The Immutability of God

Let nothing disturb you,


Let nothing frighten you,


All things are passing away:


God never changes.


Patience obtains all things


Whoever has God lacks nothing;


God alone suffices.


-St. Teresa of Avila

God is perfect. If we want to join Him in heaven one day then we are the ones who must change, we must become like Him. And who is He? He is Love Eternal. And what is love, we often have to ask ourselves, when our daily experience reminds us that love is not simply an emotion. Paul tells us in First Corinthians:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love]is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Love, Paul tells us, is not pompous. It does not bend the truth to make daily life more tolerable by justifying our own bad behavior. The great saints of our time: Blessed Mother Theresa, Pope St. John Paul II, and St. Therese of Lisieux, to name a few, are held up as living examples of Christ’s love for us. In their very different life experiences they embraced the wholeness of truth, the fullness of our faith and the sometimes extremely difficult demands that Love made on their lives.

Blessed Mother Theresa was sent to care for Jesus in the poor and she devoted her life to doing so, even becoming as poor as the people she served in order to fully show her love for Jesus in them. She, for example, could have glossed over the truth or emphasized a more acceptable part of our faith in order to raise more money for her order or her people, but she did not.

Pope St. John Paul II gave himself body and soul to his call to the papacy. When Parkinson’s Disease relentlessly overran his body, John Paul II did not hide himself from view but instead courageously continued his public duties even as his once-athletic body became visibly frail, encouraging countless others to carry the cross of their diseases with courage and confidence in their inherent dignity.

When the pressure of common life with her religious sisters felt overwhelming, St. Therese bravely embraced those opportunities to shower love on those who repulsed or angered her, laying aside her pride in obedience to Jesus’s call to love everyone to such a degree as to make those unlovable sisters wonder why St. Therese loved them so much.

These ordinary people became saints because they yielded to God’s love for them instead of their own self-love. Instead of trying to shape the world around them to their own liking, they embraced the opportunity to give themselves away for the sake of Christ’s truth. Their example invites us to reflect on our own sinfulness: where in my life am I insisting on my own truth instead of Christ’s? What sins am I justifying out of fear of change? What demands does my faith place on me that feel overwhelming today?

In prayer we can bring to Our Lord through the intercession of Our Lady our fears and weaknesses, the things that love demands and which fill us with loathing. Instead of hiding from Him or insisting that we’re doing the best that we can, we can instead run to Christ who can begin the sanctifying work of conforming us to His will. He is waiting for us with expansive patience and tenderness, He who was crucified for us. The same love that kept Him in torment for us is still there, unchanged, waiting to change us into beauty and light.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer
Photo: “God-sky” by Plume (2014) via Morguefile

Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family

head_and_heartcover_borderAre you married? If so, here’s a book I really think you need to read. Katie Warner, wife, stay-at-home mother, writer, author, evangelist and daughter of Tom Peterson, founder of Catholics Come Home, has written Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family, a field manual on how to become the strong spiritual leader–either a spiritual head or a spiritual heart–that God’s calling you to be.

Drawing on scripture, tradition, the wisdom of saints, Catholic authors, and Catholic laypeople doing their best to live out their vocations, Katie has put together an incredible treasure trove of best practices and ideas for how husbands and wives can best love, form, and guide their families on their journey to heaven. With chapters covering the distinct roles of husbands and wives and the characteristics of strong spiritual leaders to fostering peace at home and offering up suffering, the book offers an invaluable look into the Church’s teaching on marriage and the marriages of many strong couples for ideas and practical advice on how to navigate the many challenges to family life today.

I was honored to offer a small interview for the section on cultivating virtue in the home, but I learned so much more from the other couples who shared their inspiring stories of overcoming obstacles within their marriages and who emerged from them stronger, and more in love with each other and Christ. Reading about these everyday couples who are quietly but heroically living out their vocation to serve one another and their families really inspired me to want to grow in my own spiritual leadership.

As the crisis of marriage and the family has taken center stage in our day, this book is perfectly aimed to help those couples who are struggling or to further encourage those who feel like their happy marriage could be even stronger. Head & Heart is a beautiful and effective tool to help reclaim your spiritual leadership within your family.

Learn more about Katie Warner, her wonderful book, and find additional resources for your family at catholickatie.com.

“Humanity passes by way of the family.”
-Pope St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortia

Copyright Meg Matenaer 2015

Fortitude and the Family

Yesterday we celebrated when the Holy Spirit poured Himself out onto the Church, bestowing His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. We ourselves received these gifts at baptism and later were strengthened in them at confirmation. So, let’s take a closer look at one of those gifts that’s been given to us: fortitude.

We’re all familiar with natural fortitude. That’s the virtue needed to stick to it, stay the course, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, chin out and head down, and onward! Every parent has exercised fortitude.

The supernatural virtue of fortitude, the gift of the Holy Spirit, is very similar to this but is raised to a supernatural level. This is the gift employed by the martyrs who rely on it in order to offer themselves up to Christ in the ultimate sacrifice. This gift of the Spirit allows us to rise above the evil of our times in order to live our Christian faith in a heroic way. The gift of fortitude is responsible for making us “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” among whom we might “shine like lights in the world” (Phillipians 2:15).

A question for us that we might ponder with our spouses and families is this: how do we make space in our hearts to better receive this gift? What’s tying us down, individually, as a couple, or as a family, that’s keeping this supernatural gift from shining like it ought to in our lives? What are we holding onto that the Holy Spirit is begging us to drop so that He can give us something so much better?

The family is such a natural place for the gift of fortitude to take root as it provides an abundance of ways to sacrifice for others and for God, even at times in supernatural ways. Let’s pray that the gift of fortitude light up our family life as God so ardently desires it to.

Copyright Meg Matenaer (2015).
Photo by o0o0xmodso0o0 (2006) via Morguefile.

Honoring Those From Whom We’ve Received Our Faith

I think most of us would agree that we’d last four minutes in motherhood without our faith. The many stresses, obligations, responsibilities, and worries are simply too overwhelming to bear without our belief in our all-powerful, all-loving, ever-attentive Father watching over us.

So, from whom did we receive our faith that made our vocation possible, livable, and even joyful? And what should our response be to such an extraordinary gift?

The Catechism of the Catholic Churchencourages us to honor these people in a special way:

For Christians a special gratitude is due to those from whom they have received the gift of faith, the grace of Baptism, and life in the Church. These may include parents, grandparents, other members of the family, pastors, catechists, and other teachers or friends. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you” (2220).

An important way to honor those who gave us such a precious gift is in prayer. A beautiful example of a prayer we can say for older parents and grandparents comes to us from Pope Benedict, who in 2008 composed a universal prayer for grandparents for Ireland’s National Grandparents Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock.

Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary, the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. Look with love on grandparents the world over. Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society. Support them! As they grow older,vmay they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith, guardian of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions. Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.

Lord Jesus, help families and society to value the presence and roles of grandparents. May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love.Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them.

Mary, Mother of all the living, keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland, where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end. Amen.

How about you? From whom did you receive your faith and how do you express your thanks to them?

Mother Teresa, Obedience, and Questions for the Family

When the spiritual life seems too confusing to me, returning to Mother Teresa’s writings is such a balm. She is so simple and practical. What should you do, she’d return my question. Go find and care for Jesus: in your home and your community, even in your own heart, she’d reply. And then smile. And then she’d tell me to smile.

In returning to her book Where There is Love, There is God, I came upon a quote on obedience in a talk Mother Teresa was giving her sisters. She points out that God will not talk to us directly but through those in our lives to whom we are to be obedient.

She says:

I’m always surprised that God nowhere spoke to Our Lady directly. He spoke through the prophets, He spoke to Moses, He spoke to everybody possible in the Bible, but we don’t see anywhere [that] God spoke to Our Lady directly. It was through the angel, it was through St. Joseph, and so on…and this is obedience. That surrender. I belong to Him, He can use me, He can do what He wants with me and to us sisters, God is not going to speak to us.

So beautiful, so clear! Classic Mother Teresa. And yet I wonder, the issue of obedience is a little more complicated for lay people. To whom are we to be obedient? What does it mean to be truly obedient in a lay vocation? What does obedience look like in the family? Earlier in the book Mother Teresa expresses her suspicion that children today have such a problem with obedience because their parents aren’t yielding to each other out of love.

With the Church’s eyes turned toward the family in a special way as the synod on marriage and family begins, we can take a few moments to assess the kind of obedience we see in our own homes and marriages and if it’s disposing us to the peace of Christ in our souls.

Mother Teresa notes, “If I really understand that I belong to Christ, that nothing and nobody can separate me from the love of Christ, obedience is natural, completely natural, because if I belong to somebody, then that person has the right to use me” (p.265-266).

Blessed Mother Teresa, pray for our us, our families, and the synod.

Fighting Sin with Hope: When the News is Unbearable

The news from around the world is now almost intolerable to read. The desecration of the Eucharist; the ins and outs of ISIS and their daily evil; the trafficking of women and children in Asia; the plight of families in Africa; the abuse of children; the invasion of Ukraine; our manifold challenges here in our country; evil and chaos appear to have the upper-hand, and hearing about it every day can wear down our hope and resolve to make a difference. Because faced with these horrifying wide-spread realities, any normal person is bound to wonder what difference he can possibly make and worry if he, too, will simply be swallowed up by the blackness that seems to be spreading.

It’s good to remind ourselves often and it is actually we, who in the person of Jesus Christ, have the ultimate advantage. Our God who humbled Himself to take on our nature is far more powerful than any evil we could encounter. And when we give ourselves totally to Him, He can make use of us in such far-reaching ways that we could only dream of. The lives of the saints, especially those who lived hidden lives such as St. Therese of Liseux, are testament to this.

In The Three Ages of the Interior Life Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, reminds us of what God can do with us when we offer to Him totally free and loving gifts of prayer and sacrifice:

In all these questions, whether good or evil is involved, particular attention must be paid to what proceeds from our higher faculties, the intellect and will: that is, to the act of the will following full knowledge of the case. And, from this point of view, if an evil act committed with full deliberation and consent, like a formal pact with the devil, has formidable consequences, a good act, such as the oblation of self to God, made with full deliberation and consent and frequently renewed, can have even greater consequences in the order of good; for the Holy Ghost is of a certainty infinitely more powerful than the spirit of evil, and He can do more for our sanctification than the latter can for our ruin. It is well to think of this in the face of the gravity of certain present-day events. The love of Christ, dying on the cross for us, pleased God more than all sins taken together displeased Him; so the Savior is more powerful to save us than the enemy of good is to destroy us. With this meaning, Christ said: ‘Fear ye not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ Unless we open the door of our hearts to him, the enemy of good cannot penetrate into the sanctuary of our will, whereas God is closer to us than we are to ourselves and can lead us strongly and sweetly to the most profound and elevated meritorious free acts, to acts that are the prelude of eternal life.

In the face of great evil we can choose to ignore it, despair, join it, or resist, through offering Our good Lord all of ourselves. The next time we’re confronted by upsetting news, we can lift up our sorrow to Him, with love, hope, and trust, and truly know that we are doing something and something very powerful, to help fight the tide of sin and death in our world.

How do you battle the tide of sin with hope? What do you “do” that gives you hope when the news is intolerable?

Hidden Treasures: The Eucharist, the Unborn, and Loving the Unseen

Years ago when my oldest daughter was just born, I ran into a college friend who just beamed upon meeting our darling baby. She smiled at me and said, “Babies are so Eucharistic—you just want to eat them up!”

I remember this as my chubby toddler runs into the kitchen, his soft feet slapping on our tile floor. Completely overcome by his dimply smile, I scoop him up and give him kisses underneath his soft chin. He giggles and I do, too. So Eucharistic they are, I think.

My friend’s words came back to me later as I underwent my twenty-week ultrasound. As the sonogramist moved the wand around on my belly, a picture of a perfect baby appeared on the screen, safely ensconced in her comfy home. I watched the little hands and feet and mouth move, and I was awestruck by how this little person has grown each day, quietly, unnoticed except for the occasional kick or spanning button. What a miracle has been hiding in me.

My thoughts turned to the Eucharist and to the profound humility of our God to hide Himself in bread out of a burning love for us. I watched the baby flip and kick and pondered the trust that Our Lord has in us to discover the miracles that He’s hidden in our lives.

In a digital world it seems so crucial to see and to be seen, and yet the grainy image on the ultrasound screen stands as a reminder that some of the biggest treasures in our lives require the eyes of faith to see and a faithful heart to love.

“I adore You, Lord and Creator, hidden in the Most Blessed Sacrament.” 

St. Faustina