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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poetic Last Days, September

It is the end of the month, already! How time flies.
I am currently lost in the book Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry. Worth every word. Please read at your earliest convenience.

There are many things drumming through my mind and heart. The weather is changing, finally. What has been hot, humid, sticky, warm, sunny, and dry... is now soaked. It's raining. We went from 67+ days over 90 degress... yes, that's 90 degrees or higher... to a comfortable 77 today. As a lady from Ohio, 77 is plenty warm enough! We would be swimming if it were June and 77. Of course, 80 might be a little more comfortable, but God forbid if it actually went to 90 or above. That might happen for a week or so. In the end of July. But the forecast is looking up, and by that I mean the numbers are moving down, and thank the Lord we should be reaching the 60's before long. Hello Fall! October is my favorite month for many reasons, but the weather is probably the most at fault. The weather is changing.

Does anyone else find their heart stirring with the weather? I feel like this rain is heralding in a new season within myself. A different skin is growing. Old vision is falling from my eyes, and the new sight is pushing through. Things within me need to die. They have come to their time. It is ready to let them go. Other things are ready to have life. Other things want their space, are demanding their own. I cannot hold them at bay forever. I have to be young, as always, in an older fashion than before. The lessons of life that have brought me to this place cannot be left out in the dark; they must be integrated, brought into the house and given some food. I have to. I have to be the me that is now, not the me from before. The me that is now has not rejected or even replaced the me of before, but the old me doesn't fit into these new clothes, this new skin. I have to be stretched and pulled to fit the mold. I want to be. I want to fill in the new skin. It has its own limitations, its own boundaries. But it also has some new freedoms. Together these will enable me to keep growing. We always make reference to our speedy development as children, and for good reason, for it is very true. But the person grows and grows, even when we aren't getting any taller. My thoughts, my hopes, my dreams, the way I approach these things, the fears and worries, the truths that hold me in the ground...they all move into the new form of me as I discover it. I wake up, and it is raining. And I smile. Things are different. That is how it is. It is good. Tomorrow may bring something entirely different and new, or it may not. That is not the point. The point is that tomorrow means the growth has a reason, and will discover a greater purpose and a deeper fulfillment. Time is not the enemy, it is the cooperator.

I want to shake hands with time. And thank him. If I had not been free to move through him at my own pace, in my own way, with these two legs and these two eyes, with this single-minded and terribly stubborn heart, with all my loyalties and all my failures, in sickness and in health, in trial and in error.. I wouldn't be anywhere. Time and Space, together they give us the freedom to grow. God has certainly filled them, filled them with himself. We breathe and we are near to him. We are, and it is only because He is. All of this growth and progression is a procession towards the one worthy of worship, the Lord. He is the final robe, the final wineskin, the final shape we hope to one day fill in. With all of our memories, all of our experiences, all of our loves, all of those whom we loved and who loved us. All of our prayers. We will fill up that water jug, and he will make us wine. Simple, plain, empty, poor - we will come to him with empty hands. Fullness, Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Perfection, all Richness, all Wonder, all Holiness - He will fill us up.

Until that time, until we are there, in that place, standing before him, knowing him and being known by him, with him and in him and through him, understanding what we have never fully understood, and loving as we have never fully loved... there, we will realize how glorious this growth is. How wonderful, that he allows us this time for the journey. How magnificent, that we can move, and be moved. That he would offer us a path, and allow us to walk it. Or run it. And climb it. That he would give us companions to help us on the way. That we would not have to journey alone. That there would be a hand to hold, a voice to hear, a presence to be known. How merciful, that he would give us Light when things grow dark. That the Spirit would be our hope, and lift our hearts out of the traps of the world. That when we stray, he is the Perfect Shepherd. That we would learn his song, and recognize it. What is this mercy?! Love.

The story I'm reading is reflecting on coming to a house, worn out, worn down, dingy and dirty, in need of so much work. But the work is love. It is in need of tenderness. It is in need of detail, of particular care, of serious commitment. But more than that, more than all the physical effort and the temporal span of time to make changes and growth to this little house, what it needs is to be known. It needs a name. It needs to belong. It needs to be someones place. It needs to be known by people, and to be known in light of what it can be, what it will be.

I think about this often. I may have just one pair of shoes, or one small room, or even one small house...the material worth or value of these things is minimal, and may be ever decreasing as wear and tear detracts from them. Yet, a space, a thing, a place, even a memory, is as good as the love attached to it. I will stand by this until I find myself utterly mistaken. Even then, I may refuse to disbelieve this. The love that surrounds something will essentially become something. That house will be as I loved it, even if it changes. Of course, I will love it in the changes, and I will love it for the changes (at least sometimes). But the point is that the love holds it in being, holds it together, names it, possesses it, keeps it from being homeless and unknown. This is so important. My love for my parents is like this. Each has their own definition within my love. I know them like this and no one else will. Even as we both change, that love does not disappear or lose its potency. I love them, knowing we will both change. I love them, in spite of the changes and also because of the changes, even in hope of them. They may be embarrassing at time, or even disappointing at times, but they are safe in the love that is real between us. It will take only a word, a look, or even a memory to make it all right once more. Forgiveness is implicit in this being-in-love that holds things together.

I used to love poetry. I still do, but in very different ways. I used to feel it was one of the only proper ways to express how I felt, or even the observation of a feeling someone else felt, or the projection of what one must feel like sometimes. Now, I would prefer to just be. I might end up singing some song about the experience, or scribbling away some lines to communicate it... but the words cannot make the form as I want them to. Now, this is certainly in some way because I do not have the command or skill to do so. But moreover, I have found that no description is going to be better than my memory. My mind is more lucid than my mind-attempting-to-translate. I can just go back to those smells, to the feeling of the place, to the reaction it evoked in me. That is better.

However, since it is supposed to be a post of a poem, here we go -

If I open my eyes
Will I be sorry
To see this
As it is
Freedom is offered
But do I taste
Bitterness or good

If I open my hand
Will I smile
To discover
The emptiness there
Open and willing
Or open and scared
Not sure which
I will be

If I see before me
What I thought 
I would see
Will I trust it or run
To know I was right
Both comfort and pain
Who can control
This rain 

If I walk these steps
Will I look back
That I stood
Where I stood
For so long
Wind at my back
Can I turn now and rest
Is hope alive again

Darkness will never
Be better than light
So I open these eyes
And I look
Lonliness only
Looks ugly inside
So I open these hands
And I trust
Smile on my face
I know not what I'll embrace
But I'd rather take that chance

No life in the past
Where the love didn't last
So I'm stepping up
Stepping into a new

Monday, September 27, 2010

Adequate Anthropology IV: HOpe

I just want to say this:

"Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Rom. 5:3-5)

There are many words to say on this which I cannot say right now. But this is the anthem of the Christian. This is the anthem of the life of a man who has chosen to be in communion with God. This is the life of a person who has been invited, who has heard the call, and has responded. This is the truth that leads the follower of Christ. This is the mandate, the mantra, the goal, the end. This is the path and the way, the transforming power. This is the boat that carries and the sign that instructs. This is the bow that shoots the arrows of love straight into the heart of the world. It is Hope.

Hope cannot be separated from Love (nor from Faith, but specifically here, Love). These two walk hand and hand. It is the confidence, the assurance that stems from the knowledge of the Love that immediately evokes the Hope. In like form, the immanence of the Hope solicits the positivity of the Love, the complete presence of the other always with you.

One thing that cannot be taken for granted of forgotten is that Love transcends. This is the full character of the Hope that is present in the hearts of the Apostles and should remain present in our hearts today. They live in the knowledge of the One who was, is, and is to come. This is not just a method of thinking or a theological approach! Nor is it simply a traditional description of the work of God - no, that is too small a description for what is assumed here. This is the Truth of Love.
1. It endures.
2. It never fails.
3. It lives, it is alive.
4. Where it lives, it lives in its fullness.
5. In its fullness, love cannot be detached or disassociated from any of its "being" at any point in history.
6. This means that love necessarily brings with it all of its actions, intentions, desires, hopes, trusts, risks, gifts, etc... that have been a part of its nature and character from the beginning. From the beginning of each participant in the love and from the beginning of the love that is now its own by its shared character between persons.
7. This means that love destroys our typical mentality of "a fixed point on a line of history." Love assumes a horizontal and vertical character, and they cannot be divided. The one who loves, loves the other for all of the past moments, memories, experiences, leading up to that point. That one also loves the other in the light of what is to come, under the banner of the promise of more love to be present tomorrow, and the day after, and the year after that. The love requires the points on the horizontal line to be included and bound together. The moment of time being experienced cannot be taken as true without the other instances that have been and the many that will come. The horizontal character means that this love necessarily brings new birth, new life, to the hearts and lives of those who love. It must generate, it must develop, and it must transcend. It cannot be static nor can it remain solely within those who love! It must become its own, its own world and its own being. There, within the love, they can grow and foster the love, strengthen its bonds and deepen its foundation, always keeping in mind all that has been before and all that will come.
8. This leads absolutely to the sister, Hope, as perhaps is often not considered. Think of it! Where Love must contain all of the history and memory and possibility and potential of the lovers, it therefore could not exist outside of the realm of Hope. Hope is where every falsehood, every darkness, every attack, every affront on the beautiful and fragile wings of Love unfolding into its own life and otherness are turned back. In the face of Hope, they cannot persist. Defeated or laughed at, Hope requires the humility that is the deep power of Love. Such Love bears the inscription of awe and wonder at the gift of the other, at the beauty of the new love being born, at the presence of the other in the heart and life, at the transcendence of the love over all else...this awe is humbling. The gift is humbling. The truth is humbling. We are not worthy. We cannot care for it as we should. We fail to give our all in return. We are petty, selfish, worn out, impatient, foolish. We do not aspire to the heights this Love is rushing to reach! And so in this honesty we are humble, for we still love, and we are still loved, despite all of this. And so Hope, strengthened in this knowledge that, even in defeat, we will triumph, carries us over the breadths of the deserts and the tumults of the seas.

Oh, so let us never lose our Hope. To give up on Hope is to deny Love its truth. We cannot live like that. We must not. Hope will guide us, even in the darkest of places. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear..." 1 John 4:18.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The most beautiful thing about Love is that it is faithful. Not, that is is faithful, period. No, for that would seem less than meritorious. It is beautiful that love is faithful precisely in the fact that it does not have to be so.
My favorite lines from Jane Austen's "Persuasion" go as follows: "We certainly do not forget you, so soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit...All the privilege I claim for my own sex (and it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."

Ah! Beautiful!

Now, I have no intention of making a point on men or women loving more or longest or anything. I would say that depends on the type of love and the person and the situation, etc... Read C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves" for more clarity.

But the very essence of love, of Love himself - this is what I speak of. Of course, the eternal God cannot be unfaithful, because he is all truth, all goodness, all perfection, and cannot contradict himself... yet, he need not will us into existence, need not sustain us, need not be so merciful, so loving, so beautifully captivating that we are drawn desperately into love with him! Yet, he is. And he lives on, loves on, ever-present, ever-faithful.

Truly! Even our parents or brothers and sisters or BFF's are not able to imitate this fidelity of love! He is there.. always. In the midst of our sadness, frustration, disappointment, anger, anxiety, annoyance, despair, even in our most blatant sin... He stands by us. He will not leave. There's no, "packing up and moving on" for him. He is love. Love is eternal. Love is faithful.

One of my favorite lines in Scripture is, "This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim. 2:11-13). 

Oh, what love! What mercy! Who doesn't feel the sting of a love unrequited? Who hasn't suffered the angst and irritation when someone who is supposed to care just simply doesn't? When jealousy or selfishness or pride or vanity keep the other from seeing our needs or from caring about our distress. Who doesn't know the pain of rejection, or not being good enough, or even simply not being enough?
This lover, our God, he didn't stop when we let all of that rejection come from us. He didn't stop. He didn't turn back. He didn't turn his back. No, instead, he held his tongue, and innocently suffered our punishment, just so that he could win us back. This is crazy talk! If we read a novel about a man so in love with a girl who continued to be unfaithful to him, we would either think he was crazy or be brought to tears by his faithfulness. If he actually died to protect her, when she was unaware, and when she kept right on not-returning-his-love because she didn't know he had sacrificed his life for her... well, we ought to be weeping. That's just terrible. And wonderful. And crazy. AND IT HAPPENED. Welcome to Jesus and the Cross. Each and every one of us - he loved us, he loves us, that much!

I hope that one day I love another person so fully and constantly, that if I needed to offer my life for them I would without hesitation. This is why love is amazing. In it's nature as faithful, it makes changes. It brings about conversion, transformation, transfiguration, movement. Love's eternal gift equals love's ever-new-ness. Each morning is new, each moment is new, the other person is new - this is the movement of love in the heart and mind, on the person and the other. It creates and recreates.

Fidelity is something that is always bringing a surprise along with it. We seem to just expect things to stop, or to end if they change. We forget that we ourselves, as people, have been changing since the first minutes of our conception. Our rapid development slows with time, but we still continue to grow and change physically, psychologically, socially, etc.. throughout life. Simply because we notice a change there doesn't mean that what was before is gone. It usually is still present, but a another building block, another foundation stone, another step further up. We build up from what we have. Change doesn't mean totally different, just renewed. Love does this. What was there is still there, but what has come is new and different, and the ever-going-new-and-different leads to a love that never tires, never quits, never ends.

Oh Lord, teach us to love like this! Father, lead your little ones to love you and one another as you have loved us. Amen.

Adequate Anthropology III

This may be a little redundant (for the blog), but I want to discuss "giftedness" of the person. There are many aspects of John Paul II's Theology of the Body that are without a doubt "fundamental" to his whole teaching and absolutely necessary for understanding what he means by an "adequate anthropology," but this may be the most basic.

There are three levels of "gift" that I want to cover - first and foremost, being a gift. Secondly, awareness of and caring for the "gift," and thirdly, giving the "gift."

Along with this discussion will come a deeply interwoven concept of freedom, so I think it best to very simply lay out what that term will mean in this discussion. Freedom, in true form with Catholic teaching and with the Holy Father, is not a "right" as such nor an asserted "ability to choose." Freedom is a gift from God, inscribed in our very make up. Culturally, it is often considered that we are free when we have options to choose from one thing or another, and that we can pick what we desire without coersion. However, this is not the truth of freedom, but an instance in which this interior aspect of personhood is displayed. The law itself cannot give or take away this aspect of being. We are free by our very natures. Free, that is, to exist, and to exist specifically as a gift. Simply by existing, we are free. Again, we will discuss this, so just come along with me on this point. We are free to exist as a gift, and free to give the gift. This is the basic relationship of all living things.

We exist in relation to others. We exist in relation to the world. Our existence begins with the relationship of a father and mother and it develops in relation specifically to our mother, and it continues in the world in family and the wider community as we grow. So if freedom is within our nature, and nature is dramatially and intrinsically relational, freedom itself is a character of this relationality. We are free, in essence, for others.

We are not primarily "free" in the cultural sense of from something. A freedom premised on from will be in a never-ending struggle to "claim" itself - an uphill battle that cannot be won. We will never be "free" in that way because we can never be so solely self-sufficient that we can completely remove ourselves from all the world and all other beings. If this were the case, and we could be so removed, then we would truly have no forms of coersion that would "move" our "freedoms" one way or the other. But this cannot be what freedom means, because we are created and exist in relation. It makes no logical sense to say it is inscribed in our being, which is relational by nature, and then say that it means "to-be-removed-from-relation."

Ok, hopefully you followed that. Or some of that. Main point to grasp would be that we are free when we can be, with others and for others, as we are, in ourselves. A lack of freedom would be violence done to us, incarceration, slavery, etc.. but these are examples in the sense that they hinder or destroy our human dignity and personhood, and not because "we didn't choose this." I hope that's generally evident. Freedom, true, God-given freedom, is the ability to become who we are created to be, to find fulfillment, to give and receive in life so that we are drawn ever-closer to God and eternal beatitude. (For further reading and a better explanation, see

Let's get to the "gift-giving" and perhaps it will all become more clear.

So, number one, being a gift. Maybe this is obvious... seems like it should be. However, I had never reflected on it in this sense until reading some of Hans Urs von Balthasar (Unless You Become Like This Child - The idea Balthasar uncovers is taken up by John Paul II, later by Benedict XVI, and I am sure by many theologians of the day. Give him the credit, but let us speak of what he unveiled. Our beginning, where we come from, our origin... it is not "our own." We do not will ourselves into existence. In fact, we cannot do anything about it. Coming-to-be isn't an option. We simply are. One day, all this cold are infiltrates our warm little bubble and we have no choice but to breath in with our infant lungs. There is nothing we can do but acknowledge that we come directly and specifically from another. We could debate the meaning of the "other" - whether we mean here the parents or the mother or a Creator (the Creator) - but in any case we cannot contest our from-other-ness.

Being from another is a dramatic state. We must, in some way, retain something of the other who brought us into being, and yet simultaneously be our own individual beings. How does this work? The only logical case is a gift. To be created and then enslaved to the other would be terrible. To be created and be only an extension of the other would also be serverly insufficient. We are our own. Parents can certainly attest to the experience of a child who comes, quite literally, from their own flesh, and yet is wholly other and separate, a unique and individual being. So again, the only logical answer is a gift. Gifts are given in love. They retain some "something" of the giver in their nature as a gift (ie, ugly Christmas sweater from Aunt Lulu communicates Aunt Lulu's thoughtfulness, even if it isn't fashionable, or even wearable). Again, the sight, smell, sound, or encounter with the gift any time after it has been given will necessarily remind us of the giver. Yet, though the giver comes to us in a way through the gift, the gift is now ours and not theirs. It has been given to us freely by the other (no strings attached) and fully (no part kept back). We are this type of gift. God, in creating us, gives us something unique and beautiful, our own nature, our own being. We retain some presence of him within us, but we are created with free will, and are able to accept this gift of being and maintain it.

This is the second aspect of gift. To recognize that we do exist in this fashion, and to also see within it the need to care for it and preserve it. The basic disposition of a heart that recognizes a gift given to them freely and fully is one of gratitude. We are grateful because we have become aware that what we have, even who we are, is not primarily our own. We are indebted, though indirectly. The gift of existing was given fully, and therefore we do not have to return anything to the giver per se. Yet, our hearts (hopefully) are disposed to appreciation when we realize we possess something we do not deserve by our own merits. We did nothing to receive this great gift. We simply received it. In like manner, we are compelled to give back. Not coerced, not forced, not demanded, etc... Invited. We are invited, by the nature of the goodness of the gift and of the giver, to give back. The invitation lies inscribed in the gift. I made you a chocolate cake... you thank me. Did you have to? Did I threaten to take the cake back and eat it myself if you weren't thankful? No. That's silly. But just the same, you do appreciate it. Now multiply that by a gazillion, because the nature of the gift of a cake is drastically less than that of existence, of your very being. So typically, it is safe to say, once we receive this gift freely and fully, we come to realize we have received it, and we are delighted, surprised, happy, thankful, even in awe - and would like to give something back in return.

The third aspect of gift is then giving back. A key here is that we cannot give what we do not first have. I would love to give my parents the money to fix up our house, go on nice trips to holy places in Europe, and maybe pay off my college loans for me since it's a little too self-centered to give myself that gift directly. However, seeing as how I do not have that money, nor am likely to any time soon, I am not going to be able to give them that gift. IF you don't have something, THEN you can't give it. Right? Right.

So since your being was given freely and fully, you do possess it, and in the sense that you can give it (in various levels or amounts) to another. This is a giving that builds with time and understanding. We can "give" our hearts or selves to God, for example, but then do so more fully than we did the year before a year later. A year after that, we may yet again be able to surrender or offer to the One we love some other aspect of ourselves. It is often the case that life, as it moves forward, brings experiences of understanding ourselves more deeply than before, and therefore reveals aspects of our interior or exterior that we were not aware of previously. The deeper our awareness, the more fully we can offer. It is not to say that I am holding something back from my parents when I say I love them as a child, but that when I tell them I love them now, it encompasses all of the memories and experiences and sacrafices that have become a part of our history together. I love them in each of those moments held in mind and heart, culminating in that one instance of "I love you" on the phone on Sunday evening. Are you following?

Another example - I love my friends. I love the friends I have been close to for a long period of time in a profound way because we have more time through which we have come to know and understand one another. So I give them the gift of my friendship, my comradery, my appreciation, my love. I receive the gift of their friendship, their appreciation, their love. Moreover, not only do we hold in mind all of the past experiences in our relationship in our moment of appreciation and love, but we hold in mind the promise of the future as well. Love stretches its arms very wide. It draws horizons backward and forward. So although I cannot guarantee that I will be there for them in the coming year in all of my listening-on-the-phone and prayer-throughout-the-day and good-times-spent-together, etc.. I certainly can intend that I will be there and hope that I will be there and give them the promise of that support to the extent that I can keep it. This is what comes with self-awareness, or a self-possession-for-the-sake-of-gift.

Maybe you are ready to tear your hair out because I'm STILL talking... I'm actually taking a break from writing and finishing this later. Take a coffee break, that's fine.

Ok, the final stretch, the last 10 yards...
If you didn't catch on to where I was going with gift-giving, let me lay it out flat. Giftedness is essential in these three dimensions:
1. Per understanding of existence. Being a gift, coming to the world as a gift, is vital to who you are. Nae, it is epitomizing. It has to be the whole of our self-awareness and self-knowledge and self-love. You are a gift! You live in the freedom of a gift. You came to being because someone loved you. Someone loved you, and they gave you existence (to be clear, I mean God here). You are a child of God because he desired you to exist, willed you to be, and gave you life (I'm not discrediting your parents' participation in this by any means). The premise of your-being-in-the-world is because of a loving gift.
2. The way you relate to the world. Being a gift requires (by the nature of giftedness) an appreciation and love to be returned to life and others, and above all, to the giver, God. We are creatures in-relation at all times, and being in relation as gift means that we can receive and appreciate others and give ourselves to them in the various capacities appropriate through life.
3. Marriage! Haha, you knew that was coming, right?
John Paul II writes about "the language of the body" and the "spousal meaning of the body" in The Theology of the Body. These are intrinsic elements to personhood. We cannot explain them here because this is an obnoxiously long post. But what can be said it that when you can look at your spouse and know that he or she is a gift from God, to himself or herself and also to you, you can be joyful and thankful. In return, you can recognize yourself as a gift from God to yourself and also to your spouse. You are able to give yourself because of this awareness of where you come from and where you are going. There is no room for confusion or doubt in the gift because you know who the Giver is. You are able to receive the gift of the other and return the gift in the proper love that dwells in the heart that has God as the center of life. When your being is for another, for the Lord, it is easy to order all other things in this light. The priority of your spouse comes directly in line with your love and worship of God. The two of you together embark on a vocation to love and serve the Lord through and with one another. This is all necessarily based on an understanding of one another as children of God, existing as gift.

I hope that made sense, or at least some of it. I'm not even sure I know what I was saying... I'll come back to the language of the body and spousal meaning, those can be the next topics because they are certainly important. Thanks for bearing with me! Keep praying that we are able to be ever-more renewed in our understanding of the beauty of life and the profound gift of love given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Adequate Anthropology II

"When you see this your heart shall rejoice, and your bodies flourish like the grass." - Isaiah 66:14

Looking at this verse, one might ask, "why will my body flourish, if my heart is rejoicing?" It seems as if the reference to "heart shall rejoice" is an interior effect, and that the body flourishing is an essentially disconnected consequence.

This is, however, not at all the case.
Maybe it is an obvious point to say that we are one, a whole person, a unified being, a body and soul that are integrally of the same being, are the same person. Can I say it in any other ways?

This idea, however, seems to typically be treated just as such: "an idea." Yet, it is a truth. The truth. The truth of being. It is also overlooked, misunderstood, flat out ignored or even laughed at. It is habitually taken as a "nice thing" people say, somewhat akin to refernces to "peace and love."

This is a serious problem. Society has been raised on dualism. That is, we are spoon fed the "compartmentalization" mentality from our infancy. Now, sometimes this is a very effective tool for understanding life and its array of complicated aspects. It would be hard to further understand many of the biological systems if we could not separate out each piece/area/section and further observe its processes before going back to the whole. The chip in the paint is that we often do not return to the whole. The tool of reduction-for-the-sake-of-learning has become the habititual-reduction-just-because. This has infiltrated far beyond the realm of the lab, and we find ourselves focusing on someone's kankles instead of the person, or not even hearing the hour conversation we had with our mother because we were also watching television and investigating on facebook.

Once again, let me reiterate that there are many good things that come from this system of study! The problem remains when we leave something separated from its whole. It effectively loses its meaning. What is an acorn if not a future-tree? It is then a round nut that is kicked when walking. But is that really what the seed is? Is that all we would want to claim for its being? It has the potential to produce hundreds of its own kind, given the right circumstances. It can one day be a home for birds and squirrels, or perhaps provide heat, shelter and paper for people. It can be that secret fort for a child, or a couple's favorite place to relax in the summer. None of this is possible to see if we leave the object as an object, and refuse to look for a bigger picture.

Therefore, when we consider the human body, this is the same challenge we are faced with. Will my arm be nothing but an arm. Are these fingers which are flying around on this keyboard (ok, I don't type that fast) really just fingers moving at random? Of course not! They are effectively (that is the word of the day) stating the thoughts that are coming from my brain. Moreover, the thoughts coming from my brain are being fed through the emotions stirring in my heart. And above that, my heart would not be working if I was not receiving adequate amounts of oxygen into my lungs, and my lungs would not be working if my heart was not pumping blood through them to be oxidized, and my brain would not be working if either of those organs failed... I'm not a biology major but I think that's close enough, and you get the point. These are integrated systems we are talking about here! We are so much more than just a torso with some mobile appendages that happens to be able to speak.

To top all of that off, this body-full-of-integrated-systems would be nothing without its soul. I must be both-and. My soul would be non-human if it was not in a human body! And the point remains that my body isn't  just filled with a soul and my soul isn't just in a body! I am an embodied soul. That is what I am, who I am, how I am. The mode of existence I possess is an embodied soul. The person I am is an embodied soul. If you were to describe how I exist, what I am, you would say I am an embodied soul.

The dualistic perception we are raised with, again, has its advantages, but most especially when we are dealing with a topic that is so personal (and that is a pun), we need to overcome it. We do not need to throw it out, but if we do not primarily see with a wholistic worldview, we will distinctively sell ourselves and others short. Wholistic, not dualistic. Unified. One person, with a complex existence that is both corporal,  finite and mortal, as well as spiritual, infinite and eternal. Complicated? Sure. Impossible? Not at all.

Perhaps it is easier to accept this personalism if you are Christian, since you have hopefully frist accepted that Christ was both God and man, fully human and fully divine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God" (CCC 464) and restates it as "Jesus Christ possesses two natures, one divine and the other human, not confused, but united in the one person of God's Son" (CCC 481). If, in faith, you will hold this paradox to be true (which it is), then it should follow that humanity being made up of such an integrated immortal soul and finite body is not hard to accept.

There are perhaps, many reasons why this is so important to discuss, first among them being all of the consequences that suffer the "trickle-down-effect" when we do not understand man in this unity. For example, if an embryo before 4 weeks old does not look much like a "person" and is therefore allowed to be destroyed for embryonic stem cell research, a large part of that decision is probably coming from a failure to see this act as the death of a person and not just a scientific sacrifice for the greater good. Another obvious example is pornography and the voilence to oneself which often accompanies this evil. Clearly no one is pondering what that young lady's name is, who her parents are, what are her likes or dislikes, what her favorite color is, what she studied in college, if she is afraid of spiders or if she loves to swim or if she's actually very good at playing the flute, etc... Nope, she's not a "person" in that sense. She is a body. Or not even a body. She is a part of her body, akin to if I took a picture of my elbow for you and put it here. really understand me now. There's my elbow. I mean, seriously? Of course you aren't looking at this woman as a woman, as a person, because those types of images are designed to remove the attention from the whole and focus it on a reduced part. In essence, you reduce not only the fullness of the person in a visual sense but simultaneously you reduce the person in a realistic sense. She is not a "she," but an image.
(And don't give me crap excuses about images that aren't real people, that's nearly worse. Then you're just sanctioning an ongoing habitual mentality that refuses persons their full dignity. Live, real or cartoon, you are still being formed into a habit, into the mentality, that will always look at a person in her reduced, objective and usury sense, and not in her full, subjective and loving sense.)

Ok, sorry, I get heated on the "real life examples." This is exactly why it is so necessary that we "un-train" our minds from our dualistic and reductionist worldviews! C'mon. We've heard that term, "cafeteria catholic," which means that someone picks and chooses the aspects of religion without fully committing to the whole truth of the faith and the lifestyle that inherently comes with it. This is the same with every part of life, every circumstance of the world. Cheesecake to children's education, we will be faced with opportunities to see the world for the fullness that it has been endowed with as a gift from God (and such goodness that is further revealed in Christ's Incarnation, passion, death, ressurection and ascension), or to see it as the world has decided is "easiest" for us to encounter it, which is reduced to its smallest, most empty of meaning aspect. We don't want "empty of meaning"! We reduce not only the physical but the interior as well.

I'll never forget in the movie "Kate and Leopold" when Hugh Jackman is outraged at how Meg Ryan eats her food. There is no enjoyment, no time taken, no real effort. I understand "Kate" completely, since too often I am scarfing down food in between one business and the next, and barely caring what it is I'm eating. Yet, Leopold's character is right on the money! He works hard to perfect the "fixing" of Kate's toaster so that the timer can be set to toast the bread to exactly the desired amount of cooked. He sees an interior, an innate good, in what the bread can be. Objectively, it is bread. Flour, water, all that other stuff (I'm no baker). Subjectively, we're looking at the opportunity to feel full, to feel good, to feel cared for, to receive nourishment, to receive happiness, to experience gratitude. Bread can give gratitude, but it can't give if you won't receive, and you can't receive if you won't allow it to give. Yes? Hope that makes sense.

Ok, long post (what did you expect from me), but let's hit it home one more time - integration!!!!!! Take time to think about this, please. Consider the unity of your person, and of the many things around you. What you do, what you say, the activities that define you, the habits you have formed, the people you care for, the way you live, the passion you hold, the food you eat, the songs you sing - everything effects who you are. Your soul is directly related to all of the world via your body, and your body is inseparable from your soul for all of life. All of the stimuli you receive everyday forms the interior person. Embodied soul.

Let us pray to grow in awareness, in sensitivity, to this truth. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Adequate Anthropology I

"Love. Above all things, I believe in love. Love is like oxygen. Love is a many-splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!"

... thank you Ewan McGregor for your stunning performance, and please ignore that some parts of that movie are less-than-tasteful. We're talking about a message here!

Currently, in real life, I am a student and one of my classes entails going through the entire work of Pope John Paul II's "Man and Woman He Created Them, A Theology of the Body." This is a great undertaking (that's 663 pages of John Paul II's depth), and it will hopefully reap great rewards (I LOVE it). As it is, I enjoyed having a structure to the blog (the series on the Beatitudes) and so I'm going to attempt to have a series of posts about love, humanity, sexuality, anthropology, etc...

I don't plan to go in order because to attempt to explain the topic in fullness would be to recopy the entire work and basically reiterate all of my class. I do not wish to do that here. Rather, I want to highlight small sections or even just statements that spoke to me specifically, and discuss them here.

So in that context, beginning with a quote from Moulin Rouge may seem a little... heretical? But in truth, this is exactly what the Holy Father was speaking to - our world, our educated average person, hungry and seeking for an adequate understanding of human sexuality. We've tried a lot of things, and nothing has worked. The Holy Father wished to give us more. Now it is for us to bring it to the world and shine its light in the dark places of the mind.

As with the Beatitudes series, I have named these and will number them accordingly to make it easier to follow. "Adequate Anthropology" is a term the Pope uses consistently in his work, and it is what I want to use as a guiding post for the reflections I share (not to mention that I love alliteration and assonance).

So now that you've had the "veggies and buttered bread" details (sorry that it is impossible for me to write without them... this is why J.R.R. Tolkien and I would have been great friends), let's move on to the meat.

"A wife's grace delights her husband, and her knowledge strengthens his bones" (Sir. 26:18).
Let's step back and read that line from Genesis that hopefully came to your mind just now.
Adam: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken" (Gen. 2:23).

The term "knowledge" in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, often referred to a much deeper "knowing" than a simple awareness of the existence of the object in question. Moreover, when speaking about a person, it was assumed that "to know" someone implied an intimate, and typically physically intimate, knowledge. This is important here.

When we reread Sirach in light of this word's meaning, it would seem to imply that what Adam said from the beginning of time still holds true for men and women years later, even after the first fall and original sin. However, original sin created a space, a separation, a division, between man and God, man and the natural world, and even man with himself. Therefore, it also created a division between man and woman. So how can we understand Sirach then? If a 'knowledge' of his wife is a fulfillment of his person, a meeting or encounter that enables him to rejoice and to more fully know himself as well... wouldn't it seem contradictory to that divided state sin ushered in?

First, let's discuss this "delight" that is expressed in both verses. In Genesis, Adam's cry is one of rejoicing. Finally, after all the other possible 'helpmates' that God has presented, he has discovered one who is truly for and of himself. John Paul II would also say that in this discovery man comes to discover something of himself as well. This makes sense when you consider that, until the point of this encounter, man had known himself to be alone. He was in solitude with God, and this relationship, unique to what we can imagine now, was good-but-different. When man was face to face with woman, what he found was one he could be in-relation-with, as he was with God, but yet in a different way. There was a level of analogy between the giving-of-self that was naturally in place between God and man and the giving-of-self that was possible between man and woman. Now, clearly, the disanalogy is greater, for God is transcendent love, surpassing all made things, perfection of perfections, etc... you understand I am trying to protect the importance of God's so-much-more-than-us-ness. However, the actual seeing, the physical revelation of the woman to the man, was an experience not of lust or of need, but one of freedom. Man was able to give himself to this creature in a way he could not do so with any other. This creature, this woman, could receive his gift of self. She could understand him. She could see him in return. She could value him for the person he was. She could give back, her whole self, just as freely. They were able to know more about themselves in this relationship, for each came to know how they could give, who they could give.

It would be too much for me to wholly explain the "adequate anthropology" of how they were free to give themselves fully to each other in a perfectly pure and holy way, but I will at least try to sketch the bare bones (catch that? you're quick).

Remember, this is "original nakedness" we're speaking of. They were "naked without shame" because there was no sin yet. Without sin, there was no concupiscence, no lust, no greed. They were able to see one another in the physical flesh, naked before each other, and yet simultaneously see and love the whole person, the full self that was before them, the entire "other" being that was Eve or Adam. Surely they felt desire for the other, but this desire was holy because it was in no way divided or reduced or objectified. They did not yearn for each other as if the other were a satisfaction for a need, but they yearned for each other as their one-who-receives-me-wholly-as-I-am-and-returns-himself/herself-to-me-in-equal-freedom-and-love. They were simply, "one flesh."

So hopefully you get the gist of it, just try to imagine what loving another would be like if we never had to doubt them, never had to wonder if their love was real. These two had no fear. They were forever. They were total. It was that easy.

So Adam's rejoicing was certainly a holy and full delight! I mean, I know I'd be throwing a party. (I'd still like to throw a party if I ever get close to that, lol.) Sirach does seem to speak of just such a delight. He writes that a man's bones are strengthened by a holy wife. He cannot mean that separated from a two-become-one-flesh relationship, clearly. So what happened to man and woman after the fall? What happens to us? We, very sadly, often cannot stand naked-without-shame. We, rather unfortunately, are aware that our revelation of self is typically exploited. We are sensitive to the fact that man does lust, and struggles to love in truth and freedom. We are aware that our bodies will often be seen only as bodies. We can sense that the whole person (being ourselves) is not shining through or even being sought... if we're a naked body, we're a naked body. Why?

Well, as I have discussed, that would be sin's fault (thanks a lot satan, you really screwed that up). So concupiscence leaves man weak, open to temptation, without the "sight" that enables him to see the whole person, the true person, the one person. Man has lost the ability to not-reduce the other. We fail, so often, to not-compartmentalize. We typically cannot see another without objectifying them to some degree.

Cue grace! Now, remember that Sirach is writing pre-Incarnation, so we'll have to go back to that, but for those of us living in the post-Incarnation-and-Death-and-Resurrection-era (thank you Jesus), we have some help. It is true, we are going to fail. Sin happens. (I prefer that to the statement "life happens." Spread the words.) We will fall, and we will suffer from the consequences. That is the sad state of things. However, Christ gave us such wonderful gifts with his Church and the faith we profess! Through Scripture, prayer, a devotion to purity of heart and mind (especially through Our Lady), and of course through the Sacraments, we are able to bring our broken hearts to him that they would be made new. We can allow the Holy Spirit to live in us, and through this, to transform us in our daily work. This can enable us to build up virtuous habits in our lives, such as the gift of seeing others in purity and truth, rather than in reductive and usury ways.

As an aside, for married couples this challenge both still exists and the freedom is still possible. Simply because we are "married" doesn't give us the full freedom to be totally naked-without-shame, unfortunately. However, the sacrament does give a gift of grace, and through a life of consistent returning to our Lord, we are able to make marriages that are pure and holy. The fact of the matter is that until we are in our risen bodies with the Lord at the second coming, we probably won't fully understand what it was like to love one another so freely. However, we can come very close, and our relationships-in-love-and-truth should begin here and now with friends, coworkers, family, random people on the street. Asking the Lord for the eyes to see another as the whole person, mind, body, spirit, soul, heart, will, actions, thoughts, etc... is vital.

We must believe that a wholly-integrated-person is the only one we can love properly, and be loved in return by properly. You cannot give yourself, fully, to another, forever till death do us part, unless you are able to be seen as your full and whole self. Likewise, you cannot receive another, forever till death do us part, if you cannot see him or her as a whole and full self. We must never fear the body or think it bad - that is just as silly as thinking our minds or hearts are bad. We aren't here for reduction or disintegration! We're here for unification and wholeness! It is Manichaean to hold the physical in contempt or think it evil, and it is an incorrect idea. We simply must seek to know the flesh as the revelation of the entire person, and nothing less.

As far as Sirach is concerned, I think it is fair to say that this author, guided by the Holy Spirit, writes in anticipation of the time when Christ will give us a new covenant, a new law, a new spirit, to allow us to experience a holiness that is worthy of the dignity of mankind. This is why we are seeking to understand what an adequate anthropology is. We are beginning on the basis that man is good, so very good, as God created him, and that his dignity and goodness are reiterated throughout Scripture, most especially obvious in the Incarnation of Christ, God-made-man. If we exist in an image of this perfect One who is Love, than surely we should be only grateful that he would reveal to us this more-perfect existence that we can participate in, one which enables us to know what true love is.

Let us hope and pray to always know and love in truth and purity, to see each person as the whole self, and to hold them in our hearts with purity and gratitude. Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! Amen.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sweet Lord

Let me tell you something I believe with all of my heart:

People do not know how beautiful they are. Beautiful in their own right, beautiful to others, beautiful before God, just full of beauty!

Let me tell you a little story.

One day I was at mass and the family in front of me had a charming little boy of around four years old. I was catching his eye at every possible moment because he was flirting right back (as all wide eyed, long-lashed little boys are so good at doing), and I was smiling so much throughout mass (try not to think how I probably should have been paying attention, lol). We knelt down to pray after mass had ended and their family moved towards the door. The little boy paused in front of me, and then pulled on his mother's pants. She bent down and talked to him quickly, and then he turned around again and looked straight at me. I had no clue what was coming, but I was so excited that he was going to talk to me! So adorable!
He seemed to take a moment to muster up the courage and then he announced to me, "You're really beautiful."
He turned and fled into his mother's legs, who proceeded to give me that parent smile of "don't be weirded out, he's only four." I smiled back the "don't worry, I'm not," smile, and that was that.
I just kept kneeling, thinking about what had happened. Let's be serious here, I'll take a four year old's opinion any day over an adult! I was so humbled, and so thankful. It made me think a lot about this topic.

I don't know if you've had some similar experience, and perhaps yours was actually through someone who loves you uniquely, but I wanted to get the point across - we just can't know how much good there is to us.

When we are created in the image and likeness of God, who are we to sit around muddying up our complexions? Don't get me wrong, I am seriously aware of our sinful natures. That's part of the point as well. I shouldn't be sinning in the first place, and then I really shouldn't be taking time to live in dejection, disappointment, despair and pity because I screwed up. Well, you know, we're kids. We're babies in the "being-perfect-as-your-heavenly-Father-is-perfect" game. We aren't supposed to have it all figured out. We never will! There will always be more to unlearn, better habits to adapt, more fulfilling prayers to pray, more peace to bring to our families, more forgiveness for those around us, more hope for the future... the growing process never ends. So we will fail, and fall, and then we will get back up again. We'll go say we're sorry, go confess and repent, and then we're going to let it go. We aren't supposed to forget our loveliness!!!

Sin damages our relationship with God, with the world, with those around us, and with ourselves. Sin does not remove the good nature we were given in the gift of existence! We are still His creatures, whether we accept it or not. We have the freedom to refuse his mercy and love but that light of his life that dwells within us is ever present and awaiting our invitation. We cannot allow our failures to keep us blind to the beauty that his mercy brings when we seek healing.

One of my favorite lines of all of Scripture is from Hosea 11:3
"but they did not know that I healed them." (RSV)
"they did not know that I was their healer." (NAB)

The whole context is this -
"When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them, the farther they went from me, Sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks; Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer." (NAB, 1-4)

Think about this though! When we grow up a little, all the things our parents have done for us, all the sacrifices we were so unaware of as children - they begin to be revealed and we find our hearts filled with gratitude. As the same responsibilities fall on our shoulders, we understand that they have always loved us so selflessly. Yet, when we are little, we cannot see or understand their working for us or their intention to keep us safe and happy, or to heal us when we are broken. 

Thus the Lord works in mysterious ways to move and change us, to aid us in our brokenness, to remake us into his image time and again. He never grows weary of us! He never tires of our same failures and our same vices. He never stops wanting to form us anew again. He has been our healer when we did not know him, and he will be so again. 

So if this is the case, is it so hard to believe we are beautiful, moreso than we understand or perhaps want to believe? I never thought I'd say it, but have faith that you are full of value, desirable, love-able, beautiful! 

This is a song that the Missionaries of Charity (Bl. Mother Teresa's order) pray everyday. I don't think you can get much more beautiful than they are:

"Sweet Lord, thy thirst for souls I satiate with my burning love all for Thee.

My chalice will be ever-full, sacrifices made all for Thee. 
Ever more I will quench Thy thirst. Ever more I will quench Thy thirst, Lord, for souls. 
In union with Mary our Queen, I will quench Thy thirst."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Joy, O Joy

There are not many days that I find myself nearly unable to contain the joy that is attempting to overflow out of me at every given opportunity.

Why, Alissa, are you so happy?

Well, in actuality, I said I was full of joy. Joyful. That is not the same as happy. Happy implies a certain satisfaction of things desired. That is not the situation here.

I am joyful. My soul.. it is alive again. It burns again. There's a flowing stream once more that is giving it nourishment. My aching bones have found rest. My empty cup has been filled. By bound soul has been set free, and it able to fly once more!

My heart is racing, and it isn't just the coffee. It has something to do with today being Our Lady's birthday, of that I am sure. I am also just filled with gratitude in general over my devotion to the Mother of God. It is not a thing that I sought out - she sought me out. When I was fourteen, someone in my parish paid for me to go on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. It was nearly two weeks long, over Christmas Break. I was in Medjugorje on Apparition Hill for the turning of the century, on Dec. 31, 1999 into Jan. 1, 2000. Prior to that experience, I had been taught to pray to Our Lady often and our family said the rosary together many nights. However, this was the time in which my Mother reached down and told me all about how much she loved me, and how she wanted me to love her in return. Moreover, I discovered how much I needed to teach others that she loved them too. Jesus had chosen her to be our intercessor and care-giver, our perfect model of purity and holiness, and so many did not have a relationship with her. Truthfully, I did not have much of a relationship with her.

The next four years of my life would be a long process of on-and-off pursual of prayer and faith life, amidst the confusing culture of American high school. Yet, within the first few weeks of my freshman year of college, I discovered that friends of mine were going to "consecrate" themselves to Mary. I did not really understand what that meant, but I wanted to participate. They explained to me that it was a promise, a commitment to be hers. It was a process, a thrity-some day period of prayer, that ended in making a "consecration" of oneself to Our Blessed Mother. They were using a book of prayers by St. Louis de Montfort, and they were going to pray the prayers for the month leading up to the feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception, on December 8th. So I joined in.

That time of prayer was one of great challenge for me. These prayers were kicking my butt! I had never thought about issue one or issue two or issue three as things that I could do with holiness or not do with holiness! All of a sudden I was being forced to examine myself in a way I had never done before. Worse, I couldn't get out of it! I had people holding me accountable. There were five of us who prayed these prayers together, and we only had three of the prayer books between us. This meant we had to meet and gather and pray together each day! There was no escaping this. I had to face my pride, my vanity, my laziness, my doubts, my fears.. so many things. It was wonderful.

It has been nearly six years since that first consecration to Our Lady. I have renewed the consecration every year, and a few of the years I've actually prayed through them twice. Sometimes I just miss the prayers! They are so beautiful. They are full of truth. They bring us to Our Mother's lap, and allow us to sit there while she teaches us about her Son, and his love, and the goodness of belonging to him totally. She teaches us how to live for her Son, how to accept his gifts, whether they seem good or bad. She leads us when we are lost and in darkness. She encourages us when we are too scared to get ourselves moving again. She picks us up when we fall and are too embarrassed to face the world again. She holds us close and carries us in her arms when our hearts are broken and we don't have the strength to keep going.

So, the point is that part of my joy right now is gratitude for the gift of Our Lady to the Church, to Christians everywhere, and to me.

Another aspect of my joy is assurance. Confidence, positivity, the feeling of what is undauntable, indisputable, inarguable, certain. Of what? How? I wish I could say.

This is a mystery, even to me. I am sure of love. Sure of joy. Sure of good. Sure that peace prevails. Sure that mercy covers everything. Sure that evil will lose. Sure that broken people will be healed, that lonely people will be loved, sure that hurt people will forgive and that offenders shall be forgiven. Sure that there is hope, even when hope has been covered by a big black blanket and then had some black smoke put around her and then had black clouds form above that... hope does not fail.

Sure that even when I can barely wake up in the morning, I will be at work on time. Sure that when I have 18 GAZILLION things to read and write for my SEVEN graduate classes, they will get done. Sure that somehow, by the grace of God, I will learn from my mistakes. Sure that again, by the Lord's mercy, I will become a better person. Sure that, no matter how stubborn I am, He will get me to change things that need changed in my heart.

Why am I so sure? Two main reasons. 1. Experience. 2. His Word.

The promise of God is that he IS. We need nothing more. He is love. He is Trinity. He is communion of persons perpetually giving themselves fully and freely in an exchange of love that has been revealed to us in time through the mystery of the Son being made incarnate and through Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection. Christ is the Word. The Word made flesh. Through Scripture, through the teaching of his Church, through the Sacraments, we encounter him on a personal level. We meet him. We can look into his eyes. He can look into ours. What do we see? Promise. We see love. Love is forever. Love mandates a promise. We never stop loving once we begin. When we love in truth, we love for eternity. Because love is eternity.

Going to get a bit sappy here, but this explains so much of the joy in my heart! I've said this before and many of you know, but its on my mind again. My baby brother died when I was ten, and Collin's sudden passing was a huge challenge for our family. We had a lot of other problems going on, and I cannot even explain how we made it through. It was all love. People from our parish making us dinners, helping us move, taking care of my mom who was very ill, babysitting us, driving us to practices so my dad could do other things (like work). People praying for us. Our parish basically becoming our "adopted family" for a while. I cannot express how this assisted us all in knowing the God loved us and was taking care of us, even in our sadness. Specificially in my own heart, there just came a moment when things were reborn. I know, and I will always know, that nothing can take me from the Lord. I've known it since I was ten. There was a moment that I just knew that life is hard. Life can really hurt. It can suck. But God.. he is perfect. Perfect. He loves. He is light. He is hope. He is truth. He holds us up, carries us, rocks us to sleep. He never leaves us alone. It may feel like we're alone, but one day we wake up and realize he was right there by our side the whole time. So then the next time we go through the "alone-ness" we remember that he was there the time before, and we believe he is there with us again. And he is.

My baby brother's birthday is Sept. 7, 1996. Collin turned 14 yesterday! Collin passed away on December 8, 1996. That's the feast of the Immaculate Conception. When we celebrate Our Lady being conceived in all holiness and purity, without any stain of original sin, is when my brother went to heaven. And he was born the day before Our Lady's birthday (that's today)! This is just cool to me, in the most basic sense. I love that if my family was going to endure some sadness and hardship, at least we have a lot of hope surrounding it. And Collin was baptized and without any sin (he was a 3 month old baby), so we can safely assume he is in heaven. So really, no sadness here at all! We all want to be where he is now, and knowing that one of my family members is already in the beatific vision makes me more confident that the rest of us will get there one day.

Ok, sorry, that was the sappy-somewhat-tangental part. Now, reiterating the "joy" and trying to wrap up a REALLY long post.

Joy is this hope, this confidence, this assurity, and something more as well.

Today in class my professor began with a reading from the Gospel of John. It goes as follows:
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."

His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
(The woman) said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?"
Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." (John 4:7-15)

I cannot explain it, but something came over me while I listened to this. I felt with this woman. I understood her thirst. I knew her need. I could feel the emptiness that was begging to be filled. When Jesus said, "the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" I beat her to the punch! I felt everything inside of me saying, "well then give me this water!" I want something that will well up in me and allow me to float to eternal life! How great does that sound? All you have to do is ask for the water he's giving out and you're set? It is really that simple.

So these are some of my reasons for joy. It is still a mystery. I don't feel like I'm behaving any differently, and I'm not necessarily skipping through green pastures and climbing trees like a hooligan (though if you know me, I probably will). I am feeling alive. In a new way. Today's class for Nuptial Body was focused on "gift." It will take another long post to explain this, which probably will happen very soon. But the gripping truth of everything in this world, starting with our being and the world itself, being a full, total, free and gratuitous gift from God for no other reason than because he is LOVE just got to me today. It snuck in. Crept under my skin. Put its roots in my heart. He just loves so much.

I guess I could say that and it would be enough. Yes. He loves so much. He so loved the world. He Is Love.
St. Augustine put it like this:
"You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Death to the Temptor

I have very little expertise to share on temptation, but I can speak from experience and the few good homilies I have heard on the topic.

First of all, just read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Then you can read the rest of what I have to say.

Let's lay it out in the most straightforward manner - satan, the devil, the evil one.. he stinks. He's mean. He doesn't like you or me. He doesn't even like God. He thinks he's in charge. He has some wily schemes to convince us that we're "god" too. He can be very subtle and very convincing. He's a jerk. There are many inappropriate words that can also be applied to him, but it is not necessary to mention them now. That, too, is part of his "evil charm." Why should it matter to him that we apply those words to him, as long as he's managed to get us to a point of using them, right?

Anyway, you don't want this guy as a friend. He'll double-cross you, cheat you, lie to you nearly every time... he twists things and skews your views as much as possible. He wants you to lose.

Now, the thing that the devil forgets to mention to his friends and non-friends alike, is that he is a created creature. Yep. He was an angel, and then he allowed his vanity and pride to take him from the love of God for eternity. So, we aren't dealing with some "equal power" here who can give God a run for his money. Nope. Just as much as God can snuff me out at any moment if he so wished, he could do the same to the devil. So we should take that to heart.

However, it is both a reason to guard against him less and to do so even more. Being a created creature, he isn't as powerful as God by any means, and therefore our belonging-to-God should be our courage, hope, stength and assurance that the devil "has got nothin' on us." On the other hand, being a created creature, his tactics are so often those which we don't notice enough to throw up our guard. He blends in with our surroundings, works with the emotions other people bring out in us, allows our imaginations to be carried in the wrong direction, tries his best to make any truth seem just as truthful while actually making it quite a lie. It's almost unsettling. Almost.

But here's my favorite part. The devil messed up because of why? (Here is where you yell, "Pride!") And what did God do about it? Well, first, he cast him out of heaven forever. Secondly, he established a beautiful and wonderful situation. It entails the devil eventually being crushed/his evil being ended. Best part? Does it get better? Oh yeah. Mary, Our Lady.. she gets to do the squashing. Yep! The most humble, obedient, perfect woman ever created will triumph over the most prideful, disobedient creature. It's cool.

So what does that mean for us? Oh, it means we cling to Mary! We pray, we pray, and then we pray some more. We ask for grace, to assist us in our darkest hours. We ask for grace to assist us in the daily grid of life, where our eyes can become blinded to our failures and sins. We ask for grace to aid us in times of specific temptation, so that we have the courage to choose the Lord over ourselves. We ask for Our Lady's intercession for us, that we will be assisted by her love and spirit of humility and purity. And of course, it means we get back up after we fall, after we've screwed up for the hundreth time, and we go to Reconciliation, and we seek the grace to do better next time.

The truth is, when we lean on ourselves to resist evil, we will inevitably fall. When we accept that we are children in this life (children of the King), and ask for the help of a Father and Brother and mother in heaven, we are so much more sustained. And as a wise priest said recently at mass, (paraphrased here) "We never listen to the devil. Even when he works with truth. He is always lying. Never listen to him, at all."

We can especially appreciate this priest's words because we all know how we can justify our actions or thoughts sometimes, even when we know that they were/are wrong. "Little white lies" that build into a habit of untruth. This one I know for sure, because I love to tell stories "dramatically." This means I like to exaggerate a little, as if saying there were "18 billion" spiders instead of three. Now, clearly most listeners will recognize that there were not actually 18 billion spiders. However, since I am already used to speaking with some exaggeration, what happens is that I will then embellish the words or tones of others when I am relating a conversation or a story. Again, sometimes this is either not important to the overall meaning or obvious that I am making the story more dramatic. However, there are certainly times that after I finish explaining something, I realize that my memory serves me better than I wish I to, and I realize that I did not communicated the other person's words completely acurately. Please don't worry about my scrupulosity or yours right now, this is meant to be an illustration. Sometimes I will go back and correct myself. Sometimes I let it go. My intention was not to lie to anyone. Nor to mislead someone in how they understood the situation. But I think the point is evident... the comfortability I have with being over-dramatic leads to a comfortability with not-always-being-truthful.

This, once more, is a rather miniscule scenario on the scale of dangerously-close-to-letting-the-devil-lead-you-astray, but these truths that we discover through our personal experience directly relate and apply to a greater and wider picture. In this case, we could just as easily say "not entering your full income on tax forms" or "not registering your pet in your apartment" or "making up an excuse for why you missed class or work that didn't actually happen but sounds more legitimate than you wanting to sleep." See the point? It's a slippery slope. If you are trained in a habit in any area, it grows and builds inside of you. What is most dangerous is that you lose the ability to see when you are acting in this way. You do not take note of your fibs or lies anymore. You become accustomed to the benefits entailed with cheating, and you do not even register it as cheating anymore. Of course, if someone asked you if you would steal a car if given the opportunity, you might say "no! of course not.. that's wrong." But the truth is that you already treat others as if you have the right to take from them without any cost to yourself.

Anyway, that was somewhat tangental. Point being, that devil guy gets us stuck in the muck, and then he's the expert at keeping us trapped in our feelings of shame or lonliness or disappointment or anger, and we find ourselves lost in a vicious cycle.

So keys to kicking the evil dude's butt?
1. Pray.

2. Mary. Trust her, she's your mother. She'll take care of you.

3. Don't LISTEN to him. He's a poop-face. Tell him that! When you feel like you're going down that path, just turn around and run in the other direction. Don't try to be nice to him. Don't act politely. He won't be polite to you! Tell him he's a jerk and get out of there.

4. Try to become more aware of the areas or habits that you have created or are creating that may keep you away from the truth, away from God's love, and away from loving your neighbors around you.

5. Work hard at getting OUT of those areas or habits above.

6. Avoid areas of temptation... this seems obvious, but perhaps not obvious enough. This can include music with cursing, movies with explicit sex, friends who want you to make them feel good but don't actually care about your immortal soul, social idols whose lives are less-than-exemplary but who you still seem attached to, boyfriends or girlfriends who are unable to aid you in the battle for purity of heart, mind and body, family members who are unable to encourage you or who purposefully discourage you from seeking God with your whole heart, etc... The more we surround ourselves with things that lead our thoughts to the Lord, guess what?? The more we think about him! And the less room there is for satan to twist the truth. If your thoughts are constantly drawn to the one who is The Truth, you aren't going to be as susceptible to the "fake truth."

7. When you mess up (it is inevitable), do not let the devil trap you there. Be sorry. Be very sorry. Mourn a little. Go to confession and heap yourself up with graces. Truly desire to amend your failings! But do not begin the pity party. Don't invite him, or anyone else. Don't let him bring along his friends, because they're names are depression and despair, and they are not nice. So just don't give him the chance. Shake it off. Stand back up.

8. I know I said confession already, but the other sacraments are absolutely helpful too! If you aren't Baptized/Confirmed/ a member of the Church, consider that. It is a beautiful thing. For all who are, frequent reception of the Eucharist is the greatest prayer and gift you can participate in. Celebrate the Lord's victory over death and sin for all eternity every day if possible! If you're being united with The Truth each day, you probably won't be very willing to listen to the "fake truth", right? Yes.

9. Remember that evil personified in the devil is a creature, and that evil in general is a result of sin. These things do affect us, but they do not have any power over us when we refuse them entry into our hearts. They can cause sorrow and brokenness in our lives and the lives of those around us, but they cannot necessitate our falling from grace unless we give them the room. I think of the movie The Labyrinth (and it is kinda creepy, just saying), where Jennifer Connelly finally reaches the end of her rope and decides she's had enough of the cruel games she's had to endure. She just yells out, "You have no power over me" and that's it. When you say, "hit the road" and you mean it, that's basically it. Of course, the barrage of temptation could send the next wave upon you nearly instantly, but if you keep on denying evil access to your heart and soul, it isn't going to be able to hurt you.

10. Trust. In the end, as I said, we are children of the King. He has us. We must trust in him, and leave ourselves to his care. He loves us more than we love ourselves. If there is some good to be gained for us or others through our enduring hard times, then we must believe in his mercy and know he will keep us from harm. He is only Good.

Anyway, stay in the light, and keep the faith.
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Amen.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Be Thou My Vision

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

I would need infinite pages, it would seem, to express the thought that has taken my mind hostage. As it is, I will try to express it within reasonable confines. 

The late Pope John Paul II is well known for his philosophical and theological work on human anthropology and personalism in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. This book is a collection of Wednesday audiences that the Pope gave in Rome between 1979 and 1984. They were meant to be a catechesis, that is, a teaching for all on a matter of faith, and in this case specifically on some profound theological truths the Pope wished to communicate about the human person and his body. 

Among the many important and well-developed topics that play an integral role in the whole expanse of thought that is the theology of the body, one that recently struck me was what the Holy Father referred to as original nakedness. To be clear, this does not mean when we are first out of the womb and unclothed, nor does it mean a first time that we are seen naked by another, etc... The Pope explains this topic in direct correspondence to two other "original" topics - solitude and innocence. The Pope follows the Scripture passage from Matthew 19, where Jesus is confronted concerning divorce and marriage. Christ says, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Matt. 19:5-6). Then in verse eight he reiterates his point saying, ""Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Matt. 19:8). 

The Holy Father leads us through an exegesis of these verses, emphasizing the importance of "the beginning" in Christ's words to the people. He speaks of the original intent of God, our Father and Creator. He speaks of the innocence that was before the first sin, the fall of man. He is purposefully restoring the law and the covenant to the beauty of what was originally meant for mankind, but was lost through his disobedience. Jesus is revealing that through his life, his law and ultimately his death and resurrection, man will once again be able, by grace, to pursuit and attain this original goodness that he rejected. 

Therefore, in this context, the original nakedness of Adam and Eve is an integral part of the Holy Father teaching us the fullness of Jesus' meaning when he spoke to the people of his own time and that he spoke to all men through the Scriptures. Christ not only calls us back to that original innocence, where we are pure and humble of heart, obedient children who delight in the goodness of their Father, but also to original nakedness. Here he is specifying a type of purity of heart, mind and body that should be desired and worked for by us. Not only should we yearn and strive to be free from sin, but most especially in our physical bodies we should seek to reflect an inner purity through our outward expression of ourselves. As the body is the manifestation of the whole person, the unity through which we receive and give, communicate and act, it has the potential to reveal inner purity or inner darkness. 

In a very specified way, the revelation of the whole person in and through the body is free from concupiscence or any defilement at the original time of creation. This means that Adam and Eve were naked before each other and God, and felt no shame because they were clean of heart. Rather than shame, their bodies were unique revelations of the person to themselves and one another. It is through Adam's recognition of Eve in her nakedness and Eve's of Adam that they come to know and understand more fully the perfect goodness of God's creation of themselves and one another. There is no lust or inappropriate desire, no objectifying of the other, but only free and total gift. They are made whole in and through each other, body and soul, and this is expressed in the body. 

John Paul II is explicit that in its original state, the naked body is good, and there is no need for shame or to imagine that there was any impurity in their minds or hearts. However, after the fall, we learn that Adam and Eve quickly covered themselves and hid their bodies away. This is in direct correspondence to their inner hearts, to wills which have lost some of their true freedom. They now protect one another, in love, from temptations to lust or objectification because their hearts are no longer able to be so pure and free as they were created to be. 

This is all to say that we, as those people born long after the fall, have a great challenge before us in seeking to remain as free from sin as possible, and to love one another with the purest of hearts. The Pope goes on throughout his work to emphasize the beauty and goodness and sanctifying grace that comes through the Sacrament of Marriage, and that married people should not be in fear of failing to love one another properly or chastely. Certainly there may be times when we are tempted, even in such goodness, to be usury or selfish, vain or lustful, but we must trust in prayer and grace and the action of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live with the goodness found in the original nakedness. 

What I found most profound is that insight of the mutual nakedness of Adam and Eve, and even now of married men and women, that enables them to know one another. They see in each other not only an external body, nor only an interior heart, but the whole integrated person. They are not compartmentalized or broken down in any way, but in their true unity and goodness, known to the other person. Through this other person's seeing into you, you come to know yourself more fully and deeply. His affirmation of you, of what he sees and discovers, of whom he loves... this leads you to know more completely yourself. Likewise your seeing into him enables him to be more aware of his own heart, soul and body and to be sure of the gift he is giving to you of himself. 

I know it is a far cry from the same beauty, but I can't help but reference James Cameron's movie Avatar here. Despite some themes that were less-than-Christian in the movie, I found it very profound that the indigenous people greeted one another with the phrase "I see you" rather than "hello" or "good day." That phrase of seeing the other took on a deeper meaning in the movie as the loving relationship between Jake and Neytiri develops. Though they are separated by very different cultures and ethnicities, they come to understand and care for one another as the true person is revealed to each through their time spent together (and that is, time spent in the body). 

Analogy aside, the idea is one that we can comprehend as true through our own experiences. It would probably be hard to find someone who would disagree that through the eyes and body, the expressions and actions of any person, they come to know the whole person more fully. 

It is then a challenge to us to pray and seek the purity of heart that will enable us to see another and love another as they are for who they are. It is likewise the challenge to allow the Lord to instruct our hearts and minds as we strive to keep our bodies pure and holy temples for him and for any other that he might call us to through Holy Matrimony. If Jesus is the one looking into us, penetrating us with his gaze and seeing our hearts, our desires, our deeds, our wills and knowing us in our person through our physical encounters with him in the Sacraments and in adoration, then we should be affirmed in our goodness as persons through his love and likewise seek to see into his mystery even further, and to ever draw nearer to his heart.