Christ’s First Temptation: Resolve World Hunger

When examining the temptations that Christ faced in the Desert we must consider how the devil was attempting to deceive and attack Christ.  We sometimes read these temptations in a very superficial or worldly sense, but fail to examine the deeper and more profound implications.   I would like to reflect on one particular temptation that Christ faced, and that is turning a rock into bread.

We all know that Christ was being tempted in the way of food because he had been fasting.  But should we not go a bit deeper into this reflection than mere hunger?  First of all, why was Christ fasting in the first place?  What is the point of fasting?wheat

According to the opening prayer during Ash Wednesday we are armed with the weapons of “self-restraint.”  In a nutshell we are learning how to say “no” to  our desires.  But this seems prudish and repressive to most.  Could it possibly mean all of that, or is there a deeper meaning to fasting that few realize.  Many see fasting as an outdated archaic practice, but in other facets of their life where they fast from other things than food it is quite practical.  Some people attend a gym, experiencing a certain amount of pain that enables their health to be maintained and to develop.  That pain, or act of self-denial is similar to that of fasting.  Fasting inordinately (starving oneself to the point of death) is likely not the reason why Christians fast; rather it is learning to build up interior muscles that are able to later deny irrational  desires.  In other words, when we are developing an ability to say no, we end up being spiritually liberated to say “yes” to something good.

Only perceiving the “no” of fasting will likely lead to a daunting exercise that seems to have no real point.  But we ought to emphasize that our ability to say “so” is univocally giving us the capacity to say “yes” in a meaningful way – and it is this principle that makes love genuine.

But if a person were to only perceive food to be what man hungers for, and gluttony to be the enemy he would have an incomplete picture of the spiritual meaning of this temptation.  He would be led to believe that the greatest good is to make sure that all poor persons are feed, and that this is the resolution to all the world’s problems.  While seeking the temporal needs of the poor is most certainly a Christian theme, we must regard the words of Christ in this sense to add caution:  “Man does not live on bread alone.”

World Hunger1If we are enslaved to worldly goods, thinking that our happiness can be contained within them alone, we develop a temporal notion of utopia, and concern ourselves with structures and governments, and activism, while being entirely blind to conversion and the inner-man.  To think that a structure can bring peace to the world is no less silly than building a tower of Babel to cross the great divide between heaven and earth.

The darkened mind of an individual has begun to assume that through such activism and structures man will overcome his corrupt activities; but so long as man’s heart be ruled by greed, it won’t take very long for him to realize that a structure that supports the poor, run by the greedy, will end up reversing over time the very goals they sought to achieve.

None of this is to say that adequate structures must be created, but it is to suggest that more primary concerns are involved before we do the work of Christian humanism.  Christian humanism first recognizes the spiritual poverty of man, that if he has no love, he has nothing.  That is to say that if the world is well fed, comfortable, rich, and not found wanting in any temporal sense, yet doesn’t have love, it is horrendously poor in the things that matter.

Christ taught us that the poor will always be amongst us.  This of course was not meant to mute or detract from those organizations that seek to feed the poor and hungry.  Rather, it is in this recognition that the poor will providentially belong to history in every generation as a means to save the rich person’s soul.  God has permitted evil, such as the marginalization of the poor, to provide a means for the rich to deny themselves.  If man was distracted by a worldly type of utopia he may grow numb to the inner-voice that cries out, “My heart is restless until it rests in the Lord.”

This is why the Church has perpetually criticized Marxism which has an entirely superficial attitude towards the redemption of manknind, placing before him a

Pope Francis elevates Eucharist during Corpus Christi Mass

Pope Francis elevates the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome June 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (June 19, 2014) See POPE-PROCESSION and POPE-CORPUSCHRISTI June 19, 2014

political structure that originally seeks to snuff out all religion to numb the very conscious desire for eternal happiness.  When man thinks that he will find a full and complete happiness on earth, he is run into the ground with despair, for all the corruptible goods he holds to for happiness naturally fade away.  Mankind rather needs to cling to the spiritual goods that endure, ready to leave behind all possessions, not merely for the sake of serving the poor, but for the sake of entering into the Kingdom, where no idolatry of worldly things will be found so that we may possess absolutely the vision and divine substance of God.

Here we develop a distinction between voluntary poverty which is modeled after Christ, his disciples and the Religious brothers and sisters who have accepted such a call, versus the imposed poverty that is always the result of a moral corruption and negligence.  Voluntary poverty works to evangelize the masses because it asserts vividly that happiness need not be found in the worldly mindset, but is found when we sacrifice all things for God.  This places a vivid sign of contradiction to the world who has become addicted to money and power, and honour and pleasure.  This is why it is vital for such religious persons to smile, to demonstrate their own joy, so as to be an effective sign for peace in the things promised to us by  God.  On the other hand, we do not wish for the religious to demonstrate such a demeanour if it suggests condoning the evil that surrounds them.  They also need to be a voice of discontent with the evil and injustice throughout the world, and especially in the Church.  It is a tough balance of course, and it is certain that we need to bare with one another patiently in this regard.

Therefore, it is by clinging to the words that come from the mouth of God that we find true peace and redemption, and it is out of that peace and clear conscience that we begin to serve the poor in their need.  I would like to add that the preferential option is for both the young and the poor – there is no distinction made between them, because they are both in a state of dependency with which this preference has been drawn up; recognizing that if others depend upon us, it is the result of a responsibility we have as human beings who do not live in a spiritual isolation from one another.

incense-and-iconReturning back to the first temptation, we realize that the temptation in this particular episode reveals to us that the Devil was doing more than merely tempt the fleshy desires of our saviour, but rather to change the very mission of Christ from a Divine-Mission to a worldly mission.  The Evil One wanted to derail Christ’s agenda by replacing the Bread from Heaven with ordinary bread.  Of course this would be incredibly tempting, who would not want to resolve world hunger by one simple miracle?  But Christ understood a deeper and more profound hunger which insisted upon tolerating the evil of world poverty for a time to bring about the nourishing of the souls of those who sought out God.  This in no way, again implies that we must not serve those in need, those who are poor, but it reminds us that to do this without love, without the very presence of Divine Love, is to accomplish nothing at all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Spiritual Sweet Tooth and Pious Joy

The Tower of Babel is a powerful reminder to all Christians alike that no matter what we create, it will never climb the skies to finally reach the heavens.  There is nothing we can do to cross the infinite divide of heaven and earth to secure our own eternal happiness.  Science can secure many things, but it will never quench our thirst for eternal joy and security in God’s Kingdom.  Secular Humanism, offers us nothing more than a half-truth, run often by sentiments that proclaim “serve thy neighbour” but that neighbour is usually some ideology, rather than a real person, and the person is far away.  We find it much easier to serve someone we don’t knPriest and Nunow and rarely have to talk to, than the difficult-to-handle, next-door neighbour.  We are more in love with the idea of “humanity” than particular human persons.  And finally, even if our love for our neighbour was good by a worldly standard and the cardinal virtues, it still would not suffice to bring us what we thirst for in the depths of our soul.  We will die, and no human being can overcome that, along with the loved ones who depart.  Apart from fond memories, embellished by our own desperation to hold onto something good, we fail to realize that the persons we love never really quenched our thirst for total fulfillment.

I would suggest, under this given principle to the spiritual life that we look upon a current trend within the life of the Church to build another tower of babel.  I would call it the tower of emotivism, whereby mankind attempts to foster nothing more than the counterfeit of joy.  This counterfeit of joy easily dupes many both within the Church and without, because we have become addicted to our emotions, and replaced spiritual depth, or even awareness of depth, with affective consolations.

Unlike the Stoics, I hope not to give the impression that emotion is an evil or bad thing.  Emotion is after all, an aspect that human beings share with many beasts.  It is a gift, and a part of our identity as creatures.  Unlike the hedonists, however, I would hope to never place emotion at the centre oNoisy worldf man’s well-being.  Although emotional-health is certainly important, it is also not the be-all and end-all of the spiritual life.  There is a middle position between the indulgence of the emotivists/hedonists and the repression of the stoics, and it is orthodoxy.

Years ago, I remember speaking about suffering, which of course was quickly by-passed by a gesture towards Christ resurrected, yet mounted to the cross.  “Don’t forget, it didn’t end on the cross, there is joy.”  At the time, I felt twisted inside, when I heard this statement.  It was as if we were merely meant to white-knuckle through suffering and by-pass it.  It was as Joy had nothing to do with the cross.  The Cross which had brought me an incredible amount of joy.

I would suggest that the failure to appreciate the Joy that Christ displays in the crucifixion is a sign of a Church that hasn’t developed its own awareness of the deeper realities of the spiritual life:  going beyond mere emotions of happiness, and entering into the realm of Joy.

Interestingly enough, people often insist that you be happy, as a Catholic, as if it were a moral responsibility.  If this is the case:  Christ sinned.  But of course, such heresy is easily dismissed, since Christ is God.  On a more profound note, worthy of meditation, Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, which means joy in the soul of a person is not of our own creating.  It is impossible, therefore to suggest, without becoming pelagian, that we ought to be joyful.  Rather than criticize people we might observe not to experience joy, perhaps we should pray they receive such a grace, and that if possible, we as clay-vessels, become a channel for such a grace in their lives.  That is, instead of moralizing people into a spiritual attitude, we become the reason (by the power of the Spirit alone) for their Christian joy. It is true, that once we receive this gift, our good works must maintain such a grace, yet nonetheless, we cannot conceive of joy within our soul by our own insufficient effort.st-john-of-the-cross

A sweet tooth makes you sick, and it is the sickly-sweet emphasis on emotional happiness that actually often plagues the Church today.  Such an emphasis buys into the Pentecostal tendency to emphasize that if you don’t speak in tongues you haven’t been saved.  If you haven’t felt joy (happiness), then you need to be saved.  A sweet tooth also doesn’t know how to love – since the emphasis in the soul of such a person is what he or she finds sweet.  That is, worship of God is only an option in “my life” because it makes me “feel good.”  It no longer has anything to do with what is “truly right and just” in good times and in bad.

There are all sorts of towers we can build to assure us of our happiness.  One might be reading scripture passages that don’t challenge us, while ignoring the ones that do.  Consider how Christ preached and then ask yourself whether your soft approach measures up to His own.  Or vice-versa, perhaps we would prefer to be harsh, and do we recognize the times when Christ was compassionate and understanding.  In either case, if we stay where we are comfortable, it is all the more possible that we are really worshipping our own affect rather than God, and perpetually twisting the gospel to keep ourselves within our own comfort.  This requires more knowledge than our own affect to become aware of: it requires more than just the intellect as well; it requires knowledge of our own will, the deepest reality within ourselves.

People have been known to replace Jesus with their own happiness.  How many of us run away from our crosses?  We must all experience such temptation, even Christ didn’t forgo sweating blood in anticipation of such a joyful act of the will, but affective horror nonetheless.   To many foolish, they see this as a contradiction – as scripture indicates.  And if it remains a contradiction in our minds we might have a difficult time allowing the gift of the cross to be received as a gift – a saving gift.

Emotions and desires do not always line up with reality.  People desire things that are not proportionate to their given nature, either in regard to pleasure, hunger, and comfort.  Our emotional reactions sometimes spring from the lies we tell ourselves, and therefore do not necessarily represent anything more than a seemingly-justified reaction to what is nothing more than an illusion or assumption on our own part.  Part of the process of growing in holiness means that our affect can be aligned to the truth of a situation, yet what God wants us to first understand is that we ought to Love Him even if it seems to have no affectual benefit in our own lives.

This is pastorally important to consider, considering many people often feepleadingl the harsh moral-expectation from others to “feel” a certain way.  As a result, feelings and desires that are disordered that spring forth compound their own guilt and lead to despair.  I am considering people with depression, anxiety disorders, or disordered happiness and pleasures.  Making a person feel guilty for what they have themselves not chosen and cannot control only fosters greater discord in their life.  Will-powering your way into happiness is another Tower of Babel.  Rather, any person who experiences a disorder in their affect can enter into a purification of their own will, where despite how they feel about life, they still can make the choices (through grace) to Love God and as a result, be joyful.

The real presence of Joy is manifest as an attitude and choice – with which no one can do without the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible for a man to crack jokes while being burned alive on a spit, and yet by grace, God can allow St. Lawrence to do so, since he chooses to not give into despair.  Just as Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” perhaps from His affect, He still nonetheless abides by the truth of His Father.  His Love for His Father is the source of His Joy, a joy with which was unburdened by Power, Honour, Pleasure, and Wealth.  While totally stripped of all these things, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us vividly that Christ Crucified is the image of what joy looks like:  full of love and devotion to the Father, without even feeling His presence.

St. Paul writes to his followers to be joyful, while he is in prison,

San_Paolo_Miki_e_compagni_M-588x376

St. Miki and Companions

because he lives in freedom.  Another contradiction to the foolish, but to the wise who realize that the real prison is sin, and real freedom is living in accord with truth.  Joy therefore is an attitude and choice.  Perhaps a choice to smile for the benefit of another, the choice to crack a joke to undermine the unjust aggressor who is far too serious about his hate. The choice to willingly die for the name of Christ, reciprocating His love as far as possible.

When the soul puts the affect in its proper place, to the hedonist it takes it less seriously, and to the stoic cherishes moments where our whole being is aligned to the joy of the gospel.  But if you are to persist in avoiding real joy by means of emotional-alchemy:  you have received your reward.

The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book Two, Chapter 7, 4-5
– St. John of the Cross

 

…one’s journey must not merely exclude the hindrance of creatures but also embody a dispossession and annihilation in the spiritual part of one’s nature. Our Lord, for our instruction and guidance along this road, imparted the wonderful teaching – I think it is possible to affirm that the more necessary the doctrine the less it is practiced by spiritual persons – that I will quote fully and explain in its genuine and spiritual sense because of its importance and relevance to our subject. He states in the eighth chapter of St. Mark…If anyone wishes to follow my way, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will gain it…

Oh, who can make this counsel of our Savior on self-denial understandable, and practicable, and attractive, that spiritual persons might become aware of the difference between the method many of them think is good and the one that ought to be used in traveling this road! They are of the opinion that any kind of withdrawal from the world, or reformation of life, suffices. Some are content with a certain degree of virtue, perseverance in prayer, and mortification, but never achieve the nakedness, poverty, selflessness, or spiritual purity (which are all the same) about which the Lord counsels us here. For they still feed and clothe their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations instead of divesting and denying themselves of these for God’s sake. They think denial of self in worldly matters is sufficient without annihilation and purification in the spiritual domain. It happens that, when some of this solid, perfect food (the annihilation of all sweetness in God – the pure spiritual cross and nakedness of Christ’s poverty of spirit) is offered them in dryness, distaste, and trial, they run from it as from death and wander about in search only of sweetness and delightful communications from God. Such an attitude is not the hallmark of self-denial and nakedness of spirit but the indication of a spiritual sweet tooth. Through this kind of conduct, they become, spiritually speaking, enemies of the cross of Christ [Phil 3:18].

A genuine spirit seeks rather the distasteful in God than the delectable, leans more toward suffering than toward consolation, more toward going without everything for God than toward possession, and toward dryness and affliction than toward sweet consolation. It knows that this is the significance of following Christ and denying self, that the other method is perhaps a seeking of self in God –something entirely contrary to love. Seeking oneself in God is the same as looking for the caresses and consolations of God. Seeking God in oneself entails not only the desire to do without these consolations for God’s sake, but also the inclination to choose for love of Christ all that is most distasteful whether in God or in the world; and this is what loving God means. 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Taming the Tongue: The Narrative Method

In seminary formation we were introduced to a form of counseling called “Rogers.” At least that is how we refer to it. It might be considered “narrative therapy.” We are not qualified as therapists of course and that really is not our calling. However, this slight introduction has been quite priestshelpful to my ministry, and has given me a moderate way to correct people while recognizing a perhaps sensitive nature that might not be open to correction.

As Ecclesiastes teaches us, there is a time for this and a time for that. We must be prudent in our discernment of what method we use to go about correcting one another. But one thing remains certain: we must be intentional about it, and not mastered by our own impulsiveness and anger.

I would like to introduce one method that is a bit indirect, and may not be used at all times, but is helpful at others.

<<Narrative Methodology>>

The supposition is that sometimes people create their own “narrative.” We fill in the gaps with assumptions and subjectively turn them into facts (when they are actually not true at all). That is to say, our subjective vision of our relationships is not aligned to reality. The “story we tell ourselves” needs to be re-written and aligned to the truth.

What makes a good lie believable? A measure of truth. That means that every lie is often associated with a mixture of truth, a half-truth, married to a lie. We have to “reframe” the narrative in another person’s mind, without losing the truth that is harbored. That means we have to manage to validates the wound or the truth held to, while dismissing or vanquishing the lie that skews reality.

 

I would like to offer therefore, two ways in which we can accomplish this:

 1.  Good-Grow-Great

When we get frustrated with a person’s behavior we often oversimplify the situation, and “seem to” condemn their whole view point. Of course we aren’t condemning the whole view-point, but that is how a direct Male Gossipapproach sometimes is interpreted. As a result, a person who easily interprets things in an overly-simplistic manner, will react. And this is not always the response we want.

 

In our “Toast-Masters” training we were taught to offer criticism in the following manner: GOOD-GROW-GREAT. That is the “ideal.” Sometimes things are so terrible the response is really: “Are you serious?” Which actually was a response from one of our judges during our persuasive speeches. It was funny.

 

In any case, the point of Good-Grow-Great, is that we begin with something good, phrase an area for growth in a positive manner, and end with what the highlight was.

Often times what actually happens is people say, “this was good, but…”

 

The word “but” is often interpreted to mean, “please ignore everything I just said and listen now to what I really want you to hear: the bad.” The emphasis of “grow” rather than condemn means that the “person” is someone we have faith in. We see their potential, and do not think the “person” is hopeless. That is important. We condemn ideas, definitely, but grow here is associated with the person, not necessarily the idea.

 

We end with what is great, not to underplay the area for growth, but to reassure them that we were not just honing in on the negative. We were not giddy, if you will, about what we didn’t like. This helps the person know we are being objective, and not on a witch-hunt.

 2. Repeat-but-reframe:

Often times people want their feelings validated. Without that validation, people feel alone. And when people feel alone, they don’t feel safe, they question themselves, they are also not being objective. But we also have to be careful that in this process we do not validate something that is untrue. It is a tough balance. Think of a field filled with weeds. It can be very frustrating to think that we can’t just scorch the lawn and re-plant grass. We have to do the hard work of weeding. Sometimes, as Jesus teaches us, we have to let the weeds grow beside the wheat. It is a matter of discernment. But if we can uproot the weeds without destroying the good, then we should try that. Be prudent.

 

So here is a technique that may be applicable. When people profess to you that they are experiencing x + Y and that it (=) makes them feel p, you have been given intimate knowledge.

However, you know that Y is incorrect, but x is true. You might respond, Barack Obama“What I hear you saying is that you feel p because of x. Is that fair?” In this way of talking,  you have validated the truth, but also reframed it so as to remove the error. You are also asking a question, which is good, because it gives the person the ability to correct you if you heard them wrong, without thinking of you as being someone who assumes or judges too quickly.

 

Here is a concrete example:

 

A: Yesterday, I was bullied by 5 of my class mates! Why does everyone hate me!?

B: “That is horrible! I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel hated by those five people.”

Here you have reframed the self-pity that exaggerates the wound. The person likely exaggerates the wound in order to convey to you that the wound is real, and it is hurtful. They might fear you will dismiss the hurt because only five people were in on it. But the problem with exaggerating the wound is that if the person says it often enough to themselves, they will begin to think that it is true, and thus have developed a martyr complex that is difficult to heal. It isn’t the truth that everyone hates them- that is the point.  And thank goodness for that.

Another example:

A: “My whole life is a waste of time. There is no meaning to anything.”

B: “Not knowing our God-given purpose is a very confusing place to be, isn’t it?”

 

Of course a lot more could be said directly. But if you get the sense that the person wants to have their feeling of being “lost” validated, it is important to do this. It doesn’t mean we validate the lie that they have no purpose. In fact, in such a response, we have reworded it in a rather challenging manner. We have suggested to them that they feel lost because they do not know their purpose. That presupposes they have a purpose, and that the solution is to search it out. All of a sudden we have constructed a mindset – if they accept it – that gives them a more proactive manner of approaching their situation.

Finally, sometimes you are dealing with people you know personally, and they are accusing you of things which are false.  It is easy to use this method with people we don’t know well, but with family, emotion and baggage can interfere with our capacity to have self-control over what we say.   To the person, they are subjectively believing a half-lie half-truth to be the truth. That is, they have convinced themselves of a lie. To make it challenging, that lie is mixed with truths. It becomes difficult to even know where to begin.

The solution? One might want to organize the thoughts, by breaking down each issue, one at a time. A laundry list of issues is no good, if it is listed and all over the place. Take ownership over the discussion and restrict the discussion to one issue at a time. Otherwise all that is happening is one is spewing/venting their anguish, and therefore using you as a means to beat you down. It isn’t helpful.

 

Also, the person might want to present themselves as transcending the situation, and forgetting that they are actually a part of it. Think of the PharUnhappy young couple having an argumentisee who said, “thank you God that I’m not like this sinner.” The moment a person doesn’t see how they are like others, is the moment that the person is not objective and is actually distant from the heart of the matter. Jesus refers to this as self-righteousness. This is where humility can be a great aid. Sometimes humility in recognizing our faults towards others (even if our fault is only 10 percent of the equation) can give us peace, in that we are doing this honestly. Some people will exploit that, but it is sometimes a thing worth doing for your own sake. Alternatively, humility can inspire humility in others. This is why self-deprecation can actually be very helpful.

If a person often apologizes, while another never does: it speaks for itself. The helpful (not better) person is the one who not only recognizes he or she isn’t perfect, but actually demonstrates this by being vulnerable enough to apologize for specific instances of bad choices. All of us are guilty, aren’t we? The first to genuinely apologize, no matter how small that is part of the equation is a person who opens the discussion to grace and love. Without that openness, usually the conversation never goes anywhere meaningful. It is an act of mercy, therefore, for some people to apologize first, even if in their mind the other person ought to do it first.

In returning to dealing with false-accusations and false narratives, sometimes the issue is only fueled further with snarky remarks that distract from cold-hard facts. We are all guilty of this. But we have to control our tongue. If you are face to face with the person, you get the chance to offer them “tone of voice” “facial expressions” and the content itself. As a result you offer the content of your discussion with a breadth of context that helps them understand whether it is coming from a good place.

As you do this, you may find yourself with an agitation, a desire to be “understood.” Control that impulse right away. It is better to seek argument2understanding of the other, rather than to be understood. This again, demonstrates that you are concerned not with just yourself, but with hearing the other person.  The ultimate concern should be in what the truth is, and bringing someone to that truth involves charity first.

What does it mean to seek understanding? In this method, it means that you ask questions, and you re-phrase statements to make sure you have understood them properly. “You felt that I did x, because of y?” Instead of running to the immediate conclusion of explaining yourself you have rephrased a false accusation without automatically defending yourself (thus not validating their emotion).

You have also stated, carefully, that their judgment is the person’s feeling, not the actual truth. “You feel” is a powerful statement, because it puts the bias where it belongs. If you say, “that is simply not true” the question might be asked: “my feelings aren’t true?” Or what actually happened?

You might again respond, “If that happened, I would be angry too. Would you mind if I explain what I was thinking?” This way, you make sure that a change to the narrative is welcome. If the person is not going to welcome your own understanding, then don’t bother discussing the issue. It is hopeless until both sides learn to seek understanding. But if it is welcome, you now have the chance to explain things.

Finally the conversation transcends personal biases and emotions, and now deals with cold hard facts. And the interpretation of those facts can be expressed. You have validated the person’s emotions according to their own narrative, but now you have given the right narrative, and their own response should become aligned to the truth. That might actually take time though. Emotional investments can occur over time, narratives can deeply impact the habits and attitudes that form the way of life we have. But if all of this is done with humility and love, you have invited grace into the situation.

 

Here are two resources that might also help. If you are a prayerful person, read these over and pray with them prior to entering into a difficult discussion with family, friends, co-workers, peers, and parishioners.

 

Litany of Humility

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, etc.
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, etc.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should,

 

 

Sacred Scripture: James Chapter 3

Taming the Tongue

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Old Testament Laws have changed…why not Homosexuality too?

Sometimes people will quote scripture with regard to the penal laws in the old-testament, punishing people’s sins that are quite common-today.  Amongst them is homosexual acts.  Secularists and progressive Christians will point to the apparent hypocrisy of a Church that calls those living according to their sexual desires that do not follow the order of God’s design to repentance, while not also calling those who break other laws in the old testament that seem trivial today.  As a result of such arm-chair theologians we get seemingly ironic yet ignorant memes such as the one in this blog-post.Lev Meme

Part of the theological problem is people have too few categories to assess the law and to understand it.  Such an over-simplistic (dumbed-down faith) results from not catechizing people of common-sense distinctions with regard to the moral law and the juridical precepts which St. Thomas Aquinas and the Church clearly indicate were not intended to be perpetual, while the natural law is immutable.  That is to say some laws were given by God for a time, and others are immutable.  In the old-testament, often this distinction is not being clearly made, as the author lists the punishment for disobedience to all laws in general.

Thanks be to God, for the non-fundamentalist tradition of the Catholic Church.  The Church makes the distinction between the Natural Moral Law and various juridical precepts.  The natural-moral law is engraved into the very nature of man, and is immutable, while various juridical laws that were meant to maintain the integrity of the Jewish people as a distinct civilization were conditioned upon the time and circumstance, yet nonetheless willed by God.

The problem that I run into is that you will rarely find people that are willing to take the time to understand this distinction.  Firstly because their interest is in supporting a conclusion by whatever means necessary, including a straw-man argument.  Secondly, because so few teachers of the faith are able to articulate the distinction well enough for people.  Thirdly and most importantly, most people have a post-modern understanding of law, where they understand Law in general to be an imposition upon nature, rather than something flowing out of nature itself.  That is to say, too often people perceive God’s moral law, (Divine or Natural) to be a “positive-law” that is arbitrarily imposed upon man, rather than for the objective purpose of helping man flourish. Moses

Those who seek to do away with the law because they feel as if our modern era has progressed beyond it have likely bought into this notion of a “positive-moral law” given to us by God.  The irony is that such people claim to be following the “spirit of the law.”  When in reality, to gaze upon the moral law as if it is something imposed upon nature, rather than flowing out of it, for its own fulfillment and flourishing indicates the very opposite truth:  a failure to internalize the spirit of the moral law.  That is to say, in deeply penetrating the nature of God’s law as pointing towards true fulfillment in the divine design and nature of man, we now live in accord to the Spirit.  As a result we will look upon the natural moral law as immutable and the juridical laws as changeable.

But if we view God’s moral law as a positive law that constantly changes, then you must also ascribe to the notion that God is violently at work against us, to supress and repress our nature as such, rather than to heal it.  Yes, it is true that our nature is fallen, and God does seek to tell us to avoid that irrational disorder within us all (concupiscence), but He also seeks to restore us to our true nature, and to never repress or supress this divine design within us.  We give great glory and praise to God when we compliment Him on His wonderful design, and we bear grave insult to Him when we try to refashion it according to our own ignorance and disordered desires.

As Pope Francis put it at the end of the synod on Families:

Indeed, it means upholding all the more the laws and commandments which were made for man and not vice versa (cf. Mk 2:27).
In this sense, the necessary human repentance, works and efforts take on a deeper meaning, not as the price of that salvation freely won for us by Christ on the cross, but as a response to the One who loved us first and saved us at the cost of his innocent blood, while we were still sinners (cf. Rom 5:6).
The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50).”

The Church is not so much condemning a person when it uses the language “disordered” to describe the attractions that a person has.  In fact, it is being consistent since every single human being is afflicted with concupiscence, and therefore all people have a variety of disordered desires.  The person themselves is not a disorder, but the person “has” a disorder.  So what?  Everyone has an inclination to sin.  The path to a fruitful and joyful life is not to be enslaved to irrational desires.  Rather it is to be who you are:  male or female and all that implies.  It is not up to us to change the grand design of God, nor to throw away those whose carnal desires do not line up to their design.  Furthermore, it is harmful to us to act contrary to who we are or to say that we are our desires.  Rather we are to call everyone to make a great sacrifice to say “no” to themselves so that they can say “yes” to what real love looks like.  It is ironic that in the world today the Church is told it does not accept these people.  But in reality, we are the only ones truly accepting who they are, even while some such persons reject who they are objectively because of how they feel.  It is emotivism.

This true-acceptance of the person is impossible for legalists, even if they are “progressive” or “traditional.”  By the way it isn’t “traditional” to break with the Spirit of the Law, nor do we make any progress when we do this…. Whatever side we fall on, treating God’s moral law as anything but what comes natural to us according to our design leads to legalism.  And from legalism we get harsh, angry bigots or lawless, angry dissenters.  Both are to be rejected.  Capiche?

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Theological Reflection on Loneliness, Truth, and Friendship

Loneliness is a common phenomenon that every human being experiences, regardless of their own state in life. A person could be married, could be single with many friends, could be isolated, and could be busy. It doesn’t matter, because loneliness exists when friendships are not healthy as they could be.

Loneliness unfortunately also causes us to “react” in ways we didn’t even realize we could. We are starving for friendship and union with our neighbour, and when something provokes us or appears to be a barrier to filling that void, we are defensive or we retreat.

One of the modern lies that enflames loneliness in the culture today is an indifference to truth. Aristotle reminds us that true friendship is discovered in a common pursuit for the truth, and what binds both people is that which they seek in a united fashion. Theologically we know that this “truth” is actually not merely something facile and technical, but it is a Divine Person who is Love and Truth itself.pleading

If friendship is the cure to loneliness and we live in a world of relativism, it means that human beings are indeed lonelier than they have ever been before. Some people today will parade pluralism as a form of “rising above the quest for truth” echoing Nietzsche’s “beyond good and evil.” Of course those who, believing that in transcending the quest for truth, as a truth of itself, will necessarily fall into such a contradictory blunder. Having a diversity of views is not always bad, but having a diversity of views that contradict each other is. And when there is no room for open dialogue, no willingness to learn from another or be open to another’s view, the door to that person’s soul and entire purpose is being slammed shut.

Another way of explaining it is as follows. The manner with which we perceive the world creates the world we live and breathe in. This is meant in a phenomenological context – or how one “experiences” relationships.  This does not mean that our perceptions are in fact true for us and not for others, but rather our very subjective choices about our world view creates either the illusion or groundedness in reality. When a person has a totally different world view than you, it is as if, while they exist in the same room, they do not exist in the same world as you. You do not belong to their world, and they do not belong to your world. Each individual becomes an Island unto themselves, and if they are comfortable in their world, they will not dare listen to anything that could even prick the conscience to consider otherwise.

Living in two different worlds fosters a great and profound loneliness because man no longer has a unity of mind, and as a result no longer has a unity of heart. Friends, remember, truth defines whether love is genuine. If one has a “different truth” about love than the other, love itself exists in two different worlds not being conjoined to the other, but remaining divorced and separate as Islands unto themselves.

Noisy worldThe great ache, therefore within man for love is founded upon the necessity of truth, and being indifferent to this only will foster the illusion of friendship under the guise of tolerance and sweeping the important issues under the rug. Christ, as a two-edged sword divides because he clarifies where people are actually standing-apart and demonstrates where reconciliation needs to take place. Therefore, in order for forgiveness and mercy to be manifest, it must be done in truth, in integrity, and not through anything else.

Today we live in a culture which seeks to have personal expression as its greatest virtue. Every individual has their own entitled freedom to define the truth for themselves. This, I have seen, has fostered incredible loneliness amongst faithful Catholics. I see Catholics who are filled with resentments (which is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit) because of the deep passionate loneliness of living in a Church where there is seemingly no consensus on what Love is. Driven by this thirst for validation of the truth, a shared world, men and women begin to emphasize conformity and obedience to Tradition as a tangible and sacramental means to experience true unity within the Church or culture. This does sometimes go to an extreme, whereby obsessions disproportionately causes such individuals to neglect charity in such a worthy pursuit. The Church which has seemingly supressed or neglected its traditions by emphasizing inordinately its uniqueness away from the universality of the Church (it’s a tension) is now being reacted to by those who are feeling isolated. One generation reacts to useless conformity done for the wrong reasons, and another generation reacts to lawlessness sought to empower each individual. The pendulum swings between both, and neither seek middle ground, each wants to be heard, and no one wants to listen.  It is not being heard, not being understood, not residing in our own world, that we feel the sting of loneliness more than ever.  Some might hush controversial discussions others might push it beyond what is reasonable:  both are seeking unity by fleeing and fighting.

At the heart of it all is the ontological configuration of man to seek union with his neighbour and God since it is not good that man be alone. Man created for union unnaturally exists when he lives in a spiritually distinct world than others.

We haven’t even begun to mention the honour and glory due to our God. If we merely perceive seeking a united truth for the sake of the community, we nonetheless foster a totalitarianism whereby man must impose a truth upon others, as if truth were a positive law, by which he asserts. Community cannot be genuine if it is artificial as such, and only agreed to for the sake of unity, but not being grounded in reality as such. This means that an inclination towards giving God credit for what He is (Truth) becomes a matter of justice, rather than anything artificial. Speaking the truth about God thereby becomes the actual means to genuine unity with our neighbour, dismissing secular humanism as merely being a facile attempt to accomplish what can only occur through an explicit union with Truth itself.priests

Man’s quest for friendship amidst his fallen, lonely state, thus implies a seeking of the Friend-itself: Jesus. Human beings together, shaken towards this quest as their top priority will only develop a healthier relationship for it, because they will be not only grounded in the same world together, but one that is truly right and just, truly reasonable and rightly ordered, without which, love never remains truly genuine.

In reality, most people do not live entirely distinct from each other, and there is often great overlap. But the pain hanging out a limb through the window during a winter’s day, brings an absence of health to the entire body and can be gravely dangerous, despite the fact that the majority of the body is taken care of. The overlap is a good place to begin, but being indifferent to where truth is not shared is to kill the relationship eventually. Man was created for perfect union, not half-hearted union. Man seeks real love, not lazy love that is content with anything less. For men and women this is impossible, but with God’s Holy Spirit and the splint of Church doctrine, mankind can align itself to God’s truth and thus be assured of genuine friendship and not suffer the great poverty of loneliness.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Aversion to Reverence: Entitlement and Narcissism

                In the office of readings, July 2nd, 2015 we read 2 Samuel 6:1-23. This has always been a fascinating passage of scripture. We begin this reading with the movement of the Ark of the Covenant known to be the most holy possession of Israel. The Ark itself was venerated primarily because of what it contained: the presence of God. Leaving aside the very direct application this might have to our Blessed Mother, we realize that to the Jews, the Ark was to be treated with great reverence.

Why does God expect reverence from us?

Sometimes people will suggest that God is so humble that He would never demand reverence from us. This is true, only insofar as God would never demand reverence from us out of some ego-centric motive. However, God will demand reverence from us if it is for our own good. The opposite of reverence is familiarity, whereby we seek intimacy’s counterfeit. Familiarity is reducing a mystery into an object to which we claim to know everything about. Consider couples who begin with romance and end in familiarity; they begin with respect, but end with possessiveness and entitlement. This is an example of people who have lost a sense of the genuine mystery in the one to whom they are married to, and how much more true is it when applied to our relationship with God.

Pope Francis elevates the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome June 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (June 19, 2014) See POPE-PROCESSION and POPE-CORPUSCHRISTI June 19, 2014

Pope Francis elevates the Eucharist as he celebrates Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi outside the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome June 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (June 19, 2014) See POPE-PROCESSION and POPE-CORPUSCHRISTI June 19, 2014

God expects reverence out of Justice. Keep in mind that God wants us to be righteous people, because that is good for the soul. Avoiding the poison of injustice helps us find inner-peace and peace with our neighbour. Therefore God wants us to be people of Justice. It is truly right and just, therefore, everywhere to give God thanks and praise. That is to say: in order for us to be “good” as far as justice goes, we need to be able to give credit where it is due, thanksgiving where it is due: and this begins with God. If it doesn’t begin with God who is responsible for everything, then our whole lives lack the proper orientation. How could we give more credit and thanksgiving to someone who is less responsible for all that is good? Would not our neglect of God become a twisted form of injustice?

Furthermore, we must understand why reverence is important from a Trinitarian perspective. The Father loves His Son, and out of that love expects us to Love him also. He does not appreciate when we defy or neglect His Son, to whom he Loves infinitely. Therefore out of love for His Son, he demands our reverence. Likewise, the Son is utterly in love with His Father, that he demands we respect Him. It is no wonder that the Father told us to Listen to Christ, and Christ told us everything He had heard from His Father. They are a united front, and expect us to respect them both. It is not as if they are seeking their own glory, but rather are seeking to glorify each other. Therefore, in this sense, out of Love for each other, the Trinity demands our respect.

Therefore, God seeks our reverence out of Love for each person within the Trinity and for our own good; thus the law of Christ (To love God and neighbour) is perfectly recapitulated in His demand for our reverence.

Spiritual Death: Entitlement to Grace

                Being aware of our own motives may help us to critically examine why we may or may not be overly critical of various forms of reverence. It may simply be that we have just grown accustom to the status quo in this regard. But if we are in Love with Christ, the status quo will never suffice. Perhaps change in the way others pray is perceived as a distraction: but sometimes distractions are good when they awake us out of a spiritual sleep and spiritual deafness to God’s presence. Perhaps they seem to draw attention to ourselves, and thus people automatically consider this a vain and unproductive activity. Aha, if this is the case, you must read the office of readings we encountered today. How easy it is to fall into the same trap that Michal fell into!

Before we examine Saul’s daughter’s reaction to King David dancing in the street before the presence of God, let us begin by examining what led up to such exaltation of the Presence of God. We note that Uzzah witnessed the Ark of the Covenant tipping, and so he stretched out His hands to steady it. On the surface, this might seem to be a fairly reasonable thing to do. However, God was utterly furious at Uzzah’s action that he was struck dead. Why?

Uzzah was not a Levite, and therefore not a priest. He took it upon himself to fulfill a role that God had not ordained him to accomplish. This means that Uzzah, who was not worthy of the task (election), was not permitted to take on the role of one of the priests. The priests had been consecrated to this particular task, and the whole established order that God had created around the Ark was meant to establish within the social-mindset of the Israelites a deep and profound reverence: the Ark was not something to be “familiar” with, but rather required a Divine-calling to handle.  The Ark therefore became a tangible means to understand our relationship with God in a properly ordered fashion.  The organization of the various roles/vocations of the Israelites became a means to teach people how to approach God, and in what spirit.

Applying this logic to the Church we realize that the way the Church organizes the liturgy has a profound impact on how we approach God.  This is something few seem to grasp in our day and age, which explains why the liturgy is often reduced to a symbol in the minds of many.  If we treat the Eucharist as if He is a symbol, people will naturally begin to believe it.  The way we pray, shapes what we believe in.  Furthermore, after Vatican II it became clear that priests reacted to clericalism by reinforcing clericalism, albeit unintentionally.  Instead of approaching their office without a spirituality of entitlement they shared that spiritual sickness of entitlement with the laity.  All of a sudden people began to feel as if they had a “right” to approach the sanctuary and preform duties that were strictly assigned to the priest.   Therefore, instead of defacing entitlement we hid it by encouraging it in everyone.  No longer was grace (gift) even in our minds:  entitlement was.  And as Pope Francis suggests, we priests clerlicalized the laity, passing on our own sickness, rather than building up the laity in their own vocation.Uzzah

Uzzah’s extended hand did not convey a reverence for the Ark, but was actually the exact opposite: he felt entitled to approach the presence of God, something that was clearly spelled out to be forbidden. God was therefore not punishing Uzzah’s intention of saving the Ark but rather his spirit of entitlement. Consider this passage in this way: when we approach God with presumption and entitlement we are spiritually dead. We cannot receive “grace” authentically if we perceive “grace” as something we are entitled to. It will never take root in us.  If this is our attitude we have reversed the entire order of justice, suggesting that God owes us reverence, and that it is truly right and just for us to be able to be in the presence of God. How spiritually twisted and vile for any human being to consider “grace” a right in the spiritual-sense. For grace is a gift, that we receive with gratitude, not possessiveness. Truly Uzzah was spiritually dead when he reached out to the Presence of God in the Ark.

King David was shaken by this experience and as a result welled up with reverence for the Presence that he could not fathom it being brought to Him in a deserving manner. In other words, David understood the pride of Uzzah and therefore sought to ground Himself in a spirit of gratitude that God had chosen Him and the Israelites to enjoy such a procession of God’s presence.

Michal and Reverence-haters

                Michal is a fantastic analogy for the spirituality of many who are off-put by reverence today. As David welcomes the Ark of the Covenant into the City, he dances and seemingly makes a fool of himself. However, David is over-the-top excited that God has chosen to be present to Him, and he can only appreciate this because all entitlement within Him is entirely vanquished. His gratitude is grounded in the very fact that he is dust, but with God’s abiding presence (grace) he is elevated from dust to life. What an incredible and exciting realization to have that a self-affirming culture cannot ever comprehend. When we affirm ourselves in the right-spirit it involves giving no credit to ourselves, but rather to the one who made us. We do not make our own heartbeat, nor do we design ourselves: that is all God’s doing. Therefore, when we affirm ourselves in an inordinate way it means we confuse our behaviour with our being: we think we are responsible for creating ourselves. This narcissism will naturally lead to one conclusion: entitlement and despair.

Michal who has lost her inheritance after David replaces her Father Saul is filled with jealousy and therefore allows her bitterness to guide her interpretation of David’s leadership. She is disposed against Him, and will therefore always resent his actions and find fault with them, even when there is no fault.  In this case, she accuses King David of the same thing so many nay-sayers today accuse those who demonstrate reverence: “How the King of Israel has honoured himself today.” In other words, Michal is convinced that David has honoured himself or is showing reverence to God as a façade of actually receiving honour from others for himself. While it is more than possible that false piety can be twisted in such a sense, we must keep in mind that the external action of King David was actually in synch with a proper spiritual attitude. As a result Michal is judgmental and incorrect in her judgment. David responds that he would love to be dishonoured before the presence of God if only it builds up people’s view of God’s presence. What a profoundly humbling statement for David to say: something that is stated from a man who genuinely loves God.David dancing

Michal is later said to have lived without being able to conceive until the day she died. Perhaps, interpreting this in a spiritual light, we might be able to say that because her heart was hardened against authentic reverence (borne of her hatred for King David and therefore his example), she was not able to contribute new life to the Assembly of God. Without the spiritual fruit of reverence, it is impossible to add new life to the Church, in the spiritual sense. Our love for God will naturally draw other people into a relationship with God. A love for our neighbour is secondary to a love for God, and rightfully so, lest our neighbour becomes deserving of more honour then God.
Liturgy, Ritual, and Worship that is Pleasing

God gives us ritual as a means to express our love for God with our entire-being. We are body and soul: therefore our worship ought to be comprised of both body-and-soul. With a purely abstract love of God, we develop spiritual disorder within ourselves, and naturally with our neighbour. Do we give God worship in our mind, but not in our body, yet we show honour and respect in both ways to our neighbour? Why would we dare to give God less than what we would give one of His creatures? Ritual and Liturgy are the very means to bestow upon God this reverence.  Two friends of mine gave a perfect example of why this makes sense.  For the sake of propriety I will give them other names.  Matt went to mass with his girl-friend Kelly.  He went to mass because he really liked Kelly, but the faith was still growing within him.  One day Kelly noticed that Matt’s but was leaning on the pew during consecration (and he had no back-problems).  She told him:  get your butt off of that pew.  His response was swift:  “I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care.”  She gave him a head-flip, and then flipped back, and said, “If you cannot honour God, who can you honour?”

I love this true-story because it demonstrates a common attitude amongst people today, which is that God doesn’t care about our reverence.  God doesn’t care about a “show” of piety, but He does want us to place Him in the highest throne in our own soul.  Not because he needs such adulation, but rather, in order for us to be good, we need to place Him there out of justice.  Furthermore, our love for our neighbour cannot ever be authentic, if we do not put God in the highest place first.  Otherwise, we honour who we prefer, rather than who deserves it, and we cannot be grounded in justice if we are grounded in our preference over truth.

Sometimes we are like Uzzah who consider ourselves entitled to approach God with a spirit of familiarity.  One might think acting with familiarity presents ourselves as “down-to-earth” but in reality we are only perceived as down to earth by the people because the people perceive what is base to be down-to-earth. Likewise, we become base and spiritually dead when we buy into such a counterfeit.

A photo illustration shows a priest cleaning the Communion vessels inside the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' building in Washington Oct. 24. At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. (CNS photo illustration/Bob Roller) (Oct. 24, 2006) See SKYLSTAD-VESSELS Oct. 24, 2006.

A photo illustration shows a priest cleaning the Communion vessels inside the chapel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ building in Washington Oct. 24. At the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion will no longer be permitted to assist in the purification of the sacred vessels at Masses in the United States. (CNS photo illustration/Bob Roller) (Oct. 24, 2006) See SKYLSTAD-VESSELS Oct. 24, 2006.

One of the practices in our diocese, for instance, is that only the ordained ministers (and those who have received the ministry of Acolyte from the Bishop) are permitted to purify the vessels used after consecration. This often is perceived as “off-putting” because people feel as if they are entitled to touch the sacred vessels whenever it pleases them. People are found to be put-off when one suggests that they are unworthy of such a task. This is the wrong attitude, and it springs from a spirituality of narcissistic entitlement.

An ordained minister who rightly understands his vocation understands this to be something given to Him as a gift and a responsibility. He should never perceive such tasks as being something He is entitled to, but rather elected to accomplish. But when a priest perceives all of ministry under the lens of entitlement he might project that into the role of the laity, and therefore relax such rules, making everyone seemingly “entitled.” The unfortunate thing about such an attitude is it ultimately never uproots the spiritual disease, it simply enables it amongst everyone.incense-and-icon

God elects certain people for such tasks as a means to bring about humility: and so when these tasks are blurred between the laity and the clergy what happens is we remove ourselves from a very tangible method of making the Church filled with gratitude and reverence. We do not see the wisdom in the social-dynamic of allowing for such order to be supported, because we only perceive things through the lens of our fallen-nature.  We also lack the prophetic vision we are to have, in how God’s little laws and rubrics are actually impactful in an authentic spirituality.  We are constantly attempting to be progressive in sin, and totally unaware of this as the objective method and goal of our aims.

A priest has been made worthy, not by His own merit, but by the election and will of God. And with that gift, He is called to holiness as everyone else is: but in his particular task. If we were to internalize the Little-Flower a bit more realistically, we would come to the conclusion that such a task as handling the divine mysteries is incredibly debasing to our own ego.

The solution is in realizing that we demonstrate reverence not because we are worthy of God or showing our own holiness to others, but rather, we are debasing our pride that God may be the Rose that is noticeable amongst us, the little white-flowers that merely draw your attention to the real-deal: God.

Regardless of our vocation in life: life isn’t about any of us: it is about the glory of God. The quicker we learn this, the more abandoned we become from our own glory: the more we will experience God’s glory and all the joy that comes from such exciting love.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Silence and Confrontation: Dealing with Difficult People

Every situation is different and requires its own discernment. Therefore it is impossible to provide a universal response to every personal conflict that may arise. My intention is to offer some principles that might help in various situations. However, underneath each reaction and interaction or lack thereof that we may or may not have with others must be done in the right spirit. This means we must realize that all interactions involve spiritual discernment. Words or silence both have power. I would like to spend some time sharing with you some attitudes and responses we might have with difficult and challenging people. Everyone has their own charism in dealing with issues in their own way, and their own personality. However, there are times when we need to have boundaries.

I would like to first address the diabolical or evil presence of an individual. All of us can be mouth-pieces for Satan. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we will note occasions in our lives when our words were destructive in the life of others. Be assured this doesn’t make you so far gone that you needn’t consider yourself a Christian. Remember: St. Peter was told by Jesus: “Get behind me Satan.” Eve was the first mouth-piece of Satan when she tempted Adam. All of us have some part to play in passing on gossip, lies, personal opinions and impulsive statements that are naïve, that can cause misdirection and disorder in the lives of others.curearshc However, there are some people who are so crafty and under the influence of the Evil One (perhaps without knowing it) to such a degree that they should be avoided. These people might be possessed (it is the demon speaking), or they could simply be wicked.

Pope Francis recently drew a distinction between the “corrupt” and the sinner. The sinner is all of us, including the corrupt man. However, the corrupt man is a type of sinner that might not be in all of us.  He is one who knows he is a sinner, yet refuses to admit of it to himself and to others. It may seem that I have contradicted myself here. If a person knows he is a sinner, how can he refuse to admit that? Doesn’t he admit it on some level? Yes. However, there is a whole other level of self-deception, self-justification and self-righteousness that abodes in him.

He is convinced in and through his passion and lack of spiritual integrity that he is righteous when he is not.  Such a man is vicious, and thinks himself (on the surface) to be virtuous.   Again, I think if we are honest with ourselves, this exists to some degree in all of us, but in the wicked/corrupt, it is to such a degree that the person is poison and cancer to be around.  In fact our presence actually enables the person to perpetuate evil. These are the people we should not eat-with.  Such people whose presence brings about a sort of “inner-twisting” whereby we recognize that entering into dialogue with such a person becomes a battle-ground that we cannot win. No matter what you say, no matter how genuine you say it, your words will be used against you. Pharisees did this to the Master, and he was so wise that many times He could answer their questions with such great wisdom that it would confound the people. However, not all of us have such power and wisdom. Many of us, including me especially, can experience a temptation to respond to every objection or every argument or every accusation.  Meanwhile, this is merely the person bating you.  Christ also did respond silent, and at other times he answered questions they didn’t ask, in order to frame the discussion on His own terms.

The antagonistic person might purposefully mischaracterize your point simply to antagonize a response out of you.  This is typically called “trolling” but it can be done with a vicious spirit.  In many of these cases, what God asks of us is silence. I remember years ago I was having a difficult relationship with someone. It came to me, through a great deal of prayer, that I was not meant to dialogue with that individual. Through direction and the guidance of many others, I was told: “This isn’t your responsibility.” Of course, pride and a false type of charity always brought about the temptation to avoid fostering a legitimate boundary for my own sanity. Such great anxiety (the type that causes you to not sleep) would take hold of my heart that I felt the need to “control” or seek “reconciliation” with this individual at any cost. Isn’t that what Christians are called to do? Not always.

Anti-ChristWhen I was young, I had an exaggerated notion of God’s mercy. It is a weird thing to say, because we know that there are no limits to God’s mercy. But there are limits to its definition. Some acts are merciful, others are not. If a person is abusive, subjecting yourself to that abuse isn’t merciful towards that person at all…it is enabling. Sometimes mercy, and love, are not perceived as either mercy or love. Again, when I was young, I didn’t understand this. I remember Christmas Eve, praying for the Devil, that I hoped he would have a good Christmas. It was an absurd prayer, of course, as a child, I didn’t understand the nature of angelology and why what I prayed for was impossible. It was at best a sentimental and hyperbolic notion of mercy. But it was offered to no avail. Sometimes people are so wrapped up in the devil, in deception that we simply need to respond to their own vileness and viciousness with silence.

Exorcists are reminded of this when exorcising a person who is possessed. They are reminded that entering into a dialogue with the devil himself is a fruitless endeavour. Satan is far more intelligent than us, and therefore, whatever he does, be assured its aim is deceptive and a means to ensnare us. One priest testifies that during an exorcism that he performed, the possessed individual began cracking jokes to such a degree that it had the priest and the people rolling on the floor in laughter. But it was all a deception, slowing down the process of exorcism. No curiosity, no saviour-complex , should ever avail us to converse with those who are ensnared, except when they are not under such an influence. But sometimes a person is not possessed, sometimes the person themselves is wicked enough that they need not be possessed to conduct their evil deeds. And like the devil, they may be able to outsmart you and to manipulate the discussion in such a way that brings about confusion and disorder into your life that God does not want for you, that you cannot handle, nor are expected to handle.

Let me give you an example. Last week I was at Shoppers Drug Mart picking up a prescription. As I waited in line having purchased some other medication, a man was ahead of me. He stated: “Bless me Father!” Immediately I felt ill talking to this man.  I didn’t feel bothered, but I could feel the disorder within him, in my own soul. He was not there to respect the office or the Church or to discuss anything with an open heart or mind. He continued: “The only regret I have about being Catholic is that I wasn’t sexually abused. That way I could have become rich by suing the Church.”

I was taken off guard, and immediately felt confused by his statement. I needed time to process it, but I couldn’t understand his point. How demeaning to those who had been sexually abused, who probably wished every day that they hadn’t been abused! Was he attacking the victims, suggesting that they were lucky to be abused because they received money? It seemed horribly absurd. Was he in some twisted way trying to get me to suggest that the victims were just “money-grabbers?” Immediately, in my spirit, I felt this intense regret for the abuse of children within the Church. Rather than directly responding to his statement I simply confessed: “It is quite horrible what has happened to those children, isn’t it?”

My question framed the discussion in the way it should have been framed. Interestingly enough he changed the subject. He then confessed he was an atheist who followed Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. At this point, I wanted to see if he was interested in an intellectual discussion. I asked him: “Have you heard of Peter Kreeft. He is a professor of Philosophy and has some intelligent things to say on the matter.” “Pffft” he responded, “Philosophy is stupid. Do you even know what it means?” I responded, “Yes. It means Love of Wisdom. And if you don’t love it, you don’t have it.”

I purposefully made a point with a small bit of humour, to assess whether or not he would be willing to discuss anything on an intellectual level or just to be down-to-earth for a moment.  I prodded, to assess the situation to confirm my intuition.  However, he didn’t seem interested and just changed the subject.  Was his goal to frustrate me?  Probably.  But he wasn’t in my head, he hadn’t gotten under my skin. The conversation went in many different directions after this. Later, while he walked away, he turned around and said, “And remember: whatever.” His statement reminded me of Zen Buddhism which upholds that the notion that there is some cosmological purpose to our existence is inherently absurd. This was how I interpreted his action.

But I didn’t react, other than to say to him: “Enjoy your movie.” In this interaction, I knew that nothing I said held any weight or value. He was talking to me in order to vex his own venom, and yet I took control of the conversation by framing his statements in the proper light. As a result, he did not stir or get the reaction from me he wanted. Perhaps he wanted me to be offended. But I wasn’t. I just stood there, not really sure what to say, and spoke when I felt called and remained silent when I couldn’t figure out where the conversation was going.

I also didn’t give him any excuse to dismiss me as a Christian by reacting tit for tat. In this way, I believe I upheld the teaching about “turning the cheek.” This of course has been grossly misunderstood. When we turn the cheek it doesn’t actually mean we turn the other cheek to be abused. Rather, we are actually taking control of a situation, while maintaining our own integrity. This is because in Jesus’ time no one would ever be considered honourable if they struck you with their left hand (that is the hand that was used to clean themselves). Therefore to turn your cheek, you would be saying, “You must dishonour yourself if you wish to hit me again.” It was a way of saying, “I’m not going to respond to your hatred with hatred, but I’m also not going to allow you to do this again to me.”

Victims of abuse who fall for a false notion of mercy and Christian charity often think that what the Church is requiring of them is to remain in an abusive situation. But understanding scripture properly, we know that this just is not the case. God does not want us to condone behaviour by enabling it, nor does he want us to become what we hate, fighting fire with fire. The path to love our enemies is therefore incredibly narrow. On the one hand we cannot be enabling, but on the other hand we cannot hate the person. There is a place in between, but it is difficult to find.

Sometimes people need to walk away from situations, from towns who do not believe, just as Jesus did. We need not curse the town in the process, but we should walk away. Our happiness is not contingent on concessions and reconciliation with every sinner. Our peace comes from being reconciled to God, which involves an openness (but not success) in finding peace in our neighbour. Some people will never admit of their own fault in this life; for them it seems too hard to bear to look inward. All in all, I have encountered numerous times, that not every situation requires a response. Sometimes we are simply there to be slaughtered like a silent lamb, and this speaks more eloquently than anything else we can say.

Having wickedness disturb your peace will only validate his antagonism. Being unmoved and at peace will only inflict war within the antagonist. And this is good, and for this reason Christ came to bring the sword, rather than false-peace.10 commandments Christ brings division, as he sheds light upon the issues we sweep under the rug.  We the people hate the truth at times…its hard to look at.  But when we are seeking the truth with integrity, God can work with that, and help to win our hearts over. But it is His work.

Not all cases are diabolical. Sometimes people are wounded and they are impulsive and immature with their emotions. Their emotions frame their perception of truth to such a degree that they act without any impulse control. They use manipulative techniques without even realizing it in themselves. I have encountered some people who will go from “one-extreme to another.” They do this in order to manipulate your emotions to feel bad for them, and to make you perceive yourself as the bad-guy.

No one wants to be considered bad, but if our goal is to be perceived well by others, we are vain.  Often such a way of framing a situation easily controls your behaviour that we acquiesce to their bullying, because their perception seems to matter to us over and above what the truth actually says. I have been bold in this regard with some individuals, especially those who go from one extreme to another. I remember one time offering a critique (although I offered a lot of praise as well). This individual however only heard the criticism. As a result he/she decided to say, “Fine I won’t do anything anymore.” I responded, “Hey that is manipulative.”

The shock on the person’s face was telling. He/she realized when I said that, I wasn’t attacking him/her, I was actually encouraging the person. It put them in a dizzy. Why? Well, I explained, “I love what you do, and I think it would be great if you continue. I am only asking you to change this one little-thing.” In other words, I did not back down from my request, but I also put the situation, immediately, into its proper context. I added, “Going from one extreme to another is merely a technique to get a person to feel sorry for you and to back down. I’m not backing down, but I’m also not attacking you personally. I love you, and am asking you to do this because it’s what should be done. Can I explain why it is important?” It is funny how calling people out can be so profoundly loving, and actually building the person up, in such a situation. The person is called out on their emotional, disproportionate reaction, while maintaining at the same time an authentic love for the person. It was a grace to be able to do this, and the person left realizing that I had set up a boundary where immaturity was not welcome, but love was.  All of a sudden love was real, and concrete, not sentimental and ambiguous.

People want real love, and it comes from people who are not obsessed with the perception of others; in this way love is proven authentic, and weighty. When we search for love through manipulation we are always left empty. The one thing I’ve learned through all of this is that loving your enemy (or difficult people), is both a gift and a challenge. It is a gift because it gives us the chance to build up within ourselves the virtue of confidence in the truth, while also loving the person we speak to. People, therefore, who are difficult are saving us, they are God’s gift to us.  If we don’t attempt to enter through the narrow gate, we either vilify the person to the point where we excuse ourselves into silence, or we enable the person by justifying their behaviour through our presence or keeping the dialogue/diatribe in motion.  Both are wrong, and both are right responses, depending on the situation, the motive and the way we go about communicating what is important. In the person whom you should not speak to, you learn how to conquer the temptation of a saviour complex or the false notion of mercy (enabling). With the emotionally unstable or immature person, you learn how to communicate love, while not simply avoiding conflict out of sloth or cowardice.

All situations can bring about a death-to-self. NEROBut I will end with a caution. There are people in our lives that we need to shut out. While the nature of man is good, we must keep in mind that the nature of the devil is also good. The devil was created by God, and will always have the nature to “worship God.” But the moral-character (which differs from our nature/ontology) of some people is vile and evil. Alternatively, we must be very careful not to vilify someone simply because they disagree with us, and therefore to pigeon-hole them into this category. We become one of those crazy Catholics who think that everyone and everything is the devil. In reality, we become the number-one reason why no one goes to Church or is attracted to Christianity.

We must therefore have more than a gut-reaction, but be wise and live a prayerful life under the guidance of good direction from people who have an objective and wise view. If we are tempted to dismiss a person for the wrong reasons, to excuse ourselves and to rationalize/justify this action by convincing ourselves that they are more evil and twisted then they really are, then we are not approaching this with the right spirit. Above all, there must be an awareness of our motives, and why we “want” to either avoid or seek conflict.

Sometimes we are living a life motivated by fear and therefore pride, yet we have the habit of justifying our motives in the service of God or neighbour, that we fail to realize the motives are actually quite the opposite.  Some occasions call for directness, other situations require boundaries that avoid enabling certain behaviour. There are some people we need to simply ignore or walk away from (which can be a loving thing for that person), unless they experience a transformation so significant that the reality of manipulation and twistedness is gone. At the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ through baptism. We are not meant to be at war with each other, but we are. And we must battle and navigate through temptation carefully and with wisdom. Therefore, be neither only silent nor only confrontational: but wise. Christ did both. Know your limits, and know the person you are talking to.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized