The Personalist Project

Man’s desire is for truth

Within visible creation, man is the only creature who not only is capable of knowing but who knows that he knows, and is therefore interested in the real truth of what he perceives.

John Paul II, Fides et Ratio

Amoris Laetitia is back in the news, and friends have asked me to lay out my interpretation of chapter 8 more concretely. I said I would, though I do it with some trepidation and lots of caveats, including that I am neither a theologian nor a canonist. I'm just a layman who's done a lot of reflecting on personalist principles and themes—on what JP II called "the priority of subjectivity."

Let me say first that I don't here mean to tangle with those who claim that Amoris Laetitia is heretical. It seems to me a waste of time and energy to argue with people who present themselves as staunchly upholding every jot and tittle of Catholic doctrine, while they make no practical provision for the central tenet of papal authority. Some of these go so far as to publicly heap scorn on the Vicar of Christ on earth in the name of Catholic fidelity. It's, inconsistent, schismatical and toxic, in my view.

I also decline to dispute with those (like the bishops of Malta) who pretend that AL allows for blanket exemptions for all divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. They seem to me unwilling (perhaps unable) to deal with the document honestly. 

Likewise, I'd like to set aside for another day the problem of how "other people"—e.g. liberals and dissenters, or anyone who is flatly unconcerned with preserving Catholic doctrine in all its purity and splendor—are likely to interpret the document. That's not my concern. My concern is with the true interpretation of AL, viz, the one that both fully accords with Tradition and adequately captures "what the Spirit is saying" to the Church in our day. 

On that question, some disagreement remains among the faithful. By the faithful—to keep clarifying—I mean those who receive the document within a spiritual context of lively trust and confidence in the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit over the Church. They recognize the Pope as having divinely-given authority to teach truly in the areas of faith and morals; they recognize AL as papal teaching.

Among these latter, I find two basic groups.

1) Those who think that since it's impossible for the Pope to change the teaching of the Church, AL can and must be interpreted in a way that excludes the divorced and remarried from Holy Communion, unless they are committed to living celibately. (I count Cardinal Müller and Archbishop Chaput in this group.)

2) Those (such as Cardinal Shönborn and my former professor, Rocco Buttiglione) who think that AL allows for certain exceptions to that general rule, by making changes to Church teaching in its inessential aspect—a perfectly normal occurrence in ecclesial history.

I myself am in group 2. I believe with all my heart that the Pope lacks the authority to change the essential moral teaching of the Church. The Church has always taught that there is such a thing as intrinsically evil acts. Adultery is among those acts. Anyone who is committing adultery is ineligible for Holy Communion.  And, according to  Amoris Laetitia, there may well be cases of divorced and remarried individuals who are in a state of grace, discernible by their spiritual director.

How is it possible to hold such apparently contradictory beliefs? Bear with me while I try to explain.

When Rocco Buttiglione defends the document, he focuses on cases of "objective adultery," where moral freedom and responsibility on the part of an individual involved are practically null. I don't doubt such cases exist, but I'm here interested in another sort, one wherein the unions in question are "objectively irregular," but not adulterous.

Keep in mind that when the Church declares a marriage null, she isn't ending a marriage; she is formally finding that a marriage had never taken place. 

Feel your way into the following two scenarios. They are fictional, but not far-fetched. They are the sort of cases that priests are increasingly coming across in our post-Christian, broken and volatile world.

A woman who grew up in a conventionally Catholic family, but who then abandoned religion in college, meets, falls in love with, and marries an evangelical Protestant. He had been married before, briefly, to a woman who turned out to be mentally ill and an addict. The experience had traumatized and embittered him, but his new-found Christian faith helped him heal, and he is now a changed man. Joining her husband at his lively, Bible-believing church, his wife's faith reawakens, and with it, unexpectedly, a hunger for the Sacraments of her youth. She begins to attend mass, watch EWTN, and read Scott Hahn books. Over time, the conviction deepens in her that Catholicism is the one true faith, and she returns to the Church. It causes serious tension in her marriage, though. Her husband has been taught to believe that the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon. He doesn't acknowledge the authority of the Pope; he doesn't understand her intense yearning for the Eucharist. He even worries that it's idolatrous. Now his wife starts refusing to have sex with him, because she's been taught to believe that until he gets an annulment from his first marriage, sex with him is adultery in the eyes of the Church. He finds her refusal not only offensive, but sinful, selfish and manipulative. He quotes the Bible saying that a husband and wife should not abstain from relations, unless by mutual agreement and for the purposes of prayer. The alienation between them grows. She resents her husband for pressuring her to act against her faith; he resents her for becoming Catholic and refusing him his conjugal rights. Their children are suffering horribly.

A woman grows up in a remote area of a nominally Catholic country, where poverty, violence, alcoholism and domestic abuse are endemic. She gets pregnant at 17. Pressured by her family, she marries her no-good boyfriend in the local church. They have four children before she is 25. He is abusive and unfaithful. Then he abandons her. She manages to emigrate to America with her children, where they live in the shadows, hand to mouth. Then she meets a man who loves her and provides for her and her children. They can't get married officially, because she is in the country illegally, and they are desperately afraid of deportation. Meanwhile, the church where she had been married has been caught up in the drug wars; its records are inaccessible. For the time being at least, it's impossible for her to obtain an annulment. But inwardly she is convinced that that first marriage was no marriage at all, and her current partner is her true husband. He's not a perfect person, but he is faithful and committed to her. Secure in her new circumstances (even though they are not easy), her heart is filled with gratitude to God. She begins to go to church again after years away. Over time, her faith grows and deepens, and with it her sense of Jesus' unconditional love for her. Her partner supports this development in her life, but doesn't share it. He had been sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy. Just stepping into a church causes him waves of anxiety and gall. She hopes he'll find his way back some day, but she knows it will take prayer and patience and delicacy on her part.

How does the Church view these two women? How should she view them? As adulterers? 

It doesn't seem so to me. Their conjugal situations fall short of the ideal of marriage proclaimed by the Church, yes. Their unions are "objectively irregular," true. But not, I propose, intrinsically evil. I don't think they are committing sin when they have sex with their husbands.

These women are not flouting the moral law. They are not saying, "I don't care what the Church says, I'm doing what I want to do." Both of them, having found faith late in life, are genuinely striving for holiness. Their yearning for Communion doesn't come from defiance of the law, but from love and need.

They are not creating exemptions for themselves from absolute norms. They are not saying: "Adultery is okay in my case, since I don't feel guilty about it." Rather, they have good grounds for believing that the two first marriages were not real marriages. They hope and expect that they will one day be formally declared null. They are inwardly persuaded that the men they are with now are their true husbands. 

They are not saying, "I know it would be a sin to sleep with my husband, but sex is so pleasant, I can't resist it." Rather, they are worried that demanding celibacy of their husbands would be unjust and harmful. They are good men, trying to do right, but they are human beings, and they don't share their wives' commitment to the Church.

In claiming that these two women are not adulterers, am I indulging in Fletcher-like "situation ethics"? Do I posit that good intentions or circumstances can render an objectively evil act innocent? I don't think so. I'm proposing rather that a careful examination the subjective dimension in these cases reveals that the act isn't adultery.

Compare it to the case of a soldier killing an opponent on a battlefield. The fact that he's obeying legitimate orders in the course of a just war means that the killing isn't murder. When a doctor removes the fallopian tube of a woman with an ectopic pregnancy to save her life, the baby dies, but it wasn't an abortion. When (to use a case raised by Pope Benedict) a male prostitute puts on a condom to protect his client from disease, he's not committing the sin of artificial contraception.

These are messy scenarios—instances of what Veritatis Splendor calls "the obscure riddles of the human condition."  Some critics of AL prefer to ignore such examples as adding to the confusion: "Hard cases make bad law"—as if the main objective of papal teaching were law-making, rather than grace-dispensing. 

There's a line in Amoris Laetitia that I found particularly arresting and important. I can't find it at the moment, so I paraphrase from memory: "I know there are some who would prefer stricter rules for the sake of clarity. I understand them, but I sincerely believe that Jesus wants this."

When the Vicar of Christ—a man chosen through the Holy Spirit to steer the Bark of Peter, and a man with a life-long reputation for personal holiness and deep prayer—says that he is convinced that this is a change Jesus wants, I think we should listen—especially considering how closely the "want" accords with the Jesus we meet in the Gospels—the one who caused scandal by dining with prostitutes and sinners; the one who talked about leaving the 99 sheep in the pen to search for the lost lamb; the one who said "I came not for the righteous, but for sinners", etc.

Critics of Amores Laetitia frequently claim that it's impossible for a priest to make a sound judgement in such cases, but is it? It may be impossible for outsiders, who know nothing of the couples in question—their history, the state of their souls. But why should it be impossible for the priest to whom they open their hearts and pour out their suffering and their longing?

Much more could be said, but this is enough for now.

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I recently read an article critical of Christian purity culture that was rather sensationally titled "I Stayed a Virgin Until Marriage, and My Virginity Caused Me to Develop Vaginismus." (It has since been re-titled, "After Staying a Virgin Until Marriage, I Couldn't Have Sex With My Husband.") 

In it, the author, Lauren Meeks, recounts her experience growing up in a Christian culture that emphasises the importance of sexual purity and of saving sexual intimacy for marriage. Embracing this ideal, Meeks and her fiancé decided to go a step further and avoid kissing until their wedding day.  

From there, Meeks recounts, “Let's just say...things didn't work out as planned. There was a problem.”

Instead of the passionate, joyful married sex she was expecting, Ms. Meeks found that her new married life dominated by the pain and embarrassment of vaginismus, a condition where a woman’s pelvic muscles contract involuntarily with attempted penetration, making sex painful or impossible. She and her doctors soon made the connection between her premarital attitudes towards sex and her current difficulties: 

I began to realise that decades of "saving myself" had subconsciously convinced me that sex was actually bad, something to be avoided and not thought about. And now that it was "good," my body didn't know what to do, because it had spent so many years not letting itself get too excited around members of the opposite sex.

She concludes that, had she known in advance what the consequences of her purity education could be, she would still have waited for sex until marriage, but “would have encouraged — and even demanded — open conversations about the many good aspects of sex and intimacy, rather than being told over and over again to simply avoid it until marriage.”

But would that have been enough?

By her own account, Ms. Meeks was already looking forward to a "hot, passionate sex life." She mentions that she experienced sexual desire for her fiancé and that there was a lot of sexual tension between them. Desire for sex was not the missing element.

A while ago, I read a book by sex educator Emily Nagoski in which she talks about the “dual-system” theory of sexual function. She says that, like other incentive-based desires, sexual feelings have an accelerator and a brake. The accelerator is responsible for interest in sex, but there is also a brake that is responsible for telling us when sex is not appropriate or safe. Any couple who has been interrupted just as things are getting interesting knows how effective and instantaneous that brake can be. 

When Christians talk about married sex, even within the context of purity-based sex education, it’s usually with the promise that it sex will be so much BETTER in marriage than it is outside of marriage. Married sex is the carrot to incentivize unmarried sexual continence. If you save yourself for marriage, you’ll have a “hot, passionate sex life,” as Ms. Meeks anticipated.

But while the carrot is there, so is the stick—and the stick is not merely directed towards the dangers of sexual promiscuity—STDs, crisis pregnancy, and the like—but at lust—which is often simplified to mean “sexual desire.” Both young women and young men are warned about the dangers of unleashed male sexuality, which is “a microwave” next to a woman’s “slow cooker,” and a powerful “Ferrari” compared to her “bicycle.” One speaker I heard as a teen cautioned against passionate kissing because, he said, “why would you choose to play on the edge of a cliff?” In this analogy, sex is the dangerous, potentially life-ending cliff.

And on go the brakes.

Secular culture does nothing to contradict this message in its desire to affirm sexuality in all its forms. It frequently skips past "vanilla" sex to celebrate kinks that many find demeaning. It accepts or tolerates pornography with a shrug even though porn tropes are almost always degrading to women. It ignores the way porn use always objectifies the user and the person/people depicted, making both objects for the viewer’s sexual pleasure rather than subjects in relationship with one another. “Sex-positivity” uses the language of feminism and equality to promote treating sex transactionally, as an exchange of pleasures rather than an exchange of persons. When it comes to sexual ethics, consent is the only standard. If everyone consents, then whatever happens is OK, regardless of context or consequences.

But, of course, there are consequences, and evidence of those consequences is all around us in broken hearts, broken lives, and broken families.

So the girl raised in a purity culture gets the message that sex is dangerous both implicitly and explicitly, from the warnings and metaphors of fellow Christians and from observation of the casualties of secular "sex-positive" culture. She sees that sex is frequently demeaning and bad for women.

She might be told, if she's Catholic, that the Theology of the Body warns us not to use each other, but I'm afraid even that instruction often just increases the fear of being used. If she belongs to some Protestant subcultures, she’ll notice that married women are frequently counselled that the secret to a happy marriage is sexual availability to your husband. After all, married men still have those Ferrari engines and can’t be expected to be happy in marriage if their sexual “needs” aren’t met.

And a fairly large proportion of girls (and quite a few boys), regardless of what they are taught about sex, will actually have already been used sexually in one way or another--molested or targeted for indecent exposure or suggestive harassment—long before their first purity talk or sex ed course. 

The result is that, for some people, women especially, the brakes go on, full stop, and they don't easily disengage, no matter how much we talk about the sanctity and pleasure of married sex. 

If sexual dysfunction is to be understood in the context of the interaction of psychological and physiological sexual responses, then the message that's missing is not that married sex is “good.” It's that it can be safe for the human person. And while both church and world are concerned with sexual safety, they lack the personalist’s insight into the danger of use in human relationships.

Birth control, condoms, and consent don’t protect a person from the fear of being used. Sexual continence outside of marriage doesn’t protect from sexual objectification within marriage.

Sex is sacred—this we know. But do we know that the human person—the sexual human person—is also sacred?

Do we know how to protect our own subjectivity from use without becoming closed to union?

Do we know how to teach our children to be both safe and open? 

I have some thoughts as to what a personalistic sexual education might look like, but, heck, my oldest child is 12. We’re still very early on this journey. So before I venture into giving my theories, I want to ask readers to share their experiences and thoughts. 

What can we do to guide our children safely through all of the messages about sex contained in popular culture and Christian subcultures?

How do we teach chastity and prudence without teaching fear? 


Bedsheets photo via Flickr. 

"Secret spell" by Francesca Dioni, via Flickr.

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When I thought my parents would be moving in with us, I joined a Facebook group for people caring for Alzheimers patients (like my mother). As it turned out, she had to move to a nursing home, but my father visits her twice a day (bearing fragrant, contraband fried dough from the farmers market, taking her out for ice cream, and consulting with the staff when there's trouble). I just pray from afar, and he keeps me posted. I don't really belong in the Facebook group after all.

But I linger on anyway. It opened my eyes to something I never considered before: the world is full of people giving up their jobs, homes, hobbies, friendships, social lives, vacations, and sometimes (involuntarily) marriages and relationships with extended family. Or they're putting these goods on hold indefinitely, maybe permanently, to take on the much-more-than-full-time job of caring for their relatives at home. Sometimes I learn something useful from the group--even though Alzheimers is one of those things for which there's no earthly "solution" at all. Or I devote a few seconds to writing words of encouragement to one of these brave, exhausted people. It's truly the least I can do.

But mostly I stay just to remind myself of this invisible cloud of witnesses who are up against things the rest of us have no idea of, and, worse, would just as soon never think about. A much-overused word applies here: "marginalization."

These "caregivers"--or maybe they should be called "life-givers"--get stuck with the messy details. You don't even want to know how messy. But it's not just that. They have to decipher the law, negotiate the finding and retaining of aides, respite care, hospice care, rehabilitation services, and some way to pay for it all. They have to decipher the laws about power of attorney and guardianship. They have to wrestle doctors, pharmacists, and insurance companies into submission, often with mother-of-a-newborn levels of sleep deprivation, but with none of the hope and optimism. They have to lift grown adults, call ambulances, research bed alarms and motion sensors and locks. They often get ignored or derided for not having a "real job" by the very relatives they turn to for help.

And then there are the end-of-life questions. 

Most caregivers are not experts in medical ethics. Their ideas on philosophy and theology range anywhere from wise intuition born of long, hard experience to a fuzzy memory of something they read once in People magazine. They don't have the luxury of fooling themselves about the "quality of life" of somebody with rapidly worsening dementia, just maybe a vague sense of duty and reverence for life--and love of "the person someone used to be"--hampered by constant pressure to sign living wills and Do Not Resuscitate orders.*

I don't have a solution, but something I read recently in a collection of passages from Pope St. John Paul II (Words of Certitude) rang true. Sometimes we talk about "death with dignity" as if it's a question of physical circumstance at the very end of life. So maximum dignity, we imagine, is obtained when you have maximum control over those circumstances.

But listen to this: 

Even if someone does not choose his own death, still, by choosing his own form of life, he, in a certain sense, chooses in this perspective even his own death.

The kind of death we choose has less to do with whether life leaves our body when it's in a distressingly embarrassing or messy or helpless state than with the kind of life we've lived. Somebody could die by euthanasia, quietly, in perfectly hygienic surroundings, but lack dignity, because of the things he valued and the choices he made before it came to that. Someone can die with a horrifying lack of (external) dignity but experience a noble death because of the way he lived while there was still time.

So how can we ensure that our own death will be dignified? We could start by offering to babysit a friend's elderly mother for an hour.


*I'm not saying DNR's are intrinsically evil, just that most people are never given the wherewithal to approach such decisions, and even if they are, the application of principles here can be horribly tricky and difficult.

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Now the men of the city said to Eli′sha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.”  He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.  Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; henceforth neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.”  So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word which Eli′sha spoke. - 2 Kings 2:19-22


Doug Grane and LifeSiteNews would like us to believe that the consistent life ethic--the "seamless garment"--is a "vast swimming pool of almost-unrelated issues" that will dissolve "prolife sentiment like a pinch of salt." As far as I can understand his argument, Mr. Grane would have us hoard the salt of our "sentiment" so that we can keep it concentrated in the dish of political opposition to abortion.


But the gospel has some pretty harsh things to say about hoarding material or spiritual gifts. Christ has called us to be the salt that lends flavor to the world, in every time and place. The salt has value not by virtue of its concentration or outward appearance, but by virtue of its saltiness.


The crude salt of Christ's day was not refined. If extracted from the earth and left stored in warehouses exposed to the moisture of the air or ground, the sodium chloride--the source of the "salty" flavor--could slowly dissolve or sublimate. One imagines the displeasure of the owner/investor on finding his valuable investment of salt rendered worthless by his lack of care.


The only way to avoid this fate was to use the salt while it was still fresh. Salt used as a preservative would be carefully packed in barrels made as air- and water-tight as possible. Salt used for blessing, fertilization, or flavoring would be promptly distributed through the water, soil, or food as evenly as possibly, to get the most use from it.


If we are to build a culture of life, as Saint John Paul II called on us to do, we cannot hoard the life-giving truth of the God-given dignity of all persons. We cannot hoard our salt or our light. We must, like William Wilberforce and the Christian reformers of his age, throw ourselves—urgently, recklessly, passionately on fire with the Gospel--into every dark corner of the age we live in.


When Elisha throws salt into the water of a dead land, the salt dissolves, but it is in dissolving that the salt is efficacious. The entire spring is made life-giving by the prophet's blessing of salt. The efficacy of salt dissolved in water is echoed by the ritual use of salt in holy water.


Mr Grane calls prolife "sentiment" a pinch of salt in a swimming pool of social justice issues. I wonder if he has forgotten the prayer for the blessing of salt traditionally used in holy water:


“Almighty God, we ask you to bless this salt, as once you blessed the salt scattered over the water by the prophet Elisha. Wherever this salt (and water) is sprinkled drive away the power of evil, and protect us always by the presence of your Holy spirit. Grant this through Christ our Lord."

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Image credits:

Salt image via Pixabay 

Seamless garment image by Elisa Low, used by permission (Image of Malala Yousafzai by Simon Davis/DFID).

Spring water image by Gaius Cornelius via Wikimedia Commons

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A dear friend wondered aloud recently, after a prolonged illness, "What is my mission? What is my goal?"

"As my energy returns, every decision on how to spend my time feels laden. It's all potential energy. All choices on spending my energy feel like a gamble."

I replied:

I think...the good we produce with our time and energy and attention often comes out of the small choices and incidental encounters even more than our initial intentional choices. And there is room in every path for those fruits.  The HOW we do what we do moves the world as much or even more than the WHAT. The world needs the person you are. You give that by acting, but it is the acting person that is the gift.

And that's all true enough, as far as it goes. But there's more to this anxiety over choices than just worry about going down the wrong path.

It's comforting to an extent to know that God can bring good out of evil, and that there is no road that can take us out of his reach. 

The real dilemma though is the finite quantity of life here on earth. Every decision we make uses time and energy that could have been used elsewhere. Every choice involves the choice NOT to pursue other options.

If you choose the left-hand fork on a path, you may someday find yourself back at the same intersection, free to try to right-hand fork. But when you do, YOU won't be the same. You will be older, with different hopes, different challenges, different capabilities. The path may look different--perhaps more overgrown, less accessible. 

So my friend has put her finger on a real difficulty. When we choose, we don't only choose the positive good we are moving towards. We also choose not to pursue any of the goods that lie in other directions. We are finite, and that bears its own kind of grief, because we will never know what could have waited for us down the path not taken.

This is the root of decision paralysis.

When I was a student, we called young men and women who waffled for years over the choice between religious life and the vocation of marriage the Brothers (and Sisters) of Perpetual Discernment.

These earnest young men and women were well-meant and sincere, but their lengthy state of discernment and hesitant attempts to test one path without giving up the option of the other led to more than one broken heart or frustrated vocations director.

It turns out that a sweetheart wants to be more than an "option," and a religious calling needs to be more than a flirtation. 

I don't mean to denigrate the process of discernment. A wise gardener will put some thought into the best place to plant an apple sapling, considering the sun, the wind, the potential for pollination, the quality and depth of the soil. We all need slightly different conditions to bloom, and what is good for one may not be as good for another.

But sometimes there is no obvious best choice. There are only good choices, each good in its own way. We have to choose, and place our roots in the soil, and get on with bearing whatever fruit we can. 

Sometimes we face a choice where we can sample more than one path. We can be torn between two or more good endeavours, knowing that we are only giving part of ourselves to our tasks, that we aren't doing as much as we could. 

I think women express this often when they talk about the difficulty of combining different callings--mother, homemaker, employee, wife, volunteer, etc. We say, "I feel like I'm doing too many things, and I'm not doing any of them well."

When caught between competing tasks and roles, the temptation, I think, is often to gravitate towards the calling or the work that produces the most positive feedback--the promotion at work, the gratitude of those you serve as a volunteer, the plaudits and praise of peers. 

These things seem like measures of success, and thus measures of the worth of our choices.

But what if we used a different measure altogether?

Early last week, I saw a smattering of articles marking the twentieth anniversary of the death of Princess Diana. These retrospectives were respectful and reflective, and seeing them, I started keeping my eyes open for similar pieces to mark the twenty year anniversary of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who had died the same week in one of those remarkable confluences that would make for great fiction if they weren't real.

They didn't materialize. 

But maybe this is fitting for the woman who said of herself, "I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness." She began her work in obscurity, and the world-wide attention it eventually attracted changed little about how she understood her task--to love Christ in a personal, concrete way through loving the person in front of her.

Saint Teresa has been criticised for not using her fame or her ability to raise donations to fund foundations and initiatives to address systemic issues. These critics allege that she failed to make a large enough difference by choosing to focus on simple acts of care towards the poor rather than working to change the world the poor live in. They judged her by the standard by which we often judge ourselves--am I making an impact? Will my actions have lasting effects? Will my accomplishments be recognized and respected by important people?

Saint Teresa of Calcutta used a different measure.

"It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters."

When she encountered volunteers and visitors with dreams of grand, ambitious works, Teresa counselled them to start with small, hidden acts of love in their own homes.

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.

Ultimately, love is the heart of vocation, and the measure of our lives. Whatever course our lives take, we will never lack opportunities to love those closest to us. 

Love can call you to leave everything, like Agnes Gonxhe did when she joined the missionary Sisters of Loreto, and as she did a second time when love called her out of the convent school and into the streets of Calcutta to serve the poorest of the poor as Mother Teresa.

Or love can call you to drop your plans and projects and open your home to a friend or family member in crisis.

Love can call a man to leave behind his job search and care for his children while his wife earns an income, because that is what best serves his family. 

Love can move you to share your passions and talents for art, for music, for ideas, for a craft--as a performer, a volunteer, a mentor, an academic, or an entrepreneur. 

Love isn't limiting. But it is clarifying, because it is personal. The question in our discernment between good things becomes not, "what will have the biggest impact?" but "where does my love lead me?" 

The call to love is immediate. It is always before us. 

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."

By Manfredo Ferrari (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Doors image via Pixabay

Love quote image by BK via Flickr

Image of Mother Teresa by Manfredo Ferrari (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

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