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Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Oh my friends, what is the meaning of "courage"?

Do we define it as "fortitude"? Does that not imply some form of enduring or surviving, rather than something proactive?

Do we define it as "bravery?" Does that not imply a strong will and a strong person, but also sometimes a brashness or lack of wisdom?

Perhaps we should use "valor," as it includes implications of honor and loyalty, which would also imply a wise application of bravery and fortitude.

But then we all know that some of the most courageous things we've ever done are the most sacrificial, and also the most humble. We all know that it is more courageous to keep our mouths shut and be ignored in the appropriate situation than it is for us to shine as the hero from time to time. We all know that it is more courageous to give someone else the victory, even in the little things, than it is for us to make a public outcry against some injustice. It is harder and more demanding to allow someone else to be given the praise that is justly due to oneself than it is to post pictures or banners about a religious or political belief.

So courage must have to do more with sacrifice and less with bravado. In fact, it is often mercy that is the most courageous of our actions, even more than the humility. Forgiving someone who really does not deserve the forgiveness, at least according to human standards, is often the most challenging act of kenosis.

Blessed Pope John Paul II was well known for a simple phrase, often spoken to youth and young adults - "Be not afraid! Corragio!"

This would also link courage to fear. If courage is not-being-afraid, that would lead to sacrifice, humility and mercy as being the remedies for fear. This, I believe, is precisely what courage truly is. A remedy for fear, in the actions of love and forgiveness. This is precisely centered in the fact that the love and forgiveness we have received from the Father, and that we continue to receive, is not merited or deserved. We are participants in a divine wisdom, a divine justice, that does not determine faults as humans do, but in a generous mercy that seems without limit. As we have received this form of compassion and acceptance, our courage is to take the same up in our daily interactions with all we meet.

We all know this is a daunting task. Specifically, this comes to mind as I prepare for the Sacrament of Matrimony! I am going to vow before God and man that I will love, honor and obey one man whom I love until death parts us. (And I am SO thrilled to do that!) When we take time to ponder on how dramatic this is, it is easy to see where fear might come into play. We are sinful. We all know that our selfishness, pride, vanity, impatience, hard heartedness, misunderstanding, etc.. can lead to us injuring those we love and failing to give them the love and mercy that we should give them.

This is why we need courage! To combat the fear of human sinfulness with the truth of divine mercy! God has given us the remedy for our faults, and that is Christ and his Church. That is our participation in the Sacraments. It is before the Eucharist that we come to know what true courage is! What is more indicative of "corragio" than the welcoming we receive from God into his Church and the even more extreme gift of the very Body and Blood of Christ to the unworthy person! Of course, we strive to repent, to convert, and to live Christian lives. Yet, we are never truly worthy, not of our own accord! The Holy Spirit prepares us, and we enter into the Paschal Mystery by the grace of God.

So it is with courage. If we are to live this virtue, this habit, this lifestyle, we must first ask the Holy Spirit to ignite our hearts. We need new eyes to allow us to see with God's justice. We need new hearts to be able to suffer with and be merciful to all we meet, even those who offend us and hate us.

John Paul II called us to "corragio!" because he wanted to echo the great element of the universal call to holiness that every Christian experiences by his Baptism - humility, sacrifice and mercy. Be like the Son. Be unafraid of sin and evil, even when it threatens your very life. God's love, God's mercy, God himself is always greater, always stronger, and always the most powerful. Nothing is outside of his tender Heart. We must remain there, and learn from him the meaning of true courage.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Love is an Onion

Sometimes, at the end of the day, I feel like I can only write about one thing: love.

At first that rings "cliche" in my head, and I almost want to avoid it. Almost.

But then I think to myself... there's a reason every one of those cliches has been promulgated and spread over time and space till nearly everyone rolls their eyes when they hear them! "Love makes the world go 'round." "Love lifts us up where we belong." "All you need is love." (I'm trying not to quote all of Moulin Rougue here.) "Everybody loves somebody." Etc... These happen to be steeped in truth. Steeped is not the right word...they are indicative of truth because they are inherently truthful. Love animates.

Now, I'm not ready to go into a philosophical divulgence of the active nature of love, both because you have Aristotle and Aquinas as the experts on that, and because I have another point.

My thoughts have more to do with love as our origin and end. More than that, even! Love as our existence, as our being. While I could go into the philosophic/metaphysical elements here, I really want to keep this simple. It is experiential.

Consider this: pause, and think back upon your day. Think of the times you were loved. Perhaps you had little grubby hands holding onto your legs, asking you for cookies or to be picked up. Perhaps you had a husband draw you close and tell you how thankful he is for you. Perhaps you had a phone call from your dad to thank you for Father's Day cards and to remind you that you've always been his favorite. Perhaps you had smiles from coworkers, and sincere questions of "did you have a nice weekend?" Perhaps you had someone on the road allow you to get into their lane with graciousness. Perhaps you sat next to a sweet lady on the metro who happened to be from your home town. Perhaps you didn't see one single soul today, but you did read the Bible. And you looked outside and saw beauty. And you knew that the Lord's words were true - that they are true. You were reassured that every hair on your head had been counted, and that you were worth more than all the flowers in the field.

This is the point. Love, as splendid and magnificent and beautiful and seductive and powerful and passionate and all-encompassing as it can be, is none the less also habitual, and daily, and almost mundane. It is how we live. We do not walk around looking at any one said person and will that we love them. We do not think to ourselves, "and now I will love this child of mine by feeding him." We just do.

As much as this is a universal truth for humanity, there are many of us who have known very broken experiences of this daily-love, this living-love. Some of us have lost a lot of our trust in love of that nature. Even more so because we hear and see and read about these more common experiences of daily-love, and we find that we do not share in those experiences. Perhaps our parent was not loving. Perhaps our spouse has deeply wounded us. Perhaps our children have rejected us. Perhaps we are very alone, and do not know how to enter into these so called right-relationships. Perhaps we have not had the opportunity to practice this daily-love because we do not have anyone to give to.

This is why the Lord's words are where we must begin and where we must end. The philosophers will tell us that he is the unmoved mover, and the first cause. They say that his essence and his existence are one in the same - that he is constant act. They tell us that this act is love, and that the Holy Trinity is this beautiful ongoing donation of self, love and surrender. He holds all things in being. His Word is effective, and living.

This is why I do not find it surprising when every time my heart stirs and my mind seems to be enlightened, I end up writing about the one thing that I cannot escape... that by which I live and move and have my being.

This is so imperative for us to recognize though, because it is in knowing that we being to see more clearly just how completely sustained we are by His love. And another cliche says, "you cannot give what you don't have." We need to be sensitive to what we are experiencing, to what we are receiving. Our awareness of the gift that we are constantly being given will be the fuel that fans our own fire of love! The zeal we need to give of ourselves in patience, goodness, understanding and compassion, mercy and forgiveness... this flows through us when we stand at the foot of the Cross and receive the love that flows out from Him.

What can we say about love? It is. It is the most real thing that we can encounter, even while it is also the most mysterious. It can turn a world upside down. It can stop suffering, heal hearts, end wars, rebuild broken homes, rebuild broken relationships, it can give new life to the dead of heart. When we speak of love, we speak of a way of being, of how we live, or how we ought to live. We speak of a gift, both received and given. We speak of a gift that continues to unfold, that continues to unveil. I once heard a very sweet Polish professor say that the love he found between him and his wife was like an onion... it had many layers, and as they peeled them away over the years, they found that the strongest and most potent elements were buried deeper in, and required the time and the peeling away to come to. That is our lives. We come to know love as we live love. Let us not take that for granted, but ask that our hearts and minds be ever more aware of what is around us. The opportunities to experience love by demonstrating love are all around, and are ever more needed.

To end on a "cliche" if you can ever refer to Scripture in that way - John 3:16
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."