If you're like me, sticking to that resolution is a challenge. This is the time of the month where we start to feel the stress of sticking to something. Sometimes we give in, but does that mean we give up? How do we keep consistent? I think God places like Fr. Mike says, a vision in your life. We all receive a vision of a better self at one time or another. I think what is key is to hold onto that vision in hope and act in faith with consistency. How is this achieved? Well, Fr. Mike is really good at explaining so I'll say no more! Just watch: (five minutes tops)
We mark the beginning of our new year with the selection of goals and ideals. We look at the old and wish for the new. We see the changes we wish for and the changes that are yet to be made in us. We wish to grow but realize we are still very much the same person from the last January 1st. Many of us become negative or pessimistic about resolutions, in that way we won’t later be hurt by our failures. But why is it as humans we desire so deeply to be better?
I think in many ways we are drawn to the holiness of God which is a simplicity as well as a deep complexity. There is a pureness to God in which we all strive to be like as we are made in his image and it is our innate desire to be like him. It is a God given hunger for his life and goodness in ourselves and others. For example: We wish to be better at using our time, we wish to be better for others, we wish to bring about goodness for others and for ourselves.
If it is one resolution that I may suggest to you it would be a grateful heart. Don’t turn off just yet! I know that this becomes a symptom of a sappy post but to be very real with you gratefulness is something that has been identified scientifically as well as spiritually as something that is enriching. All of Christian life is summed in one eternal event of gratitude which is entered into through Holy Mass, the summit of which is the Eucharist meaning ‘thanksgiving’ in greek. Not to mention the endless song the Church sings by praying the psalms at every hour is one of thanksgiving.
I think many times we select many resolutions which cause us failure in the new year. There are times as well we experience great success. But if I may be so bold to suggest one for you it is one that will bring about blessing to you and your family.
How do we practice gratitude in daily living? Just watch this short 5 minute clip:
How to be happy? That is often a question. There is many times those who feel 'blue' during the holidays for a number of reasons. In my youth I remember a certain feeling of 'blue' during all of the holidays, particularly those of Christmas and New Years. Sometimes it is an upset in a regular schedule or even the missing of a particular loved one. This makes the holidays particularly difficult in striving to keep or hold onto this sense of happiness.
How to be happy? Br. David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictian Monk who has deeply examined this connection between Gratefulness and Happiness. It is a blessing to listen to his words and to engage a little bit of gratefulness each day that we may become truly happy, even with a little bit of blue.
TED Talk: Want to be happy? Be grateful | David Steindl-Rast
Okay! SO! It isn't Christmas yet... STILL ADVENT PEOPLES!!! (until this Sunday at Sundown or 4:30 pm whichever comes first). But... that being said, this is amazing! I know if I don't post it now I will forget and plus it's so close to Christmas!!! So if I may ask your forgiveness for posting something three days early... (MORE LIKE TWO DAYS PEOPLE). It gives you plenty time to share for the rest of the 12 days of Christmas. Anyway, it's worth the views!
I caught myself reflecting the other day on the actions of others and how they influence us. Oftentimes we get irritated with others or we become excited with another’s actions with which we disagree. Many times our emotions catch wind and we respond with all the usual force of emotion. A piece of wisdom that I have always kept with me through these times is that we cannot control others but we can control how we respond to their choices, whether good or bad. This wisdom is especially important for parents. It also connects to what Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 7:29-35, that as Christians we must realize that the present world is passing and God has given us an intellect and an ability to discern.
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2).
Discernment is a key function for Christians but is often forgotten. As it says in the Catechism, we are not a people of the book or blind legalism but a people of the living word of God (CCC 108). This realization requires discernment, dispassion, and formation of one’s conscience.
Discernment is something that is often lacking in our spiritual practices. It takes time and a heart to hear God’s voice. It requires time given to God in silence. Our culture is so noisy, even in a visual sense. Contemplation is different from meditation in that meditation is the practice of silent communication with God, expressing oneself. Contemplation is the practice of an opening, of a deep desire for God’s presence; this process is less action on the part of the individual contemplating and more an action of God working within one’s heart. What is amazing is that no two experiences are quite the same and there can be dryness at times, but this element is key it trains our ability to see situations from a different perspective. However, other times there can be great consolation from God in our silence; these moments prove that God’s grace is alive in our hearts as we reach out to others. In order to discern, one must be comfortable with God and spend time in silence processing our experiences in light of God’s presence so that we might focus ourselves and our lives on him.
St. John of the Cross also spoke frequently of the virtues of ‘detachment,’ the ability to detach ourselves from desires that do not lead toward God. We are certainly emotional creatures but we also have been given rational thought; therefore, it is imprudent to respond to others with raw emotion. The middle road of moderation is critical. If one is trying to be truly 'detached' from an object of obsession a person should simply eat less sweets, not forsake sweets all together. It is quite possible to be attached in the negative sense, attached to the privation of a good in which pride becomes prevalent. Reflection here is paramount. Keeping the end in mind and asking the question “how does this serve God?” is always a good strategy.
Speaking less, and speaking with intention, are important qualities. Speaking from our base passions and quick anger is an example of how one’s tongue can be a source of hellfire for others as well as for oneself. After all we are not mere animals fulfilling base desires, rather we have been given the gift of intellect and ought to use it.
“The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna” (James 3:6).
This quote isn’t meant to suggest that those who speak too much will go to Hell. The conclusion is rather that there is a temptation to host conversation and to impress others, a concept with which I think we can all relate. Many of us know the temptation to share things not meant to be shared, even to say things that are untrue, in the name of self-inflation. If we are discerning what God wants from our lives, and we are detached from the pleasures of others’ esteem, we will then be focused upon the end goal: unity with God. Speaking less, and with more intention and purpose, is a small price for further unity with Our Father. Think upon the examples of Mary & Joseph; they certainly aren't known for their many words but more so their significant actions.
Conscience is the small voice, the heart of hearts, the interior tabernacle in which we converse with the Holy Spirit. This place is where we think candidly and consider actions of which we are ashamed and even those of which we are secretly proud. St. Therese of Avila described this interior space as a castle to which our interior selves retreat in order to reflect. The way in which those castles are built, the way in which we are able to reflect, depends in large part what we feed our minds and souls. Certainly Jesus, by way of the Holy Spirit, is present in every person’s conscience, though it is particularly easy to ignore this, especially when one is accustomed to vice or addiction. It is important to note here that vice is a sickness or an imbalance in desire, as St. Thomas Aquinas might say, which is an accurate way of describing addiction. It is important to note here, when using the word illness, every ounce of mercy & compassion ought to be used upon those who suffer addiction that they may find balance again. Addiction can take many forms & can be very difficult to eradicate. Often times, our addictions are never fully eradicated but prove to be a continual cross to bear for Christ. Being aware of our illnesses is important in applying the sacraments to our daily lives, living in the sanctifying grace God intended from the beginning. There too is an important realization, all are sick with sin; Jesus comes with the sweet balm of the sacraments as merciful medicine. There is a certain humility realized in noting that not only do we personally have faults, but that others equally have many faults. There is an opportunity here that Jesus gives us in applying mercy just as he had.
Never-the-less In order to form the conscience well, one must read good books and Sacred Scripture often. A good place to begin is the Gospels & the Psalms. In reading the Gospels we become more intimately aware of Jesus’s presence in our lives. By praying & singing the psalms we spiritually unite ourselves in song to Christians around the world and throughout time. Jesus will convict us in our heart of hearts, show us & call us to the way of the true & good, but also give us consolation in mercy.
Ultimately, as Catholics, we ought to make our lives one of action and not words. In this age we have become so accustomed to words mixed with inaction. Be that jewel that does without speaking; be the ray of light that shines in a world of bluster. With discernment, detachment, and a good conscience this will avail you the ability to take in the world objectively, decide what is needed, and act with peace & grace.
I wanted to share very briefly my thoughts about the latest #MeToo movement. I think it is time that we as a society recognize that sin is a public venture. What do I mean? Every sin, no matter how private, has a public ramification. This is why the act of reconciliation is so essential and why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so essential. I think immediately of Matt Fradd and his many works including most recently his book ‘The Porn Myth.’ Addiction to pornography is likely the biggest taboo and the greatest purveyor of sexual predatory practices. Think for a moment in how much time a day someone spends on developing virtue and holiness; how much time do you think an addiction to the vice of porn drags from someones life? What is the longterm effect on the brain with such exposure and training? As we’ve discussed in earlier posts, the most fundamental aspect of Catholic Social Teaching is that we are all made in God’s likeness, image, and have an immutable dignity. What dignity is given by making someone an object of personal gratification? What kind of dignity does it serve to train one’s brain to perceive women in this way? As Christians we constantly train ourselves in the ways of holiness of prayer of peace of virtue; what does this add?
The real question is what is virtue? Virtue is essentially at it’s root a good habit, vice is it’s opposite. Think about all the habits you have, things that now come easily to you which were once difficult at first. This is something in our nature that cannot be changed. We form virtue or vice depending upon our daily choices and behaviors. Our most private sins effect all in a very public way. How we treat others is borne very deeply within our very thoughts as Jesus taught very firmly: anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28). Do you understand this serious accusation? In the law the punishment for adultery is a stoning death. Just as sure as there was at one time a death penalty for Adultery, there is a death that takes place within the heart of those who partake of this vice. Luckily God intervenes with his mercy through the sacrament of Reconciliation. But if we are going to be serious about the way men are exhibiting predatory tactics towards women in our society we need to recognize and acknowledge the prevalence and the problem that pornography poses to the dignity of the feminine genius.
It is at this juncture that it must be brought up the prevalence with which my generation (millennials) has been brought up with pornography, whether by parental permission or by secret. In one sense my generation is much more aware of the struggles that women face but on the other hand my generation grew up on a steady diet of pornography. I can’t say that I’ve spoken as candidly with members of other generations but I can say this problem is certainly not close to being solved or addressed in a real way. Acknowledgement is the first step, it is key, and I hope that the public sin of pornography & masturbation, no matter how private, will be denounced for the pathway to abuse that it is. Abuse of self firstly and abuse of others mentally to the abuse of others physically.
To love the Blessed Mother, which is to be Marian, is not only to recognize her humility, her Queenly attributes, her beauty, her purity but to recognize in her the dignity and the genius that she is. In a universe in which God creates the most beautiful Angel who falls and becomes ugly due to pride; the most beautiful creature who is Mary effortlessly appeals for us all. The beauty spoken of here is more then mere appearance, but truth of being. It is no mistake that the closest creature to God is Mary, not just as mother of Jesus or spouse of the Holy Spirit. Her genius is a simple ‘yes’ to the plan of God for her life. Her genius is her ‘yes’ to allowing her son to be immolated upon the cross before her very eyes. Her genius is her 'yes' to the Holy Spirit in becoming a spiritual mother to the Church at Pentecost through her silent but warm presence. Her genius is one of tremendous joys and tremendous sorrows. None of this credit would she take though as she continually points to her Son.
The sooner men begin to step up in virtue and the practice of daily holiness the sooner that society will back away from the rocky cliff it is precariously teetering upon. It is when men and women collaborate together in dignity, making family life the fruit and the focus of a loving relationship that sons and daughters will live in peaceful contentment. This change is possible, but it depends upon us all to make a change for peace.
This post doesn’t begin to address or acknowledge in an effective way the gravity and scale of the suffering that many, many women have suffered at the hands of men who cannot respect or uphold the dignity of women. To be sure, pornography isn’t the only problem but it is a big problem that needs to be acknowledged.
NOT A PAID ADVERTIZEMENT: Please read The Porn Myth by Matt Fradd!
In recent months we have experienced serious hurricane after serious hurricane. Not to mention earthquakes, forest fires, other natural events, and calamities. Often times we are asked or the thought comes to mind, why does God allow this? Sometimes, people go so far as to say that God is actively punishing a region through natural events.
Suffering itself is a mystery that can be summed up in the cross. It is important to point out here the theological meaning of mystery. A mystery is something that God hasn’t fully revealed yet, or something that escapes our understanding because of the vast difference between God’s infinite nature (what he is) and our own finite nature (what we are). A difference between creator and creature.
This is where this discussion becomes interesting. The term ‘creature’ is applied in a theological sense to anything created by God, whether it’s an object, animal, or person. This terminology highlights God’s relationship with everything in the universe. He is the creator, in that creative process he created time, space, matter, laws of physics, natural law, as well as a moral law.
There has been a temptation from the very beginning of humanity to create idols. These idols always were connected with earthly things, with natural events and the natural world. These idols explained the earthquakes, the hurricanes, drought, volcanos, eclipses, and other natural events. There is a reason why the greek Gods are depicted as capricious and unpredictable, because the natural world was equally so. This is called a god-of-the-gaps or an “idol-god” that is used to explain events that cannot yet be understood or explained through any other means.
Even now in the great age of science, people are still tempted to follow idols. One of the greatest limitations of modern man is the incapacity to correctly understand the attributes of God particularly his transcendence and omniscience much less the subtlety of the Trinity. Many times in discussion, even rational people make the mistake of assuming that God is a crutch to explain away any earthly event without reason, and at times the faithful in a poor attempt at being zealous whole-hearty agree.
Faith and reason go together, God is indeed creator of the universe which also means that the universe operates to a certain design. Temporal or earthly things can be studied and understood, this does not limit God. The study of science only glorifies God, as he delights in our use of God-given faculties. It was God who created the laws of physics and it is the natural world that follows those laws as designed. This is not an admission of idolatry because the laws of physics, along with space and time began when the universe came into being. Should scientists form a deeper understanding and knowledge of our temporal existence, or how the universe came to be, it will only enlighten our understanding of God. Both faith and reason ought to be searching in a parallel manner for truth.
The purpose of this pilgrimage of life is to love and serve God well. Catholics are often asked to memorize the four last things: death, heaven, hell, & purgatory. God punishes after death as a natural consequence of sin. God alone is the judge. In order to refute in a final way this idea of God punishing through the natural order is the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Mt 13:24-30). First the owner of the field sows good seed, then overnight an enemy sows weeds in with the wheat. Then with the discovery of the mixed weeds and wheat the servants ask if they can remove the weeds from the wheat and the owner replies:
“No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Mt 13:29-30)
God does not punish or kill purposely through hurricanes. The very existence of death is something that God does not wish (see Ezekiel 18:23). From the time of Adam and Eve, death is the rejection of God and death has been handed on to all subsequent generations. When that first rejection took place with Adam and Eve death entered into the world and the entire natural order was disrupted. Can God stop a hurricane? Sure, just as he can stop sin. Yet there is a philosophical question here at heart of the parable. If God were to stop all sin and all death now, he would risk uprooting much of the good wheat. To God, sin is sin there is no comparison. Just as I’m sure we could agree, that instead of stopping one hurricane we would act, if we could, for an end to all death.
Sin and death are horrible; mercy, forgiveness, and love are amazing works of grace and healing. We are called to forgive the former and to live heaven on earth which is the latter. While we don’t believe in idols or ‘god-of-the-gaps’ we do believe in an all-powerful God who has created an interesting, complex, and yet simple universe to which all laws converge to make existence what it is, a universe that operates according to his design, though not with out defect as the result of sin. Rather then being built like a pocket watch God is very invested in our universe and in our plight by offering up his only son so that sin and death may be vanquished. It is through the example and words lived by Jesus, that we understand truly the things that science cannot teach. Among them that we will one day according to God’s just judgement live in eternity, that this life here is just a passing pilgrimage. Keeping an eye on the purpose of our lives, to love and serve God, and to aim for eternity bring into view a different understanding of the temporal world around us. It brings a different understanding of suffering, of disaster, or of calamity that cannot be stolen or taken. We are given a kind of ruddy hope, something that was captivating about Jesus and those close to him.
So when calamity strikes instead of looking for omens and signs, run to the aid of those in need. Instead of judgment offer your hand in trying to understand. This certainly is a difficult world ridden with sin and death for which there is only one cure, the indomitable hope of Christ with the precious gift of salvation.
**DISCLAIMER: Hey guys, I want to make a small disclaimer that this subject has so many deep facets that really this post is the very baby-step beginning of understanding what is going on with God and how judgement works and then we didn't even touch on Revelation and when or how judgment will come or the poetic language of Revelation there is just so much in this one subject! So enjoy, write your questions below!**
"In the solitude and silence of the wilderness..., for their labor in the contest, God gives his athletes the reward they desire: a peace that the world does not know and joy in the Holy Spirit."
Husband & father of four, graduate from Quincy University and currently a grad student at Franciscan University. Director of Faith Formation & Youth Ministry for All Saints Parish since January 2012.