Exciting News!

My new book just came out!!! And it’s all about Sacrifice!!

My new book just came out!!! And it’s all about Sacrifice!!!

Not a moment too soon, either, for we are living in trying times. The world seems to have lost its way, and many of us feel powerless to correct its course. We begin each day wondering what happened to the world we once knew, and some are fearful of the future. But it’s very possible that Our Lord has allowed this opportunity in history as a reminder for us that this world is passing away. (1 John 2:17)

Now is a perfect time to step back from material things and remember that there is something more for which we were made. As Christians, our allegiance is not to this world, but to God alone, through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So what should we do? Perhaps we should take this time to return to our roots, examining what it means to be a Christian in the world today.

It would seem that anyone who truly desires to follow Christ, should return to His words and find out what He actually said to His would-be followers. We owe it to ourselves and to Him to consider His call as He made it, unblemished by the mores of the culture:

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?

(Matthew 16:24-26).

Surely Christ’s words are challenging. I don’t know about you, but if given the opportunity, my natural inclination is to avoid the cross like the plague. I’d rather walk around it, step over it, crawl under it or run from it – anything but embrace it.

Yet these were the words of Christ to his disciples. These are His living words to us. Today. The question is, how do we go about doing this? What does denying myself look like? How exactly must I carry my cross? That is the subject of my latest book — The essence of what it means to be a Christian. Essentially, it means sacrifice.

In The Lost Art of Sacrifice, you will learn

  • The difference between suffering and sacrifice.
  • Why life is not measured by what you get – it’s about what you give.
  • The reason God prepared your soul for sacrificial love.
  • How to avoid Satan’s traps by recognizing lies of the culture that are sure to lead you astray.
  • Why sacrifice is not something that happens to you but is an act of the will.
  • How to cultivate the Art of Sacrifice in your life.

Find your copy now at most booksellers near you or online! Click on the book below to order at a discount directly from the publisher, Sophia Institute Press:

Suffering: Mess or Masterpiece?

Is suffering a messy canvas splattered with a mishmash of random paint splotches? Or is it a masterpiece of order and beauty, full of meaning and inspiration? It all depends on how you look at it.

It has long been a teaching of the Church that suffering, whether minor or debilitating, should be received as a gift. I’ve read countless spiritual works that put suffering in this proper perspective, and the concept sounds beautiful and glorious. At times I’ve even been inspired enough to want to experience the cross in a “big” way [You know, all those little annoyances throughout the day are piddly, but the BIG stuff — THAT can move mountains (Read with a high degree of sarcasm)!].

In reality, though, I think suffering is more like a magnificent painting. From afar, depending on how people approach it, suffering has the potential to be beautiful, moving and inspirational; but when you get close, it looks like a mishmash of random paint splotches, strewn about in random order — sloppy and very ugly.

Recently, our family has experienced the messiness close up. In the midst of doctor’s appointments, medications, fears, expenses and just the inconvenience of living with a new most likely permanent medical condition, we’ve had several discussions about how much this has renewed our sympathy for others who have endured suffering, and the amazing examples that we’ve witnessed through our lives. My husband’s father was one of those inspirational examples. He passed away nearly ten years ago, after a painful battle with bone cancer.

Because of the admirable way my father-in-law approached his final days, he has become for us an even greater hero than he was. As a dairy farmer, this man woke before the crack of dawn and worked until late at night seven days a week. Yet for all his toughness, he never forgot the Source of strength, and was devout in his faith, keeping a weekly holy hour for over 50 years, participating as much as possible in parish life and always sharing a prayer-centered relationship with his beautiful wife. In the end, despite his debilitating pain, he was joyful, grateful, loving and — most endearingly — childlike. With every shot of excruciating pain, rather than cursing, he’d call out his devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. He held fast to his rosary and prayed fervently during his waking hours. As we stepped back from the splotches, we could see that he was a magnificent portrait of the Christian life (and death).

In our current political climate, activists have set their sites on erasing all the splotches. They want to eradicate suffering on every level, to the point of promoting abortion to the moment of birth, expanding euthanasia for any reason, as well as promoting many other evils that seek to rid our culture of the magnificent beauty and saving power inherent in the sacrifice of suffering. By erasing all the splotches, they destroy the masterpieces of life that God Himself has offered for our good.

Despite a culture of death that insists suffering be eradicated at all costs and by any means, we must remember that as long as suffering is approached with resignation and not bitterness, it can be redemptive and leads to greater union with God. As C.S. Lewis said,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Saint Teresa of Calcutta said,

“…remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”

Blessed are those who suffer — how counter-intuitive in today’s society!

Well, after my little pep rally above, here we sit. In the midst of suffering. Our pom-poms may not wave quite so high behind closed doors. But we are learning slowly but surely how to be grateful. And having witnessed role models like my father-in-law certainly helps. The question is, will we stand too close to the painting and focus on the mess of “splotches”? Or will we stand back and appreciate the masterpiece that our current situation truly represents? With God’s grace as the paintbrush, we’re hoping for the latter.

Recently I read some encouraging words by Lorenzo Scupoli. Perhaps I should post them around the house as a reminder —  both for us and for our children:

Now that you are in a position to please Him more than ever, speak from the fullness of your heart and say: “[This] is the will of God that is accomplished in me. From all eternity God’s love has chosen me to undergo this suffering today. May He be blessed forever!”  – Spiritual Combat, pg. 74-75

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Artwork: The Crucifixion by Diego Velazquez (from Wikimedia Commons)

The Sorrows of Motherhood

In this, the month devoted to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, it seemed fitting to examine the sorrows inherent in motherhood. Let’s begin with a quote by Saint Pope John XXIII in his Journal of a Soul. It is a little long, but hang on – I think you’ll find his message to be profound: 

During this retreat, the Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me, and for the success of my priestly ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ And also I want all  the undertakings in which I shall take part during this present year to be done in this spirit, in so far as I have a share in them; all are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord: plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing, without the slightest attachment to them, ready to destroy or abandon them at a sign from those to whom I owe a obedience.

O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self love, but the will is there and comes from my heart. Help me! Help me!

The keen sense of my own nothingness must ripen and perfect in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them. Although I am only just 30 years old, I begin to feel some wear and tear on the nerves. This will not do. When I feel irritable I must think of my own worthlessness and of my duty to understand and sympathize with everyone, without passing harsh judgments. This will help me to keep calm.

The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with women. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Past experience is an encouragement for the future. Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. It would be dangerous if in this work I were to presume on my own powers for a single moment. – Journal of a Soul, page 179 – 180.

If we changed PRIEST to MOTHER and 30 years to _____ years old, John XXIII could have been reading about the vocation of motherhood. Allow me to walk you through the passage.

The Lord has been pleased to show me yet again all the importance for me and for the success of my [motherly] ministry, of the spirit of sacrifice, which I desire shall from now on evermore inspire my conduct ‘as a servant and prisoner of Jesus Christ.’ The joys of motherhood are often discussed. But the difficulties, not so much. Perhaps you’ve never thought about it, but motherhood is actually a cross. Despite all its joys, there is a very painful aspect to our vocation. Whether concerned about a child’s character, sufferings, future decisions, safety or any number of other issues, our hearts can become overwhelmed with a love so powerful that it would be better expressed as excruciating sorrow. At times, the responsibility of a mother to lead her children to heaven is too daunting to comprehend.

Until recently, I never paid much attention to the Seven sorrows of Mary, but I’ve been reading about them lately. Mary was such a powerful example of Paul’s instruction in Roman’s 12:1, “… Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Each day we must we willing to crawl back up on that altar, regardless of the cost. It can be a challenge, but we must continue to persevere in faith.

And also… all the undertakings… are to be done for the Lord and in the Lord:  Plenty of enthusiasm but no anxiety about their greater success. I will do them as if everything depended on me but as if I myself counted for nothing…  This is the greatest challenge of all. We all know of parents who have done their best to raise their children to become saints, praying and sacrificing daily for them; but their children still left the faith, lived in sin, and tormented their parents with their decisions. This is devastating to witness and causes considerable anxiety for countless mothers who, in general, would claim to be devout in their Faith. Is it possible that we’ve learned to trust God with everything but the salvation of our children? More than anything, we must let go of our own pride and know that whatever happens, Ours is a God who answers prayer, and that He will lead our children Home.

O blessed Jesus, what I am proposing to do is hard and I feel weak, because I am full of self-love, but the will is there and comes from the heart. Help me! Help me! We can only carry on from day-to-day by the sheer grace of God, because when we presume to act on our own, it is disastrous, as noted by Pope John XXIII. 

Most of us would like to say that the keen sense of my own nothingness [has ripened] and [perfected] in me the spirit of kindness, great kindness, making me patient and forbearing with others in the way I judge and treat them, but if you’re anything like me, more often than not it only causes you to question everything you do as a mother. Like many parents, my husband and I have some children who, although they are certainly not perfect, tend to be kind, gentle, patient, compassionate, diligent and full of faith. And we have others who, while good at heart, insist on rocking the boat and questioning virtually everything we say. Because of the friction that parent/child relationships inevitably bring from time to time, I’ve taken to frequently questioning myself. Have I not been kind enough? Strict enough? Loving enough? Available enough? Am I too matter of fact? Or too wishy-washy? Am I to harsh? Or to meek? Sadly, while we often turn to The Lord in desperation, in reality, we tend to lean too hard on our own understanding. Why else would we be so unsure of ourselves? Trust more than anything will result in a foundation of peace that enables patience and kindness to bloom.

The work I am doing now requires great delicacy and prudence as it frequently means dealing with [children]. I intend therefore that my behavior shall always be kind, modest and dignified so as to divert attention from my own person and give a richer spiritual quality to my work. Recently I read the biography of Saint Monica, who suffered for many years as she begged God to lead her son back to Him. I found Monica’s story one that offers much in the way of hope and perspective. Unfortunately, most of us are not living saints. When dealing with our children, too often kindness and dignity go out the window when everyone needs mom and the chores all need to be done. There is a solution. We must take time out to strengthen our relationship with God. We must, must, MUST pursue holiness for ourselves. That intimate relationship with Our Lord will establish a profoundly spiritual dimension to our vocation and will enable us to approach our children with the delicacy and prudence necessary for long term success.

Here again, if I think poorly of myself and distrust my own powers and raise my thoughts constantly to Jesus, returning to his embrace as soon as I have ended my task, it will be a great protection. When my oldest was five years old, I remember sobbing through a rosary, begging Mary to lead my children to her son in spite of me. Being aware of our lack of power is usually not the problem; hopefully that knowledge helps us to spend more time on our knees. All failings aside, we must remember that it is by God’s grace alone that our children will grow to know love and serve Him, and it must be our daily prayer that, like Saint Joseph, one day in the not-so-distant future each and every one of them will die in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

Giving up the Fight

Who among us had not endured pain so excruciating that at the time we could not even whisper our Lord’s name?  It is in those moments that we most willingly lift our hearts to Him.  When we can do nothing else, we offer whatever we have left. We surrender.

Ahem. I am a fighter.  Had I been on the Titanic, I guarantee you I would not have been the picture of peace, praying the rosary on the promenade deck.  I’d have been 1024px-Christ_Falling_under_the_Cross_MET_DP805728scrounging up wood to build a raft.  I might have gone down, but I would have gone down fighting.

In some ways, my fighting spirit has been invaluable to me.   When I was young, I overcame what some would call “difficult circumstances” to become the first person in my family to graduate from college and obtain a master’s degree.  Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I had a promising career as a marketing manager for an innovative division of a giant telecom company.  And today? Well, at this moment I am wading my way through life with four teenagers and two high energy little ones, and have been homeschooling for the last 17 years (which definitely takes a bit of resolve).

All well and good.  But frankly, while determination has served me well in this world, having a fighting spirit makes for a pretty crummy spiritual life at times.

You see, I’m a doer.  If I have a problem, or if anyone I love has a problem, by golly, I won’t rest until I solve it.  And if I don’t have the necessary knowledge at my disposal, I will go to the ends of the earth to find it.  Or Amazon.  Which is probably the same thing.

If you could see my selection of spiritual reading books, you might think you’d entered your local Catholic book store.  And believe it or not, I’ve read most of them.  But putting them into practice? That’s another subject altogether.  Every book I have ever read on the spiritual life has advised me to “Be.”  Be present.  Be silent.  Be open.

Essentially, surrender.

Surrender is not something I do well.  That is unless I’m laid out on the floor with nary a breath left in my body.

And then?

Well…and then…it’s beautiful.  There are no words to describe the peace that accompanies true surrender.

I have a feeling I’m not alone.  Who among us had not endured pain so excruciating that at the time we could not even whisper our Lord’s name?  It is in those moments that we most willingly lift our hearts to Him.  When we can do nothing else, we offer whatever we have left. We surrender.

I think the most poignant description of this experience I’ve seen comes from Fr. Walter Ciszek, who spent some 23 years in Russian concentration camps during and after WWII:

I had talked of finding and doing his will, but never in the sense of totally giving up my own will.  I had talked of trusting him, indeed I truly had trusted him, but never in the sense of abandoning all other sources of support and relying on his grace alone.  I could never find it in me, before, to give up self completely.  There were always boundaries beyond which I would not go, little hedges marking out what I knew in the depths of my being was a point of no return.  God in his providence had been constant in his grace, always providing opportunities for this act of perfect faith and trust in him, always urging me to let go the reins and trust in him alone.  I had trusted him, I had cooperated with his grace – but only up to a point.  Only when I had reached a point of total bankruptcy of my own powers had I at last surrendered.  

That moment, that experience, completely changed me.  I can say it now in all sincerity, without false modesty, without a sense either of exaggeration or of embarrassment.  I have to call it a conversion experience; it was at once a death and a resurrection. (He Leadeth Me, p. 78)

Which of us does not desire with all our heart to experience the resurrection?

I would venture to guess that most, if not all of us would give anything to unite ourselves so closely to Christ.  So the question becomes, Why must we endure such excruciating pain before we can simply and without obstacle, raise our hearts to God?

According to scripture, …unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. – John 12:24-25.  Or, as one priest used to summarize it, “No cross, no crown.”

Father Ciszek experienced this mysterious truth in a profound way: …it was at once a death and a resurrection.

Usually, I’m unwilling to die.

Except for those times when the suffering is so acute (whether physically, emotionally or spiritually) that death doesn’t sound like such a bad alternative.

Thankfully, as I get older, I’ve noticed those times come more frequently. For me, desperation has not so much come from physical illness – more often I’ve been blessed with other types of battles.  Regardless, with age has certainly come the wisdom to know that all the fighting in the world will not solve some problems.

So, while I have a long way to go, I do see a ray of hope in the distance. Eventually, I’ll either learn to give up the fight, or I’ll have all the fight knocked out of me.  Either way, at that point (God willing), my surrender will be complete.  In this world, many may consider that a cause for concern.  But in the beautiful, complete and perfect world of God’s grace, it will be a good thing.


Note: If you like what you just read, please share and/or comment below. Also, please “Follow” to receive future posts promoting the virtue of sacrifice. 



Art: Christ Falling under the Cross by Charles Nicolas Cochin II (Wikimedia Commons)

The Implacable Power of the WILL

Of all the lies being told by the world, perhaps the most dangerous are those that seek to convince us that will power is a myth. For upon our will depends our cooperation with the grace of the Good Lord in procuring our salvation.

Let’s talk about will power. What exactly is it, you might ask? Most of us know in our gut what it is. But for the purposes of this discussion, I looked up the definition:

According to Webster’s Dictionary, will power is the ability to control yourself : strong determination that allows you to do something difficult.

According to psychologists, will power consists of the following:

  • The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse.
  • The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system.
  • Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self.
  • A limited resource capable of being depleted.

Of late, our culture seems to reject the very notion of the will. Everywhere we turn, comments and references treat human beings as mere animals, with little but base instincts, as opposed to persons, each endowed with a will formed in the image and likeness of God.

Of all the lies being told by the world, perhaps the most dangerous are those that seek to convince us that will power is a myth. For upon the will depends our cooperation with the grace of our Good Lord in procuring our salvation.

But the lies persist nonetheless; just take a look at these excerpts from an article originally published in the The Roanoke Times, which refers to studies which denounce the very notion of will power:

Parents, teachers, coaches and ill-tempered sergeants had insisted that the disciplined exertion of willpower against the baser temptations of sloth, gluttony and other moral frailties was essential to building sufficient character to overcome most adversity. What adversity couldn’t be overcome should at least be borne with a modicum of quiet longsuffering, if not grace. Imagine my relief to read of the scientific evidence that willpower is really a myth, especially as it relates to such primal endeavors as dieting. A number of psychologists around the country consider the entire notion of willpower to be just another artifact of quaint but misguided folklore…

In other words, if you keep raiding the refrigerator every night for six extra scoops of megachocolate ice cream, you’re not a pathetic, undisciplined, weak-willed glutton. You’re merely cooperating with the brain-chemical imperative as nature intended. You can’t help it. The chemicals made you do it. 

The above is about as blatant as messages come. But there have been subtle messages going on for decades. And they are severely affecting private behavior as well as public policy. Case in point: How long have advocates been insisting that birth control be made readily available in the schools? Kids are going to do what kids are going to do; they don’t have any self-control – the least we can do is help them be prepared… (Arguably, students have lived up to expectations).

Then there are seemingly innocent memes like the following:


Very cute; definitely funny; but is this the message that we should be sharing en mass on social media? And yet, countless are passed along day in and day out.

Examples abound. I’m sure you could add several to the few I’ve offered here. Regardless, the result of both subtle and not-so-subtle messages about the weakness of the will has been absolutely destructive. What one might call a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just think of a few statistics:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than a third of the adults in the U.S. suffer from obesity (36.5%). This number is up 10% since 2012 (26.2%).
  • Ashley Madison, a website that “caters to married people looking for an affair” boasts  a client list of 37,000,000. (Not a typo – that’s 37 million people that have registered with this web site!)
  • One in three Americans has absolutely no retirement savings (Time Magazine).
  • As of May 2016, consumer debt reached a whopping $3.6 trillion.

And in the world of religion,

  • According to Pew Research, across our nation, the number of people who pray and attend religious services consistently has dropped 3% across the board since 2007. And younger people observe religious practices significantly less than older populations.
  • On a more personal note, another Pew Research report shows that people are leaving the Catholic Church in droves – there are three million fewer Catholics today than in 2007 – could this have something to do with the notion that, unlike other Faiths, the will – particularly uniting our will to that of God – plays a key role in the in the teaching of the Catholic Church?

People point to this or that reason for declining participation in Christian churches, but isn’t there likely a huge correlation between the lack of interest in the area of religion and the decrease in control of our baser desires? And my point here is not that one has caused the other; but perhaps all areas have been driven by the deeper message that we’ve been hearing in the world – that we cannot control ourselves; whether eating, drinking, smoking, lust, language – you name it – we are destined to live with our own powerlessness, and must simply go along for the ride, despite that fact that both we and our progeny must find ways to cope with the devastation left in our wake.

What a tragedy.

God gave us free will out of respect and generosity, allowing us the opportunity to choose Him, rather than forcing our allegiance to a Supreme Being through His almighty power. That choice is not a momentary decision, but rather countless daily, even moment by moment decisions to grow in love and virtue; to participate in prayer and the sacraments, cooperating with the grace of God to become better versions of ourselves.

And those choices? Made every moment of our lives? They can only be made through continual acts of The Will.

It is often said that the devil’s greatest coup would be to convince the world that he doesn’t exist. That may be true. But his second greatest coup?

Could it be to convince you that you are helpless?

To make you believe that, in this moment, you cannot put down that doughnut. You will never lose that last ten pounds. You cannot limit your coffee intake to one cup a day. You cannot succeed long-term with an exercise routine. You cannot control that temper. You cannot resist that affair. You cannot afford to save for retirement. You cannot find the time to attend Mass today. You are too busy to pray the rosary. In fact, prayer in general is just too difficult. And the idea of making voluntary Sacrifices – are you kidding me?!

But these are all lies, lies, lies. The truth is that your will is in tact. In fact, according to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, it is the only thing you have that is truly yours:

There is only one thing in the world that is definitely and absolutely your own, and that is your will. Health, power, possessions and honor can all be snatched from you, but your will is irrevocably your own, even in hell. Hence, nothing really matters in life, except what you do with your will. — Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary, p. 25

Despite what the media says, despite what the “professionals” in the world of psychology say, regardless of what your best friend tells you,

you can put down that doughnut. You can lose that last ten pounds. You can limit your consumption. You can find time to exercise today. You can control you temper. You can resist that affair. You can save for retirement. You can find time to pray. You can grow in virtue. You can become a saint!

In order to obtain heaven, two ingredients are required:

God’s grace.
Your will.

The world has done a great job of convincing us that neither exists.

But the world is wrong.

But my will is weak, you say. Yes. I’m sure it is. There is only One Perfect Will. And while we share in God’s image, our fallen nature, like a leaden weight, seems destined to keep us from soaring to great heights.  But your will is there. And God’s grace is the chisel that will cut away the lead; for through Him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). And His power is made perfect in weakness (1 Corinthians 9).

By convincing us to disengage the will from our decisions, as opposed to actively directing the “self” toward the good, the devil has triumphantly succeeded in weakening it, if not destroying it altogether. (Ever heard the phrase, “use it or lose it“?) But just as not exercising the will causes it to become listless and weak, stepping up to the plate and engaging the will, even in small ways, will strengthen it. We can strengthen the will by actively pursuing good, and by developing habits and relationships that reinforce that pursuit and encourage us in our progress.

Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the  mastery of the will over its acts. (CCC #1734) (emphasis mine)

The will plays a pivotal role in both our physical and spiritual lives. Do not believe the lies. Not only does your health depend on your ability to see the lies for what they are; your salvation depends upon it as well. For how can you unite your will to God’s if you believe you have no power to do so? God is faithful. He has provided us with everything we need in order to pursue sanctity. And the gift of the will is a necessary component:

God does not require of us the martyrdom of the body; He requires only the martyrdom of the heart and the will. — St. John Vianney


Artwork: Cupid Overcoming Pan by David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690)

Does God Will Tragedy? Short Answer: YES. HOW AWESOME!

Everything that happens to you in life – not only the good, but also the horrific and the tragic – is by Divine design. In other words, it is God’s Will. If you’ve been taught otherwise, please read this.

It was cold. Slipping out of my car, I felt the frigid air maul my cheeks. With purse in one hand and keys in the other, I slammed the door of my little blue fearhatchback with my hip and began the short trek from the parking lot to my apartment, hunched over to protect my face from the cutting wind. It was only November, but Old Man Winter was asserting his authority with a vengeance. When I finally made it to the building, I was thankful there was no security system. With one fling of the door, I was all but inside. Just as the door began to swing shut, a young man came running up to follow me in. I remember thinking to myself that he was pretty smart, using a bandana to protect his face from the biting cold. I made an effort to smile back at him, grabbed the door again and pushed it open with my elbow, holding it a few seconds until he arrived.

After that, things happened in sensory images. Confusion as I was seized violently by this man to whom I had extended a neighborly act of kindness. A long stretch of blade against my throat. The chill of the knife as it lingered against my skin. Inhaling sharply in effort to keep it away; his anger at my retreat, the tautness of his body as he yanked me closer, the blade pressing into my throat, the heat of his torso like a wall of fire against my back.

I nearly lost my balance as he whipped me around to face him. But when he proceeded to drag me toward the door, something made me grab hold of the stair railing. I held on for dear life, assuring him over and over again, “I can’t see your face, I can’t see your face, I can’t see your face…” For some crazy reason, I thought that if he knew I couldn’t turn him in, he’d let me go. In the end, my resistance won out. There was only one door to the apartment complex, and the longer we struggled in the vestibule, the higher the risk that someone would walk in on the scene. Before I knew what was happening, he grabbed my purse and took off, leaving me without a scratch. But my purse was the least valuable thing he took that night. As he burst out that door into the frozen darkness, I felt a bone-chilling emptiness as I watched him escape with every shred of confidence I’d ever had. 

I learned later from detectives that the perpetrator was a serial rapist and that my hanging on to that railing may have saved my life, or at the very least, my purity. Yes, I thanked God that I was safe. And yes, there was a bit of “Whew!” when all was said and done. But not much. There was much more of “What if…?” What if I had not held on? What if he had forced me outside? What if he’d waited until I unlocked the door to my empty apartment? What if he’d sliced my throat? What if…what if….what if…?

Needless to say, from that moment on, I was fearful. For the first time in my life, I realized that I was NOT in control. That I was vulnerable.  I could pretend to be in control, but the reality was that I could never know what might be lurking around the next corner.

For years, I did not get on elevators with people I didn’t know. I was afraid to be alone outside at night. I refused to take the trash out by myself. I heard things when I was alone in our house, and I was very nervous when my husband traveled.

It’s not that I lacked faith. I believed that God would take care of me. Sort of. But when it came to violence, I believed in the doctrine of free will. In my mind, if someone committed a violent act, well, the God of the universe would stand idly by and let him (or her – not trying to be sexist here) commit the sin. Not that He lacked compassion.  But that was just part of the deal. If we could stop sinning, we wouldn’t have all the suffering and tragedy caused by free will. But here we sat. Still sinning. Still suffering. Just because there was a God didn’t mean I would always be safe.

The fear that wrought my peace, my calm, dogged me for years after that momentary encounter. In one fell swoop the realization that I am not in control trampled every confidence I had once known. My soul was uneasy, my courage shattered, my peace, nonexistent.

But ten years after that evening, I came across a book called Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence by Father Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and Saint Claude de la Colombiere. A tiny little book that packs a world of wisdom and peace into the palm of your hand. Digesting the pages for me was like inhaling inner peace. Here is a sample of what Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure has to say about evil:

A doctor…orders leeches to be applied. While these small creatures are drawing blood from the patient their only aim is to gorge themselves and suck up as much of it as they can. The doctor’s only intention is to have the impure blood drawn from the patient and to cure him in this manner. There is therefore no relation between the insatiable greed of the leeches and the intelligent purpose of the doctor in using them. The patient himself does not protest at their use. He does not regard the leeches as evildoers. Rather he tries to overcome the repugnance the sight of their ugliness causes and help them in their action, in the knowledge that the doctor has judged it useful for his health. God makes use of men as the doctor does of leeches. Neither should we then stop to consider the evilness of those to whom God gives power to act on us or be grieved at their wicked intentions, and we should keep ourselves from feelings of aversion towards them. Whatever their particular views may be, in regard to us they are only instruments of well-being, guided by the hand of an all-good, all-wise, all-powerful God, who will allow them to act on us only in so far as is of use to us. It is in our interest to welcome instead of trying to repel their assaults, as in very truth they come from God. And it is the same with all creatures of whatever kind. Not one of them could act upon us unless the power were given it from above. – Trustful Surrender of Divine Providence, pg. 22-23 (TAN)

Here is what I got out of that. God does not will sin. But He does Will everything that happens to us, even if that act was committed in sin.

Think about the death of His Only Son. Did God Will the evil that crowned Him with thorns? That pierced His Hands with nails? Ultimately – YES. While God did not cause the sin, God allowed the sin that He found stirring in men’s hearts to manifest itself in our salvation. For Christ even says,

“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” —John 19:11

There is no power on all the earth but that given from Our Heavenly Father. 

If we could but understand that simple truth, life would be much more palatable, even in the face of great evil or tragedy. The only way to experience the peace that we have been offered is to follow Christ’s example and hand our wills over to Our Father in heaven. We must trust that He is in control. Not only of the good. But of bad. Of natural disasters, or evil. Until then, we will huddle in uncertainty; in fear. Frankly, in great confusion.

Unlike those who are horrified to think God would Will our harm, I am comforted by it. Before you leave in a huff, consider the alternative.

If my son gets in a car accident, and his life is spared, I thank God for his protection. But then if my son gets in a car accident and he dies, I’m wondering, where was God? Why did He let that happen? Why is one person healed from cancer while the next suffers to the death? No doubt each person had prayers galore offered for their healing. You watch the news. You have loved ones who suffer. There is so much suffering and tragedy in the world that you, like me, must have questioned at some point the apparent random nature of God’s protection. Believing that God does not will bad things to happen causes great confusion and even despair. How can we be at peace, believing that He has the Whole World in His Hands, when we are taught that He really doesn’t? This great thing? God certainly had a hand in this! But that terrible thing over there? That was certainly not God’s Will. 

God does not put evil into the mind of a criminal. God does not cause him to calculate evil and carry it out. But God has TWO wills. An Active Will. And a Passive Will. He CAUSES certain things to happen. And by His inaction, he ALLOWS other things to happen. None of it is random. But all of it is for our ultimate good. 

“All that happens to us in this world against our will (whether due to men or to other causes) happens to us only by the will of God, by the dispose of Providence, by His orders and under His guidance; and if from the frailty of our understanding we cannot grasp the reason for some event, let us attribute it to divine Providence, show Him respect by accepting it from His hand, believe firmly that He does not send it us without cause.” — Trustful Surrender, p. 17-18

God was not standing idly by when I was attacked. He was right there. He was the doctor that I needed, doing surgery on my soul. He allowed me pain to the exact level He deemed necessary for my ultimate good. Once I understood this simple truth, I knew that even if something terrible happened, things would be OK. I could be thankful even for that evil that was hoisted upon me, because the Eternal Doctor felt I needed something special at that moment in my life, knowing that ultimately, it would bring me closer to Him.

In order to understand this truth, it is so critical to remember that life is not about these 80 years or so on earth. Life is about eternity in heaven. So whether life here is five days or 100 years, whether it is filled with trinkets or tragedy, this world is merely a journey toward a destination. It is not the destination itself. 

To know that God was there in my tragedy; that God is there in yours, allowing your suffering or the suffering or death of someone you love for the betterment of you, of them, of all – takes the confusion out of the world. It makes suffering less random. It helps us to know, that while we are indeed, NOT in control, SOMEONE IS. And that Someone seeks only our eternal happiness and salvation.

Fear no longer holds me hostage. I have found peace. I finally understand and even feel warm when I hear the song He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

May you recognize His hands cradling your whole world too.


Art: People Frightened by Tide, Auguste Delacroix, Wikimedia Commons



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