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Viktor Frankl’s small but powerful book Man’s Search for Meaning was my go-to gift to give to graduating seniors at the all-boys school where I worked. For anyone unfamiliar with the work, Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who was sent to Auschwitz, survived, and wrote this book after the end of the war. A bit depressing for a graduation gift? Maybe. Off the beaten path of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go? You bet. Profound in its insights and call to respond to suffering with the good you can control? Certainly.
Knowing that many of my students would leave their faith or face temptations amidst the distractions and nihilism of undergraduate life, I wanted to gift them something that was universal in its themes but also full of fertile soil for making sense of “the Catholic thing.” Frankl held on to hope and miraculously survived the Nazi extermination camp, and he observed that those who held on to purpose and meaning survived more often than those who dwelt on their agony and soon gave up the will to live. It wasn’t an option to “not suffer”; Frankl knew that we can’t control the time period or even the circumstances of our lives. But we can control our reactions and attitudes toward the challenges we face. To echo J.R.R. Tolkien’s wisdom in Gandalf the Grey, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Everyone will suffer. This is part of our human existence, and to deny suffering (and our eventual death) is to live life in denial of all its richness. But we’ve been raised with so many technological creature-comforts that we can literally live from one air-conditioned bubble to another and assume that the food supply that fills our local grocery store shelves is never-ending in its abundance. And heaven forbid if my load times for my streaming services are too long! Inconvenience, discomfort, and suffering are the enemies to be extinguished at all costs.
Most of my “geriatric millennial” generation (I was born in 1984) knows that we’ve gotten a bit soft and thus have to “seek out” suffering. There’s been a substantial rise in competitions designed to push one’s endurance and, well, suffer. Spartan Races, GoRucks, CrossFit, Mud Runs, etc. are now found in abundance alongside the usual 5Ks or triathlons. In the spiritual field, aesthetic programs like Exodus 90 (created specifically for seminarians) call their participants to fast from media, take cold showers, eliminate sugar, and pray rigorously. These athletic and spiritual challenges continue to grow in popularity every year: a healthy “sign of life” indeed!
A spiritual director told me once that Jesus is always with us in the daily “School of Suffering.” We just need the eyes to see how the Lord is drawing us deeper into the mystery and participation in redemptive suffering. Reading the witness of those who endured long periods of tribulation can inspire us today. There’s been a renewed interest in the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, his Gulag Archipelago, and his warnings to the West. Fr. Walter Ciszek, who also spent long years working in the Soviet Gulag (and whose cause for canonization has officially begun), inspires us with his books With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me. In my seminary studies, I read the works of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who spent thirteen years in a Communist prison (and nine of those years in solitary confinement). He would celebrate Mass from memory in the palm of his hand with some crumbs of bread and drops of wine smuggled to him by a sympathetic guard. Rereading these accounts always shakes me out of my complacency and “first world problems”!
Cardinal Van Thuan wrote, “I was convinced during the long nights in prison that living the present moment is the most simple and most secure way to holiness . . . Jesus always exhorts us to live in the present moment. He has us ask our Father for our bread, but just for ‘today’s,’ and reminds us that there are enough worries for ‘every day’ (Matt. 6:34).” Our Institute senior director Jared Zimmerer recently wrote an excellent piece on how the wisdom of Russell Kirk echoes this fact: “It is okay to realize that most of us are powerless in the grand scheme of things; Kirk notes that money and power are not needed to redeem an age.” We can’t fix the global wars or famine by our work alone, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. All we can do is fix is our attitude toward the ills we face and control what we can, “brightening our corners” of the world where God has entrusted them to us.
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5 LessonsWe need our writing to show forth what is good, true, and beautiful in an intentional way that is artistically compelling while presenting the faith as meaningful through the power of the imagination. This involves a lot of skills that require time to learn and do well. Dr. Holly Ordway’s course is for anyone interested in creative writing and the power of writing for evangelization. You will find insight into the way the imagination works for evangelization and explore different forms and genres as you discover how to get started and grow as an author. We’ll look at the foundations of the writer’s life, both practical and spiritual. We’ll also look at the writing process and different forms: creative non-fiction, personal testimonies, poetry, fiction, drama, and more. All of this will give you a view of the great range, diversity, and opportunity that writing provides for evangelization.
7 LessonsBlending social science and Catholicism, this course combines cutting-edge research and top-notch scholarship with the lives of great saints and our incredible inheritance of Church teaching. There are even surprising places to discover where secular science reinforces sacred wisdom. Plus, you’ll receive clear take-aways and action items that you can put into practice right now—to build more happiness for yourself, and to help you share more joy and peace with your family, your friends, and everyone else God puts before you!
Dr. Christopher Baglow of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute of Church Life considers the mysteries of the Catholic Faith in dialogue with scientific discoveries, allowing us avoid the shallowness that John Paul II says debases the Gospel and leaves us ashamed before history.
This course introduces us to some of the richest insights of the Catholic intellectual tradition. We confront the problem of evil amidst God’s good creation and confront fundamental questions: What makes being human so special? How might modern science become a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block to understanding what we believe?
The Vocation Stories of Bishop Barron & Fr. Mike Schmitz
Watch With Me Episode 6
Educating the Whole Person – Sr. Josephine Garrett
Meet the Bulmans Episode 12
Joy is the Gigantic Secret of the Christians – Fr. Mike Schmitz
Classic Poetry with Jonathan Roumie Episode 11
Institute Course Preview
Meet the Instructor: Dr. Holly Ordway
How to Start Praying the Liturgy of the Hours
The Word on Fire Show
Volume II of the Word on Fire Bible is here!
Reclaiming Vatican II with Father Blake Britton
Footnotes with the Fellows
The True Goal of Education
The Providential Story of How Word on Fire was Founded
Greetings from the Institute
Greetings from the Word on Fire Institute!
The readings for the Monday of the Second Week in Lent help us to recognize and ponder the Truth of God’s love for us: “Lord, great and awesome God…we have sinned, been wicked and done evil… But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness” (Deuteronomy 9:4b-10).
Because we cannot earn God’s love, we also cannot lose God’s love, no matter how wicked we have been. It is pretty amazing that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
It is difficult sometimes to receive this kind of love and mercy when we have not forgiven ourselves for what we have done. But God, by His great grace, wants our healing, and then asks us to go even further when Jesus says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” The mercy we have received now has to be extended to those around us—yes, even those who have hurt us, abandoned us, betrayed us, used us, and abused us. This type of unconditional, merciful love is only possible through His grace. May God give us the grace today (and this Lent) to both receive and extend His great and awesome mercy.
Prayers for a fruitful Lent,
Jackie Francois Angel
Pope St. Paul VI Fellow of Marriage and Family LifeMeet the Fellows