I have been working with this coworker for awhile, he was hired around the same time that I did. He was hired as a maintenance worker and quickly became my favorite one, because I felt comfortable asking for help without feeling as though I was being an imposition. In exchange for his help, I gave him some extra samples of the pastry I was planning to sample that day. We would joke that he was the official taste-tester and if he dropped dead I would know that I shouldn’t sample that pastry.
Over the course of our time working together I developed the suspicion that he had a “colored” past, as they say. He went to Las Vegas for his birthday and let’s just say he was not going for the shows. I never asked him for details because it was not my business to know. On Tuesday he was sporting a freshly-shaved head and I commented on how dapper he looked. He smiled and thanked me, he then added that he did it every few months to keep him humble. I asked him what that meant and he admitted it helped him remember what life was like for him when he was in prison. Looking in the mirror everyday and seeing his shaved head was a good reminder of where he came from and to be thankful for the life he had now. It is easy for him to forget how terrible life was in prison. He confessed that he can easily fall back into his old ways and lose control with money; he needs to constantly check himself. He can receive a lot of bonuses at his other job and the temptation to use them to go back to dealing drugs can be hard to overcome at times. He needs to see his shaved head to remind him how awful his life was. He never wants to go back to prison — he has a better life now with a son that he needs to provide for and set a good example.
After telling me his story, I think he recognized how vulnerable he was being and tried to joke it off saying that he knew how weird it sounded. I told him that it didn’t sound weird at all and I admired him for being so aware of his limits. I said it was great that he took active steps to keep himself from giving in to temptation. The fact that he is smart enough to recognize that he still has the impulse to misuse money and shaving his head helped keep him from repeating his mistakes was a great accomplishment. I thanked him for sharing his story; he was an inspiration. He is a blessing in my life because he reminded me what a gift my life was and not to take anything for granted.
We are surrounded by human suffering. Many people are hurting in today’s world. Some suffering is horrific and some minor, but every kind can be soothed, and even removed, by trusting in God’s infinite Love and Mercy. Furthermore, God desires for us to become images of His Love and Mercy and to play a role in the alleviation of the suffering of others.
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
God brings good out of all situations for those who love Him. Nothing on our planet has happened, is happening, or will happen without God’s allowance. And He would not allow something to occur if He could not use the situation for our good.
Sometimes, we who have our tiny perspective of the world, history, and even our own life, forget this. We forget that God has the bird’s eye view of every human’s life and desires all to find fulfillment in Himself. We lose sight of the fact that He understands that there is nothing in our existence worth more than this fulfillment and that even our temporal suffering is worth it if it helps us to our Salvation.
So does God hurt us to save us? No, He allows us to be hurt to save us, seeing the pain we experience infinitely less important than our salvation. Our pains come from ourselves, other humans, or the world around us, which has been broken by the first humans and many more thereafter.
Humanity was created with, by, in, and for Love, to be Loved and to Love. However, love cannot be forced. It must be freely given and accepted or we would be merely programmed robots instead of free humans who can choose and therefore Love. So, with the freedom to choose comes the freedom to be wrong, and with the wrong choice comes the undesired outcome, which will bring with it some level of pain as proportionate to the choice.
God is Love. He knows us. He knows what we can take and what would be too much for us.
“No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
God is faithful and will not let us be tried beyond our strength. In the Gospel, Jesus asks what father would give his son a snake when the son asks for a fish, or a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread. God is a Good Father. Sometimes it might seem to us like He is giving us stones and snakes, but in reality we are getting bread and fish.
God wants to give us every desire of our hearts, but we have tarnished hearts filled with desires that could keep us from God and Salvation. Therefore, God might need to change our hearts, redirect them, in order to satisfy us completely. Anxiety, sadness, pain, discomfort, death, all these remind us of our human nature and need for God.
This humble remembrance of our humanity allows us to approach God in the way we ought. In return, He provides for us in all of our necessities. Keeping this in mind, we can live each day in the satisfaction that God will provide for us today and in the future. We can be at peace with the truth that we already posses, in a way, all that we need, because we know that God will provide it.
Suffering is a difficult aspect of the human condition. It has caused many to walk away from the Faith and seek consolation in other things. However, it is only through God that we can overcome suffering.
My favorite example of this is found with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was able to transform suffering with love. She understood the value of her suffering in the currency of souls saved. Furthermore, she loved God and souls so much that she said she could no longer suffer as she fully grasped the true meaning behind it.
Likewise, Jesus said to St. Faustina, “accept all sufferings with love”. By keeping these words of Our Lord to heart, we can find in our suffering opportunities to grow in virtue and open the floodgates of grace into our lives. This grace will not leave us unchanged. But first, we must change our approach and our attitude toward suffering, and in particular, our approach and attitude toward the daily grind of our lives.
“If you wish to feel and to have an attraction for suffering, you are in search of your own consolation, for when we love anything, pain disappears.”
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux
He kneels before me, taking my hand in his, and slips a ring on my finger. I look it at: it’s beautiful, so sparkly, and I’m in awe of what it symbolises. This is what love is, I think. He tells me how glad he is so that he is able to give me ring, this pledge, this promise before God Almighty.
I am twelve.
We are at a Purity Ball, and “he” is my dad, one of many pledging to protect their daughters’ purity at similar balls across the United States and the World, as recently featured in a Daily Mail article last week.
Okay, so it’s not actually me or my dad. My dad wouldn’t take me to Purity Ball anymore than he would a strip club. (Thankfully!) For many girls around America, however, this is a reality.
What should we make of this as Catholics?
I think these young women and their fathers are to be commended for their intentions, but seriously need to re-think their approach and what it says about it says about sexual purity, paternal authority and self-control.
The good news is that these young women are trying to live the virtue of chastity. As we all know, that’s no easy thing. Purity Balls rightly recognize that chastity is tremendously important, that it is extremely difficult in today’s culture, and that we all need a whole lot of help to remain chaste.
Purity Balls, however, reveal a distorted view of what purity actually is. Essentially, they say purity = nothing sex at all.
Purity isn’t just about sex.
In both the Bible and Christian Tradition, purity = holiness. Christ promises us that the “pure in heart” will see God. (Matthew 5:8) Indeed, “purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God.” (CCC #2519) This purity is holiness in heart, mind, spirit and body and without this holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
Purity includes sexual purity or chastity because “chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart.” (CCC #2520) It is so much more than who you do or don’t kiss, touch, date or have sex with.
The other concerning thing about Purity Balls is the role of fathers. It must be said that these fathers obviously love their daughters and want the best for them.
Still, it is the fathers who are, arguably, the primary subjects of Purity Balls. Their daughters, in contrast, are the objects. This is a problem — not least because WHERE ARE THE MOTHERS AND THE YOUNG MEN??? Leaving that can of worms, Purity Balls reveal a problematic understanding of paternal authority.
Each father makes the following pledge:
I ……’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and my family as the High Priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.
In the Purity Balls featured by the Mail article, the daughter signs as a witness to her father’s covenant to protect her purity and makes a silent pledge herself through “the symbol of laying down a white rose at the cross, before engaging in a wedding-type dance with [her] father.” (HT)
For me, this is easily one of the most concerning aspect of the Purity Balls. Why aren’t these girls the primary subjects in this ceremony around their own chastity? Why are they silent?
Purity Ball pledges like these reinforce a cruel lie: that men control women’s sexuality.
In a sense, all men are responsible for the chastity of women, just as women are for the chastity of men. We are all responsible for each other — we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 2:6) and make every effort not “to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13)
But a woman’s body — just like a man’s — belongs first and foremost to her by the gift of God. Only when this is absolutely fixed in our minds can we begin to comprehend how marriage — and indeed sex — is a gift. You can’t truly give what was never truly yours.
Purity Balls encourage young and impressionable girls into a state of passivity about her own sexual being. That is no healthy preparation for marriage.
Paradoxically, it can damage a woman’s determination to pursue chastity.
If she has wrapped her notion of sexual purity in the authority of her father, what happens if he fails her? If she’s used to a man telling her what she can and can’t do with her body, what happens a more persuasive young man comes along? And what of young women who have no fathers to be “her authority and protection in the area of purity”?
On the contrary, the secret of chastity, for both men and women, is self-control. As one of the seven heavenly virtues, chastity is a corollary of the cardinal virtue of temperance or self-control.
Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom… “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.” (CCC #2339)
Young women — all of us — need to know that our bodies and our chastity are our own responsibility.
You might be thinking, that’s just a heavy load! Indeed it is: that is the dignity of human beings, created in the image of God.
Best of all, we have the sacraments.As anyone who’s read Scott Hahn knows, our word sacramentum also means oath or vow. In the Eucharist, truly Christ, we receive all the graces we need to lives of purity. It is our pledge that we belong to Him and better still, His that we belong to Him. Without His grace, self-mastery is impossible.
While the loving support of our family and friends is truly helpful, the only “authority and cover” we need to live a chaste life comes from God.
Our Eternal Father offers purity of heart and eternal life to all — no matter who you are, what you’ve done… or who your dad is.
Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
My brother and I spent the the Labor Day four-day weekend with my Bible study group at a beach in Oregon. It was a beautiful time, beautiful scenery shared with good friends, over good food, and a bit of the fruit of the hop vine to make merry our hearts.
Spending the time with my brother in company with others, I noticed that he and I share a similar attitude towards problems that sets us a bit apart. No fire wood handy? “We’ll build a drag and move driftwood around the point of the beach to our fire spot.” No trail visible to the top of the waterfall? “We’ll find one or make one.” Somebody accidentally took the rice bag we were planning on using? “We’ll figure something else out. Got to be something around here somewhere.”
Put it simply, we make things happen. We will solve the problem, or we will reshape it, or figure out a way around it. Inside the box or outside the box, we are going to find a way to acheive the goal. Either one of us alone is pretty decent, but put us together and we are pretty much unstoppable, and the reasons for this go very deep, I think. We are both military guys, and both in decent shape with a lot of training under our belt. We are also both fairly intelligent, though with significant differences in mental strengths and weakness (I think in depth, he thinks in breadth. I am analytical, he is spacial and physical, along with an amazing capacity for storing and retreiving raw information.) We work and play together very well, but these skills and abilities are not the whole story. They are not uncommon, and totally achievable by most men who are willing to put in the effort. Other men have different skills and abilities that we don’t have. The quality that I was beginning to see over the weekend is something intangible, upon which all of these secondary qualities are built.
It is like a kind of faith. Deep down inside, so deep down that it is subconscious, operant in all our actions, thoughts and plans whether we like it or not, is a certainty that this can be done. Call it hope, if you like. Whether it is a challenge at work, or a difficulty in a relationship, or a sickness or injury, weakness, a rock in the path, it doesn’t matter. The possibility of being defeated simply doesn’t occur to us as a real possibility.
This may sound cocky and arrogant, but it isn’t. It is hope. It doesn’t rest on our own abilities, but is a certainty based on something else entirely (I’ll get to that in a bit.) It leads us to do cocky things, sometimes, when we let it get out of hand, but then again, we’re both still alive (thanks to God’s grace alone).
Someone asked me this weekend where that quality comes from. Where did we learn it? I thought about it for a minute and answered, “I do what my father taught me.” And that is precisely it. My father is a jack of all trades, amateur politician and philosopher, farmer, mechanic, architect, physics and math teacher, father, husband, Catholic man. But that is the base of it all, that he is a Man! A true man. My earliest memories of him, so old that they are more subconscious attitudes than typical memories, are nothing more than a simple awareness of reliability and strength. We knew, growing up, didn’t think, didn’t guess, didn’t hope, but knew to the depth of our soul, that he was an honest man. He did what he said he would do. He fixed what he said he would fix. If it was broken he would fix it (and not freak out if we were the ones who broke it). If he didn’t know how to fix it, he would figure it out. If he couldn’t figure it out or didn’t have the tools or the parts, he knew someone who did. If it was smashed beyond all recognition he could figure out a way to make do without it, or build a new one. He had to. He had no choice if his wife and children were going to eat.
“God has a reason.” Trust in God. That is the cornerstone of my Dad’s character. Shortly after inheriting the farm and finally being able to do what he had always wanted to do with it, the barn burnt down. 60% of the herd died, and the rest had to be sold. He went from being the owner and architect of a thriving organic dairy farm, to being tens of thousands of dollars in debt. His response? “God has a reason.”
Freudian psychologists have a concept called “basic trust” which they say is formed in us by our relationship with our mother in the first year of our life. For good or ill it is shaped in our subconscious and after that can never be changed. I think, however, that there is another reality, just as real and just as powerful. The Bible and our Catholic faith teaches us that the father, as the head of the family, is a representative of God, the priest in the domestic church. I think this goes far beyond the usual idea of providing, protecting and leading. This reaches deep into the subconscious of the children’s minds and shapes the view they have of God for the rest of their lives. No matter what we learn or what changes our beliefs undergo, at their most basic level they are influenced by our fathers and who they were to us.
This is where my brothers and I get this certainty of success. That indomitable hope, virtually indistinguishable at any time from sheer, pigheaded stubbornness, is based on the conviction that “God has a reason.” God has a plan. It is good. It is unstoppable. It is utterly trustworthy. No matter what the setback, we will find a way to move forward. If not this way, then another way. All will be well.
We know this because we know what our Father does.