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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Go With Him the Extra Mile

"Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles." (Matt. 5:41)

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus thought about Simon helping him to carry his Cross at the moment when he said that statement during his Sermon on the Mount.

What is brewing in my heart is the figurative "carrying of the cross." This is directly linked with some meditation on the Scripture concerning Our Lady: "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk 2:19). Mary, from the early moments of the conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit, finds herself the keeper of something special.

I wish there were words to express how I understand this. Analogously, she was given a garden to tend, a special, secret place, set aside from the eyes of the world. She was the guardian and protector of that little piece of land, and her charge was to keep it safe and to bring forth fruit. She tilled the soil and watered the ground as best she could, until she began to see the fruit of her labor springing up. And then when that fruit was ripened, she gave it away, that it might bring the nourishment to others that it was intended to give. She let go of something that she had spent years working on, caring for, guarding and tending, so that it could go and die. And in death, the seeds which were within it spread themselves far and wide, so that there was a rich harvest of new life brought forth from its death. And in that way, she saw the fulfillment of her work taking even greater measures than she could have hoped for when she first started to work. All of this, she kept in her heart. All of this work, growth and death, she witnessed with the eye of her mind and understood in the wisdom of her heart.

In the practical, Mary did experience what all pregnant women experience, which is a unique understanding of allowing life to grow within you, a life that is intrinsically linked to your own, and inherently dependent on you, and yet... is absolutely separate. There is a mind and heart, a body, organs, blood running through veins that are not yours; yet, they can only be there because of your mind, heart, organs, blood and body. It is a strange balance of a deep bond that is still separated by two bodies. Even while Our Lady had the Son of God growing and developing in her womb, she knew how completely "his own" he was. Even while she scarified her public status, her physical comfort, her appetite, her previous freedoms, all for the sake of the little being inside of her, she also knew and understood that this being was not hers.

This understanding of the unity between the mother and the child, but also the true and real distinction, followed and continued to grow in her heart as her child was born and matured. The Son, who at one time could not live without her physical presence, would grow to be a man who was completely independent of her. It is the human condition. Yet, she kept these things and reflected on them in her heart. I think it is safe to say that even when Jesus was far from her, traveling, preaching, teaching, living an independent life, she still knew something of that interior sense of union that she knew while he was inside her womb. I think this is what it means to "keep someone in your heart." Presumably, the most unique or profound experience of this "keeping someone in your heart" is possible for a mother and child. But even for those who simply love someone else, this is possible.

It is the profound "holding someone in your heart," even if they do not know of your love, or do not want your love, or simply cannot appreciate your love, that is what I think of concerning "going the extra mile" with someone. Many people, really all people, suffer. Many, or all, of the people we know and are acquainted with will carry heavy burdens at one point or another. Perhaps we will be able to help them. Perhaps the circumstances will allow us to make them meals, send cards, spend time with them to help them cope, give them a hug, etc... Perhaps the circumstances will be that we are hundreds of miles away, and we really cannot be a physical presence to them in their time of sorrow. What then?

This is where we can still go another mile with them, even if it is only in our hearts. We can carry them within. We can lift and shoulder the burden with them by remembering them in our prayers. We can make sacrifices and offer penances for their sake. We can turn daily to the Lord with our petition, and present them to him for healing, consolation, mercy and love. We can say, in essence, "Lord, as long as I live, and as long as I breathe, let each breath be part of my prayer to you for that person, for his or her sake." We can bear them in our mind and heart as we go through our daily work. In each circumstance, whether it is a joyful one or a sorrowful one, we can thank God and petition him on their behalf.

Is this not what a mother has to do for her child? Is that not what it really means to live for someone else? To go another mile with anyone, be it a spouse, a sibling, a parent, a child, a friend, or even a stranger, is to accept that the first thing we can do is to welcome that person into our hearts. Perhaps there are many other very real and physical things that we can do for that person. Perhaps there is nothing material or physical that we can do for that person. Either way, the first thing we must do is to take them into our hearts. There we can tend a little garden of empathy, of understanding, of patience, of mercy, of forgiveness, of prayer, of solidarity in suffering. There we can be a balm for the wound they bear, even if unknown to them.

We have to have faith, a faith that can bear fruit, so that what we bring into our hearts we offer to God for his cultivation. We have to imitate our Blessed Mother in bearing with her Son from the moment that his tiny body was growing within her until his body was pierced for us all on the Cross. Even there, her faith allowed her to hold the darkest of sufferings in her heart and to return it to God. And the seed that died bore such an abundant harvest! We have to believe that God can and will do good things with the prayers and petitions we offer, even if we never know about the fruit that comes from it.

Let us not be afraid, let us not even hesitate, to hold others in our hearts, and to go with them each mile that they need.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Culture with Double Standards

So, I'm not sure how many of you have been paying attention to pop culture lately, but Miley Cyrus has "wowed" everyone with her display's at the VMAs and also in her new music video.

However, sadly, most people probably just flipped the channel or had a good chuckle at how ridiculous it all was, before moving on to more interesting things.

This, my friends, is a problem. A serious one, too. There's a fine line between being "desensitized" to things that we see or hear consistently in a culture full of music, video, dialogue and ongoing movement, and being "desensitized" to the point that we don't apply any common sense.

The downward spiral of women being excessively sexualized to sell their music, videos, movies, etc...may seem like nothing new. It's been years in the making, right? Ever since women have been "liberalized," they have felt that great freedom to express themselves in ever creative, and revealing, ways. Right?

It seems to me that this is a false notion. It seems that if we apply some common sense, we might notice something. A young woman who has a talent for music, dance or acting, but who does not have any interest in being sold as a public prostitute through the media, may not make it very far. That is a reality. That does not seem like freedom or liberty. That seems like a very specific pigeonhole that one either has to accept or reject. Those who accept, like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Miley, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez and the many others, are all doing the same thing. They are being sold by their bodies. They are selling products on sexual appeal, on sexual expression, on sex. They are not selling products because of their quality, talent, creativity and ingenuity. (And need I mention, for those things to sell, there has to be a market. There are consumers who create this demand and keep it going.)

There are some women artists who are able to maintain a somewhat decent amount of fame and success and also maintain their own decency in terms of their bodies... but the reality is that they are still not ever going to enter the "upper crust" of the market unless they decide to forsake some of their decency for racy and risque expression. This is what I see as such a problem.

There will always be artists who desire to be shocking and revealing and who feel that their value and worth really is only in their sexual appeal and sexual expression. That is a very sad situation, but I don't think it is likely to change. However, there is a wide gap between those who truly desire that sort of expression and those who feel they have no other choice if they wish to be competitive and successful. (I'm setting aside the question of "if you know that's the market, why get into it in the first place?" Let's assume these artists are in it to win it, and look at the bigger picture.)

The larger picture is that the same culture that decries sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, rape, incest and other such horrible crimes (and for very good reason), the same culture that defends young women in foreign cultures from sexual abuse and from forced child marriages or other instances where a woman is likely to be abused, that same culture demands that the entertainment world provide women in soft porn situations in every level of artistry, music, movie, video, etc...

HELLO. Again, we through common sense out the window when we decided we were desensitized. The effect of consistent and similar experience that causes us to have our senses dulled to what we are experiencing should not translate to our purposeful ignorance and relativistic tolerance of something that is inappropriate!

What on earth can we expect a young girl of middle school age to think at this point? She has been told that all of those abuses I already mentioned are terrible things. Yet, she sees women constantly being marketed as only sexual objects. The ads from underwear to potato chips include women barely covered, and often the actions and body language of the models and actresses is more suggestive than the clothes they aren't wearing. What does that translate to in the mind of a thirteen year old girl? "If I want to be beautiful, if I want to be desired, I have to be like that. Because she is so desirable. So therefore, that is what will make me desirable." Is there anything being taught to this child about how to protect herself from abuse? How to value herself as a person? How to realize her worth both in the beauty of her body and in the many talents she has, and her intelligence? Is she really to understand her self worth as only the physical body when it is being seen and lusted after?

That is precisely what our culture had decided. Despite the many who cry out against the abuse of women that still continues today, there are just as many who cry for the "freely accepted" abuse of women through contemporary media and entertainment. This is a double standard that cannot continue.

A woman is beautiful. A woman should understand her beauty in her body, certainly. That is a very important part of what it is to be womanly. Yet, that is only a part. Every woman is still a person. Every person has a mind, soul and body. Every person is comprised of both the spiritual and the physical. We are never just a body, just as we are never just a mind. The person must be understood for the whole. A woman who is only valued for how she looks scantily clad or undressed, is not being valued appropriately, and is suffering a form of abuse that everyone just accepts because it has become "commonplace." It should not be. It cannot remain so. Our culture has a responsibility to every woman, and especially every little girl, to wake up and realize exactly how far down this road we have gone. It is much, much too far.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

To Want, or Not Want, A Pregnancy

So I apologize for a long happens. 

However, to dive back into some curious intellectual stimulation, I have a little article to share with you. In summary, it is a young woman who decided to do a social experiment on a college campus by wearing a baby suit for a few days to record the reactions of other students. She wanted to see if a baby would be as well-accepted and celebrated on a campus as Prince George was for Kate and William. Her thesis after the experiment of the college/university mentality was this, “It’s ok to have sex, but an unwanted pregnancy is still considered shameful.” (Please feel free to read the whole article, as it will help with the context of this post.) 

I began to think about this article more, beyond the disappointment that this young woman experienced in her social rejection. Why was it that she was shunned, exactly? It seemed as if people felt like she was infectious, or somehow could spread her "condition."

This lead me to consider why it is that people would assume that her pregnancy is a disease, or a condition, rather than... a pregnancy. The logical answer was that the assumption was based on the desirability of the child. Kate and William wanted to be pregnant - therefore, pregnancy is a normal state, even a good one. A young student couldn't possibly want to have a child - therefore, the pregnancy was a disease. 

This thought process was also enhanced when I heard of a MSNBC host who stated that the beginning of life could not be determined by science. Her exact quote was, "When does life begin? I submit the answer has an awful lot to do with the feeling of the parents, a very powerful feeling, but not science...." (Please feel free to watch the video.)

This seems to be the same mentality that the young woman was experiencing in her campus/university experiment; the feeling of the parent must be one of embarrassment, shame, doubt, disappointment, or desperation. The feeling of the parent clearly isn't excitement, joy, gratitude, peace or contentment. 

However, this begs an important question. What is the rationale being employed here? Is it as simple as people assuming things about others? Is it simply that this young girl is probably pregnant out of wedlock, probably doesn't have a stable job, probably will need financial assistance to raise this child, and probably doesn't have the father in the picture? Would it be more accepted if the pregnant girl had obvious signs of wealth and was holding hands with the man who was probably the father? In some ways, I think we can guess that people would be more accepting if it appeared that the child was in the context of a good relationship, but that still goes back to the element of desire versus accident.

A Catholic perspective on conception is based on principals drawn from Aristotle and from St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as obvious modern science. Two cells (egg and sperm) meet and are fused into one, new cell. This new cell has new DNA, a new program or structure that immediately begins to unfold. The cell begins to divide. The cell is active, mobile, busy. It is clearly animated. It has movement and growth. It is not a rock. We hold that trees are alive because they have animation, and grow. They have souls, in the sense that they have a form for their matter. They certainly do not have souls like animals, who also do not have souls like people, but these creatures that grow are animated, and clearly alive. So we can understand the newly formed cell. There must be a soul, some kind of animus, that is the potential that is written into the cell structure - the form that will be expressed over time as the cells divine and take shape, forming the person who has just been created. Catholics hold that at that moment when the two cells are fused, conception takes place, and a new person is created. This means that a soul is infused by God. We are always an "embodied soul" - a soul and a body, form and matter, which are together at the beginning and remain so until we die. 

In that context, I look back at the comment of the news host: life begins based on the feeling of the parent. Then I look at the experiment done by the young woman: life is only acceptable and worthy of celebration when it is desired. Are these not the same thing, in essence? 

Where a certain group of people would understand the power of God to be what affects life, another group would replace the idea of "God" in the process of life with "man." It is the mother, or the father, or the parents, or some other outside person, who determines if this is a life, and the value the life has. Isn't that exactly what we see within the culture of abortion? It is a medical doctor's opinion, or the feeling of the mother, that determines if a child lives or dies, and this is predetermined on the very "existence" of a child in the womb, versus simply understanding the baby as cells/tissue/fetal matter, etc... 

I think it's rather obvious, actually. If you remove a cause, you remove an effect. Remove God as a cause, then the effect is not necessarily a human life. If you replace the cause with man, then the effect is determined according to man. 

I believe this is the general consensus of how many people perceive unborn life. I would venture to say that the young woman's experiment revealed more than simply "students aren't supposed to be parents." I think it points to a much larger rationale that is accepted overall by society today, and that is that we do not have an origin or an end that is God. This means we are free from the idea of "god." This means that man has free reign to determine his own standards, values, and structures. This means that if man has decided that “It’s ok to have sex, but an unwanted pregnancy is still considered shameful,” then this is a moral truth that will be upheld and supported. It also means that if ten years from now there is a swing in society to reclaim a certain level of femininity that protects the mother in the work place and in the school from feeling isolated or diseased, because she is empowered to want her baby at any point, then that will be a moral truth that is upheld and supported until whatever next wave of rationale takes hold. The problem with no cause and no end is that there is no permanent truth that is accepted throughout the intermediary time (that would be, life). You are born, and you die. In between, good luck! That's what being a free human means. How you feel about something is measurable only against the popular societal rationale, because it is man, and therefore, society, who determines the moral compass. 

There were many other elements of the young woman's story that I would like to have considered, and perhaps at another time I will. However, I think this very broad idea raises some interesting questions for us. If even science, which for so long has been what replaced "god" in our culture (as it was able to do everything that "god" could supposedly do), has now been pushed to the sidelines as something to be referenced only when convenient, and it is nothing but man's "feelings" that determine truth... well, where do we think that mentality will lead us? Assuming that a mother doesn't want her child, and therefore treating her as if she were infected with an unfortunate disease, does not seem like a very cultured, accepting, educated or principled society. Seems like an unfortunate thing to go through, as is evidenced by the young woman's feelings at the end of her experiment.

Maybe we need to consider the bigger questions a little more deeply, or even, at all.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lord, Grant us Peace

“You will have peace with my will.”

This was the answer to a recent prayer of mine, and it brought with it a comfort which I did not expect.

One of my favorite verses from the Book of Isaiah is, “O Lord, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done” (Is 26:12).

There are so many times that I find myself struggling to have the right state of mind or heart concerning my accomplishments (or lack thereof). Too often, I find myself feeling dejected and ill-used, unappreciated or underworked, failing in some way or another, and rather unsatisfied with work. Then there are days when I feel so full of pride for the achievement which I have made, however small or large, that I can barely give God the proper credit for his support, grace, and the gifts which he has given to me to use. Where does one strike the proper balance?

This is why this verse of Isaiah brings me so much comfort and peace – because it is a reminder that what is good or great that I have accomplished, it is really by the Lord’s work. And what is evil or a failure that I have done, it is readily forgiven by the Lord, because all of my life and work are subject to him, and he desires my peace and reconciliation.

Further, it also brings with it the peace of realizing that goals that I have set for myself that are not being realized or accomplished may still be yet to come. Some things are not yet in their proper time, even if I would like them to be. Some things require more study, more work, more maturation, more prayer, or perhaps, different circumstances. It is very easy for us to forget, I think, what it feels like when something does come to fruition in its proper time. I know we have these experiences in our memories – those moments when we reach a destination that we have desired to visit, or a friend whom we have desired to spend time with, or an accomplishment that we have finally finished – and we realize just how proper, how perfect all of the timing and circumstances were, to make that moment so good.

A tiny example I can recall is the second time I climbed a specific mountain in Gaming, Austria. I had first made the climb in 2005, and it was a good experience. But I made the climb with friends who I had not known for a very long time, and so the experience ended up being a more internal one. I spent much of the time thinking and reflecting. It was very good. But the second time I climbed that mountain, four years later, I climbed it with a very dear friend. This changed so much of the encounter. The gratitude that I felt in my heart and soul to God for the gift of the beauty that surrounded me was multiplied by the added joy of a dear friend whom I could share the experience with.

In any case, there are going to be many moments in this life when we know the bitterness of disappointment, failure, rejection, etc…when we had hoped for victory, success and acceptance. This happens often with job searches, for example. Other “life-plan” elements such as a person whom we may wish to date, a home we may wish to purchase, a move to a new place that we want to make, etc…may not work out as we had hoped or foreseen.

This leads us to the crux of the issue; do we forsake hope, or find hope to be foolish, and make our own way? Or do we decide to accept what has come to us, and to trust.

Now please do not take this the wrong way, for I am not trying to negate our responsibility in life nor trying to present some idea of fatalism or providence that removes free will and expects us to simply submit until death. That is not how the Lord has revealed himself, and it is not our faith. What our faith does challenge us to, is serious prayer and discernment. There are going to be times when our will is simply not the will of God. We need to acknowledge that. I can certainly attest to times in my past when I have been grasping, like a little toddler, and have demanded that I am given my cookie before I have to eat dinner. Sometimes the Lord allows us to go on in our stubborn wills, so that we learn that his will is not only good, or best, but that it is truly in love for us. Sometimes we are so very attached to what we think is good for us, that we cannot believe that something else might be truly good for us. It is hard to have faith that God really desires our happiness, health and holiness, when we are so confronted by sin, evil, chaos and struggles in life.

We can have periods of time, as well, where even when we are sincerely striving to discern the will of God, and to follow him unreservedly, we are not able to gain guidance. There are times when we are challenged to take up our banner and carry it as best we can, even if we cannot see the road ahead of us. Sometimes we have to walk through mists and fog, trusting that the Lord will not allow us to fall over the cliff. Sometimes we are asked to take great risks, to live the Gospel in a radical sense, and we may not be sure of the consequences.

Again, I am not advocating for omission, complacency, lethargy, passiveness or any other form of “God will take care of it – I’m not going to do anything” syndrome. I am advocating for prayer. I am advocating for faith. I am advocating for a belief in God’s goodness, his mercy, his power and his faithfulness. We need only look to the Old Testament to be reminded of how often God’s people were “wandering in the wilderness,” figuratively and literally, without assurance of his will and in contention with their own wills. Yet, God is faithful, and merciful. Jesus Christ has revealed the depths of that faithfulness and mercy, and that is why we can, with faith, place our trust in the Lord.

We have been made members of the Body of Christ at Baptism. We have received the gift of freedom from sins. We have received the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those Gifts are confirmed in us at our Confirmation, and we can learn to live a life practicing the virtues and seeing the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives. We need to take advantage of the sacramental graces available to us, especially through the Eucharist and through Confession. We need to keep ourselves close to the Lord. If we are working for our spiritual good, our spiritual health and wholeness, we will see how God is guiding us and leading us according to his holy will.

When I prayed the other day, it was in discernment between two things. One, I wanted very much, but could not guarantee. The other, I did not want, but was assured that I could have it. I turned to the Lord and prayed first, “Let your will be done.” Then further, I prayed that I would truly want what the Lord willed, not only be able to submit to it. Then I prayed further, wanting to have peace with my life, because I recognized how blessed it was, and I did not want the discernment of one decision to hang like a cloud over my head.

And it was then that I heard, “You will have peace with my will.” This brought me great freedom and peace! I could feel the Holy Spirit consoling me, and I felt so much gratitude. It was more important for me to know that I could be peaceful in either situation, knowing that the situation would be according to His plan, and therefore, for my good, than to have things go according to what I hoped or desired.

This is what we need to do – try to be like children; children who are matured, and who work hard, and who give the work of their hands to their Father in trust. He has given us everything. He has handed over the works of his hands, the earth and all that is in it, to us. He has entrusted us with families, friends, and many responsibilities. He has done this, knowing that we will fail from time to time. He has done this, also knowing that his grace is sufficient in our weakness.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, to grant us his peace, to bring us counsel and guidance, and to increase our faith, so that we will be able to pray with the prophet:

“O Lord, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”

Poetic Last Days: To Ascend

It has been a very long time since I posted something for "Poetic Last Days," and since we are nearing the end of the month, it seemed appropriate to share a poem.

To Ascend

When we begin to truly climb
some hill that before us lies
Not knowing at the top to find
Safe haven or further end

It's not the height that gives us strength
Nor the rock that leads our way
Rather, at the end of the day
Nothing but our will remains

To place the foot once more upon
the path, perhaps unwanted
To push further upwards into mists
Simply, not to cease climbing

This is the moment
here and now
To decide how much courage
Within truly lies

Yet one more moment and
the decision before the eyes again
Press on still, another step
Courage and fortitude must be met

Hope draws the heart to high places
Faith leads the mind in part
Love drives the soul with them
With all, you can ascend

From whence come these three?
Hope, faith and charity
Some secret spring beneath the skin
Some abundance deep within

The glance must first
be to within
Where virtues may be greeted
and found

Then turn the eyes back
to the skies
And once more take up
The road unto the heights

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Can there be Charity without Mercy?

What exactly is "charity"? An idea? An action? A virtue? A disposition of the mind and heart?

Charity is all of those, and more. Charity can also be a way of life or a world-view. In fact, charity can be a state of being - and that is God. For as we know:

"God is love" 1 John 4:16.

If charity is love, and love charity, and God is love, than God is also charity.

But, echoing the Scriptures, who has ever seen God, but the Son, and those to whom the Son reveals the Father to?

So how are we to know what charity really is, or what it really means?

I have always found it very interesting that the Gospel of Matthew records the Sermon on the Mount ending with Jesus instructing us to "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," (Matt 5:48) and the Gospel of Luke says in a similar fashion and yet differently, "Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36).

This is certainly insightful when it comes to contemplating what it means to be "charitable."

To "love" someone, to look at another in "charity" or with "charity," is to imitate our heavenly Father. We have been taught and believe that God is perfect. Yet, we know that we cannot be perfect, and certainly not in the same way that God is perfect, since he is infinite and beyond us even while he comes to us so intimately.

Certainly, this question has been raised often in the history of the Church - Lord, how are we to be "perfect"?

On of the first or most obvious answers is that we must be "merciful." The interchange found in the Gospels between "perfect" and "merciful" assists us in understanding that God's perfection, God's ultimate charity, the very being of the Blessed Trinity who is a Communion of Love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a perfection and charity that is mercy.

Now, we have all heard that "the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom" (1 Cor 1:25) and "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways" (Is 55:8). What is the context of these statements? St. Paul is speaking of the "paradox of the Cross," that the Son of God would become man and suffer and die for the sins of men so that we might have hope for eternal life. And Isaiah's passage states immediately before those words:
"Let the wicked forsake their way,
and sinners their thoughts;
Let them turn to the LORD to find mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving." (Is 55:7)

The Lord has revealed that God's mercy is a mercy that can be surprising, sometimes even confusing, and often incongruent with what "human wisdom" might dictate. Yet, Sirach 2:18 says:
"Let us fall into the hands of the Lord
and not into the hands of mortals,
For equal to his majesty is his mercy;
and equal to his name are his works."

Here we should recognize that the glory and splendor that are proper to God who IS, cannot be separated from the mercy of God, which is both his wisdom and his works (charity).  We may often think of "justice" or "what is right" in a sense of retribution. We tend to have a sense that "every action has an equal and opposite reaction," and that this applies to all things, including human relationships and how we see and treat others. Retribution might seem like a term for someone who purposefully seeks revenge, or who goes to some length to "pay someone back" for an offense (such as trying to cause someone to lose his job, or making up falsehoods about someone so that she is disliked or unwelcome). Yet, the truth is that we often carry this type of attitude around with us in daily life, even when we may not realize it. Even small incidences of a friend who fails to show up for a meeting time, or a coworker who "drops the ball" and leaves you with all of the hard work, etc.. can bring us quickly to a point where we are at least hard-hearted toward that person for a while, if not that we desire to "return the favor" at some point. Even when we aren't acting out of revenge, per se, we might still have an attitude or disposition of vengeance. For example, perhaps later in the week that same friend tries to make up for the missed date by asking you to set up another time for meeting. Perhaps you agree, but then find that you have other things you might prefer to do when that meeting time comes. How quickly and easily we can justify calling that friend "apologetically" and saying that we cannot make it, and feeling very little guilt or remorse since it is "fair" considering that he or she did the same to us. Yet, if we paused to think about it, we should be all the more aware of how hurtful being stood-up can be, since it hurt us enough that we were upset with that friend. It is so silly, but we feel "justified."

This is what we can call "human wisdom," which is not God's wisdom. This is what we can understand as not God's justice, not the Lord's mercy, not our Father's charity, and not in line with the perfection that is Love, that is God.

Truly, I do not think that we can be charitable without also being merciful. There will always be things that we must forgive in one another. Even things that are in no way intentional or even personal choices, such as someone who might simply offend us because of body odor or because we find him or her unattractive. Perhaps we can keep in mind that while the cliche of "skin deep" can be no more than a cliche, it can also be a very real danger. If we see only what is on the outside, while our Father in heaven sees the whole person, especially the heart and soul, then can we really hope to be charitable if we are not also merciful, and merciful in the way that acknowledges just how similarly sinful we all are? We all share the common bond of humanity; and from that, we all share the fallen nature of sin, and even when we have received the great grace of Baptism, we still carry the concupiscence of our nature. Therefore, while there are many differences that set us apart from one another, there is also the common ground of being a sinful man before God, a creature who has failed and rebelled against his Creator. We all need mercy. We all stand in need of forgiveness, and a forgiveness that we cannot give to ourselves! Only the mercy, the charity, of the one who created us can heal us and restore us, can actually recreate us, can aid us in becoming more perfect. We must always keep in mind that if we should desire to love as God loves, and be perfect as our Father is perfect, than we must strive to be merciful as our Father is merciful.

May this last week of the Lenten season be a time for us to enter more deeply into that paradox of the Cross, into the mystery of the mercy of God. Perhaps we can receive the sacramental grace of Reconciliation, and find ourselves more intimately united with the wisdom of God that is always charity and mercy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1085   
"In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present. During his earthly life Jesus announced his Paschal mystery by his teaching and anticipated it by his actions. When his Hour comes, he lives out the unique event of history which does not pass away: Jesus dies, is buried, rises from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father 'once for all.' His Paschal mystery is a real event that occurred in our history, but it is unique: all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, cannot remain only in the past, because by his death he destroyed death, and all that Christ is—all that he did and suffered for all men—participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life."

Just a quick thought concerning our most Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, as he prepares to resign this coming Thursday, February 28, 2013.

The single line, "The event of the Cross and Resurrection abides and draws everything toward life" can be understood in a number of ways. An obvious, and perhaps the most appropriate, understanding is that of the liturgical sacrafice of the Holy Eucharist, where we do what Christ did in offering himself to the Father "in memory" of him, as he instructed his Church to do. At that time, when Christ is made truly present on the altar, we participate in his Paschal Mystery in a very significant way. In some sense, we can understand how this "unique event of history" which was the offering of God himself for the salvation of man is also an event "which does not pass away," but which "abides," as we know that throughout the two thousand year history of the Church, the Eucharistic sacrifice continues to be celebrated and remembered, and the Church continues to be sanctified through this Sacrament.

What this also should remind us of is the prayer of the Church. The liturgy is prayer. The celebration of the Sacrament is a prayer. Our offering of ourselves to God along with the offering of Christ through his minister, the priest, is one that must always be prayerful. It is also intercessory. It is also sacrificial.

Each time we are able to praticipate in the Paschal Mystery through the Holy Eucharist, we must share in the offering of self which Christ made on our behalf, and we must recall that the offering he made was in intercession for us, was sacrificial of his very self, and was in all ways a prayer to the Father.

We too, especially in the season of Lent, must find ourselves making new our offering to the Father. We need to enter into a prayer that intercedes for the Church, for others, and for ouselves. We need to make sacrifices which will draw us closer to the truth, to the Heart of Christ, to the ability to "worship in spirit and in truth." We must pray, in the Mass, with Sacred Scripture, with our bodies through our penances, with the Church through the liturgy, with our families and friends, and certainly with our daily lives, in the work that we do. We must invite the Holy Spirit to be with us as we rise, that the whole day that we have been given, we will in turn offer back to the Father. What else can we learn from the Paschal Mystery if not that our very lives have the power and the value to be something worth offering to the Father. We exist out of the gift of love that God has given to us. We therefore must take the gift of life and offer it back to our Creator, just as the Son has revealed to us.

This is precisely what I believe the Church is being taught by the witness of our Holy Father. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of the call upon his heart to intercede for the Church; to serve the Body of Christ particularly through prayer and fasting. His leadership is one that we should not fail to follow now. This Pope has been a blessing to the Church in so many ways, and his witness of life is not over yet. This final act of sacrifice is ongoing, because as long as Pope Benedict XVI lives, he will be offering himself to God in prayer and fasting on behalf of the Church, for the sake of us all, that we will more fully enter into the Paschal Mystery. This is the kind of "rebirth" that Nicodemus questioned Christ about. He asked Jesus how a man could be "reborn." It is the process of entering into the sacrifice of Christ that is precisely how we are made new. Jesus told us that we must be made into "new wineskins," because the wine of the New Covenant will burst our old skins, as they are dried up and ill prepared.

We need to enter into the event of the Cross, in our prayer, our fasting and our intercession, so that with the Holy Father, we too will participate in this "unique event of history which does not pass away" and so that we can truly hope to share in the ongoing event of Eternal Life one day.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Love is a Noun That Becomes a Verb

For those of you who share in the need for perfection or the hunger for approval, let me say that I know the burden well. Whether it is achieving a high grade or making a good meal, many of us will work hard to improve and impress. However, we all know that the same fuel that drives us to impress can also be the tinder for disappointment and self-depreciation.

Essentially, the equation goes: A > B where C = B but if A < B, than C = 0.
A = Extremely high standards or expectations set for the self to accomplish
B = Achieving the minimum "high standard", usually above the average
C = The self

Please kindly keep in mind that math is something that I failed at horribly. Logic, I can handle. So.. not sure what happens when I try to combine the two. 

Anyway, the point is that it is not uncommon to equate one's self-worth with only the visible achievements or set goals that have been set forth, and to then in consequence find one's self-worth null if those achievements are not accomplished. 

What does this have to do with Love? 


In the little discussion of self-worth and achievement, the underlying system that is at work is that there is a measurable value to an individual, and that it is measured in a system or hierarchy which the individual sets up. If the individual does not personally set forth all of that hierarchy, than the immediate family, the school, society and culture set up the rest. This means that value, which is a good, must be done, or requires action. Another way of saying it is that the good requires work, or must be shown or revealed by action. 

In general, many of us can probably agree with that system. We see hungry people, or homeless people, or people who need medicine or education; we understand that they cannot have these things unless other people assist them, and unless they themselves act to change their circumstances. 

However, we need to be cognisant of what isn't being said here; that good can exist de facto. If value or good had to be active, than many things could not be considered a good. I, for one, find many types of rocks to be very beautiful. I may be a nerd because of it, but the point is that the beauty is one that is still. It is good because it is beautiful, and not because it does anything. It can be a specific kind of good when it is used in the building of a house, for example, but that does not remove the good that it has simply by being a nice looking rock. 

Further, a baby cannot do much. We all know that they eat, sleep, pooh, cry, and that is about it. Of course they smile and laugh and respond, etc... but in a world of activity and accomplishment, babies seem to be on the bottom rung. Does that remove the value they have as a human being? God forbid! Of course it does not (though there are those who argue just that!). The point is that there is certainly and clearly a good that is inherent, innate, intrinsic to the person that cannot be nullified by his or her activity or inactivity. 

And therefore, to Love. Love, my friends, is not first and primarily a verb. We certainly do love. We act in love, or we can act unlovingly. We also speak, however, of being in love. This would imply that someone has a state of being which happens to be love. How is this possible? Is he or she constantly and at all times acting the love? Perhaps he or she is constantly feeling love, but there cannot be a perpetual acting of love. Unless, of course, your being (your existence), is acting and is Love. 

Hooray! God! Yep. He is always in-action, (and you can enjoy reading St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle another time, because it will take a few pages to go through it here) and he is always Love. He is Love. That is, Love is first and foremost a state of being, and that state of being is a Person, and in fact, that state of being is a Godhead, three Persons in One God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St. John says it so simply: "Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love" (1 Jn 4:8). This means that Love is first a state of being, a knowing, a NOUN, before love is an action-verb. 

This is vitally important for us to digest because we are going to spend our entire lives trying to love; most of the time, we are going to feel that we are failing to love adequately, or we are being failed by others who do not love us adequately, and we are not going to feel the warm fuzzies of accomplishment about that high and lofty goal of being a "loving" person or being "in-love" our whole lives.

Guess what? That's ok. It's actually a very good thing. This is because there is only ONE who is Love, and that is God. And therefore if we are to partake in love, whether that is to love another or to be loved by another, to do something good for a friend or family member, to be charitable, to be "worthy of love," we have to participate in the Noun of Love before we can act in the verb. 

So... get to praying. I cannot say how strongly my heart has been convicted of the need to pray! We must meet Him who IS Love in his revelation; first and foremost, through his Church, and in the Church, through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. This is how Love has revealed himself to us. We are to dialogue with him, to get to know him, to understand that he is a proper noun. We are to receive from him the love that he gives, which is always faithful and always true, and then we will be able to give some of that love ourselves. We need to know Jesus more and more, to understand that a living relationship means that daily we are fed by Love. As long as we keep living, we are going to need to actively love. Therefore, as long as we keep living, we are going to need to return to the source, to Love himself, to receive from his bounty. 

The value, the good of the Creator, of the Word, of the Holy Spirit, of Love himself in the Blessed Trinity, is given to us, to his creatures. We possess that goodness as a gift! Yet, we have an obligation, duty and requirement because of that gift, to nourish it and to aid it in growing, in maturing, so that the gift becomes actualized to its full potential! What is this full potential? Beatitude. Eternal Life with God, who is Love. That is the aim and the goal of the goodness inherent in us. That is the reason that we must meet Love as the Noun who is the One who came to save us all from sin and death and lead us to eternal life. We cannot give what we have not received; Love has offered himself to us. Will we accept?

The true equation must be something like:
A = B = C

Where A = God, who is Love
B = Love given to men by God, the invitation to know him and love him in return
C = The fulfillment of each of us as persons, known and loved by God, returning that love with all that we have

Monday, January 28, 2013

Tragic Law and The Tragic Truth

[this has been revised from my previous post, after further consideration]

I recently watched a video of an actual abortion taking place. It came about because I happened upon this picture and description, and was horrified (tire-tete means "head crusher" in French).

This abortion intrument's purpose was to hold the baby's head with
the spiked ends. Once the head was held, a long thin probe was
pushed deep into the skull like a sword. The instrument held the baby's head, so once it was cut off, it would not float around in the uterus.

I found myself wondering if this was a "modern instrument" of if things were "more developed" in our day. So I did a search and decided to learn more. What I found was a video of actual abortion taking place. Besides the graphic images and the heart breaking experience of watching murder, I found my senses struggling with the previous understanding I had of what abortion was. I have always been against it, but it has been legal since before I was born. Therefore, I never knew a world where this was not legal. And now, I cannot believe that it is. It is barbarism, in every sense. It is the most uncivilized, uncultured, gruesome thing I have ever seen.

We constantly read in the news about very sad and disturbing murders of innocent people, and yet this country allows by law a worse form of violent killing to take place every day. All of the arguments about "privacy" and "personal choice" are nothing but little cotton balls being thrown against the bulwark of the premeditated violence done. There is no world that should allow this to remain hidden in the dark, shrouded in mystery.

I do not pretend to know much about law making or politics, but I can be sure that there is at least one law that is not a just law: St. Thomas Aquinas said that just human or civil laws are those that participate in God's law, that work within the natural law, which is established by God. The acceptance of infanticide, the murder of children, is not just, nor natural, nor abiding by the law of God.

This is the link to that video: it truly is disturbing, but the more I have thought about it, the more I have felt convinced that I am thankful that I know the full truth. Let us be clear - the works of evil prefer to stay hidden. Christ is the light that shines in the darkness, and for Christ, even darkness is not dark. The truth is that we must face evil head on, and see all of its ugliness, if we are truly going to reject it and fight against it. It is often said, "know your enemy" - moreso when the enemy is in many ways hidden and hard to pin down.

Furthermore, besides the fact that no media feels like child-murder is a topic of humor of common conversation, very few people talk about alternatives. No one seems to mention that the high rates of infertility among women mean that there are more than ever families looking to adopt children. Adoption is the best option for the many young women who feel that they are ill prepared to handle the motherhood that they have undertaken. And for anyone who in any circumstance is unready, unwilling, afraid or unsure of giving birth to a child, and the life after, there will be an adult, a couple, a parent or family, who will want that child and will take care of him or her. Murder is never the option. It should not be. It must not be.

Here are a few links (I cannot vouch for them but I believe they are trustworthy):
National Adoption Agency

Catholic Adoption

Catholic Charities Adoption (for the Archdiocese of Washington)  (there are other Catholic Charities Adoption agencies in different areas, just search for your local diocese or city)

Adoption: For Your Marriage (from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

There are also some various organizations that offer to help women with pregnancies, including medications, counseling, diapers, etc... Some links:
Gabriel Project (this is in the Diocese of Arlington)

Life Matters: Responding to Unplanned Pregnancies (from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Catholic Medical Center Pregnancy Care

Catholic Charities Pregnancy Care (Archdiocese of Chicago)

And there are also websites, programs and retreats to help for healing of mothers and families after abortions:

Project Rachel

Rachel's Vineyard

National Office of Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing (NOPARH)

Infant Jesus of Prague, have mercy on us and give us your peace!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Agony and Scourging

I have but a moment to meditate on this, but I found myself very taken aback this morning as I was considering the second mystery of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the scourging of Christ. Many have seen Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," and were probably moved by the scene of the scourging. It certainly depicted serious physical pain.

As I was considering the mystery, however, I wanted to think about Jesus' feelings rather than what his body was feeling. I don't think many of us know what the pain is that he suffered in his body, but perhaps we can relate to the emotional and psychological suffering he endured at that time.

Consider someone you love; a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a daughter or son, a close friend, a boyfriend or fiance. If your personality falls along the lines of "people pleaser" than you will certainly know how important it is for this person you love to accept you, and to be happy with you. If your personality falls along the lines of "don't really care what others think" than perhaps this is a concept that will be more challenging for you to empathize with. Still, there is a universal human understanding of the pain of rejection when it is from someone in whom you have placed great trust, and in whom you confide, and to whom you reveal your heart. The idea of that person deciding that they are tired of you, or that you are no longer enough for them, or that there is another who can take your place, or in any other way injuring you - it is painful. I try to imagine my parent or sister or husband being the one to hold the whip at my scourging, and my heart immediately leaps to my throat! It is a much easier thing to understand some stranger, full of hate, beating me in some senseless anger. It is also much easier to then forgive that person, at least in the idyllic sense. But to imagine that this person hurting me so severely is one who knows me, who has loved me, and who chooses to injure me now... it is unbearable. It is disgusting. It makes the idea of forgiveness seem nearly impossible. It is so very tragic.

Therefore, while perhaps the soldiers who were ordered to scourge our Lord did not actually know him and love him as our parents or spouses or friends might, he knew them. Christ suffers the agony in the garden because he submits his will to the Fathers'... the suffering which the Father asks him to accept is revealed to him, and he knows that the pain he will endure, the offering up of his whole self, will be extreme and total. He also is aware of the entirety of the plan of salvation, which is the mission and reason for his Incarnation. So he is able to knowingly and willingly accept the passion and Cross because his love is so great for the Father and for those whom he so desires to have with him in Heaven. And there it is - every single one of us. Everyone who has been offered the Good News of the Gospel, who has been made part of the family of God through Baptism, who lives knowing of the grace Christ offers us to live holy lives; we all sin. We all reject him. We all are the soldiers whom he knows and loves, and yearns to invite to Paradise, and yet we push him away and desire other things.

Of course, I am too practical to say we really scourged him - of course we were not alive 2,000 years ago. However, the offering he made of himself was a once-and-for-all offering, that spans all of time, as he is above and beyond time, being the Alpha and Omega. Therefore, while we did not directly participate in his literal Passion, we still participate in the ongoing work of salvation for our own souls and the souls of those around us. We do have the option, every morning, every day at work, every evening, to take one path or the other: the first path is the one of embracing our Lord. Like Jesus in the garden, we can willingly submit to the Father's will. We can choose to take up whatever suffering, whatever little or big passion, might be given us for the day. No, we are not privy to the knowledge of the whole plan. No, we may not even see the good of the momentary or daily suffering we partake in. But still, we have the choice to say, "not my will, but yours." We can be assured that this is for our benefit and the good of the souls of others. We can know that this sharing in the suffering of the Lord teaches our hearts about truth, about love, and about the grace we need to enter the Kingdom. The other path is the one of rejection: we can simply say, "I'm bored," or "it's too hard," or "I have another who will not ask so much of me," or any other form of avoidance or rejection. If we know of the love that Christ has shown us in offering his very self at that moment of agony and the following hours of passion he endured....if we know that he had every soul in mind, including us, though we had not yet come into existence...if we know that he is still and at every moment willing to forgive us just as he forgave the people who actually whipped and killed him, if only we repent and confess our sins...can we live with ourselves when we are too busy, too bored, too entertained, or whatever other excuse we have? Can we really be standing by while he is scourged and believe "it has nothing to do with me"? We do not get that option. Like it or not, we were created and given all we have by God. Like it or not, he sent his only Son into the world for our salvation. Like it or not, when we die, we will face judgment, and we will see the truth of God in all his power and glory. Like it or not, we will spend an eternal life either with the Lord or apart from him. We do not actually have the option of "having nothing to do with Christ's passion" - we are implicated by birth and we will remain affected after death; it is our choice to participate or to reject.

Besides the sweeping idea of "accepting one's cross" in life, whatever it may be, the other very practical way to understand the sorrow of a heart which has shown all its love and has been wounded by those who persecute and hate it, is for us to be very humble when our own hearts are so wounded or rejected. We all know what it is to feel very justified when a friend or coworker or even family member does something rotten or rude or hurtful or spiteful, and we wash our hands of him or her. We know how our other family and friends who know the situation will agree with us and support us in our "being done" with the bad apple. Sometime we do need to remove ourselves from bad relationships - that is not a question - but the point is that too often we take liberties where our pride is injured and suddenly we are justified in being a total jerk to the person for as long as we feel it appropriate pay back. That is not sharing in the cross of Christ. That is a failure to see another fellow human being and repeat the words of our Lord, "Father, forgive them,  for they know not what they do." We are obligated to forgive as best we can, with as much sincerity as possible, and to pray for the grace to be at peace with those who hurt us, even if that peace does not mean continuing a friendship. If the one who injures us is our family member or spouse - all the more! We must seek reconciliation and healing, in what ways we can. These little acts of dying-to-self, of letting-our-pride-be-stabbed-by-a-lance, of letting go of things which perhaps are very hard for us to let go of: these are the ways that we can be present to our Lord at his scourging and bring some tiny bit of comfort to that Most Sacred Heart which must have agonized so over the many who would never understand or appreciate the Love which poured its very self out for our sake!