What Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have to do with St. Henry

July 13th was the feast day for somewhat of a lesser-known saint: St. Henry. Saints come in all shapes and sizes, but most of the time, they are poor, ascetic, and part of a religious order. St. Henry was none of these things. He was rich, powerful, and the king of nothing less than the Holy Roman Empire at the end of the first millenium AD.

In a way, one wonders how he got on the “saints” list. It’s not that Catholics don’t believe all sorts of people are in Heaven  we know nothing about, but a saint is typically lifted up to be recognized by the church because of how he or she shows heroic virtue and stands out. St. Henry was a politician. And when I say politician, I encourage you to think of every angle of that description. He made laws. He took advantage of those laws. He used the customs of his office to make power plays. He engaged in the messiness of life and did the best he could with it.

None of that really sounds like the stuff of saints. And it sounds even worse nowadays, when our political candidates for president seem to be so lacking in integrity, and so full of hot air. But for however repugnant the bad aples in the bunch are who make laws, and for however hamstrung our representatives seem to be in trying to accomplish anything, politics is still something God calls men and women to. We still need leaders. We still need laws. So we still need politicians.

But perhaps at no other time – in recent history at least – has a picture of the “good politician” been more needed: the man or woman who is both innocent and shrewd, both reasonable and visionary. In this post, I want to outline how St. Henry, for however flawed he may have been at times, is a saint we can look to. So what does St. Henry’s life teach us?

1. A good politician makes him/herself available to the need of the times.

For being the leader of one of the most powerful empires of the time, it’s surprising that growing up, Henry was not groomed for kingship. He and his father were set on him being trained for the priesthood – which is just about as far from “king” as you can be. But due to unforseen circumstances, Henry turned out to be the man everyone knew had to take the throne. And so he did. It’s not clear that he even wanted the throne. Later in life, legend has it that he attempted to join a monestary, which could mean that religious life was never too far from his mind. But that was not what the times required of him.

Being a good politician means asking yourself the hard questions: “Am I needed here? Would someone else do a better job with this responsibility?’ And not simply (or not at all), “Can I get away with this? Is this the right time to advance my career?” These are questions that often can only be answered in the heart of the representative, senator, or candidate himself. But for such an important job, it needs to be asked. Goodness, for the sake of 300,000,000 people, it needs to be asked.

2. A good politician can mend relationships.

King Henry did not ascend to the throne entirely without strife. His brother attempted to usurp him and Henry was forced to face him on the battlefield. Henry’s troops routed his brother’s forces, and, at that point, he could have done whatever he wanted with him. Especially for someone who had committed what amounted to treason, death would have been completely appropriate. But instead, Henry reconciled with his brother, and the two became friends again.

Recently, I was talking to a lawyer who works in the Sacramento Capitol building with lawmakers. I asked him what was interesting to him about his job, because it seemed to involve a lot of tedious reading of documents, paperwork, stuff like that. He said that it was interesting to see how petty many of the lawmakers could be. Some would shoot down someone else’s proposal even when he agreed with it because he didn’t want that person (perhaps someone from a different political party) to be able to go back to his constituents and say he got something done. Other lawmakers had shot down the proposals of fellow representatives for personal grudges.

This is stupid, to say the least. These lawmakers, however many or few they are, are putting up fences in places they should be pulling them down. They are creating division where there should be reconciliation for the sake of the greater good of the state. After the campaigns have been waged, and the attack ads have quieted down, lawmakers would do well to follow Henry’s example, bury the hatchet, and get to work.

3. A good politician leaves room for freedom of religion.

King Henry was not always liked by the leaders of the church. As was the custom of the time, he appointed priests who were not the Pope’s first choice, to say the least. He also, at times, used his political power to pressure the church in areas where he felt he needed something accomplished that the church could help him with. But the assessment overall is that the church, by and large, flourished under his reign. As I mentioned earlier, ecclesiastical life was not foreign to him – he was being trained to be a priest. Churches were built and the faith was largely left untouched and uncorrupted by him. This may seem like a small thing, but for the first millenium after Christ, the Popes were in one conflict after another with emperors and kings over theological issues (with the emperors and kings being largely on the wrong side of the dispute). Henry dodged this and was canonized not long after dying. All to say, Henry largely kept out of the way when it came to the freedom of the Catholic Church to do it’s job. He created an environment where the church could flourish and often contributed to that flourishing.

I am grateful, very much, for the immense religious freedom we have in the United States. There are areas where we may even get too much favor from the government. Churches get tax breaks that normal businesses don’t. But as the case brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor before the Supreme Court illustrate, the government can overstep it’s bounds and force the church to transgress against it’s conscience when following it’s conscience places no undue burden on anyone. In other words, the Catholic Church often wishes the government would just leave it alone to do it’s job, or even work with them for some common good – like alleviating poverty, or helping single mothers. This is incredibly important not just for the Catholic Church, but for any group the government tries to regulate against their conscience. Unless there is a truly compelling reason to do so, the government just needs to back off. And it is part of the job of politicians to make sure they do so.

4. A good politician helps bring unity and stability to the country.

King Henry took the reigns of a superpower in Europe at a time when, though it was incredibly formidible, was nonetheless in decline. He had to wage war just to keep the borders where they were and hold on to his territorial claims. But while protecting his subjects, he also tried to help the masses, and he traversed his empire trying to do so even at the cost of his declining health. He was known for his generosity, as well, in all of this. And he was reasonable enough not to have ambitions of conquest and empire-building. In other words, Henry sought stability. He sought to make life for the average person bearable and liveable, without the upheaval that comes from war and other disasters.

In a time of great divisiveness in America, his example desperately needs to be emulated. Playing to every tribe’s fear of the other – fear of illigal immigrants, or transgender people, or religious people – does not do anyone any good. A good politician unites. A good politician seeks to bring reconciliation between groups, not use inflamatory language to incite people against one another. A good politician seeks stability where there is great unrest. This is not an easy thing to do, and I don’t want to pretend like I have some golden answer to how this can be accomplished. But I know that calling a particular group of people out who make up a large portion of the country and shaming them – like illegal immigrants or Muslims – is a step in the wrong direction.

5. A good politician lives both his/her public and private life with integrity and fidelity.

One of the legends attributed to King Henry is that he, after not being able to have children with his wife, decided with her to live a life of chastity. He was also said to be a pious man who practiced fasting and prayer. These things, to our modern ears, don’t mean much – or even seem extreme. But the point is that Henry cared very much about not just doing good in his public policies and actions, but also cared very much about being good.

This is a presidential standard it seems many of us have simply given up on. It’s just a given that politicians will have scandals following them in their wake. But we cannot pretend that a person can let sin run rampant on the inside without it affecting how he or she acts on the outside. The heart is a whole. Lying to one’s spouse makes it that much easier to lie to one’s colleagues or country. What you are on the inside counts. It matters immensely. We need leaders who understand the value of both doing good and living a good life.

6. A good politician never forgets that politics is just politics.

As I said further up, Henry at the beginning of his life was headed for the priesthood. And at the end of his life, he sought to retire to a monastery to dedicate himself to prayer and the religious life. If that later point is true, it tells us a lot about the kind of man he was. They are like bookends between which we can decipher the heart of a man who was in the world, but who’s heart was yearning for Heaven. When you are cloistered in a monastery, spending every day praying and reading Scripture, it’s understandable that you will be drawn to spiritual things. But how much of a saint do you have to be to be king of an empire, but still realize that it is, at the end of the day, just an empire? It passed away in due time. In fact, Henry was the last king of that unified land. But he himself is remembered not because he was a king. There have been many kings who have been forgotten. No. He is remembered for being holy. He is prayed to because we as Catholics believe that in his holiness, he has outlived his empire. He fulfilled his duties as best he could, but he never forgot that his real home was not on earth – that living for God was really all that mattered.

It is so easy to get caught up in the world of politics. We all have an opinion. And I imagine, it must be hard for politicians – especially presidents – to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground. To realize that they are only flesh – that from dust they came, and to dust they shall return. But politics is still just politics. America is just America, even if it is true that it is the greatest country in the world. If it is like pretty much every other country that has ever existed, it will decline and fade just like they did. But what we do, how we live, how we love our neighbors and illuminate the often dark and difficult lives of our fellow countrymen will follow us and propel us to Heaven, which is the only country that will never decline and die. Our lives may very well be remembered years from now, in countries that don’t even exist now, by people we could never imagine would know about us, and inspire them to greatness.

But not if we treat politics like a reality TV show. Not if we treat it like some kind of playground game where there are winners and losers. May our politicians look to the example of St. Henry, and to Jesus, the one who inspired him and the church he loved and followed. And may we, as Catholics, ask for St. Henry’s intercession on behalf of our lawmakers, that they, in the messiness and difficulty of their craft, create an environment in our country where we can all flourish under God’s loving grace.
Do you agree? Do you disagree? Am I right? Wrong? Let me know in the comments below. 


Here’s to Whatever Comes

Today, in our diocese, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. In other words, we celebrate the time in Christ’s life when, after Resurrecting, He spoke His parting words to His disciples and ascended up into the clouds, taken up into Heaven and away from their sight.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot more about what the disciples must have felt. This man who had been their partner, leader, and friend for three years had just disappeared. All the comfort of living in the light of His presence and being shown so concretely the path ahead of them had now vanished. Sure, He had said that it was good He was going back to Heaven. But I can’t help but think there must have been this hole in their hearts. He was just… gone. That was it. This man they had hoped, at least at one point, would kick out the Romans and set up a kingdom for 1000 years had now left them after three. And what may have been even more surprising, He left them in charge of carrying on His mission – of spreading the Gospel and His kingdom and making more disciples. Hadn’t Peter (the head of their band now) just denied even knowing Jesus a few weeks ago? Wasn’t this the same group of men that scattered when their Shepherd was taken into custody and crucified?

And yet Jesus’ words at the Last Supper were these: “…I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.” And why? “For if I do not go, the Advocate [i.e., the Holy Spirit] will not come to you.” In other words, if Jesus didn’t go, the disciples couldn’t grow. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Something new had to happen in them. And it wasn’t going to happen if they were constantly leaning on what they could see right in front of them. This charismatic figure who had wooed them to this new faith had to be let go of, in a way, so that He could live in them more fully through the third person of the Trinity. He had to leave so that He could be with them, deep in their hearts, forever.

This has meant a lot more to me lately because our parish has been going through some of the same emotions with our two priests. One of them, Fr. Lee, has been taken up to Heaven, so to speak. He died not too long ago and left a large hole in the parish. Our other priest has been whisked away for what has been called health reasons. Our two priests who had been part of the warp and woof of our community, and who were dearly loved, were gone within weeks of each other. We have an interim priest who is discharging his duties faithfully, but still, our other two had really been instrumental in making our parish the vibrant, life-filled place that it is today. I’ve heard some in our parish describe their emotions of abandonment and loss. We don’t really know when or if our priest will come back to us.

The situation could be multiplied outward. I remember another congregation where a pastor who led his congregation for years and years felt called to another on the other side of the country. Again, it left a gigantic hole. Maybe it’s the close relative who dies prematurely or the close friend who has to move away for a job or the mentor or parent who has passed away or the move you have to make to a new area, needing to make new friends and new connections in a foreign place. You wonder where your foundation is any more. You feel like it’s crumbled underneath you.

But has it? “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.” We don’t talk about the spiritual discipline of detachment in Christian circles much anymore – that ability to hold what you have with a light touch and an open hand, because you know the only one who is going to constantly be there for you is God and the only thing that will constantly be there for you is Heaven. I suppose the cultural sickness of our age isn’t so much about having trouble holding on to people as it is connecting with them – learning how to form community. But it’s important to hold that ability to form bonds of friendship and love while at the same time learning not to be dependant on them. If, God-forbid, the Lord really pulls your carpet out from under you and takes away from you the people who have been pillars in your life, can you still look to the future with a smile on your face? Can you believe that it’s still going to work out? More than that, can you believe that things will in fact be better for you? That what God needs to do in your life and what He wants to open your heart to simply can’t happen or come to you with you leaning on that friend, that parent, that priest, that spouse, that city, that job, those coworkers, that everything?

Sometimes God needs to take what is good and matters so much to us away to give us what is better. If you are having a hard time believing that, believe me, I’m not the best at believing this either. But I’ll tell you what, if you’re up for it, lift you’re cup with me, let’s clink them together in the meantime and say, with whatever faith we can muster, “Here’s to whatever comes.” Who knows? It might just knock our socks off.

A Good Day

Today was a good day.

We try to have a sort of family catechism regularly and today was all about Adoration. I read a little booklet about this child who asks his mother what Adoration is and she explains, among other things, that sometimes, outside of the normal Mass hour, Catholics come to adore Christ present in the Eucharist. A Catholic will talk to Christ quietly there, or just sit and… adore Him. My children – 5, 3, and 2 – couldn’t grasp everything in the booklet, I think. I mean, the greatest theologians don’t fully grasp it, let alone me and my kids. But I decided, on the spur of the moment, that we might as well keep the momentum going and actually do this whole Adoration thing. So we went three blocks down to our local parish, and there, kneeling, Izzy thanked Jesus personally for dinosaurs, while Jack thanked Him for dragons – big dragons. The kind you can ride on.

After that we went down to the American River – a river that winds through Sacramento. It was the first time any of us (“us” being the kids and me) had been there. It was a wild success. People create play structures and theme parks to attract and entertain children as young as mine, but at their age, nothing will compare to finding seemingly magical insects in the mud, being allowed to throw hard objects as far as you can into a river, and splashing around. It was a hit with me, too, but for a different reason. Moving out here from the San Francisco Bay Area, two of the things I miss the most are the bay and the ocean. Looking out from the bank across the quiet river, I realized I had just made what would seem to some like an unfair trade: the ocean for a river. But rivers have their merits, too. I have a lot of wonderful memories and emotions attached to rivers, and I pulled them out like coins I’ve collected but haven’t looked at in awhile. I forgot how much I liked them.

There are so many stressful days in our lives – and especially as parents and spouses. And for us it’s been a more wild ride than I think it is for the average American family. There are the fights, the worries, the sleepless nights, and so much more that can make a person so exhausted. And I can easily come to define my life, my relationships, my parenting, everything about me by the fights, worries, and sleepless nights. I can feel like a failure. I can feel that the grand story of my subplot of a life is summed up in the number of days I’ve spent wondering where God is or fretting or getting so angry I’m ready to burst. All is a vast black universe with only pinpricks of light.

But on days like today, I feel like I get a foretaste of Heaven. And I wonder if maybe I can define my life by days like this where I realize how privileged I am to hear some of my children’s first prayers. I can define my life by the moments I spend skipping rocks with them, reluctantly letting them play in the mud, and discovering mundane things that, through their fresh eyes, are amazing. I can define my life by the moments my wife and I share a knowing glance or laugh at the same book at Barnes & Noble. And however slight a foretaste it is, if Heaven is ultimately my eternal home, that taste is still worth something. I can define my life, and perhaps all of life, by these foretastes of Heaven. All is day where the clouds only serve to temporarily block out the consistent and unchanging sunlight.

Nobody knows, ultimately, whether their lives will end up a tragedy where everything falls apart in the end (whether with a bang or whimper, as T.S. Elliot puts it) or a comedy, where through the craziness of the plot twists everything comes out fine. I guess part of what it means to be a Catholic is to believe that our difficult days do not define us and the days we are lifted above our worries and fears by what can only be called the sheer grace of God do. And some days it’s hard to believe that.

But not today. Today was a good day.


(Yeah, I know it’s not the best image. I took it off a flip phone)

Laughing at the Days to Come

I don’t know any woman who truly likes the woman described in Proverbs 31. If you don’t know, the 31st chapter of Proverbs has this description of the woman parexcellance. She cleans the dishes, knits her children everything from clothing to quilts, and is an entrepreneur on the side, buying and selling at the local market, one would imagine, with a child feeding at the breast and another little one in tow.
Every Christian woman is called to be her, tries to be her and maybe even wants to be her. I can’t tell you how many studies and sermons I’ve heard titled “The Proverbs 31 Woman” or something like that. But who doesn’t get tired just reading the chapter? The beginning question of the soliloquy describing her is, “Who can find a woman of worth?” (the woman of worth being the superwoman she then describes in the chapter). The questioner knows the answer. And the answer is silence.
But in the middle of the incredibly high-minded description of the perfect woman, there’s this little sentence that caught my eye awhile ago, and it’s a statement that follows me around like a tune I can’t get out of my head. The speaker, in describing this woman, says: “… she smiles at the future.” Or as another translation puts it, “She laughs at the days to come.”
The statement is deceiving, because it sounds so easy in comparison to everything else the woman has to do each day. Just be happy. Just be lighthearted. Just let go of your fears and act like, one way or another, everything is going to be ok.
But it’s not easy. In fact, out of everything mentioned in the glowing description of the perfect woman, it’s the hardest, most difficult thing to do, because a woman, or man, who spends all that time haggling with the local merchants, all that time trying to keep the toddlers Billy, Tod, and little precious Sophi from killing one another, all that time sewing patches on to clothing because they don’t have enough to go buy something new at the store, all that time trying to be there for the people in her life who bring their problems and issues to her because she’s “that Proverbs 31 woman” can’t possibly be expected not to worry from time to time, or to cry from time to time!… To feel alone from time to time and anything but lighthearted and joyful about the future.
But in that very same statement is the answer to how she gets through everything else, because at the end of the day, after the kids are put to bed and the last dish has been put in the dishwasher, she can look up at the icon of Christ hanging on her wall and know and feel that whatever the mess is that that the day brought, it is still a <em>holy</em> mess. And whatever circumstances and crosses the day brings, at the other end of it – and oftentimes even in it – is the resurrection. She smiles at the future as Jesus smiled at the joy of knowing His cross would bring you and me to heaven forever with Him. He didn’t like the cross any more than she likes the tired mornings, loud days, and exhausting nights. But bit by bit, day by day, redemption is being sewn along with those patches into the fabric or her life and the lives of her family and friends. And every day has it’s own little joys and triumphs that she ponders within her like the Mother of God.
I can be a workaholic. I’ve got that down. I can spout theology. That’s not hard for me. But oh how hard it is to smile at the future, because, like the woman, I know too well that the future doesn’t always hand you things to smile about. The hardest lesson to learn is how to see with the eyes of faith that, as one Puritan writer put it, our circumstances are the fingers of God in our lives. And if it is His hands, and His hands, alone that are holding us, then not only can we lay down our fears, but we can shout for joy and laugh at the days to come.

A Healthy Distance

There are few books that I’ve returned to over and over again to help interpret life more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” Bonhoeffer the man was fascinating enough even without his profound insights into the Christian life: a resistant German theologian and pastor during the time of the Nazis, a spy, and a participator in a plot to assassinate Hitler are just a few interesting aspects of his resumé. But layer on top of that the eloquence and depth of his writings, and you have a man I would really love to spend many hours with over beer.
But anyway, one quote that always sticks with me is the one he made about where Jesus fits in our relationships with one another. The book itself is probably sadly exiled to some moving box right now, so I can’t bring up the exact quote, but he said something like this: Jesus needs to stand between myself and every other person. Jesus didn’t just come to be a mediator between us and God – the link that binds us to Him. Jesus came to be the link between us and everyone else. In other words, as the nun said to the boy and girl dancing too close to each other during prom night, “Leave room for the Holy Spirit.” And the best way for me to describe what the means is to describe an incident in my own life.
I was sitting across the table from my older sister. The last few months she and her husband have been helping (in a major, major way) with our three children while my wife has been sorting through issues and I’ve been trying to keep up with a full-time job. Essentially, their home is my children’s home for now. This was a “family meeting,” meaning it was our opportunity to air out our issues with each other (anything we felt we had to say that couldn’t be said in a 5-minute conversation) or just check in and make sure we were all doing ok.
The issues my sister brought up were completely legitimate. What she said went something like this, “Maybe you could help out a little more around the house when you have the opportunity. Even small stuff is helpful…. How should we deal with this particular issue with Jack?….. Have you contacted that guy about getting the car out of the driveway?”
What I heard was, “I’m sick and tired of picking up after my stupid, incompetent, irresponsible little brother – even now! You don’t know what you are doing as a parent and are a failure at life. And you’re Catholic!”
How? How could she say one thing and I hear something completely different? It’s because I have this recording in my head that constantly plays back for me my life growing up. I was always the little brother. I was always the one who had to be taken care of. I was the irresponsible one who kept forgetting things. I left our Protestant faith to become Catholic, and this was hard for my family to accept – for legitimate reasons. My sister is the kindest person you will ever meet in your life. But I realized something: I was far, far too close to her. My life was emotionally tied up with hers in a way I couldn’t untangle. If she thought I was doing well, it was as though God was shedding His approval over my entire life. If she disapproved, it was as though nothing good I did mattered. I was a screw-up.
What would I have to do to see my sister in a healthy way? What do I have to do to not rise or fall based on her opinion, or my wife’s opinion, or my student’s opinions, or anyone else’s – including my own? I need to leave room for the Holy Spirit. Letting Christ stand between me and another person is like putting on a pair of glasses that take your eyesight from being a gigantic blur – like a Turner painting – to 20/20 vision. I see people the way Jesus sees people. They are not pure good or evil. Their opinions of you are not to be completely disregarded as rubbish but neither are they to be elevated to the status of the Ten Commandments. They are people doing the best they can – just like you. They want to be loved like you do. They want community like you do. And you are called to love them.
My situation could be multiplied by however many instances involving how ever many people exist in the world. We crave favor. We long so badly for validation. We need to know we are doing ok. We need more “likes” on our Facebook statuses. We need our nicer cars and nicer houses. We need that promotion. We need to be needed, because we need some cosmic “A+” (or at least a passing grade) to loom over our lives and let us know we mean something good in the world…. that we aren’t just a waste of space.
Into that seeming abyss steps Christ. And He fills that dark hole with blinding light. God’s favor rests on You because He loves You because of what Christ did on the Cross. You have all You need in Him. You have all you could want in Him. And now, you can love and cherish others because you know that in Him you are loved and cherished.
Between us and the world needs to stand Christ. If He isn’t there, something or someone else will take His place. God help the person who lets that happen. And God help the one to whom that person latches onto.

Did you know? I compose music, too.

I apologize in advance for the fact that this is a shameless plug.
I write music. In fact, I’ve been writing music for the last 15 years. And finally, at long last, I’m selling it on iTunes, so… you know… for me it’s kind of a big deal.
If you would like to check it out, just go to:


And if you do go and check it out, from the bottom of my heart… thank you.

Clinging to Faith for Dear Life

When things are going well, and the problems in our lives seem like nothing more than little bumps on the road, our faith can feel something like a warm blanket. In the evening, nestled next to a fire, we ponder, with effortlessness, how blessed we are. God loves us. God is watching over us. God has a wonderful plan for our lives. And this is obvious because, by any measure, our lives look like they’ve been blessed.
But when suffering comes, when our idyllic life comes crashing down on us, and all the good things we mistakenly thought were gifts from God turn out to actually be idols that He violently and, without mercy, strips from our lives, we have a choice. We can cling as best we can to our idea of the “good life” or the “good family” or the “good job” or the “good marriage”, even while they are being ripped away from us, or we can cling to our faith, and all those beautiful promises God gives us about how He loves us and cares about us, with greater tenacity and vigor. We can let go of our faith, or cling to it like a mountain climber holding on to the cliff for dear life.
Because that, in all honesty, is what our faith transforms into when trials hit us. God’s promises stop being the warm blanket that anesthetized us and lulled us into a quiet, peaceful sleep, and they start becoming more like armor we wear in the midst of the battle of life – the shield we hold up on our darkest days to keep back the depression, hopelessness, and guilt that try to tear at us, bit by bit, and sink us into a kind of Hell on earth.
I know I’m speaking in somewhat vague terms, but I think anybody who’s had their dreams or hopes ripped out from their hands knows exactly what I mean: a mother who loses her child, dealing with a chronic mental or physical illness, the death of your dearest friend…. all those things that radically change your life forever and that you never really completely heal from.
I haven’t gotten to the point of turning my back on God because of suffering. I’ve gotten angry. I’ve lost hope at times. I’ve gotten burnt out, that’s for sure. I’ve had quite a few arguments with God. But I’ve also had those promises. I’ve had that faith that’s been like a protective shield around me – that has helped me see beyond my own pain and has, I think perhaps, even saved my life. And these particular promises – just three of them – are what I want to share in this post:

1. Nothing God asks of us is too much to ask.
Ok, so not so much a promise as a simple fact. This is for those days when I want to wallow in self-pity. It’s not a pick-me-up like, “Hey, just look on the bright side of life!” or “Count your blessings!” It’s more like a shock to the system: “Remember, kid, you have no clue what suffering really means.” I look up at the Crucifix each Sunday and see Jesus depicted there, having been brutally whipped, punched, and nailed to two pieces of wood so that I could spend eternity with God in Heaven. And when I am tempted to get frustrated with how my life is, it’s as though He looks down from there and asks, “Have you suffered this much for me yet, Jonathan?” And my answer is always a sheepish “no.”
We tend to think that because God is God, He is so far above the fray and so in control that nothing bothers Him and He couldn’t possibly understand the anxiety and fear we have in life. But I think it’s the opposite. I think because He is God, He knows the unpredictability of life only too well. He knows it will all be ok in the end just like we do if we have faith, but He sees and feels all the suffering we are all going to have to go through to get there – let alone all that Christ has gone through already for us on the Cross. And if this is how far He has come – even to death – for us, is there really too much He could ask us to bear for His sake?

2. Everything God asks of us is for our good.
In the Catholic way of seeing things, our suffering is doing an indispensable work – not just in our lives, but in the world as well. There’s this catch-phrase in Catholic culture we use when we see a friend dealing with suffering. We say “offer it up.” And what we mean by that is one of the most beautiful and profound truths of the faith: when we unite our suffering with Christ, when we give it to Him, He uses it to make us and the world a better place. It may be an easing of time in purgatory for us or someone else. It may be for the healing of a person either physically or emotionally or spiritually. Sometimes, when I fast (as every Catholic is called to do at different times during the year), I do it united with prayer for my children. I offer up the fast for them. Our suffering, in whatever form, whether it be publicly taking a bullet for a fellow soldier or living out the twilight of our lives, struggling with sickness and old age in a nursing home, when lifted up and united with Christ, is used by God to make the world, and ourselves, fit for Heaven. The tears we shed are the seeds of the richest spiritual fruit.

3. Whatever God asks of us, He will give us the grace to get through.
But I should be upfront about this: I don’t mean He’ll get us through alive or without permanent scars (either physical or emotional). Jesus didn’t get out of pain. He didn’t get out of what looked like a failed ministry by the time of the crucifixion. He didn’t get out of death. He wasn’t like Job who, after a time of intense trial, got everything he lost back to him in this life – and much more so. Mother Teresa herself confessed that she went through decades of what felt like spiritual deadness.
But at the same time, what God offers us is something far, far greater than even the whole world. He offers us Himself. He offers us Heaven. It’s so easy for me to forgot what the common Christian phrase “carry your cross” really means. It means hang on to the bloody end. When I say “He will give us grace to get through”, I mean that for however long you have to bear whatever suffering you’re going through, He’ll give you what you need to not through in the towel – to not grow hopeless and lost, to not abandon your faith. He will give you the grace to cling to these promises until the storm passes and you can see the light again.

Remember that the Christian life here is not meant to be Disneyland. It’s the Battle of Agincourt. And every day we wake up with our many fears and temptations trying to stare us down. But as Henry V says in Shakespeare’s famous speech before the fateful battle, when we stand before Christ we will hold our lives cheap if we don’t stand faithful here and now.
And if we do stand? We will, with beaming faces, and in the flowing cup of communion, look on our scars not as reminders of painful memories and our sense of abandonment, but as reminders of the great feats we accomplished and the battles we won.
Close your eyes and see in your mind Heaven opened up. See the saints waiting there for you to take your seat. See the freshly poured communion cup, passed around for everyone to drink. And see Christ, at the head of the table, seeing you and welcoming you to the party.