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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I'm a Survivor

So maybe Destiny's Child is a little corny, but you'll have to humor me here.
The song "I'm a Survivor" came into my head today, and it certainly lifted my spirits. If you have been feeling in any way exhausted, used, abused, abandoned, worn out, ignored, unappreciated, etc... you may want to think about what it means to say you will survive, that you will fight, that you will work harder.

My friends, life is a struggle. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or has been hidden away with fairies or something. But I would argue that the reason I acknowledge it as such is probably not the same reason that is generally considered. Not to cut out the obvious fact of the struggle to survive and all of its sharp teeth, but more importantly it is the struggle to be whole, to be pure, to be good, that is the true task at hand.

There is much to consider about these terms, even just about the ideals. To be good, what is that?

Aristotle would tell us that as humans, we naturally seek the good that we see for ourselves. St. Thomas Aquinas would add that this natural good is our ultimate fulfillment in God, who is our source and end. Many various wise people (who I am not at liberty to cite here, being that my memory is not so strong) have expounded on these points and discussed (at ridiculously great lengths) what it means for man to desire his good, and how man can know what his good is, and if there is a universal good for all men or if each person's good is specific to his own being.

Today is not the day for philosophy (we started with Destiny's Child) so I will skip over those many arguments and discussions. Those are certainly questions worth mulling over, so take time to consider them. The Church would tell us that our purpose in existing is to "know love and serve" God (timeout to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1: "God, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life...God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life"). So if our end is to know our Creator, that means a lot about our everyday. The beautiful thing here (though there are many) is that our Creator (whom we are to come to know) is a loving one.  He certainly is beyond and above our littleness, and yet he stooped to come amoung us and rescue us from our brokenness. Not only that, but he left us with a rather useful and sound map and compass (the Church) to lead us ever-more away from the brokenness and into his marvelous light.

So our good is to be fulfilled, to become who and what we were meant to be, to discover the glory that dwells within ourselves that we may have been unaware of. For us to pursue this, we need the tools given to us by the Church. We need the Sacraments. We need Baptism to irradicate the stain of original sin from our souls. We need the Eucharist to purify and sustain us, to transform us, that we would be made "holy by the power of your Spirit" and that our humanity may paritcipate in the glory of the Word made flesh. We need Confirmation, that our lives will be under the counsel and love and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need daily prayer and communal prayer to lift us up beyond the darkness of this world. We need Confession that we can be healed of our many sins and discover the mercy and grace that God so abundantly lavishes on his children when they ask.

To learn habits of good, to develop virtues in place of vice - this is the ever-present task. Every action and thought and word we participate in will lead us further down the path of wholeness or further down the path of division. We are either fulfilling some potential for good in us or rejecting some potential for good in us. Certainly there are many things which in and of themselves are rather neutral (picking up the phone, eating an apple, smelling some cookies, going to the bathroom...) but when one begins to really examine this life, everything truly does take on some level of meaning in the greater picture. The battle is a life-long struggle. Every smaller battle trains us and strengthens us so that the greater challenges are not impossible to face. If I eat my apple and I'm enjoying it and I am grateful for its existence and then for its new existence in my stomach, I am certainly appreciating the gifts of one who loves me (God) and I am a happier person because I have received that which I did not deserve. Meanwhile, if I am eating out of functionality, or even bitterness because I would rather eat a cookie but I'm dieting, I am not finding praise or worship or gratitude in my heart but self-righteousness and maybe pride. Now certainly we can't go crazy being scrupulous about every little detail, but the idea is important because it does imply that we acknowledge God as Lord of our entire lives and our whole selves and not just a God who we visit on Sundays or think of occassionally.

For our persons to every be united as we are meant to be, to really understand our souls and bodies as a whole, as the true one being that each individual is, than we need to recognize both the divisive effects of sin on our lives and the unitive effects of virtue and grace on our lives. They stand in stark discover oneself in an even deeper way it is required that we live (to our best ability, which can be very great with the aid of grace) in harmony with God's laws, and the natural law, which is given by God. We must understand that we are more free and more able to be who we are called to be when we not only obey the laws given to us but love them. They bring peace. They stir up a sense of self that is profound. They allow us to know our hearts, to see our inner selves, and yet to love and respect our bodies and how all of our person is intrinsically and intimately united. Just in the same way, every sin taps a wedge into the bedrock of our person. Every sin, whether purposeful or omission, leads us out of love and into darkness. Every minute spent thinking over the offenses of another is a minute not spent loving in this world. Where we might have forgiven and found healing, we are wasting ourselves on bitterness or malice. There are so many things that can lead to our bedrock breaking into pieces!

Sexual sins, or sins with our bodies, are perhaps the most dangerous. If we are willing to treat our very selves as a tool or function for accomplishing some good feeling or "act of freedom" or proof of our self-control or self-possession, what we are truly doing is proving how lost and blind we have become. No one who loves himself would harm himself. No one who is proud (in the good sense) would abuse himself. No one should seek what they think is "good" when it isn't good for them! But how often we are subject to that! How often we think that if we can only impress some person, we will have a better life. And so we wear things we would not normally wear, or say things we would not normally say. Or how often do we believe that the person we are is simply not good enough for whatever we secretly yearn for in the depths of our hearts, and so we settle for far lesser dreams and far more tragic treatment because we have forgotten who we are and who we were made to be. Just for the record, God never ceases to call us to be the beautiful and resplendent children he has made us. Never. We can spit in his face and the next moment he is still holding his arms out. Certainly it takes time and great effort (and most of all, real humility) for us to be reconciled if we have developed habits of sin that control our lives, but we are never outside of his mercy and love. Never!

St. Claude de Colombiere wrote this most beautiful prayer:
"Lord, I am in this world to show Your mercy to others.
Other people will glofiry You by making visible the power of Your grace by their fidelity and constancy to You.
For my part I will glorify You by making known how good You are to sinners,
that Your mercy is boundless and that no sinner no matter how great his offences should have reason to despair of pardon.
If I have grieviously offended You, My Redeemer, let me not offend You even more by thinking that You are not kind enough to pardon Me.

That is something to chew on.

So this is our hope and our task - to desire the good (which is our being-in-love with the One who has first loved us!!!) and to pursue it with all of our selves, even in the tiniest of ways, every day, come what may. If we can strive to avoid sin, and beg for the grace to avoid it even more, and beg for the grace to be sorry when we do sin and for the grace to recognize the things which lead us to sin or our inclinations to sin, we will slowly begin to weed out those things that so deeply wound us and allow ourselves to begin the weight lifting and strength training that we need for this war!

(If you would like to read more on the Church's teaching on the beauty and truth of the gift man has been given in sexual love and its right-ordering, I highly suggest reading Humanae Vitae and The Theology of the Body

Say it with me now,
"I'm a survivor
I'm not gonna give up
I'm not gon' stop
I'm gonna work harder..."

Yeah... :)