Over the course of our April meetings, SDYA has learned about different kinds of love. Andrew reviewed philia, the abiding love between friends. Simon covered eros, the deeply passionate, sometimes physical, romantic love. Margaret discussed agape, the Christ-like, sacrificial love demanded by Christian discipleship. A common theme ran through each talk: healthy love, flowing from God’s infinite, life-giving love, yields abundant forms of expression. Yet in our fallen world, afflicted by sin, persons too frequently distort love and intimacy into tools for manipulating, abusing, and dominating others.
In the United States, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sadly, the most recent statistics regarding sexual misconduct in the U.S. demonstrate a need for continued education, awareness, and discussion towards a solution for this alarming problem. One in five women, and one in seventy-one men, will experience an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. In eighty percent of reported cases of rape, the survivor knew the perpetrator personally. Sixty-three percent of sexual assaults are not reported to law enforcement or other authorities. Of the reported cases, most studies have found that less than ten percent of these reports are false.
Higher education and secular institutions respond to these startling statistics in a variety of ways. At The Catholic University of America, events such as Denim Day and Take Back the Night educate the campus community about sexual assault statistics, in addition to giving sexual assault survivors an opportunity to share their stories and receive prayerful support. A majority of the universities and a couple of non-profit organizations in the DC-metro area provide group therapy services for survivors of unwanted sexual experiences. Washington Hospital Center is the only hospital in the DC-metro area staffed with forensically-trained nurses who specialize in caring for survivors of sexual assault. This is but a sampling of support services and education efforts that strive to meet survivors’ needs and promote a safer, more respectful culture where assault is unthinkable.
While post-assault resources are absolutely necessary, efforts towards assault prevention and cultural transformation hold equal importance. By his life and teachings, Jesus set a model for Christians to follow in all their moral behavior, including their sexual behavior. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Jesus further instructs, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27). Jesus calls for an interior and exterior transformation of his followers’ behavior: Christian discipleship involves not only outwardly good actions, but an inward disposition to act out of love for God, neighbor, and self. This authentic love, called for by Christ, demands that men and women treat each other as equals, made in God’s image and likeness, and never as objects for pleasure or subjugation. In keeping our minds and bodies pure, especially in our dating practices, Christians can add a significant contribution towards transforming our hyper-sexualized, Western culture into a dignified culture of authentic love and respect.
We Christians, called by Jesus Christ to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14), have a responsibility to witness to Jesus’s love, mercy, and honesty by our behavior, including our behavior towards romantic partners. Ladies, clearly communicate your boundaries to men. Gentlemen, respect a woman unquestioningly if she says no. Ladies, do not accept a man’s offer for a date out of pity, or lead him on unfairly. Gentlemen, plainly state your expectations to ladies. Ladies, trust your instincts and leave a situation immediately if you feel uncomfortable. Gentlemen, stand against disrespectful, objectifying behaviors or attitudes that you may observe towards women. Gentlemen and ladies, be patient and kind towards those who may confide in you about their unwanted sexual experiences. We have a responsibility, by our thoughts, words, and deeds, to build up a Christocentric culture that practices compassion towards survivors and shows mercy towards accused perpetrators.
To survivors of any unwanted sexual experience: it was not your fault. You are a beautiful child of a loving Father who sees you, knows you, and cares for you deeply. You are not defined by this great injustice that happened to you. There is healing in the Church’s sacraments and in therapy. Confidential support is available. Please get the help you need. You are so loved.
To those accused of any sexual misconduct: You do not have to be defined by your behavior. You are a beautiful child of a loving Father who sees you, knows you, and cares for you deeply. There is redemption in the sacrament of confession and healing in therapy. Please get the help you need. Nothing you may have done revokes God’s care for you. You are so loved.
“The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’” Luke 2:33-35
What kind of reaction was Mary supposed to have, being told that the fate of her son was to be a sign that would be opposed? That he was destined for the rising and falling of many, and that a sword would pierce her own soul? A prophecy so dark and foreboding would strike fear into the hearts of most, but not Our Lady, she is faithful.
Instead of being afraid or worried, Mary took these portents and pondered them in her heart. She remained faithful even as she witnessed her son suffer the most excruciating death the Romans could conceive of, and even as the sword of this great sorrow pierced her heart.
Since it is Good Friday, it is important to contemplate our place in the Passion. If we don’t, it will be difficult not to treat this Friday like any other. But the fact of the matter is that today is unlike any other day based on Christ’s own words to us.
One of the last things Christ says from the cross is his entrustment of us to his mother,
“Woman behold your son.” Then to the disciple, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27).
As our mother, Mary wants nothing more than for us to know her son and his great love for us, especially as it is revealed on the cross. What better place is there to look upon the Savior and contemplate the mystery of his love than from the foot of the cross, alongside his own mother?
As Saint John Paul II explains:
"The divine Redeemer wished to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of His holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed. As though by a continuation of that motherhood which by the power of the Holy Spirit had given him life, the dying Christ conferred upon the ever Virgin Mary a new kind of motherhood- spiritual and universal- toward all human beings, so that every individual, during the pilgrimage of faith, might remain, together with her, closely united to him unto the cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of this cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of God." (Salvific Doloris, 26)
As the mother of all, Mary is an image of the whole Church. At the Annunciation she opened herself completely to God - receiving the Holy Spirit as her spouse, and Christ into her womb. As a Church we are called to imitate Mary by opening ourselves up completely to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and to receive Christ through Eucharist into our hearts. There can be no question that the cross is the greatest expression of love and mercy ever. As such, we must actively receive that love and that mercy into our hearts. As you pray today, consider kneeling at the foot of the cross, next to Our Lady and meditate upon the paschal mystery with her. Ask her to teach you how to fully give of yourself as she did, and how to fully receive the great gift of the divine mercy of her son, by the cross. Mary’s Immaculate Heart never closes itself to those who believe and petition. If you ask her, she will answer.
Core Team- Communications Coordinator
With the beginning of Lent comes 40 days of waiting. And depending on what you are sacrificing, it may seem more like a lifetime. But in reality, 40 days fly by faster than Peter and John racing to Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday. For those who wait, take heart! Lent can be an opportunity to do so much more. Here is a strategy from a fellow sinner, so you can take full advantage of this Lenten season to pursue serious personal and spiritual growth.
As you may have guessed from the title of this blog, the strategy is reflection. I want to briefly explore self-reflection in Lent, proper ordering of self-reflection, and finally, reflection on beauty through art, poetry, nature, and people.
Why is reflection needed during Lent?
Since everyone has access to dictionaries, I will not offer Webster’s definition of self-reflection. Instead, I will offer my own definition of reflection for your consideration. For me, reflection is the careful consideration of one’s actions and reactions, to discern their good, and to be grateful for them. Or, by discerning the bad in those actions, resolve to never commit those errors again.
Living one’s life with no regular reflection and evaluation of one’s actions offers very little opportunity for growth. If we allow ourselves regular opportunities to evaluate our life, we are afforded many opportunities to commit to personal development.
There is much to be said for one such method, called the Daily Examen of Ignatian Spirituality. The Daily Examen is a consistent system used to reflect on one’s day and determine to do better the next day. Perhaps you do not have time for personal reflection at night, or you forget to reflect? I find it helpful to set a point in my daily commute to take out my headphones and just sit in silence for a moment of prayer, considering the day so far.
What is the proper ordering of reflection?
There is a story from Greek myth about Narcissus. Narcissus was a son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. A hunter from Thespiae, he was renowned for his stunning physical beauty. One day, he was lured by Nemesis to a body of water, and in gazing at his own reflection in the water, fell in love with himself. He remained there, unable to leave this perceived beauty, and lost his will to live.
While I am sure there are few reading this blog who would be so lost in their own perceived beauty, the legend offers some wisdom about how we should use reflection in our life. More often than not, when we are reflecting upon ourselves, we are disheartened with the sin we might see. In gazing at our reflection and seeing our many sins of omission and commission, we are in the same danger as Narcissus of losing our will to fight. In short, we may be easily discouraged when confronting our seemingly countless flaws in our human condition.
However, it is important to always see God in our reflections, as we are made in His image and likeness. To appreciate that good, it is important to see our good - not as our own accomplishment, but as a gift from God. In seeing the stains of sin, it is important to still see God - the loving father who is waiting with open arms to welcome back his prodigal child.
A Reflection on Beauty
Narcissus may have reflected on beauty and became lost in it, but it is our responsibility to appreciate and consider how beauty relates to its Creator. Fortunately during Lent, we have ample opportunity to reflect on beauty, since many of us will have more time on our hands after cutting out harmful or unnecessary habits. What better way to use this extra time than to take inspiration from God’s beauty in creation?
We all find beauty in different ways and locations, but here are a few places that I have found beauty that quickly link me to God.
In Art. One of my favorites is a musical masterpiece by Victor Bregeda called Sacrament:
“Twelve Barques surround a table on the water with broken bread and wine. There are spattering’s of blood from those who shared in this Communion. A ladder leads up to the table, representing a difficult climb to our heavenly feast. The wick of the candle almost seems humanoid, and one can see the sacrifice that is the wick, giving life to the Flame, the Light, shining bright and taking prominence in the image.”
In Poetry. The Anima Christi by Saint Ignatius:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever. Amen.
In Nature. With more time during this Lenten season, please appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds you. See the spectrum of blues in the sky on a stormy day. See the reds and the pinks and oranges in sunrises and sunsets. See the stars …. maybe not in DC, but somewhere. But look up and see what speaks to you of God’s magnificence!!!
In People. Reflect on the beauty of creation and realize that you play a part in it. When others see you, their eyes may be drawn towards God - towards beauty. Behave accordingly. See beauty in others, see Christ in others, and treat them accordingly.
Thomas Paine wrote in The [American] Crisis, “I love the man who can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.”
Grow brave in reflection, and grow closer to God this Lent.
Age Quod Agis,
Core Team- Liturgical Coordinator
The March for Life weekend is kind of like one big Catholic family reunion, when everyone flies to Washington and your old friends meet your new friends, and we all march together in solidarity for the rights of those who cannot speak up for themselves. It’s a fun, exhausting, weekend, and we’re marching for something important. The weekend was thought provoking in many ways, and the end of it we may be left wondering, what now? What will we do the rest of the year to keep speaking up for the rights of the unborn, and the dignity of every human life?
The coincidence of the March for Life and the Women’s March for the second year in a row calls our attention to the great divide in our culture concerning human dignity and what it means to honor that in each human being. Without disregarding the positive goals of the Women’s March (like fighting sexual assault), we must acknowledge that it is an explicitly and unapologetically pro-abortion movement. And this is the perfect example of the contradictory statements our culture likes to make, the kind that support the rights of many to live freely and pursue happiness, while simultaneously denying millions the right to even be born.
As Catholics, we know that each human being was created in the image and likeness of God in every way. Being made in the image of love itself, we were made to love and be loved, in a deeply, intimately trinitarian way. But this is not new information to us, this is the foundation of everything we believe. It’s not a secret either, in fact we make it a point to share this truth with others, we call it evangelization. But members of our society are still so completely unaware of their inherent value, of the great love the Father has for them, that we are called to fight to remind our society of this basic fact.
But how do we do this? The Truth is so obvious, and the logic behind the pro-abortion movement is inherently flawed; but so many people, men and women, subscribe to the belief that abortion is a human right, rather than a violation of the most basic human right to life. To say it is frustrating is an understatement.
Being young and devoutly Catholic surprises many people, maybe we have Hollywood to thank for that. But being young, Catholic, and uncompromisingly pro-life draws more surprise, even hostility, from others. And maybe that’s because the pro-abortion side has done too good a job of selling the idea that pro-life, means anti-woman. And so often we find ourselves explaining that pro-life does not mean anti-woman. In fact, being pro-life means supporting mothers and their children, so no one is abandoned. So no woman feels so trapped and unsupported that she feels her only option is an abortion, because that’s not a choice, that’s a last resort. It’s panic and fear, and no woman deserves that. But we find ourselves trying to explain this reality, and explain the desolation of a culture that separates love, sex, and procreation, and explain the horrific reality of our throw-away culture over and over again.
We’ve been fighting this fight since 1973 when Roe V Wade was decided. We’ve been fighting this since 1965 when married couples in the US were no longer restricted from using contraception under the right to privacy. We have been fighting for the right to life and the respect of every human for two-thousand years, and frankly, it’s exhausting.
So how do we maintain the energy to keep sharing the gospel, to keep telling angry people that they are loved, and to keep fighting for the rights of children to be born?
The first and most obvious answer is prayer. Without a solid prayer life, we can’t really do anything. We can try, but take it from me, evangelization, being Catholic in a secular world, and daily life all become infinitely more manageable when you pray. Take a look at these prayer resources for a place to get started, or to keep growing.
Second, we all need support. If you’re here then you must be involved in Saint Dominic Young Adults to some degree, and that means you already have a loving source of support. We can support each other in friendship and in prayer. And don’t forget, the Core Team is always praying for you. If you have a specific intention, you can share it with us by writing it in the prayer book available at our weekly meetings, or share them with us here.
We can also find support from our brothers and sisters in Heaven. The mystical body of Christ is possibly one of the greatest sources of support available to us in this life. The lives of the Saints give us holy examples to follow, and they support us in their prayers. Saint Gianna Beretta is the patron Saint of unborn children, and Saint Therese of Lisieux is the patron Saint of missionaries. These women and the whole mystical body are ecstatic to pray for us and the pro life movement.
We’ll hear more about Saint Therese in March, but it is worth mentioning here, that her little way is an excellent approach to the exhausting task of sharing the pro-life message. If we can simply be kind, and do every little thing with great love and humility, then we can forge relationships and trust with those who may otherwise brush us off as judgmental. Showing genuine love to those we speak to, and the women we serve in our pro-life ministries is one of the most effective ways to share the Truth of the Gospel and human dignity. It may take a little longer, but it allows us to make a difference by letting others know that they are loved, and make a lasting impact.
Finally, just because the March for Life is over doesn’t mean we should stop participating in ministries and other forms of pro-life activism. We have great support from our friends on Earth and in Heaven and there are plenty of ways to stay involved in the movement. Saint Dominic Church has a few ways to get involved, including P24. If you use Amazon for online shopping, you can use Amazon Smile and have 0.5% of eligible purchases support a charity of your choice. I support Save the Storks, but you can can support National Right to Life, or any other pro-life organization on Amazon Smile. And as always, pray for the movement, the mothers and would be mothers, all those involved in abortions, and the little souls who never got to be born.
With the March behind us, I hope we can all look forward together and work for a world that respects all life.
Core Team- Communications Coordinator
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