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Catholics need the Real Presence

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10: 11-12).

In the past several months, the Mass and other Church activity – not only here, but across the globe – had been largely inaccessible to the faithful. Masses had not been available publicly, and in some places, no sacraments at all. Live streaming of Mass wasn’t the same physically or spiritually as being in the Real Presence of Christ, and being in union with Him through the Eucharist.

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The possibility of a scenario like this had been unimaginable throughout the 2,000-year history of the Church. But early this year, cardinals and bishops worldwide had to grapple with a widespread health risk.

The faithful greatly missed being in the Real Presence of the Lord at the Sacrifice of the Mass, and in communal presence with each other

In our state, though the governor exempted religious institutions from the stay-at-home order from the start, public Masses were nevertheless suspended.

Our continued access to the Sacrament of Confession at several local churches, however, felt like a rare privilege. People stood silently in long, spread-out lines, to bring Christ their anguish and brokenness, and ultimately hear those relieving words of Absolution from the priest – in persona Christi – “I absolve you from your sins … .” More people were coming, their mood pensive, their focus resolute. Those of all ages and backgrounds filed in, some wearing makeshift masks, during the daily Confession hour. Because suddenly there was time – but an unspoken sense of urgency.

We asked a few local priests if we might attend their private Masses. Only one replied. We had been able to slip into the church a few days per week while he said Mass in Latin. At most, there were three to five others in the huge, empty church. There was no distribution of the Eucharist; it was not yet allowed. But Christ was there, and we came.

This same priest notified parishioners he’d be doing a mobile Exposition of the Eucharist on a mid-May Sunday through several townships. Some 175 parish families signed up for the drive-by – during which he’d bless their families and their homes. Father arranged an altar with flowers adorning the monstrance (and himself, in spectacular red and gold vestments) in the flatbed of a pickup truck. The entire route mapping, email notifications, and logistics were facilitated by a fellow parishioner (a Bucks County Chapter Legate) – who drove the truck.

People dropped to their knees in front lawns as Father slowly faced them with The Real Presence in the gold monstrance, while chant music played. Some had signs saying “Welcome Jesus”; others cried in joy and disbelief. At an intersection, a self-identified Jewish woman opened her car window to thank Father for what he was doing. The clouds broke and Father picked up a blazing sunburn, devoting a 10-hour Sunday to bringing Christ out to His heartsick flock.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

The Lent we get isn’t the one we choose

When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth (Luke 11:21).

In recent years and especially this one, I’ve noticed that the Lent we envision isn’t the one that lands in our laps.

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One year just before Ash Wednesday as I’d put finishing touches on a mental list of Lenten “to dos,” my husband called in mid-morning – something he never does. His decades-long position was terminated. His employer was sold, all health and other benefits would cease tomorrow, the company car would be returned, and severance (in his contract) was being fought. It came right after I’d lost a longtime client due to budget cuts. We plunged from a handsome income straight to nothing, in a blink. The world seemed to bust from its axis, and shock temporarily canceled my vision and hearing – I saw a ‘snowstorm’ inside, my ears hissed like a steam train. I never heard the phone crash to the floor – I almost did the same thing.

The house. Our youngest still in college. The mortgage. The last of the Christmas bills. Everything spun in a blur as I tried to get a snapshot of what we had, what we owed, and how we’d survive. Paralyzed by whom to call and what to prioritize, I made another list (one of my habits). I calculated how long our cash could last, when we’d need to begin tapping untouchables (retirement accounts, etc.), and then selling – house, cars, stuff. Our canvas of life crumpled. I began to envy anyone who had a job, any job.

And then I thought of God. How could you let this happen? Are we being punished? My type-A disposition kicked in to overdrive, my anxiety stealing rationale. It would be nice to say I jumped into prayer, but not quite. All I could manage to do was cry to Christ for help. Even tears didn’t flow normally

In a daze, I went to our parish church. My favorite priest was walking through that morning. His usual chipper greeting collapsed at seeing me. I told him everything, admitting my utter fear. Like a father, he hugged and assured me God was with us, and would help indeed. He promised his personal prayers. I could hardly stand. I was drained, with yesterday’s makeup streaking, and it wasn’t even noon. He heard my Confession.

He then explained this was a trial, and that we had to be very vigilant about our faith and prayer life. We had to humbly trust God like never before, not ourselves or our resumes or our business networks. God alone. Had I ever done that?

“You need supernatural courage to keep your inner court undisturbed,” Father told me. I took up the daily rosary, and prioritized prayer. I cut obsessional TV shows, and other time-wasters. Each hour needed to be intentional.

Lent is also a time of great heavenly reversals. By Holy Week, we both had new positions. And we’d become more closely acquainted with our lifetime Friend, The Lord Himself.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

Priests who teach Truth do us a favor

Sin is the cause of endless misery today – and yet, most suffering from despondency never attribute it to immorality. Why would they? Most don’t practice faith in Christ, and of those who do, many no longer hear straight talk about sin. Catholic clarity is hard to come by now, and “right” and “wrong” seem relative. But when you hear a good shepherd who’s fearless in imparting Catholic teaching – even facets which cause squirming and discomfort – you don’t forget him. And you don’t soon forget his message.

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All around us people are harried, confused, and rattled … by viruses, scandals, elections, traffic, jobs, weather, stocks, you name it. There’s no shortage of legitimate ‘concerns’ apart from God’s. People have vacations to plan, budgets to review, wardrobes to update, social calendars to coordinate. Incessant angst, impatience, and competitiveness are part of the grind … yet the utter purpose of life gets totally forgotten.

But here’s a simple truth: when we love and worship God properly first, His laws and teachings come naturally – and in turn, He keeps us under His protection. We’re happier. But if we rebuff Him, we slide down the cool slope of sin, degree by degree – rationalizing it, seeing it as necessary, losing our horror of it. Before we know it, we’re okay with just about anything the world serves up – and we think we’re content – but we’re fighting an inner anxiety we can’t escape.

I remember that day in my life over 25 years ago. We were new in town, and a local priest invited me to a class he was teaching on the popes through history, and their key writings. His engaging homilies had gotten my attention in church, so I thought he’d be an interesting teacher. I was about to get the lesson of my life.

I was late to the first evening’s class, working for a large pharmaceutical client and finishing a project that afternoon. I hurried in still in my suit, and looked around seeing mothers feeding their babies, and a few veiled women holding rosaries. I wondered if I was in the wrong place. The priest motioned me to a seat in front of him. They were finishing up opening prayers – which I didn’t recognize.

Then the night’s papal-encyclical handout came around, called Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI. Huh, never heard of it.

Well, no matter. I was soon frozen by Father’s elucidations – on related sins, purpose of marriage, rearing children, birth control, bioethical issues, lots of stunning stuff. My eyeballs veered left and right, to see if others were as shocked. Everyone seemed fine except me. This was Catholic teaching? Since when? I was sweating, angry, and anxious for the coffee break so I could leave.

Running into our house, I grabbed the dusty Catechism and looked up the citations. It was all there. I’d never heard it.

But I had no excuse anymore. That weekend, I made the hardest Confession of my life, and it reset my course forever.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

Bending back the sword of fear

With the long-held American tenet of separation of church and state, it would seem that wearing one’s faith on his sleeve in business might be ‘imprudent.’ After all, by the late 19th century, non-Catholic governments became the norm in Europe and in the Americas – and certain principles were instilled to keep Catholics ‘in line’ with dictates of civil authority. Catholicism and its unique teachings were to be granted no special treatment. And so an intolerable intimidation has trickled down to this day.

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It is the sword of fear pointed particularly at Catholics – in business, in government, in education, in everything.

The virtue of fortitude lets an executive act unapologetically and with confidence that God has his back. It’s the grit that lets him follow Divine instinct. It’s what prompts the CEO, judge, university professor, or administrative assistant to state plainly what he or she personifies as a Catholic – whether derided for it or not. High-octane guts trump human respect, and make some of the greatest leaders what they are.

But fear is the great underminer of fortitude, and there are reasons why.

Living in a continual state of moral compromise gives rise to fear – leading to heightened anxiety about others’ opinions or of being exposed. It’s been said the more one runs from God, the greater his unrest.

Next, the Church today is less likely to have her princes and shepherds draw clear boundaries clarifying longstanding right and wrong. Rather, many clerics pursue affirmation of the culture. The perception of losing centuries-old Church support makes Catholics more fearful, and more lax.

Third, among man’s deepest instincts is self-preservation, which kicks into high gear amid fear of loss – of business, income, stature, loved ones, health – even death. It takes supernatural muscle to go beyond the limitations of self-preservation and forge ahead for the selfless purposes of God.

Fourth, many contemporary Catholics recoil from living sacrificially or embracing hardship – errantly perceiving it as a lack of self-sufficiency. This exacerbates their fear of pain or even mild discomfort – making them ‘soft,’ less able to stand immovably firm on the tougher aspects of faith.

Finally, a close ‘relative’ of fear is uncertainty – which makes people queasy about circumstances and imagined outcomes. It keeps them inert, unable to take bold steps. The early 20th-century communists and Nazis exploited uncertainty, and kept people in constant suspicion of each other so they’d remain fearful and easily controlled.

Years ago when I was a legal writer, the attorney who owned the firm hosted Christmas parties at his spectacular country estate. He was devout Greek Orthodox, and one year gave us a special house tour. Matter-of-factly, he led us into a glorious room with a large spotlighted Bible on an ornate brass bookstand, flanked with candles in gilded holders, fresh poinsettias, and a spectacular gold-carved cross. Illuminated paintings of Christ and saints’ icons lined the walls. His wife led us in religious Christmas carols around their piano.

A godly leader, he made his faith evident in every setting. Many of us are still affirmed by his example.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

“Blessed is the one who takes no offense at Me”

Here is a more unfamiliar beatitude, a jarring statement of Christ found in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt 11:6), apart from Eight Beatitudes given during His Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5).

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Right now, much of what Catholicism teaches – and none of it is new – is taken with great offense. Not from those outside the Church, but those Catholics seeing themselves as ‘sensitized’ to the modern human condition. The warm blanket of false compassion is everywhere, yet the reality is, it ultimately leaves souls out in the cold.

An acquaintance recently told me she didn’t call a priest to see her dying father because she didn’t want to scare him. Several cousins did the same thing – skipping the Last Rites to ‘keep their parents comfortable’ and unstressed. The parents were daily Communicants, and practiced their faith devoutly for 80+ years. They footed the tab for the kids to attend Catholic school. To deny them final sacraments was a spiritual act of betrayal. The kids even skipped having a Catholic funeral Mass. But the afterparty? Yep, went off without a hitch.

The deeper reality is, when people rebuff the teachings of God – teachings they have been raised in, but of late decide to defer to ‘keeping people comfortable’ over extending proper spiritual works of mercy — it’s like a spiritual hate-crime.

This past fall, a phone interruption I almost left for voice mail ended up being a major surprise. A long-ago friend from high school whom I had dated called out of the blue, to talk about his endstage cancer. I knew immediately that he wanted to talk seriously, and that he was scared. We hadn’t spoken more than a few times in almost 40 years. I left my office and went outside with the phone.

Three years of intensive treatment had beaten him down; he was in organ failure. His typically robust voice was crackly and higher-pitched, and his tone somber. He talked of strengthened faith throughout his illness, and worried about the well-being of his wife and child, and how his business would be managed in his absence. I tried to offer suggestions.

But he needed more, and trusted me to be straight with him. I braced and began.

“You’re approaching the most important meeting of your life, and soon,” I said. “Have you seen a priest for your sacraments?” He was quiet.

“No.”

I took a big breath. This was surreal.

“Listen, I could say a lot of things, but here’s the bottom line: you’ve got the gift of time to prepare to meet Christ. You want to embrace Him wholeheartedly, right?”

“Well, yes.”

I continued. “Would you call your favorite priest, today, and make an appointment? You won’t be sorry, I promise.” He agreed. His tone lightened, and he took no offense at the suggestion, but thanked me for ‘being like he always remembered.’ He died peacefully on a First Friday a few weeks later.

And somehow, I sense, things are all right at last.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.

Toasting the testy guest

And now we venture into the most wonderful time of the year. But for some — we’re reminded again — it can still be the winter of discontent.

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Ah, the jovial scene: festooned home readied for guests, hearty food lavished on tables and counters, generous open bar, punctuated laughter, crackling fire, soft holiday jazz. This should be fun. People comment on hairstyles, outfits, recent relocations.

But there’s quicksand around the main table. It sits unsuspected as guests balance plates and drinks in search of seats and people to catch up with. The doorbell keeps chiming, the shindig is in full-throttle. Why don’t we do this more often?

At the packed table, political figures are nonchalantly mentioned. Someone barks “no religion or politics here!” But gasoline’s in the fire. People chew in measured silence as others leave the room. And then the blitzkrieg – with denunciations of ‘stupidity,’ ‘idiocy,’ ‘racism,’ slams on Catholicism – peppered with repugnant profanity. Whoa. Anyone choking down food is now getting pulled in, willing or not. Those in adjoining rooms pretend not to hear.

It happens at many gatherings, incensed antagonists ambushing the same targets. Contending with a rapacious adversary is a lifetime training exercise, usually with zero popup warning. Harmless discourse can instantly booby-trap into war.

“The single greatest cause of conflicts – especially in the family – is envy,” says the late Father John Hardon, “and envy of character is the worst kind.” One might think it would be over economic problems, kids, estrangement, or care of elders. But simmering envy has no acceptable reason for its seat at the table; it marinates there … ever-primed to seize and suffocate the resented one. And one doesn’t have to stoke it … just amicably attend an occasion, engage others, and enjoy courteous exchange. Artfully evade talk of business or achievements. Reveal no plans, ideals, or triumphs.

“You’re Catholic, right!?” the table-prosecutor booms. So what about this, and this, and that! Zig-zagging all over the maps of history, religion, politics, and antiquity, depth-charging for an argument, the persona invidiosa throws insults and accusations, pushing for a flash-fight to sink his target into livid defense. The recipient is tempted to fling a knock-out punch, with embargoed counter-invectives no one’s yet heard – and wouldn’t soon forget.

But patient suspension is key.

Rather than an angry retort – which could be justified – a mannerly toast of preliminary listening and saying nothing is a fitting tribute to the snapper. No return smack-downs or sordid accusations. A soldier of Christ follows His example, beginning with patient pause.

The party quiets in anticipation. Then a calm explanation of Catholic teaching – perhaps buttressed by example – hushes it.

Christ has promised His faithful “ … for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15). To make an apt answer is a joy for a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (Proverbs 15: 23)

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s editor.