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)

Pain: A Path Leading to Virtue

Learning such a love does not necessarily come easily. Indeed, the acquisition of virtue is often—if not always—a painful process.

by Rev. Jeff Loseke

When a child is brought to be baptized, the  parents and godparents are reminded over and over again by the Church’s minister of their responsibility to teach their son or daughter Ste-therese-on-deathbedhow to love God, how to love their neighbor, and how to constantly practice their faith.  These exhortations always remind me that, because of our fallen human nature and the inclination to sin (i.e., concupiscence), the love to which God calls us must be learned and practiced over time.  Learning such a love does not necessarily come easily.  Indeed, the acquisition of virtue is often—if not always—a painful process.

For those engaged in the practice of Christian love and virtue, it is not uncommon to experience painful emotions such as shame, shock, anger, discomfort, confusion, and so forth.  As an example, think of the person who goes on a mission trip for the first time.  His or her encounter with poverty, injustice, suffering, and other evils can be difficult to process at first.  The experience of negative reactions and emotions, however, should not be interpreted as a bad thing or as a moral evil.  Rather, this painful path is more in accord with Aristotle’s theory that those being schooled in the virtues do not actually enjoy practicing them.  Nevertheless, the path of pain leads a person to see things more clearly and to recognize what it true within oneself regarding his or her complicity in the injustices and sins of the world.  In reflecting upon the path of virtue through pain, I am reminded of something C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain: “Pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”.

While the process of growing in virtue—especially in the virtue of justice—may be painful or uncomfortable, I firmly believe that it should not be avoided.  The challenge to parents, educators, and all who guide others, however, will be to provide the tools and the resources to help learners process their painful experiences in order to grow from them.  As a spiritual director and confessor, I often have to challenge my directees and penitents to delve more deeply into the shadows, the brokenness, and the pain in their lives in order to arrive at the deepest level of truth about themselves.  Walking with them in order to help them face those difficult emotions, feelings, and spiritual realities is part of my ministry as a Priest.  Even more, it must be part of our lives as Christians.  Jesus reminds us in the Beatitudes that we are blessed when we mourn or suffer pain.  He also reminds us that we are blessed when we work to alleviate such pain by working for a more just world.


The Reverend Jeffery S. Loseke is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and is currently the pastor of  St. Charlccn_father-les Borromeo Parish in Gretna, Nebraska.  Ordained in 2000, Fr. Loseke holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is working to complete his doctoral degree (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership through Creighton University in Omaha.  In addition to parish ministry, Fr. Loseke has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, taught high school theology and college-level philosophy, and has been a presenter for various missions, retreats, and diocesan formation days across the country.


Art: St. Therese de Lisieux on her Death Bed by Anonymous, 1925 (Wikimedia Commons)

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




Mother Angelica and the Power of Old Age

If you ever wanted to illustrate the beauty and gift of suffering for a friend or family member – or even witness it for yourself in living color – I highly recommend this book. Written in a casual voice that is easy and enjoyable, Arroyo hits home when it comes to relaying, through Mother’s experiences, our close connection with the spiritual world.

On the eve of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (that would be last night), I finished reading Raymond Arroyo’s Mother Angelica:Her Grand Silence, his final chapter sacred heart paintingon the last years of Mother Angelica‘s amazing life. I could have read no better book as a “novena” of sorts leading up to the day of one of my favorite feasts.

Particularly for those who do not “get” the concept of redemptive suffering, this book illustrates the beauty and value of suffering and sacrifice in Mother Angelica’s straightforward and no frills way.

Mother’s story is compelling in its simplicity. The words do not merely relay church teaching, but rather provide an intimate recording of the profound and powerful nature of sacrifice made in the August of life.

Mother Angelica’s personal story will resonate with another mother very close to my heart. My own. She has had some medical issues lately. Nothing life-threatening. But we have been talking a little more about end-of-life-stuff. Of course, there has been a recurring theme throughout our conversations, and she wouldn’t mind if I shared it with you:

My mother does not want to suffer.

Of course, I don’t want to suffer either. And – I’m willing to bet – neither do you. So what’s the big deal, you ask?

Well, my mother has the attitude that she would not want to live if she couldn’t take care of herself (not an uncommon sentiment these days). Extremely independent, she would consider it the worst of all fates if her children or a caregiver had to care for her in her later years. Or if she couldn’t walk or drive or see (she has macular degeneration) or worse.

But Arroyo illustrates, through Mother Angelica’s example, the spiritual power that one can have, particularly because of her physical weakness:

Mother was – spiritually speaking – stronger than iron, and yet she couldn’t stand or feed herself during the last few years of her life. Her final bittersweet act was in some ways a conscious oblation of self. In 2000, following a near-death experience, she shared with me a prayer she had been offering to God: “Lord, I want you to use me in any way you want. I don’t care what it is. Just don’t let me see the fruit.”

For the most part, she wouldn’t see the fruit. But having always considered redemptive suffering a gift, she embraced this last drawn-out trial as she had all those that preceded it. “Whether I am suffering in a physical, mental, or spiritual manner, I resemble Jesus at those moments – and the Father looks at us in our pain and He sees His son in the most beautiful way. That’s what makes you holy. Don’t rebel,” Mother taught. “Our pain only has meaning when we unite it, out of love, to the suffering of Christ. -p. 219

For some people – my mother, for instance – stuffy language and beautiful doctrine crash like a clanging cymbal on deaf ears. But you’ll find none of that here. Only a little lady who, through great faith and hope, united herself completely to the cross of Christ, and took whatever He offered with great grace and humility.

If there’s anyone who could show my mother the value of suffering and the sheer beauty of uniting one’s cross to Christ’s, it’s Mother Angelica. Rather than pour on the schmaltz, Mother told it like it is:

“One of the lessons I’ve learned is that suffering and old age are most precious. You know why? Because at that point in our lives we’re powerful.” p. 185

Arroyo extrapolates:

Mother meant that the elderly and infirm enjoy long hours with God alone, hours to pray and intercede for others. It is a mysterious power, but it is a power nonetheless. Just as their bodies weaken, their spirits are emboldened. As death draws near, fears diminish. So does interest in the material world.

If you ever wanted to illustrate the beauty and gift of suffering for a friend or family member – or even witness it for yourself in living color – I highly recommend this book. Written in a casual voice that is easy and enjoyable, Arroyo hits home when it comes to relaying, through Mother’s experiences, our close connection with the spiritual world.

As it happens, this morning while getting ready, I decided for the first time ever to pull up a YouTube video of an old Mother Angelica Live Classics show  – this after reading several letters people have written about her impact on their lives, even in her later years when they found re-runs of this nun speaking in her animated and joyful way. Sadly, I’d never watched Mother Angelica when her show was on live. But that will change now that I’ve found the “Classics.”

Surprisingly, I found a video on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mother mentions in the video His words to St. Gertrude:

“Whenever you willingly offer yourselves to me, you truly glorify me.”

If anyone ever truly glorified Our Lord, it was Mother Angelica, through her complete offering of self – particularly in the last years of her life. This paradox of power and strength resonating in humility and weakness will convince even the most stubborn skeptic that suffering, when offered in love, can have great merit.

I thought you might enjoy her talk about the Sacred Heart on this special day:

Three Books and a Revelation: What Ayn Rand Got Wrong

There is no love without sacrifice. And in a political system, sacrifice without love becomes a distorted perversion of the sacred, used by the few to control the many. 

Book Number One

Not too long ago, I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand for the first time. A heroin of many conservatives, Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged specifically to demonstrate the foolishness of any political system where the Atlas_Shrugged_4887943033means of production are managed by the state. As a freedom-loving, American capitalist, I have to say that through most of it I was riveted and cheering Rand on as she masterfully illustrated that capitalism is by far the best economic and political system around. It’s not that I thought her book was perfect, but she definitely made her point.

A staunch advocate for capitalism, Rand, herself, escaped communism as a young adult and was determined never to return. Her mission as a writer was to decry the evils of government control and to extol the virtues of capitalism as well as the importance of individual freedom. Having experienced the former in the early 1900’s – she was a high school student in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 – Rand considered the resulting state power to be absolute evil.

Lately it seems the political climate in the United States is not completely alien from that of Russia in the early twentieth century. Governmental corruption is rampant, as is the inefficiency of the huge bureaucracy which is the federal government. Like the Russians on the cusp of 1917, Americans are war weary and there has been great unrest regarding a lack of opportunity, low wages and disparate conditions.

Over the last eight years these problems seem to have intensified and multiplied or, if nothing else, have been magnified to the nth degree. Issues of race, creed and economic disparity are more paramount today than at any time since the Civil Rights Movement reached its height in the 50’s and 60’s. Daily demonstrations receive massive media attention. Just this week over 400 protesters were arrested at the capital building – civil disobedience is on the rise and tensions are high.

Needless to say, in this climate a shout-out for capitalism in the form of a novel was for me a light in the darkness. A herald to a truth that has been rabidly twisted and distorted over the past generation. Particularly in our country, as concerned citizens seek answers to the problems they witness all around them. Many, especially the young, are willing to try an alternative to the capitalism they’ve long been taught is the source of our deepest cultural and economic problems.

So roughly 800 pages into it, I was all-in for a book illustrating the virtues of capitalism. And then I reached the last, roughly 70 pages. This was where things got crazy, as Rand presents the reader with a complete diatribe of her belief system through a speech given by one of the main characters of the book. During that speech, Rand (through the voice of John Galt) throws religion out with big government.

“Selfishness – say both – is man’s evil. Man’s good – say both – is to give up his personal desires, to deny himself, renounce himself, surrender; man’s good is to negate the life he lives. Sacrifice – cry both – is the essence of morality, the highest virtue within man’s reach…

…”It is your mind that they want you to surrender – all those who preach the creed of sacrifice, whatever their tags or their motives, whether they promise you another life in heaven or a full stomach on this earth.”

Whoa!! So this is why I’d vaguely remembered hearing that Rand’s views are not compatible with the Catholic church. Religion is nothing like communism or socialism. While those systems strive to serve the lowest common denominator by denouncing individual aspirations and self-determination, our Faith asks that we take advantage of our God-given freedom to serve all with love – through our own will, not by mandate. Being asked to serve by our Heavenly Father is not at all comparable to being obligated by law. When I reached the end of the book, I was deeply disturbed that after 800 pages of getting it (for the most part) right, Rand could end on such a horribly depraved note.

But shortly after reading Atlas Shrugged, I realized that Rand’s distorted view of religion had germinated through seeds of deception planted in the poisonous soil of her youth. A riveting book about the lives of citizens in North Korea both helped me to understand Rand’s confusion, and spurred some of my own.

Book Number Two

The book was Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Written by a journalist who captured in minute detail the day to day lives of six North Korean citizens who eventually escaped to freedom in South Korea, the book illustrates the horrid conditions of many in a country that strains to present itself as a utopian society. Ordinary citizens watched loved ones tortured and killed. They ate rats in order to stay alive. Daily lives were nightmares from which citizens could find no escape.  Oppressed and desperate, each of these individuals risked life and limb just to get out from under the incredible burden of communism.

The most disturbing and discomforting part of this book was the sacrifice lauded by the government. The talk from their leaders sounded startlingly familiar. These were the themes I hear in Mass every Sunday. That I read in Sacred Scripture every day. They were the profound ideals offered by the saints that have gone before us. Here’s just one small example of the themes saturating North Korean culture through the hand of their omnipotent leader:

Every town in North Korea, no matter how small, has a movie theater, thanks to Kim Jong-il’s conviction that film is an indispensable tool for instilling loyalty in the masses…The films were mostly dramas with the same themes: The path to happiness was self-sacrifice and suppression of the individual for the good of the collective. (emphasis mine)

Sacrifice? Suppression of self? These are things I’d read for years in the great classics of our Faith. This is what we teach our children. And yet, these sentiments came from an evil, communist dictator. As someone who escaped the USSR, no wonder Ayn Rand did not believe in God. If USSR was anything like North Korea, the government presented itself as a god-like figure. Trusting in THE God would become a an almost insurmountable hurdle once a counterfeit had been exposed for the corrupt, self-serving charlatan that he is. There could be no greater impediment to faith in the One True God than the fraudulent benevolence claimed by the powers that be in those godforsaken countries.

I must admit. When I finished Nothing to Envy, I was perplexed. I was confused. While I didn’t doubt the existence of God, I did wonder how something so good and something so terribly evil could sound so similar? What was I missing?

Book Number Three

Enter Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen (which we just began reading in our book club at spiritual direction.com – check it out). In the first couple of pages, Sheen addresses this very subject. In a few sentences he brings clarity to my confusion. His comments illustrate the error inherent in Rand’s philosophy:

“Communism has chosen the Cross in the sense that it has brought back to an egotistic world a sense of discipline, self-abnegation, surrender, hard work, study, and dedication to supra individual goals. But the Cross without Christ is sacrifice without love. Hence, Communism has produced a society that is authoritarian, cruel, oppressive of human freedom, filled with concentration camps, firing squads, and brain-washings.” – Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ (p. xxv)

There is no love without sacrifice. But in a political system, sacrifice without love becomes a distorted perversion of the sacred, used by the few to control the many. No version of this is the solution to our nation’s problems. True love offered as true sacrifice is the only real solution to what ails us. And it cannot be found in any law, mandate or government system.

The Gift of Sacrifice

This is God’s gift to us. The opportunity to unite our sufferings, our frustrations, our inconveniences, to His in Love. Throughout our lives as Children of God, we are offered an infinite number of “rungs” which to climb upon the ladder of the Cross. When taken in love, the result is beautiful, both in Heaven and on earth.

“Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We speak often of the gift of redemption that Christ offers us via His death on the cross. But through His Passion and death, He gives us another gift as well. One that we often overlook. He offersSabatini_santi crucifixion us an opportunity to experience first-hand that “greater love” of which He speaks. Not through His sacrifice. But through our own.

Of all the imaginable plans for redemption that one could have conceived, it seems the one God chose is most peculiar. After all, His only Son didn’t come into the public realm until His 30th year, he surrounded Himself with devoted friends, walked with them, talked with them, and confided in them over the course of three years, only to allow leaders of the day to mock Him, scourge Him, strip Him of His dignity, nail Him to a cross in a most humiliating way and leave Him to hang for three hours until he breathed his last.

What about that makes sense? As a Protestant, I must admit I didn’t ask very many questions. I just accepted that He died, so I didn’t have to.

But after spending some time contemplating the cross, I began to think I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. I began asking. Thankfully, our Faith offers answers. And they are more profound and beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

My greatest question had to do with His manner of death. We understand that Christ redeemed us from the absolute misery and degradation of sin. But why in this way – through a humiliatingly public and  torturous death which reached its climax atop a mountain, upon a crude and rugged cross?

Why did Christ have to make redemption such a profound and gruesome process?

Most likely His goal was to give us an example to follow:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

With those six little words, “even as I have loved you,” Christ gives us everything.

By virtue of His cross, Christ re-opened the gates of heaven. Gates that had been closed for thousands of years as a consequence of the first sin. He demonstrated for us the power of that cross. And He calls us to follow his example:

“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” (Matthew 16:24-25),

This is that narrow gate about which we hear so often (Matthew 7:13).

Love is not a a pile of sentimental poems or a confetti of rose petals streaming from the heavens.

In reality, love looks a lot like suffering. It can be painful. It can be heart wrenching.

Indeed, love is a sacrifice.

A sacrifice first wrought by Christ, who came to show us The Way.

According to Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week,

He has truly gone right to the end, to the very limit and even beyond that limit. He has accomplished the utter fullness of love – he has given himself.

First Christ defined love.

And then He asked us to practice it.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 36-39).

For God, love = sacrifice.

And what is a sacrifice, but suffering, wrapped in a beautiful package and offered as pure gift?

Through our participation in the Body of Christ, we have the opportunity to unite our suffering with His, as we truly are One Body – this is not mere concept and symbolism. Rather, the very gift of Self that Christ has given us is the grace that helps us to love as He has loved. As Paul explains, through our participation in The Body, we have the privilege of participating in redemption:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….(Colossians 1:24)

Paul  bids us to offer ourselves as well, to worship God through our own participation in this new concept of sacrifice that Jesus has introduced by the cross:

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present you bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.(Romans 12:1).

Benedict XVI expounds on this concept of sacrifice:

…it means the offering of one’s whole existence that must be penetrated by the word and must become a gift to God. Paul, who places so much emphasis on the impossibility of justification on the basis of one’s own morality, is doubtless presupposing that this new form of Christian worship, in which Christians themselves are the “living and holy sacrifice”, is possible only through sharing in the incarnate love of Jesus Christ, a love that conquers all our insufficiency through the power of his holiness…

…the greatness of Christ’s love is revealed precisely in the fact that he takes us up into himself in all our wretchedness, into his living and holy sacrifice, so that we truly become “his body.”

Later, he concludes,

In living out the Gospel and in suffering for it, the Church, under the guidance of the apostolic preaching has learned to understand the mystery of the Cross more and more, even though ultimately it is a mystery that defies analysis in terms of our rational formulae. The darkness and irrationality of sin and the holiness of God, too dazzling for our eyes, come together in the Cross, transcending our power of understanding. And yet in the message of the New Testament, and in the proof of that message in the lives of the saints, the great mystery has become radiant light.

This is God’s gift to us. The opportunity to unite our sufferings, our frustrations, our inconveniences, to His in Love. For the good of ourselves; for the good of the body of Christ, that is, the Church.

Throughout our lives as Children of God, we are offered an infinite number of “rungs” upon which to climb as we progress up the ladder of the Cross. When we ascend in love, the result is beautiful, both in Heaven and on earth.

When you look at a crucifix today, thank God for the gift of sacrifice.

And ask for the grace to answer His call.

Pelican’s Breast – A Symbol of Sacrifice

There is a great need for sacrifice in our world. Rather than look to God merely for His glory, we must seek Him in His suffering and degradation.

Perhaps you’re wondering why anyone would choose Pelican’s Breast for a blog name? It’s certainly not top on the list of popular domain names, that’s for sure. But when I contemplated a discussion on sacrifice, it became clear that Pelican’s Breast was the way to go.

Throughout history, the pelican has been a great symbol of sacrifice. According to ancient legend, a mother pelican would pierce her own breast in times of famine, that her children might seek sustenance from her very flesh and blood. When necessary, the mother pelican was said to have readily offered this sacrifice at the cost of her own life. Pelican's Breast Image

Over time, for obvious reasons, the pelican came to symbolize Christ, who gives us his very flesh and blood, that we might have eternal life. You may have even noticed carvings or stained glass windows of the mother pelican and her young in your local church, as a symbol of Christ in the Eucharist, but also as a symbol of sacrifice for us to model.

Unfortunately, just as the story of Christ’s actual sacrifice is heralded less and less, in most places today we hear little of the legend of the pelican. Sacrifice is something not often promoted today. At least, not in close quarters. We’d rather have the resurrection without the cross. But sadly, without the cross, there can be no resurrection. For Christ Himself said,

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, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  -Matthew 16:24-25.

Christ calls us to sacrifice. He isn’t just calling for us to “suffer” with him because misery loves company. Rather, in His infinite wisdom, He knows that in this world so lovingly created for us, our joy will directly correspond to our ability to keep our eyes on the ball, so to speak. He knows that our willingness to sacrifice in this life will not only prepare us for heaven, but will make for a much more fulfilling time on earth. In our day, we are experiencing the antithesis of this. We are seeing the results of a refusal to sacrifice. We are witnessing daily the results of the culture of ME. And most of us would agree that they are not pretty.

There is a great need for sacrifice in our world. Rather than look to God merely for His glory, we must seek Him in His suffering and degradation. We must follow Saint Paul and

…rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

When we turn suffering, annoyances or obligations into gifts of love, they become sacrifices. When we give – whether our time, treasure, desires or our very selves – we are offering sacrifices. And we are in great need of sacrifice today.

Back to the symbol of the pelican. Our own children are starving. Worse than starving from physical depravation, they are suffering from great emotional and spiritual deprivation. Many are missing the very foundation of childhood that stems from the security of family. They are raised in a culture that values the material over the spiritual, relativism over truth, personal choice over life and pleasure and self-determination over commitment.

Starvation from love and truth are exponentially more destructive than starvation from food:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28

For the sake of our souls and for those of our children, we must begin to embrace the notion of sacrifice. Take some time this week to contemplate the cross. And if you are so inclined, tune in to the pelicansbreast.com and join our discussion.

In my next post, we’ll begin to discuss sacrifice in practical terms.


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