To Truly Love Your Enemies

•August 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” — Matt 5:44-45

St. Stepen

     Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us seems straightforward when we read it. He calls us to imitate God the Father who loves all of his creation, even in the midst of sinful behavior. However, our resolve to be like God in this way typically lasts about as long as it takes to get cut off in traffic or learn of the latest evil detailed in the evening news or online.

     Not many of us bear affronts or unjust blame well. We may react with anger, resentment, gossip or uncharity. Loving our enemies is not an easy concept in practice, whether the favorite enemy lives in a foreign land or the room down the hall.

     A good lesson in the art of loving our enemies is found in the Acts of the Apostles. St. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Church, who also became the first Christian martyr. Stephen had been “working great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Through false testimony, he was brought before the Sandhedrin. Stephen gave a commanding and cutting defense, detailing God’s hand in history and the treatment of the prophets by those who refused God’s word. Stephen’s reward for his witness was death. He was taken out of the city to be stoned.

     Mentioned conspicuously in Stephen’s martyrdom account is St. Paul, then Saul, who was engaged in a deep persecution of the Church. St. Luke tells us that the witnesses against Stephen were laying their cloaks at Saul’s feet, and that he was consenting to Stephen’s death. One can imagine Stephen looking up into the face of Saul, peering into the eyes of the man who was overseeing his unjust death and the broader ravaging of the Church.

     You need only visualize the brutality of very large, often jagged rocks colliding with Stephen’s restrained flesh to really understand the scene, the likes of which still occur to this day in some countries. Stephen would have been within his rights to cry loudly that he was unjustly condemned. We would have understood an account that included his foul language decrying his attackers in no uncertain terms.

     Instead, in his final moments, Stephen first asks Jesus to receive his spirit, and then he prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60). Stephen would have known of Saul and could not have missed him in his place of honor that day. Stephen prayed, in essence, for God’s mercy to be extended that the sins his attackers committed that day would be wiped away. He prayed for the conversion of his persecutors, including Saul, at the very moment of his death.

     From there, Jesus intervenes in a very personal way in the life of St. Paul, knocking him to the ground and blinding him, speaking directly to him, and setting him on a path to conversion. St. Paul eventually becomes the great Apostle to the Gentiles and a key figure in the growth of the early Church. God lifts up St. Stephen’s prayer to great effect, and gives us all a lesson about his desires for even the most hard-hearted of us.

     St. Stephen’s prayer out of love for his persecutors is included in Acts for a reason. We are not meant to overlook it or the subsequent details concerning the only other person mentioned by name at Stephen’s martyrdom, St. Paul.

     If God can turn the heart of one of the Church’s great persecutors, how can we doubt his ability to change the hearts of politicians, co-workers or even family members? Sometimes the “enemy” in our own family is the hardest to love, but we must! What use are grudges or anger when we can spend our time in prayer for those who may have hurt us or attacked our faith. Such incredible power is unleashed in the prayers for conversion for those who deny truth or have wronged others deeply. Do we really know whose prayers might be at the heart of fruitful changes we have made in our own lives?

     While God’s timing and his hidden activity may never give us the “pay-off” moment of seeing a particular conversion of those for whom we pray – St. Stephen saw Paul’s conversion in heaven, no doubt – we have more than enough evidence that God will use our love and prayers to a great purpose. Our task is simply to pour them out without limit and let God put them to his use.

This column originally appeared in the August 2, 2013 edition of the Colorado Catholic Herald.

A Walk Through Fire Together

•July 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment


“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. For I, the LORD, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior” – Isaiah 43:1-3

For the second year in a row, our community finds itself picking up the pieces from a tragic and damaging fire. Last June’s Waldo Canyon fire was the most destructive to date in Colorado history.  No person was anxious to see that dubious distinction topped, but the Black Forest fire burned nearly 500 homes completely, killed two people, and became the worst fire our state had seen.

As a community, we have begun the long recovery process in preliminary ways. As with last year, people and organizations from all over the country have come together to aid those affected by the fire, both materially and emotionally. I find myself praying often to God in these days, acknowledging that his ways are not our ways; so many seek understanding and comfort now, as they face such immense loss. Those who seek to help ask God for wisdom for how to be of some small assistance to our neighbors in need.

Catholic Charities is again assisting those affected by the fires. We are given a great privilege to be present to people in such an intensely difficult time. It is hard to know what to say at times; we cannot meet every need that arises, and that is not an easy reality to face.  In many ways, we must turn to God for answers in how to serve in the midst of personal tragedy, to do what we can as we listen intently for his will.

Last year, a number of Catholic Charities staff were evacuated during the Waldo Canyon fire, having lived in close proximity to the Mountain Shadows area.  This gave a different perspective to their service to residents facing loss.  As a resident of Black Forest, this year I experienced the fear and helplessness that comes with leaving my home, not knowing if it would be there when I returned.  I stared at all of the things in my home, trying to decide what to take and what to leave, and then explained to my children why some stuffed animals didn’t make the initial cut.  Though we did not lose our home, that experience and being part of an outreach to my own geographic neighbors gives me new insight this year.

As a faith community, it is important that we not lose sight of those who have suffered such great loss in these fires. We are called to be with them for the duration, to let them know that we are Church for the long haul. Any expert will tell you that the path in front of so many is a long one, and for us to be what God calls us to be, we must be intentional about walking this journey with them for as long as it takes.  For those facing great challenges, like the elderly and the uninsured, do we have what it takes to dig in deep to create solutions where none are obvious?

We do not need expert training to listen to our brothers and sisters in need. We need not have great sums of money to drop in and ask if we can help make phone calls, shop or prepare a meal or two for the rough days in these intense times of rebuilding.

It is not practical to live our lives holding all things in common as the early Church did, but we can reignite some of the spirit that animated our still-living ancestors in the faith. Like them, we should make the gaps experienced by others a priority in our own lives. While some aspects of the organization of the Church have changed over time, her mission and our corresponding duties have not. Many people have reached out to others affected by these wildfires.  Let us be mindful that this outreach will be necessary for a long time to come, and be fully present to our neighbors when the news media stops mentioning their needs during the evening broadcasts.

While charity – love of God that leads us to love of neighbor – is always most powerful in its non-professional, heart-to-heart manifestations, if you know of any person who can use material or emotional assistance, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado has resources to help. Please have them contact us at 719-866-6441.

May God use each of us to lift up our neighbors in need at this time!

*This article by Mark Rohlena, Esq., first appeared in The Colorado Catholic Herald in July 18, 2013.

Service in Humility

•June 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment


“If we were humble, nothing would change us- neither praise nor discouragement. If someone were to criticize us, we would not feel discouraged. If someone would praise us, we also would not feel proud.”  In three sentences, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta gives us some powerful wisdom concerning humility. In a world obsessed with fame, notoriety, and obtaining credit and glory, we are beckoned by Mother Teresa’s words to an altogether different place.

     Christ urges all of us to embrace a humility like his own:  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves.” (Matt 11:29). Why bother spending time deepening this virtue?

     I have heard it said that humility is truth.  Those who are truly humble know that all is a gift from God, and realize in profound ways the vast chasm between God and his creation; the infinite is immeasurably greater than the finite.  One finds it difficult to puff up in pride over achievements that are wholly dependent on another. Still, these humble souls recognize that God gives us free will, and in choosing to cooperate with God’s plan for their lives, they are participating in an intimate way with the designs of the divine order. While we may be small in the spectrum of creation, God permits us to be mighty in helping him carry out his plan. Pride gives way to understanding and rejoicing for our treasured place in this amazing order. 

     The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that humility is the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good.  Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer (CCC, 2559). 

      St. Vincent de Paul focused quite a bit on humility in his work:  “Humility and charity are the two master-chords: one, the lowest; the other, the highest; all the others are dependent on them.”  St. Vincent tells us also that humility is confounding to the evil one:  “The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself against it.”

      Humility places us in a deep state of connection with God, and we can be what God wishes us to be from there. Humility is hard for the world to understand, but it develops in our souls a tranquil lack of concern for any opinion except God’s. 

     How do we acquire this transformative virtue? The best way is to pray for it, especially in the moments where we want to take sole credit for some good thing, or when we feel the urge to explain to others that we are right about some issue. When achievement starts to go to our heads, or failures well up in us a desire to blame others, we must pray for humility!

     Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X, authored a powerful litany of humility.  It may at first seem over-the-top, but if we examine where we want to go in our spiritual lives, it is not so extreme.  Let’s take a challenge together – during prayer time, especially right after receiving Holy Communion, pray this litany.  Be aware, though, God will not waste time in bringing opportunities to be humble your way.  Remind yourself that you are praying for this, and even write down the instances in which God is permitting you to practice and deepen this virtue:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus (after each petition).

From the desire of being loved…

From the desire of being extolled …

From the desire of being honored …

From the desire of being praised …

From the desire of being preferred to others…

From the desire of being consulted …

From the desire of being approved …

From the fear of being humiliated …

From the fear of being despised…

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

From the fear of being calumniated …

From the fear of being forgotten …

From the fear of being ridiculed …

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it (after each petition).

That others may be esteemed more than I …

That, in the opinion of the world,

others may increase and I may decrease …

That others may be chosen and I set aside …

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

*This column appeared in the June 7, 2013 edition of the Colorado Catholic Herald

A Work Set Apart

•May 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Pope Francis1

The excitement following the election of Pope Francis has been amazing.  Like those before him, this Pope so clearly carries on the work of his predecessors with his own unique style.  I cannot help but be taken by Pope Francis’ physical, public manifestations of caritas, charity.  The Church has been blessed recently by very holy men sitting upon the Chair of St. Peter who have gifted us with a framework in which to operate in this ever-changing world.

“Newness” can be exciting, and, indeed, our faith is meant to be a constant renewal of the culture and the individual souls living in it.  Yet, our belief is anchored in the person of Jesus Christ, and in truths as old as the faith itself.

In his first homily, Pope Francis spoke of “journeying, building and professing,” and of St. Peter who did not want our Lord to suffer:  “The same Peter who professed Jesus Christ, now says to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. That has nothing to do with it. I will follow you on other terms, but without the Cross. When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”

Pope Francis’ admonition pertains not only to the Cardinals present at his first homily, but to all of us.  What we build in our families, at work, in all of our interactions with others, must be formed with the sacrifice of our Lord foremost in our minds.  Nothing lasting or worthwhile can be created on foundations any less sure than this. If we seek the easy way over the hard work of bringing the Word to others – in spite of threat, difficulty or discomfort – what have we built for God’s kingdom?

Our charitable work must be the same, whether it be the professional type through Catholic Charities, or the heart-to-heart variety that should be practiced by every Christian with all they meet (though I’d argue these are not meant to look that different).

Pope Francis continued, “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO [nongovernmental organization], but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord. . . .When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: ‘Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.’ When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”

We are not meant to resemble the world in the good work we do, because the world does not base its activity on the cross of Christ.  The more we look like those who reject Christ, whether they be our lost neighbors or the secular nonprofit next door, the more we lose our hold on the transformative power of God in the work we do.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote of this in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:  “We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a ‘formation of the heart’: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others.”

We are called to this formation of heart that changes our mere activity into something elevated by grace. This is no easy task, but linking ourselves to the cross in all things will open us to a richness of living to which no worldly inclination can compare.

Pope Francis concluded with a call for courage for which we should all pray:  “My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.”

*This column appeared in the May 1, 2013 edition of the Colorado Catholic Herald

Christendom College 35th Anniversary

•April 17, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Christendom College recently held its 35th Anniversary Gala, and I was blessed to be a part of the evening’s event.  I provided some comments during a donor reception prior to the dinner.  It was a wonderful night.  

Read more about it here


“Ciskanik said that donors and sponsors are attracted to the college because of its commitment to an authentic Catholic liberal arts education, its refusal to accept federal funding, and its high-caliber alumni.

Alumnus Mark Rohlena, CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, addressed donors at a reception prior to the dinner, where he explained that his Christendom liberal arts degree enabled him to excel both as a lawyer and then as the leader of a non-profit organization.

‘While I would put the academics of Christendom College against any other school for helping its graduates learn to think, Christendom’s approach is much more than this,’ Rohlena said during his remarks. ‘The school’s mission is to create and train a vanguard of Catholic men and women who are equipped intellectually and spiritually to go out and meet the growing threat. Graduates are called to actively propose a counter-culture to the withering and stagnant culture that we see gaining strength all around us.’”

Rountable on Bishop Sheridan Presents Regarding Pope Francis

•April 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment


I participated in a roundtable discussion on Bishop Sheridan presents, Bishop Michael Sheridan’s radio program.  We had a fun discussion of the conclave, our impressions of Pope Francis, and hopes for the Church.  It’s worth a listen,  JUST CLICK HERE AND SELECT THE POPE FRANCIS ROUNDTABLE

A Matter of Ministry

•April 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

final new logo colors providing help...Christ is risen! The tomb is empty, and we are now with the Apostles in the upper room beholding Jesus in his glorified form. We are part of a living faith that finds its meaning in a God who dwells among us right now, not just in some distant past. He is active in our lives through his love, and he wishes us to share it with all we meet.

The recent debate on civil unions in Colorado was instructive in many ways. We learned from candid comments that many state legislators have personal issues with the Catholic Church. We learned, too, of growing intolerance toward individuals with sincerely-held religious beliefs. The message to those who adhere to certain enduring teachings is that you may only express your faith within the walls of your church.

While these hostile views on faith are troubling on many levels, one sentiment stands out. Increasingly, charitable ministry is being described by proponents of social change as mere business. “If you want to be in the marketplace, then you must adhere to every requirement that government advances, even if it violates your doctrine. This is the cost of doing business,” they say. Yet, the idea that the Church’s care for those in need is a side business worthy of less protection than the right to worship is contrary to doctrine and experience.

In his encyclical on Christian charity, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict VXI expresses the reality: “Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level: from the local community to the particular Church and to the Church universal in its entirety. As a community, the Church must practice love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community.”

Pope Benedict further stresses the indispensable role of charity: “As the years went by and the Church spread further afield, the exercise of charity became established as one of her essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and the proclamation of the word: love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel.”

Can there be any doubt that Christians must practice charity outside the confines of the parish? Charity must permeate our lives in every place, at every time. This universal call is not dependent on civil law. Living the faith, including the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, has subjected Christians to punishment and death at times (and still do today), but the faithful continue to risk all to truly live charity.

We know from scripture (Acts, chapt. 6), for instance, that the Apostles chose the first deacons to care for those in need. The Church modified her structure to ensure care of neighbor remained a priority.

Before the conversion of Rome in the 4th century, infanticide was common, as unwanted children were left out in the elements to die. Christians rescued these children, often raising them as their own in their communities. These merciful acts, as well as burying the dead and simply being Christian brought with them extreme danger.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has continued its care for those in need. Countless members of the faithful have given their lives to this work, and even religious orders formed to serve the poor. The Church has provided unceasing witness to the two great commandments – to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. While the form of charity has changed over time, it has never been absent. At times this charity has been welcomed by civil authority, and other times the state has done all it can to crush it.

In today’s nonprofit environment, the Church’s ministries operate in various legal frameworks. But the fact that a ministry utilizes a tax exempt status does not mean that it has become a mere private sector business that must abandon its animating principles. These organizations still represent the Church’s charitable identity and must honor all of her doctrines. This ministry predates the state’s interests, and the state should afford the same kinds of protection to the charity of the Church as it does to the right to worship in the pew.

Viewing the charity of the Church as a series of business transactions does not capture the truth. When others try to portray the faith as backward and oppressive, remind them that the Church is the largest charitable organization on the face of the earth. No other faith tradition inspires such care of others, and we must never allow this ministry to be defined as mere commerce.

Mark C. Rohlena, Esq.


Mark Rohlena, Esq.

Mark is the CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. He is a monthly columnist with the Colorado Catholic Herald and His blog, The Charity of Christ has received national acclaim.


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