Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Three To Get Married

There are two reasons for the primacy of sex over love in a decadent civilization. One is the decline of reason. As humans give up reason, they resort to their imaginations. That is why movies and picture magazines enjoy such popularity. As thinking fades, unrestrained desires come to the fore. Since physical and erotic desires are among the easiest to dwell upon, because they require no effort and because they are powerfully aided by bodily passions, sex begins to be all-important. It is by no historical accident that an age of anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, such as our own, is also an age of carnal license.
The second factor is egoism. As belief in a Divine Judgment, a future life, heaven and hell, a moral order, is increasingly rejected, the ego becomes more and more firmly enthroned as the source of its morality. Each person becomes a judge in his own case. With this increase of selfishness, the demands for self-satisfaction become more and more imperious, and the interests of the community and the rights of others have less and less appeal.

Page 1, Three To Get Married, by Fulton J. Sheen (copyright 1951)

I became interested in this book rather quickly, both for the common sense written, and the fact that it was written over 60 years ago. Nothing changes under the sun when it comes to sin. Bishop Sheen has much to say in this book and says it well. I think it would be a fine read for any marriage preparation classes, or even for some newlyweds, to learn what their vows REALLY mean. It is steeped in much of what was written in The Theology of the Body, but many years before the great JPII lectures.

The book is broken into 21 chapters, the first being The Differences between Sex and Love. Some chapter titles are obvious, like What Love Is or Love Is Triune, but some are more sublime, like Purity: Reverence for Mystery. There is much in these chapters, which applies equally to married and unmarried people; there is much about what love and respect for another really requires. The book goes on to talk about the greatness and the sorrows of marriage. It has chapters on Paternity, Motherhood, The Role of Children, and perhaps one of the more important ones: For Better or for Worse. Marriage is looked at from beginning, to middle to end, with Love Endureth Forever. Here are a few more of the many lines I enjoyed in this book:

There are four stages the soul passes through in its love of God: (a)The soul, which starts with loving self soon sees that loving self without God is like loving the ray of sunlight without the sun. (b)God is loved not for His own sake but for the sake of the self. At this stage, there are prayers of petition, because God is loved because of the favors He gives. (c)God is loved for His sake, not ours. The soul cares more for the Beloved than for what the Beloved gives. It is like the love of a mother for a child who seeks no favor in return. (d) The final stage is one of those rare moments when the love of self is completely abandoned and emptied and surrendered for the sake of God. This would correspond to a moment in a mother’s life when she ceases to think of her own life in order to save her child from death.

To the Christian, a person is one for whom I must sacrifice myself, not one who must exist for my sake.

Educators who hope to make sex “nice and natural” will end in confusion worse confounded because, while sex is natural, it is yet a mystery. Educators who assume that purity is ignorance of life are like those who think that temperance is ignorance of drunkenness.

Man and woman marry to make one another happy, but they never can do this until they have agreed on what is happiness.

The fewer sacrifices a man is required to make, the more loath he will be to make those few. His luxuries soon become necessities, children a burden, and the ego a god. Whence will come our heroes in a crisis, if we no longer have heroes in the home? If a man will not put up with the trials of a household, will he put up with the trials of a national emergency? The decline in the permanence of family life is, therefore, intrinsically bound up with the decline in democracy.

The more a marriage union is based on the Divine, the more the husband and wife are in harmony with God, the more they find in each other that eternal fascination and satisfaction that transcend earthly frailties and disappointments.

Love is not an ascent from the beast, but a descent from divinity … a reflection of the Fatherhood that is eternally in God.

One of the greatest mistakes the human heart can make is to seek pleasure as a goal of life. Pleasure is a by-product of the fulfillment of duty; it is a bridesmaid, not a bride; it is something that attends and waits on man when he does that which he ought. To go through life with the idea of always having a good time is not to have a good time.

The greatest joys of life are purchased at the cost of some sacrifice.

In erotic or selfish love, the burdens of others are regarded as impeding one’s own happiness. But in Christian love, burdens become opportunities to serve. That is why the symbol of Christian love is not the circle, circumscribed by self, but the cross, with its arms outstretched to infinity to embrace all humanity within its grasp.

The important question is: “How (do we) interpret and accept these trials in a truly Christian spirit?” No human being has a choice of whether he will go through life with or without suffering, because this is to a great extent beyond his control. But each one has this choice: Will the suffering open on a Cross and therefore see the joy beyond, or will it be closed to the Cross and therefore be the beginning of hell on earth?
The great difference between a Christian and a pagan in suffering is that for the Christian all suffering is from the outside; that is, it is a trial permitted by God for self-purification and sanctification. For the pagan, suffering is on the inside; it is in his soul, in his mind, in his consciousness, in his unconsciousness; it is so much a part of him that it is a hell, though that hell often goes by the name of “anxiety” or “frustration.” The Christian receives suffering, he even speaks of it as coming from the hands of the Crucified; the pagan creates suffering. Because he cannot see its place in the universe, because it negates his egotism, and because it cancels his love of pleasure, he begets an inferno within himself. The crosses from the outside are bearable; the double-crosses inside are insoluble. In the latter case, even where there is a nominal belief in God, the sufferer will unconsciously betray his egotism with the query: “Why does God do this to me?”

What makes life tragic is not so much what happens, but rather how we react to what happens. No one can prevent suffering and infidelity, but he can prevent himself from being soured by them. Love of Christ will not kill pain, but it will diminish it. All suffering becomes bearable if there is someone we love.

These words are just some of the ones I judged worth sharing. There are many others worth keeping in your soul.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why Is My Life So Hard?

My prayer each morning is that of St. Francis: Make me an instrument of Thy peace. And into my life have come my aged mom, a very ill friend and her worried relatives, unemployed neighbors, and decisions about how to best use the money I have control over. And then there are all the other people who are part of my life, friends, family, and those who just know of my life --- like you; so many people to bring me joy, and potential burdens and worries. And so what do I make of this life of mine? It almost seems that God has very much blessed my life, answering my prayers to be His servant by giving me so many opportunities to serve.

Yet, with all these thoughts about my life, of course this morning the one thing I thought to pray --- AGAIN! --- was: Lord, Why is my life so hard?

I want to live the example He set, as Paul says, “So that we can proclaim with you, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,’” and yet I want that life without feeling its burdens, because they feel so heavy. And I felt frustrated at myself for being so weak. And then I read some of the readings of the day ….

He divided the sea and led them through …
He split the rocks in the desert.
Yet still they sinned against him.
In their heart they put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
It was he who struck the rock,
water flowed and swept down in torrents.
But can he also give us bread?
Can he provide meat for his people?

Psalm 78

I think my life is hard, but then I read of the Jews in Egypt, a life much harder than mine. And look what happened: God answered their every prayer, for their needs and for their wants, and what was the result of His blessings: They wanted more! The Jews were promised a land of milk and honey, and they desired it: now.

And so I thought some on “my hard life,” and all the prayers that have been answered for me. Do I really need more? I pray that I not have to bear the sorrow of my mom and friend dying --- I forget that He promised they won’t, not forever. I pray that I be an instrument of His, and that I learn that it is in giving that I receive --- and I will. My problem in prayer is often like that of the Jews, I yearn for all that Jesus promised me: only I want it now. And then I realized something else, how prominent that word “I” was in my prayers --- again. Like the Jews, my prayers are so often about what “I” want, and when I want it: now. And the prayers He answered for me, when I look at them, were not about I, but all the other children who He asked me to love, who He brought into my life so that I might serve Him.

And then I read more:

We know that we have never wholly striven
Forgetting self, to love the other man.
Free every heart from pride and self-reliance …
Teach us, good Lord, to serve the needs of others,
Help us to give and not to count the cost,
Unite us for we are born as brothers.

Morning Hymn

In the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. Psalm 51

Prayer and converse with God is a supreme good; it is a partnership and union with God. I do not mean the prayer of outward observance but prayer from the heart, not confined to fixed times or periods but continuous throughout the day and night.
Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God and call him to mind, so that these works may be seasoned with the salt of God’s love.

From a homily by St. John Chrysostom, bishop

These readings seemed an answer to my moans about my hard life. They showed me my life is really no harder than others’. They showed me that many have lived much harder lives than mine. And they showed me that my prayers for “me”, even if answered, won’t satisfy me. As long as my prayer is focused on me, I will never find satisfaction in this life. And in the words of the readings I saw the secret to wisdom and happiness, “forgetting self, to love the other man.” And then I read the words on prayer by St. John Chrysostom, and they made total sense. If I want happiness, I’ll pray for the other man. It is my ego that stands in the way of my loving my neighbor, because I have too much love of myself.

This is Lent, a time of fasting and sacrifice, not prayers that we have none. This is a time to pray that our life on earth might be lived as Jesus led His life on earth, not that our time here might be like His in heaven. We will have that heavenly peace He promised, a land of milk and honey, but not now. Now is our time in the desert. The sooner we can accept that, the sooner we will find a measure of happiness here --- even in our sorrows and trials. Together, with our neighbors, we can lighten each other’s burdens on our path to eternity. We can pray for each other, and support each other, and love each other.

My life is hard, just as His was. This is truly a blessing.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Benedict XVI: Proclaiming The Gospel

The following are excerpts from a speech given by Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2011 (as printed in the magazine Inside The Vatican). It precedes the opening of the “Year of Faith” in October. I write it here as a reminder to us all, a positive reminder, of the challenges of evangelization, proclaiming the gospel. The pope speaks of his own thoughts and positive experiences of those hearing that gospel, especially on World Youth days.

Even if such values as solidarity, commitment to one’s neighbor and responsibility towards the poor and suffering are largely uncontroversial, still the motivation is often lacking for individuals and large sectors of society to practice renunciation and make sacrifices. In defending personal interests, the will obscures perception. Where is the force that draws the will upwards? These are questions that must be answered by our proclamation of the Gospel, by the new evangelization. The key of this year, and of the years ahead, is this: how do we proclaim the Gospel today?

The essence of the crisis of the Church in Europe is the crisis of faith. If faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength from the encounter with Jesus Christ, then all other reforms will remain ineffective. The encounter with Africa’s joyful passion for faith, … (even) amid all the problems, sufferings and trials that Africa experiences, one could still sense the people’s joy in being Christian. From this joy comes also the strength to serve Christ. A further remedy against faith fatigue was the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid. At World Youth Days, a new, more youthful form of Christianity can be seen, something I would describe under five headings.

1) Firstly, there is a new experience of catholicity, of the Church’s universality. We speak different languages and have different ways of life and different cultural backgrounds, yet we are immediately united as one great family. We pray in the same way. Our common liturgy speaks to our hearts and unites us.
2) They (the 20,000 youth workers there) did not (come) to find fulfillment. They were not looking round for themselves. These young people did good, even at a cost, even if it demanded sacrifice, simply because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others. (They felt) the encounter with Jesus Christ, inflaming us with love of God and for others, and freeing us from seeking our own ego. I came across the same attitude in Africa too, for example among the Sisters of Mother Teresa, who devote themselves to abandoned, sick, poor, and suffering children, without asking anything for themselves. This is the genuinely Christian attitude.
3) A third element that has an increasingly natural and central place in World Youth Days is adoration. Adoration is primarily an act of faith. God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if He is present, then I bow down before Him. We enter this certainty of God’s tangible love for us with love in our own hearts. This is adoration, and this then determines my life.
4) A further element of World Youth Days is the sacrament of Confession. Here we recognize that we need forgiveness over and over again, and that forgiveness brings responsibility. Man’s sinful history is the tendency that is opposed to love --- the tendency towards selfishness, towards becoming closed in on oneself, in fact towards evil. Again and again my soul is tarnished by this downward gravitational pull that is present within me. Therefore we need the humility that constantly asks God for forgiveness.
5) Finally, I would like to speak of one last feature, namely joy. Certainly there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task; I am accepted, I am loved. Joseph Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist.

Only from the You can the I come into itself. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.

And this is the challenge the pope, the Church, and indeed God gives to us: to instill this joy with the Gospel into others, even as the hundreds of thousands of youths at World Youth Day found a new joy. This may seem an impossible task to achieve in this world, and in our culture. But for some of us, who could not get these same World Youth Day teens to even make their beds, surely their new faith is evidence to us that, in God, all things are possible.

P.S. On an unrelated topic, I want to document this other article which I read in the same magazine. Andrea Bocelli, the famed Italian opera singer, (whose wonderful Christmas CD I wrote about previously, and gave away copies of this past Christmas) told a story in Haiti about how a mother had been told to abort her child because of an illness she had which would doubtless leave the child born with some kind of disability. She had her son, who was born with poor eyesight --- and became totally blind at age twelve. That son was Andrea Bocelli. In the book I recently reviewed on Medjugorje, it was mentioned how Bocelli so loves our Blessed Mother, and how he recently gave a concert at the Vatican.

I wonder how many other wonderful men, gifts to the world such as he, have been killed before they could ever sing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

When I Am Dying

I’m thinking that it was an inspired thing now, the title that I chose for this blog: Do Not Be Anxious. I’m sure I was reminded of it by Mary; it was said that she cited this passage from Matthew to the children at Medjugorje. It is Jesus’ greatest admonition to us: Trust in Me. And I’ve since grown very fond of the Divine Mercy prayer which was given to Sister Faustina, which acts as our response to Jesus’ words: Jesus, I trust in You.

Jesus: “Do not be anxious.” Me: “Jesus, I trust in You.” They go together well, and I’ve cited each many times here, but recently I was reminded not once but twice of a time in my life when those words really, REALLY meant a lot to me: when I was dying.

The Friday Bible study guys were discussing some passage of the bible and debating about how we must use the talents God gave us to do what we think best, vs trusting in Him to lead us. “So often,” one said, “I don’t know what He wants me to do, so it is natural to just do what I think best. I mean, short of Him talking in my ear, how do I really know?” While they tossed back and forth examples and what they did or didn’t do, the example came to me of what I did. And so I told them. At least to some degree, it settled the debate enough that they could go on.

More recently, I felt called to tell my seriously ill friend the story of how I almost died. When I determined to tell her, thinking it would be of value to her healing --- or her prayed-for healing, I went to my blog to print off a copy of the story of the miracle God had done for me, so she could read it. I was surprised however, to see that although it is so clear and important in my heart, I never wrote the details of that miracle here. It wasn’t here, but it should be documented, for me to always remember and for others to perhaps be inspired. And so I shall write of it now.

I have epilepsy, one of a number of problems which I live with. On what are generally rare occasions—it is reasonably controlled with medications, I have seizures of varying intensity, usually just as I nod off to sleep, or just as I am waking. It happened about fifteen years ago or so that I worked late at the office one night, which was not an unusual occurrence, and came home without having eaten dinner. So I made myself a large bowl of spaghetti, glanced at the paper and went to bed, and quickly fell asleep. And, I think, almost as quickly began having the feelings of an oncoming seizure. Feeling its onset and realizing I was losing control of my body, I lowered myself from the bed to the floor, so that if I lost total control or passed out I might not fall and injure myself. And then disaster happened: in my body’s spasms and twitching, I began to vomit the spaghetti I had eaten. This I knew was life threatening, very threatening.

Lying on the floor, having no control of my arms or legs, I knew that inhaling the vomit was likely to cause my death, and I had no control to stop it. I could feel the first burns of the stomach acids in my lungs. And then ----- I surprised myself.

Totally alert mentally, the one part of my body which I could control, I realized my situation and began to talk, calmly, to God: “Well, Lord, I guess it looks like I am finally going to meet You. That will be a good thing. I trust that this is Your will, and I am ready to accept it. Please care for the loved ones I leave behind.” And then I blacked out, and as the feelings of my body drifted from my mind, I was expecting to meet Jesus.

What actually I met, a few hours later I believe, was myself and a mess on my bedroom floor and carpet, and me. I ached all over, and very much in my lungs. I coughed and retched some more, and tried to clear my lungs. I felt awful. I had thoughts that although I was alive, staying alive was not a certain thing, but I ached too much, including a horrible headache to even consider that fact. I washed myself off and went back to bed, not even cleaning the mess on the floor.

The next day, and a couple of subsequent days, I didn’t really feel much better. I stayed home from work, and slept a lot. On the third or fourth day, I felt well enough to go to the doctor. (I think I’ve written here before of how my parents rarely saw a doctor, my mom probably not once in the past 30 years. So I guess I can justify my lack of enthusiasm for doctor visits as being a genetic pre-disposition.) The doctor looked and listened and said: “You’re lucky to be alive, and stupid for not having called for an ambulance. Your lack of panic likely saved your life. If you had become anxious and inhaled deeply or often, you likely would have died.” Oh, and he told me not to be so stupid next time ---- and don’t eat big meals before going to bed! Uh, yeh. I guess I figured that out for myself.

The point of citing this incident to my Bible-study friends, and my seriously ill friend, is that my life was saved because I trusted in God. I heeded His call to not be anxious, and I trusted in Him. And I lived ---- at His pleasure, and not because of any actions I took. For my bible study guys, it was the ultimate example of how you know you are doing God’s will: He lets you live. It’s also the ultimate example of trust, trusting your life in Him. I’m no saint; I don’t know how I had that much trust at that crucial time. It was a grace; it was a miracle. I am grateful. I trust in Him.

For my seriously ill friend, she needed to hear this story also, for she is right now in a similar, life-threatening situation ---- and she is scared beyond being able to control her body as I did, thus far. Put on a ventilator to help her breathe while her body fought off various infections, she won the battle over the infections, but the weaning off of the ventilator-assisted breathing is not coming easy. It may not come at all. After a couple of incidents as she was taken off the ventilator --- and then put back on --- her body now reacts with fear as it is turned off. My internet readings indicate that this is a very common reaction (and problem) with using ventilators, the anxiety when trying to get off the machine. The machines, the data, the numbers, say my friend should be able to breathe on her own, but her body is afraid to, and she can’t control that fear. It is, I guess, similar to the fear of drowning people who fight off their rescuers; their panic overrides their logical mind, and they can’t help it. If my friend cannot overcome that panic she may never come off that machine, and difficult decisions will have to be made.

I told her the story of my life-threatening situation; when I had that seizure I too was going to lose the air in my lungs and likely die. But I trusted in God, and am alive today --- perhaps just to tell her that story. I told her how I had read studies about Jesus’ death, and how some doctors suggest that He may have died from lack of air, as His weakened body couldn’t breathe anymore --- Jesus may know exactly what my friend is feeling; He may have felt the same thing. And so with these stories as background I wrote out for her what she must do.

Do Not Be Anxious, but if you are: 1)Breathe slowly and deeply; 2)Close your eyes; 3)Say the Our Father slowly; and 4)Jesus, I trust in You.

While I was with her yesterday afternoon, she nodded off to sleep. The ventilator assistance was set to a minimal amount; she was largely breathing on her own. But during her sleep, her breathing slowed very much, and the machine alarms went off, waking her up and instilling immediate panic reactions. I took the notes I had written and held it in front of her panic-stricken eyes, and she read them again. She closed her eyes, and her lips began moving. And then, as her breathing gradually came back to normal, she drifted off to sleep again. And I had to leave her for the day to come here to take care of my mom.

For that one time, my friend prayed, and acted in a way which trusted in God, despite the panic her body was feeling. I don’t know if she will continue to be able to do that, especially when she knows they are turning the machine off and expecting her to breathe on her own. It will be HER supreme challenge in trust.

I thought I was dying. My friend fears she is dying. We both had our mental wits about us in a situation which almost screams for panic. Trust in God is trusting in Him, no matter what the situation may be, even dying.

We are all going to die. It’s a fact we sometimes need to remind ourselves of: death comes to everyone. Even the ones Jesus raised, like Lazarus, died. And we need to remind ourselves of His words: Do Not Be Anxious; I’ll take care of you. And we need to remind ourselves that we really do trust in Him.

In life, and in death, Jesus, I trust in You.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thoughts on Sex Week

This past week was Sex Week at Yale, as students attended classes, lectures and parties to learn about sex. (And we worry about our educational system falling behind the Chinese. Hah! I bet their colleges don’t have a Sex Week. They’ll probably be sending their kids in even greater numbers to the U.S. colleges when they hear about this!)

Unfortunately, focusing on the human body in this way, to my thinking, is like focusing on a picture or icon of a beautiful woman, and trying to learn all about that woman from our intense focus. Meanwhile, the woman stands nearby behind a thin veil, but because we cannot see her clearly, we focus on the picture instead.

Sex Week is a focus on our body, without ever looking at the image out of which that body is created. God’s purpose, His mind, is the real image of our bodies, and His purposes are not about self-love, but a giving love. God did not create an image of Himself totally for Himself, but because “it is not good that man is alone.” He created us for others, our neighbors, that we might be His image to them. Not as one painting or one statue to be adored by another person, but as a being, a unique being, with His Spirit, not made of clay but of Him, to be His presence to others.

We were not made for what pleasures we can take from this world, but for what we can give to it --- His presence through us. We can reflect His love to others. If all we want or concern ourselves with is sexual freedoms, we are adoring the statues of ourselves, the clay of which we are made. It is nothing. Sex week to learn about sex? Man has known about sex since the beginning. Even Aristotle taught about the sexual freedoms of ancient Greece, and that those freedoms were only slavery to passions. Even in ancient Greece there were other wise men like Aristotle. There seem so few like him today --- although there are many who imitate the ignorant people he spoke about.

This focus on using the body for sexual pleasure reminds me of those people who have a focus on material items like, perhaps, a car. Many people own classic cars, but some are obsessed about them. They search the world for original parts; they optimize the engine’s horsepower; they find rare waxes to maximize the car’s shine. They seek to make their classic car the absolute best car it can be --- and they never take it out of the garage. It just sits there, and they worship it with their time and focus.

You likely know such people, with such a focus. Tell me, honestly, what do you think about them? It seems their every waking moment and every word is focused on their car. What do you think about these people and their focus?

In the U.S. today, there are many more people focused on their body than classic car owners focused on their cars, but their obsession is similar. They want optimum performance of that machine, their body, to enhance THEIR pleasure. And even if there is some consideration of another’s body (or another’s car) it is only to enhance their pleasures with their body or their vehicle. But none of these people are focused on the real purpose of their vehicles!

A car is not meant to operate optimally and never get out of the garage! The car’s purpose for existence is not to just operate optimally, but never go anywhere. A car’s purpose is to take you to mom’s or the children’s house, or to church. It is to get you somewhere. Your body functions in a similar way; it is a vehicle to get you somewhere, even like the car. It is to take you somewhere so you can give someone something, love, which cannot be defined in operational terms like car efficiency, but only in spiritual terms.

We were created to love. Human love has some small aspect associated with sexual functioning, which can be used to bring us to love better, but it is only a small part of our body’s true functional purpose. If the people at Yale wanted to truly educate the young, they would have a Love Week. Learning to love takes a lifetime. Perhaps at that week’s educational program there could be one short lecture on sex, or perhaps just a pamphlet. Or maybe they could just pass out copies of The Theology of the Body. It would teach them all they need to KNOW about sex, not just FEEL.

Worshipping and obsessing about statues of clay, or our bodies of clay, is idol worship. The purpose of the human body is not to be looked at and adored, or be lusted after. The purpose of the human body is to provide a vehicle for God to love us, even as His Son did. It is for giving of ourselves, using our bodies as He did His, for others.

If the best use of our bodies is to pleasure ourselves, than we may as well lock ourselves in our room or on a deserted island and stare at pornography all day. We need no one else. But as John Donne noted, “No man is an island.” And as Albert Schweitzer noted, “You don’t live in a world all alone. Your brother is here too.”

It is so easy to be caught up in the senses of our body, the pleasures it can feel, and even the pains. They are so real. But the sensual feelings are only clues to help us figure out the real meaning of our lives, the purpose of not our bodies alone, but our very being. We forget that purpose sometimes, the purpose we first learned at our mother’s breast. We had a feeling then of our purpose, and that feeling did not totally come through our senses: we felt loved.

Nothing made ONLY of clay can give or feel love. We are made of a greater thing than just clay. We are made of God, meant to live for His purposes, and to live forever with Him in celebration of having used our bodies for their ultimate purposes, to carry us home to Him, who loved us first.

Having finished writing these thoughts, I glanced at a book in which I read that “Jesus practiced heroic self-control during His earthly life,” and was a model of temperance for us. Jesus had a body like us, and He needed no Sex Week to teach Him how to optimally use it. If anyone could have maximized the pleasures of a human body, certainly the Creator of all bodies could. But He didn’t do that; “He practiced heroic self-control.”

Do we need any further example on how to use this vessel of clay?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sin: You Just Don't Understand!

While driving the two hours to visit my friend in the hospital, the local radio talk droned on about the Superbowl ads and election promises (borrrrrinnng) and so I turned on the CD “Awesome God”. It is a lively collection of songs as sung at Franciscan University’s summer conferences. The music and words, coupled with my somber mission, set the mood of my heart, and even as I joined in singing praises to God, I reflected on my last post here, and thought that many of us, myself included, can easily praise God, even as we sin. And then I thought: How can this be?

I thought about the recent liberal newspaper commentary: “Most Catholics practice contraception anyway; a law now saying they must pay for it will be no big thing to them.” And I am sure this might be true for many Catholics, but why? I needed a deeper understanding.

Oh I know why those who don’t care about Catholic teaching would pass such laws. They see that some Catholics question whether something is a sin, like contraception, sterilization, or abortion, and they say “Let’s codify a permissibility for that into law; let’s ease the conscience of Catholics that these things are sin” --- but they don’t do this to help Catholics. For they then move on to the next thing that “some Catholics” question as sin, and legalize that also. Soon, they’ll turn all sins into good things in the law. They’ll outlaw sin, and the Catholic Church. They’ll show Christians they needed no Savior to forgive their sins; “We’ll forgive them!”

Such is the mindset of those who will pass laws against the teachings of the Catholic Church, against the revelation of God, on what sin is.

And many Catholics will step by step, law by law, think that this is no big thing. But, why is that? Why don’t they stand up for the Church? I think it has to do with our understanding (or lack of understanding) of sin, and the Church’s explanation. I don’t think we know what sin is. It is not just a “teaching” of the Church. Nor is sin something we can reason over and come to understand, to justify the evil of sin in our mind by our understanding of it --- or justify the good of some “claimed” sins by our logic. But that is where the answer to my question “Why do some Catholics think some sin is no big thing” begins. Some Catholics seek to justify standing up to the Church, and God, by saying: “That doesn’t logically make sense to me, that this thing is a sin.” They rate their understanding over the Church’s understanding, but they don’t see the real picture of what sin is.

I think the easiest way to see the impact of this kind of thinking is by looking at a similar situation we are all likely to have faced: when our spouse or child misunderstands the intention of our words or actions.

It has happened to me (let’s just say more than once) that I say or do something and then look at my spouse and see in response “The Look”. You know what I mean. It’s the look that SCREAMS at you: “WHAT!!!!!!!!!” --- without ever saying a word. It’s the look that tells you that you’ve said or done something wrong, big time. And you better not ignore it. It’s the look that says there is a good possibility that someone will be sleeping in the doghouse tonight or, if the look came from your child, there will soon be a very loud slamming of their bedroom door.

How you respond to “The Look” is critical.

There are only two responses to “The Look”. The first response is an instinctive one. It is short, like: “What?” or the longer version, where we seek to clarify our statement or action by saying “Let me explain to you what I said or did which seems to have made you mad, and why it is no big deal. Logically, you should not be upset over this.” Either of these responses just worsens the situation, and is likely to be met by words explaining “The Look” further, words like: “Oh!! You just don’t understand.” And this then is usually followed by tears, or said slamming of the bedroom door.

To receive “The Look” is no small thing, and seeking to minimize the other’s hurt by saying “I didn’t mean it” or “You don’t understand” does not ease the hurt. It’s saying to the one hurting: “I did something, but you’re the one who is wrong.” But pain is a very real thing. You cannot explain to someone that they do not hurt. They do.

This is why the second alternative response to “The Look” is the better one. In this case, upon seeing “The Look” you respond with “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I love you.” (Note: preceding this response with “I don’t know what I did wrong, but …” negates its value.)

The difference between the two responses to “The Look” is that one seeks to justify our actions, applying OUR logic or reasoning to explain them, while the second humbly admits (while we may think what we did was logical) that we won’t do that again, because we know it hurts the one we love.

We avoid actions which hurt the ones we love, even if we don’t understand fully why the actions cause this hurt.

Sin causes God to give us “The Look”.

Seeking to justify our sins or trying to explain how logically they aren’t a bad thing is, in effect, explaining to God why He is wrong. Looking at sin this way, does that sound like a logical thing to do? Yet that is what those seeking to justify contraception or sterilization or abortion are attempting to do, explain to God why this should not be a sin. A far better thing to do is the second alternative above, if we should fall into such sins: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt You. I love You.” Then (and only then) if our logical minds still wish to try to understand WHY God is hurt by these sins, then it is up to US to research Church teachings on these matters, Church documents, the writing of the saints, and yes, even prayer, asking God to help us understand His mind ---- or recognizing the futility of such a prayer, praying for the grace to be able to accept His will. Thy will, not mine, be done, Oh Lord.

Even if I don’t understand.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Unappreciated Blessings

I complained bitterly about the blister on my toe, until I saw the smiling man who had no legs.

This past week I received a reminder of just how blessed I am. It was in the form of a note from a man I recently met, wherein he thanked me for some trifle I had done for him, and I realized that to him it was no trifling thing; it was a blessing.

Me? Bestowing blessings on people? Yes, I realized, even me. God could use me, even as He has used so many little unimportant people in the past. And at least in this instance He used me not for some great miraculous thing that the world would notice and be written about as the saints’ miracles are remembered, but instead He used me for some simple task, noticed only by one man. But yet, even in this small thing, I had done His will. How often had I done things like this in the past, and never been aware of the? And how often have blessings like this been bestowed upon me, perhaps even at some great price to the giver, and yet I was unaware, and unappreciative? How often has God watched over me, and I took His love for granted?

I was thinking of the note I received and the many blessings God has given me in my life as our priest began his sermon this past Sunday. He spoke about some blessings our Church has had, and which perhaps may not be taken away. Were they too unappreciated blessings, I wondered?

Our pastor, Fr. Ed. Fride, noted how new laws (dictates, really) from our government were requiring that we must change our Catholic beliefs, noting that we have a year to get used to the idea. He quipped that “it will be a cold in …” before that happened. (You can listen to his sermon on podcast here:) He expounded on some of the changes, to the hospitals and Catholic schools we support with our donations. In the nearby Catholic high school, where we pay teachers to explain what sin is to our children, we will now be required to pay for those same teachers to sin. How can what they say matter to our children when the opposite is flaunted in what they do? It will make it illegal to teach our children our Catholic faith without first publically ridiculing that teaching, even as it is done in other countries where Catholics are being ridiculed --- and killed.

Fr Ed went on to tell us how military chaplains were ordered not to preach just what he was preaching today, and some were ordered not to read biblical passages where homosexual actions are called sinful. He asked for prayers for our military chaplains, even as he called on us to be better evangelists and defenders of our faith, to better live our faith in this increasingly faithless society.

And I thought about all the ways in which I am blessed, and fail to give thanks to God for those blessings. His love and His blessings I just take for granted as if they will always be there. Like the Prodigal Son, I just spend His riches, as if the money and blessings will never run out. And His never will, but they may be taken away from us.

And I realized one thing further. This government, “our” government, which is giving us a year to get used to the idea of publicly supporting what God has revealed as sin, isn’t speaking to many of us. For many “Catholics,” in their hearts, might already agree with the government’s dictate. Like from Satan in the Garden, words they hear seem to say: “I know He said this is wrong, but it is no big thing. Trust me. You won’t die if you eat of this tree.”

“Trust me.” Jesus said those words, too.

I realized this Sunday that in my own heart I have often listened to, trusted, Satan. Some of the very sins the government is making light of, I myself committed. How many, many other Catholics have also done so, and will now receive the government’s blessings, and forgiveness, with relief? How many are hearing that this new law is no big thing. “Trust me. You won’t die.”

You won’t die. The Church’s teaching on the value of life and the sanctity and purpose of marriage, God’s values and purposes, are being ridiculed as unimportant or wrong. The teachings of the Church which we never really took the time to understand, unappreciated blessings, are being taken away from us --- and from our children. We were taught marriage is a good thing, a sacrament, but our kids will be and are being taught that sin is a good thing. They are being taught “Not God’s will, but MY will be done.” They are being taught that no longer “In God” do we trust.

Only we can change this. There are many petitions, letters to congressmen, and prayer vigils about. Look for them and DO something, while you still can.

And as I received Communion, I heart this hymn:

So here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that You’re my God. And You’re all together lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.

So many unappreciated blessings.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: Medjugorje --- What's Happening?

To be honest, I picked this book up more for the pictures than the words. A quick glance through the copy at the bookstore and I saw pictures of the original visionaries there as I saw and met them in 1987, when I visited this site of my “re-version” to my Catholic faith. I believe I have written about that trip here before, but in short I was far from a practicing and believing Catholic when I felt called to travel to this little village halfway across the world. But that visit changed my world.

Besides the beautiful pictures and memories, the first third of this book is a detailed re-cap of the events of that village, the messages said to come from Mary to 5 young children – now adults, and all the various positive events/experiences and the negative experiences/commentaries. As with all on-going supposed apparitions or visions, the Church will withhold its approval or denial of the likely truth of the matter until the visions have ended, but many prominent theologians and cardinals have spoken positively about Medjugorje, including Mgr Rene Laurentin, Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, and many others. They and others note: Medjugorje is unprecedented. Over 50,000 priests have visited this out-of-the-way village, and many millions of pilgrims. Dozens of priests routinely sit outside the church, hearing thousands of confessions. It is an amazing place. The next section of the book described other apparitions, like Fatima, and events surrounding them, and compared them to Medjugorje. The book then moved onto the visionaries as they live their lives today, still seeing Mary periodically, as she promised them.

The chapters which contain excerpts from the supposed words of Mary I found to be valuable reminders to me, such as “Suffering is to be lived in our souls and in our hearts.” Living close to and speaking with those undergoing the pains (and questions) of suffering, the gentle words describing their value were a great consolation for me. And then there were many touching words of the visionaries themselves, such as these from Ivanka Ivankovic:

“From 1985 to today I received the apparition once every year on June 25. But at the last daily apparition I was given the greatest gift, not just for myself but for the entire world. And because every single human being is asking, ‘Is there a life after this life on earth?’ I am standing before you here today. I am standing before the entire world and I can easily answer that question. Yes, there is a life after this life, because by God and Our Lady I was given this great grace, that I was able to see my late mother during that apparition time and my mom told me: ‘My dearest child, I’m proud of you.’”

The sections on Mary’s words about prayer, and the visionaries own prayer lives were encouraging. There is nothing that can unite the family like when you pray together. The calls for fasting, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays -- an ancient Church practice, opened the door to things we can do to make a difference, even in this world today. Dear children, with prayer and fasting, you can achieve anything, you can even stop wars. Mary’s call for regular confession and reception of the Eucharist seemed to be an anchor of truth for me, when I had visited that village, beyond the miracles so many witnessed --- including my sister. And then there were the words of the visionaries, like Jacov, who minimized the miracles occurring at Medjugorje by saying: “We do not realize what simply is the greatest miracle for every Christian, that if we talk about signs, what are signs? I believe that every single one of us is a sign of the Lord. Every neighbor of yours is a sign.” In speaking about the millions of pilgrims who have visited this small village he says: “In Medjugorje one should come for one reason, and that is our conversion, to change our lives here, to start a new life, a new life together with Our Lord and Our Lady. But the most important thing is to bring prayer into our families, into our communities, and remember one thing. The true pilgrimage starts when you go back home.”

It did for me.

There are many skeptics of the visions of Medjugorje, and I liked the story of one in particular, an Italian journalist named Paolo Gambi, who had ridiculed the supposed apparitions in the press for years. In 2010, he visited the site for the first time. “Call me unskilled or incompetent if you will, but when I try to describe what I have found inside me since my visit to the town I cannot find the words. Driven by a somewhat cynical curiosity I went to Medjugorje with a friend. Before my visit I found it difficult to believe that Our Lady had been continually speaking for almost thirty years in such a peripheral place. What’s more, I could not accept that Mary would be appearing on earth again to share some secrets about trials humanity will face in the future. I confess I still find these things very hard to grasp rationally. Medjugorje is completely illogical, if you look at it in a purely rationalistic way.” But then he visited, looked, heard, and prayed, and “cried without reason while I was praying in the parish church.”

“I listened to the visionary Mirjana witnessing to her experience and I realized that some of the words she was saying from the balcony of her tiny house in front of about a hundred people were spoken directly to me. When I listened to one of Mary’s messages, I realized the words spoke directly to my heart, giving me the solution to a problem I was carrying around like a heavy burden. Many of you are probably thinking: he is pathetic. That is what I used to think whenever I bumped into one of the many Medjugorje devotees. Reason cannot grasp this phenomenon --- at least mine can’t. Reason is inclined to say that Medjugorje relies on coincidence, autosuggestion, and emotionalism. But these explanations no longer satisfy me. If you have experienced what I experienced, you would understand why. In fact, the point of my trip to Medjugorje has been precisely this: to discover that there is a mysterious spiritual dimension that is so far beyond our understanding that it cannot be limited by our mind. So the only words that can be useful are these: ‘Come and see.’ In Medjogorje a new world could be unveiled inside you. At least, that is what has happened to me.”

And that is what happened to me. This is a very balanced book about the events of Medjugorje, but like Paolo Gambi, I can’t really describe adequately my feelings. But unlike hundreds of other books I have read and given away, this one will always remain on my shelf.