All posts by Marissa Standage

Marissa Standage is simultaneously studying at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and Angelicum Academy to earn her bachelor's degree in philosophy and theology, and also loves her teaching post at Highlands Latin School of Pasadena. As the oldest of six, Marissa was home schooled right through high school, and has enjoyed a deep love for the Catholic faith, family, and education based on Socratic discussion. Between her college work and teaching, her favorite past-times include spending time with her family and friends, writing epic fantasy stories, reading, baking sourdough bread (and all kinds of other sourdough goodies from chocolate cake to crackers), and knitting socks. In the midst of this full and wonderful life, she is striving to discern God's plan for her in this world, and to cultivate the virtues in the daily opportunities to grow in His love.

He Noticed

For so many of us, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the multitudes. In the crowds of people at malls and stores, the workplace and schools, we lose sight of others, and maybe even more so, we ourselves feel truly lost in the crowd.

Jesus was familiar with swarms of people. It was a definitive aspect of His ministry to be frequently surrounded by the people:

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.[1]

But in the midst of that crowd one day, a sick woman, who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, recognized Jesus. She knew He was there, and she did everything in her power not to lose sight of Him: more than that, she wanted to reach out to Him.

For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.”[2]

She did not cry out for attention. She knew her littleness in contrast to all the multitudes of people swarming around Jesus. And yet, in her humble faith, she trusted that God could work a miracle for her if she but touched Him. Would He notice?

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”[3]

The woman did not go unnoticed: Jesus sensed her act of faith, though she but reached out and caught the hem of his cloak in her fingers for a moment in time.

And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”And he looked around to see who had done it.[4]

The disciples are confused: how can Jesus even ask the question ‘Who touched me?’ Probably half the people in the crowd have touched Him as they buzzed excitedly around Him for the past ten minutes alone. Further: why should Jesus care?

And yet, He does care. The others who touched Him did so because they were pressing upon Him in the crowd. The woman, on the other hand, was purposely reaching out in humility and trust. Her loving faith, so hidden to the eyes of the disciples overwhelmed by the masses, draws Jesus to reach out to her who reached out to Him.

But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[5]

A living faith, however overlooked by the crowds, is never lost on God. The woman trusted in God’s goodness and mercy and reached out to Him. She was rewarded not only with His healing, but also with a return of His loving recognition. Even the Apostles saw nothing special in her simple touch, but Jesus saw her intention.

He noticed.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version: Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Mark 5:24.

[2] (Mark 5:28, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[3] (Mark 5:30, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[4] (Mark 5:31-32, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[5] (Mark 5:33-34, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

Heart-to-Heart: A Look at the Pain of Love

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.[1]

On the face of it, Christ’s words seem obvious: of course we’ll obey Christ because we love Him! Yet, when it comes down to it, loving the Lord and living His commandments feel like two entirely different propositions.

Well, first off, we, as Christians, are defined by His Love. Jesus said,

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[2]

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.[3]

We know we are broken and desperately in need of the Love of Christ, and we love to be loved by Him, enjoying the warmth of His Love pouring down upon us from His Heavenly window through His Presence on earth in the Blessed Sacrament.

But His Presence and Love are also most truly keenly felt in the Cross. As He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross,”[4] so we also are called to the same perfect obedience by living in true accord with the commands of Christ. What are His commands? He gave us two: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

How do we love God and our neighbor? Telling them we love them, and thinking about how much we love them, are a fine start, but do thoughts and words alone constitute genuine love?

According to St. Paul, love is manifold.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends… So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.[6]

The essence of love—what love is—is the union of the multiple qualities of virtue. Look at all those active verbs St. Paul uses to show what love is all about. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What can’t love do? Only one thing: love can never end. In some translations, this is rendered: “Love never fails.”

Love this strong, this pure, this beautiful is utterly invaluable. How awesome that we can share in the very essence and Life of God Himself, Who is Love[7]. Yet Love, though freely chosen, is not without a price: since the Fall, Love is uniquely and intricately bound up with suffering in this world.

Love a person, and they may deceive you, abandon you, deny you, betray you. Love any mortal creature, and again you are risking much: they can hurt you, disappoint you, test you, and even the most perfect will, sooner or later, die.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”[8]

Love hurts. Sacrifices and sufferings freely accepted out of love cost us much, and the cost seems heavier than the reward when Heaven seems so far off in time and space (appearing to confine us here on earth). But this kind of an approach to love, as though we could ‘earn’ our way to Heaven, seems shallow. At the end of the day, when we tally up our good deeds and (if we’re feeling especially confident!) nod contentedly because they so clearly outweigh our sins, do we find the joy and peace for which we long in this score-keeping with God?

No, not really.

Our hearts want something else. Something more. The sufferings we endure: are they really to be borne indifferently for the sake of love? If so, they seem to only have value insofar as we can ‘convert’ them to proofs of love. But what if the very moments of suffering, though apparently loathsome and difficult in themselves, are not merely the means, but the very essence of the Christian Life, the moments when we meet our Beloved Lord Heart-to-heart? What if this moment of trial and terror is not merely to be offered up and set aside as quickly as possible, nor again to be relished with a ghastly ‘heroic’ delight, but seen and embraced as the Cross of Christ, given to us? What if these moments of suffering, offered for love, are the very stepping stones to sanctity?

If this is the case, then everything has value. Getting back to the words of St. Paul, love literally embraces absolutely everything. Yes, love means suffering so often in this world, but no suffering, however great, can detract from the overwhelming share in the Life of God which we embrace when we love.

Why endure the pain of Love? Because we are, by nature, called into communion with the One Who is Love, and the pain is the price of the great joy fulfilled only in Him, for Whom we long. For, “You have formed us for Yourself,” Dear God, and truly, “our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”[9]

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 14:15), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 17 December 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

[2] (John 15:12 RSV)

[3] (John 13:35 RSV)

[4] (Philippians 2:8 RSV)

[5] (Matthew 22:36-39 RSV)

[6] (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 RSV)

[7] (1 John 4:8 RSV)

[8] C.S. Lewis, “Charity,” in The Four Loves (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1960), 121.

[9] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, I, 1, 1, at New Advent, www.newadvent.org.

Judging and Loving

It is a strange thing, but we as human beings are often eager critics. It is so easy to criticize, to catch the flaws and failures of others. Whether we mull over others’ faults in the back of our minds, speak openly to their faces, or take it upon ourselves to send a quick “Hey, you’re wrong, and here’s why!” message, we all have a strong tendency to focus on what’s wrong with everyone around us.3D_Judges_Gavel

First, we must keep in mind that we are created judges; for man, created in God’s image, bears the likeness of God who “is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.”[1] Therefore, it is natural and right for us to make judgments: indeed, we must judge and discern what is right and true, as Jesus said, “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?”[2] God expects us to judge as He does: which means we judge to perceive, and so to choose, what is good and true.

The problem enters when we condemn others without condemning ourselves—in other words, when we become so good at judging right from wrong that we “selflessly” dedicate all judgments to others at the expense of our own need of self-reflection. We can always tell the trouble with others, and likely we’re right on target with their faults: but the irony is that we have no control to stop whatever we find fault with in other people. Yes, we can offer admonishment, instruction, counsel, and encouragement, but the biggest problem with unrestrained criticism is that it reveals an inherent, deliberate blindness to what’s going on in our own soul.

This is most poignantly expressed in the words of our Lord, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”[3] Jesus, as the Good Shepherd Who knows His sheep so perfectly, is well aware of how we tend to frantically search the lives of others for even a speck to complain about. Why? Because, in judging others, we know we are confronting evil and making judgments as we are called to do, but we don’t have to undergo the cross of transformation for our own souls. We “do not notice” the load of lumber blocking the eyes of our souls because it is difficult, even painful, to judge oneself: to be true to oneself and say, “I am wrong; I need to change.”

A happy soul knows the value of justice and judgment, and weighs everything according to charity. Before trying to help others, the sinner acknowledges his own sinfulness out of love for God. When the sinner is reconciled with God, he will only desire to judge the wicked deeds of others in order to bring souls away from the sorrows and pain they bring upon themselves by their sins. As Jesus taught, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”[4] This clarity of vision is the gift of right judgment, used to seek the greatest good for every soul: and that judgment must begin with setting to right our own lives, for only then can we best help others for the sake of love.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (Psalm 7:11), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 1 October 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

[2] (Luke 12:57, RSV)

[3] (Matthew 7:3, RSV)

[4] (Matthew 7:5, RSV)

It’s all about Love

There are a great variety of vocations in life, but all require a deep, persistent love.  Whether we look at our vocation in general terms and consider whether we are called to the religious life or the sacrament of marriage, or else look at the more detailed aspects of our vocation—which includes the place and time in which we live, the people we encounter, the gifts and talents with which we are blessed—every vocation involves love to a deep degree.  But what does it mean to be ‘called to love’?

The word ‘love’ has suffered a terrible expansion of meaning.  One can use this term to express anything from a deep fervent devotion for one’s spouse to a heartfelt desire for chocolate.  A Carmelite Sister once pointed out that, surely, when one says, “I love my dog,” and “I love my husband,” the person cannot possibly intend the exact same meaning for both cases.  Therefore, when we speak of ‘Christian love,’ many get a fuzzy image in their minds of something that ‘feels’ nice and good.  But is that what love means?

Unlike our modern tendency to lump several meanings into the use of the term ‘love,’ the Ancient Greeks had a variety of terms for ‘love’ in order to hone in on classifications of specific meanings they intended.  ‘Agape’ is the term one can best apply to Christian love, because it expresses self-sacrificing love, and Christian love is all about imitating the One Who sacrificed Himself for Love.  Christ on the Cross, Agape Personified, shows us what exactly He meant when He said we must love.

Love is a paradoxical truth because it means self-giving, and in giving up of the self we find our true selves.  God created us in His image and likeness, so there is no greater way for us to find our true selves as we were created than when we love, because the One we magnify in our very natures is Himself Love.  When we practice a little extra patience, when we let a car pass in front of us with a smile, when we say a kind word or share even just a minute with someone in need, we are forgoing our own selves for the sake of others, in imitation of Christ who sacrificed Himself fully for us, and is the greatest of all among Men, for truly, those who “are first will be last, and the last first.”[1]

The vocation of Man, then, is to love.  The greatest and lowest, the first and the last of all the saints of Heaven have found their vocation in this self-giving agape in imitation of their Master, and in mirroring God in Whose image we are created.  Love is not merely an aspect of many vocations: it is truly the heart of every vocation.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (Matthew 19:30), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 1 September, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

Man and Morality: The Truth that Sets us Free

The human person knows by nature that there is a certain code by which he must live.  Man also knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he wants to be happy.  As fallen human beings, we often sense a strain between the natural law and our innermost need for happiness.  In the world today there are many moral theories that try to address this issue by divorcing freedom from truth, separating the actual acts of the human person from his moral status, or even by justifying intrinsic evil because “one’s own conscience” condoned it, or because it “fits” with one’s developing culture.  All these issues show two very interesting and integral aspects of man’s character: 1) man is not at rest, but is anxiously seeking an answer to that voice calling, beckoning to him, whether he acknowledges God’s creative act in his life or not; and 2) man also necessarily recognizes (at least implicitly) that he is so aware of the necessity of fulfilling the natural law that he goes to great lengths to justify his position, clearly demonstrating that every person knows deeply in his heart that the need to live a good moral life is essential to our human nature.  But in order to assess whether living the natural law really inhibits man’s freedom, we must first consider: what is his human freedom for, and how does man’s conscience function to determine what he will freely choose?  Is moral truth merely relative, or does the conscience serve as a judge of a universal standard?  If God created man in His own image and likeness, surely the natural law written in our hearts points us to the fundamental reality: man was created for the purpose of happiness, which he may obtain, if he but use his freedom to live in accordance with the truth.

In the world today, there are many theological theories that distinguish a man’s actions from his moral status, “detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth.”[1]

As St. Pope John Paul II wrote,

Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation.  The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil.[2]

This kind of mentality sharply contradicts the human person, whom God created in perfect love and order with Himself.  He who is Truth, desiring our happiness, created man to be happy when he lives in the fullness of his purpose, choosing to act in accordance with the right order of the natural law.  Clearly, the idea that certain acts do not contribute to the person’s moral make-up because they are “pre-moral” is not in keeping with any of the teachings of Christ or the early Church: “The Apostles decisively rejected any separation between the commitment of the heart and the actions which express or prove it (cf. 1 Jn 2:3-6).”[3] As both soul and body, man must live out what he believes, and not just merely acknowledge it.  “In fact, body and soul are inseparable: in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, they stand or fall together.”[4]

This becomes gravely relevant in considering that there are acts which, by their very nature, essence, and being, are contradictory to the human person, and are therefore intrinsically evil.  For example, God alone is the Author of Life, and therefore the only One to be worshipped.  The early Christians knew that the act of making offerings to a false god was thus intrinsically evil, and countless numbers refused even at the price of martyrdom. “They even refused to feign such worship, thereby giving an example of the duty to refrain from performing even a single concrete act contrary to God’s love and the witness of faith.”[5] This recognition of objective moral truth, upon which the natural law is written in the heart of the human person, is the essence of how a man brings his purpose to fruition by choosing the good for which he was created, and therefore achieving ultimate happiness.  Those who deny this fundamental need to recognize objective morality and intrinsic evil fall into the snare of self-deifying, where man becomes the author of his own morality and truth.  “Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others.”  But, “taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.”[6] Such prevalent thinking as this has “led to a denial, in opposition to Sacred Scripture (cf. Mt 15:3-6) and the Church’s constant teaching, of the fact that the natural moral law has God as its author, and that man, by the use of reason, participates in the eternal law, which it is not for him to establish.”[7] Man cannot be his own god, because he is a creature, created in the Divine Image.  Man, living the natural law by freely choosing what he perceives through the judgment of his conscience as objectively good and refusing intrinsic evil, can fulfill who he is in his person, bringing peace to his restlessness as he takes his abode in God for Whom he was created.

The Church, therefore, teaches strict adherence to the moral law because this is the foundation of who man is; to deny the moral law is not to meet man in compassion, but in actuality it is to deny man himself.  Thus, the Church reaches out with true charity, seeking the good of her children.  “The Church is in fact a communion both of faith and of life; her rule of life is ‘faith working through love’ (Gal 5:6).”[8] Man’s freedom is thus not to make up his own set of laws, but to fulfill that longing within him that urges him to do the good for which he was created.  “Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity.”[9] Thus, in obeying the moral law, there is this complete unity of faith and morals, freedom and truth, real life and compassionate love.  True Christian faith, “which is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted with intellectual assent,” is “rather…a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out.”[10] This vibrant relation with Jesus is the core and essence of morality for man.  Faith is not about a lonely soul estranged from the actions of the body: “faith is a decision involving one’s whole existence. It is an encounter, a dialogue, a communion of love and of life between the believer and Jesus Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (cf. Jn 14:6).”[11] In Christ, we are freed from the addiction of sin, and the power to choose what is good is restored to us.  By perceiving the truth once again, our conscience can lead us forward to the happiness for which we long in achieving the fullness of a human person created in God’s image.  Then, we may truly act with freedom, according to Our Lord, for “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”[12]

 

[1] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendour (6 August 1993), §4.

[2] Veritatis Splendour, §84.

[3] Veritatis Splendour, §26.

[4] Veritatis Splendour, §49.

[5] Veritatis Splendour, §91.

[6] Veritatis Splendour, §32.

[7] Veritatis Splendour, §36.

[8] Veritatis Splendour, §26.

[9] Veritatis Splendour, §42.

[10] Veritatis Splendour, §88.

[11] Veritatis Splendour, §88.

[12] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 8:32), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 30 July, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

Seeing the Invisible God

Don’t we all long to see God? Yet, so much of the time, He remains largely invisible to us. How does He reveal Himself in our day-to-day lives?
When we want to see someone we can’t actually meet, such as a loved one who moved far away, we often keep pictures—images—in our homes. Now we have the added benefits of options like Skype or Face Time, so we can virtually meet with those we long to see. Yet, these are not novel ideas: God thought of them first! And He uses them daily to touch each one of us, even when we feel He is most invisible.
First, God created the human person in His own image and likeness. As a skillful artist may paint a beautiful self-portrait, so God created each human person to reflect Himself. Because God is pure spirit and the human person is body and soul, man mainly reflected God in his created soul. And then man fell.
Rather than drawing farther away, God wished to unite us closer to Him. God sent His Son in human flesh to be one of us. Now, no human person is ever the same. Human Nature, body and soul, has been raised with Christ because the Divine Nature has fused with our fallen nature. Man is no longer merely the image of God in his soul alone: he is now the living image of God in his whole person, soul and body.
God wants to be with us in ways perceptible to us both spiritually and sensually, as He is most especially present in the Blessed Sacrament. But He tangibly touches us through the living images of one another. Though “no man has ever seen God;” yet, “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)

As this love is perfected, so we see God more and more clearly in people around us, and so come to burn with living charity for our brothers and sisters for the love of God, Whom we behold reflected in the very fiber of their being. God, in His goodness, has blessed us with His own reflection—not satisfied with something as two-dimensional as a photograph, He gave us one another, to be the living, breathing images of Himself in the world.

Does Evil Disprove God?

In an apologetics course I am taking this semester, we recently discussed the argument often propagated by atheists that God must not exist due to the existence of evil in the world. Based on the arguments for God’s existence in spite of evil, found in “The Handbook of Catholic Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, S.J., I wrote a fictitious dialogue, following below, that expresses a Christian response to this atheistic argument.

Atheist: Good afternoon, Joe!

Christian: Hello, Bill! It’s good to see you.

Atheist: So, our coworkers tell me you’re a Christian now.

Christian: Yes, praise God!

Atheist: Joe, we’ve been such friends for so many years, I can’t help but be blunt with you: how foolish can you be? There is no God and there can’t be a God—hasn’t evil disproven the existence of God already?
Christian: How so?

Atheist: You believe in a good God, right? Well, if He were really as “all-powerful” as you profess, then why would He have permitted evil? Or perhaps He isn’t all-good, and is Himself the author of evil?

Christian: No, He certainly cannot be both all-good and the author of evil. Nor is He. I profess that He is all-good—it is we human beings who have brought evil into the world.

Atheist: Well then! Your God clearly isn’t all-powerful, if there’s something we can do that He can’t!

Christian: Would you say that you are less powerful—perhaps, shall we say, less free—than a convict, justly imprisoned?

Atheist: Of course not!

Christian: So also with God. It is not God’s lack that He did not create evil: it is our own self-imprisonment that we fell into evil.

Atheist: But if we “created” evil, we’re more powerful than God, right?

Christian: Evil can’t be “created” because evil has no being—evil is the disorder or perversion of what God has created. Only being can be created, and evil is best described as non-being.

Atheist: All right, then. I’ll accept that as true enough, I suppose—but, even if I give you that we “fell into evil,” as you say, back in the Garden of Eden (I suppose you’d prefer to refer to “Adam and Eve”), then why doesn’t suffering fit into the world fairly? To refer to your analogy: I haven’t committed any crime, so here I am, free. The convict is justly confined, and receives punishment for the evil he did. If your God is so good as you say, why didn’t He map out the world like that, so that only wicked people suffer and good people don’t? Honestly, as it stands, it’s happened again and again that the saintly suffer, and it’s the wicked that make them suffer!

Christian: Yes, this is often true: but you are speaking of suffering. Physical evil, or suffering, is not the same as moral evil. As human beings, we are hereditary. You can see how every child inherits physical qualities, such as eye and hair color, from his parents. Well, we know that there is more to man than the body: there is also the psyche, or the soul. If our first parents chose evil, isn’t that going to affect their children, and all their descendants?

Atheist: Logically, yes. But that still doesn’t explain why good people suffer.

Christian: Well, first: remember that all men, from the moment of their conception, inherit moral evil. Physical evil, or suffering, is both a punishment due to sin—the evil that so disorders man’s right relationship with God—and also a means of atonement and discipline for the soul. Thus, even a child bears moral evil already. Yet, even a child’s sufferings have value, because we can all suffer together, with and for each other. To get back to the analogy of the criminal: even though you haven’t done anything so terrible as the convict, you are still paying tax dollars to make his imprisonment possible.

Atheist: Hmm, well…I still don’t think you’ve explained how God can be all-good and permit evil—both kinds, according to your terminology: moral evil and suffering. I still don’t see…

Christian: It is difficult to grasp, because it is practically counterintuitive. The very fact that we are so “turned off” by evil of either sort helps point to the truth: we weren’t made for evil! We are meant for something great and good and true: the happiness for which we all long.

Atheist: Happiness, huh? Do you mean the various needs and desires people experience, like wanting a “happy family,” or to make your dog “happy,” or to have a “happy time” watching a movie?

Christian: These have varying degrees of “happiness,” and in some sense that “happiness” is superficial, because it is not the ultimate, filling happiness: none of them ever satisfy to the full, even if they contribute in some way. That’s why people who strive after these things keep seeking them, and keep wanting more: they’re never filled, and the empty longing cries out inside for completion. So, the happiness I’m talking about is not a fleeting sensual experience, or emotional pleasure, or even a passing joy, all of which are usually largely dependent on what happens to us: I’m talking about happiness as something we can not only achieve by choice, but that is firm and lasting, and cannot be effaced from ourselves by any outside forces. This happiness is at the heart of the reason for God’s allowance of both moral and physical evil.

Atheist: How do you mean?

Christian: Animals can’t be truly happy (in the sense I just described): only creatures with free choice. Yet, you can also choose otherwise, and it’s because of our free choice that evil entered the world. So, that’s why God allows moral evil: He desires our potential for happiness, rather than our mere existence. Second, physical evil is an outside force, and not a choice on the part of the person (as a general rule—a person who injures himself or takes his life willfully is principally concerned with moral evil already, and any pain that follows his choice is punishment for that chosen evil). Thus, physical evil cannot break down a person’s happiness.

Atheist: So, God would just as soon let you suffer?

Christian: Rather, God gives us the chance to freely suffer. It’s similar to a situation like this: when your son dumps out all his toys across the room right after you told him not to do so, you don’t clean everything up while he stands by. You have him gather the toys, and endure every tear and grumble, because you know he will never become better unless he works with you to aright what he has done. And well you should: God doesn’t give us free will so that we can commit evil and then stand by to watch Him tidy our mess: He wants us to get in there with Him and choose to aright our wrongs. That’s what much of suffering is about.

Atheist: I can’t say I agree with you, Joe, but I must say I am a bit perplexed: I always thought that evil disproved God’s existence soundly. Now, I am not so sure evil can do anything but prove that evil cannot be the final word…

Christian: No, it cannot. I am always eager to speak with you, whenever you want. God bless—see you soon!

Our Lady Said “Yes!”

During this beautiful month of May, dedicated to Our Lady, it is fitting to consider the qualities of Our Lady’s character that we so love. Of the many attributes of Our Blessed Mother, one that shines out through all her virtues is her total openness to the will of God. For most of us, it’s not always easy to have the courage to say “yes” to God. One of the first words many babies learn to say is “NO,” and there is a reason for this inclination. When someone asks us to accept something—be it a task, or their help, or even a gift out of charity that we feel too proud to take—our natural reaction, as fallen human beings, is to reject it. We want to “find our own way.” Yet Mary knew that there was no way better than God’s. What is more astounding, she was not afraid to give Him her full and open “yes.”
Our Lady’s openness to God was a direct result of her trusting love in Him. For those of us who struggle with trusting as much as we long to love God, we must keep in mind what this love of Our Blessed Mother meant: that she knew she was making herself susceptible to pain and suffering in following His way. As C.S. Lewis noted in his work “The Four Loves”, love involves becoming vulnerable. From the Latin root, “vulnus, vulneris,” vulnerable means, literally, “wound.” The truth is: love can hurt! Indeed, Our Lady’s loving Fiat led her, ultimately, to the cross of her Son.
But Our Blessed Mother did not let the thought of losing her own temporary joys sway her choice: she was not afraid to trust in God, in spite of the real possibility for sufferings. Fixing her mind on the reality of God’s beautiful plan for her life, and the life of the Messiah to be brought into the world by her willing consent, Our Lady was free to surrender herself wholly to God in a profoundly courageous and loving way. Without understanding what was to come, yet without doubting the mysterious movement of God’s plan for her in her life, Mary opened herself to Him in humility and love. With all the fears that must have pressed her, she took the graces God offered and chose the way that God placed before her. Unlike so many of God’s children who tell God “maybe, someday,” or even “no,” Our Lady stands as a bright and shining example of the purest and strongest love of God, as she expressed this love in her deep and yet simple response that may be summed up in one word of three letters: “Yes!”

The Trouble with Time

“I’m sorry—I just don’t have time!”

How often have we heard words like these—and how often do we express this lack ourselves! At least, I know I constantly sense the pressure of varieties of responsibilities and needs that seem to take up all my time, and more besides. Yet, we are all called to generosity with ourselves, in giving of our talents and treasures, and, even especially, of our time. In such a busy, crazy world, why are we expected to give time to others, and how on earth can we make it possible?

Of the three, giving of our treasures and talents are generally fairly simple to practice in our daily lives, and both involve a sacrifice of our time. Yes, there is sacrifice and self-discipline in setting aside donation money, which is, in essence, a gift of the time we spent working. In giving of our talents, we do have to take a morning of baking to help out at the pastry booth at the parish festival, or take a couple of hours to go to the weekly choir practice to prepare for Sunday Mass. Sharing our talents, too, takes time. In fact, in sacrificing a portion of our treasure and sharing of our talents with others, one of the greatest questions we must answer is: am I willing to take the time to do this?

And so we come to the first issue: why should we give of our time?

On the one hand, our time is clearly invaluable—we are constantly stressing our lack of and need for time. Jesus recognized this anxiety in us when He said: “And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life?”[1] Yet, on the other hand, simply spending time with or for others can also appear to have little or no value, such as instances we’ve waited in the car for someone forty-five minutes longer than we had planned, or watched over a sick child or sibling while he slept. If we have other commitments or responsibilities, such occasions feel like a total “drain” on our time that we simply cannot afford!

But if we sacrifice our time for others, do not such “pointless” times become acts of love? For “Love is patient.”[2] In point of fact, St. Paul tells us this attribute of Love first, though Love has many, for we cannot truly love others if we are never willing to spend time with them. Even just being with others has value, for it is in the midst of daily life that God graces others, and us, if only we take the time to see and participate in His Love.

All of our human existence takes place in the realm of Time, making hope a reality for goodness and virtue since we are not defined eternally by who we are today—as long as we live, there is chance for change through the gift of time. As the vinedresser said to the owner of the vineyard in the Parable of the Fig Tree, when the owner wished to cut down the tree since it bore no fruit for three years: “Let it alone, sir, this year also…and if it bears fruit next year, well and good.”[3] For God saw that there is much good we can achieve, if only we have the patience to wait, within time.

Yet, in the midst of our hurry in the world today, how is this applicable? How can we literally give away our time, when we seem to not even have a second to spare?

Quite often, God asks us for the gift of our time in small and simple ways, such as stopping to answer a child’s question, or holding a door open for a stranger. Just being available to others, with openness and charity, is key to the gift of our time. The Son of God did not just redeem mankind—He spent time here, among men. Christ willingly chose to spend thirty-three years in the world with us, as proof of the Greatness of His Love. For it is truly in the simplicity of the gift of time, given freely, that proves the greatest Love.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (Luke 12:25), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 10 April, 2016, https://biblegateway.com.

[2] (1 Corinthians 13:4 RSV)

[3] (Luke 13:8-9 RSV)

“When Man was Rejected of Men”

In one of his greatest works, The Everlasting Man, author G.K. Chesterton takes a few pages to reflect on the Passion of Christ, the Son of Man. Noting that mankind had already done everything it could to seek its true purpose and search for God—from the philosophers to the mythmakers, to the crowning Roman Empire to the simple common folk—Chesterton shows how each of these great attainments of man’s life could not satisfy the heart and soul of man. Even more, all of the accomplishments of mankind were, indeed, crumbling before the very eyes of the world. When the Word made Flesh, the Living God, came before them, man was already falling from the very heights of greatness he had achieved on his own without God. And so, Jesus was truly rejected by all.

The priests and the Pharisees, the keepers of the greatest monotheism up to that time, became as jealous of Jesus as they were of their religion. Chesterton points out how blind they had become even by the Light of their beliefs, for they kept everything, like a secret treasure, hidden away in the tabernacle. But even the best philosophies among them could not make headway against this greatest of religions known to the world of antiquity. Yet this religion, too, could not fully satisfy the heart of man; and even it was falling with the corruption of its leaders.

Rome, the greatest power on earth, the kingdom upon which “the sun never set,” was built of all the best mankind could be on its own. From its humble roots of the defeated Trojans, according to Virgilian legend, Rome bore what Chesterton termed the almost “divine dignity of the defeated.” It was Rome that conquered the demons of Carthage for the love of their own gods of life and the home, standing “for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry.”[1] In essence, Rome was the embodiment of the greatest man could be on his own. And yet, it is a Roman, “he who is enthroned to say what is justice” who “can only ask ‘What is truth?’”[2] It is the responsible Roman who tries to clear his name of responsibility. “Standing between the pillars of his own judgment-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.”[3]

Finally, the crowds of the common people, so dearly loved by Jesus, also turned from the best to the worst. Chesterton explains the workings of a mob: how “its likes and dislikes are easily changed by baseless assertion that is arbitrary without being authoritative.”[4] That Good Friday, the common man, along with all the other representatives of mankind, totally rejected Christ. “Some brigand or other was artificially turned into a picturesque and popular figure and run as a kind of candidate against Christ.”[5] Barabbas was chosen and the Son of God was cast out, for the people took the counsel of Caiaphas: that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”[6] Mankind was failing and falling, for it could not even value the life of Man himself before the State.

Chesterton masterfully reveals in these passages how the fullness of humanity turned against the Son of Man, the Living God become Incarnate in the world. The Passion of Christ was not a chance occurrence, taking place at the whim of a few people in authority: every state of the mind and soul of man was well-represented, from the leaders of the Chosen people to the governing Romans to the common man himself. And so, “the mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.”[7]

[1] G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Volume II (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 342.

[2] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 342.

[3] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 342.

[4] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 343.

[5] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 343.

[6] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 18:14), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 22 March, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

[7] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 344.

Why Sacrifice for Lent?

It’s two weeks now since Ash Wednesday, and most Catholics have given up some desirable thing as a sacrifice. For instance, most families I know (including my own) give up sweets. I can still remember very well, as a young person, what a great sacrifice this was! But why do we give up things we enjoy for Lent? Does God wish us to simply deny ourselves and practice self-control, leaving our desires unfulfilled? Or is there an even deeper and more profound purpose for Lenten sacrifices?

As a small person, I knew the purpose of sacrificing sweets for Lent. While it was certainly out of love for Jesus, I recognized the absence of candy at once. The desire for sweets would grow in the first few weeks as Lent progressed, and I had to keep saying “no.” Finally, it would become practically habitual towards the end of Lent so that it wasn’t such a big deal any longer. Then, Easter Sunday came, and chocolates and candy never tasted better! In essence, the sacrifice of sweets seemed to be a discipline that made me realize how much I valued sweets, and ultimately gave greater joy and pleasure to Easter candy.

In a sense, this childhood sacrifice points to the truth concerning the purpose of Lenten resolutions and sacrifices: that there is ultimately something much deeper than merely depriving ourselves of the satisfaction of fulfilling our desires. While self-denial and self-control are certainly the stepping-stones of Lenten sacrifice, is that really the whole purpose? If it is, how many of us go right back to those things we love and gave up as soon as Lent is over? It’s good practice and good for our souls during Lent, and we undoubtedly receive graces as fruits of these sacrifices even as Lent has passed, but, ultimately, why do we make Lenten sacrifices?

During Lent, we strive to purge away our sinfulness and open ourselves to receive God’s forgiveness, in order that we might draw closer to the Lord. We do this especially through fasting, prayer, and service. Fasting takes self-discipline to abstain from food, but, very often, our Lenten sacrifices involve a fasting from whatever we choose. By denying some of our desires, we will find ourselves hungry (perhaps literally). In sensing our hunger for things we’ve surrendered (such as candy or any other thing in this world), we will awaken in ourselves the opportunity to realize a far deeper hunger we have in our souls.

Where do we go when we are empty and in need? The best answer is to God in prayer. It is to God that we should go, because, in denying ourselves of what we know as “good,” we can more readily recognize our deeper hunger within for the Good, the Living God.

And God never wishes to deprive us of any grace, if only we turn to Him and spend time with Him, especially in prayer. Little by little, this time with God will become fruitful within us because we will slowly realize exactly what we have been desiring: God Himself. The fulfillment of this desire in our souls will fill us with graces, taking the dry “desert” of our souls, and filling it with greater things. Then, these graces, overflowing from our souls, strengthen us to go back into the world to serve and obey the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]

Lenten sacrifice begins with deprivation, but that is not the whole purpose. God desires a deeper, closer union with us, forged in prayer, and made fruitful in service to others. But it is those acts of self-denial that help spur us on to recognize our deeper needs, obtaining the self-discipline in small things that we may have it in greater things, and persevere until we are filled with the grace of God. Lenten sacrifices lead to the graces and love of God, rushing to us from close discipleship of Christ, with which we desire our souls to overflow; but it is only in denying ourselves first that we can follow Christ so that He may fill our deepest desire.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (Matthew 22:39), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 11 January, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

Trials of Trust

How many times have you said “I trust You” to God in prayer, and yet felt unsure of what you were saying? How often do we as Catholics profess unwavering confidence in Our Lord one moment, and then start worrying over the struggles, sorrows, and strife of our daily lives the very next minute?

Our union with God, founded on His love, is a living relationship that is constantly growing. But love requires trust, which many find difficult to actually live out. After all, it feels so much better to do things ourselves. But trusting in God involves acknowledging a lack in ourselves that only He can fill. It is through opening ourselves to that love, breaking free from our self-confidence, that we can finally pray “Thy will be done” with deep and genuine trust.

God loves each of us deeply, personally, perfectly…but what is our response to this love? If we want to love God as His love invites us, we must first acknowledge the imperfection of our love. In fact, everywhere we look in our lives—from our personal habits, to our desires and fears, to our daily situations in life—we find ourselves lacking in some way. Whether through our choices and judgments, or through no fault of our own, those imperfections exist. We’ve got to face facts: we are not just less than perfect, but greatly imperfect. Can we fix it? Can we switch gears and adjust ourselves to attain a perfect life? While we all certainly can make changes for the better, many such switches require strength and grace we simply do not have of ourselves, and other changes we wish for are completely out of our control. In other words, we are in need—desperately so. And when we are in need, the most natural thing in the world is to turn to someone a) who can fill that need, who is b) a person we can trust. Who better to turn to than the God Who made us and loves us! Yet, even if we believe with every ounce of our being that God can fill all our needs, do we really trust Him? Do we really place our confidence in Him, as He invites us?

There are times that this invitation to trust sounds like an unfair request of God. It can feel one-sided, as if God is demanding our trust by His authority, without reciprocating in any way. Perhaps we forget at times that trust is mutual. In reality, we need to trust God, not just because He created us and knows what is best for us and loves us so perfectly, but because God truly trusts us. Love is not possible unless both lovers are truly free to love. If either be compelled, neither trusting the other, the love is merely a farce. God did not want to create human persons to puppet imitations of love: He wanted the real thing.

Yet, in order to get the real thing, God in His goodness granted to mankind a share in His own freedom, which we call the gift of free will. With this gift, man could run from God and turn to lesser things, or he could return God’s love with his own human love. And because man is free, his choice to love God is perfectly free and is a true act of love. This true love is only possible because God granted to mankind their own free will, trusting the likes of us to use our freedom as we choose and not forcing us one way or another. God does not ask of us more than He gives: we can trust Him because He first trusted us with the total freedom inherent to our free will, just as “we love, because He first loved us.”[1]

Yet after the Fall, the first of countless choices that man would make in the deepest misuse of his free will, did God give up on mankind? No! Not only did He still bestow the gift of free will to each and every human being, but He also promised to entrust to the likes of men His only-begotten Son. God so desires the depth of a personal relationship with every human being—you and me—that He sent His own Son into the World as the Word made Flesh. And how did Jesus come? As a tiny baby, unable to do anything for Himself, in the very same desperate need as you and I experienced when we entered the world. God, Who created all things, entrusted the very life of His Son into human hands. What greater trust can there be than this? For a creature to turn to His Creator and trust Him in his need is one level of trust, but God emerges in the Flesh, bursting all our expectations, as He places His own trust in His creatures! God so desired our love that He chose to humble Himself, so that He literally needed human love. God’s Love for us is so deep and total that He could do no less than trust us, that we might trust Him.

God’s trust in men led Christ to the cross—our trust in Him may do the same. But it is the cross that opened the floodgates of God’s merciful Love. It is the very crosses of our daily struggles and strife that will release the graces of God’s love in a deep, close, and personal way. The question is: Are we ready to say to God, with genuine trust, “Thy will be done”? As we wrestle with this ultimate question of trust, we must remind ourselves that the goal and purpose of trusting in God is to love God as He has first loved us. We must recall that “this love He bestowed on us in absolute freedom.”[2] He did not need to love us: it was the total gift of His free choice. We in turn are then free to choose to trust in God’s goodness; but trusting Him does not mean mere sacrifice, but draws us to the doorway of Love.

“The sentence ‘Not as I will, but as Thou wilt,’ ultimately means ‘may Thy love prevail’.”[3] Trusting us first by bestowing free will upon all men and then sending His Son into the world, God invites us to trust in Him. How will we respond?

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (1 John 4:19), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 11 January, 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

[2] Romano Guardini, The Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian Prayer (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1957), 70.

[3] Guardini, The Art of Praying, 70.