, in turn, the Church. For, as St. Leo the Great says, the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body.

This brings us directly to the gospel reading for the day. It is St. John’s account of the crucifixion (John 19:25-34) where Jesus is hanging on the cross and sees his mother. The gospel says:

“Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”

The beloved disciple is likely John himself, but he remains unnamed and thereby represents all of the disciples who Jesus loves, in other words, the whole Church. While hanging on the cross Jesus gives his Church one last gift, a mother – his mother. And Mary doesn’t hesitate in taking on her motherly role.

Now we make it back to the other option that the Church gives us for the first reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:12-14). Here we see Mary, in a very human way, take up her role as Mother of the Church. This reading takes place immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus told them that the Holy Spirit was coming but he didn’t tell them when. So the apostles went back to the upper room in Jerusalem and waited. The reading says:

“When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying…[and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

Mary was here as a mother to the apostles, encouraging and praying with them as they waited for the Spirit Jesus had promised them. Mary was already full of grace and the Holy Spirit from the Annunciation all those years earlier, so she sat with the apostles and, according to Archbishop Roche (Secretary for  the Congregation for Divine Worship) “she who knew more about the Holy Spirit was helping them to persevere, and to pray, and to make a space for the coming of the Holy Spirit in their own minds and hearts.”

And Mary didn’t cease to be the Mother of the Church after her assumption. “We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ” (Catechism 975).

So what does all this mean for us? This feast is another reminder for us to turn to Mary and ask for her motherly help. In my prayer time over the past several weeks the Lord has given me the image of Mary holding her children in her lap and pressing their heads against her heart. By feeling the tender heart of Our Mother we can know Our Father’s heart. The Immaculate Heart of Mary leads us to the Sacred Heart of her Son. At times when we feel distant or angry at God, we can cry out to Mary and ask her to intercede for us and pray for our hearts to soften. And when we’re desperate for the Holy Spirit we know we can ask Mary, who is full of grace, to pray for a greater outpouring of the Spirit on our lives.

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Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation or read his work at Where Peter Is.

Our Father

For the past week, and up until just a couple days before Pentecost, the Gospel readings for daily Mass are from John’s recounting of the Last Supper. Here Jesus repeatedly speaks about, and prays to, “the Father.” I want to step back and reflect on that for a minute.

God is completely and utterly beyond us. Take a second and try to imagine something, anything, that isn’t bound by space, time, and matter. We can’t do it. God created these things that bind even our wildest imaginations. Time is a creature of God like a giraffe is a creature of God. This is what we mean when we talk of God’s transcendence.

God is that far beyond us that the only way we could possibly know anything about him is if he reveals himself to us. The main sources for this self-revelation of God are Scripture, Tradition, and, especially, Jesus himself. And the primary image that God chooses to reveal himself is as Father. The God who willed the universe into existence wants us to see him as Father, and not just a Father, but our Father.

If God’s primary identity is our Father, then our primary identity is as God’s child. This revelation changes everything. We aren’t cosmic accidents caused by some indifferent process of evolution. Neither are we slaves of a Divine Master. No, we are sons and daughters of the Father.

Take a second again and imagine the perfect earthly father. He may look like your own father or he may look entirely different. The most loving, strong, and merciful human father is nothing but a pale shadow of the Father. We cannot possibly be better parents than God.

In his recent letter to young people, Christus Vivit, Pope Francis places this revelation of God at the center of our faith. He says:

“The very first truth I would tell each of you is this: ‘God loves you’. It makes no difference whether you have already heard it or not. I want to remind you of it. God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved. Perhaps your experience of fatherhood has not been the best. Your earthly father may have been distant or absent, or harsh and domineering. Or maybe he was just not the father you needed. I don’t know. But what I can tell you, with absolute certainty, is that you can find security in the embrace of your heavenly Father” (CV 112-113).

Scripture so strongly reveals God’s caring and compassionate love for his children that it even at times uses maternal language for God. The prophet Isaiah says, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Is 49:15). Pope John Paul I, in one of his few addresses, reflects on this saying:

“We are the objects of undying love on the part of God. We know: he has always his eyes open on us, even when it seems to be dark. He is our father; even more, he is our mother. He does not want to hurt us, He wants only to do good to us, to all of us. If children are ill, they have an additional claim to be loved by their mother. And we too, if by chance we are sick with badness, on the wrong track, have yet another claim to be loved by the Lord.”

During this Easter season, I invite you to reflect on God’s love for you. Listen in the gospels how the Father relates to Jesus and know that God relates to you in the same way. If you feel distant from God because of your sin and mistakes then read the parable of the Prodigal Son. Sit in quiet prayer and ask the Father to show you how much he loves you. Let God’s revelation renew your mind and transform all the false images you have of God or yourself. Rejoice in your identity as a child of the Father. Let the words of Pope Francis rest deep in your heart:

“The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials, and he always, always, always embraces us after every fall, helping us to rise and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, and pay attention to this, the worst fall, the one that can ruin our lives, is when we stay down and do not allow ourselves to be helped up” (CV 120).

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[Photo credit: Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash]

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. If you like what he has to say, read his work at Where Peter Is, check out his blog, The Porch, or follow him on Facebook.

The Breath of Life

In the first reading today we hear the second story of creation. Where the first story paints the big picture of creation, the second quickly focuses on mankind in the Garden of Eden. I want to highlight two parts of this reading. The first is the creation of man. The scripture says, “the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.”

In the first creation story we hear about speaking creation into being, “God said…and there was.” But here we see God forming man out of clay. If you’ve ever made anything out of clay you know how physical and involved that process is. God didn’t merely call man into being, He crafted man with His hands. Then God got right into man’s face and breathed life into his nostrils. That’s how close God was to man.

But, as we will hear on Friday, man rejected God. Adam and Eve used the incredible freedom God had given them and rebelled against Him. And it’s at that moment that death became apart of man’s reality. God didn’t curse us with death because of sin, rather, we chose death. When we rejected God we rejected the very life He breathed into us, we chose not-life. So God banished Adam from the Garden and, “stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24).

Note that the tree of life is not the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Before they sinned there are no reasons to think that Adam and Eve didn’t eat freely from the tree of life, but now access to the tree has been severed. Mankind was separated from that fruit for thousands of years. Then God sent us a New Adam to undo the sin of the first.

Christian tradition recognizes the cross as the tree of life. A device that symbolized suffering and death, the worst effects of sin, was transformed into the image of salvation. And the fruit of this new tree of life, the fruit God sent angels with flaming swords to guard, is the very flesh of God: Christ’s body and blood, the Eucharist, the source of Divine Life.

Then on the very day of His resurrection Jesus, the first day of the New Creation, the Son of God, once again breaths on mankind.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

[Jesus] said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (John 20:19-23).

Where the first Adam rejected the breath of life through his sin, the New Adam breaths divine life, the very power to remove sins, on His apostles. The death and resurrection of Christ is the great reversal of the Fall.

As a final reflection, I would like to draw your attention to the image at the top of this article. It’s a painting by Rembrandt titled, “Christ and St. Mary Magdalen at the Tomb.” Notice a couple of things. First, drawing from John’s Gospel where Mary Magdalen mistakes the resurrected Jesus for the gardener, Rembrandt depicts Christ with gardening tools. The God who tilled the Garden of Eden is now dressed as a gardener on the first day of the New Creation. And the angels, the ones God had sent to the tree of life with flaming swords, their job is done. They can relax and lounge in the garden. The tree of life is open again.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. If you like what he has to say, read his work at Where Peter Is, check out his blog, The Porch, or follow him on Facebook.

God Wants Us to Suffer, A Pious Heresy

When I teach junior high classes about creation I usually draw a large circle on the whiteboard. I tell my class that this represents everything God created and I ask them to shout out the things that would go inside the circle. “People!” is one of the first things the student’s shout and the circle quickly gets filled in with things like plants, animals, time, matter, and angels. At this point, I like to have fun with them and write “Hell” and “Satan” in the circle and a lively discussion usually ensues.

There are a couple things, however, that aren’t in this circle, namely, death and suffering.

Much like how darkness is not a thing in itself, merely the absence of light, death, and suffering can only be understood in a negative sense, that is, as a lack of something else. The book of Genesis says, “the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). God gave Adam and Eve life, but through their sin they rejected life. God created the garden with order and integrity, but through their sin, our first parents rejected this wholeness. It is here that death and suffering first entered creation.

Thus suffering ought not be. God did not create suffering, it only exists because we live in a cosmos fractured by sin. Our bodies and minds are supposed to be whole and integrated, but because of our limited and broken world, and because of our sin, we experience illness, suffering, and death.

Simply put: God does not want us to suffer. Period.

But how often do we get this wrong, do we lie about God? In the midst of other people’s suffering, we say “This is all a part of God’s plan.” And in our own suffering, we say, “God wants me to suffer so I can offer it up for a greater good.” Sometimes we say these things because we don’t know what else to say when our friend’s loved one just died. Sometimes we say them because the question of why God will allow us to suffer is too difficult for us to understand. But while these statements are well intended, they are also wrong.

Now, there is the mysterious and wonderful Tradition within Christianity that we can offer up our suffering. We believe in a God who not only stoops to our level and suffers with us (which is an incredible thing in itself), but who also allows us to give our suffering meaning by uniting it with his suffering for the sake of others.

However, to say that God, in his eternal goodness, can transform the evil of suffering into something good doesn’t mean that God wills the suffering in the first place. The pious heresy that our suffering is a part of God’s plan distorts our understanding of God and turns Our Loving Father into a monster.

Suffering, illness, and death are not a part of God’s plan. God is able and deeply desires, to heal us from these things. And, as we see in Gospel today, the life and ministry of Jesus is a demonstration of this desire. Through sin, we gave dominion of this world over to suffering and death, but Christ comes as a conquering king to reclaim lost territory. Jesus gives his power and authority over these consequences of sin to not only his apostles, but to all who follow him, to all who share his divine life through baptism. Through baptism, the Catechism says,  we become “other Christs.'” The Acts of the Apostles and the historical records on the early Church demonstrate that miraculous healings and signs and wonders are a normative part of what it means to be baptized, Christian.

In the midst of our sickness and suffering, do we run in faith to Jesus for healing like the crowds in today’s Gospel? Or do we tell ourselves that God wills our pain? When we’re in the presence of other people’s sickness, do we model Jesus and boldly pray for their healing? Or do we tell them their illness is a part of God’s plan?

Let us pray for the same faith the crowds had, the faith that drove them to run to Jesus with their sickness and pain, fully expecting him to heal them.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. If you like what he has to say, read his work at Where Peter Is, check out his blog, The Porch, or follow him on Facebook.

The Unprecedented God

My oldest son, Simon, turned six earlier this month. I remember the afternoon we were getting ready to take him home from the hospital. I stood there holding him, absolutely terrified that the nurses would actually let us leave the hospital with this baby. My wife and I had no idea what we were doing. Simon was so helpless, so vulnerable, so dependent on us for everything, and they trusted us to take care of him!?

Christmas was especially meaningful for me that year. The God who made space and time became as helpless as my baby son. He had to learn to walk and talk and feed himself. He got hungry and tired. God became that vulnerable.

In the Garden of Eden, right after they sinned, Adam and Eve saw that they were naked and then made clothes for themselves. They looked at each other’s vulnerable bodies and realized that the other person could be used, and as they thought this they realized that the other person could use them. So they protected their vulnerability.

Our God so humiliated himself that he allowed himself to be beaten, flogged, stripped naked and hung on a cross. All of the crucifixes we have depict Jesus in a nice loincloth, but that is for our own sense of modesty. The God who made the entire universe died with a vulnerable, naked body.

And this prompts the question, why would God do that? Why did God take on our humanity and die for us? The Catechism says, “The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God” (Catechism 457). Jesus entered into our suffering, sin, and death – and defeated them. He undid all the effects of Adam’s sin. But that’s not the only reason that God became man.

God doesn’t intend to just simply restore us back to the Garden of Eden. He intends to give us far more. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (Catechism 460). God’s original plan was to make us like himself. God made us so that we may participate in his divine nature. Jesus wasn’t God’s “Plan B.” God becoming man wasn’t simply a response to Adam and Eve’s sin, he always planned on becoming one of us in order to make us like himself.

Jesus has two natures, his divine nature and his human nature. God partakes of human nature completely so that you and I might partake of the divine nature. This means that the cross, Jesus’ sacrifice, was a means to a greater end. God didn’t become man just to die for our sins. Rather, Jesus saves us from our sins, restores our relationship with God, so that he can make us like God.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul recites a hymn that captures the humility of a God who would become one of us:

“Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).”

This is how good God is. This is how much God loves us. This is how desperately God wants to reconcile us back to himself. Why? So that we can share in his divine nature. So that he can transform us and make us like himself. Today at Mass, the Church gives us this beautiful Collect prayer:


O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature
and still more wonderfully restored it,
grant, we pray,
that we may share in the divinity of Christ,
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Christmas, as Pope Francis said last week, means celebrating the “unprecedented things of God,” or rather, “the unprecedented God.” The pope continued, “Take some time, stand in front of the manger and be silent.” Take some time today to contemplate the mystery of our God who only desire is to make our mind like his mind and our heart like his heart, to make us like himself.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.

The Harlot and the Bride

In the first reading today, John describes the apocalyptic fall of the great city of Babylon. While there’s debate among Scripture scholars over whether John’s vision of Babylon represents Rome or Jerusalem, for my purposes here I want to focus on Babylon being identified as “the great harlot.” The harlot in Biblical imagery is the unfaithful one, the adulterer, the idolater. Harlotry, then, is the love of earthly goods to the detriment of love of God and neighbor.

In Revelation, the harlot is juxtaposed with the Bride of the Lamb. There at the end of this reading, when heaven is celebrating the destruction of Babylon, John says, “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” The Bride of the Lamb, the Bride of Christ, is the Church.

Next to Babylon’s unfaithfulness stands the Church’s faithfulness to Christ. “[The Church’s] structure is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ’s members. and holiness is measured according to the ‘great mystery’ in which the Bride responds with the gift of love to the gift of the Bridegroom” (Catechism 773). This is a reality worth pausing on. The Catechism says:

“The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb. ‘Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her.’ He has joined her with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body…’The two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church.’ and the Lord himself says in the Gospel: ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh.’ They are, in fact, two different persons, yet they are one in the conjugal union…(Catechism 796).

In other words, Christ and the Church are united with each other in the way that husband and wife are united. This mustn’t be trivialized. The Catechism says that married love “aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul” (Catechism 1643). Thus if marriage brings together two persons and unites them so profoundly that they share one heart and soul, then the members of the Church, all who are baptized, are being united to Christ so profoundly that we share one heart and soul. This is what we call “theosis,” being transformed into the likeness of Christ, the process of becoming God (cf Catechism 460 and 2782).

However, in the situation the Church finds herself in today, it could be easy to mistake the Bride for a harlot. What could be more unfaithful to Christ than, as the Holy Father described it, “the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons”? The abusers choose power and objectification over love. The bishops who enabled the abuse chose earthly prestige over justice. What we are witnessing is the height of harlotry.

How do we, as the baptized members of the Church, find our true identity again? By turning to Mary. For “Mary goes before us all in the holiness that is the Church’s mystery as ‘the bride without spot or wrinkle.’ This is why the ‘Marian’ dimension of the Church precedes the ‘Petrine’” (Catechism 773). In other words, when the wounded and adulterous human institution falters we must turn to Mary for correction and reform. She is the “eschatological icon of the Church,” that is, “the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come” (Catechism 972). As Pope Francis says:

“‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’, said Saint Paul. By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation. Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross. She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side. In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life. When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, ‘to insist more upon prayer’, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church. She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without excuses or cowardice. To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true follower of Christ.”

Let us pray to Mary, the spouse of the Holy Spirit, for a new outpouring of the Spirit to empower every member of the Church to act with courage and integrity in seeking justice for the perpetrators. Let us pray to Mary, the Mother of Christ, for each of us to be instruments of healing for the many wounded. Let us pray to Mary, the Handmaid of the Father, that leaders in the Church will have the humility to willingly give up their idolatry to earthly authority. Let us pray to Mary that the harlotry in the Church will be cast down so that we may all cry “Alleluia! Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.”

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.

O Death, Where Is Your Victory?

Recently my five-year-old and four-year-old sons were having a discussion about how Jesus was born on Christmas and rose on Easter, and at one point they ask, “So what happened to Jesus on Halloween?” Today, the eve of All Saints begins the Church’s annual three-day reflection on death and the afterlife that will end on the feast of All Souls. On this occasion I wanted to change my son’s question around a bit and ask, “What happened to death because of Jesus?”

Physical death is the moment when our soul is separated from our body. This may seem like the natural end of things, a part of God’s design, but the opposite is the case. Death is evil, that is, death ought not be and wasn’t what God had intended. Human beings were not meant to die. Our souls were not meant to be separated from our bodies and our bodies were not meant to decay. The Catechism says, “Death is a consequence of sin…Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin” (CCC 1008).  

The original sin of Adam is what brought death into the cosmos, it is where “death makes its entrance into human history” (CCC 400). And while you and I aren’t personally guilty of this first sin we still suffer the consequences of it because all of humanity is mysteriously united together and all of our sins are related to that original sin. As St. Paul says, “Through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

But just as all of us are mysteriously united to the sin of Adam we are also all united to the resurrection of Jesus, “For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). The Catechism says that “Death is transformed by Christ” (CCC 1009). Notice that the Catechism doesn’t say that Jesus corrected or undid death. No, he transformed it. “The obedience of Jesus has transformed the curse of death into a blessing” (CCC 1009). For “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).

Through our baptism, we participated in the death of Christ. Through baptism, God transforms us into “other Christs” (CCC 2782). Heaven isn’t some abstract “being with God.” Rather, heaven is fully participating in God’s divine nature, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (CCC 460). Heaven isn’t some place we go after we die but rather the completion of our transformation into God, a process of transformation that began at Baptism.

Jesus took death, this evil consequence of our sin, and transformed it into the gateway to eternal life. Because of Christ, we are able to pray like St. Francis, “Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister bodily Death.” Or like St. Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

So on this eve of All Saints Day, I invite you to reflect on the reality of death. What is Jesus trying to tell us as we face our own death or the death of loved ones? What does our Father want to say to us in the face of the profound fear and sorrow surrounding death? When her brother died, our Lord said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus, give us the faith to believe.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.

The Conquering Healer

One of my favorite books in high school was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” There was one detail of the story in particular that intrigued me. Dracula, even though he was spectacularly powerful, couldn’t enter someone’s house unless he was invited in. I was reminded of that detail recently when I read Bishop Barron’s reflection on the abuse and coverup surrounding Archbishop McCarrick. Bishop Barron spoke about how sexual abuse within the Church is truly demonic activity before saying:

“Now I can hear people saying, ‘So Bishop Barron is blaming it all on the devil.’ Not at all. The devil works through temptation, suggestion, and insinuation—and he accomplishes nothing without our cooperation.”

The devil accomplishes nothing without our cooperation. A fallen angel of light, a pure spirit that’s unbound by time and space, needs our consent, our freedom, to accomplish his work. In “Theology for Beginners,” the apologist Frank Sheed spoke of Satan and original sin this way:

“The disease admitted into humanity by the choice of self against God was given every chance to run its course, work out its logic. God’s providence did not desert man; those who implored him were not left unaided; but it was Satan’s carnival all the same. He had gained no rights by his success over Adam, but he had gained immense power; he was the prince that this world obeyed.”

It was Adam’s free choice to reject God that gave Satan power over this world, and it’s our free choices to reject God that allow Satan to continue his rule. But God left our original parents with hope. God said that one day a descendant of Eve would crush the head of the serpent. And that son of Eve is who we see at work in the Gospel reading today.

If you look at the ministry of Jesus in all the Gospels, you will see a conqueror, a king returning to reclaim territory from his enemy. Jesus does this by revealing himself first and foremost as a healer. He undoes the effects of sin by bringing peace to the suffering, health to the sick, life to the dead, and freedom to the possessed. Jesus spoke with the power and authority of God to not only heal his people but to glorify them. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (Catechism 460).

After Jesus ascended to Heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to heal, empower, and glorify his people. I think that we need to forget the idea of going to Heaven after we die. Heaven is union with God, participation in God’s divine nature, and that begins now! As soon as we are baptized, we become members of Christ’s Body, heirs to the Father’s divine life, and we receive God’s supernatural life within us – grace. Every sacrament is efficacious because of the power of the Holy Spirit, and it’s the grace we receive from the Sacraments that transforms us into the likeness of Christ. At every Mass, as he mixes the water and wine, the priest says, “By the mystery of the water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Therefore we are given the same power and authority of Christ. With the name of Jesus, we can do not only the same things He did but greater things. The Act of the Apostles is one account after another of the mere men doing the work of Christ. As Saint Paul says in the first reading today, the Spirit has given each of us “the mind of Christ.”

But, remarkably, all of this rests on our free will. Just as it is through our choices that Satan has power in this world, so it is through our choices that we can accept grace and do powerful works in Jesus’ name. In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis says:

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.”

Will we choose to let Dracula in the door? Will we choose to make Satan prince of our life and prince of this world? Or will we choose to accept the supernatural life that Jesus offers us and let him heal the effects of sin in our own lives and in the world?

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.

The Supernatural Vision Of Fr. Kolbe

I believe it was sometime in June when I signed up to write the reflection on this particular day. To be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to what the readings were or the feast day, I just picked a day that worked with my schedule. So I was surprised when I realized after the fact that it was the feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, it’s not the first time Fr. Kolbe’s feast day has caught me off guard.

As a kid I remember finding an old comic book about Maximilian Kolbe on my parents’ bookshelf. I’m not sure why it was there. I don’t recall my parents ever talking about this saint when I was growing up. Fr. Kolbe is the patron saint of prisoners, and my dad has been leading prison ministry for decades, so maybe that’s why it was hanging around?

That comic was pretty much all I knew about Fr. Kolbe until I read a book about 20th century martyrs for a college course that had a chapter dedicated to this Polish priest. It was at that point that this saint started impacting my life. I read that chapter multiple times and offered to give a talk about Fr. Kolbe for my young adult group. In the preparation for that talk I was forced to articulate why this man fascinated me so much.

It was around that time that Pope Francis released his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith. There the pope says, “Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes: it is a participation in his way of seeing” (LF 18). Hang on to that idea for a second. Jesus is God, the Creator who caused the Big Bang and who transcends the universe. Time itself is as much a creature of God as giraffes are. Faith is the power to see the cosmos from God’s vantage point, from beyond space and time.

What attracted me so much to Maximilian Kolbe was his faith. He spent months living in Auschwitz, Hell on earth. Yet all of the testimonies from fellow prisoners and guards give witness to a man who was the picture of peace. How could this be? Here I am, someone who gets all bent out of shape when I’m running ten minutes late for a meeting.

God’s supernatural life had so transformed Fr. Kolbe into the likeness of Christ that he saw the world as Christ did. He was able to see his passion and death the way that Jesus saw His. He saw beyond the raging storm of the present, beyond space and time, and knew that this evil he was witnessing had already lost, that death ultimately had no sting. It was Fr. Kolbe’s faith that both intrigued and challenged me.

Fast forward several years past that talk. My wife and I had been married nearly five years and had three kids, the youngest was nine months and the oldest was about to turn four. My wife suffered from pretty severe postpartum anxiety and after three kids pretty close together we decided that she really needed a break from pregnancy, infants, and postpartum for a few years. However, in addition to anxiety, my wife had other health problems that made practicing NFP especially difficult. The normal signs of fertility one would use to avoid pregnancy weren’t so clear, and when this uncertainty mixed with postpartum anxiety and the stress of a newborn, let’s just say it was a difficult time in our marriage.

In the midst of all that turmoil we found out that we were pregnant. Our other three kids weren’t necessarily planned, but they were expected. But here we were with a pregnancy we were desperately trying to avoid. There’s a lot of feelings that come with an unplanned pregnancy: fear, anxiety, anger, more fear, and shame. Shame for those passing thoughts about wanting the pregnancy to be over, about wishing this child didn’t exist. It’s a dark place to be.

Because we used NFP and charted my wife’s cycles, we usually had a good idea of when our due date was (sometimes a better idea than the doctors). However, because my wife’s cycles were so abnormal, we didn’t know when the baby was conceived so we didn’t have a due date. A few months into the pregnancy we went to the doctor for the routine checkup and they told us that our child was due on August 14.

When my wife and I realized that was Maximilian Kolbe’s feast day it was like God saying to use that he wanted this child and that it would all work out. It was at that moment that the fear and anxiety started to leave. In that moment God gave us the faith of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. He helped us see beyond the turmoil of the present, to see beyond space and time.

Francis Kolbe Steven will be one years old on August 17th. He missed his due date by three days. The postpartum anxiety returned and so did the difficulties with NFP, but this little boy has filled our life with so much joy.

Pray for the faith of Fr. Kolbe. Pray for supernatural vision during the storms and trials of life, to see reality for what it truly is. Pray for us, Saint Maximilian Kolbe.

[Image Credit: Picture of Francis Kolbe Steven, used with permission from author]

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.

Hear This, You Who Trample Upon The Poor!

I double booked for today and I wanted to make sure to send this great article on caring for all people, especially the poor and marginalized.

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-Tommy Shultz


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The first reading today, from the prophet Amos, is a pointed exhortation against the oppression of the poor and economic injustice:

“Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! ‘When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the containers for measuring, add to the weights, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!’

On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun set at midday and cover the earth with darkness in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentations. I will cover the loins of all with sackcloth and make every head bald. I will make them mourn as for an only son, and bring their day to a bitter end…” (Amos 8:4-6, 9-10).

This is an exhortation echoed throughout the scriptures so strongly that oppressing the poor and defrauding workers of their just wages are two of the four sins that “cry out to heaven” (Catechism 1867). St. James reiterates the severity of this command in a way that should make us all pause:

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (James 5:1-5).

This emphasis on economic justice and the poor continued in the early centuries of Christianity and the Church Fathers gave exhortations against the wealthy that fall right in line with St. James. Perhaps most notable is from St. John Chrysostom who said, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”

The Church has always taught that the poor are to be given preferential treatment (Catechism 2448). This is because Jesus explicitly identifies Himself with the poor when He makes the radical claim that whoever feeds the hungry and clothes the naked are feeding and clothing Him. Thus we are called to “recognize [Christ’s] own presence in the poor who are his brethren” (Catechism 2449).

All of this should cause us to pause and intentionally examine how we personally treat the poor. The Church commands that we see all our economic decisions as moral decisions. Do I pay attention to where I shop and how they treat their employees? Do I care where the products I purchase are made and if the laborers are treated humanely? Do I support politicians and policies that undermine the dignity of the poor and vulnerable?

I think if we answer those questions honestly that we will all find ourselves failing to live up to Christ’s expectations…and that’s good!Recognizing that we are sinners is the first step towards repentance. And while God clearly condemns the wicked, His mercy is always more abundant. We see this in the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, a man who cheated and stole from the poor on a regular basis. But Zacchaeus  repented of these sins and said to Jesus:

“‘Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost’” (Luke 19:8-10).

This is echoed in the Gospel reading today where the Pharisees condemned Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors and Jesus responded with His famous line,“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

So let yourself be condemned by the first reading today. For it is when we recognize ourselves as sinners that we can truly repent. Then when you receive His presence at the Altar you will be able to recognize that same presence in the poor and oppressed.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and a parish director of religious education. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.