Tag Archives: Beatitudes

In Thanksgiving for Diabetes

Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the Kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.”
— Luke 6: 20-26

When I was first diagnosed with type one diabetes this passage really resonated with me. The three months I lived with diabetes and didn’t know it were the most difficult times of my life, or so I thought. Upon reflection on those times, I felt blessed and honored that the Lord knew that I could handle such hardship. My body, soul and spirit were abused and battered. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than the turmoil I went through… until now.

Getting diagnosed with diabetes was only the tip of the iceberg; enduring the reality of living with a chronic illness was nothing compared to what I have gone through in New York. Yesterday marked my one year anniversary of living in New York. It is hard to believe I made it to a year, it does not feel like a year but at the same time it feels like a lifetime. I am not the person I was when I boarded that plane to New York a year ago. The person I was a year ago was truly a hollow shell, surviving life without any idea of who she was, with no purpose and no passion for anything and most of all no hope.

Throughout this year I became poor, hungry, and I wept almost every day but through these pains the Lord blessed me and restored my life. “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” (Luke 6: 20-26). I have found new meaning in the Beatitudes. When I read them while struggling with diabetes, I read them without hope or joy and believed in them as a promise of happiness after death in Heaven. Today, I read them with new eyes and I can see that the Lord has blessed me with His Kingdom already. I was stripped of everything, all the comforts of home and what did I have left? I had Jesus Christ. All I have and all I want is Him. I can see the Kingdom of Heaven through the sorrows of this world. With a renewed spirit, I praise God for giving me diabetes, because that pain prepared me for the pure agony I would have to go through in New York. I can see the mastery of the Lord’s divine plan for without, lessons I learned managing diabetes I would never have survived in New York.

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

Purity of Heart

“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

For most of my life I thought that the “purity of heart” line from Matthew was just a reminder to practice chastity in romantic relationships. In fact, it seemed like that was the standard line of thinking for most young Christian people—that the word “purity” was synonymous with physical chastity. We were taught that we must remain “pure” for our future spouses, that we must not sully ourselves with sexual sin, and that we must be spotless and clean if we had any shot of happiness in our marriage vocations. It was lot of pressure and emphasized only one small piece of such a beautiful and penetrating virtue.

It wasn’t until I had matured and journeyed through different seasons of my my life that I started to understand a deeper meaning of what it meant to have a pure heartsomething that was entirely outside the call to physical chastity. In a much realer sense, it meant living life with pure intentions, without malice, and with as much authenticity as possible. I realized that in the Beatitudes, Jesus was speaking about so much more than just “saving yourself for marriage”.

As an adult, living with a pure heart means something much different than what was taught to me in Catholic school. Along with pursuing sexual purity, it also means striving to be the woman that God created me to be, wholly and without pretense. It means growing in virtue and avoiding sinful behaviors that end up fostering anger, hostility, or fear within me. I find when I try to live this way, I feel a much deeper sense of “purity” than anything that ever came from an abstinence talk.

Of course, that’s not to say that sexual purity isn’t relevant. Part of what it means to be chaste is to also have pure intentions in your romantic relationships—that is, not using others, not leading them (and yourself) into sexual sin, and generally helping them to grow in holiness. Those things are very important and absolutely necessary. But it’s also crucial to look at purity in a holistic sense instead of turning it into a list of sexual things we have or have not done.

If you struggle with physical chastity, focus on living other areas of your life with pure intentions:

  • Be kind.
  • Be sincere.
  • Be honest.
  • Stay true to your word.
  • Serve others.
  • Love genuinely.
  • Have integrity.

You’ll find that when you operate from a truly pure heart in these ways, physical chastity will come much easier. It will be a natural byproduct of living a virtuous life free from selfishness and bitterness.

Possessing a pure, untainted heart means radiating the joy and peace of the Gospel. It means truly and authentically living the tenents of Christianity, resting in God’s goodness and mercy, and extending that to those you encounter. Yes, the pure of heart shall see God. And when we live this way, we can let others see Him through our own as well.

“Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” – Psalm 51:10

Photo Credit: Wonderfully Made

Are You Happy?

One thing all humans have in common is that we all want to be happy. In America, it is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right to pursue happiness along with the rights to life and liberty. It seems like all our energies go into pursuing happiness in these strange times. Everyone today seems to do what they do because it will make them happy, hardly anything could be more normal. It has always been this way. Can you imagine someone saying to themselves “I am going to do this because I know it will make me unhappy?” It is unlikely.

The pursuit of happiness is big business in America and it probably always has been. All of technology is geared towards making things that make us happy. All popular entertainment is directed at making us happy. Our schools, the mass media, politicians, psychologists and even our lawyers would like to help make us happy. We ourselves are encouraged nonstop to pursue happiness. What a great irony it is today to notice how unhappy everyone seems to be. The world can be a miserable place, especially considering the efforts we make to be happy. Have you ever wondered why so many people are so unhappy these days? We ought to try to figure out why. First, we must define the term happiness.

What is happiness?

money_bundlesThere are at least three different ways to understand happiness. There is modern American happiness we associate with wealth and health. We can call this appetitive happiness because it is grounded in our sense appetites. Winning the lottery is most likely to make us happy. We are content to get the new iPhone, or a new car, or a good job etc. The difficulty with this definition of happiness is that it is really more like contentment and it is temporary. The things that make us happy by this definition fade quickly and we must be off to pursue the next thing that will kick-start our serotonin production. If we take a step back from this kind of happiness we begin to notice that nothing really ever satisfies us for very long and no matter how much we end up getting, it is never enough.

Picture1A second kind of happiness we can associate with what the Ancient Greeks called “eudaimonia.”  This is a very good kind of happiness associated with the acquisition of virtue. Eudaimonia translates as a good and lasting spiritual state resulting from developing habits of excellence. This kind of happiness is particularly associated with the right use of the intellect and is grounded in the moral and intellectual virtues discovered and elucidated by the greatest minds of Ancient philosophy. The primary virtues associated with eudaimonia are the cardinal virtues of prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance. The Greeks understood that to pursue and achieve excellence was the way to live the good life. Those who are able to achieve excellence in virtue are generally very happy, and the happiness is lasting and fulfilling.

Christ on the Cross by Diego Velazquez, 1632The third kind of happiness is blessedness. Christians call it beatitude. It is associated with the rightly ordered will. While eudaimonia obtains happiness in this life, beatitude aims at eternal happiness. The one who teaches us about this kind of happiness is Jesus Christ, the one true teacher in the Sermon on the Mount found beginning in Matthew 5. Beatitude is achieved when a soul submits his will to the will of God and cooperates with grace to become perfected. A soul inspired by the beatific vision is one who seeks excellence not only in the cardinal virtues mentioned above, but seeks to be perfected by the acquisition and infusion of the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

What is the problem today?

We might easily observe today that the world encourages us to pursue worldly happiness. We ourselves may pursue this kind of contentment and wonder why all of us seem never to be content for very long. Even if we are pursuing the wrong kind of happiness, and even if we know it, and even if we can’t seem to stop, there is a much deeper and more difficult problem that lies at the root of our restlessness today. This is in our misunderstanding of the nature of how things work. We are likely to invert the right order of things concerning being and doing.

photographer Carl Warner
photographer Carl Warner

C.S. Lewis described a principle of first and second things. First things are permanent and lasting, like the virtues and God. Second things are temporary like cars and iPhones. He explained that we ought to put first things first and second things second because if we put second things first and first things second we will lose both first and second things. He goes on to explain that if we put first things first we will get both first and second things. To use an agricultural metaphor, we might see agricultural labor, seeds and roots as permanent things while the fruit that is produced from the tress as the second things. You can see that if we seek the second things of the fruits, as we often do today, that we may get the fruit, but whether we eat it or let it rot, it will not last long. On the other hand, if we focus on agricultural labor to create the proper conditions for the trees, the trees will grow, produce fruit, and continue to produce fruit.

Our problem today is that we put second things first. Perhaps our most fundamental mistake is that we have inverted being and doing. Being is a first thing and doing is a second thing. We believe that what we do will determine who we become, but this is exactly upside down. It is who we are that determines what we will do. So instead of doing things that we think will make us who we want to become, we ought to cultivate the habits of being constituting the moral and intellectual virtues acquired by the saints. When we have become what God intends for us, then we will do good works. If we try the opposite, our attempts at good works cannot be fruitful, we will not become saints. It is when we become like the saints that we can produce good works.

So we might understand by analogy that what the tree is (being) produces (doing) its fruit. If a tree is an orange tree it will not produce an apple, and it had to be an orange tree first before it could even produce oranges, not the other way around. In Matthew 7:16, Christ said “you will know them by their fruits.” What we do comes forth from who we are. We are not what we do, what we do comes from what we are.

Which kind of happiness will you pursue?

Jesus Christ Preaching the Sermon of the Beatitudes, by Henrik Olrik
Jesus Christ Preaching the Sermon of the Beatitudes, by Henrik Olrik

When the world talks about happiness, it is not the same kind of happiness God intends for us. The world’s notions of happiness are about the acquisition of second things. The Ancient Greeks and Jesus speak about the habits of being constituted by first things. Of course, the best kind of happiness is beatitude. It requires eudaimonia, the right use of the intellect, to serve in the acquisition of the truth in order to see rightly what is good and what is evil. It also requires that our contentment with second things be subordinated to the right use of reason that supports the rightly ordered will.

The grand irony in all this pursuit of happiness business is that those who seek primarily material happiness may end up getting what they want temporarily, but they always end in loss and despair. Those who seek beatitude also get what they seek, and it is a difficult endeavor, often beginning in loss and misery, but ending in glory. Job lost all the goods of second things and suffered greatly in the process, but because he maintained excellence in the virtues by his habits of being, he ended not only happy with his relationship with God, but contented by restoring the second things he had lost. It is a difficult thing to pursue virtue. It is not terribly difficult to pursue money. As we live out our inalienable right to pursue happiness, let us be wise in which kind of happiness we choose to pursue.

Blessed are They Who Mourn

I feel truly blessed by God to be on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that spans nearly ten weeks. The pilgrimage has afforded me the opportunity to pray at and visit many holy sites throughout this land where Jesus walked in addition to the study of Sacred Scripture and Ecumenism.

Recently our group visited a museum, which had an exhibit on Jewish Life: Birth, Marriage, and Death. What struck me the most about this exhibit was the portion dedicated to death and mounring. In reading the small descriptive plaques about the customs of Jewish people, I could not help but realize how in our contemporary culture we have lost the touch with the ability or even freedom to mourn.

In the time I have spent in hospitals and parishes I have realized that most people do not know how to mourn. Many places of work do not recognize the grief one experiences at the time of loss, granting days off only for close family members — usually only parents and siblings. Mourning the death of a loved one might make one also feel uncomfortable so they want to get over it as soon as possible. Some people view being emotional, especially for men, as a sign of weakness. The hurriedness, uncomfortableness, and reactions of our peers have stymied our ability to effectively mourn.

I learned three things from my survey of of the Jewish life exhibit. First, it is customary for Jewish people to light a candle in both the synagogue and their home in memory of the person who has died. The glowing light is likened to the light of God and the memorial flame to the soul of the departed, who is forever joined to the divine light and the memory of the people.

Secondly, according to Rabbinic literature, accompanying the dead on their journey to burial is one of the essential deeds for which one is rewarded in in their lifetime and earns a reward in the life to come.

Thirdly, mourning goes through stages, beginning with seven days, thirty days, and yearly. On the anniversary of the deceased’s death, it is customary to visit the gravesite.

These customs of the Jewish people are laudable because they recognize mourning to be a process and, like the corporal works of mercy, value is placed on burying the dead.

As Catholics we have our own process of grieving. Unfortunately it is a growing trend for families to forego the Mass of Christian Burial in favor of a service outside of Mass or gravesite service. Sometimes this is done because of cost or because the children do not share the same religiosity as their loved ones did. The Church envisions a three part liturgy: the vigil, Mass, and burial. I have found the Church’s funeral rites to be a very beautiful ritual of the Church.

We should not be afraid to mourn for our loved one’s who have died. Jesus himself in the scriptures mourned the death of two important people: John the Baptist (Mt 14:13) and Lazarus (John 11:35). He also showed pity toward the Widow of Naim by raising her son (Luke 7:11-14) and compassion toward his own mother by entrusting her to the beloved disciple. Furthermore Jesus taught in the Beatitudes “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt. 5:4). In light of Jesus’ resurrection we know that death does not have power over us because we too will rise on the last day.

As Catholics we recognize the value in praying for the dead. Let us never forget to pray for our departed loved ones. Have Masses said for their souls and visit their gravesite and pray for them. Pray for the souls in purgatory. Let us be confident in the teachings and promises of Jesus, and not be afraid to mourn, knowing that we will be comforted and that He will one day turn our mourning into joy.

Purity Culture and Abstinence Only Sex Education

In my last column, I discussed the distinctions between abstinence, chastity, and purity, noting that the first of these is a means to an end, the second a virtue as well as an act, and the third a beatitude. In doing so, I cited and even quoted from a few Catholic and secular sources, many of whom were arguing more-or-less against the various forms of abstinence-only sex education (henceforth, “Abstinence”) and the so-called “purity culture” (henceforth, “Purity”) [1]. In light of my earlier column, it should be apparent that both Abstinence and Purity fall well short of chastity and actual purity.

The always interesting Calah Alexander writes in commenting on Elizabeth Smart’s criticism of Abstinence and some of the reaction to this criticism:

What almost no one did was hear what she said. No one was horrified at what she had been taught in her abstinence-only sexual education. No one acknowledged that the direct, logical result of such an education is a sense of shame and unworthiness after having been “used.” No one showed even a hint of sympathy for how she had suffered, not only at the hands of her captors, but at the hands of a degrading philosophy of human sexuality. Such a callous indifference to human suffering is appalling. It shows that too many Christians, too many proponents of abstinence-only education, have put their concern for the welfare of a quasi-political movement above their concern for the welfare of a human being, of human dignity itself….

This does not teach anyone chastity or purity. “Abstinence-only” sex ed is a fundamentally flawed concept, beginning with its very name. It teaches children to negate an act, to deny a fundamental part of human nature until such a time as it’s permissible to indulge. It doesn’t teach children what sex is, what their sexuality means, how to understand it, or how to properly integrate it into a life of chastity both without and within a marriage. It doesn’t teach a boy that sex is primarily about the giving of himself, and that he can’t fully give himself to his wife unless he learns how to master himself first, how to wait, how to have patience, how to love her instead of using her as a vehicle for pleasure. Actually it teaches boys the exact opposite of that; that a woman is a trophy, a prize, that a good one (one worth keeping forever) will be untouched, but that there are plenty of dirty water-glasses walking around that have been ruined for any decent man anyway, and they might as well be used up since they’re not worth saving.

And what does abstinence-only sex ed teach girls? It doesn’t teach girls anything. It conditions girls into conforming with a sick, “religious-ized” chauvinism that masquerades as concern for moral purity but is really just plain old abhorrence of sloppy seconds.

if your view of purity reduces women to this, then you're doing it wrong.
if your view of purity reduces women to this, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

While Mrs. Alexander is right [2] to criticize this narrowed view of Purity—and of Abstinence—I think that there is another problem which is overlooked. It is bad that Abstinence is so focused on the negatives, on degrading the “sluts” and with them the occasional unfortunate rape victim [3], and to the extent that an Abstinence program uses the water-glass/chewing-gum, etc. analogies, they will indeed have these deleterious effects on the psyche of a lot of innocent girls. To that extent, even the vituperative Miss Lindy West gets it right in her (NSFW) commentary on Purity.

This is not to say that these elements of Purity and Abstinence are utterly devoid of truth in all cases. To the extent that we—boys and girls alike—jump from bed to bed of our own volition, to that extent we slowly begin to lose the ability to make an actually meaningful gift of ourselves. If sex is only for our own pleasure and our own gratification, then it can hardly be an expression of our love for another person. As Professor J Budsiszewski puts it in his On the Meaning of Sex,

“When I say we aren’t designed for this sort of thing, I’m not just speaking for females. A woman may be more likely to cry the next morning; it’s not so easy to sleep with a man who won’t even call you back. But a man pays a price, too. He probably thinks he can instrumentalize his relationships with women in general, yet remain capable of romantic intimacy when the right woman comes along. Sorry, fellow. That’s not how it works. Sex is like applying adhesive tape; promiscuity is like ripping it off again. If you rip it off, rip it off, rip it off, eventually the tape can’t stick any more….”

SONY DSCBut to compare this with a glass of water which has been spat in time and again is a bit excessive, especially when devoid of the context of sex as a gift of self, and especially when the analogy is meant in a merely physical manner.

The problem is not just that it can be damaging to the psyches of the good girls who weren’t able to remain “pure”, whether by their own volition or somebody else’s. To clarify, I mean here those girls who are presently trying to to be Pure, that is, “pure” as meant by purity culture. The problem with Purity is that it raises maidenhood to the highest virtue and conflates maidenhood with being “pure,” so that a woman who has lost her maidenhood [4] cannot ever be “pure” again.

The various Purity analogies not only fail girls who have been raped, but also those who have merely fallen and fornicated but once. According to the logic of Purity, once fallen and dirty, always fallen and dirty, so why bother rising again [5]; there may be forgiveness, but there is no forgetting, and no cleaning of the soiled soul. The water glass analogy lacks a means of filtering and reclaiming the water, of making it “pure” once more.

Virginity, maidenhood--these can be lost. Purity, on the other hand, can be reclaimed.
Virginity, maidenhood–these can be lost. Purity, on the other hand, can be reclaimed.

All of which brings me to my own criticism of Abstinence, and to the fake Purity which is invoked to support it. In light of my previous post, it should be obvious that abstinence is a part and a tool of chastity, and that chastity is in turn a virtue and an action which is ordered to purity. But chastity, being a fruit of the Holy Spirit, also involves the indwelling of God’s grace, to say nothing of full-blown purity. We do not make ourselves pure, and we can but cooperate with God to become chaste.

Both Abstinence and Purity overlook these facts. They apply a technical solution to what is a moral and a spiritual problem. They attempt to achieve by human ingenuity what can only be obtained through God’s grace. Whereas the comprehensive sex-education programs run by the likes of Planned Parenthood objectify men and women into walking sex machines over which are incapable of moderation and temperance, of self-control, Abstinence and Purity reduce the human being into an object which can simply be “reprogrammed” or “conditioned” to override their inclinations, and this this done not through love, not through God’s grace to gain mastery over the self, but through shame.

Even aside from the shame, the problem remains that Abstinence and Purity have reduced purity to maidenhood and chastity to abstinence, and this is done without thought for a culture which actually encourages either chastity or purity. It is true that we can help each other to be chaste, or otherwise virtuous: this is done first and foremost by being joyfully chaste ourselves. Instead, Abstinence says “Just wait until marriage, just hold on until then, and then the fight is over;” and Purity says “If you don’t manage this, then you are less valuable as a human being.”

Our_Wedding_ringsThis ignores that our dignity, our worth as people, is not just something which is tied to our actions, but to our very selves; and it equally ignores that marriage comes with its own set of struggles, including perhaps its fair share of sexual struggles. Chastity is a state which is equally applicable to marriage as to the single life, and there are times in every marriage during which abstinence is necessary [6].

It ignores that many people—including often the parents and teachers of those same boys and girls who are enduring Abstinence—are not themselves particularly chaste, not particularly joyful in taking up their own sexual crosses. When the only witness to chastity that children have is parents who contracept, friends who fornicate, teachers who engage in adultery, and even some priests who break their vows of celibacy in the most shameful manner, is it any wonder that Purity and Abstinence are burdens too great to bear (see Matthew 23:4)?

A commentator by the handle of WSquared wrote an insightful comment about the problems with Abstinence and Purity:

The problem with “Just keep it together until you’re wearing a ring, and then it’ll be a non-stop release of pent-up desire” is that it also suggests that the non-stop release of pent-up desire is okay, “because you’re married.” Making pleasure the highest good of sex is okay, “because you’re married” (I’m wondering if this is why many think that using contraception in marriage is okay, too). That somehow, what marriage is primarily designed to do is to “contain” all that, and make it “respectable,” without any real thought about sanctification, or even what it truly means to love and respect (which is another reason why our culture’s idea that love is primarily an emotion is dangerous). Lust in marriage, as Bl. John Paul II wrote, is still sinful. And he’s right.

Indeed, this is a very succinct summary of the problem posed, and in some sense of the solution. If we Christians would have a more moral culture, we might begin by being ourselves the leaven of that culture (see Luke 13:20-21). We must be light of the world, salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-15)—and in this case, we do this by being not merely outwardly moral, but actually virtuous, and joyfully so. We must rely on God for this not merely a technical program of education—or more accurately of conditioning—which is divorced from the witness of our on lives. Anything less is bound to fail, perhaps in a spectacularly dehumanizing fashion.

 

—-Footnotes—-

[1] How’s that for a reversal? Abstinence and Purity in this case refer to more superficial understandings of the two concepts, rather than to deeper concepts.

[2] It’s worth drawing a distinction between Abstinence/Purity as she is describing it and a broader Purity which is a bit less “chauvinistic,” since my own observations of the purity culture at large do not bear out that girls are told to be pure while boys are told simply to value purity as a “trophy,” but then I grew up in Oregon and saw less of this stuff in the schools to begin with.

[3] If the former need no help in further degradation, the latter even more so need support in knowing that they still have worth and dignity. As Saint Augustine writes,

“Our adversaries certainly think they have a weighty attack to make on Christians, when they make the most of their captivity by adding stories of the violation of wives, of maidens ready for marriage, and even in some cases of women in the religious life. On this point it is not our faith which is in difficulty, nor our devotion, nor is that particular virtue, the term of which is chastity, called in question. But our argument is in a way constrained and hampered, between the claims of modesty and reasoned argument. Here we are not so much concerned to answer the attacks of those outside as to administer consolation to those within our fellowship.

In the first place, it must be firmly established that virtue, the condition of right living, holds command over the parts of the body from her throne in the mind, and that the consecrated body is the instrument of the consecrated will; and if that will continues unshaken and steadfast, whatever anyone else does with the body or to the body, provided that it cannot be avoided without committing sin, involves no blame to the sufferer. But there can be committed on another’s body not only acts involving pain, but also acts involving lust. And so whenever any act of the latter kind has been committed, although it does not destroy a purity which has been maintained by the utmost resolution, still it does engender a sense of shame, because it may be believed that an act, which perhaps could not have taken place without some physical pleasure, was accompanied also by a consent of the mind” (City of God Book1Chapter16).

This point is lost on those who reduce purity and chastity to Purity and Abstinence, as is the fact that St Augustine was virtuous and pure during the latter part of his life despite his less-than-chaste adolescence and young adulthood. On the side of slut-shaming (that is, shaming of actual sluts), there is this post (and related) by the Zippy Catholic.

[4] In modern parlance, one who has lost her virginity, though of course virginity means something more than maidenhood.

[5] They become little more than whitewashed dung heaps by this bit of logic.

[6] To return again to Prof. J Budzisewski’s On the Meaning of Sex, it’s worth considering what might be meant by the old idea of marriage as a remedy for lust:

“Our wisdom traditions used to call marriage a ‘remedy for lust,’ making a true point that is almost always misconstrued. Lust isn’t sexual desire per se, but disordered sexual desire—the problem isn’t the desire, but the disorder. The idea in the old saying about the ‘remedy for lust’ isn’t that marriage provides a way to blow off steam when the pressure inside the boiler gets too high, but that the sweet disciplines of married life have a tendency to rearrange our emotions and desires, to help them become more orderly. Of course that won’t happen if a man does treat his wife as a steam-pressure vent. But part of the meaning of marital purity is that he learns to treat her as a wife.”

This is precisely what both Abstinence and Purity at their worst fail to do, teaching husbands to treat their wifes as wifes and vice-versa. Rather, Abstinence and Purity at their worst teach boys and girls to treat their future spouses precisely as “steam-pressure vents.”