Friday, 29 April 2016

John Sullivan SJ: a saintly priest whose story the world needs to hear

Telling the tale of the saintly John Sullivan SJ’s life of heroic virtue could do some good to Ireland’s reputation. Were the life of this priest better known it would go a little bit towards counterbalancing the damage done to Ireland’s standing on the international stage by the clerical sex abuse committed by criminal priests.
John Sullivan SJ did not have the typical upbringing of an Irish Catholic, never mind an Irish Jesuit who voluntarily takes a vow of poverty. His father was a Protestant who was very rich and a highly esteemed barrister who housed his family in Georgian Dublin. John was raised Protestant, even though his mother was Catholic.
John Sullivan converted to Catholicism and was received into the Catholic Church in London’s Farm Street Jesuit community in 1896 when he was a 35-year-old barrister. Throughout all his years as a Jesuit, which were spent in County Kildare, Ireland, there was a touch of Pope Francis about him. He had tremendous affection for the poor, sourcing and making gifts of goods that for the impecunious were ‘luxury’ gifts such as tobacco, fruit, snuff and even drink so that they could have a wee dram.
I find it all the more noble that a cleric who came from such a privileged background was able to identify with the underprivileged people of Ireland in the early 1900s despite never having experienced their hunger pangs himself.
Yet the part I find most impressive is that as he aged and grew in holiness, more and more people spoke about the great efficacy of his prayers, especially for the seriously ill. A cleric who did not allow his ego to inflate with each favour granted by Heaven, he never claimed that his prayers were the reason for miraculous cures.
This week, I believe that praying to Blessed John Sullivan SJ won me a favour. I had been feeling anxious, but after inviting Blessed John Sullivan to pray for me, I felt my burden was lifted and I was granted a sense of serenity about the future.
John Sullivan SJ’s prayers were answered during his lifetime and now that people are praying to him and getting graces, the Vatican is putting him on the path to sainthood. If it is God’s will and if Blessed John Sullivan is a soul in Heaven, then the process of making him a saint will show that Ireland is capable of producing exceptionally kind-hearted, benevolent priests.  
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald in the wake of the news that the miracle has been approved which will allow for John Sullivan SJ to be beatified and thus one step closer to sainthood. 

Mother Angelica would have been 93 this month, the most successful woman in television history was an 'unwanted' child

Had our cherished Mother Angelica lived, she would have celebrated her 93rd birthday today. I put forward that a birthday present we could give Mother would be to do our best to use her life story and great achievements to counteract what St John Paul II called the culture of death.
This may seem lofty, and could remain just a nice thought, but I think we need not be afraid to discuss Mother Angelica when we are having pro-life discussions, and to help others who think it’s “for the best” if an unwanted unborn child meets their end in an abortion clinic.
For starters, we can retell the story of Mother’s humble beginnings to refute the dire predictions that we hear about “unwanted” children, namely that their being unwanted by one or both of their parents leaves them with emotional scars that keep them from achieving anything in life. The culture of death tars all “unwanted” kids with the same brush.
Mother Angelica’s father John, on finding out that his wife Mae was carrying his child, tore out Mae’s hair and was incandescent with anger. According to court records, he was physically and verbally abusive to her and they had severe financial constraints that caused them to fight constantly.
93 years ago, Mother Angelica’s mother Mae was having a very difficult labour, bringing the 12-pound baby Rita into the world. Mae never flinched from telling little Rita the gory details of her birth. After her parents split, Rita’s father reneged on giving them any financial support and Rita and her mother often had only scraps of bread and a bit of bologna for a meagre dinner.
Her mother learned the dry-cleaning business and the customers collected their clothes, promised to pay, but often did not. On seeing her ex-husband John date other women, Mae would become suicidal and would say to Rita that she wanted to die by her own hand. Mother Angelica later recalled that “when I came home from school, I never knew if I would find her dead or alive”.
Yes, Rita was from an extremely emotionally and materially deprived background, but she became Mother Angelica, the only woman to found and run her own TV network for over 20 years. For an “unwanted” child, that ain’t half bad. A child who had to cope all alone with a mother who had untreated mental health problems would establish a TV network that currently reaches 264 million homes worldwide.
Telling Mother Angelica’s story can edify and encourage our peers as to the fact that an “unwanted” child from a poor family can go onto great things.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald and it was published on the date of Mother Angelica's birthday April 20th. I read and re-read Raymond Arroyo's amazing account of her life
 Mother Angelica, please pray for us. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

On Turning 100. Mary O'Regan interviews John H Carmichael

Drunks and Monks by John H Carmichael

Q: So you garnered 100 Amazon Reviews in 9 months, almost all of them quite good. How do you feel about it?

A: It is strange to think one would in any way “mark” or take note of “100 Amazon Reviews.”

But Amazon in general and their reader reviews in particular have become important in our time.

And what a strange time it is.

What did we do before we could express our opinions so freely and so permanently about books?

We were at the mercy of professional reviewers, with their dry, arch, sometimes too-clever-by-half musings, meant not just to promote or demote a book, but also to reveal the professional reviewer's acumen, to contribute to an alternative genre of literature -- the literary review. Not so with the reader reviews on Amazon, which sometimes blurt out painful truths akin to “This book sucks!” Or, “Meh. I just couldn't get into it. Two hours I will never get back. I should’ve watched Dancing With The Stars instead.” To be clear, I respect professional reviewers but the reader reviews have a guileless and immediate quality that cannot be denied.

As you said, most of the reviews for Drunks & Monks have been good so far, so that makes it easier to take and I am very appreciative of each and every one.

Q: How important do you think the reviews are?

A: A book marketing expert I know says that after about “100 reviews on Amazon” there tends to be a snowball effect that takes place, so he recommends offering the book to beta-readers for honest reviews to get those numbers. I read somewhere recently that since we are inherently social creatures, we do prefer to read things that other people are also reading. So in that sense, perhaps, nothing succeeds like success. I know I read the customer reviews of books I'm interested in and probably put a little more stock in them than I do the professional reviews. That may or may not be a good thing, but that’s the way it seems to be now.  

Q: What are some of your favorite ones?

A: It is true that more than a few have stood out and touched me on a personal level.

I like the ones where somebody says they went back to Church, or tried to quit drinking, or thought more deeply about the Sacraments because it affirms my hope that I am doing something serious for a serious purpose.

The reviews that praise the writing or the style are very gratifying because I put a lot of effort into the imagery, rhythm and diction and that was the enjoyable part of it for me. 

I combined a lot of post-modern elements with very old techniques and just sort of hurled it out there, with your fine editing, hoping it would fall well on the reader’s ear and release some power at the end. 

A few reviewers objected to the post-modern style, but many more than that liked it. I am not a fan of post-modernism for its own sake but it suited this story somehow. The most important thing is I tried to write about human brokenness and how the Catholic Faith helped me and to offer that to other people. Even if they don't like the “Catholic part” of it I hope they feel some companionship and some hope for healing, or for having a better life, for being less self-destructive. 

When the reviews say that they felt my compassion toward their own sufferings or longings, those are my favorite ones.  

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: It is a common dream to be able to make a living as a writer, or any kind of artist really. Many people have that dream and I certainly have it. I don't know if that will be possible for me long term, but I do know I am not holding anything back in this effort.
The only way to really make a living as a writer is with a contingent of readers, so each individual reader becomes like gold to me.
Each review is of vital importance. That anyone would even take the time to read a book at all these days in between all the distractions and pressures of modern life, is really quite astonishing. 
I hope Drunks & Monks is well received and that I am able to write more books. I have immense tenderness for those people who have written to me and have had more than a few very moving personal interactions.
The reviews are a form of communication and I read each one carefully. I’ve written back to a few people but don’t remark on reviews very often because many people wish to just leave their review and be done with it. I hope the book marketing expert is right and the triple digit reviews spark a buying, reading and reviewing frenzy. Further deponent sayeth not.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Today I will be on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show talking about Drunks and Monks

What a delight it is to have Jennifer Fulwiler, famed author of Something Other Than God visit us here in London.  

Jennifer has been an amazing trailblazer for Drunks and Monks, John Carmichael's epic memoir, and John has been a guest on her show twice. You may listen to his first interview here (at 43:00).  Today, I will be on Jen's show at 3:10 ET, which is 8:10 pm London time. 

The photo below was taken on one of the manicured lawns of South Kensington, in front of the church where TS Eliot was rector. We didn't have time to see Agatha Christie's house which is nearby, but next time, Jen...

Jennifer Fulwiler and Mary O'Regan

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Help abducted priests by praying to the clergy who have gone before them

Dire rumours circulated last week concerning Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest who was abducted by ISIS in Yemen on March 4. The worst hearsay was that his captors had crucified him on Good Friday, which thankfully appear to have been false.
We can take heart that the most recent news has been positive; the bishops’ conference of India has said that Fr Tom is alive and still in the hands of his captors, but intense negotiations are underway to secure his release.
It’s easy to feel powerless when we hear of a good priest being held hostage by terrorists, but I suggest we can pray for Fr Tom in a specific way, by praying to the souls of saintly priests who were imprisoned unfairly. One such priest is Fr Walter Ciszek, who has been proclaimed a Servant of God.

Fr Walter was captured by the Russian Army during World War II. After being accused and convicted during a phony trial of being a ‘Vatican spy’, Fr Walter spent 23 harrowing years in Soviet prisons and working in the salt mines of Siberia, all of which he details in his spiritual masterpiece, He Leadeth Me.
A great irony was that Fr Walter, when he had been a seminarian at the Russicum in Rome had been known for his passionate wish to be a priest in Russia.

If any saintly priest who has gone to God knows extreme suffering at the hands of captors, it is Fr Walter. His years in the Lubyanka Prison were spent mostly in solitary confinement and he was subjected to brutal torture until he signed a document where he ‘confessed’ to being a spy for the Pope, which led to him being sentenced to 15 years in the Gulag.
Fr Walter would be the ideal intercessor for Fr Tom – we can pray to Fr Walter that the negotiations go well and that Fr Tom is unharmed and set free. If it were to catch on, people praying to Fr Walter for priests who are persecuted and imprisoned, then maybe his cause could advance and he would one day be Blessed Walter. 
I wrote this piece for The Catholic Herald.  I hope to write more about Fr Walter Ciszek and his memoir of imprisonment under the Soviets, He Leadeth Me.  A friend of mine is a Jesuit priest and I look forward to asking him if he ever met Fr Walter...

Friday, 1 April 2016

Why Mother Angelica was Mother Angelica

Back in the 1930s when Mother Angelica was Rita Rizzo, her mother took her out of a convent school because the nuns belittled her. After a priest cajoled and persuaded little Rita’s mother to send her back to the convent school, the same nuns singled Rita out for more of the same.
At the Christmas party, they gave shiny new toys to all the other kids, but reserved a broken yo-yo for Rita. Raymond Arroyo’s biography quotes Mother Angelica as remembering that the toy “was old and scratched, had knots in it, you couldn’t use the thing.” When Rita grew up to become Mother Angelica she would always say that she hated “those nuns” and was clear that they could and should have told her that Jesus loved her.
Perhaps it is a miracle in itself that Rita became a nun: it shows amazing strength of character on the part of Mother Angelica that she did not let fear that she would might become like the nuns from her childhood crush her vocation.
Mother Angelica as a toddler
I know that I wouldn’t have had the determination. When I was 14, a nun who was teaching me spent some a lot of class-time shouting at me, “you’re a liar”, after she caught me doing my homework in class, which I denied I was doing, so I got lambasted with, "liar, liar!" Afterwards I wanted to become a lapsed Catholic and it was only positive encounters with nicer nuns who changed my mind.
Mother Angelica became a champion of the same institution that had produced the sadists in black veils who bullied her. One of the most unstoppable nuns to have ever lived in my view, Mother was the only woman to found and run a TV network for 20 years.
The reason that “those nuns” never spoiled her vocation was the same reason she founded EWTN: Jesus chose her to be His bride and she was willing to do anything for Him. When she was a newly minted nun, she wrote a letter to her mother, addressing her as the mother-in-law of Jesus.
Her apostolate in Catholic media, even from the early recordings explaining God’s love for each person, was a bold endeavour to give the masses what the nuns of her childhood had not given her: the empowering knowledge of Jesus’s love for us.
Mother Angelica’s life and works prove that her love for Our Lord was genuine: this is precisely why she is an inspiration to Catholic women. Angelica alone shows that a Catholic woman driven by love of Jesus can achieve great things; even in our times when many young women like me are told that being successful and being a Catholic are incompatible.
Mother Angelica could be vociferous in defending Our Lord, like a hyper-defensive and devoted wife, she would not broke the slightest undermining of Our Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. Yes, she sparred with important men of the cloth, but she could never be accused of clericalism.
Mother Angelica saw her role as bride of Christ as infinitely more important than following the party line. When she was investigated by the Vatican, and sent male interrogators, she was asked who had given her permission for this or that. Going rogue, she was frank that she had acted on inspirations from Our Lord and that He had supplied her with permission.
Mother Angelica, I hope you are united with your Beloved as I write this. Remember us, please pray that we can be together in Heaven one fine day. 
I wrote this article for The Catholic Herald. You may see the full catalog of my online articles for this publication here

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Why I didn't have my feet washed on Holy Thursday - foot washing is too important to be dragged into a feminist debate

The debate over foot-washing is often seen in terms of simply excluding or including women. But it would seem very different if we were informed by our Christian consciences and not by feminism.
In our ‘post-feminist’ society, we women are told that Christianity is informed by misogyny. That women will now have their feet washed on Maundy Thursday is seen by some as one means of correcting a male-dominated system. Of course, the Pope did not reform the rite for feminist reasons. However, the issue can get caught up in political debates, which is a pity.
I won’t have my marble-white, blue veiny feet washed today. But I won’t object when I hear of a female friend or acquaintance who will have their feet washed; they are doing so in line with the Church’s teachings and they may be trying to reach greater holiness. I’d just invite them to think twice if they are merely having their feet washed in response to feminist propaganda which seeks to turn women against Our Lord, by arguing that He was in the wrong when He did not wash the feet of women.
At Easter, we pledge our gratitude to Our Lord for His Ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross, and if we trust that He shed His Blood to wash away the sins for both men and women, why not trust that he had only our good in mind when He did not wash the feet of women?
At this time of year, more so than any other time, we are contemplating that Christ so loved the world that he gave His life on the cross in atonement for our sins. It’s all very well to go through the motions at Easter, but if we accept the reality of Our Lord’s sacrificial love then it instructs us that Our Lord always, always wants the best for humanity, and to my fellow women, I’d like to say that includes us.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald and it was posted on Holy Thursday of this year, which fell on March 24th. 

Friday, 18 March 2016

Praying to St Joseph for a spouse can have unexpected consequences...

When I was 18, I prayed the novena to St Joseph for the intention of getting a husband of the Orlando Bloom variety. Yes, I know, 18 is childishly young, and at the time I yearned to be a teenage bride with a pale pink lace veil who would dance down the aisle to Chuck Berry’s It Was A Teenage Wedding (I’m not joking – those were my wedding plans).
At the time, it didn’t matter to me if the guy was Catholic or not, as long as he was extremely good-looking and had thick hair. Clearly, my priorities were in order. Needless to say, it did not come to pass and I am still unmarried. Thank you, St Joseph for unanswered prayers.
I did not, however, dare to offer the novena to St Joseph for a devastatingly handsome hubbie during my twenties.
Why ever not? My reason has ironically to do with the fact that I became more serious about my faith. Bear with me while I explain: during the decade-long time between 20 and 30 I heard quite a few men and women say that they prayed to St Joseph for a husband or wife, and that, yes, they got a husband or wife, and that St Joseph gave them what they asked for, but there was a splinter: namely that their spouse was not a Catholic and in some cases their life-mate was anti-Catholic.
I was quite put off praying to St Joseph because I didn’t think my nerves could stand someone who hated Mother Church.  Listening to people who regretted marrying non-Catholics, I perceived that on balance, marrying someone who hated the Catholic Church was far worse than being single. I was afraid the same fate would befall me, finding someone and falling in love, but with a man who was contemptuous of the Church.
But time is a healer and many of the same non-Catholics (mentioned above) married to cradle Catholics have converted and become Catholic. It may be part of St Joseph’s master-plan that he pairs Catholics with non-Catholics so that the Catholic will influence the non-Catholic to convert. The splinter wears away in time, worn away by St Joseph, until things are smooth.
Given his track record of finding husbands and wives for men and women called to marriage, St Joseph’s feast day should really be celebrated on the same scale as St Valentine’s Day. If St Valentine’s Day is a metaphor for romance, then St Joseph’s day could be a metaphor for love and marriage.
February 14 is for bubbly wine and cheap chocolate hearts, but St Joseph’s feast day could become the day when there is a renewal of wedding vows, a time when the wedding dress is brought out and shown to the children (maybe the daughters can try it on) and a time to break out the best champagne. For some Catholics who prayed the novena for a spouse – and got the man/woman of their dreams – it could be a time of offering prayers of thanksgiving...
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald and it was posted on March 11th - the first day of the novena - so that people might start it and finish today March 19th which is the feast of St Joseph. I have offered the novena with another person for a mutually special intention of ours. I will have a lot to write about if the favour is granted, and in my irritatingly private way, that's all I'll say for now.   Happy feast of St Joseph!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

I saved a life by keeping my mouth shut

"The abortion is booked and I’m definitely having it,” said an old friend who is a life-long atheist who thinks that people who talk about God are liars.
“Having an abortion is not a sin – there is no such thing as sin – there is no God who will punish me for it,” my friend instructed me.
Listening to her, I felt trapped. I knew if I spoke about the Catholic teaching that abortion is a mortal sin, I would actually make my friend more determined to ‘prove’ that it was not, and she was adamant that, “Mary – you will see nothing bad will happen to my soul – I don’t have one.”
I only had one option; to listen intently to her – and I discovered that she was of the opinion that she would not suffer after the abortion. I decided to rectify this by getting as much information on Post Abortion Syndrome as I could and showed her a secular testimony from a woman who wanted to commit suicide after her abortion.
Even though she was tempted to brush this off as “not enough evidence” (the same argument she has against faith), she was stunned to learn of studies showing post abortion depression, such as the large scale Finnish study which unearthed that the suicide rate following abortion was nearly six times greater than the suicide rate following childbirth.
My friend swung from the opinion that abortion was “harmless to the woman” to cancelling her abortion and having a baby. She’s become softer on the Catholic Church now because in her view if it’s anti-abortion, it can’t be all bad.
Helping her decide against abortion was horrifically hard, there were sleepless nights spent talking to her, I felt slighted when I was told that people who believe in God are “loons.”
But the experience taught me a lot about how “loons” or people like me can reach out to atheists. We may feel hatred towards atheists because they deride Who we love: God.
Listening to atheists explain why they don’t have faith is crucial; if we don’t know their problems with Christianity, then we can’t help them. My worst fault is that I am a dreadful listener and can’t stop talking about myself, so if I can listen, then that does prove miracles happen.
There is the frustrating task of sidelining our egos, (I have a gigantic, fragile ego, so if I can suffer insults to prevent an atheist from having an abortion, then anyone can).
Most essentially, there is a need for prayer and sacrifice for those who have no belief in God. We don’t need to use a loud-speaker to announce that we are praying for them, praying privately is still praying and God sees our hearts and knows that we have a good intention when we chose not to tell an atheist we are praying for them.
In tandem with prayer, there has to be steadfast example of Christian witness, which is why I think my hero, Fr Hugh Simon-Thwaites was so successful in bringing atheists into the Church. People were attracted to his goodness.
On the subject of Fr Hugh, in January I wrote that I keep photos of him in my wallet, looking at his serene smile is like red bull for my soul and has given me great strength to talk to atheists.
In his article in the Universe, I think that Bishop Declan Lang had a point when he spoke out on the need for people of faith to stand up for persecuted atheists. We are fooling ourselves if we think this is something that only happens in places like Bangladesh where the blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was slain for merely articulating his atheism.
Thankfully, atheists are not violently punished here in the UK, and to be fair, atheists often have the upper hand over Catholics because it is their ideology that informs most of Britain’s societal trends: which is precisely why atheists are subjected to a form of persecution here that is deadlier, because they are encouraged in their belief that there is no God.
Compassion is needed on our part because atheists are in an unrequited love affair, God loves them, but they refuse to let the love in. 
I wrote this article for The Catholic Herald, in  response to Bishop Declan Lang's comments that practising Catholics ought to defend persecuted atheists. In my life-time, I've spent a lot of time helping pregnant women who are atheists. 
A small note: yes, I did get grief after writing this, with a number of people getting in touch to tell me that I  should not have intervened and prevented an abortion (effectively arguing that the mother of the baby would have been better off aborting her child). Another quibble was that atheists are not necessarily pro-abortion (I never said they were, but simply said that they say we do not have souls, so do not think an action like an abortion will stain an entity which they believe does not exist: the soul). The piece above ignited a lot of disputes and denial of the medical studies done on the link between abortion and depression. 
Well, darlings, thankfully, the 'grief'/ backlash to the article on preventing an abortion has not troubled me.  I'll be candid during my pro-life work - I have helped hundreds of atheist women who were planning to have an abortion - avoid an abortion and give birth to their children. Along the way, I got a lot of 'grief' from the women themselves, their boyfriends and even their families. At times it has hurt, but more often than not, it has not: this is not because I am some extra special person who is less human and less prone to feeling damaged, rather it is God's grace that works on my temperamental nature and makes me get over myself to the point where a pregnant woman can call me a loon because I'm pro-life at 1 pm and I'll still be talking to her at 3 am because unashamedly I think it is in her best interests to cancel her abortion. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Young people bullied for following God’s call could embrace Elizabeth of the Trinity as their patron

"She flipped out,” is how one young man described his mother’s reaction after he told her he wanted to be a priest. “She said I could do so much better than be a priest and said her friends would think me abnormal on account of choosing voluntary celibacy.”
Ever conscious of public image, his mother never did give him her blessing, but she continued to go Mass, “so that the neighbours would not think she was lapsed”. Her son never entered seminary.
I heard of another young man who ran away from home to join a very strict religious order – against his parents’ wishes. When his father picked a fight with the head of the religious order, his son said to him that he had to leave their home in order to follow Christ and that Jesus said in the Gospels that a man who could not leave his parents was not worthy to be His disciple.
The two cases above concern men who are contemporary Catholics. Yet Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose canonisation has just been announced, would have shared their pain. Elizabeth was born in France in 1880; at the age of 14, she felt an aching hunger in her soul to be a Carmelite nun. But when she was old enough, Elizabeth’s mother strongly objected.
Feeling oppressed, Elizabeth wrote, “When shall I have the happiness of entering Carmel? But mama is not willing, I will wait ’til she is resigned.”  It wasn’t that the monastery was far away – they lived 200 metres from the Discalced Carmelite Community in Dijon. Rather, Elizabeth’s mother was determined that her young and attractive daughter would find a good husband.
Having found the “perfect” man for Elizabeth, she was taken aback when Elizabeth rejected the suitor.  Other men asked Elizabeth to marry them, attracted by her striking good looks. In her heart, however, Elizabeth started putting her religious calling first. “The attraction of Carmel is a force that nothing can hinder.”
It wasn’t as if Elizabeth did not have other options. She was a prize-winning pianist who was considered musically gifted. Finally, when she was 21, a full seven years after first feeling drawn to Carmel, Elizabeth made plans to enter the monastery. But on the very night before she entered, her mother tried to emotionally blackmail her into staying in the world, asking, “Why do you want to leave me?”
Elizabeth responded, “How can I resist the voice of God calling me? He is holding out His arms to me telling me He is despised, scorned, forsaken. Shall I abandon Him as well? He wants my sacrifice.”
For five years, Elizabeth was hidden in Carmel, before Addison’s disease ravaged her health and she went to her eternal reward in 1906. It is thought likely that she will be canonised later this year. In view of her health torments, she is considered a patron of sick people. She could just as well be a champion for young people undergoing a white martyrdom on account of the persecution they face when they even so much as look into religious life.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Evil spirits tempt, but when we succumb it is our fault

A devout Catholic friend of mine went to the doctor because she was feeling physically run down. She mentioned that she could be maliciously catty about others and that it drained her of energy, but that she felt lighter after confession. This was her remedy for mental exhaustion caused by being dragged down by the weight of her sins. Probing a bit further, the doctor asked her if she believed temptation may be the work of bad angels. My friend answered “yes.”
The medic, seeing that my friend was calm and collected, said he respected her religious views and he believe in God but that he had to warn her that thoughts of bad angels inspiring people to do bad deeds was dangerous fantasy. Furthermore he thought that people were blame-shifting- they ascribed blame to imaginary spirits and not to themselves.
My friend told her doctor that he had a point – people could blame the sources of temptation – but not take responsibility for themselves. She clarified that God has given each human enough grace to withstand temptations – and that when she spoke badly of others to the point where her listeners thought badly of the people she maligned – that she had been to blame because she had not relied on God’s grace to help her overcome her destructive longing to backbite. Thus she was the one who went to Confession, and not the fallen angel.
Perhaps the difference between feeling tempted and acting on temptation is like the man who becomes violent after too much whisky. If he sees a flashy, provocative ad for hooch, and decides to get drunk, after which he beats his wife and kids, he may say the ad was to blame because it gave him the idea to pickle his brain in spirits.
When we only blame that which tempts us – we are not placing the emphasis on what would prevent us from falling in the first place – relying on God’s grace. My friend got it right when she said that she sinned because she had not sought God’s grace.
So few of us have such humility. We fall into sin often because we doubt God’s love for us – He loved each of us so much – that he has endowed each soul with enough grace to overcome the tailored set of temptations that each of us face.
There are as many temptations as there are sins, but I think there is one temptation that is particularly dodgy for anyone. It is when we use the sins of our past against ourselves. ‘I’m the person who did this and that, I am a hopeless case who may as well give up the fight to do better,’ is often our personal voice-over that accompanies flashbacks on our mind’s cinema of times when we’ve behaved badly.
Tim Stanley admirably tackled this problem of despairing on account of one’s sins when earlier in the week he appeared on Thought For The Day. Stanley shared how shortly after he converted to Catholicism, he went to confession and told the priest that he didn’t think he could make it because he was still sinning. The priest said to him, ‘by the very fact that you’ve come here to confess your sins, you’ve shown that you have changed.’
Stanley reflected that the priest had been right, ‘that I was prepared to go out on a cold evening and confess everything to a total stranger showed that I at least now worried about my faults and cared about putting them right. I had entered into a dialogue with my own conscience.’
Taking Stanley’s example to heart, I suggest opening a dialogue with one’s conscience and relying on God’s grace. Seeking God’s grace can seem so lofty, but in urgency we can offer arrow prayers (“God help me”) and say to our favourite saint, “please pray for me.”
Something that I am starting is praying the Litany of the Holy Spirit, so that I am enlightened as to what might be a temptation. 
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald, you may see my author archive here
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