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Take Up Your Cross, He Said. It’ll be Fun, He Said.

My eldest has ADHD. It’s quite an experience, raising a child who can’t filter sensory input or control the way he responds. A few days ago something happened I never expected. Because of a wildly inappropriate sermon given to my son’s 3rd grade class, I thanked God for my son’s condition. Mostly because he was so distracted during the sermon that the only thing I needed to explain to him afterwards was why the priest was talking about a man getting shot in the face.

It’s odd to think of a debilitating condition as a blessing, something to thank God for. I think there are saints who did that, but I am no saint. Yet here I am with a new perspective, because I too have a condition. Until yesterday I never considered my struggle with depression and anxiety disorder was anything but a cross. A big, fat, crushing cross. And it is, because that’s the nature of depression. It suffocates, it drowns, and it does so by using the best weapon it has: your own self.

How is this a blessing, exactly? Because debilitation, of any kind, prepares us to accept the invitation of Christ in Mt 16:24: let him renounce self, and take up his cross, and follow me. Let me explain this using depression and anxiety, because that is what I know. Depression and anxiety isolate a person. It’s difficult to be social, to be successful at work, or even to leave your house. You lock yourself away to save yourself from more pain, but you end up creating a vicious cycle within yourself that eventually makes you implode. It is a most pitiful and horrible form of selfishness. What’s worse, it happens against your will.  My implosion happened many years ago. I collapsed in the shower one morning because I was too terrified to leave the bathroom and get dressed for work. As I lay sobbing, a sliver of clarity came to me. I realized that I needed to get help–to renounce what I had become, take up this cross, and do something about it.

The first person I told was my father. He and I are a lot alike, so we drive each other crazy on a regular basis. It took what felt like a Herculean effort to set aside my pride and our history, but I did. I let go of myself. And my cross got lighter. Some days it doesn’t feel light, but I know it is. Because when I came out of myself I found my parents, and my husband, and my children. I found friends, and cousins, and nieces and nephews. Each and every one of them help me carry my cross. Every single day. My joy is in them; by them my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. I understand these words now, because of my debilitation. That’s why it’s a blessing.

Lest you think I forgot the last part of Mt 16:24, my happy ending happened because I accepted Jesus’ invitation and followed him. I did this before anything else. You see, a few months before my infamous shower scene I started attending daily Mass before work. Other than my future husband, Mass was the only thing in my life that made me happy. I was in RCIA at the time; I could not receive the Eucharist, but the spiritual communion I felt each time I went was intense. I followed Christ, and was able to renounce myself and take up my cross. I have days now where I can toss that bad boy in the air, twirl it around, whistle a happy tune. What a blessing.

I pray that I can help my son see the blessings in his ADHD and how he can use it to follow Jesus. I pray that all who suffer from a debilitation, whether it’s a medical condition, emotional trauma, or a prolonged life of sin, will hear Jesus’ invitation, see their hidden blessings, and ease their burdens.

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Everyday Blessings

Every time I read something about the current Synod, my head wants to explode. There is so much I want to talk about, but I can’t at the moment. It would take a good bit of time and effort to turn my jumble of thoughts into something coherent; with big things coming at me fast and furious I can’t divert much energy to all the fun tidbits the Synod is throwing out. Not yet, anyway.

But with the topics of marriage and family dominating Catholic news, it leaves me ruminating on how blessed I’ve been, and continue to be, in regards to my own marriage and family. I never thought about the influence my family had on me growing up until I married my husband; when my own marriage was deemed “freakishly harmonious” I was dumbfounded. You know all those articles that share the top qualities of a good marriage? I skim through every single one saying, duh…uh huh…DUH…yep (eye roll)…*sigh*, because to me those lists are nothing more than common sense. The reality is that these are not common sense, and that thanks to my upbringing I have been given riches far beyond any material possibility. I want to put my deepest gratitude here on record to the following:

1. My family. Growing up I was surrounded by loving couples raising their children to the best of their ability. From my grandparents (on both sides) to all of my aunts and uncles, every relationship I was exposed to can be summed up by two words: affection and fun. That doesn’t mean that each part of the family is perfect; as I found out later in life everyone had their share of dysfunction. But the fact that I was jaw-droppingly surprised at learning the less fun stuff about my loved ones speaks for how hard they all work to put love, optimism, and joy first in their lives. I am very grateful to my grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins for being such positive examples in the world. Thank you all.

2. My husband. Did you know that Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in their original versions, are really gritty? And bloody. And not always happy. But the happy endings, when they happen, are beautiful and inspiring and romantic. They just don’t require stunning vocal harmony, awesome hair, or moral and physical perfection. Grimm’s happy endings are dirty, hard-won, and genuine. As individuals, my husband and I are gritty. But his grit is fashioning me into a pearl of great price, and because of our union I approach life with a sense of peace and joy I could never have on my own. Thank you, dear husband. Thank you.

3. The Most Holy Trinity. Thanking God for the good in life is often lip service, but I cannot overstate my gratitude to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. By the work of the Holy Trinity I have been fashioned for a particular purpose; my families (biological and by marriage) and friends are the instruments of grace by which my vocations have been passed on to me and are nourished. I am grateful for those graces, and the charity from which they spring.

Obviously this list doesn’t cover all of the amazing people that make my days blessed and abundant, but all of you, named and unnamed, should know that you have made a difference in my life, simply by being. Thank you, and may God bless you abundantly.

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Revelation, Discovery, and the Sensus Fidei

Cardinal Kasper continues to make provocative statements ahead of the coming Synod. His public discourse with Cardinal Burke has, either by its own accord or with significant encouragement by the media, become almost embarrassing to behold. But, as with every disagreement, there emerges an opportunity for us to grow in our faith. Cardinal Kasper offers one such opportunity when he justifies his position with the concept of the sensum fidelium. Here is the quote in context:

But, first, we live in an open and pluralistic society and it is good for the Church to have an open discussion, like the one we had at the Second Vatican Council. It is also good for the image of the Church, because a closed up Church is not a healthy Church. Secondly, when we debate about marriage and family, we have to listen to the people that live this reality. There is a sensum fidelium. It cannot be decided only from the top, from the hierarchy of the Church, especially you cannot quote old texts from the past century, we have to observe today’s situation, make a discernment of the Spirit, and reach concrete results. I believe this is the Pope’s approach, while many others depart from the doctrine and use then a more deductive method.”

Also known as the sensus fidei, this “instinct” of the Church and Her members is oft misunderstood. To be sure, it is not the most straightforward of concepts. It is important to understand rightly, though, to ensure that lay empowerment is encouraged in a healthy way.

Let’s look at it in terms of revelation versus discovery. By virtue of the sacrament of baptism we are called to be prophets and evangelizers of Christ. The sensus fidei is the “instinct” of the faithful to discern the truths of faith in order for us to fulfill our prophetic mission. This discernment is not discovery; it is recognition of what already exists in revelation. Catholics do not profess the existence of revelation after the death of the Apostles. That means that everything there is to know about the faith has already been presented to us. All of it. Both the Magisterium and the lay faithful, through the same baptism, are able to recognize truth in faith when presented with it; likewise with error. The task of the Magisterium and the sensus fidei is to understand what we know in better detail, by the grace afforded to each.

The belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived is the best known example of the sensus fidei at work, and helps us understand the basic components at work in the concept. Despite no overt reference in Scripture (and when I say “overt”, I mean a statement like “MARY WAS CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN” or something equally blatant) , the instinct of the faithful encouraged Catholics down through the centuries to venerate Mary in this special way. The lack of a precise theological justification for this belief was not a deterrent, because theology degrees are not a prerequisite for religious intelligence.

The sensus fidei works precisely because it is a faithful response by the baptized to the grace of faith given by the Holy Spirit. Nowhere is this made more obvious than in  Luke 24:44-49 and Acts 2:1-18. Before Christ’s ascension, He gives the Apostles the exact knowledge they struggled to grasp before the crucifixion. Despite having the inside scoop, they are not allowed to go forth into the world until the Holy Spirit is sent to them. What does the Holy Spirit do? He enables the Apostles to preach the same message in the form that each hearer will understand best. Same message, different delivery. Emphasis on same message.

Cardinal Kasper’s use of the sensus fidei turns the concept from a recognition of what already exists (though not always readily apparent) into one of discovery, of creation and innovation. It is no longer about effectively delivering the same message as Aquinas, Bonaventure, Augustine, Jerome, Paul, and Peter. It encourages looking beyond the old message and seeking a new one. The sensus fidei implied by Cardinal Kasper is set up as a competing voice with the Magisterium, where both carry equal weight without necessarily having the same message.

This sets up a paradox that will domino from serious to heretical very quickly. Pitting the faithful against the Magisterium in this way implies an equality of charisms which does not exist in the Church. Professing that the Magisterium has a teaching authority that the average layperson does not isn’t about superiority or power; it is the simple acknowledgement of the basic aspects of the Nicene Creed: that we are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. And in all honesty, when one begins to mess with apostolic succession, the invalidity of the Catholic Church as a whole is the inevitable conclusion.

I’m not suggesting that Cardinal Kasper is intending this direction; I’m sure he’d be horrified at the thought. Here’s the thing, though. If a sizable portion of the world claimed the authority of the sensus fidei to demand that 2+2 now must equal 5, mathematicians will not acquiesce. Not because they don’t feel like it, but because they are literally incapable of changing the reality that 2+2=4. That is the essence of what Cardinal Kasper is suggesting here by invoking the sensum fidelium as justification for considering pastoral changes that could come into conflict with Catholic doctrine.