Leaving Bitterness Behind

 

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In the bitter cold winter, the trees seem dead and bare. While we can still find glimpses of beauty on a cold winter day, we are easily caught up in the negative aspects of winter, the cold, the limited sun light, the difficult labor of shoveling snow. When we embrace bitterness, our souls look like the trees in the middle of winter. We too can focus only on the negative and lose sight of the sun shining overhead, the snow glistening and the children playing.

The image for my book, was drawn by Paola Lecanda and depicts a woman who is walking away from the dead, barren trees. The shadow behind her shows that she is walking towards the sunlight. The symbolism of the eye in the background is her ability to self-reflect. To look deep within herself and root out the bitterness. This work of leaving bitterness behind, does not have to be done alone. Christ wants to help us if we just let him.  Our Catholic faith is so rich and the opportunities for healing through the sacraments alone are a treasure many of us take for granted. This book I have written is meant to be a tool for those prepared to do the work and enlist divine help in doing so.

Have you ever met someone who seems constantly discontent? Maybe you know someone, who is always complaining and you can’t remember the last time you saw them smile. Imagine that is the person you see in the mirror every day.

There was a time in my life, when I no longer recognized the person in the mirror. The person I did see, I no longer liked. She was flustered, angry and overwhelmed most of the time. Most days, this was hidden behind busyness of caring for family, apostolate and a semi-superficial prayer life. Unfortunately, my family was usually at the receiving end of my anger and complaints. I enjoyed my prayer time, but refused to do any deep self-reflecting. Apostolate and writing became the perfect escape.

One day while examining my conscience in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there was this one habitual sin that didn’t get much thought, I just knew I committed it and was sure to do it again. This time, a question popped into my mind, “Do you want to just keep bringing that up in confession or do you want to change it?”

I knew full well, the Holy Spirit was poking at my conscience and I knew the right answer was to want to change it. I went into the confessional that day with the conviction that I was not going to confess that one sin again.

From that point on, Christ was very generous with his grace to allow me to move into the direction of making this change. However, he was also very gentle and patient with me. Rooting out this one sin was not an easy process. This is when my trip to leave bitterness behind, began. The next few years, were not easy but it was a grace-filled time. While I was still in the healing process, the inspiration came to write down what I had learned and to share it.

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Purchase the book here “Leaving Bitterness Behind: A Catholic Approach to Healing Past Hurts”

 

 

Marriage Is Not For Me

marriage

I believed this. Want to be miserable? Get married. In my teen years I decided I didn’t want anything to do with marriage. No one I knew was living the happy ever after I had read about or watched in movies as a little girl. In life it seemed that Cinderella either never found her prince charming, so she settled for less. Or Cinderella and the prince were doomed to become cold, dissatisfied, grouchy complainers trying to bang out a life together until one of them decided they were better off alone or with someone else.

Recently, I read “Time Warp Wife’s” blog post, “An Open Letter to Young Girl’s Everywhere” where Lisa Jacobson writes about this very same belief among many young girls today. I don’t intend to repeat what Lisa has already beautifully written. Below is my advice to those young women who are feeling like marriage isn’t the road to “happy ever after.”

I have been thinking about that young seventeen year old girl who was swept away by the man who would be her husband. What changed my mind? What was my heart set on?

1.      Take the time to discern if marriage is your vocation. Marriage is a vocation, a divine call to God’s service, a function or station in life to which one is called by God.

Truthfully, my heart didn’t really change. My mind had decided that marriage didn’t seem worth it. However, in my heart I knew that I would one day be a wife and mom.  I was raised in a Catholic family, however I had never been encouraged to do a proper discernment as to what God was calling me to. I trust if God wanted to call me to religious life, he would have placed this option in my path somehow. My opinion is that every young person should take time to discern God’s call. Cultivating and nurturing a friendship with Christ is necessary even if you are called to marriage. Allowing time in your life to explore what God is calling you to, whether it is marriage, consecrated life, or a nun, will provide the ground that Christ needs to bear good fruit in your life.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to witness how beautiful the consecrated life is,  while attending a convention for Catholic women at Mater Ecclesiae College for the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi, in Rhode Island.  It was there I understood why someone would choose to give their life to Christ. I also sensed a great peace in knowing that I had been called to give my life for Christ through my vocation as a wife and mom.

2.       Pray for your future husband and don’t be afraid to be specific about the characteristics you would like him to have.

My mom encouraged me to pray for a good husband. My prayer was not very specific. I wanted a man who was respectful, would treat me good and shared my faith. Today my husband is all those things, and so much more.  A dear friend of mine cultivated a much deeper friendship with Christ in her youth, and prayed for her husband. She wasn’t afraid to be specific. She created a list that she presented to God in prayer of all the physical and spiritual characteristics she would like her future husband to have. When she met the man who was to be her husband she was able to check off all the items she had listed. She knew God had sent her the man she prayed for.

3.       Be prepared for the cross. Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” Find someone who is committed to facing life’s crosses with you. Someone who will always choose you, his wife.

Even though I didn’t know my faith very well, I had some idea that if God called me to something there was bound to be some suffering involved in that calling. After all there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. The marriages around me seemed to be failing because there was too much suffering, or nobody wanted to suffer.

Now every situation is different, I know. There are some difficulties that married couples face that cannot be undone. Situations where one or the other did put in the effort, prayer and sacrifice necessary, but the other spouse was not willing to match the effort.  I have dear friends who are divorcee’s that still live a life of faith and I am certain there has been much pain and hopefully much healing in their circumstance. I am not speaking of those situations. All too often we don’t even put in the effort to work through struggles in our relationships, we just give up.

I knew that for marriage to last, both spouse’s had to be committed to sticking it out no matter what came their way. At the age of sixteen I attended a parish youth group retreat. During the retreat we were all asked to choose a scripture verse that spoke to us and share why we chose that one. A certain young man chose a passage from Matthew 19:3-9. It’s a passage where Jesus answers a question concerning divorce. Then he explained why he chose this passage.

Many couples give up on their marriage at the first sight of problems. They forget what brought them together in the first place. I think married couples need to come together and commit to working through the problems. Divorce should not be an option. They should remember the love and attraction that was there from the start instead of pulling away from each other.”

My mind was changed, in that moment I thought, “If I ever get married, it must be to someone who thinks like him.” Little did I know God was showing me the young man that would steal my heart for life.

4.       Choose him. Only Christ was a perfect man, don’t expect to find a perfect husband. Be prepared to accept and respect him. He may very well change over the years, but it is best to leave any changing that needs to be done in God’s hands.

There are certain weaknesses or flaws that we cannot accept or deal with for life. Abuse, addiction, infidelity are among the greatest deal breakers for marriage. That doesn’t mean marriage cannot survive these issues. However, if these issues are apparent before marriage that is the time to consider if this is truly the man God wants you to commit your life to. God brings a man and a woman together to help them get to heaven. Marriage is a doorway to the sacred.  God loves all of us unconditionally and sees beyond our faults and weaknesses. He calls married couples to love each other this same way. My husband cannot change me, anymore than I can change him. I pray that God will change me into the wife my husband needs, while hoping and praying that my husband is open to the changes God wills for him.

5.       Listen and seek advice, support and prayers from older women who are living their vocation as a wife and mother, lovingly and faithfully.

We all need a support system. A few years ago, I prayed that God would send me a living example of a Proverbs 31 woman.  God is generous. He didn’t send me one woman, he sent me a few. Many of which I have met in my parish community, through various ministries I have been involved in. Being surrounded by women who value marriage, encourage me in my role as wife and pray for me and my marriage has been a tremendous support and a grace of God. One woman was in my life all along. My own mom is the best mentor and example of a Proverbs 31 woman. She and my dad were married for over 50 years, she withstood all the issues many of us would consider deal breakers. After he passed away, we asked her if she had any regrets.

“I have no regrets, I gave all of myself to him and if God allowed him to live longer I was prepared to give more. “

There are many other lessons I have learned in my seventeen years of marriage. These five points are not exhaustive. However, it has the five points that would have been helpful to know as a young woman. Therefore, my hope is that this will be helpful to some young woman, who is thinking, as I once did, “Marriage is the road for the miserable?” 

My short answer to that is, “It may be the road God has chosen for you to get to heaven. Heaven is the only place we will experience the ‘happy ever after’ we desire. Are you ready to turn your back on it?”

 

The Female Art of Manipulation

womanA few years ago, while having the privilege of being a member of a FAMILIA group with other women, we were reading and reflecting on Blessed John Paul II’s, Letter to Women and his encyclical on “The Dignity of Women.”  During one of the sessions, one of the women realized something.

“It sounds like the Pope is saying that women are manipulative.” She said astonished.

The rest of us chuckled and nodded in agreement. What followed was a discussion of what ‘being manipulative’ meant for us. We concurred that while the word manipulate does have a negative undertone to it, the female art of manipulation is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a good thing, only when the outcome we want is the best possible outcome for all those involved.

To manipulate by dictionary definition means: to manage or influence skillfully. However, there is a negative connotation as the definition goes on to include, “especially in an unfair manner”. It could also be termed feminine wiles. The dictionary definition is similar to manipulation, even with its negative implication.

With my limited knowledge of the women of the Bible I can recall some examples of this feminine art of manipulation. There were women who used manipulation which led to negative outcomes. We can follow from Eve, to Sarah all the way to Herodias. The consequences are grave in these situations. At the hands of the manipulation of women, all of salvation history is affected.  One man loses his life. Another man loses his soul as he is manipulated into taking innocent life.

Jesus builds up the dignity of women and their feminine genius to make things happen. The Canaanite woman, who seeks the healing of her daughter, uses her intelligence and ability to skillfully manage the situation and respond with cunning and tact. I am not suggesting that Jesus allowed himself to be manipulated by this woman. On the contrary, I believe Jesus is showing us that women do have an uncanny ability to make things happen and to get what we want. By speaking to the heart of the Samaritan woman at the well, she is able to influence a whole town to conversion.

The lives of female saints show the female ability to influence others and to affect change in the world. Causing conversions to the faith, or having schools and hospitals built to care for the physical and intellectual needs of society. These women were very influential in affecting change for the betterment of society.

In decades past, mother’s taught their daughters how to use this art of manipulation to reduce stress in their husbands. Daughters were taught never to give bad news to their husbands when they first arrived home from work. Wives should first greet him sweetly, ask about his day, listen attentively, offer him a drink and very shortly place an appetizing meal before him. Ensure his physical/ conjugal needs are met and then tell him, “Sorry, honey I crashed the car this afternoon.”

Feminine wiles were used to respect men, to bolster their confidence and affirm them. It was a means to show how wives appreciated their husbands and depended on them.  The women were taught that men should never be nagged or feel ridiculed or disrespected. Through charm and manipulation a wife could set things in motion, though her husband would be allowed to think that he was making the big decisions when she was in charge.

Of course, this is all rejected by modern-day women, all this seen as deception and submissive behaviour on the part of the women. If women are in charge of all the major decisions then they should receive the credit for it. Women don’t feel the need to please their husband any more than women need their husbands to protect them.

Sadly, feminine wiles are still used today. They are used to appeal to men’s visual senses and their sexual appetites. This is undignified to reduce a woman to the sum of her body parts. Reducing ourselves to objects for pleasure is not dignified. Instead of being encouraged to use our intelligence and our ability to make others feel appreciated we are fed a lie that we should use our physical appearance to ensnare men. What are the consequences of the misuse of feminine wiles? Infidelity, increased divorce rate, increased depression and suicide, unwanted pregnancy and abortions…just to name a few.

The rules have changed, the roles have changed. Is it for the better though? Do our men feel respected? Are marriages better off now than they used to be? Is it undignified to use our feminine wiles to build others up? Could we not use our ability to manipulate a situation to make sure the poor, the sick and the destitute are taken care of?

The Truth about Marriage – Written By: Fr. Paul Hrynczszyn

This post was actually a homily written by a good friend of ours, Fr. Paul.  It is being shared on my blog with his permission. He explains the truth about marriage in a compassionate and loving way. A way I could not have explained better myself. I hope you enjoy this read. I was waiting for the right to post it here, in light of the recent attention our Holy Father has received when his comments seem to have been misunderstood, I hope this post provides some clarity.

In Christ,

Tima

In Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41we see that Peter and the other Apostles were ordered to stop preaching about the Risen Christ by the Jewish authorities. They were ordered to stop preaching the Truth. And how do Peter and the Apostles respond? They respond with these very powerful words: We must obey God rather than men”.

The early Christians often faced ridicule and even at times persecution from regular citizens to leaders in society. And yet, because they had met the risen Lord, they were convinced that they could not remain idle, that to be a follower of Jesus meant that you were not ashamed of your faith. You were not ashamed of standing up for God and God’s truth, and you were not afraid to stand up in the face of moral evil, even when everyone was against you. The early Christians took this teaching to heart: We will obey God rather than men.

Our challenges in being Christian and Catholic in today’s secular society are a bit different from early Christianity. The early Christians did not have to face some of the challenges we have today. But we too are called to be bold and proclaim God’s unchanging truth to a world that thinks God’s laws written on the human heart can change with the times. One of the sacred things we have to protect today as Christians is the sacredness of Marriage. Marriage as is written in our human nature by God to exist between one man and one woman.

This is not an easy topic to talk about, and so many people want to silence the issue, but I think we have to have an honest discussion here about same-sex marriage. There is too much confusion about this subject and too many people, instead of trying to open their hearts to the truth, sentimentalized this whole issue. We are all somehow afraid of this topic, and maybe some people are afraid to talk about it because we don’t want to sound hateful or intolerant. But that’s not what it’s about. I want to first say that the Church LOVES all people who are homosexual. If any of you here are homosexual, I want you to know that the Church loves you, God loves you. If we discriminate mock those who have same-sex attractions, than shame on us. Any form of hate is wrong and sinful.

But, and there is always a but…I want you to know that the Church is like a good parent who loves her children, but will not remain silent if her children’s behavior is wrong and even sinful.

We have to understand one thing. Saying that something is wrong does not mean we discriminate against anyone. The Church always calls out the things that are morally unacceptable, without judging the person. You see, the distinction I want to make here at the beginning is between the sexual activity between people of the same-sex, and the homosexual person. We love the person, but we can judge an action. Sexual relationships between people of the same-sex are sinful and wrong because they distort God’s plan and design for sex and marriage.  This is in reference to the sexual relationships between people of the same-sex, and not men and women who have same-sex attractions.

You see, we as human beings have inherited original sin, which means we come into existence into a wounded world, and that means our human nature has been wounded as well and we all come into existence with a tendency to overindulge our sexual appetites, we lust.  Many people today are taught to think that any sexual encounter with whomever I want is okay. Our sexuality has been wounded by this original sin and our sexual desires are often disordered, that is, they miss the mark, they don’t live up to God’s original intention and plan for our human sexuality. That’s right, God has a blueprint for our human sexuality, and we don’t make it up on our own. The question we have to ask if we want to find the truth is: what is God’s original plan for human sexuality?

Well, it’s stamped right in our bodies as being created male and female to live in a communion of life and love. God’s original intention and blueprint for human sexuality is that Man and Woman in their bodies are created for each other. God created sex for marriage.  Of course our world separates the two. Sex speaks the language of wedding vows, that is, Indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to children. Sex is meant to mirror God’s inner life within the Trinity of God’s total, faithful and fruitful love. This is the necessary ingredient for marriage stamped in our bodies as male and female, and we cannot tamper with it.

So now we turn to the question of homosexual unions. Why is the Church against this type of sexual relationship? If two people of the same-sex really love each other, why can’t they get married?  Isn’t love the only ingredient for a valid marriage?

Well, no, it’s not, because remember, even what we call LOVE can be disordered, that is, not in keeping with God’s plan. If you are married and fall in love with another man or woman, does that give you the right to “follow you heart?” Of course it doesn’t. There are some relationships that are not okay. The Church, by reflecting on human nature along with the revealed word of God in the scriptures, says that if the sexual act is meant to image the very life of God, “then we can only image God sexually by expressing the “I do” of wedding vows: the free commitment of indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to children. It’s simply impossible for two people of the same-sex to express this commitment to each other,”[i] because they are missing one very important ingredient, the ability to be open to children. According to God’s designs, when a husband and wife make love to each other, they are saying their wedding vows with their bodies. They are saying: I promise to be faithful to you, to love you until death, and to be open to accepting children lovingly from God. All of these characteristics are necessary and we cannot change these essential traits of marriage and sex. They are part of the blueprint of marriage, a blueprint written by God himself.

Imagine if a couple wanted to get married, and they promised to be open to the possibility of children, but refused to promise to be faithful to each other. This kind of relationship would not be a marriage. Likewise, if a couple promised to be faithful to each other and to be with one another until death, but were incapable of having the kind of sexual relations designed to give life, they too would be incapable of marriage, and the reason is because their bodies cannot express the vows of a married couple.[ii]

This would be a very long post if we were to go deeper into this subject. It’s a tough issue to discuss, but I hope you can see that this topic has nothing to do with the Church discriminating against people with same-sex attractions, but it calls for everyone to treat people with dignity and respect, no matter what their race, religion or sexual orientation may be. At the same time, the Church teaches that we cannot tamper with the natural moral law given to us by God.

I want you to know that even though some of you reading this may be or may know someone who is homosexual that does not mean they are called or you are called to a loveless life. Too often we equate sex with love. We are all called to love, the heterosexual and the homosexual. I as a celibate priest am called to love. But some people are called to love in a sexual relationship in marriage, and some are called to intimacy on a different level, and even homosexuals can have deep intimate relationships with the same-sex person, without them being genital or sexual . In the end, that itself is a cross some have to bear, but with God’s grace, all this is possible.

I want you to see that our very bodies tell us that man and woman are called to make a gift of themselves sexually. A sexual union can only be properly expressed within the context of marriage, because that’s how God designed it. He created sex in marriage to be a complete joining of male and female. God wanted this joining of the two to be the foundation for a family,  the arena through which He would bring new life into the world.[iii] And marriage is ultimately about Children, and every child deserves not only love, but the complementarity of a father and a mother to experience the fullness of human life.

This is a hard truth for our world to understand, but Jesus calls us to be bold and proclaim the truth in and out of season. Let us take the example of the Apostles who were fearless in proclaiming God’s truth, because in the end, we must obey God, rather than men. Amen.

 


[i] West, Christopher. Good News about Sex and Marriage. (Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2000) 148.

[ii] Evert, Jason. If you really loved me. (San   Diego: Catholic Answers, 2008) 131.

[iii] Bonacci, Mary Beth. Real Love. 127

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les Miserables – A Story of Hope

Barricade of Freedom

Barricade of Freedom

Having been introduced to the world of musicals in my teens through “Les Miserables” I have a special affinity for this musical. I watched the musical about three times live on stage, and read the book by Victor Hugo. Each time there was a different part that struck a chord with me. I assume it depended on where I was in my life at the time.

The first time I saw the musical, I don’t know if I caught the story line because I was young and overwhelmed by the ‘live’ visual effects I was witnessing for the first time on stage. I recall being most captured by the music. Other times, I recall being especially taken by the love triangle.

When I read the book, I was especially touched by the kindness of the bishop and the struggle Val Jean faces while raising Cosette and fleeing from Javert.

With the exception of what I believe were unnecessary scenes, I thoroughly enjoyed this latest version of “Les Miserables” in theatres. I was only disappointed with the graphic content used in the ‘Master of the House’ scene. And while the actors did a great job portraying their characters, I seemed to have the most difficulty with Russel Crowe’s role as Javert.

This time around I was most captured by the underlying story of hope in “Les Miserables”. Based on how many characters lose their lives, and the great loss experienced at the barricade this story is seemingly a tragedy. However, it culminates in the final scene. In this scene there is a sense of hope, when the song “of angry men” becomes a song from ‘beyond the barricade’, while those who have passed away are singing from eternity. This is a call to all us who battle daily against the evils and injustice in this life. We should not be discouraged when we don’t see the fruits of our efforts. Like the characters in this story, it is not whether they succeeded that was important so much as the fact that they tried.

Surely we don’t want to be like the servant in the parable of the talents (Mathew 25:14-30) who didn’t do anything with his talents and was judged harshly for it. Moreover, if we take the attitude that there is nothing we can do to change the culture in which we live then we are not a people of hope. As people of hope we accept that there will always be work to do, but we set out to affect change regardless of success. Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful.”

In the story of “Les Miserables” those who took to the barricade to fight against the corrupt government were the youth. This resounded so clear to me. As a story of hope, we would have to see the youth taking on the role to affect change. Youth generally have a rebellious nature, when that rebellious nature is rooted in just causes we see major change and brave sacrifice. As adults we place the hope of a better future in our youth. Indeed, in scripture, we find a call for the youth to not be intimidated by those who look down on them for their youth. (Timothy 4:12 ). It also reminded me of the book “Do Hard Things” which is a Christian book based on the above scripture passage. It’s a call to our youth to rebel against low expectations.

Perhaps the most tragic character in the story of “Les Miserables” is Javert. While all the characters struggle, for some all they have is hope of a better future. Whereas, Javert is a man without hope, he cannot fathom anything but the law. He reminded me of two people in scripture. The Pharisees who were so intent on the law, they forgot about cultivating and nurturing a personal relationship with God. So much so, that when God was in front of them, whether Jesus himself or his disciples they could not recognize Him. He also reminds me of Jonah, who was called to go to Nineveh and implore them to change their ways or deal with God’s wrath. Yet, when the people of Nineveh listened to him, he couldn’t fathom God’s mercy and still expected they would face punishment. Javert like these two biblical persons cannot see past the law and just punishment. This in the end is the cause of his demise. Without hope and without God’s mercy, we fail to see Christ in others. We become unable to see that Christ can penetrate even the worst of sinners. We cannot judge hearts, we can judge actions. If we look at Val Jean’s actions it is clear that he is a changed man. Javert sees the world only through the eyes of the law, while he is a God-fearing man, he fails to see a fellow Christian in Val Jean and is overcome with pride.

The creators of the musical show an interesting parallel between Val Jean and Javert when they have them sing the same song at the turning point in their lives. “Val Jean’s Soliloquy” and “Javert’s Suicide” use the same lyrics, yet for Val Jean it is a time to change his life, to live for God and make better choices, for Javert it marks a time of great despair and the end of his earthly life.

While the title seems to imply that this is a miserable story, what lies underneath the surface is truly a story of hope. The barricade symbolizes all the challenges, struggles and obstacles we face in this earthly life. We face those struggles and we fight the good fight, with hope that goes beyond this life, a supernatural hope, a hope of a better life in eternity.