Today's The Feast Day Of St. Maximillian Kolbe. Here's What He Can Teach Us About Neo-Nazis And Antifa

Monday, August 14, 2017

Chris Stefanick posted a moving video this morning of himself standing in Auschwitz, telling the story of Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, whose feast day is today.

His memory stands in stark contrast to the violence we saw in Virginia over the weekend, perpetrated by two groups of extremists that have made hateful rhetoric and actions central to the means by which they carry out their missions.

From the moment Virginia declared a state of emergency on Saturday, the steady stream of Facebook posts, tweets, and general commentary from everyone from politicians to personal friends has been almost overwhelming. It seems everyone has an opinion on who bears the greatest responsibility, and that's entirely fair—when a life is lost the way one was on Saturday, a national conversation surrounding what could've prevented it seems to be the only appropriate response.

All of that being said, I've seen hardly any mention of God or faith in any of these opinions. Of course we should condemn racism. Of course we should condemn violence. But what is at the root, here? Why is it that we're suddenly reacting so angrily—and violently—to differing viewpoints?

Most would tell you it's Trump, but it's not. I'll never forget the last-minute road trip I made with two friends down to Louisiana for the 2014 senatorial runoff election—we listened to tail end reports of Ferguson unrest for much of the way down. This was long before the Trump phenomenon, yet we've placed the blame for this sudden civil discourse entirely on his shoulders.

Has he contributed? I'm not sure. But here's what I can say with surety:

I'll never be convinced that violent, hateful unrest like what we saw on Saturday is anything other than the product of a lack of God in our society. A lack of peace out in the world is a reflection of a lack of peace in the hearts of those involved. When we meet aggression with aggression and violence with violence, we exhibit a lack of faith in Christ and a separation from the suffering and persecution He endured during His time on earth. The peace required to face such aggression with humility, courage, and love for other human beings can only be acquired through a genuine encounter with the Lord in our hearts. If we do not have that peace within, we cannot exhibit it out in the world.

Maximillian Kolbe is such a moving, remarkable example of this peace. Stefanick explains in his video above that during his time in Auschwitz, St. Maximillian volunteered to take the place of a husband and father who'd been sent away to starve to death in a dark, locked room. This faithful, humble Catholic priest had such peace in his heart that he met the aggression of the Nazis with the ultimate sacrifice—the offering of his life. And Stefanick adds that the Nazi Commander trembled in his presence.

St. Maximillian lived in that room, starving, for twelve days. The Nazis finally ended his starvation with a lethal injection that took his life. And other camp members who knew him and what he'd done responded to his martyrdom by singing hymns throughout the camp.

This is a man who knew peace in his heart. This is a man who knew the love of Christ.

We cannot and will not deliver our country from this violence without this same sense of peace and this same faith in God's love. On this feast day of Fr. Maximillian Kolbe, let us remember that.

The Monika Lewinsky Effect: Questioning Our Approach To Kathy Griffin's Controversial Image

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The morning that Kathy Griffin released the photo of herself holding a bloody mask of President Trump, I was watching Monika Lewinsky's 1999 interview with Barbara Walters (I literally cannot even remember how this happened—I fell down a very deep Youtube hole, idk). One of links that Youtube recommended when the 80-minute interview was over was Lewinsky's much-more-recent TED talk on cyberbullying, and the role her story played in how we use the internet today (she refers to herself as "Patient Zero" of the internet crucifixion culture we've grown accustomed to since then).

So as I've observed coverage of Griffin play out, and as I watched her apology video, and then her press conference, I've been thinking a lot about Monika Lewinsky. Lol. I know, maybe bizarre.

But there is something to this.

Kathy Griffin took her situation to the next level last week when she cried at the podium of a nationally televised press conference over the consequences of her own poor decision-making skills.

A lot was said that wasn't true, much of it by her lawyer, Lisa Bloom, who's a famous (infamous?) civil rights lawyer, most recently known for her public take-down of Bill O'Reilly on Fox News.

But there was also a lot said that did have truth to it—claims to Griffin's right to free speech, for starters. And what I'm about to say will inevitably be an unpopular opinion, but hear me out: as Americans, we should not pride ourselves on our freedom of speech if we do not also enact it.

Here's what I mean:

A number of conservative speakers have been forcefully denied access to college campuses because of pushback by the universities, kicking and screaming (and in some instances, more serious violence) by protestors, and a general blowback on the internet for their message and ideas.

And the conservative side of the aisle is (rightfully) critical of this. They say liberal university administrators and lefty activists are stifling people who have a right by the First Amendment to say whatever it is they want to say when they're invited to speak at these campuses. Conservatives say that denying them that right is an attack on the American values we hold so dear.

I'm willing to make the argument that Kathy Griffin could and should be lumped in with the Ann Coulters, Ben Shapiros, and Ryan T. Andersons of this narrative.

Griffin is the most recent subject of this trend in our country that's stamping out the First Amendment. True to her grotesque sense of humor, Griffin created an image that offended the vast majority of people who saw it. It's clear some people were not offended, however, because just as she took the image down, it had already garnered thousands of retweets and shares on social media (everyone knows a retweet presented without comment is totally an endorsement, come on). Now I, in absolutely no way, support or agree with the image she made—nevertheless, her right to make it is protected under the First Amendment. By way of the law, she did nothing wrong.

That didn't stop social media users, and politicians, and journalists, and the Trump family... from calling for her to be fired from her job, dropped from her contracts, and boycotted pretty much across the board. And I suppose that just as Griffin owns a right to free speech, so do all of the people I listed above. They're free to pressure CNN to do that. But just the same—is it right?

I don't agree with Kathy Griffin, nor do I especially like her... but does that make it right to assault her via the internet the way so many of us did? Here's where I think of Monika Lewinsky, who's been the butt of jokes on the internet before the word "meme" was even in the dictionary. There is so much power in the small gesture of a keystroke. We wield so much opportunity when we post online—and those people who have a following beyond their own circle of family and friends have an even greater responsibility.

It's time to take responsibility, and for all of it. Griffin should have been more responsible with the broad audience that she has access to. But does her wrong justify our right to annihilate her for it?

I think that's something for us to think about.

An Open Letter To Tomi Lahren: Stop Making Me Look Bad

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tomi -

You and I have a lot in common. We're both conservative, both women, both 24, and both passionate about politics and current events. We're also both markedly opinionated and outspoken about our beliefs. Good for us!

I've kept an eye on you as your career has escalated because I admire you for many reasons. You're especially bold in your 'Final Thoughts', which takes a notable amount of courage and gumption—God knows you get a lot of hate on social media, so I respect your thick skin and perseverance. You're also incredibly well-spoken, which I've found is not the norm amongst conservative women our age, so I'm grateful for that—you're clearly intelligent, and I love it. I'm always happy to see fellow smart girls find success.

Recently, though, I've got a bone to pick with you. It's been my experience during my short time in the work world that older, more experienced professionals are hesitant to trust girls like you and me. It's not that we're bad at what we do, or that we're not smart, or capable—they're simply hesitant to take us seriously.

I used to work in a job where my boss made me feel valued for what I did. He complimented my hard work, my willingness to go the extra mile, and my patience with difficult coworkers—but he also winked at me every time he passed my desk, and responded to my request for more responsibilities within my role with, "well, you're very young."

Do you see what I'm getting at here? It's a fight for girls like us to be taken seriously in the work world. We're expected to prove ourselves before we're given a chance, meanwhile men our age and with comparable experience are often given those chances first. I've got to be reliable. I've got to be mature, trustworthy, sincere, serious, and I've got to be very, very careful.

Tomi, you have not been careful.

You've been loose with your words, reckless with your actions, and you've mishandled your conflict with The Blaze in a very public way. I'm happy for you that it's over. I'm sure it was stressful. I'm sure you're relieved to have your Facebook page back, which was rightfully yours to begin with. Those are very good things.

But yesterday, you did an interview with Playboy, and quite frankly, I've had enough. First of all—Playboy? Really, Tomi? You're a strong, outspoken, opinionated woman, and you lent your voice to the single publication most infamous for objectifying women? Be serious.

And second, I don't care how you feel about abortion. I really don't. I'm pro-life, but I don't care whether you agree with me or not. What I do care about, however, is how frivolous you've looked as you've flip-flopped from one stance to the other. I get being unsure how you feel about an issue, but here's my advice: if you're unsure, don't comment. It is really, REALLY that simple.

I sympathize with the struggle you've had these past few weeks. Truly, I get it. But for the sake of your fellow 24-year-old smart girls, get serious.

And stop making us look bad.

The Quiet Confidence Of Ivanka Trump

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I'm continuously impressed with Ivanka Trump and how well she carries herself, even when met with the most humiliating and hostile sentiments of those around her.

This photo was taken today at a women's summit in Germany, where she was booed and "hissed" at (do women seriously hiss at other women? that's grotesque) for referring to her father as a "champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive."

The moderator of the panel acknowledged the hostility of the crowd and confronted Ivanka, saying, "You hear the reaction from the audience. I need to address one more point—some attitudes toward women your father has displayed might leave one questioning whether he's such an empower-er for women."

And once more, we witness her incredibly poised demeanor in the well-spoken and gracious response she gave (per POLITICO):
“As a daughter, I can speak on a very personal level,” Ivanka Trump said. “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and tenacity. That’s not an easy thing to do; he provided that for us.” She said that her father treated her exactly the same way he treated her two brothers, who now run the family business. “There was no difference,” she said.
Her tone was not defensive, nor did she so much as grimace at the question she received. There's a level of self-awareness and restraint here that we fail to give her credit for.

It's very easy for us, as both consumers of the mainstream media and American voters, to forget that these people are just that—they're people.

When we think of Donald Trump and his relationship with women at this point in history, our minds jump immediately to the recording released prior to the election of his conversation with Billy Bush. The things that were said were shameful, wrong, and have no place in American society, let alone American politics. It is appropriate to acknowledge that and to hold him accountable for what he said.

Nevertheless, as a daughter myself, I observe Ivanka's willingness to stand by her father with admiration. She has not defended his behavior, which would be wrong—rather, she's chosen to remain loyal despite his character, however deeply flawed it might prove to be.

I fight the urge to compare her to Chelsea Clinton as a public figure because I think my bias in comparing them would be obvious. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that the media approaches the two women from very different angles. While some outlets continue to, for all intents and purposes, plead Chelsea Clinton into a campaign announcement, Ivanka's media coverage from those same outlets is critical, negative, and maintains, however subtlety, that she should be personally held responsible for her father's splintered relationship with the female gender because she, herself, is female.

This is a difficult position to place a man's daughter in. I struggle to recall a time that Chelsea Clinton has ever been asked to defend her own father's promiscuity, and the one time I can recall was met with such aggressive criticism by the mainstream media that no one ever dared ask such a question again. And while she is placed on a pedestal, Ivanka is "hissed" at by her fellow woman, even as she speaks of promoting women and families at a public forum.

I was especially impressed with Ivanka in her interview with Gayle King earlier this month. King asked Ivanka if she had a response to critics who accused her of being "complicit." Her response was commendable (via CBS):
"I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some case it’s through protest and it’s through going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue in which you disagree with. Other times it is quietly, and directly, and candidly. So where I disagree with my father, he knows it, and I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and, and hope, uh, that I can be an asset to him and make a positive impact. But I respect the fact that he always listens. It’s how he was in business. It’s how he is as president."
And in this one statement alone, we witness the quiet confidence of Ivanka Trump. She feels no need to justify herself to the public, and there's something to be said for that level of self-assurance. It is clear she does not receive validation from the American people, which is important: it means her commitment to her values is not contingent on the approval of others. This is remarkable.

I fear that women are missing out on an incredible role model by so quickly jumping to criticize Ivanka. Many could say—and probably do say—that her loyalty to the President is self-serving, or necessary for her own professional success. I see it differently.

Ivanka has earned what she's built. While I recognize the opportunities that inevitably come hand-in-hand with having the name 'Trump' on your birth certificate, she's not been given all that she has. She is educated, professional, and successful by her own right. And yet, she has chosen to leave her empire behind (in some sense) to serve her father and the public in the White House.

How many celebrities are estranged from their famous family members? How many women wrestle with their self-worth (or lack thereof)? And how many experience behavioral crises at the hand of their damaging fathers?

It is clear Ivanka Trump is not one of those women. So why are we so quick to condemn her?

The Problem With Joy

Sunday, April 16, 2017

In a thread of Instagram comments I recently came across, a friend-of-a-friend/mommy blogger/kindred creative spirit referred to her young son as her “melancholic child.” She said in the comment that sometimes, when he’s grumpy, she tries to approach his grumpiness by reminding him to be joyful. Recent to that post, he’d responded to her suggestion with: “I don’t know HOW to be joyful!” This made me chuckle, but man oh man, did I deeply identify with the words of her five-year-old.

I think I might have been this “melancholic” child when I was growing up. I think I’m still sort of this melancholic child, in fact, even at age 24—and while my family loves me very much, they will probably read this post and silently agree.

My grouchiness has been, at times, chronic and scathing. It’s a phenomenon I can’t explain and one I’ve thought, for many years, I couldn’t necessarily control. I remember feeling the internal conflict inside myself as a teenager of wanting to be cheerful with my family and feeling guilty for being short with them, but also feeling like I could not muster the energy for even so much as a smile.

Why? I still don’t know.

I’ve pondered this in my heart a lot over the past year. So last spring, I developed the habit of praying the joyful mysteries of the rosary on my way to work every day. As I made the drive from Joliet to Aurora, I’d pray the rosary on my fingers, starting with the Annunciation—the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, and finally, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.

So when I was in Rome this past fall, I was sitting in the adoration chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica one morning, praying the joyful mysteries for the umpteenth time, when I realized something—these "joyful" moments we reflect on are actually surrounded by circumstances of suffering.

Consider the story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that as a virgin, unmarried woman, she’s going to conceive a child who will be the Son of God. As Christians who know the end of the story, we see this moment as an immensely joyful one—how could the divine conception of our Lord in Mary’s womb not be a joyful moment? But for a young and unmarried virgin, this moment was one with remarkably heavy implications. This, for Mary, was likely a time of great suffering.

The circumstances surrounding the Nativity are another excellent example. Christ is born—and we rejoice! Again, as Christians who know the end of this story, we celebrate this moment. But for Mary and Joseph—new, expecting parents traveling for a government-mandated census, forced to stay in a barn—could have only been tempted to fret as our Mother went into labor. Inevitably, there was suffering surrounding this moment.

And yet, we refer to these moments as ‘joyful.’ Why? How could such suffering illicit such joy?

Mother Teresa sheds light on this.

Her approach to suffering, in any shape or form and regardless of circumstances, was the belief that suffering is always a gift. When she encountered people in her work who were deeply suffering—whether because of physical ailments or some other spiritual form of suffering—she’d tell these people, “how much the Lord must love you, to give you the opportunity to suffer.”

The Lord suffered what has been called one of the (if not THE) greatest physical sufferings in the history of the world. The pain of the Crucifixion was immeasurably intensified by His body’s exhaustion after carrying His cross to Golgotha. Add to the equation His head-to-toe wounds from the lashings He received at the scourging, not to mention the crown of thorns that He wore. Also consider the fact that mere hours prior, He was under such physical stress at the knowledge of what was to come that He was literally sweating blood (a real medical condition called Hermatidrosis). All of these very real, tangible physical sufferings He endured make up what was likely the most painful death in the history of the human race.

And He did it all for us.

So when we suffer, in any shape or form, it goes not unnoticed by our Lord, who suffered greatly. Our sufferings become an opportunity, then, to unite our hearts with His. Our sufferings become an offering the way that His were an offering for our souls.

The cross is the epitome of suffering. But when Christians see the cross, we are joyful. We are overwhelmed at the truth of the cross—which is that God loved us THAT much… to endure THAT level of suffering, all for the sake of our good. 

Fr. Mike Schmitz, in a recent podcast, said that “joy is the secret of the Christian.”

Joy without suffering, he said, is not really joy. The two are married. You cannot have one without the other.

I believe, to some extent, there’s a level of mystery in the relationship between joy and suffering that as human beings, we’ll never understand. Just the same, I see how we should be joyful at the realization that our sorrows are not without purpose. I see how a life lived in pursuit of faith, and sorrows offered on behalf of souls, could not possibly be lacking in joy. There is SO MUCH hope in suffering. How do we know? Because there is SO MUCH hope in the cross.

So how could we not be hopeful?

How could life be possibly lacking in joy when there is so much reason to be hopeful? When we have such a wonderful God, who took care of Mary in her unplanned pregnancy? Who gave Elizabeth the gift of a child, even in her old age, who became the greatest prophet in the Bible? Who cradled the baby Jesus as He slept in a manger, and protected Him as His family fled genocide? A God who spared Simon’s life long enough for Him to look upon his Savior’s face? Who led the child Jesus to the temple, where His parents observed His teaching and knew He was willed for remarkable things? How could we know these stories and not be hopeful? And when there is so much reason to hope, how could we not have joy?

There is so much sorrow. Truly, deeply—there is so much sorrow. But without sorrow, there would be no joy.

Without sorrow, there would be no need for God.

And how could we not be joyful at that?

Blockin' Out The Haters & Finding Peace In Divine Mercy

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I was sitting up in bed tonight, listening to music on my phone and scrolling through social media (as I often do), when I came across a comment someone had left on my blog's 'Contact Me' page that I, for whatever reason, had not noticed before.

This person who commented did not like me or my blog, haha. That was obvious. He called me "a character," accused me of white privilege, and shamed me for "backtracking" after a piece I wrote in my full time writing position for a political blog online.

 This isn't the first hateful comment that's been directed at me on the internet, nor will it be the last. Especially in my current job, I've been on the receiving end of more than a handful of nasty tweets and social media comments. It's simply in the nature of being a political writer today. I think most of my colleagues would agree that this is true.

 It's a little ironic though, because as I find myself on the receiving end of such comments online, I'm reminded that I've been the subject of similar scrutinies in my personal life—my real life—as well. Recent events have increased my awareness of a truth I've been vaguely privy to for some time, and have given it a greater foothold than it has had in the past: that some people just don't like me.

 I've always had a strong personality. Growing up, that fact won me both friends and enemies. Kids can be mean. Like, really mean. I got a little taste of that in junior high. Sometimes, I feel like those same opinions of my character have followed me - first, into high school. Then, into college—and now, most recently, into my mid-twenties.

 That seems silly, right? It seems silly that I could feel threatened by the same voices that spoke out of turn when I was 12 and 13—more than a decade ago. But for those of us who've had this kind of experience, in whatever form it takes, I think it's important to find peace here.

 I said recently in a Facebook post: There will always be people in this life who do not especially like us. There will always be people who are judgmental, or rude, or who gossip, and there will always be people who are just simply mean. But we have to find peace in this place. We have to find peace in the knowledge that the Lord sees into our hearts. 1 Kings 8:39 says "...for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men." We have to find peace here—in this place where the Lord's opinion is the only one that matters.

 Sometimes how others treat us is more about them, but sometimes, it really is about us. Humility starts when we accept our own weaknesses and leave them at the foot of the cross, where Christ reminded us that His power is perfected in those weaknesses. And that's what confession is for: to actively pursue that humility, that awareness of our own imperfections and our own inclinations to sin, so we can pick up and try again tomorrow.

 Peace in this truth gives us freedom. Because once we realize the truth, which is that only the Lord's opinion matters, and that our worth is founded in HIM—not in what others' think or say of us—we are free to be "in the world but not of the world." We are free to live with the approval of the Lord in mind, rather than the approval of the world and our peers.

 Whenever a fellow sister or priest criticized another to Mother Teresa, it is said she often met their gossip with something to the effect of: "I'm sure if you or I had been in their situation, we would have done much worse." We would do well to seek the best in people's hearts and pardon the wrongs they commit. The mercy of the Lord is limitless; our mercy for one another should aim to achieve this same goal.

I'm a far from perfect person. I deserve much of the scrutiny that's thrown my way. I am hopeful in the Lord, however, who sees my heart and hears my confession. I believe in His love, I believe in His mercy, and I'm grateful His cross has made all things new.

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SACRIFICE: The Case For Abstaining From Meat This St. Patrick's Day

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I’m just gonna be up front and say it like it is: I don’t love that Catholic bishops across the country are telling people it’s okay to eat meat this Friday.

My family isn’t Irish (or like, overtly Irish, at least), but we still have corned beef every year on St. Patrick’s Day because corned beef is awesome and my mom is a good cook.

Actually, aside from St. Patrick’s Day and a handful of other times throughout the year, my family really doesn’t eat much meat. In fact, my mom and I were just talking the other day about how forgoing meat on Fridays isn’t a particularly difficult thing for us. 

I get that not all families are this way, though. I get that, for some families, eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day might not just be a fun excuse to overindulge on salt the way that it is for my family. I get that it might be a tradition that runs slightly deeper than that, and that's fine.

But if that’s the case—if you can’t fathom your St. Patrick’s Day without a slab of beef involved—all the more reason not to have it this year.

‘Lenten sacrifice’ is called sacrifice for a reason—it’s meant to prepare us for the Lord’s coming, both in body and in soul. 

And sacrifices are especially valuable to us as Christians—they allow us the opportunity to share in the sufferings the Lord experienced on the cross, by experiencing them in our own daily lives. When we suffer, even in the small ways (waiting in line at the DMV, stubbing our toe on a kitchen chair), we're presented with an opportunity: the chance to unite with Christ, even if only for that brief moment, in that tiny way.

Fasting, in practice, is not just a silly tradition we abide by because it’s how we’ve done it for thousands of years. While yes, it is true that abstaining from meat on Fridays was much more trying during the time of the early Christians than it is for us now (we can just roll over to our local seafood joint and order up a pricey Lobster plate instead), fasting from a more general perspective bears spiritual fruits that are the same now as they were then—that is, if your heart is in it.

The Church gives general guidelines for abstaining from meat during Lent, and there are excuses built into those guidelines—like if you’re ill or elderly, you’re not expected to abide by the fasting requirement. 

So, in considering that: will you die if you don’t have corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Probably not. 

Might it be hard and sort of suck and require slightly more effort on your part not to have it? Absolutely. But that’s exactly how a real sacrifice should feel—that's pretty much the whole point.

There’s something great to be said for having the self-restraint to abstain from food—and that’s just in general. I’m not suggesting anyone starve themselves—obviously we need food to survive and to pretend otherwise would simply be untrue. But self control is undeniably a good and virtuous thing. 

And we’re taught that saying ‘no’ to those smaller things, like certain foods, teaches us how to say ‘no’ to those larger things, like mortal sin. Jason Evert often suggests that couples who struggle with chastity should fast—fasting purifies the heart.

The saints are a primary example of this. Some of our Church’s greatest saints made a regular practice of fasting—and not just during Lent, but at all times of the year. In this context, we should recognize fasting for what it is: an incredible gift, a tool given to us by God so as to grow closer to Him, and become more like Him.

You know how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert prior to His crucifixion? And how he fasted during that time? And you know how the devil followed him around, mocking him, giving Him excuses to break His fast because He wanted to see Him fall? 

What if this whole corned beef thing is kind of like that…? A temptation to choose against abstaining from meat, when we could instead say no, offer it up, and grow closer to Christ in the process.

For the record, I’m all for eating meat at any other time. God gave us dominion over animals and I recognize that, and we should totally hunt them and eat them—that’s what they’re there for (among a slew of other reasons).

But God also gave us dominion over our own bodies. He gave us free will so that we could make our own choices because He knew that our love would be much less valuable if we did not choose to give it freely. And this is important, because in giving us free will, and in giving us the ability to rule over our own bodies, He also gave us a responsibility—to make those choices wisely.

I don’t know about you all, but I want to be a saint one day. It’s like, my number one top priority for my life. And I’m not saying that to brag—I’m saying it because I’ve got a LONG WAY to go if I’m going to get there, and I need all the help I can get.

So that’s why I’m fasting from corned beef this Friday. Salty meat won’t do much to better my soul, but abstaining from it on a Friday in Lent actually might.

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