How Single Catholics Can Approach Meeting People

The inherent subjectivity of love means that no philosophy or style can be a one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. So as one seeks romantic love, spirituality demands attentiveness to the emotions. Awareness of one’s emotions can help attune the heart and soul to more deeply understand the will of God. As one navigates the treacherous waters of single life, how can a spiritually grounded approach help steer the ship?

First and foremost, pursue the spiritual discipline of detachment. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius describes this sense of balance or indifference as “making use of those things that help to bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t.” If you find yourself frustrated at not finding a significant other, confront it with earnest spiritual authenticity. Acknowledge the emotions of that apparent hurdle. Identify what God is revealing to you about yourself by those emotions and move forward.

If the frustrations are causing fixation and obsession, remember old Uncle Screwtape and turn instead to the good that God is working in your life and move forward with it. We must cast aside narrow-sightedness and look more broadly for God’s endless grace.

As a junior in college, I connected with a friend and quickly grew very close to her. We traded wordy emails and shared lengthy video-chats while I studied abroad, and when I returned to the States, we hit it off in person. But as fast as it sparked, it flamed out even more quickly. And in experiencing my range of sadness, disappointment, anger, and confusion, I didn’t make space for myself to legitimately process and accept the outcome, or for my friend to be able to move on. It wasn’t until six months later, when I finally let go of her and of our romantic relationship, that I realized the affections of another dear friend who had helped me through it and opened my heart anew and more widely to her. Six and a half years later, we are married and just welcomed our first daughter. If I hadn’t been able to let go of that star-crossed relationship, I might have remained blind to the potential love awaiting in another dear friend.

Detachment necessitates humility, fosters patience, and facilitates joy. Read More


Families as Schools of Solidarity

My wife and I were blessed to be able to attend the World Meeting of Families conference back in 2015. The wonderful Professor Helen Alvaré gave one of the keynote talks during that week that stuck with me.

Professor Alvaré was talking about how the love we give and receive within the family grows and overflows into the wider world. Specifically, she spoke on how a parent’s unconditional love for their child “organically and divinely” grows into the unconditional love of strangers. She said:

“Eventually, if you have asked God day in and day out to work His will with you, you begin to see every child as if they could be your child…You won’t be able to look at the homeless, the sick, the depressed, the fatherless, without remembering how they are someone’s child or sibling or mother and then converting that co-suffering, maternal and paternal selves into action.”

In other words, the virtue of solidarity is fostered within the family. By loving my own family and suffering with them I can learn to love and truly recognize the suffering of strangers. This comment resonated with me at the time and still resonates with me now.

Just a few weeks before this conference started, there was a picture of a little boy that was circulating online. The boy was three years old in this picture, just a little older than my eldest son, Simon. In the picture he was lying down with his knees tucked under him, his arms off to his sides, and his head full of light brown hair turned sideways. It looked just like Simon when he slept.

Except this little boy wasn’t sleeping in this picture, he was lying on a Mediterranean beach after drowning in the Aegean Sea. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and his family were refugees fleeing Syria.

I remember staring at this picture when it came across my newsfeed and it totally captivated me. This little boy reminded me so much of Simon. I realized at that moment that this little boy, Aylan, was loved by somebody as much as I love my own son. Aylan smiled and laughed and cried and played like my own son. Aylan drowned in the Aegean Sea along with his brother and mother because his dad wasn’t able to hold onto them. I just sat in front of my computer and cried.

We’re supposed to see Christ in others, because all of us bear the image of God. We are especially supposed to see Christ in the poor and the hungry and the homeless and the refugee because He said, “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” But the best I can muster up when I see someone suffering is pity, not the love and respect due to our Lord. Yet God is so wise. He knows that it’s hard for us to see His image in the stranger, so He gave us our families to be training grounds for unconditional love. He lets us first see every child as if they could be our child so that we may eventually learn to love the outcast like we love our own children. He gave us our family as the school of solidarity.

As a Christian, I must resist looking at the poor, the homeless, and the refugee as “people,” as an abstract group or “issue.” I must see every human person for the unique and valuable individual that he or she is. I must see the poor as I would see my own family. I must love the homeless as I would my own family. I must treat the refugee as if they were my own family.

As Professor Alvaré put it, “We start with family and end with strangers…whose only link is our common humanity.”

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and parish director of religious education. A version of this post first appeared at his blog, The Porch. You can reach him at fahey.paul@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook.


Leading Democrats Clash Over Creating an Abortion Litmus Test

For a brief, fleeting moment, the Democrats looked as if they were about to do something very, very smart.

Tom Perez, Democratic Party Chairman, along with Bernie Sanders, endorsed Heath Mello, a pro-life Democrat, for mayor of Omaha.

Sanders, despite having one of the most consistently pro-choice records of anyone in Congress, defended this move, saying, “The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about.”

And he’s right. The Democrats are currently at their weakest point since the 1920s. The Republican Party dominates every level of government across the country, and until we open the big tent and allow room for more ideological diversity, things aren’t going to change. That’s why this endorsement was such a big deal. It seemed like the party was finally starting to come around.

And then Perez buckled.

Under pressure from big money pro-choice special interests like NARAL, Perez went above and beyond to reassert his absolute allegiance to abortion by drawing a line in the sand and demanding ideological purity from any Democrat who hopes to make it to office.

Perez stated that he “fundamentally disagree[s] with Heath Mello’s personal beliefs about women’s reproductive health,” and—after Mello himself released a meager statement saying he’d never restrict a woman’s access to abortion—said he was happy that Mello was now more in line with the Party’s position and that “every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same, because every woman should be able to make her own health choices. Period.”

For pro-life Democrats like myself, this wasn’t just disappointing—it was infuriating. We simply cannot afford to define ourselves based on a singular issue, especially one as divisive and alienating as abortion. As stated above, the Republicans have the majority at every level, and they are actively attempting to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance, roll back any progress we’ve made on combating climate change, cut benefits for the poor, and demolish public education.

Yet, in the face of all this, Perez made it abundantly clear that under his leadership, all of these issues, and more, will come second to abortion. “Sorry, middle and lower class Americans. We could have stopped the Republicans from taking your healthcare, but we decided to implement an abortion litmus test instead.”

What’s even more frustrating is our inability to move past this binary of for/against. In doing so, we completely ignore any middle ground where we can actually work together—and there’s a lot of it. For example, you’d be hard pressed to find someone on either side of the debate that wants to see an increase in the abortion rate. So rather than shutting people out, Perez could be inviting pro-life advocates to the table for a discussion on how we can collectively reduce abortions, as well as reduce economic and social stressors that drive women to abort their children in the first place. But he chose to do the opposite. This is the hill he wants the Democrats to die on, and if things don’t change, he just might get his wish.

Despite all of this, there are still some glimmers of hope. Sanders doesn’t seem to be backing down from the idea of working alongside pro-life Democrats. And Nancy Pelosi (known for her strong pro-choice credentials) seems to be in agreement. In a recent Meet the Press interview, Pelosi stated that “of course” you can be pro-life and Democrat, and what really unites the party is our dedication to helping working families. Both understand that purging pro-life Democrats from office means continued Republican rule and sacrificing economic justice in the process. We can only hope that the two of them will pass that message along to Perez and encourage him to build a more inclusive party.

In the meantime, I’ll be working to do the same with my state party, and I highly suggest pro-life Democrats and progressives do the same. Discouraging as all this may be, now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to fight.

Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.


But What is God’s Will?

Though I’ve been trained by the Jesuits in discernment and have made a few major decisions in my life so far, I still find decision-making very hard, primarily because there’s rarely full clarity. At a retreat I led for high school seniors, I gave a talk about my own discernment into and out of religious life and then into marriage. Afterwards, a student approached me and asked me how she’s supposed to approach the decision about which university to attend and what to study. I repeated some of what I had shared in my talk but then she lamented, “But how am I supposed to know God’s will?!”

In my new book, God Moments: Unexpected Encounters in the Ordinary, I spend a good amount of time on the spirit of my student’s question. We’re often waiting to “find out” God’s will for our lives and don’t quite know how to do it. So we sit and wait. That waiting turns into idleness and inaction. I always point to a better question: What are God’s desires for me? This question allows us to explore the deeper dimensions of vocation and purpose and call. It also helps us engage in our own desires and dreams, giving us a role in the discernment process. My student, like many, expects discernment to be a one-way street where God expresses a “will” and we do it. Full stop. Except true discernment in the Ignatian sense (which I am trained in) does not work that way.

If God always gave us an absolute clear path then discernment wouldn’t be so hard. The reality is, we’re often faced with several good choices. For me, religious life and marriage were both good choices. My discernment was choosing the alternative that was better for me and fully living my life. Choosing between universities or jobs is also a choice between goods. Philosopher Ruth Chang, in her TED talk, points out that easy choices present alternatives where one is clearly better than the other. Hard choices are when the alternatives are neither better than the other overall. Religious life might have certain “better” qualities for me than married life but married life has its own qualities that are “better” than religious life. But overall, each alternative is equally good. So we hem and haw and pine for an answer from God because we just can’t decide.

I suggest four elements in an approach to a difficult discernment:

Attentiveness

A hallmark of Ignatian spirituality is being aware of God’s presence in all things and at all moments. If we pay attention to our heart or gut we can gain some insight into which choice before us is pulling at our heart. Ignatius tells us that emotions and feelings are important indicators for us. While our gut feelings about a certain choice before us may not give us sureness in our decision, they are important information to consider.

Prayer

If prayer is our relationship with God then we can bring all our feelings and choices before God in prayer. In my book, I mention a few ways you can bring your discernment to prayer, including making a list of pros and cons and using your imagination.

Experimentation

I use the metaphor of a discernment “fitting room” where you can try on a choice to see how it feels or looks. Now if you’re choosing between career choices or doctoral programs you can’t actually test out a choice for a time, but you can convince yourself you’ve made a particular decision. You’d be surprised how much that psychological act alone can tell you about whether that might be a good choice for you. During Christmas break from my studies as a Jesuit, I spent a few days where I told myself that I had decided to leave religious life and then a few days where I convinced myself that I had decided to stay. The choice I had to make was clear after this experiment. Choosing to stay created a lot of disquiet in me, while choosing to leave and pursue marriage gave me much peace and joy.

Community

Sometimes we don’t realize how much our choices affect those around us—our friends, our family, and the communities in which we find ourselves. While discerning to leave religious life and later while discerning to move across country with my wife there were many voices from family, co-workers, and friends telling us what we should do. While others can’t make your decision for you, these voices are an important consideration, especially from those who know you well. It can also be comforting knowing you’re not completely alone in the process. You might also consider how others will be affected by your decision, whether it be career change, marriage, studies, or moving to a completely new place.

With all the information we have, we then make the best decision we can, even without perfect clarity. It’s not easy, and some choices can later be modified if we discover the decision was not ideal. I see our choices—when made in genuine prayer and in partnership with God—as ways we make God incarnate in the world. We can find joy in that. My student’s paralysis before her decision did not give her joy. If instead she saw her discernment not as waiting for an absolute “answer” from God but as an invitation from God to examine the good choices before her and that she is empowered to make the decision, she might find that discernment and discovering her true self can be quite, quite joyful.

Andy Otto is the creator and editor of God In All Things.


Critical Questions Remain Over Trump’s Missile Strikes and Syria Policy

Overall, Syrian democracy activists were ecstatic about President Donald Trump’s strikes on the base from which the Syrian regime launched its latest chemical attacks. After years of impunity, the Assad regime paid a price (however tiny) for their crimes against humanity. Western proponents of the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine, the enforcement of international law and norms, and more direct action to end the war, along with other critics of the Obama administration’s largely hands-off policy, have on average been more ambivalent. And rightfully so.

Many questions remain: Why did Trump strike—for his personal popularity, to be the anti-Obama, because he just now realized what Assad has been doing? If he cares about Syrian civilians, why does he show no compassion for the refugees fleeing Assad and ISIS?  What are his strategic goals (if they exist)—enforcing the norm against chemical weapon use, protecting innocent civilians, shifting the dynamics on the ground to increase the odds of a resolution to the conflict? Is this part of a larger strategy or an emotional response to the barbarism seen in images and videos of the attack (the CNN Effect, as political scientists call it)? Does Trump have the ability to effectively carry out any larger strategy given his general incompetence and unwillingness to study policy details? How will his relationship with Russia affect his response to their apparent complicity in these crimes? Does Trump now realize the role Assad has played and continues to play in strengthening extremists or not?

While many oppose a status quo that has left half a million people dead, displaced roughly half the country, and created a refugee crisis that threatens Western democracy, these questions and others make many who are open to intervention hesitate before endorsing the administration’s course of action or becoming optimistic about future Trump administration policies. The costs of further intervention (whatever form it could take) are real, as are the risks (as with non-intervention), particularly in the wake of the Russian intervention to save the regime from collapsing—a responsible analyst must not only consider what the best course of action should be, but the likelihood that an administration is inclined to, and capable of, carrying it out.

While a movement away from ‘America First’ populist nationalism is certainly encouraging, those who value the common good are right to remain skeptical of an administration that has yet to prove its intentions or efficacy. The lessons of Iraq should not lead to isolationism, but precisely this type of skepticism with a careful consideration of who is intervening and why. The President’s competence (or incompetence) can have a dramatic impact on the probability of success and potential costs of intervention. This must be considered in calculations of the justness and strategic prudence of particular courses of action. Can the wrong man carry out the right policy? Certainly, but with so many unanswered questions, caution is the most sensible response right now.

Here are a few articles on the chemical weapon attacks and reactions from those who have been critical of Western indifference to Assad’s mass murder:

‘My entire family’s gone’: Syrian man says 25 relatives died in strike by CNN: “Youssef arrived in his parents’ house to find his two brothers dead. Panicked, he rushed back to his home to check on his wife and babies. “There was foam on their mouths, there were convulsions. They had all been on the floor,” Youssef told CNN on Wednesday, sobbing. “My kids, Ahmad and Aya, and my wife… they were all martyred. “My entire family’s gone.””

Teen lost 19 family members in Syria chemical attack: ‘I saw the explosion’ by CNN: “In all, he said, 19 of his relatives were killed Tuesday morning. When Mazin said that devastating number, his voice cracked. He lost his struggle to maintain self-control. His face contorted, his red eyes filled with tears. He plopped down sobbing on the plastic chair in the hospital corridor. Mazin is only 13 years old. He is a child. And this is his world.”

Trump might be going to war. But he has no plans for establishing peace. by Ilan Goldenberg and Nicholas Heras: “Yet as analysts who have argued for greater U.S. military engagement to end the Syrian civil war, we find ourselves conflicted about the president’s decision: We fear there is simply no plan for what comes next. To succeed beyond Thursday’s limited strikes, American leaders must decide on a clear set of objectives, a realistic desired final outcome, a theory of the case for how to get there and a solid understanding of the risks. We see three potential options for how the president could move forward.”

What Effect Will Trump’s Airstrikes Really Have? By Daniel Byman: “If the strike does achieve the President’s objective and Asad no longer uses chemical weapons against his own people, that’s good news—but it is little consolation for the tens of thousands of Syrians who are likely to die in the coming months from regime barrel bombs or indiscriminate Russian airstrikes or to be tortured and killed in the dictator’s prisons.”

Syrian opposition leader: Trump has a chance to save Syria By Josh Rogin: “Short of that, the Syrian opposition is asking the Trump administration to use any new leverage it has to demand a nationwide ceasefire, to stop the killing of civilians by the Assad regime and press for international access to all besieged areas and the jails where Assad is holding thousands of civilians in custody. They also believe now is the time to push for a new political process to move Assad out of power.”

A Practical Guide for Avoiding Fallacies on Syria by Shadi Hamid: “It is abundantly clear that the Assad regime will not negotiate in good faith or make any significant concessions on its own. We’ve hoped for that since the earliest Arab League efforts in 2011. The credible threat of force (or its use) is the only thing that is likely to change Assad’s calculus. If his survival isn’t at stake, he has little reason to negotiate much of anything.”

This May Signal That the Free Ride for Mass Murder Is Over by Frederic Hof: “Bashar al-Assad’s political survival strategy of collective punishment and mass homicide is a gift that keeps on giving to ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other forms of violent, terrorist extremism.”

So Trump Attacked Assad. What Now? by Charles Lister: “Assad cannot and will never put Syria back together again, but partition is not an answer. Foreign intervention for rapid regime change promises only further chaos, but determined U.S. leadership backed up by the credible and now proven threat of force presents the best opportunity in years to strong-arm actors on the ground into a phase of meaningful de-escalation, out of which eventually, a durable negotiation process may result.”


Stop the Excuses: Working for Social Justice is Not Optional for Catholics

The phrase “social justice” tends to trigger a wide range of responses depending on where one lands on the political spectrum. For some, it’s a pejorative. For others, a badge of honor. Either way, from a secular perspective, social justice is often viewed through the prism of partisan politics.

But for Catholics, it’s something much different. For us, social justice is a central component to our faith, a key part of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). If the mass is how we celebrate, enrich, and renew our commitment to Christ, then social justice is the manner in which we live and practice that commitment. As defined by the USCCB:

Catholic social teaching is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human life and human dignity. Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. Every person, from the moment of conception to natural death, has inherent dignity and a right to life consistent with that dignity. Human dignity comes from God, not from any human quality or accomplishment. Our commitment to the Catholic social mission must be rooted in and strengthened by our spiritual lives. In our relationship with God we experience the conversion of heart that is necessary to truly love one another as God has loved us.

What’s particularly important to note about the Catholic commitment to social justice is that, unlike its secular counterpart, it is consistent and enduring, not changing with the political seasons or latest political trends.

The rich theological tradition of Catholic Social Teaching is based on recognizing the inherent dignity of each human person through the unconditional love of God. Therefore, justice, in the eyes of the Church, is owed, not earned.

The worker is owed a living wage for his or her labor.

The unborn child is owed the right to life.

All persons, sick and healthy, are owed quality healthcare.

The earth is owed good stewardship.

The homeless are owed shelter.

The naked are owed clothing.

The hungry are owed food and drink.

Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest shortfalls in American society, even in many Christian circles. We have a bad habit of putting politics before Christ and allowing challenges—such as cost, labor, and time—to become excuses for inaction.

We operate under the impression that works of mercy and justice come strapped with contingencies, and only those we deem deserving—those who meet a particular set of standards—may receive them. But this is not the spirit of social justice or the gospel.

In fact, not only are humans inherently owed justice, but it’s our Christian duty to ensure that justice is properly distributed—especially to the poor and marginalized. This is not a suggestion. It’s a non-negotiable obligation, and the scripture makes it clear that we will be judged on how we treat the least of these.

That means that American Catholics must have a presence in social and political life. It means we are responsible for ensuring that the workers are paid justly, that unborn children are protected, that the earth is cared for, that the sick have quality medical care, that the homeless have homes, that the naked are clothed, and that the hungry are fed. We simply cannot shy away from civic involvement.

And to that point, we must remember that Catholic Social Teaching, with its commitment to social justice, is not a political ideology. It does not conform to any party platform, and so we cannot put our trust entirely in the Republicans or the Democrats. What we must do, instead, is look to the Church first, adjust our mindset to see social justice as the Church sees it, and then work together to find solutions that protect the dignity of all people.

Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.


How Trump’s “America First” Budget Violates 5 Key Justice Principles of Catholic Social Teaching

This post began as a “top 5 shockingly immoral aspects of President Trump’s budget proposal.” The problem is that virtually the entire budget is shockingly immoral and unjust. Instead, I want to highlight 5 touchstones of Catholic Social Teaching on justice. I will provide one example of its violation; however, for every single one, you can find at least five instances of its violation in Trump’s ‘America First’ budget.

Human dignity can only be lived, realized, and promoted in community. The overarching frame for justice is justice as participation: Basic justice demands the establishment of minimum levels of participation in the life of the human community for all persons.” (Economic Justice for All, 77).

  1. Environmental Justice: “We’re not funding that anymore”

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis states, “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life” (23). In addition to acknowledging the scientific consensus, Pope Francis clearly articulates the obligation to care for creation, to protect access to needed resources for the poor and future generations – and to do so with extreme urgency. It is hard to imagine an American budget proposal more antithetical to Laudato Si than President Trump’s budget.  OMB Director Mick Mulvaney calls all programs addressing climate change “a waste of money,” and simply stated, “We’re not funding that anymore.” While the 30% proposed cut to the Environmental Protection Agency garners headlines, a closer look at the proposal shows that virtually every single program addressing climate change and rising sea levels—no matter the department—is on the chopping block.

  1. Distributive Justice: “Cannot justify their existence”

In Catholic theology, distributive justice is not optional. The Second Vatican Council stated: “The right to have a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The fathers and doctors of the Church held this view, teaching that we are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of our superfluous goods”(26). Repeatedly, the Trump administration seems to claim that we cannot afford many of the social protection programs aimed at distributive justice. The budget calls for eliminating the Community Development Block Grant program and $1 billion in programs aimed at low-income housing, home ownership, and community development from HUD. When he visited Washington, DC, Pope Francis could not have been clearer “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.” The cuts to Housing and Urban Development are just one example of many violations of distributive justice in this budget.

In 1986, Economic Justice for All explained the moral requirements of distributive justice and it remains applicable today:  “Minimum material resources are an absolute necessity for human life. If persons are to be recognized as members of the human community, then the community has an obligation to help fulfill these basic needs unless an absolute scarcity of resources makes this strictly impossible. No such scarcity exists in the United States today” (70). Read More