What Pope St. John Paul II Said About ‘Structures of Sin’

In the pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts, the USCCB reviews the history of the oppression of people based on ethnicity and race in America, and states quite clearly: “The roots of racism have extended deeply into the soil of our society.”

We, as conservative Christians who believe in the dignity of all human persons, should openly acknowledge the problem of racism in our nation and stand against it. We should see the injustice of a person holding his or her race or ethnicity as superior to others’, the sinfulness of individuals and groups acting on these views, and how these views have influenced our laws and the way our society functions.

We as Catholics should be at the front lines of the fight to end racism, instead of ceding the front lines to people who have been influenced more by various ideologies than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s use the language that the Church already has to talk about sins like racism. We already have teachings on how we have a responsibility to bring about an end to it.

The Church in her tradition and in the Catechism talks about “structures of sin” and “social sin.” The Catechism (1869) states: “Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. ‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.’”

Pope St. John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, defines social sin — or “structures of sin” as he calls it in the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis — in several ways.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register.

Chronic Illness Teaches Us How to Suffer During COVID-19

“I think you have Lyme disease,” my practitioner stated sympathetically. I glanced into her serious face and was in denial.

No. It could not be. But as I went over each possible symptom on the evaluation form, the number I experienced began to add up. What I first thought was an ankle sprain was instead a symptom of a horrible chronic illness. My ability to live normally and independently had disappeared as the bacteria wreaked havoc within my body. I could barely have my feet at an elevation below my heart without intense pain and thus could do nothing for myself but what can be done lying in bed. And now the diagnosis meant that I was in it for the long haul. The only way out of the illness caused by a bite from a tiny little deer tick was to follow the careful directions of treatment until the symptoms were gone.

My initial feelings when first diagnosed with Lyme disease and those I had at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic where quite similar. First, Lyme was something other people got; it would never happen to me. COVID was all the way in Asia; there was no way it would spread to us. Then I did contract Lyme disease, and I had to live on with the reality of a long recovery, if any. COVID did make it to the United States, and most states responded with restrictions meant to curb this new, unpredictable and sometimes deadly illness.

Lyme disease and all chronic illnesses with their open-ended diagnosis are similar to the COVID-19 situation we are facing as a world. We hope to get to the end of this irregular experience and return to some sense of normalcy, but we do not know when or how it will eventually happen. But they can also be similar in how we bear with the suffering resulting from the situation.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

The Holy Lives and Passions of Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin

(This essay is shortened from a talk.)

They passed each other on a bridge one spring day — a distinguished, reserved, hardworking watchmaker who had tried and failed to become a monk and a lovely, intelligent, productive lacemaker who had been turned away by the Vincentian sisters. When St. Zélie first laid eyes on St. Louis she heard an interior voice, one that she had learned to trust, say, This is he whom I have prepared for you.

Their life together began on July 12, 1858 — a date remembered by the Church as the feast day of the first husband and wife canonized as a couple. While their married life was holy and admirable, God gave them the opportunity to enter into the suffering of the Cross at the end of each of their lives.

In their 19 happy years of marriage, Sts. Louis and Zélie ran a successful lacemaking business in Alençon, Louis having given up his trade to help his wife in hers. They had nine children, all of whom they baptized within days of their birth. When they lost four of their children, to childhood illnesses and the negligence of wet-nurses, since Zèlie was not able to breastfeed her children, they placed their hope in seeing them again in Heaven.

Louis and Zélie were very careful to raise their surviving children with virtuous habits, correcting their faults sternly, but also rewarding their good deeds with affectionate love. Zélie would pray about and examine the faults and strengths of each child and foster them into holiness and encouraged them to make little sacrifices every day to help them become less selfish.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter and the Simple Life of Sanctity

I was sitting at the lunch table over my daily salad while my husband prepped his grilled cheese at the stove. The children chatted with each other across the table from me.

“I’ve been thinking about Bl. Franz Jägerstätter again,” I said to him between bites. Bl. Franz had been a regular topic of conversation since we had finally seen the movie A Hidden Life, which tells the story of his martyrdom. After watching the movie, I spent several weeks reading a biography of the blessed, In Solitary Witness: The Life and Death of Franz Jägerstätter by Gordon C. Zahn, and my husband and I had had many conversations about his actions.

I continued, “When his diocese acknowledged his sanctity 20 years after his martyrdom they said that his sacrifice was a beyond the ordinary call of a Christian. But it seems to me that the ordinary call of a Christian is, in fact, to extraordinary sanctity.”

Bl. Franz was an Austrian who was martyred by the Nazis in 1943 for refusing to take the military oath in support of Hitler. He was a peasant farmer in St. Radegund, a small town in the mountains. Despite his humble state in life he received an extraordinary grace to see the unjustness of the Nationalist Socialist Party and stand firm in his conviction even in the face of death. He gave up his beautiful, happy family life with his wife and children for the sake of following his conscience.

I explained my thoughts to my husband further, telling him how Bl. Franz believed that he had received a special grace to see the unjustness of the Nazi party, a grace that others avoided. In some of his last writings, which can be found in a volume edited by Erna Putz, Bl. Franz explained this grace:

“If God had not bestowed on me the grace and power to die for my faith — if this is demanded of me — then I would be doing the same as the majority of the people are doing. God can give someone as much grace as God wants. If other men and women had received as much grace as I have obtained, they would have perhaps done much more good than I have done.” (Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison, “Text no. 88,” p. 224)

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Who is My Neighbor?

A lawyer went up to Jesus one day. He wanted to test him. So he asked what one must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus directed this lawyer to the law, “What do you read there?”

The lawyer, a good student of the law, recited, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” With this, Jesus affirmed him saying, “Do this, and you will live.”

But the lawyer pushed further, asking the question that we all have in our hearts: “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus looked at him with love. He looked him right in the eye and he told the story of the Good Samaritan.

This past week as I questioned the Lord in prayer about how to respond to the unrest in our nation, in my own Twin Cities. I too am a student of the law, the moral law. Jesus told me the same story. But instead of Jews and Samaritans, the characters were more familiar.

Even after slavery ended in the United States, after a gruesome war, black people were still treated as half-citizens, or worse. Yet many who saw them passed them by. Others did even worse. They lynched them and left them dead. They used unjust laws and practices to keep them in segregated neighborhoods, bound up in poverty and systematic prejudice.

More than 50 years ago, African Americans fought for more liberties despite continued resistance, aggression and even more violence. Some strides were made for equality, but not enough. Some laws changed, but not enough hearts and minds did.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Our Children Need Us to Help them Grow in Virtue

If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, you will remember Eustace Clarence Scrubb, the ill-tempered cousin of the four children of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, who makes his first appearance in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He was the one who deserved the name his parents had given him. C.S. Lewis uses him as an example of how children turn out if their parents do not use discipline and essentially spoil their child.

Yet, Eustace takes a turn for the best when he is accidentally transformed into a dragon on an island in Narnia. Before he can become human again he learns the lesson that it is better to be a giving, thankful, loving person than a self-absorbed, whiney, unkind person. He learns from the example of his shipmates, especially his cousin Lucy, and from trying it out himself. We meet him again in the book The Silver Chair where his classmates are annoyed that he does not join in their bullying antics — antics that the school downright promotes.

Lewis makes it clear in the book that the school children’s vicious behavior is the result of no one taking the trouble to form them in good behavior.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

Getting Ready for Advent

We have two November birthdays in our house, plus Thanksgiving, which this year we are traveling for (hopefully, ahead of the forecasted blizzard for Tuesday night). Advent will be upon us by the time we get home!

Our family always reads from the Bible about the story of salvation history during Advent and puts an ornament for each reading on our Jesse Tree. And we love to light the candles on our Advent wreath. My goal for Advent is to enter in the busy season prayerfully and cheerfully. So, for myself I always pray with the Blessed is She Advent devotional.

I would like to invite you to join me this year in praying with the Blessed is She Advent+Christmas devotional. It goes through the story of the family of Christ, from Genesis to Jesus’ birth, to the birth of the Church. Each of us on the Blessed is She team wrote a reflection sharing our story and inviting you to enter into Advent and Christmas with your story, of your family, of your life as a daughter of God. You’ll find my story on Day 7 of Advent!! Today (Monday, Nov. 25) is the last day to order to get it before Advent starts! But since it goes through Christmastide, don’t worry if you order it a few days late!

The Blessed is She Marketplace is having some great sales this week!


So, click on over if you have been waiting for a sale to get the planner, our virtue book for kids, or any other product!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving week!

**This post contains affiliate links**

More on Virtue Ethics and Responsible Parenthood

As I have shown in Part I, as human beings created with reason and seeking to live in accord with natural law, married couples will find virtue ethics very helpful in embracing the twofold ends of marriage: union and procreation.

Before we get into the details, we need to remember that each virtue looks different in each human being, and thus each couple has different serious reasons in considering having more children. St. Francis of Assisi lived heroic virtue in a much different way than St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Therefore, something that makes it difficult for one couple to feel ready to actively seek the conception of another child or even to just not avoid conception may not be an obstacle for another couple. We are called to individual holiness, and the way this is lived out is based on who we are. But even so, it is worthwhile to examine how couples might apply each of the cardinal and theological virtues to their acceptance of children.

When Pope Paul VI emphasized in Humanae Vitae the need for prudence — both when actively accepting another child and when determining that it is not the right time for another — he gave some basic categories to evaluate: physical, economic, psychological and social conditions.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

The Responsible Parenthood of ‘Humanae Vitae’ Requires Virtue

When Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae in which he stated that artificial contraception violated natural law, he explained that couples who have “serious” and “well-grounded reasons” to avoid the conception of a new human life could morally limit the marital act the infertile times of the wife’s natural cycles (HV §16).

As an engaged college student and in my early married life I encountered many debates over what constituted a “serious reason.” Some would argue that unless a family is living with a dirt floor and no food, there is never a moral reason to avoid the conception of a child. Others argued that one should not chart the woman’s cycle at all, that true openness to life and respect for natural law is when couples engage in the marital act whenever they feel a desire to express marital love and have babies as they come. Both of these ways seem less than human. The first fails to take into account that children require much more from parents than food and shelter. The second fails to acknowledge the reason God gave us over our natural impulses and that to be fully human we must use prudence to choose the best act in every circumstance.

When thinking about what we are called to be as reasoning human persons, it seems that the best approach to discerning when to be open to or limit having another child is through using virtue ethics. Every marital act is a human act, one that a couple should enter into guided by reason, choosing to make a gift of self to the other, and with full knowledge and openness to the natural end of a new human life. This means couples should be guided by prudence and love whenever they choose to enter into the marital act. Understanding virtue and seeking to exercise it can be crucial to a couple’s decision to enter into this act. It is more in accord with natural law and our human nature to use prudence both when determining when to have children and when to avoid conception then to not reason about it at all.

Read the rest at the National Catholic Register…

More on Modesty: What is Permissible vs. What is Best

I received an email from a good friend a couple of weeks after the publication of my essay on three Doctors of the Church and their explanations of modesty. He raised a number of good points, which lead me to desire to explain a little more about my understanding of the virtue of modesty in dress.

First, I will sum up the views of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales and St. Alphonsus Liguori from the previous essay, though I recommend to get the full picture to head over and read it. When considering whether an act is moral one must evaluate the act itself, the circumstances in which it is performed, and the person’s intention in performing the act. Dressing to fit with one’s state in life, the activity one is participating in, the fashions of one’s society, and with a pure intention are all essential aspects of being modest. Simplicity and cleanliness in dress are also important parts of virtuous dress since they are part of humility, temperance and respect for others.

I ended my essay explaining that our society’s fashions made certain forms of dress morally acceptable, which have not always been understood to be so. Modest dress changes according to fashion. For example, St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about a particular fashion of his time where women “uncovered their breasts.” Since it was an already established fashion, he said that if a woman dressed that way without any impure intention, without forming lust within herself or intending to lead others to lust after her, then it was morally permissible. He also explained that while it was permissible for her to dress revealingly with pure intentions, the person who invented the trend of uncovering breasts was culpable for instituting a fashion that could lead people into sin—though this too changes with the creators intentions.

Similarly, in our society, there are many fashions that might be more revealing than what was once considered morally acceptable. For example, because it has become normative, one cannot look at a woman in a bikini and presume that she is acting immodestly. She may have no lustful intentions whatsoever. She is simply going for a swim or working on her tan wearing what is fashionable.

That being said, there is a difference between what is permissible, and therefore not sinful, and what is best for a person truly desiring to grow in virtue. Dietrich von Hildebrand, a 20th-century Catholic philosopher, talks about the morally conscious person in his essay “Responsibility” in the book The Art of Living. The morally conscious person is aware of his or her responsibility to the world around him or her. This person sees the beauty and value of those he or she encounters and of all of creation. When a person is awakened to this responsibility of responding to all with seriousness and gravity, not in a scrupulous manner, but in confidence certain of one’s call, while always recognizing that there is a higher being.

Read more on the National Catholic Register…