Early on the history of the Catholic Church an admiration existed for Peter and Paul. Aside of Jesus Christ himself, these two men are the main characters in the New Testament. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, church leader Clement of Rome tells of the leadership of Peter and Peter. He wrote,
There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves (First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians 5:4-6:1).
Living in the 1st century A.D., Clement’s praise of the first leaders of the Church is evidence that something special changed these men. God selected a simple fisherman and a reformed murderer to head the Catholic Church. I believe the Holy Spirit guided the Church to forever link these two saints lives through having the same feast day on June 29th.
Creativity of Truth [St. Paul]
Having the ability to think outside the box and preach to vastly different audiences is a gift. St. Paul possessed both creativity and the flexibility to frame his thoughts to fit the needs and understanding of his particular audiences. Writer of almost 2/3 of the New Testament, St. Paul represents the creative aspect of the Catholic faith. He brings to the table dynamic, vibrant, creative theology to teach Christians in the early Church and today.
The Apostle of the Gentile used many tangible and relatable examples to teach the faith. One of my personal favorites comes from 1 Corinthians 12. Paul clearly and succinctly communicates the fact that unity is found within diversity. He provides the analogy of the Church consisting of one body with many parts and Jesus Christ as the ultimate head of the body. Another clear and understandable example of the love and teaching of God is St. Paul’s frequent references to Christians as adopted children of God. In Romans 8:14-17 he writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.j 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,* Father!”k 16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,l 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
Stability of Truth [St. Peter]
Unlike Paul who represents the intellectual, creative, and theological side of truth, Peter is a model for the consistency and enduring nature of
Catholic teaching. Jesus instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. According to the evangelist the charge to the future pope went as follows,
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18k And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The lead up to this significant institutional passage is Peter’s realization of Jesus’ true identity is the Christ. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter led the Catholic Church after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. He led the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and displayed the ultimate mark of faith in his martyrdom. The papacy continues to be an office guided by the Holy Spirit by which unites Christianity and acts as the supreme authority on matters related to faith and morality.
Analogy of Tetherball
Truth is unchanging but our understanding of truth developed over the centuries. The genius of the Catholic Church is apparent in the consolidation of Peter and Paul’s feast on a single day. There is a schoolyard game that comes to mind to describe the relationship between the first pope and the great Apostle to the Gentiles—tetherball! Incidentally, it was not until my early twenties that I discovered the joy and fun this recess game provide despite its simplistic nature. I even purchased a tetherball at my local sporting goods store in hopes to eventually install a tetherball post in my background.
To get back from my tetherball tangent, the post in this game reminds me of the stability that the papacy of St. Peter provides. The ball and rope represent the creative theology of
St. Paul. Both are essential aspects of the game [and the Catholic faith]. Without the stability of the papacy, truth devolves into subjectivity and confusion ensues. Likewise, an absence of dynamic theological thought [represented by Paul] leads to staleness, rigidity, and irrelevancy of Catholic teaching. Remember kids recess is an important subject in school too—you never know when you can apply lessons from leisure to real life!
I find no more appropriate way of closing my thoughts on these holy individuals than to cite the words of the successor of Peter. Pope Francis on June 29th, 2017 stated, “The Fathers of the Church liked to compare the holy apostles Peter and Paul to two columns, on which the visible building of the Church rests. Both sealed with their own blood their testimony to Christ of preaching and service to the nascent Christian community.”
According to the great English writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” When I first discovered this pithy quote by the creator of Middle Earth, I paused and pondered his words’ truth. More often than not, the seed of hope gets planted within the soil of my loneliness. Over the past year, my wife and I experienced spiritual highs and lows. Currently, I am in a period of stability—a time where hope is my guiding light! Reflecting back on my personal valleys, I realized that the times I felt distant from God, my friends, and even my wife. Oddly enough, this become an opportunity for me to turn to the virtue of hope! Since I placed my hope [and ultimately greater trust in the Lord], I am better anchored in my faith—even in the midst of continual strife.
Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Hope defends against despair, especially hope in truth, goodness, and beauty. According to Mike Pacer in Mercy and Hope, “Hope guides us through the darkness. It assures of the light that is just beyond our sight.” Along with this profound insight, I discovered three easy ways which helped shift my mindset away from despair and towards hope.
Larger Piece of the Puzzle
Growing up my mom and I used to always work on jigsaw puzzles during hot summer days or cold winter months. Five hundred and one thousand piece puzzles seem daunting at first. What helped alleviate any anxiety is knowing that I was not alone in figuring out how the pieces fit together. A second key aspect to putting together puzzles is forming the outside frame first. Finishing the perimeter provided hope that the puzzle could be solved!
Getting lost in the shuffle of life is analogous to navigating through a massive jigsaw puzzle—without borders and helpers it is easy to lose hope and give up. Puzzles provide a concrete example of how different pieces fit together perfectly to create a completed picture. Knowing your place in the world—as a piece to the larger story of life—may be helpful in lessening anxiety and orient us towards hope.
Hope Our True Consoler, Not False Optimism
Dovetailing off the previous point, the virtue of hope is a true helper. According to Mike Pacer, “The key to hope is to acknowledge our feelings and separate them from reality (Mercy and Hope p.121). Hope should not be reduced to wishful thinking or mere pseudo-optimism. A realness exists with hope. The virtue of hope does not procedure a placebo effect like false-optimism.
Hope is a gift granted by God, most especially by the Third Person of the Holy Trinity—the Holy Spirit. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph number 691, “When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete,” literally, “he who is called to one’s side,” ad-vocatus.18 “Paraclete” is commonly translated by “consoler,” and Jesus is the first consoler.19 The Lord also called the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth.”
Heaven—the Final Frontier
Referring to St. Paul’s assertion for our yearning for Heaven in Hebrews 13:14, Mike Pacer declared, “We are not living in our permanent home. Rather, we are on a journey. We have a definite destination (Mercy and Hope pp. 134-135). Put another way, St. Augustine’s axiom, “Our souls are restless until they rest in thee [God].” All the material possessions, power, and control in the world do not offer long-term and lasting fulfillment. Humanity keeps yearning for something greater, and greater, and greater!
St. Therese of Liseux famously summed up this truth using a nautical example, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home!” Earthly existence is a pilgrim journey. The virtue of hope allows us to don our theological lens to view more clearly that Heaven is the final frontier!
This weekend I heard the following comment on the floor as I began work, “Catholics and I don’t get along much. I live to destroy Catholics.” While his statement may certainly be hyperbolic—that co-worker is definitely known for exaggerated and bombastic claims—there is truth to it. During my college years, his statement would have provoked righteous anger. Immediately, I would have engaged in debate on the level of St. Nicholas, the hectic-puncher, himself!
According to Venerable Fulton Sheen, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Perception trumps reality more often than not. Refraining from leaping to judgement, unlike my co-worker, will allow me to demonstrate the love and truth of Catholicism. This article will look at three reasons why I no longer debate opponents of the Catholic Church.
Change the Heart, Not the Mind
Arguments only appeal to the rational side of a person and usually only leave the parties further entrenched in their respective beliefs. The 20th century American actor Will Rogers said, “People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.” You just have mention the words politics, religion, or Trump to prove his claim. Social media simply adds more fuel to debates.
Instead of seeking to be the winner of an argument, focus on changing the human heart. The Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas plainly wrote, “To convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them.” Entering into a relationship with those of different beliefs from will not able help you understand their point of view, but also open their heart to the beauty of Catholicism. I have many college friends I try to keep in contact who oppose the teachings of the Gospel. Whenever we hung out in the past, I never sought to impose my beliefs on them actively. I demonstrated charity and clearly articulated the reasons for my belief when they asked.
Preach Gospel—Use Words Only When Necessary
Another reason I no longer actively seek debates with opponents to Catholicism is because I have learned the value in actions speaking louder than words. I used to tout the importance of charity, yet I failed so display that same virtue in an argument, on social media or real life. Mark Twain purported, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” Despite the progress I have made over the years, I still fail at having my words match my deeds 100% of the time! If you too struggle with hollow words and insincere actions, hope is not lost—now is the best time to start over.
Strengthening the Will
Work and family life presents plenty of challenges, annoyances, and irritations. In other words, opportunities for holiness. My parish priest said in his homily for Pentecost, “We must ask the Holy Spirit to widen our narrow view.” We can only see our perspective.
Those bigoted words from my co-worker about the Catholic Church did not spontaneously spew out. His experience with the Church or what he perceives the Church to be is jaded. I asked the Holy Spirit to provide me the strength to remain calm and silent.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me’!” That is how I approached that man’s attitude—as an opportunity for me to exercise patience. Catholics must not fight fire with fire. We can only douse out the incendiary actions of our opponents with help of the Holy Spirit.
No Need to Defend Truth—Truth is Undefeated!
Our natural reaction when someone we love dearly is attacked is to rush to their defense. In my early twenties, I acted boldly, yet rashly, in defense of my faith. More times than not, I regretted my hotheadedness. Experience and the Holy Spirit has taught me a different approach. As St. Augustine put it, “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
It is not my job to save the Church. My primary role as husband, father, and a member of the laity is to teach the faith to my wife, children, and those I meet on a daily basis. Actions speak louder than words. I no longer debate non-Catholics or people vehemently attacking the Church. I witness to the truth in my daily life. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He already has won! We need only to obey and truth in His Providence.
An insightful and digestible article perfect for preparing for the Feast of Pentecost!
I love Fr. Ed Broom’s work. 🙂
“Why are you purposefully making errors?” Should we not put the customer first instead of individual metrics? Why does she [my wife] refuse to help around the house? Do my children live to make life difficult? These questions bombarded my mind over the course of the past few weeks while at work and home. The roots of impatience and capricious thoughts grew in my heart.
Today, I made time during my breaks and after work to reflect on my anxieties, worries, and fears. Slowing down to ponder the effects of my actions [or inactions] allowed me to realize the message of Psalm 103 is not merely a pious saying, but rather it is essential to incorporate mercy into daily living! According to the Psalmist, “Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). Rooted in compassion, mercy is what all Christians are compelled to show their fellow neighbors at all times.
Admittedly, I fail at this goal each and every day. I lash out in anger when my children do not listen to my directions, I am quick to judge my co-workers mistakes as failings, and I fail love my wife—each and every day—as Christ loved the Church! Below are three reasons why Christians need to display mercy daily!
A turning point in my spiritual journey occurred upon my discovery of the richness of theological wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva. Founding Opus Dei, the Spanish priest reminded the world that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life can sanctify us. An anonymous donor at my parish gifted various families during Christmastime. Serendipitously, my family was chosen to receive gifts. We only needed to complete a form with suggestions for items based on our needs and wants. Under the section marked “wants” I requested the book The Way by Fr. Escriva.
Along with being a treat to read, the saint’s wisdom is quite practical to living amidst the busyness of daily living. According to paragraph number 359 he wrote, “Add a supernatural motive to your ordinary professional work, and you will have sanctified it.” Working for the sake of breadwinning is an admirable goal. However, only when I begin my workday with the specific mentality that the joys, trials, and anything in between that I encounter in my labors will lead me to becoming the best version of myself do I truly thrive—not merely survive at work!
The Second Vatican Council’s spoke of the value of human work as well. According to the Council Fathers,
Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to man. Just as it proceeds from man, so it is ordered toward man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, and he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has (Gaudium Et Spes, 35).
The essential message is that personal development occurs through our daily work, it matters not what we are doing as long as we continue to strive for excellence in virtue and develop our love for God and fellow mankind.
G.K. Chesterton reparteed regarding the subject of marriage by saying, “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline.” From my experience, the English essayist’s words ring true for my marriage.
This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1641,
This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.
Being a parent myself, I learned it is essential to err on the side of mercy when raising children. Repeating commands to my children is a frequent task. Recognizing that my son and daughter do not always intentionally refuse to listen is key to bettering me as a parent. Children learn new things daily, hourly, and sometimes each and every minute. Kid’s excitement of experiencing newness oftentimes gets perceived—at least I fall into this erroneous line of thought— as them acting out or being too rambunctious. Parents need to be slow to anger and rich in mercy like the Divine Father.
Just Don’t Judge, You are not the Just Judge
Jesus’ most famous teaching with regards to judging others comes from Matthew 7:1-5. Our Lord informed the crowds during his Sermon on the Mount with the following,
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
This ever relevant message seems always be applicable no matter the age or nation a person is from. Yesterday, I saw a thread on a Catholic-related Facebook group that I am a member where Christ’s words would have been wise to ponder. The original post discussed a recent quote about Pope Francis and his conversation with a man with same-sex attraction. People seemed quick to judge the bishop of Rome’s statements as being out of line with Catholic Church teaching. Judging from the peanut gallery does not solve the issues the Church faces on a daily basis.
Christians need to err on the side of mercy for it is the centerpiece of Jesus’ teaching. While the entirely of Catholic Church tradition emphasized God’s Mercy, the focus of Divine Mercy deepened with the saints of the 20th century. Perhaps the best encapsulation of Divine Mercy is St. Maria Faustina’s mystical experiences with Jesus Christ. “‘I am love and Mercy Itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases. The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.’” (Diary of a Soul 1273, page 459). Let us reflect God’s mercy in our daily life and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us away from an unhealthy judgmental mindset!
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 675, “Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.” This Sunday Catholics across the world will celebrate the feast of the Ascension. Until recently, this high feast was celebrated on a Thursday—forty days after Easter. From a traditional standpoint normally a 10 day period existed from Ascension to the Coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Regardless, of the precise days, the main point is that for a brief period, the Apostles and early disciples of Jesus lived in a transition period from when Jesus no longer visibly existed in the similar manner that he did previously and the official descent of the Holy Spirit.
Suffering from a severe dryness in my spiritual life this Easter season got me thinking: maybe I am in a transitory period myself whereby the descent of the Holy Spirit is not apparent in my life. I feel completely dried up—spiritually! Obviously, my situation is not exactly the same as the 1st century Christians who had to live for an awkward [and maybe apathetic] period before the official reception of the Paraclete. Nevertheless, maybe your life is at a stage similar to that awkward week and a half—pondering the return of Christ, experiencing doubt in Divine Providence, or possibly even living in fear or distress. Reflecting on Acts 1-2 and wisdom from the tradition of the Church—through the Catechism and the saints—I came up with three methods [not really earth-shattering] to avoid awkwardness and apathy in your spiritual life in the days after the Ascension!
Wellspring of Worship
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). I have probably cited this paragraph more than any other passage, yet it is vitally important to the Catholic faith. What sustained the Apostles in the early Church while waiting for the Paraclete? The body of and blood of Jesus Christ in the form of the Eucharist—it is the wellspring, the origin of worship!
Although Jesus’ physical existence did not appear the same after his Ascension, he is still present to the Apostles [and to us] body, blood, soul, and divinity in the sacrament of the Eucharist. St. Pope John Paul II mentioned the importance of this sacrament in his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, “Her [The Church] foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and “concentrated’ forever in the gift of the Eucharist” (no. 5). During periods of spiritual dryness we may be able to sojourn to the spiritual oasis of the Mass.
Hail, Mary: Mother of Perpetual Help, Mother of Good Counsel
Josemaria Escriva declared, “Love our Lady. And she will obtain abundant grace to help you conquer in your daily struggle.” I imagine the days following Jesus’ Ascension was a perilous time for Peter and the rest of the Apostles. During the most confusing and perilous times in my life it appears that Jesus is not present—the most difficult days lands in the middle of the work week when I lack the time to attend daily Mass or ability to go to Eucharistic adoration. Here is where my devotion to Mary is key to sustaining me during the staleness of my spiritual life. Jesus augmented Mary’s motherhood in John 19:27 with a simple command, “Woman, behold your son!” This is a reciprocal relationship as a mere verse later Our Lord urged the Apostle John [who represented humanity both individually and collectively] with the charge: “Behold, your mother!”
From my own experience, I normally contact my mom first [when my wife is not available!] after an incredibly stressful and frustrating day. This is not to downplay the role of my father, but there is something unique, almost mysterious about the ability for mother to sooth children in need. The Blessed Virgin Mary is no different. Mother of Perpetual Help pray for us. Mother of Good Counsel pray for us.
Trust in the Holy Spirit
The great scientist Isaac Asimov once purported, “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” While the first two points of his statement may be debatable, it is quite difficult to argue that turning points in life, no matter how large or small, pose a challenge for everyone. Transitioning from physically seeing the Resurrected Christ to the age of the Church would have been a tough transitory event as well!
Jesus prepared his followers of the coming of the Holy Spirit prior to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. According to Christ in John 14:15-19, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate* to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”
While the Holy Spirit did not formally descend upon the Apostles in the Upper Room until Pentecost Sunday, the power of the Holy Spirit allowed Jesus to be substantially present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The Paraclete also guided Peter and the other Apostles in selecting a worthy replacement for Judas. Moreover, just before his Ascension Jesus repeated his promise to send another Helper to fortify his followers: “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you,g and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Hope Always Never Despair
Although you may in a spiritual dry spell [if not now you most certainly will encounter aridity and acedia—spiritual sloth– sometime in your life!], please do not despair. Hope is always on the horizon. Through the sacrament of the Eucharist, guide of Mary, and promise of the help of the Holy Spirit we receive strength and sustenance make it past any awkward and apathetic period in our spiritual journey. Never give up—hope in the Lord always!
The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity (CCC 1818).