Fear, Faith, and Recognizing God’s Voice

Today I share my third and final post about fear and faith. Or rather, a fragment of a much larger post, because this is the part that’s relevant. In March 2014 I was sharing about my first spiritual direction appointment, and I wrote:


I talked at some length about the scrupulosity issue, the fear that I’m not supposed to be writing, that GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE (finger wagging as an illustration) is for me to be a mom and nothing else. My spiritual director said, “Do you think that’s what God’s calling you to?”

Not a question I wanted to answer. I fumbled a bit, and she rephrased: “Have you ever had a moment where you were sure you were hearing the voice of God?”

After a bit of thought I could say yes, I did. It’s never, ever about the big things, it’s always about small things that are immediate and in the here and now.

“And what does that feel like? Does it feel like the wagging finger?”

“No!” This one I could answer with certainty. “No, it feels quiet, and peaceful.”

Those words hung in the air for a couple of seconds before I realized their importance. I have identified what the voice of God sounds like to me, and more importantly, what it doesn’t sound like.


Stepping back in as 2020 Kate: I want to clarify the connection. In that post I referred to a wagging finger. But the point is what that wagging finger made me *feel*: fear. Anxiety.

How anxiety looms over life.

I have a history with anxiety–a long, tangled, ugly history. For me, fear and anxiety were twisted up in dysfunctional ways with my faith. (I still fight it sometimes.) A feeling that anything I wanted had to be contrary to God’s will, simply by definition, because “my ways are not your ways.” (I once told that fear to a good and holy friend of mine. He blinked in silence for a minute and then said, “Wow. What an unfortunate reading of that Scripture.”) A fear that if I got a discernment wrong, I was out of luck and basically doomed for all eternity (literally).

So the moment I described above, in my first spiritual direction appointment, was a game-changer. I cannot speak for others, but this I know: God does not speak to me in anxiety and fear. The Devil, however, does. The devil speaks anxiety and fear often, relentlessly, and loudly.

God speaks to me in a quiet sense of security and peace and joy.

There has always been an end-times movement. The world is always about to end in someone’s mind. There are always visions. Some of them well-respected in the Church and others, well, a lot more questionable.

I ignore them all, because I know now that is not where God speaks. Not to me, at least. And honestly, I don’t think following out of fear is what God wants for any of us. I think of Elijah. God didn’t speak in the scary, bombastic stuff, but in the tiny whispering breeze.

Is the world going to end? At some point. But that’s not where I need to keep my focus. I’ve been at this long enough to know that if I focus on fear, I’ll fall farther from him, not grow closer. I’ll only live a half life.

I wrestle many things these days, but this I am certain of: God wants more than that for us.

Fear and Faith, Part 2

Sharing today the second of three posts about my journey in pondering the relationship between faith and fear. This one dates from March 2, 2011.


Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

A pastor named Rob Bell wrote a book that raised people’s hackles because they felt it espouses “universalism,” the idea that nobody’s going to go to Hell. I ran across this topic here, and it got me thinking. Not about Rob Bell, his book, or the existence of Hell—frankly, because I think the whole discussion is a distraction from the primary issue.

I have no patience with the sentiment “I believe in God, but I’m not really religious.” Or “I’m more spiritual than religious.” Cop-out! If you believe in God, that God is creator of all and above all, then it makes no sense to act as if that belief doesn’t matter. When the stakes are so high—Heaven and Hell, eternal life and eternal death—how can you stick your fingers in your ears and ignore the call to act, saying “la la la I can’t hear you?”

On the other hand, being “religious” because you’re scared of going to Hell is a pretty poor version of Christianity. If that’s all your faith is based on then it’s bound to do one of two things: get twisted into some hideous distortion of true holiness (how often do we see that happen?), or fall to pieces entirely. Holy living should be a response born of gratitude to the One who gave us everything, love for the One who continues to pour out goodness on us, even amid the pain and difficulty of this fallen world. And by love, I mean a conscious decision to act, not some touchy-feely, ephemeral happy place.

When you love someone, you try to get to know them, to understand what they want, what makes them tick. When you love someone, you look for ways to make them happy, you look for ways to deepen your relationship with them. When faith becomes an act of love, the discussion of Hell, its existence or lack thereof, is….well, perhaps not completely irrelevant, but certainly beside the point.

Hell is the absence of God. Look around the world. Everything beautiful in this world, everything that makes it worth living, is from God: love, cuddles, creation, skies and outdoors and fresh air and friendship and music and all the things that make our hearts skip a beat. To be separated from all that? If that doesn’t give you the shudders, then I don’t know what will.

I don’t think much about Hell, end-times or the apocalypse, because it scares me, and when I’m scared I focus on fear instead of on my true job as a Christian. My true job is love. I’m trying to learn to live in such a way that I am acting out of love for the One who made me, acted out toward the people and the world He created. I have a long way to go; I’m well aware that I’m not guaranteed a place in Heaven just because I say I believe in God. Actions speak louder than words, and fear is not a good long-term motivator. Besides, it’s not like I have any control over the apocalypse (or lack thereof). God’s the editor of the final markup, not me. Thank…well, thank God.


The Kate of 2020 steps back in to note that I apparently had a lot more answers when I was in my thirties than I do now. 🙂

Revisiting Race

In light of the discussions taking place online these days, it seems like a good time to revisit what the US Bishops have to say about racism, and in particular institutional racism, in our country, and what that reality means for us as faithful Catholics. There’s a lot of anger going around these days on both sides of every issue, and we ramp each other up. Extremism on one side begets extremism on the other. Neither of which are justified, but people only want to point the finger at the other side rather than acknowledge extremism on their own.

Too many Christians seem eager to write off the entire question of civil rights and institutional racism because of violence in some protests. Of course, horrific things like people shouting “let them die” outside a hospital where police are fighting for their lives are equally indefensible.

It’s so tempting to take the extremes, because the extremes are easier. It’s really messy in the middle, where we have to call out both “let them die” and the institutional racism that has sparked the protests which, in some cases, have turned violent. It’s easier to blame one or the other and act like the problem is ONLY one thing.

The reality is, whenever we paint things in absolutes–whenever we write off one point of view because of the faults of some among them–we are part of the problem. That messy place in the middle is exactly where we must be as Christians.

Our bishops are telling us in the clearest possible way that race matters, that racism is real, that we are part of it whether we mean to be or not, and that we thus have a responsibility to act for change.

I cannot say it strongly enough: read this letter in its entirety.

Being Intentionally Catholic on Social Media

I’ve been at this Intentional Catholic business officially for 18 months right now, but in reality for much longer. One does not come to such a pithy, focused phrase “just like that.” It develops over time.

One thing I’ve learned is that living the faith intentionally always, ALWAYS involves a lot wrestling. In fact, I would argue that a faith that is complacent, that thinks it has simple answers, is not intentional at all. The world is too messy for complacency. We are too small for the problems we face. When we think the answer is simple and obvious, it’s a good sign that we’re missing a LOT of context.

I’ve been wrestling hard with what being “intentionally Catholic” means when people are saying horrible things online. Self-righteous memes so badly stripped of context, they cross into falsehood; distortions; statements by Christians that do not reflect Christ.

Today I’d like to reflect on a handful of influences I’ve been wrestling lately, surrounding this conundrum.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#1: my husband saying, “You may need to stay off Facebook this fall.” I recognize the wisdom of this advice, but I struggle because my ministry is precisely to address the messiness of the issues where real life intersects with faith–issues we address via the political process. And also, Facebook is my professional networking avenue.

But as my husband constantly points out, no one ever changes their mind. So when is it worth wading in? When I do, how do I respond in a way that respects the human dignity of the person on the other end of the e-connection, when such egregious errors are on display?

#2: A friend of mine shared Bishop Barron’s podcast for yesterday’s readings with me, in which he tied together the call from Ezekiel–yes, in fact we ARE supposed to correct our fellow Christians–and the “how do we do that?” outlined in the Gospel. Bishop Barron focused narrowly on how to respond when one has been personally wounded. Truthfully, it felt insufficient. It’s not personal offenses that I feel so compelled to respond to on social media. It’s public statements by religious people who do not see the inherent conflict between their statements and the faith that is so precious to them. Jesus’ guidance, applied in this situation, seems… insufficient. Sure, I could message a person privately, but if that person is making public statements, he or she is leading others into error. Speaking to them privately seems–well, not to be repetitive, but “insufficient.”

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

I’ve spent a lot of time praying: “Should I ignore this, Lord? Or speak?” I responded in passion a couple times and felt that I, too, wasn’t representing my faith authentically. Another time, I walked away and found a calm, sincere response bubbling up. I thought I recognized the voice of the Spirit in that, so I went back to share, only to be publicly (and passive-aggressively, i.e. in detail but not by name) excoriated. I came away feeling that I really have no idea what the heck God is asking me to do about all this.

Which brings me to Influence #3: a story told by Steve Angrisano in a breakout session on chant that I listened to this weekend. (While pulling crabgrass in my back yard, if you want to know.) He talked about a priest who had two best friends stand at opposite ends of the room. He surrounded one of them with other girls of similar age, and had them all call out a number between 1 and 100. No one in the room could pick out the number from the original girl–except her best friend, who had spent so much time listening to her friend, she knew the voice and could pick it out of the cacophony.

I am trying to spend enough time with God to do that, but I feel no confidence in my ability to pick out God’s voice right now.

Actually, that’s not true. I feel great confidence that I can see God’s will in the issues themselves. But in how and when to speak, I have no earthly idea.

I have no answers today. Only thoughts. Wrestling. Because that’s what it means to be intentionally Catholic.

#seethegood in virtual learning

(Background image by Free-Photos, via Pixabay

My kids’ school district finally decided last night to go online. We knew it had to be coming, but the uncertainty has been punishing. It’s a tough thing, living with delay and uncertainty. And as long as it wasn’t certain, it was hard not to keep hoping. Hoping for a couple days’ normalcy a week.

2020’s been a punishing year. For all of us. For the most part, we’re not handling it well. I firmly believe the ugliness and rush to the extremes that we’re seeing has been exacerbated by stress. When you feel like you can’t handle one thing more, that one political nugget just sends you over the edge. Certainly it’s been happening to me. I’m at the point where I don’t trust my discernment of when to speak and when not to.

Contemplating an all-online school year, or at least a significant start to it (because the carrot is always dangling there: if the cases go down…) has so many really obvious negatives, it’s a real spiritual exercise to #seethegood. I’m going to have to give up so much. My kids are so sick of this house. Of each other. My soul feels suffocated from togetherness, from lack of time to go out in the expansiveness of the universe. I lost the spring for my weekly hikes and bikes, but I clung to the fall, and now the fall is gone too.

But there is this: going back to school was always going to increase the exposure exponentially. As long as we’re virtual, we can still rest secure that our kids’ friends, who are also virtual, are low-exposure, and that’s one good thing, because it means we can continue to carve out time for them to be together with less worry (not “no” worry, but “less”).

And all virtual means, paradoxically, more instruction. The hybrid schedule involved two days of in-seat and three days of independent study, which has been a struggle for my kids. In the virtual model the kids can all be “in class” together.

I suppose there’s also the potential for slightly more flexibility of family schedule, although I won’t know that for sure for a while.

And I suppose there’s another #seethegood so obvious, we’re not really clued into it right now: that all this suffering and upheaval is sensitizing us to the goodness of our ordinary lives. We have taken so many things for granted. If we approach this time exercising our thankfulness muscles, we could be different people when we come out the other side.

Educating for Peace

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how public schools are indoctrinating in socialism. For that reason, this quote really struck me this morning. It comes in a section of Gaudium et Spes that is focused on peace and war. Paul VI says that those who are in charge of military will have to “give a somber reckoning of their deeds of war.” He talks about how “extravagant sums” are spent on military and on developing new weapons while the miseries that cause war remain unaddressed. He talks about how peace requires working for justice. And he calls for an international public authority with actual, universal authority to settle disputes.

That’s the context of this quote. We are called by our Church–by a saint of our Church, in a document approved by an ecumenical council of the Church–to form our children in these sentiments.

There’s a disheartened, jaded part of me that suspects many in our Church would call this “socialism,” despite the fact that it’s the teaching of our Church. And it’s interesting to me that this exhortation comes from the papacy of St. Paul VI, known and revered for Humanae Vitae. It illustrates that the Catholic faith stands independent of political ideals.

The Difficulty of Discernment

Background image by George Desipris, via Pexels

I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the “prophetic” part of the baptismal call: priest, PROPHET, king. Like many people, until I was well into adulthood I had a wrong understanding of what it means to be a prophet. Prophecy was never about predicting the future. It was about speaking for God. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah et al called out leaders, cultural institutions, and members of the culture for behaviors and attitudes that stood in opposition to the covenant they’d sworn to uphold.

Of course, no one likes being called out, so prophets often ended up exiled or stoned to death or beheaded (like John the Baptist). But it didn’t change the fact that they were speaking truth to power, whether anybody ever changed or not.

It’s hard to discern this call in modern life. The world is so noisy, and people speak what they believe to be “truth” with great volume and varying justification. I’ve been in far too many debates lately, and the people other side of these debates are absolutely convinced that they are the ones speaking truth and I am misguided, while I believe to the depths of my bones that it’s exactly the opposite.

Both of us can’t be right.

It’s difficult to discern when to speak and when to let someone else have the last word. My husband says, “They’re never going to change their minds. Quit arguing. Just scroll by.” But I say, “These are things that doesn’t even stand up under the weight of critical thinking and reason, let alone the faith. If we don’t speak the truth, we cede the battlefield to the devil.”

These days I bring everything back to its essence: “This post/argument/belief is inconsistent with the Gospel.” We’ve been blurring the lines between faith and politics so long, we often don’t even recognize that some of the most passionately-held opinions in Religious World have nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel, and are, in some cases, contrary to it. I understand it, because I lived it until I was more than thirty years old. It was a hard thing, requiring a lot of humility and prayer, to allow myself to change. It only happened because the reality of parenting a child with a developmental disability put me nose to nose with inconvenient truths I had, until then, been able to ignore.

It’s very uncomfortable to envision oneself in a prophetic role. Who am I to do this? How can I be sure I’m actually speaking what God wants said? What if I’m wrong?

Except… the sea change in my world view has been so tightly woven into my spiritual growth, I don’t see how it could be wrong. I’ve been praying too long, too fervently, and too consistently for discernment, for wisdom, for clarity, for God’s will, and for God to keep me on the path of that will, whatever it is. There’s no way God would have allowed me to continue on a totally erroneous path. If I were wrong, God would have put me face to face with other inconvenient truths I couldn’t avoid, to make it clear I needed to detour. Instead, the epiphanies of the last decade or two keep being confirmed.

I’m afraid of breaking relationships. I’m afraid of going too far and abandoning God’s path in the opposite direction. I’m afraid of speaking the right thing in the wrong way and doing more harm than good. I’m afraid of failing altogether when the stakes are so high. Most of all, I’m worn out by the battle. I know in the end, God will sort it out, that “success is not the prize” as Rory Cooney wrote. But it’s hard to stand in the maelstrom and wonder if I’m being egotistical for thinking I’m meant to be in it at all.

Jesus and Justice

We’ve all heard the Gospel passage a million times: Jesus, talking about the importance and permanence of marriage.

My whole life, I have focused on the obvious teaching here: that marriage is forever, and divorce = bad.

But there’s a lot to unpack in the unspoken questions of justice that lie behind this teaching. Women didn’t get to file for divorce in ancient Israel. Only men. And when women got cast aside, they didn’t have many options–and no good ones at all.

So this teaching protects women, who were among the most powerless in society in his time. This says a lot about the sanctity of marriage, of course–but it also says a lot about what Jesus thought about the pursuit of justice in the temporal world.

Because really, that’s what the disciples were all bent out of shape about in the later part of this Gospel passage, when they protested to Jesus: the limits on their power. They’re just baffled by Jesus saying this. “If we can’t divorce a wife whenever we want,” they say, “then it’s be better not to get married at all!” Jesus just cut the legs out from under their absolute power in relationship. Of course they found it threatening.

To those who think we shouldn’t worry about working toward justice in the real world–who think none of that matters because we should only focus on the world beyond–this Gospel passage is a rebuke. Justice DOES matter.

#seethegood… in opponents

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I have been struggling the last couple weeks with #seethegood posts. It’s not that I’m lacking in goodness to see around me–it’s just that too much of it is too specific to my own situation, involving things and people that aren’t appropriate to share publicly.

But this morning, it occurs to me that I can share this pearl of wisdom from my husband. For several years, he’s wanted to use his birthday as an opportunity to serve rather than be celebrated. It doesn’t always work out, but this year he did.

He asked people on Facebook to give him a gift: to only be nice to each other–to focus on family and fun, and if they had to go political–well, you can read his words below. I share them today because of something we all know, but often forget: that whatever we look for, whatever we cultivate in the garden of our hearts, is what we get more of. If we look for things to be angry about, we’ll find things to be angry about everywhere, in everything. If we look for reasons to judge, the reasons will not only present themselves, they will multiply exponentially, until we are incapable of accepting–we have trained ourselves to judgment.

I figured this #seethegood moment could be a really beautiful leaven for the coming fall of pandemic and politics.

Enough from me. Here’s my husband:

OK folks — my birthday is TUESDAY, as in ELECTION DAY (for several states). Kate always asks what I want on my birthday, and this year, I landed on something — I’m fatigued as I’m sure we all are. So this year, if you so desire — for my birthday — I’m asking that you do one of two things (or both):

1.) Not post anything that rings of politics or seeks to judge others for a problem. Instead, focus on the kids, pets, sunsets, soft rain, flowers, awesome food, etc. in your life and give us a post about that. OR……..

2.) Look at a post that would normally evoke a visceral reaction from you and find ONE GOOD THING in the argument. You don’t have to agree with the point, but you have to acknowledge that it is a GOOD POINT. And I don’t mean some dumbass platitude. Honestly look for something that forces you to go beyond your comfort zone or your political leaning and see that someone, somewhere who thinks completely differently from you has a good point in an argument.And then, tell me about in a post. Tell me what you posted instead of a political meme or rant or judgement OR tell me about what you found in someone’s post that you initially disagreed with.And THAT, THAT folks is what I would like on my birthday.😃