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Saturday, April 30, 2011

That We Would Love

Lord, make me merciful. 
Teach me to take into myself that which is hurting, which is broken, which is dark and painful, even that which is sinful in my brothers and sisters and to bear it within my heart. Better me than them, Lord, if your grace would permit it. If you will love in me and through me, if I might love them with your love, with your heart, and see them only as you see them, I know I would grow in leaps and bounds in true love. Jesus, I want to be merciful, as my heavenly Father is merciful. Only there can I find the place where I will grow in perfection. Only there can I remain in peace. Only there will I be made whole and be made new. Only there will I be able to invite others to your love. Only there will I be able to bring healing, light, hope and the truth into the hearts and lives of my family. 
Lord, you have given me only one mother, only one father, only one family to which I am meant to love and bear the Gospel message. Help me then, to lay all else aside for their sake. In this greater family of the Church whom you have generously supplied to me as a means and source of teaching in love and encouraging in love and binding in love, assist me always to remember that human love is good, but human love in and through you is miraculous. Let me not settle for my own strength, for it is simply not enough. May I never grow weary of loving, never grow tired of laying down my life. 
Oh, if only I would remember how much more I rest and am free in the very act of laying down my life! If I would only recall how exhausted my soul is when I am selfish and refuse to place them first. It is true that only in the Cross do we find life, not because it is an abstract knowledge we may come to understand, but because it is real life, and lived life, and the only hope in a world where sin remains. Jesus, your triumph remains even beyond the sin. Your destruction of death has given us all that we need to endure every single death we must suffer in this life, and all the means to grace and mercy that will teach us how to truly live. 
Lord, let my home be nowhere but your heart. Let me be as the disciple whom you loved, and rest on your chest even in the midst of trial, temptation, danger and sadness. Let nothing move me from your side. I know you shall never leave me. And Jesus, for every time I do leave, and I do hurt others, and I do bring pain and sorrow into the world by my sinfulness, never let me doubt your mercy! Mercy was given on the Cross, at the very last moments of the greatest act of love. Your consummation of the covenant was made along with the gift of the Church to your Mother and she to the Church, and the forgiveness of all of us who “do not know what we do.” Lord, let this always be our strength, and let us learn to be merciful even when we are most betrayed and most abused. 
Jesus, in your innocence you remained as a child, even in the midst of great evil… allow us to also be of the same childlike spirit, and share in the Holy Spirit’s gifts so that we will be meek and humble of heart. Let us rejoice in the self-emptying, the kenosis of your sacrifice. This is the prayer of a heart always in need of greater humility, and always delighted that you never give up, and you never grow weary, and you always love with a depth and passion and might that is nearly unbelievable. 
Oh, what gift is the Love of God! 

Friday, April 15, 2011

News to Meet the Argument

Friends, I prefer to have resources and references when I make statements, and I realize the statements in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" would probably be more efficacious if there were some references. This is an article from ABC concerning a program in Philadelphia to distribute condoms to children 11 and older. Please read:

An Article Worth Your Time

In conjunction with some of the recent discussion posted below, I would like to share an article written by a coworker of mine that I found useful as well as true. I highly recommend reading through it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

      If I were to give you all of what was on my mind, we would be here for more pages than I can count. I cannot express the vigor with which I am burning up over the injustice that is rampant in our society. Now, granted, there are many injustices, and many small battles to fight on many fronts before the war of good and evil will be finished. Yet, the one battle I know myself to be forever caught up in is the attack on the human person specifically in the constant attempt to separate the soul-body unity into parts which do not affect one another. This attack also comes in various forms, but the most base is the attack on human sexuality. This attack distorts and disfigures human love, human relationships, the human family, human gender, human gift of life, simple human value and the entire human family.
     Contraception is a rejection of the fruit of love, a rejection of the gift that two people give to one another in their sexual intimacy. It rejects not only the gift that may come from their union, that of a child, a new human life, but also the personal gifts of each person. It rejects the intrinsic value of the person, of the body, of the unity between soul and body, of human action, and the value of the other person who is to receive the gift. The truth is, however, that this value cannot be rejected, precisely because it is intrinsic. It belongs to the character of the human being, the very nature of persons, to posses a dignity and power that is transcendent and beyond them. This is why the unity of body and soul which is the human person is so pivotal to anthropology and to this battle. To create a dichotomy that in reality cannot be created will most certainly cause confusion, darkness, injury and suffering. Note, in reality these two can never be separated (perhaps excluding death in this discussion, although I would argue there is still a unique bond that will be revealed and fulfilled at the Second Coming). Speaking of persons, one cannot ever be simply a physical being, for if you were, you would be dead. This is why Descartes' conviction of "I think, therefore I am" has so often captivated people - because in some sense, this is true. However, it cannot be true solely on that premise.
     Yet, this is not about Descartes or philosophy per se, this is a point on humanity. Once more, you cannot separate the body and soul. You can certainly think abstractly about each as if they were independent, and you can understand certain senses and affects that are proper to each, but neither is ever truly independent of the other. So it would seem that contraception inherently lies, a rather serious untruth. To say with your body and soul that you give yourself to the other while at the same time stating that your body has properties which you will withhold or limit is contradictory. Perhaps this is not clear - there is no way to participate in sexual union with another person and not imply the total gift of self to the other. The very nature of this type of intimacy demands a certain vulnerability and trust, whether conscious or not, that involves the utmost transcendence of the person in the act.
      These points must be fleshed out one hundred times over, but I do not have the room here. I highly recommend referring to various Church documents for further reading (a good place of collected sources is here: and also some of the profound works on human sexuality by the soon-to-be Blessed Pope John Paul II. "Love and Responsibility" and "The Theology of the Body" are two excellent sources. Also recommended are "Humanae Vitae," "Familiaris Consortio," "Mulieris Dignitatum," "The Nuptial Body" by Angelo Scola, "Redemptoris Hominis," "Gaudiem et Spes," and of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
      Once more, the battle is about recovering the human person within the truth and fullness of his being. There is no removing the gift of filiality - of sonship before the Father that is given to us primarily in our nature as created in His image, and then deepened in a profound way at Baptism and the reception of the other sacraments. Man is good, according to God's word. He therefore has a responsibility to be aware of this inherent value of his being, and to act accordingly. Not only to act according to his own good, but the inherent goodness of every other man. As I was discussing above, contraception cuts out the heart of the human person by insisting that man reject himself above all else. It is a lie to oneself even before it is a lie to another. It is a direct statement of doubt of the intrinsic value of the embodied person. Yet, this value is real, and is experienced in reality every day, at all times. It is existence. It cannot be removed. Therefore, man chooses to dwell in a state of self-denial in his acceptance of this demeaning activity.
      It is not hard to understand how this level of doubt or rejection that forms a base in our cultural behavior then feeds into the many other manifestations of the human rejection of the good of the person and of life. Abortion, homosexual activity, masturbation, other forms of sexual abuse, pornography, etc... are examples of the human family that has been torn apart, and the human person who is suffering from a lie that has become the bedrock of his self awareness. I have read personal testimonies of women on Planned Parenthood's facebook page insisting that they are more sexually pleased on their own than from their husbands. I have read personal testimonies of mothers who have chosen to have one of their conceived twins "removed" (aborted) because they had only been anticipating one child from their in-vitro fertilization. I have read of young children who at 9 years old have had their first full-out sexual union with someone, and have found that after they are unable to process their experience. They understand themselves as disembodied, as if they were not the acting subjects in the encounter. They are detached, much as young children are when they are sexually abused. Yet, these children choose to be intimate (if that word is even applicable with children since their emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological elements still in growth and developing, and certainly not mature), rather than being forced into intimacy. But there is something distinct about our culture that has insisted to them that this is appropriate and normal. I have read of parents encouraging their three and four year old daughters to explore their bodies sexually and to stimulate themselves if that is possible. There are state programs offering condoms for free, discretely in the mail, to any young man age 9-18. There are of course an unbelievable amount of magazines, television shows, movies and free images that are purely sexual and are the constant experience of young people. Better Homes and Gardens is replaced with a barely-clothed Rhianna, and everyone is supposed to be alright with this.
     Children need protection, deserve protection. We all, actually, deserve protection from this onslaught. As we age and mature, we begin to develop a greater sensitivity to what "love" truly is, and how it encompasses more than just a physical body. Yet, our culture insists on the divorce between love and sex, between sex and marriage, between children and sex, and between children and marriage. We have watched as this has wrecked havoc on our society, and yet we continue to perpetuate the phenomenon. Divorce, rape, sexual abuse, prostitution, STDs, ABORTION, cohabitation, multiple sexual partners, and homosexual activity are simply "put up with," and by that, we must admit, we mean "accepted as a norm." C.S. Lewis wrote a brilliant discussion of love in a book titled "The Four Loves," in which he discusses love of affection (storage), love of friendship (philia), love of romance (eros) and love of totality or unconditional love (agape). This sort of discussion of love in all of its beautiful dynamism and richness, in the ways in which we participate and take up these elements of love within one another, is simply a foreign language today.
     I must go, but I beg of you to take some time to evaluate your understanding of the gift of love, and the beauty of the human person in its fullness. Recognize both the wonder of the human body and the gift of sexual union while also recognizing the depth and breadth of our personal participation in intimacy with another. We deserve not to sell ourselves short. We deserve to comprehend some of the gorgeous plan that our Creator had in mind when he formed us in our mother's womb. We deserve to recognize the generous and gratuitous gift of adopted sonship in Christ that has been offered humanity, and what it means to be in the image and likeness of God.

Let us pray for purity, for defense from temptation and evil, and for the gift of the Holy Spirit that we will come to greater wisdom of the goodness, truth and beauty of personhood.
Most Blessed Mother, protect us and pray for us.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What We Do In Life

"Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity." - Maximus Decimus Meridius (Gladiator)

(Might I mention now that if you have not seen the movie Gladiator, make that a #1 on your list of priorities. Thanks!)

My friends,

I believe it fair to say that many hearts have been stirred by these great words delivered by Russell Crowe in Gladiator. There's something somewhat bewitching to think that we have that sort of power. There's something very comforting about imagining that we could move the world, move the cosmos even, by our lives. There's certainly something that calls to us and builds in our imagination a picture of greatness or even of heroism. There may even be a bit of a challenge in our experience of those words, a pondering deep within about our own strength and courage, and if we too could do something that might "echo in eternity."

I have no intention of discrediting the power of that moment or the movie itself (I think it is a very good and dramatic reflection on what it is to be human), but I would like to draw a more universal point from the line. Assuming that one accepts eternal life and the immortality of the human soul (the human being) once in existence, there ought to be a simple question begged by this idea of our actions 'echoing in eternity.' It should be... don't all of our actions echo in eternity, if we are going to look at it in that light? If what we do at some pivotal and dramatic moment will necessarily affect our lives and the lives of countless others and in some way 'echo in eternity,' how could it not be the case that everything we do, at any and every moment, also affects ourselves and others and will have some effect in eternity? Please understand, I am not implying that eternity is what is up for grabs or subject to change here - we will leave that as a fixed mark, as a truth that we will understand in its fullness when our time comes. Yet, as far as we will one day exist in a state that is different and non-temporal, our actions here on earth (while we live this life) do have a relation to life after life.

This could become a very simple argument for "living a good life" so that we can "go to heaven" or so that we do not "end up in hell." Yet, my intention is more than just a moral life, although it does assume a moral life ultimately. The point is that most people in our modern culture can easily understand the separation between action and consequence that we grow up with. It is not that we refuse all responsibility for our actions (though that does happen), but that we seem to have some serious filters keeping our ideals or beliefs trapped in our vocabulary and making them unable to trickle down to our hearts, bodies and whole selves.

For example, there are many who profess to care greatly about health; they eat well, exercise, perhaps they only by farm-fresh produce...yet they engage in sexual activity that endangers them with diseases, or they binge drink on the weekends, or they smoke, etc... A different example could be someone who professes to be Christian (and lives as a Christian) but votes and advocates pro-choice agendas, which is essentially an advocacy for mothers to be able to kill their unborn and innocent children (which is NOT compatible with Christianity). Consider how our standards for movie ratings seem to imply that young people can appropriately view what ought to be deeply private and intimate between a man and a woman (sexual activity in PG-13 movies), but may not be able to appropriately view violence or death (often causes for R ratings for movies). I am not advocating that things in R rated movies ought to be viewed by more people, but rather, there is a disparity in modern culture between what is professed and what is acted out. A disparity between truth and the way we act according to a different set of truths we assume based on convenience or habit. Forgive me, but even the disconnect between a man who is a loving father and husband and the times when he is looking at porn...these examples are realities throughout our modern culture, and the roots are deeper than simply "we ought to be good" or "we ought not to be evil."

In all of these cases, the weight of the immoral or disordered behaviors seems to be lost or forgotten. Men and women seem highly susceptible to misunderstanding how deeply and thoroughly truths run. Our bodies mean something, in the here and now, and also for what will be. Our words also carry a level of profundity. Certainly, we are still mere creatures, and the mercy and love of God has been revealed to be abundant and unconditional, but this should mean that we recognize our need to accept the truth of our world and ourselves and our relationships to and with others, rather than behave as if it is all irrelevant since we can say sorry later. It is hard for me to really grasp the vapors of steam that are rising from my interior when I think about the duplicity we are raised with in society!

Needless to say, double standards exist all around us, and can be sighted quite easily when we open our eyes to them. Yet, the trouble is that so few people seem interested in being able to see anymore. People seem content with blindness, content with living in this limping fashion. But the blind are unable to see how bad the wounds are that they are creating for themselves and others by this kind of living. We are too integrated as human persons, too thoroughly body-soul, to survive this kind of constant tearing apart. We cannot continue to say we love Jesus and then abuse our brothers and sisters in our words and actions. And if "abuse" is too strong a word, than accept "lie." For when we tell someone we love them, or behave in a way that typically implies that we love them (such as sexual activity) whether we love them or not, but we do so while acting other than in true love (which requires a commitment and promise of oneself, a gift of self that can only be given in totality through marriage), than we do lie to them, and we do abuse them in different ways. We also abuse ourselves. This is the thing that I find most astonishing, how little connection we make even within our own interior awareness or self-knowledge. If we are unable to conceive of how we are hurting another whom we ought to treat with respect, we ought to at least realize the damage we are doing to ourselves. But sin has been denied. We will not be rebuked or told that we must behave according to some set of rules, even if they are so natural and inscribed in us that we cannot escape them for all of our refusal to acknowledge them.

Perhaps I am walking too far into the woods of abstract thought. To be concrete, I firmly believe that our lived experience of the world demands that we recognize that how we behave, the actions that we make, will always have some influence and effect on our own person and also on others and the world at large. It is really ridiculous to imagine that creatures who begin existence in-relation to other creatures (aka, no one is born without coming from two parents) could then live life without always being related to other creatures in this same type of constitutive sense. And if we are constituted in relation, than our responses, invitations, participations or refusals will always impact us and others. Sipping your water bottle is clearly less affective of others than it is for yourself, and most likely it is not an action that is in danger of immorality, but it still means something that we choose to sip it or are able to sip it, etc...

At the end of the day, the point is to reconsider how seriously one takes life. Do not give up fun, or laughter, or silliness, or impulsivity. Yet, do not allow yourself to be dominated by impulses that are not guided and ordered by a moral order of love, by the truth. Do not allow the duplicity that meets us at every corner to sink in and take root in your mind and heart. Do not accept that every barely-clothed woman on the cover of a magazine is beautiful simply because she is barely-clothed; she deserves more than that, she is certainly not only her body. You deserve more than that, you should not be in a position where you are only considering her as a body nor should you have it reinforced in your mind that beauty is nothing more than parts that have been emphasized that are really one with a much greater whole. It is the person who is beautiful, but our culture has forgotten what and who people are.

I challenge us all to consider Maxiumus' line once more. We cannot be so simplistic that we really accept that our actions and behavior in life affects only us, and that the affect is only skin deep. No, we feel, deep in our souls, the brokenness we live. We become shaped and formed by the habits we build. We need to sense once more in our hearts the transcendence of the human person. We need to reawaken our sensibility to our relationship to others, the world, and of course, to God. We need to reopen our eyes and ears to understand the depth and breadth of truth and love that order our world. We cannot find fulfillment, happiness, peace, hope, true love, if we will not strive to live as whole people, as truly human. We will never find an end to the restless search if we fail to understand how integrated we are, and how much our behavior can and does mean.

"Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity."