J.R.R. Tolkien’s Advice On Keeping the Faith in Dark Times

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Advice On Keeping the Faith in Dark Times

From the 1950s until now, readers of countless backgrounds and beliefs have been mesmerized by The Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. The name of J.R.R. Tolkien is known even to those who have no taste for fantasy literature.

Despite his fame, many fans of this literary genius are unaware that he was a devout Roman Catholic whose faith profoundly influenced his work. It was, in fact, Tolkien’s faith and frequent reception of the Sacraments that sustained him through the trials of personal life, the darkness of two world wars, the disappointment and suffering inflicted by members and leaders of the Church, and the scandal caused by destruction of the sacred liturgy.

I recently discovered a letter he wrote on November 1st, 1963 to his son Michael to provide encouragement in a time of upheaval. It is an astonishing letter, most especially because it feels as though it had been written today in the wake of egregious sins committed by some of our Catholic clergy.

We can benefit from the wisdom of this humble professor, who was a devout son of the Church. The advice Tolkien shared with his son is applicable to any century. It will always be relevant.

So, using this letter, I’d like to “interview” Tolkien. I’m going to write questions and, using Tolkien’s letter to his son, allow him to “answer” in his own words. 

Note: Tolkien’s italics are his—I have bolded some of his words to highlight their importance. I have also used two paragraphs from other letters to his sons.

Today’s Interview with Professor J.R.R. Tolkien

Young Tolkien
Young Tolkien

Professor Tolkien, these are grave times for the Church. When the atrocities committed by certain clergy members were made known in the summer of 2018, it scandalized many and caused some to abandon the Church. Even the faith of well-catechized Catholics is sagging. What would you say to those who are struggling to overcome despair?

Professor J.R.R. Tolkien: You speak of ‘sagging faith’…In the last resort faith is an act of the will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation—as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it turns our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat…

I suppose the devil takes advantage of such scandal to keep us distracted by the sins of others, and to disturb our faith in Christ. What about our personal faults? Should we examine our own hearts, to see if we are striving to uphold the teachings of Jesus in our daily lives?

JRRT: The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside of us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others. I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the ‘scandals’, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I [would] not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I [would] leave because I did not believe…I [would] deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is; call Our Lord a fraud to His face.

So what you’re saying is, each and every one of us has the capacity to turn against Our Lord if we don’t humbly accept His grace. What would you say to someone outside the Catholic Church, who accuses Christ and His Church of fraudulence? 

JRRT: If He is a fraud and the Gospels fraudulent—that is: garbled accounts of a demented megalomaniac (which is the only alternative [to not believing Christ is truly God]), then of course the spectacle exhibited by the Church…in history and today is simply evidence of a gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before Easter…

Meaning, it began when Judas Iscariot, one of the Apostles and someone who was called by Christ to follow Him, betrayed the Son of God to His enemies…even though he knew Christ was innocent. And yet we are supposed to have faith and hope even when confronted with such scandal?

JRRT: [I]t does not affect faith at all—except that we may and should be deeply grievedBut we should grieve on Our Lord’s behalf and for Him, associating ourselves with the scandalizers not the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd and cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.

Tolkien lighting his pipe

There are still scholars who insist that Christ never existed—that He is a fictitious character invented by religious fanatics. I think they will find this the easiest time to say to Catholics, “See! I told you so! The Church is a corrupt human institution, and Jesus was not a real person!”

JRRT: It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really ‘happened’, and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him—so incapable of being ‘invented’ by anyone in the world at that time: such as ‘before Abraham came to be I am‘ (John viii). ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament… : ‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life’. We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with at least right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

These certainly aren’t days that permit lukewarm Catholicism. It now requires an extraordinary amount of courage and zeal to witness to our faith, as I’m sure you know personally.

JRRT: I know quite well that, to you as to me, the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go! (I wonder if this desperate feeling, the last state of loyalty hanging on, was not, even more often than is actually recorded in the Gospels, felt by Our Lord’s followers in His earthly life-time?) I think there is nothing to do but to pray, for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves; and meanwhile to exercise the virtue of loyalty, which indeed only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.

What would you say to those who are leaving the Catholic Church and joining other churches?

JRRT: I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying by living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was His last charge to St. Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life.

J.R.R. Tolkien

And what advice do you have for Catholics who are sad, weary, discouraged, and struggling to keep faith?

JRRT: The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals…

It has been an honor to speak with you, Professor Tolkien. Thank you for your time. Do you have any parting words for our readers?

JRRT: Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all our loves on earth…eternal abundance, which every man’s heart desires.

The Blessed Sacrament and Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s cause for canonization, though not officially underway, has been initiated. A Mass was celebrated in the Oxford Oratory in 2017 for the intention that his cause for beatification be opened.

This article was originally published by Catholic Company Magazine in 2019. © All rights reserved.


Good pain widens possibilities. Bad pain just hurts.

Suffering is unavoidable. But sometimes it can lead to healing.

US Catholic /Alice Camille/ Published September 7, 2021

Eighty years ago C. S. Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain. The title makes me laugh. Does anyone need to be convinced that pain is a problem? What Lewis was after, of course, is the solution to pain. A dedicated Christian apologist, he sought an explanation for suffering that respects both God’s reputation for goodness and the searing reality of our pain. If God is good, why is there so much suffering? If God can make a world free from suffering by willing it, why the cross?

Some theological conundrums are theoretical. How many angels dance on a pinhead? Whatever answer you posit to such a question, it doesn’t change what you decide to eat for lunch. But when it comes to suffering, we all have skin in the game. It matters what we say about a God who can do anything and still chooses to hang on a cross.

The church maintains that suffering can be salvific. Suffering acts like a spiritual salve on the world’s wounds. Suffering, patiently embraced on Earth, can even rescue souls from anguish on the other side, as spiritual masters have taught. As St. Paul frames it, we can unite our pain to that of Christ on the cross, and the two become one in the great work of divine rescue. This is not to say the crucifixion isn’t sufficient to cover the sin of the world. Your friend’s chemotherapy and my sister’s depression aren’t events that humanity has been in aching need of. Yet when we unite our pain mystically with the pain of Jesus, our tears are given an exalted meaning and purpose.

Because truly: What else are we going to do with all this agony? Still, in seeking a theological compartment that dignifies the legacy of pain, we unwittingly open a door to eccentric practices that seem to glorify pain itself. Saints for centuries donned hair shirts, slept in stress positions, whipped themselves, or stayed in abusive marriages hoping to save their errant spouses from condemnation. Most of us today are convinced this sort of elective suffering isn’t at all equivalent to Jesus submitting to the cross. Is there a line we can draw between suffering that saves and pain that’s just plain unnecessary?

A year ago I broke my shoulder. It was a funny break—not funny ha ha but funny strange. During an unspectacular stumble on a footpath, I put out my right arm to break the fall, the shoulder taking the impact. Pain radiated through to my fingers and down my side. In struggling to my feet, the arm was unresponsive. A passerby tied my scarf into a sling for me. The useless arm didn’t hurt, but the pain in my back was like a madman with a knife riding an elevator up and down my spine, stabbing randomly and gleefully without pity. It wasn’t good.ADVERTISEMENT

At urgent care the doctor reviewed the X-ray and offered the grateful opinion that the arm wasn’t broken. “Sometimes these things just resolve themselves,” he said encouragingly. “You should probably see a specialist to be sure.” This was unfortunately hard to do during a spiking pandemic, with hospitals overflowing into tents and medical personnel at a premium. Also, I was losing my insurance in two weeks, relocating to another state. If the arm wasn’t broken, it would have to wait.

It took 10 weeks to arrive at the new address, find a doctor taking new patients, and snare an appointment. And then it took another month to be referred to a specialist, who took a second X-ray and again pronounced the arm unbroken. Four months past the fall, I could raise the arm through most of its range, and it didn’t really hurt. But I hurt—constantly. I moved through waves of pain by day and was drilled with pain all night. The specialist ordered an MRI “to see what may be going on.” Acquiring that appointment took another month.

It matters what we say about a God who can do anything and still chooses to hang on a cross.

So it was five months into a season of anguish when the doctor’s assistant phoned. “Don’t move your arm, and don’t lift anything,” she advised. “Your shoulder’s broken.” The MRI revealed a most clever fracture, so perfectly aligned an X-ray couldn’t detect it: a break of the humerus bone which, as I said, isn’t as funny as it sounds. Part of the bone was still attached to the tendon so that, with each movement, the fragments pulled apart like accordion bellows. This created the silent music of my suffering.

Secured by a body harness, I now endured right-sided immobility to allow the bone time to mend. When released from captivity, the arm hung from the shoulder like an oddly curved fish. Then came physical therapy to restore function. With it I learned the vital distinctions between good pain and bad pain. The five months spent dragging around a broken shoulder had been good for nothing. The bone hadn’t knit together, and the suffering had been wasted. With the proper exercises I felt muscle burn, which was good pain. Stabbing twinges were not. Soreness and aches meant progress; sparkling or drilling pain, not so much. The anguish before physical therapy hadn’t been purposeful. The pain of therapy was salvific. It was giving my arm back to me. Good pain, I came to understand, tends toward strength, healing, and restoration. It widens possibilities. Bad pain signals increased injury and harm. It narrows our focus and darkens hope.

Here’s a cold fact: None of us escapes suffering. When it comes to our woundedness, movement will hurt whether we’re rehabbing the injury or not. So why not invest our pain in the direction of hope? This is what makes Good Friday so good: The sacrifice of Jesus doesn’t pour into a grave but rather opens the door of the tomb. In the same way, no one undergoes surgery or difficult medical treatments for the sake of suffering but in hope of restoring health or extending life.

Useful pain and sacrifice tend toward discernible good. People aren’t named martyrs for throwing themselves in harm’s way. A martyr’s passion promotes some higher purpose. We become living martyrs of charity if we downsize our lifestyles to tithe a portion of our earnings to the cause of justice. Such a sacrifice gives life. By contrast, remaining in a toxic situation, even out of love or loyalty, is an unhealthy and destructive sacrifice.

Why not invest our pain in the direction of hope?

When we lose someone to death, we suffer tremendously. We can use that sadness, perhaps by reaching out to others in a grief support group. Isolating and focusing on the crater left by a loved one’s absence, meanwhile, is an unsalvific use of our pain. Hurting is inevitable either way. Isn’t it better to redeem this inescapable investment in grief?

Sickness and death are unavoidable. We’ll all walk through this bitter valley of shadows with people we love. The reason the church identifies a sacrament to anoint the sick is because sickness has something to reveal to us. Some will turn illness into a testimony of what they believe life is about. They’ll spend their most mortal hours forgiving and seeking forgiveness, demonstrating compassion and caring, witnessing to their confidence in God. This kind of suffering rescues not only those who are sick but potentially everyone around them.

If there is glory in suffering, if we can speak of such things as glorified wounds, they’re the kind that testify to something beyond the pain endured. Since no one has a choice about whether to suffer, isn’t it a good idea to learn how to carry our pain well? 

This article also appears in the September 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 9, pages 47-49). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Shutterstock.com/Antonio Guillem


25 Fascinating Facts About Angels

Our final destiny as sons and daughters of God is bound up with that of the angels. Our world is full of their presence and activity. That is why we ought to know foundational truths about them.

Anything that we know about angels outside of Sacred Scripture is taken from the Church Fathers and Doctors (some of whom were privileged to interact with angels) as well as from the lives of the saints. 

Here are twenty-five facts you may not know about God’s holy angels.

1. Angels aren’t male or female.

They are purely spiritual beings. Since they do not have material bodies, they are neither male nor female. However: since the dawn of time, angels have chosen to present themselves in masculine form, likely in honor of God, who has revealed Himself as Father, and God the Son, who became man for our sake. Opus Sanctorum Angelorum reminds us that “Even when they are not explicitly called men, [angels] appear as magnificent, intimidating, and powerful persons—qualities that we associate normally with masculinity.”

Therefore, out of respect, we refer to all angels as “he.”

2. Angels have an intellect and a will, just like us.

Unlike us, angels have made their permanent choice to serve God and—now that they see God face to face—can never sin.

3. God created the vast number and hierarchy of angels in a single instant.

Angels weren’t born. They were made.

4. The angels are ordered into nine “choirs” and are ranked according to their natural intelligence, which vastly exceeds human intelligence.

There is a real angelic hierarchy. Some angels have greater knowledge than others; each choir of angels has unique roles.

Angel depicted in flight

5. The angel who was originally created with the highest natural intelligence is Lucifer (Satan).

Lucifer was created good and is believed to have been in the first set of angelic choirs—the choir of Cherubim. He then chose to reject God. “Non serviam!” (“I will not serve!”) is his cry of rebellion.

6. Each individual angel has its own unique essence and is therefore a distinct species, as different from one another as trees, cows, and bees.

No two angels are the same. Their uniqueness is another reflection of the creativity and glory of God.

7. Angels have personalities that differ from one another, just as humans do.

Angels are persons. Each has a unique personality.

8. Angels are infused with a perfect knowledge of all created things, including human nature.

We are not mysteries to the angels. They know far more about us than we do ourselves!

St. Michael statue

9. Angels cannot predict the future.

Angels do not know particular events that will occur in history, unless God wills that knowledge for a particular angel.

10. Angels do not know what graces God will give to certain humans; they can only infer it by observing the effects.

They are excellent observers, by the way.

11. Each angel was created for a specific task or mission.

They received instantaneous knowledge of this mission at the moment of their creation.

12. At the moment of their creation angels freely chose whether to accept or reject their mission, a choice forever locked into their will without remorse.

The fact that the angels were given one opportunity to make a choice with everlasting consequences may seem strangely unjust to us. But this is a misplaced compassion, arising from misunderstanding.

Our own human experience of thinking—with our mental processing, struggle to collect necessary information, uncertainty of consequence, and regret for negative results—is a foreign experience to the angels. Angels do not struggle to reason through a situation. “The human intellectual process is one of trial and error,” writes Fr. Horgan in his book His Angels at Our Side. “The angels don’t have to go through this process. With them, there are no trials because there are no errors…”

When Satan and his companions made their choice, for example, they were not suffering from lack of understanding, bad education, interior wounds inflicted by others, or an intellect darkened by human sin. They were created in perfection, lacking nothing. They were gifted with perfect knowledge and understanding and “knew better”—and made an evil decision anyway. Fallen angels have no desire to repent of what they have done.

Angel pillar

13. Each human being from the moment of their conception has a Guardian Angel assigned to them by God to lead them to salvation.

Furthermore, your guardian angel freely chose to accept you into their charge.

14. Human beings do not become angels when they die.

Instead, the saints in heaven will take the positions of the fallen angels who forfeited their place in heaven.

15. Angels communicate with one another by passing concepts from mind to mind.

The higher-intelligenced angels can share their knowledge with angels from the lower choirs.

16. Angels don’t have emotions in the same way that we do.

However, they do experience intense movements in their will that are similar to human emotions.

Warrior Angels

17. Angels are far more active in the life of humans than we realize.

So are demons—which is why we need to stay close to the Sacraments, maintain a consistent prayer life, and foster devotion to our guardian angels.

18. God determines when and how angels can communicate with humans.

The angels rejoice to obey Him.

19. Good angels help us to act in accord with our created nature as rational human beings.

Fallen angels do the opposite. They want us to act against our nature as rational human beings. They love irrationality.

20. Angels don’t move from location to location.

Angels do not move as we “move” as we do, since they are not material beings with material boundaries and limitations. Rather than physically running from place to place, as we must, they are present wherever their will is acting. Their presence, then, can be instantaneous.

21. Angels can prompt and guide the thoughts of humans.

However, they cannot violate our free will.

The Archangel Michael reaching to free souls from Purgatory, by Jacopo Vignali, 17th century
The Archangel Michael reaching to free souls from Purgatory, by Jacopo Vignali, 17th century

22. Angels can take information from your memory and bring an image into your mind in order to influence you.

Remember that they would only do this in accordance with God’s will. He would have a particular reason for allowing this—and it’s not going to happen every day.

23. Good angels bring to mind imagery that helps us do the right thing according to God’s will.

Fallen angels do the opposite. They try to bring images to our minds that dissuade us from God’s will.

24. The degree and kind of temptation from fallen angels is determined by God according to what is necessary for our salvation.

And as the Bible tells us, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

25. Angels don’t know what is happening in your intellect and will, but they can surmise it by watching our reactions, behavior, etc.

St. Thomas and St. Augustine tell us that angels can “sometimes with the greatest faculty learn man’s dispositions, not only when expressed by speech, but even when conceived in thought, when the soul expresses them by certain signs in the body.”

Angel art

Conclusion

Scripture tells us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) and suggests that we may be unaware of how angels are interacting with us at times (Heb. 13:2). Knowing these few facts about the angels and how they work can help us be more aware of their influence over our lives.

Although we will never fully comprehend angels in this life, the teaching provided by the Church, Sacred Scripture, and the encounters of the saints has given us much to contemplate.

//The Catholic Company//


Could You Be Blocking Yourself From Love?

“The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

I’ve often viewed love as a two-way street. We share love through words of affirmation, supportive actions, and simply being present. And we can receive love in the same ways.

What I also realize is that love does not have to be a two-way street. Sometimes love flows one way with the sender giving love and the recipient receiving. In these instances there is no reciprocity.

While most of us would likely prefer, and even say we abide by the two-way street kind of love, what is more likely is that we alternate between the two. There are moments in life when we find ease in giving love to others, and even receiving. We accept God’s love, and reciprocate by giving thanks, giving praise, maybe finding ways to serve Him. And we do the same with our loved ones. They find ways to show love to us and we can’t help but want to give some in return.

But then there are those moments when we find ourselves on the one-way street, and not as the sender of love, but as the recipient. God, or someone else shows love and we don’t want to give any back. Sometimes we don’t even express gratitude. Maybe we don’t recognize we are being loved, or maybe we don’t care.

What makes these one-way streets even worse is when we decide to put up some sort of blockade. We separate ourselves from those trying to love us saying in effect, I don’t want any. How many times have we done this after a verbal spat with a loved one? How many times have we done this with God, choosing sin over His commandments?

Why We Sometimes Avoid What Matters Most

From time to time we need to be able to ask the question — am I blocking myself from love?

Love from God, love from others. If so, what can we do to change that?

During a time in America where people seek division before they seek connection, this is a good question to ask yourself. God did not intend for all of humanity to dislike one another. He did not request that we divide ourselves based on skin color, religion, or political parties. In fact, Jesus laid down two important truths for us. He identified the two greatest commandments and they both deal with love.

“He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

If we know then that love matters most, why do we at times find ourselves blocking love from entering our lives?

There are a number of different reasons why from time to time we find ourselves blocking the love of God and other people. There may be one reason or multiple. Surely the more aware of these issues we can be as Christians, the stronger our faith will become. Not only will we then strengthen our connection to God, but also others. With spiritual growth we will serve as stronger role-models for our fellow Christians and show unbelievers what our faith is all about.

Finding the root to our block can be difficult though. Here are a few ideas to consider.

heart cloud in blue sky, goodness of God
Photo Credit: © SWN

1. Pride

“Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

When we choose pride over humility, we take a stance of pretending to be more self-sufficient than we are capable of as humans. Instead of recognizing good moments in life as God’s blessings, we treat them as our own individual triumphs. Yet, who are we without the loving, forgiving, and all-knowing Father?

Pride blocks us from love by making us think we can go through life on our own, but that is far from the truth. We need each other, and we need God.

2. Greed

“A greedy person stirs up conflict, but whoever trusts in the Lord will prosper.” (Proverbs 28:25)

Similar to pride, when we find ourselves giving in to greed, we take instead of give. In fact, all we want to do is take, take from God, take from others. We maintain clenched fists instead of open palms. Taking this approach in life prevents God from using us to spread His love.

If love is to be a two-way street, we can’t just take. We should also strive to give.

3. Isolation

“One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1)

Just as Adam was made from the earth in Genesis, God also brought him a companion. We need companions in our lives too, whether in the form of family, friends, a partner. When we live isolated lives, keeping to our islands, we stop others from loving us. We shield ourselves from any vulnerability and therefore any potential relationship.

Opening Yourself Up to Love

The only way to overcome these problematic areas of our life is to increase self-awareness. We can achieve this through a number of different ways. Here are a few.

1. Prayer

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

The more we pray and talk to God, the greater we sustain a relationship with him. While He wants a relationship with us, how we respond to Him is our own choice. Choosing to pray to God constantly is like choosing to constantly communicate with a family member or a friend. You nurture any relationship by what you put into it.

When we nurture our relationship with God, we experience His love more, but also return some of that love.

2. Reading Scripture

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Reading God’s Word steeps us in the wisdom that comes from the one who is love. We need his wisdom and insight to grow in what it means to truly be loved. We can’t fully love others if we don’t know what it means to be fully loved ourselves. And as God’s Word reveals, God sees something worth loving in us.

With greater wisdom, we will be more aware of the problem areas in our lives that draw us away from love. With greater self-awareness we can take appropriate steps to changing our behaviors, and start recognizing ways to let love in.

3. Community

“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Change is doable when we are by ourselves, but is so much more possible in a community of other believers. When we find others who can encourage us, we can also rely on them as resources of advice and accountability. Knowing we are not alone offers a reminder that love is not just something to receive, but something to give.

These are but a few ways to recognize how we block ourselves from love. The greater love we can both share and receive, the closer we will come to fulfilling the two greatest commandments.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/aapsky

//God Tube//


Does Jesus Really Want Us to Sell All Our Possessions?

Does Jesus really want us to sell all of our possessions?

Jesus gives us a road map to heaven, not a to-do list.

RELIGIONJOHN T. GROSSO Published March 19, 2021

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven’ ” (Matt. 19:21).

This directive to a young man who asks Jesus what he must do to enter into eternal life raises legitimate questions for Catholics today. Do we really have to give away what we have to get into heaven? Then why are there faithful Catholics with houses, cars, sports memorabilia, and entertainment systems?

Jesus’ response to the young man is actually threefold: “keep the commandments . . . sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor . . . follow me” (19:17, 21). 

Rather than a specific task that guarantees salvation, Jesus gives us the road map to heaven.

The lesson Jesus is trying to teach his followers is deeper and more complex than “throw away everything you have!”

Jesus demonstrates how easily “stuff” can get between us and God. If we possess too much, we can become consumed by what we have and forget about God. Jesus warns us to not be possessed by our possessions. The more we have, the harder it becomes to resist the temptation to obsess over worldly things, rather than keep our attention where it belongs: fixed on God.

Jesus is not asking us simply to declutter our lives or live in a minimalistic way for its own sake.

If we look at this story through that context, we can see that Jesus is not necessarily just calling us to reject all of the physical possessions we hold dear. He also wants us to share the other parts of our lives we try to possess: our time and talents. 

It might not be necessary to give up all that we own to get into the kingdom of God, but it is absolutely necessary for every disciple to offer time, talent, and treasure for God’s glory here on earth. How do we do that? By using those possessions to serve the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the “least of these” (25:35–36).

Jesus is not asking us simply to declutter our lives or live in a minimalistic way for its own sake. He does not want us to empty ourselves for some arbitrary reason. He tells us to empty ourselves out of love and a desire to enter into relationship with him. 

In sharing our posessions with those on the margins, we fulfill the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:19). In using our time, talent, and treasure to encounter the less fortunate, we encounter Jesus himself. 

So, while we don’t have to start packing away everything in our houses just yet, we’re not off the hook. Following Jesus isn’t easy, and true discipleship requires sacrifice. 

No matter who we are or what our socioeconomic status might be, we are called to offer what we have for God’s glory and to make sure our pursuit of possessions does not prevent us from receiving the one real treasure: the gift of heaven and eternal life. 

This article also appears in the March 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 3, page 49). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Heinrich Hofmann, “Christ and the Rich Young Ruler”, 1889 via Wikimedia CommonsT

//U.S. Catholic – Faith in Action//


U.S. Catholic – Resist Today’s Throw-Away Culture

A modern-day gleaning network addresses issues of food waste and food insecurity.

OUR FAITH LISA RAATIKAINEN Published 2 days ago

On a crisp mid-September morning, the last high clouds are burning off to reveal clear blue sky above the dewy fields. The air smells of the wet earth underfoot that clings to the soles of my rubber boots. In my hands I hold an ovoid the size of a football and the color of a lemon—a spaghetti squash fresh from its vine. Its shell is marred by a few brownish gouges on one side—the work of crows—that make it unsaleable for the farmers who tend this plot of land. For this particular harvest, though, such cosmetic damage is welcomed with open arms.

I’m part of a group of gleaners that helps connect needy populations with free, albeit imperfect, local produce. It’s a mission common to a growing number of grassroots gleaning organizations cropping up all around the country—a modern spin on an ancient practice with biblical roots.

To glean is to gather what is left behind following the main harvest of a field. In times past, a gleaner was a person whose marginal place in society prevented them from raising their own crops or generating income. Ancient Israelite society unequivocally placed the onus on landowners to leave something behind for these vulnerable individuals.

In Leviticus we read, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien” (Lev. 23:22). Deuteronomy contains a similar directive that prohibits landowners from stripping their own vineyards, olive groves, and grainfields. It instructs that the gleanings “shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow” (Deut. 24:19–21).

Gleaning lies at the heart of the story of Ruth, a Moabite widow. Newly arrived in Bethlehem, she is reduced to providing for herself and her mother-in-law by following behind the reapers of the barley harvest. When Boaz—the landowner—notices her tireless dedication to her task, he gives his workmen special instructions: “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean” (Ruth 2:15–16). In an ending befitting a fairy tale, Ruth and Boaz marry, and she gives birth to the grand­father of King David.

Gleaners remained a fixture of agricultural life in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, precariously perched on the very bottom rung of peasant society. Jean-François Millet’s famous 1857 painting The Gleaners depicts three peasant women stooped low and bathed in the golden light of evening as they claw bits of grain from the dark soil. Behind them, we see the generous bounty of the harvest heaped high upon the wagons and piled in mounds as big as houses around the male laborers. The dignity of the gleaners—those poorest of the poor—is the main message here, but we cannot fail to notice the gross inequality of their economic situation.

To glean is to gather what is left behind following the main harvest of a field.

By the time Millet was painting his agrarian masterpieces, gleaning as a way of life was already becoming a thing of the past. A complex array of social forces, including increased privatization of land and mechanization, was coalescing to effectively cast gleaners from the fields.

Over the last century, as our food system has become ever more industrialized, the problem of food waste has ballooned. Researchers estimate that up to 40 percent of food in America goes uneaten, including billions of pounds of produce left to rot in fields each year. Meanwhile, we are far from solving the problem of food insecurity among vulnerable populations.

Pope Francis has made the injustices inherent in our “throwaway culture” a major theme of his pontificate. He writes, “Consumerism has induced us to be accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food. . . . Let us remember well, however, that whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry!” He exhorts us to find solutions to the problem of waste that also increase our solidarity with the underprivileged.

Enter the modern-day gleaning network, which addresses issues of food waste and food insecurity simultaneously.

A pioneer among the new wave of gleaners, the Society of St. Andrew (SoSA) has been organizing gleans since the 1980s. Born of a spiritual partnership between two Methodist ministers living in Virginia, the society takes its name from the disciple who—in John’s telling of the feeding of the multitude—brings the boy with his few fish and barley loaves to the attention of Jesus. Their mission statement reads in part, “We are people who find abundance where others see scarcity, and we use that abundance to feed all who are hungry.” A YouTube clip from a 2010 SoSA event shows a busload of gangly teens standing shoulder to shoulder, muscling along a seeming infinitude of hefty sacks of gleaned potatoes bucket-brigade style. At the end of the day they’ll have heaved 40,000 pounds of the tubers into trucks bound for regional food pantries.

Researchers estimate that up to 40 percent of food in America goes uneaten, including billions of pounds of produce left to rot in fields each year.

While gleaning for charity is certainly a noble pursuit, critics note that it does little to address the systemic roots of food injustice. Salvation Farms—a Vermont nonprofit that provides backbone support for the state’s gleaning network—focuses on increasing overall food system resilience. Executive director and founder Theresa Snow recently described how her organization grew out of an experience of crisis: Working in an American Red Cross Family Assistance Center in Manhattan following the attacks on September 11, 2001, she was struck by the way countless affected families had been stripped of their ability to meet their most basic needs, one of which, of course, is food.

Another recent crisis, the novel coronavirus pandemic, has laid bare just how poorly our food system handles unexpected stressors. An April 2020 article in the New York Times describes breakdowns in food supply chains caused by the shuttering of restaurants and institutions. Unable to redirect their goods into grocery markets, farmers ended up plowing millions of tons of perfectly ripe vegetables back into the soil. This tremendous waste of food resources was particularly galling coming at a time when many were financially struggling and food banks were picked clean.

Snow says that the larger goal of Salvation Farms is to “make long-term systemic change to reduce the overall vulnerability that our communities have as a whole but don’t realize.” The 2015 launch of its Vermont Commodities Program—which explores ways to aggregate and store large volumes of gleaned food while offering vocational training to members of vulnerable social groups—represents one approach the organization has taken toward this end.

For all her visionary innovation, Snow remains committed to gleaning as a social good. She recently joined the board of the Association of Gleaning Organizations, which supports gleaners around the country. The group is currently working on a first-ever snapshot of gleaning networks in the United States to assess their impacts on communities nationwide.

Whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry!
—Pope Francis

Snow has found herself in the pulpits of many churches spreading her message. “This is inspiring work for people who join together in worship because they come together to celebrate community. And this is just another form of being in service to each other,” she says.

She recounts a story of a young man who had gotten into legal trouble and was paired with Salvation Farms for his restorative justice work. He worked on Sundays at a farm where members of a local church come to glean before their morning service. One particular woman came often, and Snow has a vivid memory of watching the odd couple made by the youth and the elderly woman “kneeling on the ground together in the lifting fog, having a conversation they never thought they’d be having.” Snow pauses, then goes on in a voice tinged with wonderment, “It keeps coming to my mind that people say this is God’s work. I think being together in community this way is something really sacred.”

This article also appears in the March 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 3, pages 17-18). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/ The Gleaners, Jean-François Millet, Musée d’Orsay, 1857.


Adults Can Learn Much From Children

Adults have much to learn from children about how to do Lent.

While interviewing children for their first Reconciliation, I asked Tommy what “penance” was. He answered without hesitation: “It’s sort of like a time-out.”

A young mother told me that when her little daughter was throwing her food rather than eating it, she put her in the time-out space. Lucia increased her crying, of course. Her 7-year-old brother spoke on her behalf to his mother: “Couldn’t you just give her another chance?” What a wonderful image of the God who loves us so much that a second chance comes easily.

Perhaps this child’s experience is what Lent is like for us. It’s a time-out. It provides the space and time for us to stop and think about our behavior, all the while knowing we can be forgiven. We all need time-out to reflect on what is happening in our lives: how we are affecting others; how we are growing in our faith; how our family is surviving with such hectic schedules; how we are sharing the goods we have — though meager — with others; what we are doing to bring peace to the world; how we spend our Sundays; how well we strive to be people with integrity.

During Lent, we might read children’s books and watch children’s movies that reflect the themes of simplicity, honesty, love, sharing and caring. Children have the capacity to see humor and foolishness while adults often tend to take things too seriously. Children are much closer to the original blessing of their birth, closer to the God who shared in their life from the beginning. As adults, we demand proof for the existence of God, we are anxious about the surety of “intelligent design,” we are troubled about the church in the midst of scandals. Meanwhile, children go merrily on their way following their parents and basically answering every religion question with the same answers: “Jesus loves me, and God made me.” Those truths seem quite sufficient for them.

Children take us by the hand. Children look at us in wonder. Lent, which carries with it the gruesome reality of the death of Jesus, is seen through the eyes of children as “I feel sorry for poor Jesus,” rather than being a time of concern over whether we are being good enough. Often, for adults, Lent is about “what I have done.” Children see that Lent is not about them. Children draw pictures that reveal what they know and believe about Jesus. My favorite picture was in a second-grade classroom. It was of Jesus praying in the garden. There was Jesus kneeling amid the carrots and the onions and the corn. With signs labeling each row! For the child, Jesus is simple. Jesus is like us in all things but sin. It is easy for a child to relate to such a Jesus.

Children are actually fascinated by the atrocities of the Passion narrative even when we try to couch the language in love. They cannot believe this would really happen to such a good person. A young boy said he knew how Jesus died: “It was the crown of thorns that finally got him!” We do not have to go into the details about the death of Jesus, but perhaps it is this amazing story, simply told, that allows children to recognize that Jesus stood for good and he suffered. When we stand for what is good, we, too, may have to suffer — not death but indignation. Perhaps we will be told we are not patriotic because we stand for peace; perhaps we will be called a sissy because we are not a bully; perhaps we will be called a nerd because we would rather study than waste our precious time. These are ways that even children can suffer. And as adults, we need to be there to hold them up, to support them through these small death and resurrection experiences. Children are involved through the days of Lent by ashes, stories, crosses, “sacrifices,” reading from the Bible and doing good for others. They, too, get ready to celebrate the great Easter Vigil when the “happy fault” is proclaimed. Children, who are too often reminded of their own “faults,” can learn about the happy fault that brought Jesus to be among us so we could follow him, hold his hand, play in the sand around him, jump on his lap, share our food with him when asked and get in his way.

Especially during Lent, God embraces all people. God determines who is worthy to be at the table. God will judge who should live or die. It is during Lent, during this time-out, that we have time to stop, to look and to listen to our conscience, to our heart, to be touched by this God. Lent invites all, even children, to take time-out to change behavior, evaluate attitudes and study about this Jesus who is more than we can comprehend.

Written by Doris Murphy. Editor’s note: This reflection was originally published in the March 2006 issue of Celebration. Sign up to receive daily Lenten reflections.


Becoming the Best Version of Yourself

Wearing his cap and gown, Shawn steps up to the podium in front of family and friends. He’s barely a C-student, but the valedictorian let him speak in her place. This is how he ends his speech:

“I was thinking about how much this place has been my home, and how many times I screwed up while I was here. And how I could have done better. I could have done better. That’s how I feel. I’m sorry. I could have done better. Congratulations to those who did . . .”

This is Cory, Shawn, and Topanga’s graduation scene of the 1990s hit sitcom Boy Meets World (if you know one thing about me, it’s that I love Boy Meets World). It aired in 1998, but this speech has always stuck with me (I would have been fourteen at the time). Granted, I’ve since seen the episode dozens of times (did I mention I love Boy Meets World?), but still . . .

Five words: I could have done better. What an awful—yet relatable—sentiment to experience at the end of something: school, a job, a relationship, your kids’ childhood, or even life.All too often, it is at the end when I realize that I could have done better. In the moment, I am focusing on anything and everything else. In my pursuit for happiness, I choose momentary pleasure over lasting joy—time and time again. I choose a-second-rate-version-of-myself instead of the-best-version-of-myself because it’s easier or because I lie to myself or because I’m afraid.

I hope you never have to look back and admit, “I could have done better.” But how? You have to consistently choose the-best-version-of-yourself so that, when the end does come you aren’t saying “I could have done better” but instead, “I did my best.”

If you put 100% of your effort into being more kind, patient, generous, courageous, disciplined, and humble. This is your best self.

If you’d like to avoid saying those five little words at the end of every day (I could have done better), if you’d like to begin learning how to better yourself, how to be the best you, understand that it is a decision you need to make each day. Here’s how to become the-best-version-of-yourself.

TWO IMPORTANT NOTES:

Note #1: Choice

I spent about fifteen minutes coming up with the title for this article. It went from “How to Be . . .” to “How to Become . . .” to “Tips for becoming . . .” when I finally landed on the current version: How to Choose The-Best-Version-of-Yourself” [emphasis obviously added].

Choice is the key. Generally speaking, Americans have relinquished the responsibility of our choices. We’ve given this responsibility to whomever will take it so we can be the spotless victim. It’s safer in that role. We choose to believe we are just a product of circumstance and not the author of our own happiness. It’s a lie.

With each decision, you are making a choice between the-best-version-of-yourself or a-second-rate-version-of-yourself. You choose. Nobody else chooses for you. You are the author. Take up your pen, and write your greatness.

Note #2: Never Finished

The second point is this: you are never finished. You never wake up one day and go, “Boom! Best-version-of-myself . . . I’mma make myself an omelet.” You are a work in progress, until the day you die.

Each day you are making decisions that move you toward or away from the-best-version-of-yourself. Some days will be more challenging than others. Some decisions will be more obviously black and white than others. But you’re never finished. Your goal is progress, not perfection. Today, make better decisions than yesterday. Tomorrow, make better decisions than today.

Right. So . . . how do you know what to choose? How do you know when and how you can choose the-best-version-of-yourself? To answer this, you will have to ask yourself three big questions.

THREE BIG QUESTIONS:

1. Who Is Your Best Self?If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know which direction to go and how will you know when you get there?Likewise, if you don’t know who you want to be, if you don’t know who you are truly capable of being, it makes it pretty difficult to become that person. You can’t even take the first step toward bettering yourself.

Success is this: becoming the best version of yourself.First, think about the best people you know. Not the happiest or most successful, though they may be happy and successful. But the best people. What do they have in common? Are they courageous or cowardly? Patient or impatient? Humble or prideful? Selfish or generous? Are they strong leaders who value hard work, or do they get by with the least amount of effort possible? Write down the characteristics they have in common.

THREE BIG QUESTIONS:

1. Who Is Your Best Self?

If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know which direction to go and how will you know when you get there?Likewise, if you don’t know who you want to be, if you don’t know who you are truly capable of being, it makes it pretty difficult to become that person. You can’t even take the first step toward bettering yourself.

Success is this: becoming the best version of yourself.First, think about the best people you know. Not the happiest or most successful, though they may be happy and successful. But the best people. What do they have in common? Are they courageous or cowardly? Patient or impatient? Humble or prideful? Selfish or generous? Are they strong leaders who value hard work, or do they get by with the least amount of effort possible? Write down the characteristics they have in common.

Now think about your best self. Close your eyes and try to imagine that person. Not who you want to be, but the best person you are capable of being if you put 100 percent of your effort into being more kind, patient, generous, courageous, disciplined, and humble. This is your best self. Success is this: becoming the best-version-of-yourself.

What does she look like? What does he sound like? What does she do on weekends? How does he spend his free time? What does she do for a living? What are his friends like? What is her family life like? Write all this down if it helps you; it’ll be helpful to be able to go back and reference it when you’re struggling with a decision.

Okay! Target acquired. You’ve got your destination. You have met the-best-version-of-yourself. Now you need your compass . . .

2. What Is Your Best Self’s Purpose?

I have a purpose. You have a purpose. We all have a purpose.You were made for something.

So, how do you know when you’re doing what you were made for? If you’re currently miserable, there’s a good chance you’re not fulfilling your purpose.

Your purpose is your North Star. It is your compass. Each decision you make should be guided by your purpose.

All too often we associate our job with our purpose, but this is dangerous. Your purpose can be your job, but it doesn’t have to be (and I would argue that more often than not, it’s not). Maybe it’s to be the best father and husband you can be. Maybe it’s to be a great teacher, or doctor, or nurse, or project manager. Maybe it’s to volunteer on weekends or to write about traveling or to be a positive influence in a young person’s life or to be a stay-at-home-mom and raise amazing children. Whatever it is, you need to find it.

Spend some time in silence this week and ask yourself: “Why am I here?”

Other questions that can guide you are:

• “What makes me truly happy?”

• “If I could do one thing and know I wouldn’t fail, what would it be?”

• “What am I doing when I feel like I am at my best—emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually?”

• “When was the last time I experienced real joy?”

• “When do I feel most at peace?”

• “If I knew I was going to die exactly one year from today, what would I stop doing right now?”

If you spend a good amount of time reflecting on these questions, your best self’s purpose will come into focus.

Your purpose is your North Star. It is your compass. It might change over the course of your life—because life changes—but that’s Okay as long as you are regularly spending time with yourself in silence to ask yourself these big questions.

Each decision you make should be guided by your purpose. You can then strive to avoid anything that takes you off your purpose’s path. Ask yourself, “Does this help fulfill my best self’s purpose?” You’ll know the answer.

Okay. So now you know where you’re going, and you’ve got your compass to keep you on track. Now it’s time to clear your path of obstacles . . . .

3. What Prevents You from Being Your Best Self?

Nobody wants to be a-second-rate-version-of-themselves. I have never met anyone who has consciously said, “Today, I am going to make bad choices that hurt myself and everyone I love.”

You design your life with the choices you make. You are the builder; your choices are the bricks.

Yet, when faced with choosing the-best-version-of-ourselves and a-second-rate-version-of-ourselves, how often do we choose the latter? While many things in life are out of your control, who you are and how you react to the world is your choice. You design your life with the choices you make. You are the builder; your choices are the bricks.

I make the wrong choice all the time, whether it’s saying the wrong thing to my wife (and knowing full well beforehand), or getting upset when driving (“Hi. My name is Peter and I have road rage”), or choosing Cheez-Its instead of an apple (Italian Four Cheese, if you’re wondering).

So what is it for you? Take some time and really think about it. What is it that you consistently choose that prevents you from being the-best-version-of-yourself? Unhealthy foods, pornography, debt and impulsive spending, jealousy, laziness, social media, gossip, anger, negativity, procrastinating, doubt and self-image issues?

Once you recognize the enemy, once you give the enemy its name, once you accept that you are choosing to put these obstacles between you and your best self, you can fight back. How? Virtue.

Every vice that leads to a-second-rate-version-of-yourself has an opposite virtue that leads to the-best-version-of-yourself. Struggling with selfishness? Practice generosity. Is pride preventing your best self from shining forth? Practice humility. Are you battling an addiction? Practice self-mastery and discipline.

Notice the word I used three times there? Practice.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes better. Better is your goal. Rid yourself of obstacles. If pornography is getting in the way of you being the-best-version-of-yourself, get rid of your computer. If social media is getting in the way, delete your account. If impulsive spending and debt are crippling your best self, get rid of your credit cards and create a budget. Take control of your life.

When you’re struggling, say this to yourself:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

________________________________________

So where do you go from here? It all feels so unattainable, doesn’t it? It seems so difficult and complex. But it doesn’t have to be.

The trick is just doing the next right thing. Not the ten or one hundred next right things. Just the next right thing—one at a time—on the path to the-best-version-of-yourself.

You know what the-best-version-of-yourself looks like (and what it doesn’t look like).

You know why your best self exists and what you should be doing to fulfill your best self’s purpose.

And you know what might get in your best-self’s way and how to rid yourself of obstacles by practicing virtue.

There’s only one thing left to do:

The next right thing.

________________________________________

AUTHOR: Peter Herbert. Peter joyfully rediscovered the genius of Catholicism after a 10-year hiatus from the Church. Abandoning advertising for evangelizing, he joined Dynamic Catholic to help others do the same. He is a husband, father, writer, director, GK Chesterton enthusiast, and aspiring novelist.


Stories of Regret – by Marc Chernoff

16 Tiny Stories of Regret that Will Change the Way You Live – by Marc Chernoff

Ten years from now, it won’t really matter what shoes you wore today, how your hair looked, or what brand of clothes you wore. What will matter is how you lived, how you loved, and what you learned along the way.

Deep down you know this already, right?

Yet today, just like the majority of us, you are easily distracted and derailed by the insignificant.

You give too much of your time to meaningless time-wasters.

You step through days, skeptically, with inner resistance.

You take your important relationships for granted.

You get caught up in hurtful drama.

You give in to your doubts.And the list goes on.

But why?

Why do you follow these hurtful patterns of behavior?

Why do you set yourself up for regret when you know better?

Because you’re human, and human beings are imperfect creatures that make misjudgments constantly. We get caught up in our own heads, and literally don’t know our lives to be any better than the few things that aren’t going our way. And as our minds subconsciously dwell on these things, we try to distract ourselves to numb the tension we feel. But by doing so, we also distract ourselves from what matters most.

We scrutinize and dramatize the petty annoyances in our lives until we’re blue in the face, and then we sit back and scratch our heads in bewilderment of how unfulfilling and empty life feels.

But the older we grow, the more focused we tend to become, and the less pointless drama, distraction and busyness we engage in. Life humbles us gradually as we age. We begin to realize just how much nonsense we’ve wasted time on. And we begin to adjust our focus toward what’s truly important.

Are you ready to adjust your focus?

Today, I challenge you to be an old soul—to adjust your focus sooner rather than later . . . to dodge the avoidable regret and stress on the horizon.

How?

There are many approaches, but let’s start by learning from other people’s stories . . .There’s definitely something for all of us to learn (or re-learn) here:

1. “I recently met a super wealthy and influential businessman at a corporate conference—the man has a net worth of over a hundred million dollars. In conversation, he told me he regretted never making it to his son’s hockey games or his daughter’s dance recitals. It made me smile because my total net worth is probably only as much as this man’s last paycheck, but I’ve made it to everything, and my two children always smile and wave to me in the stands during practice and on game days.”

2. “Today is the 14th day in a row that my 87-year-old nursing home patient’s granddaughter has come to visit him. Two weeks ago, I told her that the only time I see her grandfather smile all week is when she visits him on Saturday afternoons.”

3. “In the final decade of his life, my grandfather woke up every single day at 7 A.M., picked a fresh wild flower on his morning walk, and took it to my grandmother. One morning, I decided to go with him to see her. And as he placed the flower on her gravestone, he looked up at me and said, ‘I just wish I had picked her a fresh flower every morning when she was alive. She really would have loved that.’”

4. “Last night my best friend since childhood was put in the hospital for attempting suicide. She’s always listened to my petty problems and asked me how I was feeling. But I’m sitting here in tears now, and realizing that I rarely ever asked her how she was feeling because she always seemed like she had the perfect life in my eyes.”

5. “Earlier today, in the last few hours of her life, she told me her only regret was that she didn’t appreciate every year with the same passion and purpose that she has had in the last two years after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. ‘I’ve accomplished so much recently,’ she said. ‘If I had only known, I would have started sooner.’”

6. “Today, after spending the past three years constantly hassling and bickering with the 20-something who lives and parties next door, I found myself crying in his arms and thanking him repeatedly for saving my son’s life.”

7. “This morning at a train stop near the hospital, a man and his three young kids got on. The kids were loud and completely out of control, running from one end of the train car to the other. An annoyed passenger sitting next to me looked over at the man and asked, ‘Is there a reason you’re letting your kids go nuts right now?’ The man looked up with tears in his eyes and said, ‘The doc just told me their mother isn’t going to make it. Sorry, I’m just trying to think before we all sit down at home to talk about this.’ And, of course, the annoyed passenger was speechless.”

8. “Today my son turned seven, and I turned 23. Yes, I had him on the day I turned 16. Many of the choices I made when I was a teenager were beyond foolish, and I still have my regrets. And even though I know I’ve grown, I sometimes I get worried that I’m bringing my son up wrong—that I’m somehow subconsciously passing my past foolishness on to him. But today I took him to the park to celebrate our birthdays. He played for two hours with a girl who has burn scars that cover most of her neck and face. When my son took a break to eat a snack, he pointed to her and said, ‘She’s really pretty and cool!’ Which left me thinking, ‘I must be doing something right as a mom.’”

9. “The ‘biggest nerd’ in my 2004 high school graduation class—a nice, quiet boy who I wasn’t very nice to—is now the heart surgeon who saved my mom’s life after she suffered from a sudden heart attack at 68 last night.”

10. “As my grandfather rested in his hospital bed this evening, desperately fighting pancreatic cancer, he squeezed my hand tight and said, ‘Promise me, no matter how good or bad you have it, you will wake up every morning thankful for your life. Because every morning you wake up, someone somewhere else will be desperately fighting for theirs. It’s something so simple and important that I never valued until now.’”

11. “I was recently reunited with an old friend after nine years of silence between us. Throughout high school and college, we were best friends. Then just before college graduation we got into a nasty fight over a boy. Terrible, hateful words were exchanged and we never spoke again, until today. And as we hugged each other, and cried, we acknowledged how irrelevant that boy is now.”

12. “I am a 27-year-old mom to four beautiful children. Everyone in my family told me I was too young to have kids at 20. And there were admittedly a few regret-filled times in my past when I deeply doubted myself and my decision to be a young mom. But what nobody anticipated, including myself, is that at age 26 I would be diagnosed with a rare fallopian tube infection, requiring a full hysterectomy. Now when people say I look too young to have four kids, I feel incredibly blessed.”

13. “Today my daughter firmly confronted me with the fact that my biggest fear, a fear that has undoubtedly held me back from many life experiences, has never come true. And I am turning 76-years-old tomorrow.”

14. “This morning one of my regular customers, a really grumpy elderly man who has been eating in our diner every morning for the better part of five years, left me $1,000 in cash for his $7 breakfast. Alongside the cash he left a small note that read, ‘Thank you, Christine. I know I haven’t been the brightest smile in your life, and I know we’ve even exchanged rude remarks a few times over the years, but your smile and generally hospitable service have sincerely given me something to look forward to every morning since my wife passed away. I wanted to say thank you. I’m moving eight hours down the road this afternoon to live with my son and his family. May the rest of your life be magical.’”

15. “I sat down with my two daughters, ages six and eight, this afternoon to explain to them that we have to move out of our four-bedroom house and into a two-bedroom apartment for a year or two until I can find another job and build our savings back up. It’s a conversation I’ve been avoiding for over a month, as I’ve struggled with the doubts and regrets of not being able to provide a financially stable household for us. But my daughters just looked at each other after I told them, and then my youngest daughter turned to me and asked, ‘Are we all moving into that apartment together?’ ‘Of course,’ I immediately replied. ‘Oh, so no big deal then,’ she said.”

16. “This afternoon I was looking through an old Windows laptop that my dad used seven years ago before he lost his battle with colon cancer. The laptop has been sitting around collecting dust at my mom’s house ever since. In a folder named ‘Video Project’ oddly placed at the root of the C: drive, I found a video file my dad made about a month before he died that my mom and I had never seen before. In the 15-minute video my dad talks about my mom and me, how grateful he is to have had the chance to a be part of our lives, and that he has no regrets at all about anything in his life—that he is totally at peace. He ended by saying, “I know you two will miss me, but please smile for me, because I’ve lived well and I’m OK. Really, I’m OK.”

Let Go & Let Appreciation Fuel Your Next Step

I hope the stories above made you think about how to improve your approach in certain life situations. But, perhaps some of them also reminded you of how you’re falling short. If it’s the latter, I want you to take a deep breath right now. Remember that you don’t have to be defined by the things you did or didn’t do in the past. Don’t let yourself be controlled by regret. Maybe there’s something you could have done differently, or maybe not. Either way, it’s merely something that’s already happened.

Do your best to cleanse your heart and mind.

How?

With focused presence and appreciation.

Just this morning, for example, after coming to terms with a regretful business decision I recently made, and after writing my heart out for an hour, I went for a long jog at the beach . . . sea foam kissing my feet with each step, white sand footprints behind me, and the morning sky bursting with bright colors overhead.

At the end of my jog I turned toward the ocean and took several deep breaths, mostly because the sky, and the Atlantic, had momentarily taken my breath away.

I stood there on the sand and applauded. Yes, I literally clapped my hands in recognition.

Because this is the only response life truly deserves: a fully present, appreciative applause.

Today, wherever you are, whatever regrets or circumstances you’re dealing with, take a moment to really appreciate this gift we call life, and applaud.

Then do your best to give back to life. Do something—anything—to show your gratitude for this imperfect miracle you’ve been given. Be kind to a stranger, create something others can use, be loving to your family . . . make a small difference in your own unique way.

And see how it feels.

Before you go, let me ask you a quick question:

Which story (or point) above resonates the most with you right now?

And how might reminding yourself of it, daily, change your life?


The Date and Place of Christmas

by Fr. James B. Buckley, FSSP

Ten years after the eastern patriarchate of Antioch began celebrating the feast of Christmas on December 25th, St. John Chrysotom, in a homily to his congregation, said that the Western Churches had from the very commencement of Christianity kept it on this day. Moreover, the holy doctor provided arguments from this date drawn from reason and Scripture.

As Abbot Prosper Gueranger, OSB, writes in his Liturgical Year, volume 3, page 2, St. John Declared that “the Church of Rome had every means of knowing the true day of our Savior’s birth, since the acts of Enrollment, taken in Judea by Command of Augustus (LK 2:3-5) were kept in the publiic archives of Rome.”

In arguing from Scripture, Gueranger continues, St. John reasons thus: we know from Sacred Scriptures that it must have been in the fast of the seventh month that the priest Zachary had the vision in the temple (cf. Leviticus 23:24); the tenth day of the seventh month is the day of Atonement when you shall…offer an oblation to the Lord.” (The seventh month corresponds to the end of our September and the beginning of October); after which Elizabeth, his wife, conceived John the Baptist; hence, it follows that the Blessed Virgin Mary, having as St. Luke relates, received the Angel Gabriel’s visit and conceived the Savior of the world in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, that is to say in March; the birth of Jesus must have taken place in the month of December.