Misplaced Hope, Discerning God's Will, Assessing Vatican II, and Navigating Challenging Seasons
Hi friends, just a quick housekeeping note before I dive into this week’s topics. I’ve had some readers ask how they can submit questions for the weekly Q&A’s I do in these newsletters. Typically, I pull those from the open box Ask Me Anythings I do once a month on Instagram. Barring acts of God, I’ll be doing one there next week. But if you’re not on Instagram and have a question, feel free to email it to me at email@example.com. Use the subject line “Question Box,” so I can find it easily.
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Spe Salvi, Week 4
Read: Sections 24-31
The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Pope Benedict, 26).
It’s not wrong to hope for the goods of this life. It’s actually good to hope for love and marriage. It’s good to hope for babies. It’s good to hope for health, healing, long life, meaningful work, money to pay our bills, and a home to call our own.
All of those things are good in themselves. They’re also goods that point beyond themselves. Each is a sign pointing us towards Heaven. We were made for love. We were made for fruitfulness. We were made for wholeness, eternity, abundance, and an everlasting home. To want the shadows of those gifts in this world is just human.
The danger comes when we place our hope only in the shadows. For, if our eyes are solely fixed on the goods of this world, we will be disappointed. They can never be enough. They can help point us towards the life for which we long. But they can’t be that life. We will always find ourselves longing for more.
There is another danger, too. So many times, I’ve heard people say they once hoped in Christ, but have lost that hope. They prayed and weren’t answered. They begged for something and didn’t get it. How, they ask, can they hope in a God who is indifferent to their pleas?
When we find ourselves in this position, though, we need to consider what we’re been asking for. Was it Him? Was it grace? Or was it one of the goods of this life? Were we treating God like a genie, expecting Him to grant our every wish? Did we see Him as merely as a delivery service for love, health, and prosperity? Was our hope truly in Him or was it still firmly fixed in the things of this world, and He was just our means to securing those ends?
God is not a genie. He is our Creator and Savior, who came to rescue us from sin and death. To hope in Him is to hope in that rescue. It’s to believe in His promises of love, redemption, and eternal joy. It’s to trust that nothing in this world, no matter how good it may be, compares to Him, and that no sorrow in this world, no matter how horrible it may feel, compares to the joy He has in store for us. That’s the hope He wants to give us—a hope that will never diminish and can’t be disappointed. But He will only give us that hope if we want it.
So, do you want it?
What is something you hoped for and received? How has receiving that gift been different than you expected?
What is something you still hope for? Do you think your faith in Christ will be affected if you don’t receive that gift? Why or why not?
How much of your prayer life is spent asking God for some natural good? Do you think the balance is healthy or does it need adjusting? If so, what are some ways you could adjust it?
No Spe Salvi next week. Instead, I’ll be sending out my monthly longform essay for subscribers only. We’ll resume the following week with Sections 32-40.
What book do you recommend for learning more about discernment?
Anything and everything by Father Timothy Gallagher. His book, “Discerning the Will of God” was instrumental in my decision to remain Chris’ friend during the years leading up to us dating. We probably should have invited Father Gallagher to the wedding. I also highly recommend his “The Discernment of Spirits” and “Discernment of Spirits in Marriage.” They’re incredibly practical, accessible, and just plain helpful.
How do I find meaning in what feels like a useless season of life?
You can start by remembering that there are no useless seasons of life. At least, there shouldn’t be. If you are alive right now, God has work for you to do. He also has lessons for you to learn and people for you to love. Your ability to live the next season of life well—whatever that season might be—depends, in large part, on how you live this season right now.
So, live this season well. Commit to growing in virtue. Commit to overcoming besetting sins. Commit to loving and serving and encouraging those people God has put in your life today, wherever those people might be. Commit to growing in understanding of the human person and the world, through travel or reading or studying. Commit to spending more time with Jesus in Word and Sacrament. Commit to learning more about Him and His saints and how He calls His followers to live. Commit to healing—to working through your own brokenness and receiving the grace God wants to pour into you.
These are the things God asks of all of us in every season, whether we’re married or single, fertile or infertile, working a job we love or working a job we can’t wait to escape. And if you are doing those things, your current season will be anything but useless. It will be rich with meaning, preparing you for all the seasons yet to come and bearing fruit that will last forever.
Also, remember, you aren’t guaranteed a “next” season. You aren’t guaranteed a next day. None of us are. We never know the day or the hour this life will end. Don’t spend this season simply waiting for another one. This is your life. Right now. God has so much for you today, in this season. Don’t miss out on it because it’s not the season you want to be in. Make the most of this season while you can.
I have lots more to say on this question, and you can find much of that “lots mor”e in my first book, The Catholic Girl’s Survival Guide for the Single Years.
I’m struggling with infertility and my best friend is pregnant. It’s hard to be around her now and will only probably get harder when the baby comes. Not sure what to do. It hurts.
I know it hurts. Oh boy, do I know. I was in the same place many, many times. It’s so hard to be reminded of what you don’t have and desperately want every time you see your friends or talk to your friends. And I get the temptation to put some distance between you—to call less, hang out less. It feels like it will be the easier, less painful way. But it won’t be. Because doing the wrong thing is never easier or less painful in the long run, and avoiding your friend right now would absolutely be the wrong thing.
Your infertility is a hard, painful, wrong thing. We weren’t made to be infertile. That’s one of the consequences of the Fall, playing itself out in our bodies. But your friend’s pregnancy is not a wrong thing or a bad thing. Your friend’s pregnancy is a good thing. Babies are always good things. And the right way to respond to good things is with excitement and love. It’s to welcome them and celebrate them.
So do the right thing in response to good things. Be excited for her. Listen to her. Sympathize with her. Even when it’s hard. And when that baby is born, organize a meal train for her. Go do her dishes or hold the baby while she rests. Shower her and her baby with love. Because someday, God willing, you will be the one welcoming a baby, and that’s exactly what you will want her to do for you. Show her and her baby the same love and excitement that you will want everyone to show to you and your baby. Treat her as you will want to be treated. Treat her baby as you will want others to treat your baby. Be a good friend.
This doesn’t mean you can’t draw any boundaries. If you just can’t stomach the thought of being at a baby shower, come up with some excuse not to go. But if you decide to skip the shower, still plan something with just the two of you where you can celebrate her—a lunch or visit or dinner out—and bring a gift for the baby.
Likewise, if she is saying truly hurtful things to you about your infertility or comparing your two situations in a way that seems over the top, it’s okay to ask her to be more thoughtful. But, at the same time, try not to take every complaint about morning sickness or discussion about nurseries personally. I know it might feel insensitive, but chances are, she’s not trying to be insensitive. She’s trying to share her heart and her life with you. She’s including you in these precious sacred days of hers. In short, she’s behaving normally with her best friend. That too is a good thing. So don’t discourage that.
Doing all this will be hard. It will require, at times, a true dying to self for the sake of the friendship. Again, I know it will because I have done it many, many times. But that death will be worth it in the end. It will help your heart to grow and mature and be ready for whatever comes next. And it will help a friendship you value to grow stronger, not weaker, with the years. Plus, there will be a baby to love and spoil and rejoice in for years to come. God willing, someday you’ll watch that baby help entertain your own. But even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll have another person to love and be loved by in your life. That is something to give thanks for, not run from.
How do I respond to a friend who is critical of Vatican II? She says it was all a mistake, and the Church has suffered ever since. What are your thoughts?
I guess my first suggestion would be for both of you to make distinctions. Is her criticism of the actual Second Vatican Council—the gathering of all the Catholic bishops of the world convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962—or the aftermath of the Council? Is she concerned with the “behind the scenes” machinations by people at the Council or with the pastoral documents produced by the Council? Does she really dislike Vatican II or just “the Spirit of Vatican II”?
This is important because people often use the term “Vatican II” to mean everything from the actual ecumenical council to the changes in Catholic education, liturgy, music, and life that came in the Council’s wake. The term is like a giant handbag that holds a vast assortment of objects, some which merit criticism, some which merit praise, and some which are still up for debate. You’ll both be able to understand each other a great deal better once you sort out what she’s criticizing.
Beyond that, I can’t offer much guidance, because I don’t quite know what I think about the Second Vatican Council. Even after studying it and its documents for 20 years, I tend to be something of an agnostic on it. I know there were some very good actors at the Council, who saw it as a graced opportunity for the Church to proclaim the Gospel anew in the modern world, and I know there were some very bad actors at the Council, who did not have the Faith. There were some beautiful documents that the Council produced, which continue to provide helpful guidance to Catholics today, and there were some ambiguous passages whose meaning continues to be a source of debate and confusion. Afterwards, there were good fruits born by the Council in the life of the Church, and there were terrible fruits that undermined the faith of countless Catholics and the Church’s witness in the modern world.
All of which is to say, there has absolutely been great suffering in the Church in the years since the Council. There also have been powerful points of renewal. And people much more well versed in the Council and its aftermath than I am are divided about how much of the blame or credit for that the Council bears. I don’t know who is right.
I also don’t know how much worse or better things might have been without the Council. I don’t know if the Church’s institutions, structures, and people were equipped for the post-modern storm that was coming for the world, with or without the Council. I don’t know if the wholesale collapse that happened in some quarters of the Church in the decades that followed signified the devastating effects of Vatican II or the inherent weakness of those quarters or both.
Pope John XXIII believed that the Holy Spirit was imploring him to convene the Council. And maybe He was. Maybe the mess that is often the Church today would be 100 times messier without Vatican II, just in different ways. It is impossible to know. We can’t judge history that doesn’t exist.
But what we can know is that the Council was legitimate. It was convened by a legitimate pope and closed by a legitimate pope and produced legitimate documents, some of which now seem naïve and optimistic, but others of which continue to offer helpful pastoral guidance to the Church. We also can know that the Holy Spirit did not go skiing in the Alps while the bishops were deliberating. He was with the Church then, and He is with the Church now, so there is no reason to despair. Most important, we can know that the state of the Church today is not ultimately determined by a Council held 60 years ago, but rather by you and me and hundreds of millions of other Catholics around the world, who are choosing for and against Christ every minute of every day.
It’s good to read, study, and talk about the Council. It’s important for Catholics to have a greater understanding of what happened there, for good and for ill. I’ll share some books at the end which speak to both sides. But our faith is not dependent on what the cardinals at the Council did or did not do. No matter how they may have set the stage for all the damages done to the liturgy, they have no power to damage my relationship with Christ. They have no power to damage your or your friend’s relationship with Christ either.
The Faith is the Faith is the Faith. Before and after the Second Vatican Council. No matter how much certain factions within the Church have used the Council as an excuse to advance their own problematic agenda. So don’t worry too much about changing anyone’s mind on Vatican II or let these arguments consume your heart. Just live the Faith. Pray to the God who loves you. Receive the graces of the sacraments. Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Study the wisdom of the Fathers, Doctors, and Saints. Ask for the prayers of God’s mother and friends. Give generously to those in need. Serve your family, friends, and neighbors. Offer up your sufferings, joining them to Christ’s. Turn the other cheek. Bear wrongs patiently. Grow in virtue. Practice chastity. Welcome strangers. Fast. Feast. Sacrifice. Smile.
Lastly, trust that the more you do all that, the more others will do all that, too. And the more others do that, the easier of a time the Holy Spirit will have in putting right what went wrong after the Council and building upon what went right.
As for books, first read the documents—at least the major ones—themselves. This collection from Word on Fire (with commentary from Bishop Barron) is stunning. Excellent books which have a more positive take on the Council include: To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II, by George Weigel and Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition, edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering. For a dimmer view, check out Sixty Years After: Catholic Writers Assess the Legacy of Vatican II, edited by Peter Kwasniewski and Anibale Bugnini: Reformer of the Liturgy, by Yves Chiron (which is more about what came after the Council than the Council itself, but helpful for understanding why the mere mention of Vatican II makes some people’s eyes twitch).
Five Things I’m Loving
I’ve always found the lesbian feminist contrarian Camille Paglia fascinating, and this 14-minute YouTube clip is one reason why. Her assessment of the breakdown of womanly community in the post-modern world is something my friends and I have noticed and often talked about ourselves.
Recently, three Friends of the Faith plush pals arrived in the mail, and Ellie has claimed them all as her own. She is most taken with the Jesus doll, who she walks around cuddling and kissing and calling “Jeesh.” More like small soft pillows than dolls, they are perfect crib companions for little ones, with no buttons, strings, hair or other choking hazards. They’d make great baby shower gifts or stocking stuffers for little ones. Ellie gives them her highest recommendation.
My current favorite hour of the day is 9 pm. That’s when Chris hands me a martini and we sit down to watch Miss Scarlett and the Duke, a new to me Masterpiece Mystery series. We are two seasons in to the ongoing series (they just finished filming Season 4), and I haven’t been this entertained by a tv show for a long time. Some of the writers seem to have no clue how actual Victorians would react to certain sexual sins, but other than that, I have no complaints about the show (unlike our other recent Masterpiece watch, Sanditon, which started off strong and became an almost total train wreck by the end).
Our new swing set! It has arrived, and it is wonderful. As some of you may remember, last year my parents and Chris and I ordered one for Becket’s and Toby’s birthday, but it never arrived, the company went bankrupt, and it took months for us to get our money back. I finally ordered a new one at the end of March and chose a company that I knew would not go bankrupt anytime soon: Home Depot. We are loving the one we got, the Gorilla Outing III, which is super sturdy and ideal for smaller city yards like ours. The kids have been playing on it non-stop, and yesterday, when friends were over, a great Pirate battle took place on it. Just what I had dreamed of seeing!
Now that it’s finally warmed up in Pittsburgh, the kids and I have been outside non-stop all day long. Since both Ellie and I are the color of paper, that means we are slathering on the sunscreen. The only sunscreen I use on the kids’ skin and mine is from Beautycounter. Unlike most sunscreens, it is completely free of known carcinogens and unlike most mineral sunscreens, it leaves no white residue. It’s completely safe for the whole family, and not a one of us has ever gotten a hint of burn when wearing it. I prefer the cream for myself, but the kids get the spray version (Becket, with his more melanated skin, gets the tinted spray version). If you’ve never tried Beautycounter before, use the code CLEANFORALL20 to save 20 percent on your first order.
Can I ask you a favor? If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you’re enjoying this newsletter. If so, would you mind recommending it or sharing it with friends? At this point, the growth of this newsletter depends almost entirely on word of mouth—on readers sharing it with those who they think would enjoy or benefit from it, so any boost you can give it would be greatly appreciated. And thank you to all of you who have shared it already!
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Misguided Hope, Questionable Television, and Harry Potter … So Much Harry Potter (Free audio version)
The Unplanned Journey: Seeking Holiness Through Interruptions, Disruptions, and Poop Flies (Full Subscribers Only)