faith

There's Something to be Said About Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

We all have our worst fears. And if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to obsess about them and let them dominate my life. It’s all too easy to instantly become negative and allow fears, worries and anxieties overpower our faith in the Lord’s plans for our lives. Or, even worse, we begin to suspect or blame God in the supposed unfolding of these problems that might not have even happened yet.

Fear is a human aspect and is something characters throughout salvation history have struggled with. Even when the Lord reaches out His hand and does amazing deeds, humanity is all too quick to forget God’s goodness, or become disillusioned and bitter. This plays out multiple times in the books of Exodus and Numbers, where the Israelites complain about the food the Lord has given them, about what they left behind in Egypt (besides slavery) and where the Lord is taking them.

When Moses leads the Israelites to the land “flowing with milk and honey,” they become consumed with fear because they’re afraid of the current inhabitants of the land, completely forgetting the extraordinary miracles that brought them out of slavery and sustained them on their journey:

“All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, the whole community saying to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt, or that here in the desert we were dead! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to have us fall by the sword? Our wives and little ones will be taken as booty. Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?…Let us appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14: 2-4)

In response, the Lord allows exactly what they feared to happen, because they wouldn’t make space in their lives for God and because they refused to trust in Him. He withdraws and without God, their worst fears indeed take place:

“The Lord also said to Moses and Aaron: ‘How long will this wicked community grumble against me?… By my life, says the Lord, I will do to you just what I have heard you say. Here in the desert shall your dead bodies fall….Your little ones, however, who you said would be taken as booty, I will bring in, and they shall appreciate the land you spurned. But as for you, your bodies shall fall here in the desert, here where your children must wander for forty years, suffering your faithlessness, till the last of you lies dead in the desert.” (Numbers 14: 26-29, 31-33)

The Israelites became victims to a self-fulfilling prophecy and their own fears indeed came into being because they refused to believe in the Lord, and the Lord allowed those fears to become actualized. It’s easy to look at this ancient example and scoff at their faithlessness, but the reality is that we make the same mistakes in our own lives time and time again. We also refuse to trust in the Lord because our fears seem more substantial than trusting that the Lord has our best interests in mind. When we encounter the unknown, we shy away and want to turn back to the familiar past, even when we bemoaned the tribulations of what we endured in the past. By making our fears tantamount, we push the Lord aside and sometimes invite what we feared to come into being.  At the same time, it can be incredibly difficult to trust in the Lord, especially when He’s calling us into the unknown, but a life without trust in the Lord as Christians is not a Christian life at all.

But, as the Lord has also done throughout salvation history, He’s always ready to reward faith and renew His promises, as we make our way through this desert of life to the Promised Land waiting for our souls at the end of our earthly days. As long as we hope, we can prevent these dark omens of the unknown from become dismal self-fulfilled prophecies.

Traveling Between the Lines

Travel. It’s trendy. To say you’re a traveler in modern culture is a pithy way to say you are a cultured, experienced, tolerant, interesting human being whose life is fun and exciting and whose thoughts are worth listening to.

And to a certain degree that is true. Travel does wonderful things for the soul. There are images and graphics all over the Internet with the quote from St. Augustine that “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” But simply to have read something isn’t enough. As Catholics, we should strive to be excellent in everything that we do. It is not enough to read great books. In order to gain any wisdom, we must read them well, with attention and humility. It is the same with traveling. In order to gain wisdom and experience truth in our travels, we must travel well.

How do we do that? In many ways, we do the same things we do to read well. Here are four tips from an English major on traveling well.

1)   Step outside yourself.

We read books to gain something we do not already have. In order to do so we have to let our mind enter into situations we have not been in before, or follow characters who react differently to their surroundings than we do. It isn’t just about the characters we connect with, but also the ones we clash with. We have to wrap our minds around ideas that are not our own. We gain a greater understanding of human nature and all it’s nuances. In traveling, unfamiliar surroundings make it easy to feel like we are stepping outside of ourselves, because we are physically out of our comfort zones. This can create the illusion that we have actually stepped outside of ourselves. We must make a conscious effort to connect with our surroundings, even when they don’t immediately pull us in.

2)   Compare.

When you compare parallel ideas from different books they provide insight into each other. When we find things that are similar to home in a foreign place and then examine the nuances, we learn more not only about the place we are in, but the place we came from as well. In good travel, as well as reading well, our senses are heightened and we notice smaller details than we do in everyday life. When we compare these to something more familiar they open secrets about our daily life and ourselves that have been hiding right before our eyes.

3)   Read between the lines.

A good book is never just a story. The story is crafted to reveal certain truths about the world, but if we don’t pay attention to what is not obvious, we can easily miss them. As a Christian, travel should never be about escaping reality or collecting fun stories. God usually has something to teach us when we travel, but it’s up to us to be attentive to it. Be extra prayerful when you travel. This also involves being prepared. If you spend some time learning about the historical context of the places you go, your ability to read between the lines will be greatly heightened. Read a little bit of history before you go anywhere.

4)   Allow it to end.

Sometimes you don’t want a good book to end. You don’t want to leave the experience behind. But if you never close the back cover, you can’t process it in it’s completeness. The conclusion of a book can radically change the experience of the book as a whole. Travel has a designated end date for a reason. When it’s time to go home you are given a unique gift to contemplate the trip in it’s entirety, and to incorporate what you have learned into your daily life. Your day to day can be transformed when you return from a well-traveled trip, but if you try to make the experience last longer than it ought, you do a disservice to the trip and to your daily life.

Traveling is one of the greatest gifts we have been given. Embracing new people and places stretches our hearts and minds and brings growth we usually can hardly imagine. But simply changing our location isn’t enough to travel. We must read well every adventure in order for our travels to truly make us wiser.

What Kind of a Catholic are You?

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I notice that many attendees and Catholics become preoccupied with this question, “What kind of Catholic are you?  Where do you go to mass?”  Sometimes, we ask these question to understand what kind of spirituality another person might have.  Other times we might wonder what kind of liturgy he/she prefers traditional/charismatic/somewhere in between.  However, more often than not, I have noticed that this question takes on different meaning depending upon who is asking the question.  On the “right” side of the aisle, believers usually ask each other if we believe in Catholic teaching regarding contraception/marriage/homosexuality.  On the “left” side of the aisle, believers might ask each other about their beliefs regarding illegal immigration/care for the poor/racism.  Sometimes, I feel like we use this question to gauge our ability to befriend or to date others (disclaimer…CBC is not a dating service!!!). 

            As a CBC City Coordinator, I cannot help but struggle with these questions.  Why do we ask them?  Why are we so preoccupied with sorting each other into these two groups?  How can we better accept each other, create genuine friendships, will the best for each other, and accomplish all of this without judging each other for what we struggle with personally?  Sometimes, I feel like I cannot do all of this.  I feel like I cannot appease both crowds, and at different times in my life I struggle with both sides of the aisle. 

            What type of Catholic am I?  When I am asked this question, I balk, squirm, and try to avoid it.  My Jesuit education taught me to prioritize caring for the poor and vulnerable.  However, there are times when I am not as compassionate to the poor as I should be.  These days might include driving past that homeless person holding a sign on the free way, spending money on frivolous things, or choosing to sleep in on the weekend instead of volunteering in my community.  On those days, I feel like a “lazy Catholic,” “in a hurry Catholic,” or sometimes even a “selfish Catholic.”  Sometimes, my prayer life goes well, but often times I forget to pray.  I become a “forgetful Catholic” or an “ungrateful Catholic.”  Sometimes, I believe I am doing really well, and I am a “prideful” Catholic, at which point I bring more harm than good to the world.  However, lately I have learned much about the right relationships with others/theology of the body, but there are times when I struggle to perfect these ideals and nights when fighting for them leaves me full of anxiety more than anything else.  I am a “sinful Catholic” who has made mistakes.  Some days I am a “faithful Catholic” ready to fight the good fight.  Other days, I am a “doubting Catholic,” who struggles to see God’s love in a world full of sadness and cannot see the wisdom behind the Church’s teachings.  In these days of doubt, I am a “trying to understand Catholic.”  I am a “dependent upon the Mercy of God Catholic,” who knows that all these struggles are watched and tended to by a God who loves her profoundly.

            I have to believe, though we may feel differently and struggle with issues throughout our lives, that we can all relate to the adjectives above.  Sometimes we are all, “lazy, in a hurry, selfish, sinful, faithful, forgetful, ungrateful, prideful, and doubting.”  All the while, we are all “trying to understand and dependent upon the Mercy of a loving God.”  We all have our battles.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, we have all doubted, struggled, and fallen into the arms of a God who will always welcome us home.  So, I think it is important that as CBC, we welcome each other.  Though our beliefs are important and sharing them is worthwhile, it is most important that we open our arms and hold each other in our lives, in whatever state we may be at that moment.  When all is said and done, we are all profoundly loved.  We are loved by the Lord, who gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  This profound love, more than anything else, is what makes us Catholic.  So, the next time you are asked, “What kind of Catholic are you?”…I hope that you respond, “I am the kind who is LOVED.”

The Soultion to our Searching

    I was sailing through a sea of green fields. The wind whipped the soft grass creating the appearance of undulating waves. My car was a vessel floating amongst the vastness of the open road. My course was charted in front of me, by the rough, lonely country road. Small water tanks, like mirrors reflecting the bright blue sky above, dotted the countryside. The beauty was overwhelming. Almost instinctively, I had the desire to capture this beauty, to snap a photo to preserve the image. Yet, I have often found that pictures do not do justice to a breathtaking landscape, like the one through which I was traveling. There is something deeper than the physical beauty that can only be experienced in the present. It cannot be stored and revisited days or months later. One must dwell in the moment to soak in its fullness.

Stepping into the basilica, my eyes were instantly drawn upwards. Golden light shown through the elevated windows onto the enormous baldacchino over the main altar. The central nave extended all the way to the Holy Spirit window, far in the distance. The stone colonnade directed my sight onward and upward. I stared in awe at the vastness of this sacred space. Almost paralyzed, I was unsure of how to react to such beauty. Surely, no camera is able to capture the length, width, and depth of such a space, let alone the brilliance of colors illuminating the air. Yet, around me swarmed, likes bees, hundreds of tourists with their selfie sticks waving and their camera lenses clicking. They seemed unaware of the sanctity of the space, treating it as merely another sight to see on their Roman holiday. As I processed through the many altars lining the sides of the central nave, the artwork continued to draw my mind away from my current surroundings and more toward the One whose sacrifice was re-presented each day on these altars. Upon entering the chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, the atmosphere changed. There was a lightness that touched the soul. Only dwelling there in the silence of prayer could the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica truly be contemplated.

There is something appreciable about our desire to capture beauty. It points toward our inner direction toward the ultimate Beauty. After all, every beautiful thing participates in the beauty of God. However, earthly beauty is fleeting. Many poets lament the loss of beauty with the imagery of the changing seasons or the process of aging. They profess tempus fugit and carpe diem - that time is fleeting; therefore, seize the day.

The best way to fully appreciate beauty is to dwell in it in the moment. Not every moment in our lives will be beautiful. In fact, a majority of them probably are not. But, if we truly appreciate beauty when it does come, we will be sustained in times of desolation in the hope of another consolation. One way to actively encounter beauty is to travel, whether that be internationally, or locally. Simply moving oneself out of their current, perhaps mundane, reality can help one find beauty in other people, nature, art, and architecture. The verdant countryside and the brilliant basilica that I described earlier are just two of the countless examples of how I have experienced beauty through travel.

Although physical beauty is fleeting, there is One that never fails. By encountering the One from whom all beauty flows, we can experience a beauty that the finite world can never offer. Prayer is the way through which we encounter our God. Granted, prayer is often hard and uncomfortable. But, as with travel, God gives us times of consolation in prayer to give us hope in our desolation and remind us of His promise.

Both travel and prayer draw one out of oneself to experience something greater. We are forced to encounter the vastness of the world and our God and reconcile ourselves with them both. We must return to travel and prayer continually to relieve ourselves in the bleak times of life. The fact that beauty can never fully be captured causes us to have to seek it out again and again. And surprisingly, I have found that the more I travel and the more I pray, the easier it is to find beauty in the mundane, and even the ugly. Prayer and travel broaden one’s perspective to see things as they are and to appreciate them nonetheless.

This Saying is Hard

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’

                                                            -John 6:60

At moments in my life, I’ve struggled to reconcile myself with the teachings of my beloved Catholic faith. These moments usually come right before periods of new growth in my life and sometimes that growth is painful. Sometimes it’s almost excruciating to subjugate my will to the demands of my faith, particularly in regard to suffering and family planning.  Sometimes, like my battle with the Catholic teaching on family planning, I have to grapple with skepticism and ongoing fear and place my life in the hands of the Lord. For example, although I understand the beautiful teachings behind the Theology of the Body and I want to incorporate them into my life, Natural Family Planning pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone because I love to be in control of my own life and I often lay out meticulous plans on how my life should be, or ought to be. Instead of entrusting my future to the God who knows and loves me best, it’s very easy for me to be overwhelmed with fear that God is going to ruin my life If He doesn’t exactly follow the plans I’ve made for myself. It’s far too easy for me to try to edge God out of my life and close myself to any of his possibilities. In addition, I am easily cowed by secular world’s judgmental stance on not using contraception, the view that children are burdensome, and am often blinded by the world’s empty promises of fulfillment through self-reliance and pleasure seeking. Sometimes I feel a little jealous because maintaining the Lord’s laws puts a damper on being “carefree” and “fun.” During my weak moments, I feel like retreating from what God demands of me because the Church’s teachings are so radically different than the world’s and I don’t want to accept those teachings.

It’s not always easy to be a Christian and Catholicism is often called out for the boundaries that it places on human selfishness. But Christians struggling with Christ’s word dates back to the time of Christ Himself. In John 6:60, after Christ reveals the radical and very physical truth of the Eucharist, many disciples say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” When the teachings are hard to accept, the results are the same: people either walk away, back to the world, or people hunker down and experience the creative burn of new growth and truth. Christ invites us to intimately join Him and trust Him, to devote our futures and trust in Him even when it seems risky. He invites us to make room in our futures, to make space in our hearts, to exercise the muscles of our faith. Christ’s teachings are rooted in wisdom and self-sacrifice with a foundation that has lasted thousands of years. Christianity’s teachings are considered conservative, they’re truly radical in how different they are from the wisdom of the world, both in the modern world and 2,000 years ago.

However, as Christians, we know we are not alone and walk hand in hand with the apostles and saints that came before us, who also struggled to reconcile their lives and their minds with teachings that are hard to accept. No matter what you struggle with, be it the real presence in the Eucharist, the Church’s stance on homosexuality or contraceptives, we need to take the time to research what challenges us, take the time to digest it, and accept that it may take time to fully accept the teachings and that it may be difficult to live radically by their wisdom. God is not afraid of us and invites us to struggle with Him, to argue with Him, so we truly know what we believe in. Through difficult teachings, God calls us to a deeper understanding and deeper relationship to Him. Don’t be one of the ones who walks away when the going gets rough and join the community that has struggled and yet grown closer to God.

 

 

It's Always the Nice Ones

She was so pleasant when I met her.  She laughed politely in bed and stated that she, “Didn’t want to come to the ER, but the vomiting and dizziness had become so bad over the last two months that I had to come here.”  I asked her a few more questions. Her vomiting was worse when she moved from sitting to standing positions and with any kind of motion…maybe she just had vertigo?  She was also dizzy, which further pointed me in the direction of this benign diagnosis.  Her bowel movements were regular.  However, her history also included profuse right quadrant tenderness and night sweats.  She had lost over 40 lbs over the last three months.  She attributed the weight loss to her inability to keep food down and was actually pleased with the results.  Aside from confirming the existence of profuse upper right quadrant tenderness she had already reported, the patient’s complete physical exam revealed no clues to her condition.

I hoped her condition would be benign.  However, her symptoms affected almost every system.  Over the course of the evening, my preceptor ordered labs, an ultrasound of the patient’s abdomen, and a CT scan of her abdomen.  Things happen quickly in the emergency room, but they also happen slowly.  The process of ordering and interpreting all her blood work and resulting imaging took 4-6 hours.  She was quite sick, so I needed to check on her several times through my shift.  She was always positive and became a vibrant presence for most of my shift.  She was 60, with a daughter who was 27 who had just graduated from nursing school. 

Her CT scan came back showing masses consistent with cancer that had metastasized to her liver, lungs, spine, and bones. When my preceptor saw the CT scan, he asked me, “Was she nice?”  I responded, “yes.”  “It’s always the nice ones,” he replied.  I’ll never forget his question or his response.  He did not express disappointment that such a bad thing could happen to someone so good.  He said, “It’s always the nice ones.”  He continued, “I swear anytime someone nice comes in, they have cancer.”

After receiving her diagnosis, my patient asked for some chap stick and a blanket.  As a student I had the time to bring them to her.  When I brought them to her, she smiled sadly and told me her 27 year old daughter would be devastated by the news.  Then, she started describing her cross necklace that she wore daily.  She talked about how it encouraged her to be kind to other people and reminded her of the importance of God in her life.  She said that she forgot to wear it today, but that when she heard my name, “Christian,” she felt immediately comforted.  She laughed and wished me luck in my future.  She thanked me for caring for her that night.  How could she be grateful?  She had just discovered that she had cancer. 

Bad things happen to good people.  Life is not fair, but that night this patient reminded me that we have a choice to react joyfully to even those dark moments of our lives with kindness, joy, and laughter. 

Souping Up Your Rosary Game

Yes, another rosary blogpost on a Catholic blog. The rosary is an oft-written about topic: the importance of it, the fruit of it, etc. It's almost become a Catholic cliche. I want to offer this article to those of you who are in the midst of a love/hate or on again off again type of relationship with the rosary (and let’s be honest, most people who are trying to regularly pray it are at least partially in one of those two camps).  

I had my conversion praying bad rosaries, muting on commercial breaks to rush through a decade, hoping that I could pray my way out of the eternal condemnation I knew I was heading towards (I mean our Lady promised it right), until I realized those three minute windows of time contained a certain peace that I longed for. So I kept praying the rosary as best I could, and things starting melting away: destructive habits and then eventually my desire for them. And mysteriously, new graces and convictions began to replace them. And so I've continued praying it, as best I can. Maybe not daily (though I wish it was), but consistently, through dryness and bountiful grace, the graces contained in the rosary keep coming.

I was talking about this with my spiritual director and he was re-convincing me how necessary the devotion is with a terrifying story of an exorcism. In the midst of the exorcism the demon began laughing at the priest and called the faithful a bunch of fools. The priest told him to elaborate in the name of Jesus, and it replied that the heads of the evil ones servants are utterly crushed by the recitation of the rosary. We carry a great key to our freedom in our pockets and were fools because we never use it.

All that being said, the rosary is not an easy prayer to pray. We live in the age of distraction, so sitting still for 20 or so minutes and focusing on a string of prayers and meditating on scenes from the gospel, if we were honest, seems like the last thing an overstimulated mind would want to participate in.  Keeping the mind focused on such a repetitive, involved prayer can seem more like trying to ride a bull then a serene focusing on the Lord.  It can often be the most dry and distracted, rote and bland addition to our devotional lives. And sometimes it should be, but I want to offer some ways to dive more deeply into the mystery of this devotion for each of the ailments that seem to afflict us rosary-averse people.

St. Louis De Montfort offers several methods for entering into the rosary.  This resource is a treasure trove and is great in an of itself, but for the sake of writing a more interesting blog post, I’ll highlight a couple of them and also add some different tidbits that you can work into your prayer to help spice it up.

 

FOR THOSE POOR DISTRACTED SOULS

I recently came to the conclusion that if I was going to pray the rosary consistently I needed to do it the car from time to time.  I can never seem to focus, and I feel like I’m cheating prayer fitting it into my commute because I’m not finding other time to set aside for things like the rosary.  But alas, sometimes we have to start with the the less than ideal.  So I started praying with St. Louis’s second method to help me focus.  You add a word after “Jesus” to bring your mind back to the mystery you’re meditating on, to praise Him, etc (i.e. “Jesus becoming man, born to poverty, crucified for my sins, etc.).  Not only did this help keep my attention, but I actually got lost in prayer.  My car rides became the most fruitful part of my spiritual life.

 

FOR THE NOT SO VALIANT PRAYER WARRIOR

I’m the worst intercessor I know.  People ask for my prayers, and despite my best wishes (not necessarily effort) I always forget to pray for them.  The rosary has offered a solution to that as well.  Here’s a simple method for interceding with the rosary: 1) Jot down all the prayer requests you receive (have an email folder set aside or whatever).  2) Read the requests before you begin the rosary or pick a few per decade. 3) Throw in some one-liners in between the proper prayers.  This article has a good suggestion for a simple way to intercede using St. Elizabeth of the Trinity’s simple method for praying for others.  In his third method, while meditating on the crucifixion, St. Louis dedicates each “Hail Mary” to each of the nine choirs of angels, asking them to pray for a particular intention (i.e. “Holy Seraphim, ask God… Hail Mary… Holy Cherubim, ask God… Hail Mary… and so on).  I throw a decade or two like this in there from time to time. The possibilities are endless here.

 

FOR THOSE WHO GET ANNOYED WITH THE INTRODUCTORY PRAYERS (JUST ADMIT YOU’RE ONE OF US)

I also found that I got bogged down during the introductory prayers (I know, I’m really getting lazy), but I found that the Dominican way of beginning the rosary on Reddit of all places.  It’s really simple and to the point and gets my heart ready for prayer.

 

FOR THOSE LOOKING FOR AN EXTRA, PERSONAL UMPF

Lastly, someone taught me this 3-step way of praying the “Jesus Prayer”.  Sometimes I pause between each decade, pray this and then apply whatever came up during the decade.  Here’s the method:

1. Call to mind Jesus’ presence.  Make an act of faith that He is present to you.  Here and now.  Picture Him sitting across from you, His arms open, ready to receive what you have for Him.

2.  And He asks:  “What do you want to give to me?”  Bring to Him all your thoughts, feelings and desires- what is on your mind that’s impacting you- good and bad?  And then He asks “What do you want in return?”  Each meditation has a grace to ask for laid out.  In your own words, pray to receive this grace.

3.   Lastly, recite the Jesus prayer.  “Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Remember as you recite His most powerful name, that with the name of Jesus comes His presence, power and healing.  Repeat this process as many times as you need to in order to prepare yourself to encounter the Lord.

These have been little tweaks that have helped me transition from the rosary becoming a commonplace ritual that I powder my way through as quickly as possible to really the heart of my prayer life.  Use what you like, mix and match, and offer some more suggestions in the comments section.  Happy praying!

I Vow to Thee, My Country

I have recently grown fond of a rather beautiful poem. It’s called “I Vow to Thee, My Country.” Written by Sir Cecil Spring Rice, it outlines the devotion one has to his country, and the longing love to his eternal homeland.

It’s uncertain when exactly Rice wrote the poem, but many agree it was around 1912 when he was appointed as Britain’s ambassador to the United States. His main task: to convince the Woodrow Wilson Administration to abandon neutrality and join the fight against the Germans in World War I. His mission was successful, and in 1918, was recalled back to his island home. It was then that he reworked the poem to reflect a mood of somber loyalties one has to his country.

The poem was at one time memorized by all English boys and girls. So powerful was the appeal that Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets symphony, modified a key movement from “Jupiter” to fit it to the poem. It is a common anthem sung at numerous official events, and while it has a distinctly English feeling, for sure, the essence is universal.

Once titled “Urbs Dei” and “The Two Fatherlands,” the core theme is duty and love to home. It is appropriate, considering for most people, their place of birth (or adopted new country) is like their own familiar Jerusalem, a City of God. Pius XII once said

It is quite legitimate for nations to treat [their] differences as a sacred inheritance and guard them at all costs. The Church aims at unity, a unity determined and kept alive by that supernatural love which should be actuating everybody; she does not aim at a uniformity which would only be external in its effects and would cramp the natural tendencies of the nations concerned.

This is the essence at which the poem aims, to embrace the natural love one feels for their country, while keeping the heart and soul direct to the Eternal City in Heaven. While nations may go to war to protect themselves, the “country I heard of long ago” is gentle, and all her paths are peace.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above
entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
the love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
the love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago
most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
we may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
and soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
and her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Eyes on Heaven

As a general principle:  Keep your eyes on Heaven, not on Hell.

 

This is some great advice that I received from a good priest friend of mine.  In a world with Hell on full display (let’s be honest in a mirror with at least a good deal of Hell on display) we could use a whopping portion of Heaven.  Sin still exists when we look at Heaven.  The devil is still prowling and evil is still operative, but it doesn’t matter nearly so much.  Because God is operating too in a grander, more eternal, and vastly more interesting way.  Yes we have wounds and faults, but Christ has situated His cross in front of us and implored us to gaze on Love Incarnate.  I think that is a better view than my woundedness any day.  Sure I need to look at those wounds from time to time in order to fully appreciate the grandeur of the Lord’s revelation, but generally God should get my attention.  And this doesn’t only apply to our personal lives, but has societal ramifications as well.  

 

We bemoan “The Culture” (which we apparently have no part in building since calling it “The Culture” anthropomorphised it as some living super-villain entity living and operating outside of ourselves) and is responsible for everything ruining our lives.  We can attach any face to “The Culture” that we want- morphing from that one politician that we think is the Antichrist into that one scandalous pop artist.  It’s all “The Culture” and it's destroying us all and ruining everything.  EVEN CHRISTMAS!


We just ended the Christmas season with all of its incredible graces and revelations and celebrations, but once again “The Culture” has come to soil this immaculate feast.  At least we have our “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers to ward it off.  But did we ward it off or are we be tricked once again in some inception-esque, mind-swirling rouge of the evil one?  

I know I’ve been hood-winked year after year into the joy-stealing, hope-smashing spiral of Hell-gazing when the Church is presenting me with a season meant to bring me to a place of awe and wonder.  Materialism and consumerism has taken over Christmas- even to the point of binding those who furiously run to avoid it in its snares.  This tendency to look towards Hell causes us to miss the grace of Christ.  Christmas is literally the only season where the general population of the western world appreciates Christian culture.  Charitable giving and service go through the roof!  Inexplicable grace and joy are raining down into the hearts of the baptized (even the hard-hearted) just as it did on the night of the Nativity.  And what is a consumerist culture to do in the face of such love? Try to love others through consumerism!  And no one is there to show them the root of the warmth Christ is trying to cultivate in our icy, icy hearts because we’re hum-bugging with our Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow about how terribly materialistic and superfluous the Christmas season is becoming.  We’re looking at Hell and Heaven is moving powerfully.


Father Raneiro Cantalamessa (if you haven’t checked him out, you should promptly set about reading everything he’s ever written) wrote a letter reflecting on the conversion of St. Francis of Assisi.  He wrote about the gaze of God our Father and how that gaze would finally break through all of the distraction of sin and worldly shams when the saved finally reach Paradise and are face to face with Him.  He wrote about when St. Francis’s  father, friends and relatives rejected him and he was left without the clothes on his back or even the comfort of a good reputation.  He was just a radical buffoon who retreated into a cave.  But Fr. Cantalamessa reflected on what happened when St. Francis went into that cave in the midst of all the turmoil boiling around him.  Fr. Cantalamessa surmised that St. Francis met that gaze of love in a profound way, in a way that is usually reserved for that moment in Paradise.  And he couldn’t take his eyes off the Face of God for a single second for the rest of eternity.  And when he came out of that cave, still rejected and alone, other people started to admire what they saw and joyfully joined in on his radical buffoonery.

God give me the gaze of St. Francis!

Yes, Hell is weaving its lies into the fabric of the human psyche and Santa Claus is trying to budge Jesus out of His place in the manger of our hearts during the Yuletide season.  But God is gazing at us!  And His gaze is magnetic.  I have this vision in my mind of a coop full of chickens, stupidly gazing up as the rain is falling on their heads.  You know the scene.  What buffoonery.  But only God can make that somehow a beautiful scene of grace.  Only God can make us stoney-hearted consumerists care about our fellow man (even if for some that’s even only for a month out of the year).  And only God can pull our eyes away from the distractions through a mere glance.

 

Christian Vegetables

Growing up, I remember always watching Veggie Tales. The often absurd reiteration of biblical stories and narratives captured my young mind. Growing older and getting more life experience under my belt, I began to dislike the catchy songs and cheerful characters. Feeling as though the stories were portrayed with false optimism, I was left with the after taste of kale in my mouth. However, this post isn’t to rant about Veggie Tales. I think they provide a great medium to introduce children to Christianity and maybe even vegetables. Rather, I want to discuss what Christianity and vegetables have in common.

No child really enjoys eating vegetables and if they say they do, surely they are up to no good. Somehow parents figure out ways to get their kids to like them. For me it was the idea that broccoli were miniature trees and eating them meant I was a giant like Paul Bunyan. Other times I enjoyed pretending the asparagus were villains and eating them meant I was defeating evil and saving the world. Either way, there was always a trick to get me to eat vegetables and once the trick got old I realized broccoli doesn’t taste as good as ice cream. This was exactly how my experience with Christianity in college started.

Upon first embracing my faith in college and actively seeking truth, I thought if I just prayed and trusted God, everything in my life would work out. Things began to not work out, “What’s going on here God, this isn’t the deal we made”. I failed to realize that when we hand our lives over to God, things begin to work out how He wants them and not how we want them. God gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. This is probably why God never gave me a ninja turtle Halloween costume despite praying for one every year in grade school.

Just like my child self, I began to realize that broccoli aren’t miniature trees and they really don’t taste that great. However, Broccoli is good for me and if I only eat ice cream I will eventually get sick. Christianity is so much more than a pretend story we tell ourselves to get us to do the right thing. Following Christ means we pick up our cross and embrace suffering, even to the crucifixion. We do this because we believe in the resurrection. Looking to the lives of saints and martyrs we realize this is the true Christian way, the narrow path.

Secularism provides the ice cream and sweets; it may taste good now but we will become sick and unhealthy if we think it is real food. Christ provides real food, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life”, that will feed us into eternity. This is what we are hungry for, substance, not just a sweet tooth craving and a fix. Following Jesus means we will have trials and it will not always taste good, but we must learn to trust our Heavenly Parent; “Christian Vegetables” actually do make a healthy soul.