All original written and photographic material on this site is the property of the author, and is not to be used without permission.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Poetic Last Days, December

Just because I need to put something else on this blog, I found a poem from days gone by that I wanted to share.

who knows the feeling
of a heart that's still beating
but there's no one there to hear?

who knows the feeling
of a soul still seeking
but all we're grasping is air?

breath comes but it
just runs away
taken back from where it came

light breaks but it's
stolen away
and we are in the dark

oh humanity
why do we
settle so
oh people
can we
truly believe that this
is all it is
all its worth
all that we should know?
i won't accept it as so

who knows the feeling
of empty ceilings
reaching up with no end

who knows the promise
of hope beyond this
somehow i remember

breath comes and I
gasp so that
there's life
light breaks
and I'm stolen away
far from this dark

oh humanity
why do we
settle so
oh people
can we
truly believe that this
is all it is
all its worth
all that we should know?
i won't accept it as so

beauty baby stunning and changing
cover me and put me to sleep

goodness darling startling alarming
awake for the first time and seeing

oh humanity
why do we
settle so
oh people
can we
truly believe that this
is all it is
all its worth
all we should know?
I won't accept it as so

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Word

I felt the need to give a very brief catechesis on the Word of God. I think that this is one of those important, neigh, imperative elements of the faith that somehow is often overlooked or misunderstood. We cannot misunderstand the Word, for He is Christ, and Sacred Scripture is the revelation of God given to man that we might know, love and serve God. Our faith is founded on Christ, the Word, and draws its life from His.

Here are a few quotes to help:

"Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely: You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time."
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 102 

"All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, "because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ. The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God" (DV 24).
- CCC, 134-135

"The unity of the two Testaments proceeds from the unity of God's plan and his Revelation. The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other; both are true Word of God." - CCC, 140

What is so necessary for us to understand is that while each and every book in Sacred Scripture has a unique author or authors, and comes from a different historical moment or series of historical moments, above and below all of that is the Spirit of God divinely inspiring each author, and the spiritual sense that must always be read with the literal sense so that Sacred Scripture can properly be revered as the Holy Book that contains the revelation of God for his people in Christ. Therefore, throughout the Old Testament we read the preparatory covenantal history of God and his people leading up to the ultimate revelation, the "definitive Word" of Christ. We read all of Sacred Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh, who is God and man. 

"God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit." - CCC, 105

While it is of course true that the human authors were neither possessed nor forced or dictated to in their authorship, but freely worked with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is equally true that God is the author of Scripture just as Christ is the ONE WORD, the Word made flesh. It is for this reason that the Catechism says that we reverence Sacred Scripture as the body of Christ. 

"Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence." - Dei Verbum, 9

 The unity of Scripture and Tradition, making up this one Deposit of Faith, is the dynamic unveiling of God's loving invitation to participation in his life throughout time beginning at the creation of man and culminating in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, bringing redemption for mankind and establishing the Church as the means through which we may be saved. It is both the actual, historical handing on of the revelation of God, orally and in written form through the ages, as well as the Sacred Word of Scriptures that together give the Church her foundation. Above all, it is Christ who is the source and summit of the faith. 

Serious Fishing

You may find the title humorous, especially if you know me (because I have very little experience fishing). However, thanks to my dear fiance, I have a Virginia fishing license and I think I caught something small the last time we went (it's been a few months).

This post is not a how-to on fishing, however. At least, not in a way one might expect.

This post also gives credit to Fr. Brian Bransfield, who works at the USCCB and whose homily (one in the past few weeks) inspired most of these thoughts. Some of them are more his than mine, as often happens when one meditates on the words of a homily.

I want to reflect on the following Scripture from two different perspectives:

"As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him." Mk 1:16-20

First, from the perspective of the perspective of Christ and the men fishing. Why is it that Jesus seems to imply that because these men are good at fishing for real fish, they will also make good fishers of men?
If you have ever gone fishing, you understand there are some basic elements involved. Besides being able to get your bait out into the water without tangling up your line, you need to have some comprehension of the environment you are fishing in, and the fish you are going after. The bait will change based on the fish you are going after. Sometimes the rod even changes. Perhaps for some fishing you need to be in a boat or kayak, while for other fishing it is standard to stand on the side of a lake or river. The one who is hunting in this case, being the fisherman, needs to know what he is hunting for. He needs to be aware of the patterns of behavior of the fish he is going after. I needs to have studied the fish, if he hopes to be successful in catching them. 

We can consider that the soon-to-be Apostles in the Gospel above are good fishermen. They are casting their nets and mending their nets. This means that they are not afraid to pursue what it is that they have set as their goal. They understand what it takes to catch the fish that they desire and they are willing to work so as to accomplish that end. Mending their nets also shows an element of love and patience that is often overlooked in the dynamic of hunting. Men who are strong and who go forth to capture another creature are not often depicted with the tenderness of one who respects the creature being captured. Yet, it is hard not to get a sense of patience and appreciation from the Apostles, who seem to understand that while the fish are food and mere creatures to be captured and cooked, they are also a livelihood and a gift from God. 

Now let us consider these skills in light of Christianity. Those Apostles will bear these same skills of "hunting," fishing, into the new mission they are given by Christ to "go...and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:18). We see throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the various Letters and Epistles of the New Testament how the Apostles use the strength of knowing those who they are seeking to convert to their advantage. They understand that people are to be met where they are at, and that the Truth of Jesus Christ, being the ONE Truth, encompasses and draws into himself all other truth. Catechism paragraph 819 says, "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."

Therefore, those who at one time studied and understood the patterns and way of life of fish, now sought to study and understand the way of life of all people in their various regions and customs, to captivate them with the net that is Christ's Church, with the Truth that all men seek. This is the call to every Christian-Catholic today, to similarly proclaim the One Truth who is Christ while using the skills of understanding and knowledge to invite others through various paths and means. For some, simply being a part of the Liturgy will open their hearts and invite them into the glory that is Christ's life. For others, study and reading and comprehension of the doctrines professed and believed over the centuries will lead to the fiat of faith, saying "yes, Lord, I believe!" For others, it may be the continual witness of mercy and charity of a Christian that disproves the lies of the world and reveals to them a more humble and powerful way of life. The respect for all human life and the disposition of gratitude for life that ought to infect those of us who receive God's mercy in the Sacraments every week should be the stumbling block for those who try to profess what is not true. How can we walk past the humble heart and not be stirred? It is such a contradiction that it should at least draw fascination! This was precisely what Christ did, and how his Apostles learned to imitate his Heart. 

The other perspective I would like to look at is that of the fish. It is one thing to be the fisherman and to anticipate the hunger of the fish, to look into its life and to seek to be waiting for it, to patiently know that it will come to you (which is what God does for us, blessed be his Name!). Yet, this requires something of the fish as well. The system only works is the fish is hungry. One does not find themselves caught and captivated unless they are open to seeing. We do not walk through an art gallery and find our "favorite" painting unless we are there explicitly to look. Likewise, we do not find ourselves moved and in love with a character in a book or movie unless we are purposefully choosing to be open to the story and to the characters! We can even avoid being captivated by beautiful scenery or other natural wonders by simply never going to nature. So we can also choose to not-look for truth, or to be blind to the invitations that surround us. If we are not looking for the bait, than even if the fisherman waits all day, and into the evening, and continues to tempt us with what we should want, we will not even know he is there. 

So as a Christian this is the pivotal moment; can we be both the fish and the fisherman? It is the imperative that we are given at our Baptism, to be the child of God whom he has created us to be, ever meek and humble, ever obedient and grateful, ever thanking and praising him, and yet also empowered by the Spirit and alive in our courage and boldness to proclaim Christ crucified, risen and glorified to the world! We must be recipients of God's mercy before we can authentically proclaim his mercy to others. We must proclaim his mercy to others precisely because we have received grace upon grace. 

During this Advent (and now nearly Christmas!) season, let us consider how Christ the Lord, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and before all things, uncreated and always with the Father and the Spirit, came and assumed human nature to be like us in all things but sin. As a baby, completely dependent on his Blessed Mother and holy father Joseph, he revealed to us just how dramatic the humility is that we are called to, for none of us can ever achieve that same humility, for it is impossible for us to become like a spec of dust just to meet the dust where it is at. Let us in turn take this joyful gift that we receive at God's hands and proclaim, fearlessly and skillfully, to the world just how free man has become in Christ! Each day is a new opportunity for us to be caught, and to catch some fish.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Patience is a vitrue...

So I believe most of us have heard that line before a time or two... or three.

Let's consider some of the other virtues.
Cardinal: Justice, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence
Theological: Faith, Hope, Love

Patience, while logically a participant with the virtues above, is not on either list.
Where does it fit in the tradition, then?

I discovered through our trusty wikipedia (judge me a little) that the Psychomachia was a poem written in 410 AD by a Christian illustrating the seven deadly sins or vices and their virtuous counterparts. In this work, patience is the remedy for wrath.

However, the "angelic doctor," St. Thomas Aquinas, also wrote on patience in the Summa Theologica. He writes including patience under fortitude and temperance. He writes that it is not the most perfect of virtues (which is Charity), but that is is a virtue, and one which moderates sorrow.

I find this extremely interesting when we consider patience in the needs of our own lives. Drawing from my own experience and those close to me, patience is needing for some or all of the following in any given day: for long and exhausting traffic, for people who are oblivious and therefore injure you, inconvenience you, forget you, step on you, squish you, are rude to you, etc..., for the work day to pass, for deadlines to be accomplished, for proper responses from coworkers, employers, employees, students, etc..., for friends, for family, for boyfriends or girlfriends, fiances, husbands and wives, for kids, for cooking, for showering (depends on how lazy you feel), for working out, for results in any endeavor, for shopping, for reading, for writing, for playing sports, for practicing for rehearsals, concerts, an instrument, voice, sports, other fine skills, etc..., for glue to dry, for nails to dry, for clothes to dry, for baking, for crafts, for computers that don't work, for any technology, for conversations with others, for prayer, for cars that don't work, for anything broken, for Christmas trees that don't have stands, for wrapping presents, and on and on and on.

Really, what don't we need patience for?

This makes me ponder what patience itself is, then, if it is truly so common. Is it the waiting? Is it the understanding? Is it the process? Is it the calmness rather than aggravation? Is it the acceptance of what cannot be controlled?

Perhaps that is the beginning of what patience really is. Even before accepting what is beyond our control, we have to recognize what is beyond our control. How many times have I been yelling at the car in front of me to MOVE when I suddenly seem to remember that a) they can't hear me, b) if they could hear me it wouldn't matter anyway, and c) if I do end up any later at my destination because of this person, it is most likely going to be an unnoticeable amount of time, and therefore doesn't matter.

Once we recognize what is beyond our control, then we must accept it. Next, we wait for it to reveal itself, unveil itself, figure itself out, or whatever term is proper to the situation that means the power of action lies with the other and not with ourselves. Ideally, when we reach this point, we are more relaxed and calm. We are not always that way, but it certainly makes the waiting easier.

But to some, perhaps those of you who tend to be more proactive, this sounds much more like resignation than a virtue. The proper quote would be the serenity prayer. Yet, if you can't settle for the "wisdom to know the difference," let me break this down a little further.

I will give you a beautiful quote from Pope Benedict XVI that I believe encapsulates all I am trying to get at (but if I had given it to you at the beginning than there would be no point in a post):

"Waiting becomes too heavy a burden to bear, when we cannot be sure whether we really have anything at all to wait for. When, on the other hand, time itself is meaningful and every moment contains something especially valuable, our joyful anticipation of the greater experience that is still to come makes what we have in the present even more precious and we are carried by an invisible power beyond the present moment. Advent helps us to wait with precisely this kind of waiting."
There are two vital elements I want to point out in his quote.
First, waiting is active. The Holy Father presents waiting as if it is a choice. He refers to it as a "burden," which implies that it is something placed upon us or even required of us, and yet then adds the option of not carrying the burden in saying that we may not be sure that we have a reason to wait. Therefore, waiting, patience, requires an active choice. In this instance, not doing something, is doing something.

Second, there is an end in sight, or in mind. Waiting implies a goal, a resolution, a purpose. Waiting is not just an innominate and interminable wasteland stretching on beyond the horizon! Even for those whose waiting may seem just so, as may be the case for one who has an incurable illness or some other irreversible situation, it is not. There is and end. There is always an end. It helps, most certainly, when we have a goal or end that is both tangible and desirable. Waiting in traffic is worth it when it is the only way I get to work (and therefore have food to eat and to pay rent with) or home (where I may eat and sleep).

Yet, the end means more than only the finish line. When we really think about the patience and the goal, we realize that the goal informs the waiting. That is to say, our patience comes along with our comprehension of our end or goal, and our goal or end enables us to truly grab hold of and posses our patience. I am not going to sit by and watch glue dry on a tongue depressor unless I know that I'm building a little house. When I have this project in mind, watching glue dry is transformed from a seemingly silly and mindless activity into something done with precision and care. The image of the final product, my finished house, is ever before me while I work with the bare bones of the popsicle sticks.

If this isn't a practical enough example, think about little kids with leggos. At least for me, every Christmas is filled with some of my brothers rejoicing in the boxes of small plastic pieces that they are going to spend agonizing hours over while they follow directions included in the box to build the included plane, truck, movie scene, etc... Even a puzzle is the same concept! When we have the larger picture in mind, there is meaning in each of the small pieces.

Pope Benedict XVI wisely referred to this type of anticipation as the patience of Advent. Knowing what was coming, in the sense of the birth of our Lord, informed and enthused every moment leading up to that event. Though Our Lady certainly could not have known all that was to come, even the announcement by the angel was enough for her faith to know and believe that the Son of God was conceived in her womb and growing inside of her.

As a woman who has not had the privilege of being pregnant, I cannot conceive of what that must have been like. I imagine that the sense of anticipation and joy in life is always heightened. I imagine that every day I am more grateful for my own life as I become more aware of the other life that is entirely dependent on mine. I imagine that I will understand my own life in an entirely new sense. I imagine that I will look at my parents in a way I have not known before. I imagine that I will have a deeper respect and understanding for what it means for man to participate in God's creative work. For Our Lady, I am sure this was all a thousand times more potent for the miraculous conception of the Son of God in her womb by the Holy Spirit!

Though our waiting is not impregnated with the Word in the flesh, in a way it very seriously can be. Receiving the Lord, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist every day is as close as we can come to knowing the potency and complete union of he Word of God living within us! The Anima Christi prayer includes the phrase, "Blood of Christ, inebriate me." That we may be inebriated with the life, the Blood of Jesus. That is a very serious and total informing of our waiting, of our patience. We ought not to tire of the waiting when it is filled with the life of God!

That is our challenge, and the exact point of patience as a virtue. It is not the resignation (while that is certainly sometimes required), but it is the life, the liveliness of the Christian while he or she waits! It is the vitality that flows within the veins of one who understands the whole of life in the most important context, in the crux of existence, in the light of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery.

Patience is a virtue when and by we enter into the life of Christ. Let us not forget that while God became man, he too, waited. He too grew and developed, in a womb, as a child, as a youth and as an adult. He too had goals, and deadlines. He too knew what it was to yearn for something that could not immediately be. Jesus said in Luke 13:34-35, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned. [But] I tell you, you will not see me until [the time comes when] you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Christ knows the time is not the present for the accomplishment of his mission, and he accepts that and continues his mission, knowing that certain time will come. How much we have to learn from this!

If you have ever had the experience of getting what you want when you want it, even when you should have to wait for it, you may understand why the patience is so important for the overall life of the person. Too often we are given exactly what we want instantaneously, and in doing so, it is as if we are blinded to the authenticity and beauty of the other thing/person/experience. Much like when we turn a light on suddenly when our eyes have been adjusted to very dim light, we cannot see everything right away. Rather, if we gently increased the light so that our eyes adjusted accordingly, we would be able to see clearly the whole time. This is how important patience is. That we have true sight is more valuable than if we have the power to control.

In this time of Advent, and throughout our whole lives, let us keep before us the goal. Let Christ inform us, in every moment, and feed us with his Body and Blood so that we may know what it is to truly live. Let us be thankful for the many and very consistent opportunities we have each and every day to be patient, and ask the Holy Spirit for the grace and aid to advantageously learn from those times.

Sweet Lord, come to our aid! St. Thomas, pray for us.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The greatest thing you'll ever learn... just to love and to be loved in return.

Thank you, Toulouse. If you haven't seen Moulin Rouge, don't worry about it.

Today I heard a homily that I had to share.

The Gospel is one of those pointed encounters of Jesus with the Pharisees.
An excerpt (from Luke 11):
"You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk."

Not exactly what any of us want to hear, right? Yet, I had to admit that I felt very convicted that there are plenty of times Christ would say the same to me.

Fr. Bransfield began to talk about the two principle sins of pride and envy. He said they were the sins of Satan, and they are the ones most common in human failure. He also pointed to Christ on the Cross as the epitome of overcoming those two. The humility and love present in the sacrifice of Jesus are the exact antidotes to the pride and envy of the sin of the world.

Then he made another point that really struck me. He pointed out that of all of the seven deadly sins, it is envy that is never praised in songs or spoken of as something glamorous or popular. Why? Because there is no pleasure in envy. Envy is, as he put it, the self-torture and death before the good of another.

This made me think about Satan's envy of God and about our human envy of one another. I think we often make a simple but major mistake in our understanding of others, and I think this mistake leads to envy when it should not.

Consider God. In the liturgy we pray, "You have no need of our praises, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift," or "Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness." God is completely and wholly and totally sufficient, perfect and complete without any of creation. For all that we must and should praise and adore him, he does not need us. What does the idea of such total completeness stir in us? Often, envy. We are sorry that we must be imperfect. We are sorry that we need others. We are sorry that we cannot be an island of wonderfulness that can be generous or cold as we wish. It is the ideal of a great monarch, whose power stretches so that he may be kind and merciful to his people, or he may simply demand their allegiance because they have no choice.

This idea is not God. That is a human way of seeing power. It forgets the basic and most intrinsic aspect of God's perfection - He is Trinity. He is three divine Persons in one Holy God. He is complete and total self-gift and self-receiving. It is in the relationship of the Father giving to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Son and Father in and with the Holy Spirit that each Person is known. God did not need to create us, but he did because he is total gift. He is so generous that it would nearly be improper for him to not give us life. Yet, he does not need us. Of course this is somewhat contradictory, but welcome to dealing with the mysteries of the faith.

The point here is that there is much to be gleaned from the analogy of faith. If God, who is perfect, is perfect in and through his giving, in his relationships, than how could we wish or desire to be "good," "powerful," "perfect," or anything such as that while thinking that we could do away with being encumbered by what this life demands, which is always to be in relation to others. We want to throw off the shackles of cleaning up after another, of listening to another gripe, of doing what someone else wants or needs, of the ever-inconvenient "favor," and yet it is the rejection of the exact opportunity for being-made-perfect!

This is where I think envy creeps in, alongside pride, and whispers that so-and-so is so well off, and so satisfied in his or her wealth. Whether it is a pair of nice shoes, a job that provides well for a family, a talent for public speaking, or maybe just nice hair... we begin to see others as little citadels of power or happiness that will not be shared. We see them as greedy, or vain, or proud. We feel belittled, ignored, unworthy, poo-pooed, or mocked. We may not really want her shoes or his specific job, but we want their situation. We want the power to get "free" from the burdens life brings.

Envy on earth or of earthly things always points back to God. We, like little toddlers who demand a cookie from their parents, who pout and do that little foot-stomp-thing, shake a fist up at God and want to know why we don't have the power. We want to be mini-gods. We want to control things. We want it to be easy. And we falsely envy others whom we think have a share in that power.

But they do not. Nor shall we. The longer we waste ourselves on envy, the less time we have to learn the power and freedom found in love. God's power is not hoarded, but freely given. God's love is not meted out, but abundantly and generously poured.

The Gospel not too long ago was the story of the workers who came into the vineyard at all hours of the day, and God generously gave them a full days wage. He is not stingy! He could not be! He has ENOUGH. ALWAYS. There is no lack of abundance. There is no shortage, no rationing. There is only our confused and limited hearts that would prefer to die on the sword of envy rather than take up the battle of love.

We are cowardly, let us not deny it. We want to turn tail and run. Life gets hard and we would prefer not to see it.

We can't be cowardly, not when we know of Christ. We cannot allow Satan and his propaganda to suck us in and leave us beaten and dead. We know who is Right. We know who has the Truth. We know who is the Truth.

Near the end of mass it struck me that an excellent way to try to invite love into my heart and thoughts would be to try to pray the Our Father with real love. Christ gave us that prayer, and the Catechism calls it the quintessential prayer of the Church. Perhaps the humility of being the children that we are before God, coupled with the love of Him who offered himself as a sacrifice for us, will enable us to defeat envy more often than it defeats us.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A few bedtime thoughts...

The essential question is this: What will man let the world be, and how will this affect man?

We do not realize the power of our own "letting be." We often feel victimized by pain, troubles, hardships, loss, sorrows, cruelty, injustice, selfishness, lust, jealousy, etc... We feel powerless before evil, and perhaps even more so before "cosmic fate."

But what do we mean by all of this? Who taught us such blatant passivity? Where did we learn to be swayed in the wind?

I think we stopped letting the world be the world, and in turn, we stopped knowing how to be in the world.

Little boys spend significantly less time learning about the growth of plants by getting their hands in the dirt these days than all of their predecessors.

Man is supposedly the crown of creation, and one could call him a microcosm of the universe. All of the intricate operations and processes, systems and communications that build together in some amazing symphonic relationship to be the walking, talking, acting and feeling man are not so very different from the processes and communications that hold the earth in orbit or cause the oak to grow.
I am not saying that man is not the unique and ultimate creature he is, but that man has always learned of himself from his encounter with the rest of creation.

In our day and age, this encounter is becoming more and more limited. I see many who still exercise, who still venture out-of-doors after the long hours in the cube. What I speak of is the medium of this encounter between man and the world. He does not go outside to see what outside is. This is a simple child's mentality, like the two-year-old who first discovers what sand is, and is perplexed. Yet, man is not supposed to set aside all childish things, and this loss of vision is a serious blindness for modernity.

Man still goes outside, but why? Because he must exercise. A bike, shoes, a kayak, roller blades, a bathing suit, a boat, a skateboard, a snowboard, skis, etc... there is always something to accomplish. Man has an hour, and must burn 500 calories. So, he will bike X miles at X pace, and go home to dinner feeling pacified. Or perhaps he exercises for competition, in which case he must cover X miles in X time to beat the other man.

These are not bad things, of course, nor bad reasons to do things. But they are also not enough, at least not always. If man is not going out to exercise, perhaps it is to learn a skill, or sport, or to be part of a group or club. Again, worthy causes. But does man join a group or play a sport for or of discovery? Oh, so sadly, I fear he does not.

No sitting still and observing for us! Too much to do, too much to do.

There is no time for the sitting and even if man so disciplined himself to sit and observe, what would he glean? There are trees. There is grass. There is a house. There are some cars. There is a deer. The observe-and-identify game is not the same as an encounter.

The Greek word paedeia means "to educate," but more literally means to "draw forth," or to "call forth," or to "unveil" what is already present. To go to the world, specifically to nature, to learn from it, rather than of it, may be a novel idea; though it is just as old as history, which is also becoming a novel idea to modern culture.

"What on earth could nature teach us? We've exhausted it already! We've been to the moon, we've de-planatized Pluto. We know why the leaves change color and what makes the rainbow. This isn't a mystery anymore." Bah! There you have it; modernity's definitive attitude about life itself. Life is not mysterious and it is exhausted.

Does this not terrify you, oh reader? Oughtenit?

There should most certainly be little alarm bells going off when the "living world," when "living creatures," when "life" is assumed to be already and thoroughly known! Could we be more naive?

Living. It implies growing. Breathing. Moving. Changing. Becoming. Going from certain potential into actualizing those potentials. Seed... tree. Seed has potential to be tree-producing-more-seeds, but as it is, it is a seed. Do we dare see it as it is?

Oh modern man! You have built up false walls around you! You have willingly donned black glasses to keep your eyes from the light of the sun! You have sought protection from what a living, breathing world might mean to all of your power and domination! Too risky is the truth for the confines of your little false kingdom.

You simply cannot let the world be!

But what on earth, really, on earth, does that mean for you? You, who are this microcosm, this crown, this epitome? If you willingly strip the real down to a "safe" non-real, what are you to do with yourself? You, man, are real. You cannot un-real yourself, even if you are determined to un-real the world.

It is a joke, and a very sad one. The Lord's words to the pharisees of being "blind guides" because they would not see reality is the truth of our entire modern culture. Nihilism, solipsism, you pick a name. Disenchanted confusion. Jaded disillusionment. Contented distractedness. Extreme fear.

Whatever the cause, the end is without a doubt the collapse of human society. Nietzsche gets some credit for noting that once man closes himself to God, he closes himself to life. There can only be one throne in the heart of man, and only one King can reign there.

The challenge begins with each of us, stepping out into the grass with our bare feet. Literally and figuratively, it will take us stripping down the techno-modern-walls of culture to get to the literal world that awaits us. What we shall learn cannot be predicted. Certainly, others will have learned it before us, to some extent. But never as we have learned it. Never as we see it. Not with our eyes, and not with our hearts. The encounter will be entirely new, and we could do the exact same thing tomorrow, and that encounter would be entirely new. Ah! The living world will not sit still. We must. We must greet it, and contemplate it. We need to understand that mystery is not dead, and neither is man.

Protecting Conscience

I don't really have time right now to cover what I want to cover, but this is what is going through my head. 
1. We have some issues with our legislation in this great Nation.
2. Conscience protection is weak if not completely lacking in the new health care Act.
3. The amendment to the Affordable Care Act, "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act," has been undergoing criticism.
4. I don't know much about politics so my thoughts are meager, but this is what struck me.

I emailed my representatives via NCHLA's call for action email system. (You should too!)
I received correspondence from one of my Congressmen. 
I had to respond because I could not agree with his argument. 
Please see below: 

His reply to the auto-email was as follows:
Thank you for contacting me to express your support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011 (H.R. 1179). I appreciate learning of your interest in this legislation, but regret that we must disagree.

This bill would allow virtually any health care provider to deny coverage for specific services without penalty. Although this would generally apply to abortion services, it could cover any medical service or procedure. H.R. 1179 would allow insurers to refuse to comply with existing federal, state, and local laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services, including referral for abortion services. Laws requiring the provision of abortion services tend to apply only in extreme circumstances, such as when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or when a woman's life or health is threatened by a pregnancy. But H.R. 1179 would allow health insurance companies and health plans to ignore these laws with impunity. This broad federal refusal clause therefore endangers women's lives and undermines women's ability to make their own health care decisions during pregnancy.
My reply to that response went as follows: 
Respectfully sir, when a bill does not accomplish the end in which it is meant for, it ought to be revised and reconsidered. If Respect for Rights of Conscience is in fact too vague or does not include proper restrictions, than I would ask why it is not being amended before being voted on. If it cannot be successful because its language is not acceptable, there seems little point in arguing over the bill itself. The issue is that the Affordable Care Act does not protect the American people's rights, especially when it comes to religiously or conscientiously objecting to certain medical procedures or functions (ie, abortion, contraception, sterilization, etc..). I believe the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act is attempting to solve that problem that came with the Affordable Care Act.

I am not someone who would pretend to tell you how to do your job, sir. I am someone who feels obligated as a citizen of a country I love to speak up for the defense of myself and many others who would be otherwise forced to support things which deeply offend my religious beliefs. I cannot support the damage done to women by contraceptives, especially the increasing infertility rates. I cannot stand by while mothers are continually hurt by the effects of abortions. I cannot support the killing of little children before they have even had a change to know this world. These are things I am confident that our founding fathers would have found inhumane and barbaric, and I also find them offensive to the beauty of human life.

I don't know, sir, if you have ever visited Auschwitz, but I have. I have seen with my own eyes what a holocaust leaves behind. I have felt the sadness and pain that surrounds a place where so many innocent lives were taken. I cannot apologize for saying that Americans are walking around, pretending as if we are not doing the exact same thing all over our nation's soil. But we are doing the same thing. There is no other way to express adequately that abortion is a way to dispel of a child who is unwanted. Sometimes it is for convenience; sometimes because they have been prenatally diagnosed with a deformity or disease, or the potential to have a genetic disease; sometimes it is because the mother has conceived too many children through IVF and the doctor recommends they reduce the number of children, etc...It is what it is, and calling it anything else is a lie. 

I respectfully ask you to do what is necessary to help protect the innocent, and the rights of American citizens across the country who do not support these things that are included under the umbrella of the Affordable Care Act. We are taxpaying citizens who deserve to have our voices heard just as much as the activists who are shouting that "free contraception" (which will not be free) is so wonderful. Please consider what I have said. If you feel you cannot support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, than please work so that it would be amended properly and would then be able to be supported. That is what law is supposed to be for, to assist in forming and supporting the common good.
Though it may have been a bit over-dramatic, I wanted to emphasize a point. Too often LAW is not considered in light of a) legal rights, b) the common good, c) the people. What, exactly, is the point if these are being overlooked or ignored? Law is meant to support the common good of the people, according to the will of the people who have elected representatives to work to formulate laws which will uphold and protect their rights and serve the greater good of the nation. I know that is not easy and often not how the world plays out, but I think that is the general idea. 
Anyway, I am one who studies theology and not law, so there may be many flaws in my argument. Yet, I needed to think about it, and I think others should too.

Sometimes what is needed...

Sometimes, what is needed is more than what we have.

I know you know the feeling.

Just another moment of holding your tongue so that the instance of anger or frustration passes and you can continue on in peace. Just another second of holding up the weight of the world on your shoulders so that the bills, the job, the family, and all of the demands on your time that come with living do not come falling down around you.

How did we get here? What on earth did we do to end up with so much responsibility, with so many expectations? What happens when we know we will fall short?

Many times in my life I have prayed the Litany of Humility hoping to turn back the tides of my pride and become a kind and gentle person. What I have found is that, in response to those prayers, I have ended up embarrassed, broken, lonely, hurt, scared, or some concoction of those. Perhaps I am not at my wits end, or at the bottom of a dark pit. Yet, broken is probably the only adequate word.

I know we all reach these points, because I see it happen to those I love. No matter how wise, how careful, how adapting, how patient we are, there comes a time (or many times) when life just gets the better of us. Rather, it takes the "better" and heads for the hills. And we get left with the "worse" and have to make the best we can. But trying to plug "worse" into a system where "better" was the necessary function just doesn't cut it. And the system falls apart.

I have to admit that there are times when I actually enjoy these stripped-down moments. Of course, all of the breaking and smashing is painful or at least uncomfortable. Yet, there is something so gloriously truthful about being broken down. I cannot help but love when the truth is known in a greater fullness. The truth is that we came from nothing. We were formed out of the dust, and we shall return to dust. Think about when you have walked through a cemetery. There are plenty of headstones there that you will never read, and that have no visitors. One man who has been lying there for one hundred years may be well out of living memory. Yet, when he lived, he too had a world built up around him. He had his family, his job, his social groups, his activities, his thoughts and his dreams. Consider how often we hold ideas and hopes that "one day" we might make a difference in this crazy world. Who is to say that he, too, did not have these hopes and work for them in his life? Yet, he has gone on.

We too, will join him. We will pass away, and some fifty or one hundred years later someone may walk past our headstone in a cemetery. All of the world around us that seems so big and strong and important, and perhaps the work that we do that also seems strong and important, will fade away like all of history does into memory.

That is in no way to say that what we do in life is not important - please do not mistake me. In fact, I think that history desperately needs to be rekindled in modern mind and heart, if we are to ever learn from the mistakes of the past and have hope to grow in healthy ways for the future. No, history is vital, and must ever be in mind for the living to truly understand where they have come from and where they are going.

For the sake of the reflection though, I mean to point out that we are simply not as significant as we often feel, or often would prefer to think we are. In light of this, it is rather honest when we end up broken down or feeling inadequate or weak. It is honest because we should realize just how much of "us being us" depends on "others being others" and above all, on "God being God." 

What if we couldn't pray? What if we couldn't call a friend? What if we didn't have the arms of our loved ones to fall into?

Sometimes what is needed is being the one who is weak. Sometimes what is needed is accepting our limitations, and accepting with gratitude the ways we are given to cope with those limitations. Sometimes what is needed is the joy that can be found when we surrender our strength and pride and allow God to be God, and our friends and family to love us in our need.

It is hard to know where we still have to go, how much room we have for growth, without first seeing the reality of where we are. It is a gift when we are put in our place, no matter how much it shames us. It is a gift to know in all truth how great the love and power of God is, which is all the more evident when we realize how little we accomplish without him. It is a gift to see the depth of love our friends and family have for us when we don't have anything to offer in return.

Sometimes what is needed is thankfulness for just how weak we really are.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The thing about abysses is...

Merriam-Webster says that the:

Definition of ABYSS

1 : the bottomless gulf, pit, or chaos of the old cosmogonies
2 a : an immeasurably deep gulf or great space b : intellectual or moral depths 

Meanwhile, says that:


1. a deep, immeasurable space, gulf, or cavity; vast chasm.
2. anything profound, unfathomable, or infinite: the abyss of time.
3. (in ancient cosmogony) 
a. the primal chaos before Creation.
b. the infernal regions; hell.
c. a subterranean ocean

So what is it, exactly, that an "abyss" is? A noun? A place? A symbol? A metaphor? 
How about "e. all of the above"?

I'll never forget the day I learned my friend Becca was attempting to make it to another friend's home (one of my favorite places in the world, I might add), and tragically took one turn too early, and ended up driving into the "dark abyss." I empathized with her mistake, because in the early days of going to Kate's house, I too found myself taken in by the "dark abyss." 

Now, in this case, the abyss can be a noun, because it is a title, but it is more a place (which is a noun, I know the definition of a noun, but I mean a geographical and topographical and tangible and intangible thing when I say "place," which requires more definition than simply a name). The "dark abyss" is a road that does NOT lead to Kate's house, but rather, down a long windy road that is poorly lit and suddenly brings to mind the story of Ichabod Crane. It is a place that one ought not to go, and does not wish to go, and yet, somehow, is there. 

Now what about figurative or metaphorical "abysses"? We all have them. The "dark hole" from which we do not wish to resurface when everything has been going absolutely wrong for some time. The "depths of despair" which we prefer to plummet into rather than fight against the strong downward current. The "endless road, stretching on and on in front of us, with no end in sight" which we seem to find just a wee bit more comfortable than the not-so-endless-road-that-doesn't-really-stretch-on-and-on-forever-and-ever-and-ever-but-unfortunately-does-have-an-end-which-requires-more-work-than-the-lame-non-ending-road. 

Whether those abysses for us are personal hurts which we cannot let go of, attachments to unhealthy activities or harmful things which wear us down or enslave us, fears or anxieties which hold us captive or keep us from true freedom, or any other lie that feeds on us and makes us into prey, we all face them. The question is, what then?

Fortunately, abysses don't have to be only negative things. It isn't only infinite regress that comes to mind. On the contrary, infinite goodness also shines forth. Moreover, an abyss of good might very well be the most authentic abyss there is. Evil, with all of its intricacies, manipulations, traps and trickery, seems terribly dull after close evaluation. The same cycles go over and over again, the same patterns wearily displayed. For all of its seeming greatness, evil tends to be stopped short. This is because it exists below or within the power of God. It is of creatures, even if those creatures are intangible or mysterious beings (here implying angels/demons). Likewise, sin and evil enter the world in and through the action of man, and since man is a limited being, evil is in some way limited as well. 

On the other hand, goodness is always surprising us, isn't it? When someone acts out in some evil or aggression, we are certainly horrified, saddened, upset, etc... but we are not necessarily shocked. When someone forgives an aggressor who, in justice, deserves punishment and reproach, we are amazed. This is because goodness (while certainly dwelling within us and being of us and us being of it, for we are created in love in the image and likeness of God) is of God. Goodness is a quality, and more than a quality, of God. Goodness is God's being, in so many ways. He is Love. He is gift. So goodness takes its infinite and limitless and boundless and eternal and abysmal nature from God! 

This is a quote from an Anglican spirituality book, but I think he hits the mark: 
"I am obliged to believe in an abyss of love which is deeper than the abyss of death: I dare not lose faith in that love. I sink into death, eternal death, if I do. I must feel that this love is compassing the universe. More about it I cannot know. I leave myself and all to him."

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said so beautifully:
“This divine heart is an abyss filled with all blessings, and into the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.”

I don't think I need to explain myself any further. We are going to come upon the "wrong-turn-roads" that lead us nowhere fast (in this case, "nowhere" is a place). We are most certainly privy to turning down those dark roads at times (dare I say, willfully!? or even, obstinately!?), and we are going to suffer the consequences of allowing sin to rule us, rather than love. 

Yet, at the end of the day, we choose our master. It is human nature to lose ourselves in things. We are creatures of passions, of obedience, of commitment, of generosity, and of power. We cannot survive in halfway life. We need, we year, we desire to give ourselves over, to be lost to someone else. The Lord has beautifully bestowed a gift of sensing in our hearts that stirs at the presence of what, and Whom, we wish to serve (and that goes for husbands, wives, priests and sisters as well as ultimately the Lord). We will know, we do know, when we are near abysses. It's just natural. We also know whether those abysses are leading to death or life. 

The triumphant abyss is the one which is a fiery furnace, that burns up all that is not good, and leaves us new and unblemished. 

The thing about abysses is, they can be infinitely good, or finitely bad. We have to decide where we fall.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Greater Love

I had one of those evenings yesterday, when you think you know the plan, and then you discover that life had other ideas. Fortunately for me, this unplanned-plan turned out to be something very good.

My sister and I occassionally go to adoration together at a nearby chapel. Last night we ended up arriving just as our Lord was being moved from the adoration chapel into the church. There was a group who had scheduled a "Holy Half an Hour" and so those who were praying in the chapel were invited to go into the church to continue.

Benediction began as usual and I was under the impression I would be able to continue in silent prayer. However, what happened instead was a nice homily from a visiting priest on St. Maria Goretti and what it means to live our faith with heroism, and how important it is that we avoid sin at all costs.

One thought settled inside of me while I was listening to his encouragement, and I felt it needed to be shared. It went something like this:

Do you love yourself?

No, really. Think about the question.

Have you tried to love yourself?

I mean really love. Not just bear with, or accept, or put up with, or half-heartedly like from time to time...



How has that worked for you?

Have you found yourself satisfied by the love you can give yourself?

Have you felt fulfilled?

Father was relating words from 1950 when St. Maria Goretti was canonized (I could not find the original text), and said something like, "God is the greatest lover you could ever know."
Whether in my head or by Father's words I do not recall, but what followed was, "His love is the only love that will ever satisfy."
Of course, Father cited St. Augustine's famous line, "Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you."

Yet, there is something to be said for this beyond the "obvious," if it can be called obvious. We are not only yearning for God, or restless for him.

We are seeking to fulfill what we simply cannot fill.

Whether we love ourselves or not (and hopefully you do love yourself to some degree), the love we offer ourselves is simply not adequate. This is why selfishness can be irrational, and why self-centeredness can cause us confusion, doubt, anxiety, frustration and sadness.

It would seem logical to say that you recognize a need (in this case, a fulfillment of self), and you recognize an answer or fulfillment for that need (in this case, love), and you seek to place what will fulfill the need where that need is. It is a simple step by step process. We do this to turn on the computer. Machine is off. There is a power button. We turn on the power and the machine is on. It seems so simple.

Yet, what we forget, or perhaps never know, is that what we recognize as an answer or fulfillment is not actually the proper answer or fulfillment. It is something we do as children. Have  you ever watched a small child struggle to get the shapes of the little blocks into the ball or into the board that has the matching holes for those shapes? They keep on trying to push the star through the square, or the crescent through the circle. It doesn't work, but they see two simple points: that the task is to fill in the empty space. They just are not able to realize that the space requires more than just matter to fill it, it has a shape, and that shape has a meaning.

My friends, I am not a fan of the "God-shaped-hole" in us, so please don't sing that to yourself right now. The analogy is deeper than that, much deeper. We are not all carbon copies of one another who simply need to fit in the "ten minutes of prayer" card or the "church on Sunday" block to make things work. We do not function like machines. We are people. We are human. We are each a marvelous creation, so similar to those around us and yet a completely unique individual. Perhaps this is exactly why we seem to think that only we could love ourselves properly. Yet, this is so childish.

I only know my own heart as intimately as I dare to write here, so I will speak from it alone. I know that those times when I do everything I can to care for myself, make time for me, pamper just a bit, find solace in a treat or in some relaxing activity, I may relax. I may smile. I may feel less tired. I am not fulfilled. I am not happy. I am not happy in the way I intended myself to be after such efforts. I do not have the same joyful rush of laughter and peace that I do when I am spending my energies in other ways.

The irony of the perfect fulfillment of love being a generous gift from a lover we never see is that the best way to take up that gift and give it room to grow and flourish within us is to give of ourselves. Yes, it works. I promise. Haiti, for example, is one of those experiences that dramatizes this truth so well. You go and spend every day trying to make kids laugh, help build things, help clean things, basically just do anything you can to be at the service of those who are already giving their lives in service to those people... and you are happy. Sure, times can be hard. Yet, the love that moves through you to those little, darling faces makes some space inside of you and remains there, as a source of strength and fortitude while you serve.

This is what it comes down to: self-love is a good thing. You need to be grateful for life, and specifically for your life. However, self-love, when taken in the wrong context or to an extent that is not proper, can also be a painful and frustrating thing. ONLY the love of the Lord will be able to fill in and expand within every crevice and hole, every nook and cranny, every lofty ceiling and deep well that exists within your heart. Only that love has the light that can reveal mysteries to you of your own heart. Only that love has the strenth to continue to grow and build and sustain even when the world draws you to your last straw. Only that love has eyes to see into your past and your future and to understand you in all of your intricacies in the present. Only that love will be there tomorrow, when you wake up, and tomorrow, in the afternoon, when you are itching to get out of work. Only that love will be there in ten years, still flourishing, still overwhelming, still rejoicing.

Do you love yourself?

If you do, you will allow yourself to be loved by one who will always love you more than you could possibly have imagined...

This book is a wonderful read if you are interested in considering the Love of God for man more thoroughly: The Love that Satisfies, and this song by Watermark is worth a listen: Captivate Us.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hold it!

Sometimes the first thing I want to do is close my eyes. Turn off my ears. Hold very still. Listen, but with my other senses. My skin. My heart. The blood pumping in my ears.

What do I learn? What discoveries are made?

There seems to me a rather wide gap between what is selfish and what is self-aware. The bridge that is built between these two needs to be kept by a wise gatekeeper. Yet, I find that it is sometimes much harder to pass to Mnt. Self-Aware than it is to laze on Selfish Island.

There is a bit of wisdom tucked away in the need to be aware of oneself, wisdom that opens some rather challenging doors of self-gift.

It is often remarked upon that the small things within your closest friends or family members that irritate you or draw your disdain are often the very things within yourself that need to be amended. We don't always (or even often) appreciate the truth of our own weaknesses or failures flung in our faces. It is not very consoling to be so reminded of the things we must struggle with.

Yet, how can we be a "one-who-gives," when we are not a "one-who-knows"? You cannot give what you do not have, and you cannot adequately give what you do not know you have.

Let me be more practical for a moment; if I want to be a good soccer player, I must first practice many hours and train so that I know I have the skills to offer to my team or future team. If I wish to sing I must train and stretch myself so that I know what skills I bring to a song. If I want to be a friend, I need to know myself in order to know my own opinions, thoughts, dreams, desires, etc... which I can than offer to my friend.

In essence, we cannot reasonably approach relationship with others if we do not first have an awareness, or a relationship, with ourselves. How can I relate to another if it is not first from myself? Likewise, how could I receive the gift of another (be that a kind word, some good advice, a listening ear, or any other shared experience with a friend) if I do not understand how to receive it, or where to apply it?

I suppose this seems funny, or at least obvious. Yet, I find that our culture is an open invitation to distraction. I have been known from time to time to say that I have ADD tendencies, but I know that is not true. What I do know is that many people struggle to be "present" to day to day tasks, to coworkers, friends, family, shopping, driving, etc... because we do not have the experience of practicing stillness. We do not have endless hours of quiet, or even one hour. We do not have days without entertainment, or even moments. We do not have to wait very long for anything, and when we do, we are either impatient or distracted.

Sometimes I like to imagine what it must have been like for those first American pioneers who settled a bit further west into the country. No electricity, just oil lamps and fire wood. In the winters, especially in the areas where heavy snows are, there must have been little to no venturing out, especially for women and children. A house the size of a small room, with two, three, four, five, or more people sitting inside. For months. Without being able to leave. Can you even stand the feeling that is creeping over you thinking about that? I think I would be crazy in the first few days!

Yet, for whatever struggles and failures and pains that type of living must have been, those who endured it most certainly obtained certain virtues we, as a culture, do not value or posses. For whatever the suffering, those who lived in such simplistic ways certainly had the strength of mind to hold their attention for long periods of time. I can only imagine that they were experts in various skills and trades, for all the time they would have devoted to practice and improvement.

I am not trying to advocate for cutting off water supplies and trying to recreate the 1800s, but I am admiring what I know I need to learn from them.

It is a skill that I find most needed when in prayer, when communication is at it's "least explicit" or at least not the typical form of conversing. I do not get phone calls or skype messages or facebook inboxes or texts from the Lord. I have to find somewhere quiet, peaceful, and secluded when I want to speak with Him. I have to still my mind from it's 6,000 mile and hour runs. I have to breathe. I have to close my eyes to the craziness of life around me and turn off my ears. I have to come to myself, come to know who I am, and I have to be honest with that knowledge before the Lord.

One of the reasons I believe so firmly that this type of stillness needs to be practiced more and not given up or forgotten is because there is so much we still need to discover about ourselves! I never leave a time of prayer and peaceful communication with the Lord and am not surprised by some level of knowledge or insight or confidence in myself that I did not know before. Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in Gaudium et Spes, "Christ...fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear...[and] that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" (22-24). 

This is the integral and immediate point: that when we enter a certain stillness and allow ourselves to be aware, we come to know both the Lord and ourselves much more certainly. Likewise, this knowledge gained enables us to simultaneously love the Lord, our neighbor and ourselves more fully. It is always easier to be patient and sincere with a friend when we know someone else was just patient and sincere with us. It is also always easier to forgive a friend or make great efforts to help a friend when one has done the same for us. And someone has done the same for us, and much more (that is, Jesus Christ).

So if you find that in the mornings you cannot keep your head on straight long enough to remember to pack your lunch before you rush to the car, or you cannot recall to get quarters for doing your laundry because of the laundry list of things you have to do in one day, chill. Stop. Hold it. Relax and breathe. Say a "Hail Mary," or try to imagine the Cross. Picture your idea of heaven. Best of all, find a chapel with Eucharistic Adoration. Stop for ten minutes and just be with Him. Stop for an hour and really pray. Whatever efforts you make, let them be for the stillness. 

When we are bearers of peace in our hearts, the peace that only Jesus gives, we will be amazed at what we learn. We will discover the strength to address our weaknesses that we find so unattractive and to work on them. We will discover the determination to improve what things we find lacking in ourselves. We will discover the patience to endure things which are hard or sorrowful or trying. We will find that others recognize in us a sense of relief and comfort. We will be like miniature safe havens for the very weary in our world. We will be places of peace for them because we will know Who is our peace and where our peaces comes from. We will be able to give what we have, and know what we have to offer. 

The cliche "take time to smell the roses" is just so true. Take time to calm down, and look around. Take time to look around inside yourself. Take time to invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate your heart. Breathe in deeply the fragrance of the Love of God, which is potent and stirring. Do not let the culture of progress, deadlines, noise and distraction leave you alone and unsure of your own self because there was no time for that. Make time for that. Self-reflection leads to self-awareness, and self-awareness means that you can spend more time in the heights and less time trying to make it across that shaky bridge that can lead to selfishness.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Come to me, all you who are burdened...

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." -Matt. 11:28-30

I have heard a number of interpretations of this Gospel passage in the past week due to it's repetition in the liturgical calendar as the selected Gospel reading for mass. I do not wish to pass on to you those interpretations, but something that has been growing in my mind and was only reassured and confirmed by these consoling words of Christ's.

There is another Scripture passage that instantly leaps into my mind, 1 John 5:2-5:
"In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who (indeed) is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (emphasis added)

What strikes me is that the Lord gives commands and asks efforts that literally seem to be impossible at times. "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," Matt. 5:48.
Right, Lord, no problem. Perfect, like God... Love my neighbor and all of that. How often do we feel that way? It nearly makes you laugh, because you have to know how very short you are going to fall of that goal. Yet, Jesus does not leave us on our own with these commands.

St. Paul tells us, "For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood." Heb. 12:2-4

This is not a task or requirement that Christ gives without first leading the way.

Jesus himself says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where (I) am going you know the way." John 14:1-4

 The faith that is not burdensome for us as children of God is the faith that Christ takes our hands and walks with us on a path he knows well. Even when we cannot see, or cannot hear, or do not have the heart to press on, he guides us, he protects us, and if necessary, he carries us.
The other recounting of the Beatitudes ends with Jesus' words: "Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful," Luke 6:36.

Perhaps this is the key to understanding how, in faith, we are to strive to be "perfect." God is love, and his love is mercy. To be like him, first and foremost we are to be charitable. The life of the Holy Spirit within us is meant to be this indwelling and filling up of charity that will not stay still. We are to be motivated, moved by, this charity so that it flows freely from us. And so praise should be ever on our lips, and love ever in our hearts.

Of course that is not the way we live each day, or at least, certainly not all the time. Yet, this is why St. Paul tells us we are to continue to struggle against sin. Further in chapter 12 of Hebrews he says, "So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed," (12-13). 

To learn to be merciful, to love God and neighbor in truth and charity, we must understand that the process of loving begins first within ourselves before it can move out towards others. It is first a gift given to us, and then a gift we give. Before we can show mercy to others, or even to ourselves, we must first know the mercy we have received and are receiving from the Lord. We must know that we need healed.

This requires humility on our parts, a humility that is unafraid. We must know that the more we work, the harder we strive, the longer we fight, the more our weaknesses will come before us. Yes, our weaknesses, not our strengths. The life of faith is similar to a muscle, needing to be stretched and pushed beyond its limits bit by bit, until it develops enough strength to move further. Yet, this isn't a muscle that grows quickly, at least not for most. It takes time, and when we relax for a while and stop resisting, it loses ground or grows slack.

Therefore, we must not lose our zeal, and we cannot accept mediocre faith. If we are facing dry periods or great temptations or interior struggles or deep wounds, these are the weaknesses that are to be our avenues for greater mercy and love. We become sensitive to all that the Lord has seen in us, and all of the times we have rejected his love. We realize how stupid and selfish, how tiresome we are. We see how we burden others unnecessarily and weigh them down with our weakness and sin. We become aware of the situations that increase our temptations and lessen our faith. In light of that, we seek mercy for ourselves.

Understanding that God's love is so infinite, so unconditional, we go begging to be held. No, not just pet on the head and acknowledged, we want to be held. We want to be caught up in his arms, kissed and tickled, smiled at and understood. We want to be so imbued with his mercy that forgets sins, that we let go of them ourselves. We want to be healed, and made new. We know, in all honesty, that we may make those same mistakes again, and perhaps very soon. Yet, we also know in all honesty that we love God more, and desire his commands more, and believe in the sacrifice and cross of Christ more.

It is always going to be a weird struggle and a strange contradiction, how we love and yet fail to love. Yet, look at us in our humanity. It is exactly how we relate to others; exactly how we love those closest to us. We love our families, our parents, our sisters and brothers, our husbands or wives, or boyfriends or girlfriends, our children, our dearest friends... yet, we let them down. We find them irritating. We irritate them. We pick fights and hold on to petty issues. We fail to understand their hurts, fail to see into their hearts and know the pains that trouble them. We fail to force ourselves past our own injuries of the day to look into their hearts and help them through theirs. This is the journey I referred to at the beginning. Christ is here, when we cannot see what we need to see, or hear what they need us to hear. Christ is here, when we just can't get it right, and those we love suffer because of it. This is the weakness that he can heal, that he can make strong.

So much of the liturgy of late has spoken of faith in Christ, and how great our faith is. If we know how great our burdens are, we must know, far more than that, how great Christ's love is. His power is unlimited. His mercy is unbounded. His readiness to give us what we need is unhindered. We need to learn the humility to acknowledge our failings and injuries, and the courage and confidence in faith to seek forgiveness and grace.

Frequent the Sacrament of Confession. Try every two weeks, or every week. It will amaze you, how much you learn of your failings. It will also amaze you, how much you learn of mercy. It is hard to hold back forgiveness from another, no matter what they have done to you, when your own apology and receipt of mercy is fresh in your mind.