Inspiration, Listening to the Heart, saints

Accidental Parenting

I came to parenting a little backwards. I’d had not much intention of getting married, much less starting a family (“not my vocation,” as I’d often said), but I was enjoying getting to know Paul when in a phone conversation after our second date, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he had two children. Two. Children.

Okay, that pretty much was that. I remember pacing up and down the corridor in the apartment building where I lived (not much room for pacing in my studio!), and thinking, no, no, no.

God had other plans. Three months later I met said children—Jacob was five and Anastasia almost four—and a year later Paul and I were married. And I learned first-hand why parenting is not, but not, for the faint of heart.

Becoming a stepmother means walking into a house of grief. No matter whether the children’s mother has been lost through death or divorce, the loss is real and constant and the kids are not thrilled about someone being there in her place. Boundaries are tested. Decisions are second-guessed. Tears are shed. I felt that if God was calling me to do this thing, then I was going to do it the best I could—but he was going to have to help!

And he did. Those early years were tough years, I won’t pretend they weren’t. Later years were tough, too, though for different reasons. Jacob is now twenty-eight, Anastasia twenty-seven, and frankly these days I cannot imagine my life without them in it. Our marriage didn’t survive, but my parenting did, and in retrospect I am so grateful to have had the honor of helping raise these two beautiful young people.

I suspect many parents feel that same honor at the end of the day. And grandparents, too. It’s just what one does before that’s… tricky. There are hundreds of parenting manuals out there, and none of them offers a magic formula, a secret method for getting it right. Maybe there really is no one “right” way to parent. Are you too strict? Not strict enough? Should you allow them to read anything they want? Should you censor who they hang out with?

I know how difficult it was to parent my stepchildren through what might euphemistically be called a “normal” time; I cannot imagine it in the time of coronavirus, where the decisions you’re making are, quite literally, life-and-death decisions. What children crave as much as love is certainty: they like a routine, a schedule. They need to know what will happen next week. They have to be sure the blocks of their world will stay the same for the foreseeable future. And how can anyone promise them that—now? We don’t know what the next few weeks, or months, or years will bring; how can we communicate reassurance to our kids and grandkids?

When I’m feeling a little lost, I turn to the Church, because in the thousands of years of our existence, you can be sure there’s someone, somewhere, who has something to teach us. And in looking for parenting models, the most obvious choice are the parents of Our Lady: Anna and Joachim, the earthly grandparents of Jesus.

Like me, they were a little surprised by their foray into parenting. I had never wanted to have children; they were unable to have children; and yet by God’s design we all ended up doing his will. Joachim and Anna are not mentioned in the Bible, but other documents outside of the Biblical canon do provide some details. These documents outline some of the Church’s traditional beliefs about Joachim, Anne and their daughter.

One story says that, rebuked in the Temple for his fifty years of childless marriage, Joachim took his flocks and went to a high mountain, refusing to return home in shame. Meanwhile, Anna prayed in her garden. God sent the Archangel Gabriel to each of them, who gave them tidings of the birth of “a daughter most blessed, by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, and through whom will come the salvation of the world.” Each promised to have their child raised in the Temple as a holy vessel of God. The archangel told Joachim to return home, where he would find his wife waiting for him in the city gate. Anna he told to wait at the gate. When they saw one another, they embraced, and this image is the traditional icon of their feast.

This may or may not be exactly what happened. But what did happen, and this we know, is that they raised a young woman to fulfill her role in a story far bigger than their lives, to become the handmaid of the Lord and the mother of longed for Messiah. And while I expect they had as many bumps in their parenting journey as I did—it cannot be easy, bringing up a child when one is well into one’s grandparenting years!—they still kept faith. They still prepared her for what the future would bring. They had no way of knowing what that would be—just as we, today, really don’t know what the future holds.

But, trite as it is to say, we do know who holds the future. We know that God guided Anna and Joachim, just as he guided me, just as he is guiding mothers and fathers and stepparents and grandparents today.

The world is as uncertain now as it’s ever been. Our children crave stability, and we can give it to them. Not necessarily in the way we’d like to, but in a way that’s better, more profound, longer-lasting. We can give them the stability of a life in Christ, the certainty of the love of God, the protection of the Holy Spirit. That’s the best gift we can give our children, and the only certainty any of us ever really has, now or ever.

And… they do notice. On her 23rd birthday, Anastasia wrote me a letter, thanking me for giving her, among other things, the Mass, and a trust in God. But I knew that already, because I have the privilege now of watching how she lives. And that makes it all worthwhile.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Image: Dimitris Vetsikas for Pixabay 

Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

I Feel Broken Inside… How Can I Heal?

Finding serenity in the midst of brokenness is a mighty task—and at some times it feels mightier than at others. Inner brokenness can come from a lot of sources—a painful past experience, a present response to current problems, a fear of an uncertain future—but no matter the source, the pain is always very real and very immediate. How can we find serenity in the face of that brokenness?

There are a lot of people who will say serenity’s unattainable. That working through our problems and traumas is an ongoing and never-ending process. But as Catholics, we know that healing isn’t just possible—it’s offered to us for free.

True healing such as this can only take place when we look first to the One who was wounded for our transgressions. Jesus carries the greatest brokenness of all, and he does it willingly for our sakes.

It’s always interested me that the three churches within Christianity have very different representations of the cross. For us Catholics, it is a crucifix, Christ dying. For Protestant churches, it is an empty cross, Christ resurrected. And for the Orthodox churches, it is a king, Christ crowned. All three are, of course, true. But I remember the words of writer Toni Morrison, who said of her work, “I’m just trying to look at something without blinking.” We’re looking at the cross without blinking. We’re seeing the very worst we can do to Jesus, and the consequent boundlessness of his love for us.

Encouraging others to reflect on the wounds of Christ, Pope Francis says,

“We are not asked to ignore or hide our wounds. A church with wounds can understand the wounds of today’s world and make them her own, suffering with them, accompanying them and seeking to heal them. A wounded church does not make herself the center of things, does not believe that she is perfect, but puts at the center the one who can heal those wounds, whose name is Jesus Christ.”

We believe that freedom from brokenness comes through Brokenness Itself, the cross of Christ. Freedom from brokenness means we can reach out to others who are in pain, searching, suffering. Freedom from brokenness is what makes us whole, allowing us to live holy lives that preach redemption instead of anger or insecurity.

One of my favorite spiritual authors, Caryll Houselander, writes that

“in the world in which we live today, the great understanding given by the spirit of Wisdom must involve us in a lot of suffering. We shall be obliged to see the wound that sin has inflicted on the people of the world. We shall have X-ray minds; we shall see through the bandages people have laid over the wounds that sin has dealt them; we shall see Christ in others, and that vision will impose an obligation on us for as long as we live, the obligation of love.”

Our inner spaces may be broken at times, but it’s not a permanent affair. We can find wholeness, and not just for ourselves, but for others as well. We can see through those bandages and reach out to others. Jesus died for us, and asked only one thing in return: love. And there’s no brokenness that love can’t transcend.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir, who works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media.
Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

This New Year, focus on memories, not resolutions

Every January first, and after my annual retreat, and countless days in between, I get a sudden surge of determination and I buckle down with a new regimen of resolutions which I keep for about… I’m sorry to say… a few days….

There was the time I was determined to drink kefir twice a day for my health. After about two weeks, it became harder and harder to drink it even once a day! Eventually it became an on-again, off-again resolution. I tell myself I love variety, that’s why I don’t keep to such a regimen. And eventually I get back on it… for a while!

Or the year I was determined to pray an extra hour at night… Right now I’ve gone back to praying and writing at night, but more realistically I get up later in the morning. Age or common sense have caught up with me!

Beginnings offer us that window of optimism that allows us to surf on an untainted wave of goodwill. As soon as difficulties or slips occur, that good will begins to wane. Even if you have a character that thrives on order and repetition, resolutions can render our hearts hard when they’re reduced to duty and devoid of love’s freshness.

I’ve noticed that something new comes about in my life most often when I’m not trying to make it happen. Often I have no doubt it is an outright gift from God.

Like the afternoon when I was doing research in the writings of St. Augustine for a project while taking care of our front desk here at the convent. I was alone in the room. I’m certain of that. Yet, at a certain point, as I read a sentence from Augustine in which he talked about our struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, I was able to be honest about an inner struggle I had tried to hide even from myself. I had tried for years to fix it, dress it up, make it go away, hide it—to no avail. It was there. I had to admit it was mine. That afternoon, an arrow of truth pierced the lies I’d tried to tell myself about myself. And in that very instant when my heart was broken open in contrition, I knew I was seen deeply and loved even more deeply.

I remember looking around the room because I knew unmistakably that I was no longer alone in my struggle. The eyes of Jesus held my heart in their tender yet truthful gaze, as these words resounded in my heart: “I don’t care if you ever get this fixed. That isn’t the point. As long as you look at me and allow me to look at you, and we keep gazing into each other’s eyes, that is what I truly desire. It is what more deeply matters.” No longer was I carrying my secret burden alone. In an instant it had been taken from me. Something no resolution had been able to vanquish. Now it was gone. As if it no longer existed. Had never existed. Replaced only with the face of my Redeemer who wanted a relationship with me. That was all. And that was everything.

Marko Rupnik, S.J. would call this a moment of radical reconciliation. “It deals with a new creation, because it leads us back to living the radical newness constituted by Baptism, its general and gratuitous pardon” (Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God, page 111). It is a Lazarus moment, in which we hear the voice of the Lord calling us out of our tomb. “In this event, one experiences not only the forgiveness of individual sins, but the Father’s forgiveness of all of our sins. One has been washed clean. All at once one sees that one’s sins have been in some way a choice, and that perhaps one’s openness to God was only a pretense. At this moment our eyes are completely opened” (page 110).

This moment of reconciliation, the passing through the Red Sea, death and resurrection, is a foundational event in our life. It changed me. It marked me forever. There will always be a “before” and “after” that event. It is a memory, a spiritual memory, more powerful than any resolution for recalling me to a relationship in which God takes the initiative to draw my heart’s attention to what is most valuable: the delight of his love, his loving delight in me in my poverty and weakness.

I still decide to take up habits as though they were hobbies. These resolutions add spice to my life, and open up exciting possibilities. I always learn from them, as short-lived as they sometimes are. Perhaps they fail because they are rooted in anxious desires for getting it right. They emerge from isolation. They are my attempts to be the protagonist of my own life and holiness.

The spiritual memory of how I have been radically reconciled to God, on the other hand, puts me in contact with the Father who cares for me. I relive how God takes the initiative in my life. How I am not alone. How by focusing on what I think is important, I can miss entirely what in my Father’s heart.

So as this new year begins, before you begin to plan out your “new you,” stop just long enough to ask what is behind your resolutions and strategies. Maybe instead of looking forward, look back toward your moment of radical reconciliation, when you knew utterly that you had been redeemed, saved even from yourself. When God made a way through the sea for you. When you had been raised from death as an utter gift. Take what you learned there, what you heard in your heart, the defining point of that experience.

This year, make that the theme of your year, to walk in the path that God has created, the path on which he waits for you.


by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP

photo: José Ignacio Heredia for Cathopic

Christmas, Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

Widening Our Love at Christmas

My first Christmas in the convent was last year. I had been in the United States only one month, and was far away from my home in Portugal. Those weeks before Christmas became the stage for me to ponder the question that Advent poses to each of us: What is Christmas?

As I found myself with my co-novices in St. Louis over Christmas, I sensed within me a reluctance or resistance to accepting that things in my life had changed so radically and so quickly. I began to wonder whether Christmas was what I had always believed it to be.

As the Advent season wore on, my inner struggle increased. Being stripped of everything I knew about Christmas—my family, my home, our traditions with our flavors, music, and decorations, my community, my country—my heart was stretched more than I felt able to bear. It seemed to me Jesus needed a space to be born in me, a space greater than the ocean I had crossed.

It was almost Christmas night when, I don’t know if I was feeling sorry for myself or being honest for the first time, I told Jesus I couldn’t stretch my heart open any more to receive him. If I stretched another millimeter I would break. After all, how could a child occupy so much space inside me?

In the silence, after all my energy had been used to really say what I felt, I heard Jesus say that he would stretch from heaven to earth for me. This immediately made the ocean that separated me from Portugal seem very small. And Jesus would do this for me, even if my heart was preoccupied, even if the only thing I had to offer, almost if only to avoid feeling guilty, was a stable…

And in that moment my heart widened another millimeter and did not break.

After that widening of my heart, I received a letter on Christmas Eve, a Christmas card from a sister in my community in Portugal, which reminded me about the One I was expecting, that One we are expecting on Christmas:

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Each of us will be given this Child, who is born to be Light. To be the great light that guides us and illuminates the darkness that exists in our lives, in the darkness that exists in the world. And confident of this promise, on Christmas Eve, we go to church at night, so that this light may shine within us.

We go at night, because in us there is darkness that only the coming of Jesus can dispel. We go at night, because so often we do not see the way, and Jesus is born to give us the counsel. We go at night, because sometimes the future brings fears, and Jesus is born to give us the fortress. We go at night, because death makes us distrust the promise of God’s life, and Jesus is born to give us Eternity. We go at night, because divisions continue to exist in us and in the world, and Jesus is born to give us peace.

When I think of my first Christmas at the convent, I realize that the dispossession of all I knew as Christmas, far from moving me away from its true meaning, increased my openness to the mystery I was living. And it has increased my openness to a new family, a new home, new traditions and all that Christmas is, too.

It is true that the whole context helped me in this deepening, but I believe the first step of this journey took place within me. I have realized that sometimes we want to live Advent in a serious way and really take a spiritual path. We want to create this space for Jesus to be born within us and we come to Christmas Eve, and we only have a stable inside us to receive it. But Christmas is also accepting our poverty to welcome Jesus, yet still doing the best we can. Because we can trust that he, in his love for us, will come—no matter what.

And in this trust, everything we know as Christmas, family, traditions, decorations, presents, memories, can be lived as a gift. Can be lived with this deep understanding, that the ultimate end of every gift is to love God and our brothers and sisters. Anything that does not have this purpose is not a gift, it is not Christmas.

At Midnight Mass, I saw many families sitting together in the pews of the church, and for a moment I found myself remembering so many times in the past in which I had sat in the pews of my parish together with my family, celebrating the birth of Jesus. But with my new community, with my co-novices, with all those people from a parish that was not mine, I felt very deeply the joy of Jesus being born among humanity, I felt a joy that was greater than what I knew, I felt the joy of what I’ve believed as far back as I can remember.

A child has been given to us, the child of God who comes to save us!


by Sr. Marta Gaspar, novice, Daughters of St. Paul

image: Christmas at Faro, Portugal, wikicommons

Advent, Christmas, Listening to the Heart

What if I can’t “rest merry”?

In the shops, it’s all “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” but every time Margaret hears the words, she wants to cry. She’s going about her everyday Advent errands, dutifully buying gifts and wrapping paper and cards; but, “I feel like there’s a barrier between me and everybody else,” she says. “Like I’m seeing them through some kind of blurry lens.” The reason for that distance? “My husband died in September,” Margaret replies. “I just can’t synch up. I feel sad in the middle of so many people being happy. When I do forget for a moment, when I feel even the smallest joy, I immediately feel guilty for not thinking about Daniel.”

Margaret’s story isn’t unique. No matter when we lose people we love, the first Christmas without them is bound to be painful. And that pain isn’t reserved for death: the sadness of the breakup of a relationship, the loss of a job, missing a faraway friend, fearing for a loved one in the throes of a major illness or addiction… the list goes on and on, for there are myriad events and situations that leave us feeling grief-stricken and therefore inadequate at Christmastime.

My childhood Christmases were shadowed by a death in my own family. When I was two years old, my sister Adele was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that has effective treatments today but very few then. She was born in October and died a few days before Christmas, and my mother never fully grieved—or recovered. All through my growing-up years, she sat and watched the rest of us trim the tree, never joining in because it made her so sad. I understand the depth of her pain, but I think she never really understood what its expression did to the rest of us.

I can’t think that God wanted our Christmases to be dismal, or for Margaret’s to be guilt-ridden. But how else can you cope with overwhelming grief when the world tells you to be merry?

If you Google words like “Catholic” and “grief” and “Christmas,” you’ll find some extremely sensible suggestions for practical ways of getting through—asking others for help, honoring missing loved ones, taking time for oneself. If you are grieving this year, I urge you to read them—especially, perhaps, these 64 tips. But the reality is that nearly all these approaches are strategic in nature, offering guidelines for how to manage grief during the holidays. And of course that’s necessary: we all need ways of coping with the various feelings, situations, people, and memories that can exacerbate sorrow during Advent and Christmas.

But the real need is for something beyond coping strategies. As many people who have moved through grief and sadness have learned, one great comfort is in storytelling; grief loves stories, because it is resistant to logic and linear thinking, but wraps itself lovingly around a narrative. It’s why we take comfort in telling stories about those we have lost.

Advent and Christmas are just filled with holy narratives. What can they tell us about handling grief?

The first thing they say is we’re not alone. In the most difficult places on our path, spaces of sanctuary are waiting for us. Pregnant, unmarried, and alone, Mary is in a perilous state after Gabriel departs; she has said the most luminous and yet most perilous “yes” that humankind can say. What does she do next? She goes in search of someone who can help. She goes to her cousin Elizabeth, who welcomes Mary and offers her safety, blessing, and sanctuary (Luke 1:39-45). Where are places—and people—who represent sanctuary in your life? Can you turn to them now?

The second thing we learn from the Scripture story is to open ourselves to the unexpected. Joseph was in terrible grief when he learned of Mary’s pregnancy. His whole future was shattered. Not only marriage but divorce was now in his path. He must have felt sick at heart, numb, empty. And what happens? Joseph falls asleep and God speaks to him in his dream (Matthew 1:20-21; 2:13, 19-20, 22). When God wants to convey something to us, he frequently uses unexpected methods: dreams, stories, metaphors, intuition, poetry, art. God often manifests in our peripheral vision. Are there places where you might be able to discern him now?

Finally, Scripture tells us that incarnation begins in darkness. The country was occupied and its people enslaved, and this is where God chose to be born. God comes to us in the darkness that Advent begins to pierce, and promises we shall see a great light. When we are in pain and grief, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path, that is precisely where God meets us. His first priority is not to do away with the dark—but to be present to us in it. Comfort my people, Isaiah cries, and “I will give you treasures of darkness” (Isaiah 45:3). Can you look for God’s presence, not beyond your pain, but within it?

This is not the end of God’s story, and it isn’t the end of your story, either. The way you feel this Advent and Christmas is not the way you will always feel. As difficult as it is to imagine in these painful moments, there will be holidays when lightness returns to you. There will be holidays when you can celebrate with memory rather than grief.

But in the meantime, take God’s Word to heart. You are not alone. Stay open to the unexpected. Sit with God in the darkness. Christmas is coming.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir











Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

How can I forgive?

Scott Hurd’s groundbreaking book on forgiveness has been revised and updated, and the new Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach will be available September 20. Pauline Books & Media’s Jeannette de Beauvoir caught up with him to get some of his thoughts on forgiveness in the current age.

Jeannette: Why a revision of this book at this particular time?

Scott Hurd: A lot has happened in the eight years since the book was first published. Pope Francis was elected, and he speaks about forgiveness a great deal. I’m very grateful that he places such a strong emphasis on forgiveness in living a Christian life, and I’ve incorporated some of what he’s said. Also, I wanted to address certain topics I failed to explore in the first edition. There’s the matter of forced or premature forgiveness, which can be a real issue in certain religious and therapeutic circles, and some have written about in light of the #MeToo movement. I also wished to nuance the common assertion that God won’t forgive us until we forgive others first. And then, in light of the anger and disappointment felt by so many Catholics today, I’ve explored the question of forgiving the Church itself.

Jeannette: What is the chief obstacle to forgiveness?

Scott Hurd: I had to think about this one; I’m not sure if the chief obstacle is ongoing pain from a hurt we’ve experienced, or the desire for justice in response to that hurt. Of course, they’re both intertwined, because ongoing pain can fuel a wish for retribution. Forgiveness involves letting go of the desire for revenge, which is an essential element in allowing our pain to be healed. But forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us; it has to be learned, as it conflicts with our “natural instinct to pay back evil with evil,” as John Paul II once explained. And resisting a natural instinct is not easy.  The path to forgiveness can be a long, hard road along which we sometimes take one step forward, followed by two steps back. At some level we realize this when we begin the journey, and that fear can prevent us from taking the first step.

Jeannette: Why do people find it difficult to forgive others? And to accept forgiveness from others?

Scott Hurd: There are many reasons why people find it difficult to forgive. Sometimes people find the concept of forgiveness difficult because they misunderstand what forgiveness is, and fear that forgiving someone lets them “off the hook.” But that’s not the case. While forgiveness does indeed require letting go of the desire for revenge, it does not require that we abandon the quest for justice. “I forgive you” it not the same as “That’s okay; don’t worry about it.” If we’ve been hurt, that’s definitely not okay.  Forgiveness isn’t a denial of our pain and doesn’t pretend that nothing happened or condone what’s been done to us. In the Christian worldview, strict justice is tempered with mercy, but actions still have consequences. To give a rather lighthearted example, a teenager who lies about missing curfew can be forgiven, but they’re still grounded next weekend!

Jeannette: I’ve always been in awe of the forgiveness exhibited by the Amish families of Nickel Mines after the shooting there. Not many people can be that clear about what is necessary to follow Christ in times when emotions run high. Is there a way to open our hearts to that kind of utter forgiveness and love? 

As I said earlier, forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to us. It has to be learned, and it can be practiced. It’s for good reason that the Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies families as schools of forgiveness. With the Amish, it seems that they had created a culture in which forgiveness was an essential part. In face of the horrific tragedy at Nickel Mines, forgiving wasn’t counter-cultural to them. While those of us who aren’t Amish may admire that, it can also seem foreign and even unrealistic. But perhaps their witness can challenge us to help change our cultures.

I’m glad you mentioned “when emotions run high.” When we’ve been hurt, it’s natural for us to feel angry, and that’s okay. That’s a normal reaction, and we need to acknowledge and process that anger as we heal. But anger and forgiveness aren’t mutually exclusive. The baseline of forgiveness is the choice to not retaliate and respond to hurt with additional hurt. And we can make that choice, even when our emotions are running high.

A distinction can be made between “decisional forgiveness” and “emotional forgiveness.” Decisional forgiveness concerns the choice to forgive, regardless of our feelings, while emotional forgiveness is achieved only when we feel that we have forgiven. Just because the Amish quickly extended forgiveness to the gunman who killed their children doesn’t mean that they didn’t experience immense grief, anger, and sadness. They did. While they began with decisional forgiveness, emotional forgiveness only came later, after sadness and tears.

Jeannette: Do we have to think about forgiveness, work through a mental process, before we can do it?

Scott Hurd: Forgiveness is a choice and not simply a feeling, so yes. People sometimes consider forgiveness as an option only after their other ways of dealing with the pain and grief of their having been hurt aren’t working for them anymore. They become sick and tired of being sick and tired and wonder if there’s a different way forward. Then they’ll think: “Maybe I’ll try forgiveness.” And that choice to consider forgiveness will hopefully lead to making the choice to forgive – a choice that can often need to be made over and over again.

Jesus said that we should forgive others “seventy times seven times.” And sometimes we have to do that for a single hurt- especially a grave one- as we continue to contend with our feelings and perhaps a desire for revenge.

Jeannette: Forgiveness is often coupled with restoration or reconciliation of some kind. How necessary is restoration/reconciliation in the forgiveness process?

Scott Hurd: I’m glad you asked this as forgiveness and reconciliation are sometimes confused. Reconciliation is the restoration of a broken relationship, and it can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes, however, reconciliation isn’t always possible, such as if a person who hurt us has died or is no longer a part of our life. And it might be that reconciliation is inadvisable, as with dangerous or abusive people. We can forgive from a distance the people we should keep at a distance. While people who hurt us are always worthy of our forgiveness, they may no longer be worthy of our trust.

In short, true reconciliation requires forgiveness, but forgiveness doesn’t always lead to reconciliation. Forgiveness only requires one willing party; reconciliation necessitates two.

Jeannette: Please share one story from your book that you find the most enlightening.

Scott Hurd: My favorite story is that of the old army sergeant who was dying in a VA hospital from internal bleeding ulcers. I encountered it years ago in an issue of National Geographic, which is the last place I thought I’d find a good story about forgiveness! Thirty years after WW2, he was still wrestling with resentments against old enemies, and it was literally killing him from the inside out. It was only after a burly cigar-chomping doctor (this was the ‘70s…) blurted out, “Good God, Sarge, who do you hate?” that this hurting, tough, and dying man burst into tears and began to confront the pain he’d been carrying for decades.

While this story is certainly colorful, I also think it’s deeply compelling as it can give hope of healing for anyone who struggles under the debilitating burden of great pain and anger.

Jeannette: Why is it so easy to hold a grudge?

Scott Hurd: For many reasons. Sometimes the prevailing culture doesn’t help. While forgiveness may have been popularized in recent decades- which is a good thing – a belief still persists that forgiveness is a sign of weakness or defeat

Plus, when we’re in a wounded state we can be tempted to exploit our situation to what we think is our advantage. We can play the martyr in a quest for sympathy. We might enjoy feeling smugly superior to the one who harmed us; we’re the “good guy,” and they’re the “bad guy.” Our identity can even become one and the same with our hurt; we’re known as the cheated spouse, the unappreciated child, the wronged employee.

Because it’s so easy to fall into these traps, it’s also easy to hold a grudge. But forgiveness, thankfully, offers us a better way forward.

Jeannette: What happens if we cannot forgive someone?

Scott Hurd: The science is pretty clear about this. If we get stuck in anger and resentment, we place ourselves at risk for depression, chronic back pain, struggles with anxiety and sleep, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and cancer. Even our memory and our ability to think straight are compromised.

But failing to forgive can impact our relationships too. Perhaps our response to being hurt is to retreat into a shell, cutting ourselves off from others and their friendship and love. Or, since misery often loves company, our bitterness can drive people away.

Those who refuse to forgive should dig two graves, warns an ancient Chinese proverb. But those who forgive can enrich their lives, benefitting not only themselves, but those around them too.

Jeannette: What happens if we cannot forgive ourselves?

Scott Hurd: There’s an old wisdom that says that we can’t give what we don’t have. And I think that’s true of forgiveness. If we don’t forgive ourselves, we’ll find it that much harder to forgive anyone else. Even more, when we don’t forgive ourselves, we often end up punishing ourselves.

Guilt is not a bad thing; it’s a sign that we have a conscience and are in touch with reality. But seeking to make amends or restitution for what we’ve done is far healthier than getting stuck in chronic guilt. It’s better to do good, than to feel bad.

Jeannette: How do you forgive an institution?

Scott Hurd: That is a complicated question! Some would insist that only people, not institutions, can be forgiven. Bernie Madoff might be forgiven by those he ripped off in his Ponzi scheme, but how might Enron be forgiven by those who lost jobs and retirement—especially since Enron no longer exists? No, it’s the Enron decision-makers who are candidates for forgiveness.

Some say that this is true of the Church as well. Then again, the Church is no ordinary institution, but is like a sacrament, meant to be a sign of God’s love to the world. It is the Body of Christ: Christ is the head, Christians are the members, and the whole body is filled with the Holy Spirit. “We are the Church,” it can be rightly said, which is why some maintain that the Church itself can be forgiven for when it reflects God’s love imperfectly, or not at all. However, the traditional understanding is that while the Church as Christ’s perfect body isn’t a candidate for forgiveness, its sinful members are.

When we’re in pain, distinctions like these may not matter much. As I say in the book, maybe who or what we forgive depends on how we’ve been hurt, and what approach will best help us heal.

Jeannette: How do people explain to others (lapsed Catholics, nonbelievers, etc.) how they can still love the Church?

Scott Hurd: That’s a hard one; there’s a lot of understandable anger toward the Church right now, especially in view of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. This scandal exemplifies the Church at its institutional worst. But even those outside the Church might be able to love it, I guess, through admiring its witness and fundamental commitment to serving the sick, the poor, and the disenfranchised- those “on the margins.” This, I believe, is the Church at its institutional best, which can elicit the admiration and support of those who themselves are not a part of it.

I think of what the French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus said to a Catholic audience just three years after the Second World War. Camus was certainly an agnostic, and quite possibly an atheist. But he understood that the Church could be a great force for good, and he wanted to encourage that.

Here’s what he said:

 What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. […] Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?



Inspiration, Listening to the Heart

Think with your heart, not with your fear

We live in times that are difficult to process. Events occur that are beyond our capacity to understand and fit into our worldview as people, much less as Catholics. In a sense, we’re living in a constant state of spiritual cognitive dissonance, and it’s anything but comfortable.

I’ve been feeling that the most around two current situations: the burning of the Amazon rainforest, and the worldwide migrant crisis. The enormity of the issues is exhausting—what can one person do? How can I even begin to think about what is happening, and all the implications of what is happening, much less do anything about it? And where am I hearing the voice of Jesus in the world as it is today?

For me, honestly? The times feel nothing short of apocalyptic. Surely this is how the world will end, in flames of fire and accompanied by the cries of lost children?

Those are a lot of questions. And as always when I’m in a panic, I move and think too quickly, too superficially, I’m too ready to give up. Take a deep breath. There’s a nagging feeling that I am asking questions, but they might not be the right ones.

The very first Christian communities, the people St. Paul addresses in his letters, the early Church, they all had something in common with my current fear: they too believed they were living in apocalyptic times. Guided by St. Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr, they believed Jesus would return soon, within their lifetimes, and thus the world would end shortly. So as I struggle with my eschatological panic, there has to be something I can learn from them.

And there is. In the Epistle to Diognetes, a second-century writer describes those first Christians:

They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. To sum it all up in one word—what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

This passage reminds me of two things. First, it reminds me this world is not the perfect world to which I aspire; “they pass their days on earth,” says the writer, “but they are citizens of heaven.” As a citizen of heaven, then, how can I view the state of the world in which I am living? And that very question changes my perspective. Instead of anger and hopelessness, I can look on the world with pity and compassion. With sadness, too; but sadness without despair. Surely that is the way God looks upon his beautiful creation and his beautiful children.

The second thing this letter teaches me is that, even expecting the end to be imminent, even living in the very shadow of the final days, the early Christians went about their lives, getting married, breaking bread together, following the laws of the land. Even as they knew they were about to leave, they continued in their callings and in their lives. My panic, my crazed thoughts about how I can effectuate change? This may not be the best use of my time and gifts. Going about my life might be a better way.

The early Church listened to the voice of Jesus, relayed to them through the apostles and early Church Fathers, and lived a way of life that conformed to what it heard that voice saying.

So where is the voice of Jesus in my world? How can I hear Jesus speaking, here and now?

When I ask, “what can I do?” the truth is I already know the answer. It is inherent in who I am. I have remarkably few skills. I’m not much of an activist, I can’t build anything with my hands, I don’t have a head for figures. What I can do is write. Jesus already spoke to me: in giving me this talent and allowing me years in which to hone it, he is saying, “this is your role.”

I think if we all slow down and think with our hearts rather than our fears, we can find many ways in which Jesus is calling us to act. What skills and talents were you given? Do you listen well? Can you teach? Do you have time to volunteer somewhere? Do you have enough money to donate some to help others? We are not all called to drop water on flaming forests or rescue children from detention centers, though some of us are, and they are heroes for sure. What we are all called to do, rather, is discern how our own individual vocations, our callings, can help us respond.

I was recently reading the forthcoming Jesus Speaking, a daily devotional taken from Gabrielle Bossis’ spiritual classic He and I, and I remind myself that many of Gabrielle’s conversations with Jesus took place in a world that had felt hopeless, too. Nazi Germany occupied her country, and all around her people were living under suspicion, privation, even terror. In some ways, that time may well also have felt apocalyptic. Yet like the second-century Christians, she stayed steady in her course, writing out her conversations, tending her garden.

When issues feel too big for us to get our arms around them, it’s time to bring our thinking down to our own level. To ask how we can live out our own individual Christian vocations, and what those particular vocations can bring to the table in this moment.

Jesus is speaking. We’ll hear him when we can think with our hearts and not with our fear.

by Jeannette de Beauvoir



Listening to the Heart

Listening to the Heart of Humanity, Listening to the Heart of God

Listening isn’t as easy as it sounds. We all know how often we hear or see something, come to a conclusion about what is occurring, only to discover after inquiry that something entirely different was happening.

Actually, this just happened to me today. The mind is prone to creating explanations for what we perceive with our senses. “He doesn’t want me here.” “She is trying to get out of helping.” “They don’t care about the neighborhood.” And on and on…. These are stories: commentaries knit together from the memories, experiences, reactions, wounds of a lifetime. These kinds of stories seem to make a lot of sense, but actually often don’t add up to the truth.

Truth. If we want to listen to the heart of humanity and the heart of God, we are seeking the truth of what it is like to be a human in today’s world, and what God feels toward us as he bends over us with great tenderness.

So why are we listening to the heart of humanity AND the heart of God? If we listen only to the human experience, we can easily lose our way. The heart of God is our GPS for understanding the true dignity of the human person and how that dignity is lived in the historic transitions the world is now undergoing.

So, to really hear the authentic heart of humanity and the heart of God, we need to navigate past stories, our own and others. We need to dig deep for the facts, which means developing skills for understanding what and who is behind the way the news is reported, and choosing our information sources wisely. We need to identify the story-telling which like weeds chokes our vision of the deepest reality of what is happening: the connections, the mystery, the needs, the dreams. And we need to really hear what is at the heart of the situation.

We invite you to listen with us. Too many polarizing issues are tearing apart the country and the world. We aren’t listening to the issues, but the hearts of the people on every side who are trying to find their way through them. We are listening to the heart of God. God teaches us in his Son to fight for our brothers and sisters, even when we disagree with them or believe what they are doing is morally wrong. Jesus loved us when we were yet sinners, and invites us to do the same for each other.

Listening together needs a method. So this is what we propose:

My Sisters will post on the blog (and share to the Group) somewhat weekly on an ongoing basis a video, image, link to a poem, scripture passage, link to an essay, or media literacy component. The My Sisters community can share comments and similar types of material. We will steer clear of political discussions regarding the issues, in an effort to hear more clearly what God may be asking of us.

And so we begin with this prayer:

New Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord Jesus, give us an awareness of the massive forces threatening our world.
Where there is armed conflict,
let us stretch out our arms to our brothers and sisters.
Where there is abundance,
let there be simple lifestyles and sharing.
Where there is poverty,
let there be dignity and constant striving for justice.
Where there is selfish ambition,
let there be humble service.
Where there is injustice,
let there be atonement.
Where there is despair,
let there be hope in the Good News.
Where there are wounds of division,
let there be unity and wholeness.
Help us to be committed to the building of your kingdom,
not seeking to be cared for, but to care;
not expecting to be served, but to serve others;
not desiring material security,
but placing our security in your love.
For it is only in loving imitation of you, Lord,
that we can discover the healing springs of life
to bring about new birth on our earth
and hope for the world. Amen.