Catholic Brotherhood Then and Now

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From Batman and Robin to Abbot and Costello, dynamic duos have been an essential part of history. Friendships such as Jackie Robinson and Peewee Reese faced against all manner of hatred and bigotry.

It’s no surprise, then, that the Catholic Church has its own share of dynamic duos. We have David and Jonathan, Moses and Jonah, Elijah and Elisha…But the duo whose feast we celebrate today is that of Saints Peter and Paul.

Being a cradle Catholic, I had a soft spot for Saint Peter. I used to joke that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter not just because he’ll become the foundation of the Church, but also because Peter had a really thick head! Peter was always one to spit out whatever thought came into his mind, even if it didn’t make any sense or if it was the wrong thing to say. Yet, after Jesus’s resurrection, Peter changed. He took on the responsibility as being the head of Christ’s Church, which meant keeping order. One only needs to read about the incident with Ananias and Sapphira to see the difference between how Peter was before Jesus died and after.

In contrast, we have Paul of Tarsus. Paul started out as a young, zealous Pharisee who felt justified in persecuting Christians. After Jesus intervened, though, it became Paul’s mission to spread the Good News to the Gentiles since he had the advantage of being fluent in Greek and was welcomed in most cities in the Mediterranean area.

Bishop Robert Barron said that the Catholic Church needs to have the spirits of both Peter and Paul: “Without the Petrine discipline, the Pauline work would be unfocused and continually in danger of dissolution. Without the Pauline energy, the Petrine work would devolve into cold management and ecclesiastical bureaucracy.”

The spirits of Peter and Paul live on today,  namely with these two popes:

Benedict and Francis have both Peter and Paul in them. Like Peter, Pope Francis has a tendency to speak off-the-cuff. His blunt remarks can be both refreshing and unsettling. And yet, like Paul, Pope Francis is also well-known for how often he reaches out to the poor and marginalized. He has an effect on people no matter where he goes.

Pope Benedict, on the other hand, carries on the Petrine discipline. He may not be in the public eye as often as he used to be, but he’s still praying for the Church. The way we pray in Church will forever be changed because of him. And yet, like Paul, he’s also intelligent and well-educated. Future theology students will probably be studying his works for class.

I’m tired of people pitting these two against each other. In reality, they are brothers in Christ and in what is essentially their shared papacy. I have no doubt that sometime in the future, these two will be canonized together, much in the same way Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were.

A New Way To Walk

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I want to write about happier things this week. So not only am I taking Catholic Conspiracy’s Positivity Pledge, I’m doing the #100HappyDays tag on Instagram. I’ve been doing the tag for a little over a week now, but you can definitely start today because as the Phineas and Ferb theme song said: “There’s 104 days of summer vacation…”

With all the stuff that’s been going on, I need a lot more positivity in my life. So aside from coloring, I’ve been trying new things. As you can see from the photo above, I started taking tap lessons. What’s awesome about this class is that I could follow along with the class at my own pace.

I’m also taking out my high heels again as my social life has come back for a little bit. I’ll give more details on that later, but for now, pray that I don’t fall flat on my face or sprain my ankles!

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Little Sins Mean A Lot: A Book Review

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Little Sins Mean A Lot is a book about the bad habits we have, our venial sins, which can add up to a lot of damage if we’re not careful. I read through this book in one day, finding bits of myself in most of the chapters. Each chapter starts off with a story or several stories that relate to the topic of the chapter. There are quotes from the saints, the Catechism, and Bible verses to show what Catholicism has to say about these little sins. The third part of the chapter looks into how we can break those bad habits. The book isn’t too long, but each chapter packs up a whole lot in a relatively short amount of pages.

I like that the book gives a lot of starting points in terms of identifying and breaking the bad habits. My favorite chapters are the ones that center on procrastination, small indulgences, and “clinging to our narratives beyond their usefulness.” I’ll go into detail on these so that you can get a sneak preview of why I like this book so much.

Procrastination: Like a lot of other writers, I struggle with procrastination. I am way too easily distracted by the latest hashtag or whatever notifications go off on my phone and I tend to dedicate more time to my “short time wasters” than I should. In true Dante-esque fashion, Elizabeth Scalia counters this bad habit with an example from Mary: The Annunciation. Since I consecrated myself on the feast of the Annunciation, I found myself wanting to imitate Mary’s example. There are several root causes to why we procrastinate and Elizabeth tackles every single one of them.

Small Indulgences: Ask those who know me best and they will tell you that I always love to treat myself whenever I get the opportunity. Usually, it comes in the form of food. It’s okay when it happens once in a while, but too much indulging will lead to cravings for more of whatever you indulge in. In other words, small indulgences can be an addiction if we’re not careful. I particularly like how she suggests asking the saints and our guardian angels for help. One example I can give (and trust me, I never get tired of telling this story) is when I wanted to indulge myself at a convention by having the actor I was gonna meet take a picture with him pretending to bite me, vampire style. However, my guardian angel suggested otherwise, leading to a more heroic picture that’s still one of my favorites to this day!

Clinging To Our Narratives Beyond Their Usefulness: An alternative title I have for this chapter is “Selling Ourselves Short.” As a writer, this chapter felt particularly personal for me because I practically worship the idea of “the narrative.” I always see my life as a huge, neverending story. Except I also know that way too many people cling onto their “victim narratives” in order to justify why they act a certain way. One friend told me that she thought that I hid behind my writing. I don’t think that I use my writing as a shield, but I’ve been defining myself by this narrative that I created for a very long time. The chapter calls for detachment, to let God write our story instead. The only other thing I would add is a suggestion about what true humility looks like. As CS Lewis said: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” As in thinking of yourself less often than you normally do.

 

I think the biggest lesson that can be learned from this book is that it completely and totally destroys the lie that “as long as you’re not doing harm to anyone, you’re a good person.” These little habits can harm ourselves and others in a big way if they are taken too far. We all have times when we procrastinate, indulge a little too much, and sell ourselves short. We can swing from being too full of ourselves to outright hating ourselves. The trick to all this is finding balance. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially to 12-step programs.

History is Happening in Manhattan: The Beauty of the Tony Awards

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“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.”-William Shakespeare, Ask You Like It

Musicals, to me, are like a love affair. For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with musicals. In spite of all the tragedy and internet debate, I still looked forward to the Tony awards.

Now I know that award shows can get political and the Tonys are no different. But I stand by what James Corden said:

But as my pastor said today in his homily during Daily Mass, we can only overcme evil with good and be loving in the face of hatred. I don’t agree with all the political stuff being talked about. I just want to remind everyone that in spite of everything, there is always good happening in this world.

On with the show!

Everyone on Broadway knew that Hamilton was basically the selling point, the darling, so it’s no surprise that the show opened with a Hamilton-style introduction of James Corden.

However, the real opening number was a beautiful, inspiring song about how theater inspires people to go into acting.  There’s a magic to theater that can’t be completely captured in film or television and the quick changes in this number shows a little glimpse of that magic. And yeah, I was listing off every single musical he referenced. The Doctor would be proud of you, Craig.

Corden described the Tonys in his opening monologue as “The Oscars, but with diversity.” There were more than a few shots taken at Trump and their support for a certain presidential nominee wasn’t exactly subtle either. She was senator of New York, after all. But I love that actors of every age and race was nominated for a major award.

As of now, my latest musical love affair is with Hamilton, which had a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations. Due to multiple actors being nominated in the same categories, the musical could only win a total of 13 possible awards. They ended up winning 11, including Best Musical. So before I get to squeeing over that, I want to give attention to the other shows that performed that night. Warning, though, I am very sick with a case of Hamilaria, so forgive all the Hamilton puns I’ll be making throughout this blog post.

The first musical number performed featured the cast of School of Rock: The Musical. I admit that I was kind of skeptical about this adaptation, but watching the performance opened my mind to the idea.”You’re In The Band” shows Dewey assembling his rock band, with the kids getting more excited as the song got more bombastic. I love that the kids played their instruments live (although I’m not sure where the electrical instruments are plugged into). It’s a very-high energy performance that I hope inspires future kids to try and take a shot.

The next number was from Shuffle Along, a musical about the making of a Broadway show in the 1920s. The performance featured a lot of beautiful tap dancing that had me considering taking lessons. Audra McDonald’s voice was as gorgeous as always. The melody of the song and all those tap dancers stirred up pure, undiluted joy in my heart.

She Loves Me, nominated for Best Revival, had a performance that starred Jane Krakowski from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Zachary Levi from Tangled and Laura Benanti aka Alura and Aunt Astra on Supergirl. This musical won the Tony for best set design and I totally get why. I also have to give Jane props for dancing her heart in the first song. She’s absolutely adorable! Zachary Levi is utterly charming, too. But Laura Benanti totally clinched her performance. Never have I ever heard anyone sing so passionately about vanilla ice cream! The romantic comedy role she’s playing is such a huge contrast from her serious role on Supergirl and her role as the Baroness in the NBC live showing of The Sound of Music. I absolutely love it!

Another musical nominated for Best Revival was Fiddler on the Roof. James Corden showed Josh Groban playing Tevye at the age of 17. Josh Groban took it with great stride. (Your face needs to stop, it’s so cute!) The cast of Fiddler performed “Sunrise, Sunset” and the huge wedding reception dance number. You can really see how much work they put into it.

The musical I knew the least about was Bright StarBright Star is a musical set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina during the 40s with flashbacks to the 20s. The play is written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. It was definitely an interesting performance, but I’m not sure if it’s for me.

Two other musicals nominated for Best Revival were The Color Purple and Spring AwakeningThe Color Purple‘s song was perfectly apropos because they sang about how “The Good Lord Works In Mysterious Ways.” It reminded the audience that in spite of the bad things that happen, God will always come through. Then Cynthia Ervio sings a beautiful solo about gratitude and accepting yourself. It’s no wonder that it won Best Revival.

In contrast, Spring Awakening was performed by a cast of deaf teenagers from the Deaf West Theatre. The songs were performed with singers, but most of the actors “sung” the lyrics in American Sign Language. I liked the concept of this revival because, as Marlee Matlin described it, the story of Spring Awakening is “a cautionary tale of lust and longing teenagers and the adults who refuse to hear them.” The musical is skeptical and confusing, much like adolescence is, and this revival shows that even people who can’t hear have a voice.

My dad, who is a huge fan of Gloria Estefan loved the performance from the cast of On Your Feet. He told me that Ana Villafane went to the same high school as Gloria Estefan. The resemblance between Ana and Gloria is very uncanny! Emilio Esetefan, Gloria’s husband, also announced that everyone in the cast is here in the country legally, papers and all. Gloria and Ana had a vivacious performance

Out of all the original musicals nominated this year, though, Waitress was the one that caught my eye the most. I already knew Jessie Mueller from her role of Carole King in Beautiful. The number started with “Opening Up” and ended with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “She Used to Be Mine” featuring Sara Bareilles (who wrote the score and songs for this musical) and Jessie Mueller. The song reminds me of the worst years of my life, when I thought I lost myself. Also, I want Jesse Mueller to be Sara Bareilles in some future biopic.

Now, while musicals were the main feature of the night, a few plays caught my attention. Eclipsed looks into the lives of captive sex slaves living through the Liberian civil war. The Father, a play centering on a man with dementia, stars Frank Langella from Frost/Nixon. King Charles III intrigued me because it’s inspired by Shakespearean tragedy but mixes it with speculative fiction as to what kind of king Prince Charles might be. Other notable plays are the revivals of two Arthur Miller plays: The Crucible and A View from The Bridge. I was also familiar with Noises Off because my college did a production of that during my first year. A View From the Bridge won Best Revival and The Humans (a play set in WWII) won Best Play.

And now, to my favorite parts. Namely, the parts where Hamilton won most of the things! (11/13 ain’t bad as far as I’m concerned.)

It didn’t surprise that Daveed Diggs won Best Featured Actor. I loved Renee Elise Goldsberry‘s acceptance speech. I had no idea that she struggled to have children and I’m so happy that she has two kids now and values them enough to save them for last in her speech. Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s tear-jerking sonnet as he accepted his Tony for Best Score made me want to give him a hug. Thomas Kail, the director of Hamilton, won Best Direction of A Musical. I tweeted: “Thomas, that was a real nice declaration.” The surprise of the night, though, was Leslie Odom Jr. winning the Tony for Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance of Aaron Burr.

Then, of course, were the wonderful performances from the cast. The first one, aside from the opening, was a performance of “History Has Its Eyes On You” and “Yorktown.”

Angelhamilfan on tumblr pointed out something interesting about this performance:

I feel like people are missing something really key that happened in the 2016 Tonys performance.

Lin changed one word. But that’s all it took to change the meaning of the performance and the Tonys.

“Weapon with my hands.”

They didn’t just take out the muskets to show solidarity, Lin is trying to teach us that what we do, say and write will change perspective for generations to come. He’s showing us how we don’t need a gun or violence to fight for what we believe in. Like Alexander, we have our hands. Our writing. Our words are immortalized when we write, no matter who takes us away. The massacre in Orlando has devastated our country, but why stay silent? Why give them what they want and silence ourselves? We need to make something that is immortalized. Teach generations that come that you can take away our loved ones, but you can NEVER take our words.

It’s the message of the Schuyler Sisters in the closing number that I love the most, though: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” In spite of all the bad things that are happening, we are lucky to be alive right now. We are blessed.

The Limit of Labels

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There’s this saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. People put all sorts of labels and preconceptions on women and we have this tendency that being a woman or being of a certain race, ethnicity, or sexuality means that we have to look and act a certain way. Sometimes, we believe society and think that we have to act like everyone else who has the same labels as us in order to belong. But the worst thing we could do to ourselves is allow circumstances like family problems or relationship issues to define who we are.

God created us a certain way for a reason, but he didn’t create us so that we define ourselves according to other people’s preconceptions. So the question is “How do we choose to define ourselves?” There is nothing wrong with being a woman or being of a certain race or ethnicity or even being attracted to the same gender. The problem is when we choose to define ourselves by just these things. The things that are in our lives are just parts of who we are and not the sum or the whole of who we are. I choose to define myself by my faith because my faith is so much bigger than myself. And there are things about my faith that I still have to learn and understand.

Marc Barnes AKA “Bad Catholic” on Patheos wrote that: “A label allows us to subsume ourselves into an abstract, and thereby cease dealing with immense difficulties of being our unique, particular ourselves. When I am truly silent and truly alone, I am alone with an I who finds himself living with no immediately discernible purpose, alone with an I who — quite naturally — feels the difficult desire to do good and avoid evil, to love the beautiful, to know the truth, an I with a conscience that constantly reminds me of my own inability to do any of these things, an I that doesn’t age but still is and feels like the same eternal I that lived and breathed at 10 years old. This is the I I return to when I am stripped of every external — of my ideology, career, possessions, class, race, and status — the I that must simply be, approaching death. This is, of course, terrifying.

I was browsing my YouTube subscriptions when I came across a video that talked about forming identity. The person in the video said that identity is always fluid and changing and that only the individual has any control over his or her identity. While I agree that a person’s identity can change over time (growing from child to teen to adult, for example) I think that there are some parts about identity that never change.

I shared this video with my friend Marguerite, who said, “Our primary identity is as beloved children of God and that one cannot change and we do not control it. God will always love us no matter what we do. I agree with staying curious and exploring (within the limits of morality) and knowing that labels are flexible and that we change as time goes on. But the one point about who we are that is most important is the one that never changes from our birth to our death: it is who we are in the eyes of God.”

The difference between finding out your identity based on the world and letting God be the one to guide you in forming your identity is that the world always changes, but God never does. The beautiful paradox of letting God help us figure out who we are is that we become the best versions of ourselves through His help.  Like Saint Paul said in Galatians 2:19-20: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

So no matter how you choose to define yourself, remember to put God at the center of your life and He will be there to help you when you need to define yourself. Before anything else, remember that you are God’s creation, a child of the One True King, adopted into the family, and a part of the mystical body of Christ. You are loved, you are cherished, and you are not alone.

Why Brock Turner Needs Maria Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli

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There is a reason why justice and mercy go hand in hand. Like the rest of the internet, I was disgusted over the way-too-lenient sentence that Brock Turner received from the judge. While I am devoted to Divine Mercy and advocate forgiveness, I also know that six months in jail is not actual justice. Brock Turner isn’t sorry.

Which is why, instead of screaming “Rape culture” and “Check your privilege,” I am asking Saint Maria Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli to pray over this situation.

Why Maria Goretti?

For those who don’t know, Maria Goretti, like the victim of the Stanford rape case, was damaged by the guy who sexually assaulted her. In fact, she died as a result of her trying to defend herself from her would-be rapist.

I’m already asking for Maria Goretti’s intercession for the victim of the rape case because she needs all the support she can get. In some ways, the victim will have to suffer a lot more than Maria Goretti did because she has to live with the trauma for the rest of her life.

But why does the perpetrator need the intercession of the victim of attempted rape and murder? And how would the man who killed Maria Goretti help?

I’m asking for Maria Goretti’s intercession because the scales of justice and mercy are thrown out of balance. Alessandro got a proper sentence for the murder he committed. He began his thirty-year jail sentence angry and unrepentant. He blamed Maria Goretti for everything and he was very violent around his inmates. Six years later, Maria appeared to Alessandro in a vision. In this vision, she was in a garden picking 14 lilies and she gave those 14 lilies one by one to Alessandro. Each lily represented a stab that Alessandro inflicted upon her. Through this gesture, Maria showed that she forgave her murderer for what he did and what he wanted to do.

I understand that there is no frickin way that Brock Turner deserves forgiveness.  Improper justice was given to Brock Turner. Binge-drinking and whatever the victim was wearing did not cause this rape to happen. Brock Turner chose to rape her. And sadly, he’s not sorry for that particular action. His father and the judge aren’t sorry, either. The victim will probably never forgive them.

Here’s the thing, though. None of us deserve forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean to forget what happened, either. Mercy demands justice. The reason I’m asking for Maria Goretti and Alessandro Serenelli’s intercession is because the scales of justice need to regain their balance. I pray that Brock Turner will feel the weight of his actions. I pray that the victim will not be a prisoner of her trauma nor will she be labeled a “slut” for what happened. I pray that people will understand that drinking and going out to a nightclub aren’t to blame here.

People these days feel entitled to have whatever they want. It’s not just a privilege issue because entitlement can be found everywhere. But I’m not here to rage against the fallen state of this country. There are too many people doing that already.

I’m here to ask for justice and mercy to be rendered to everyone involved. I’m asking people to look at each other and see a person and not someone to use for their own means. I’m asking for harsher sentences for rapists and for judges to have a little more wisdom. I’m asking for you to look into what mercy and forgiveness really mean and try and apply that to your life. Most of all, I pray that somehow, someday, all the people involved will learn to forgive each other and to forgive themselves, but to never forget what happened.

If you want to know more about Maria Goretti, read this post I wrote from last November when I venerated her relics. There’s also a video from the Mass that I went to that night. I linked the video to start at the homily:

P.S.: Who wants to bet that Law and Order SVU will totally do a ripped from the headlines episode based on this?

Struggling With Habitual Sin: Forgiveness Bible Study Day 10

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From today’s reflection:

Everyone has their weaknesses, their vulnerable spots, the parts of their souls that are the most susceptible to temptation. Some people have a very bad temper. Others struggle with gossiping or lying or with emotional chastity. Even if we’re not addicted to “hard substances” like alcohol or drugs, our tendency to desire sin can lead us to one of four addictions: wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. Sin can be a bad habit to have and at some point, you might be wondering “Why do I keep going to Confession for the same sin over and over again?”

Find out the answer here.

Admitting You Have a Problem: Forgiveness Bible Study Day 9

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From today’s reflection:

Today’s passage is definitely soap opera worthy. Heck, give this story to the writers of Game of Thrones and you could easily see this happening on HBO: A king lusts over the wife of one of his soldiers, sleeps with her, gets her pregnant, and then kills her husband by sending him over to the front lines where he was guaranteed to die.

This is one of King David’s worst moments. If this was a Shakespeare play, it could’ve been a serious permanent tragedy. And yet, in spite of all the drama, there was some good that came out in the end.

But what can we learn from all the tragedy and heartache?

Find out here!

The Problem of Misapplied "Mercy"

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You know, for a society that claims to be so tolerant and open, we sure have a funny way of showing it!

It seems like I’m seeing reasons why we need mercy, compassion, and forgiveness everywhere. Over the long weekend, the internet exploded over the death of a gorilla. Suddenly, everyone becomes an expert in parenting and handling gorillas.

I don’t deny the fact that there could have been ways to prevent all this from happen, but as things stand right now, I feel a lot better that the child is okay. I feel sad that the gorilla died, but all the chatter I’ve been seeing on Twitter is reminding me of something George Orwell said in: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

*sarcasm mode* Oh brave new world that has such people in it. *end sarcasm mode*

It’s hard for me to understand what people are saying sometimes. It’s hard for me to understand people in general. And yet, for the most part I want to give the benefit of the doubt. There are very few exceptions to the rule (*coughDRUMPFcough*), but I can’t help but feel like Alice stuck in a nonsensical wonderland.

Have we forgotten that all people are created equal? Equality doesn’t mean sameness. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of the happiness don’t give us free license to do whatever we want at the expense of everyone else. We all have the capacity to lose a child in the mall or at the zoo. We have to allow parents to make mistakes and not judge them for slipping up because, guess what, we all make mistakes. Why do we always say that “Only God can judge” when it comes to the LGBT+ movement and everything that comes with it but not allow that same tolerance to parents when they take time to go out on dates or when they make a mistake?

This lack of mercy also applies to those who are conservative as well. I wish that people could be more open-minded about the situation with all the Middle East refugees. I want both Christian and Muslim refugee families to be in a safe place. My heart broke more over the death of the 400 refugees who drowned in April rather than the death of one gorilla because humans, as far as I’m concerned, are created a little lower than the angels and higher than the animals.

I’m not saying that I’m above all this. When I saw the internet exploding over the various newspieces in the zietgeist, I wanted to weep for humanity. I assumed that the situation was preventable.

That’s the thing about assuming, though. As the saying goes: Assuming makes an ass out of you and me!

Why do we misapply mercy and not understand what it really means to be merciful, forgiving, and compassionate towards others?

It’s because we don’t really know what we can control.

Simcha Fischer said this brilliantly in another response to the current zeitgeist:

You never will be completely in control, and if you don’t make yourself accept this fact, then you are perfectly primed to snatch control anyway by unmaking another human being. And when you do it, you will not be stronger. You will not be in charge. You will just become fodder for that insatiable mouth who first told you that damnable lie — the lie that you can be in control.

This is why I’m not an existentialist. Existentialism is selling that lie that we are in control of what our lives mean because the universe is indifferent to us. The fact of the matter is, there is something higher than us, offering us a second chance at a constant basis. This mercy is given to everyone. Even Donald Drumpf. It’s not something we are entitled to. It’s a gift given from unconditional love and it’s not something that any of us deserve.

When we are given a second chance, we are called to pay it forward by being merciful, compassionate, and forgiving towards someone else. It doesn’t mean forgetting what happened in the past. It doesn’t mean allowing dangerous things or people back into your life. It can be something as simple as giving a mother the benefit of the doubt and hoping that the child and his family will get out of all the media speculation soon. It can be something as big as allowing a refugee into your home, even if it just means advocating for their asylum in our country.

People always talk about tolerance as a form of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. They keep using that word, but I don’t think it means what they think it means. I wish people could understand what compassion, forgiveness, and mercy really mean and what these things demand from us.

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Jesus, Divine Mercy, I trust in You.