Jesus said to his disciples:
“Hear the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom
without understanding it,
and the Evil One comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
The parable of the sower is a reminder that our own interior disposition will affect how we receive the Word of God. If we are hardened and resistant, it will not find root within us. But if we are pliant and willing, the Word will grow and bear fruit in us, making of us an outward sign of God’s abundant grace.
It is important for us to also remember that God does not simply toss the seed and walk away, leaving us to either flourish or wilt based on the merits of our soil. If we want to try our luck alone, of course, He will leave us be, never imposing Himself upon us. But if we let Him, He will gladly go deeper and till the soil of our hearts—removing the rocks, untangling the thorny ground, protecting the precious seed He has sown.
Most likely, our soil is imperfect. We might have some rich, verdant areas here and there, but there are also the rocky mounds, the dried-out patches of dirt, the weeds that prevent anything else from growing. We want to receive God’s Word, but we also know that there is work to do within our hearts to remove all the disordered attachments, sinful habits, and unloving attitudes that prevent us from truly embracing it. But we need not despair. If we have the will to improve, God will meet us where we are, and He will do the work in us. All we need is patience and perseverance—for this process won’t be simple or easy, but it will absolutely be worth it. At first, the soil will appear broken and raw as He reaches in and pulls out the rocks and brambles. But if we remain open to His grace, a verdant landscape will sprout up before our eyes.
1. Rosa Bonheur, Le laborage / PD-US
2. Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, Plowing in the Spring / PD-US
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
As we grow into a deeper relationship with God, we may reach a point where it feels as though He has started ignoring us. Whereas we were at first captivated by the words of Scripture or felt a great peace in prayer, we now feel dryness and discontent. We aren’t “getting anything” out of prayer anymore, and we feel disconnected.
God uses these periods of discontent to push us toward a deeper, more lasting faith. He allows us to experience moments of frustration, helplessness, and humility so that we can learn to depend on Him more fully. While we might be content to float happily through life with a surface-level faith, God wants more for us. He wants us to be strong, walk boldly, perform great deeds, and endure persecutions. As Grace told us during retreat: God loves us right where we are, and He loves us too much to let us stay there.
God is training us to be sheep among wolves: to walk amongst sin and evil and yet be uncorrupted, to maintain our innocence—our steadfast faith, our enduring hope—as we journey through treacherous lands. He is preparing us for an adventure more epic than we’ve imagined.
This spirit of adventure is what motivated Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati throughout his life. He saw his journey in the Christian life as an ascent up the mountain, and with joy he climbed ever higher—verso l’alto, to the heights. He will help us, too, to see the path before us with wonder and excitement, tackling each obstacle as we continue our ascent.
May Blessed Pier Giorgio help us to rise above our complacency, our frustrations, and every challenge before us.
Learn to be stronger in spirit than in your muscles. If you are you will be real apostles of faith in God.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
Every day that passes, I fall more desperately in love with the mountains… I am ever more determined to climb the mountains, to scale the mighty peaks, to feel that pure joy which can only be felt in the mountains.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
1. Gillis van Koningsloo, Mountain Landscape with River Valley and the Prophet Hosea / PD-US
2. Photograph of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati / Catholic Exchange
One of my favorite throwaway phrases is “first world problems.” It never fails to make me laugh. Whether it’s my sister and a friend complaining about having to replace the batteries in her battery-operated wine opener, or my friends and I griping about too many fashion images and not enough fitness pins in our Pinterest feeds, it’s fun to be able to laugh at our “not” problems. It’s nice to be able to use a phrase that indicates we appreciate and recognize how blessed or pleasant our lives are, while still complaining.
But there can be a downside to flippantly dismissing our frustrations and struggles. Not that anyone really cares if your dvr turns off one minute too early, but it’s not to say that our daily struggles aren’t truly challenging, truly difficult. We might live in a first world country, but that’s not to say our hardships aren’t truly hard.
My husband and I are both employed. We have five beautiful children, who have no serious health struggles. When they are ill, we are able to access healthcare for them. We have a home that meets our needs. And, as I explained to my son, as his eyes widened watching the cost of filling up the gas tank, we have enough money to meet our needs. So any struggles we have, they’re pretty minor aren’t they?
There’s a healthiness that comes with being able recognize the positive in any situation. When my children are frustrating me, I like being able to step back and remind myself that they are alive to annoy me, which is something, sadly, not every friend of mine can say. When I feel lonely and neglected when my husband plays video games for hours, well at least his time on the computer is spent with fellow nerds and not X-rated playmates. At least he’s coming home every night right after work, rather than hanging out in bars. There’s truth there. And there are certainly silver linings to almost every situation.
However, that doesn’t remove frustration or hurt. And just because it could be worse, it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. Motherhood is exhausting. It’s hard having one child, being their everything, always. It’s exhausting having several children; in the words of Jim Gaffigan, “Having a fourth baby is like you’re drowning… and someone hands you a baby.” Staying at home with your children is a wonderful gift, one that doesn’t allow you any downtime and can be very draining. Working while mothering small children can be heartbreaking, the guilt overwhelming, a constant struggle to balance and give to your children all that they deserve.
No one has an easy, carefree life. Events and circumstances strike different people in various ways. No one should feel like she has to excuse and minimize her struggles, just because they aren’t as severe as others. Some people might find it overwhelming to care for their children alone while their spouse is on a business trip. That’s ok. Yes there are spouses who single-parent through year-long deployments, and they are remarkable. But that doesn’t mean someone should feel bad from struggling over the course of a few days.
No good comes from comparing crosses. I was part of a larger conversation not that long ago. One participant asked that those women who were struggling with NFP or with their large family not complain because infertility was a harder struggle. I disagreed. I’ve sat with friends weeping at their inability to conceive a child. I’ve sat with friends dealing with unplanned pregnancies. I’ve sat with a mother panicking at the thought of her fifth C-section in five years. These aren’t comparable.
I believe we should try to walk just a few steps in our fellow mothers’ stilettos, not so we can compare lives but so we can better support and encourage. But we do no one any favors when we diminish our own, or any others, struggles. Maybe we can’t relate. Maybe it doesn’t seem that overwhelming to us. But that’s not the issue. It’s that someone is struggling, for whatever the reason.
God gives us what we need to grow. And each of us will grow differently, each of us have different aspects of ourselves that we need to improve. Each of us has our own baggage, our own hurts and scars. We should be honest when we struggle; open about what is overwhelming or just discouraging. It might not be as hard, outside looking in, as someone else’s struggle. But that’s not the point. The point is help is needed, support is required. Love is necessary.
Don’t apologize when life is overwhelming. You don’t have to justify your struggles. Be open and let others lift you up. Appreciate the blessings in your life, but don’t be afraid to honestly admit what’s challenging as well. It doesn’t matter if your problems seem simple or minor to others. What matters is that they are problems to you. Problems you shouldn’t have to face alone.
There is a lot of talk these days in the post-election fracas about “safe spaces.” Most of the talk I have heard comes from conservative sources and some is decidedly mocking, but you don’t have to look very hard to find a quite serious and sober definition and defense of the safe space concept. (I suppose I should disclose that I do not agree with the goals of campus pride, I am merely saying that they have a well-defined concept of what safe space is and what it is for.)
It is exclusively on the conservative side that I have heard the term “special little snowflake” and variations thereof. It is usually an expression of disdain for young people, (millennials and younger) who as a group (if any group so heterogeneous can even be called group) tend to emphasize more liberal and progressive values such as empathy, tolerance, plurality, inclusion, fair treatment of racial and sexual minorities, and the intrinsic value of all (or at least most) humans. This inclusiveness does have its limitations, as in the case of the unborn, and the overall left-leaning skew in academia decried and perhaps exaggerated by Nicholas Kristof.
In this post I want to throw out my thoughts on these two ideas, for what they are worth. I do not expect to change the culture, but I do hope to provide at least some clarity of thought and charity of heart.
First of all, with the term “snowflake,” I am not sure why this is such an insult. I can definitely understand being put out when a young person with a sense of entitlement joins the platoon (or team, class, office, etc.) and seems to think that they ought to be treated with kid gloves simply for being who they are. I don’t know that it is necessarily a generational thing, as I have known plenty of old-timers in the army who seemed quite pleased to assume that they ought to be treated with respect bordering on adulation simply for having been around as long as they had, or based on things that they had once done, or simply because of their rank. Coming from the Special Forces, I can completely understand the feeling that respect is something that needs to be earned every day. Just because you made it through (basic training/college/trade school/the Q course/etc.) doesn’t mean you are automatically entitled to anything. You have earned the right to keep trying, learning and improving every day of your life.
I understand that mindset, but I don’t condone it without a very strong caveat, that it is not a Catholic attitude. It is based on a utilitarian attitude in which a person’s value is based on what he or she adds to the team/organization/society. It is not a wrong attitude, it is just not a complete one.
Contrast that with the liberal attitude that insists that every person is intrinsically valuable simply by virtue of existing and being human, regardless of what mistakes they may have made or what a drain they may be on society. They can’t help that, it’s the system, or their genetics, or white privilege, or the patriarchy. It is not their fault. Everyone deserves respect, a living, healthcare etc. just because they are human. Again, this is not a wrong mindset, it just isn’t a complete one.
“The human person, must always be understood in his unrepeatable and inviolable uniqueness. In fact, man exists above all as a subjective entity, as a center of consciousness and freedom, whose unique life experiences, comparable to those of no one else, underlie the inadmissibility of any attempt to reduce his status by forcing him into preconceived categories or power systems, whether ideological or otherwise. This entails above all the requirement… of simple respect on the part of others, especially political and social institutions and their leaders with regard to every man and woman on the earth.” (Compendium 131)
The Church has always held that the value of every human person is intrinsic to their identity as a child of God. It does not come from their skills or their knowledge or looks or muscle or any other quality about them. It is an inherent aspect of being personally willed by God from all eternity. From this point of view the liberal philosophy gets closer to the truth than the utilitarian view.
In fact, the insistence on “earning respect” gets it exactly backwards. We do not become worthy of respect because of our achievements, we strive to achieve because we are inherently worthy to do so. To continue the above quote:
“[E]ven more, this means that the primary commitment of each person towards others, and particularly of these same institutions, must be for the promotion and integral development of the person.” Compendium 131.
Earning your place, contributing to society, living up to your full potential, these are all values, but they are not foundational values. Their value is based solely upon our pre-existing identity as children of God, and without that identity no amount of achievement or development could replace it.
It is in reference to the value of reaching our full potential that I think about the concept of a safe space. Roughly speaking the liberal view might be stated as, “Come in here, all are welcome. You will not be subject to violence, physical or emotional, because of your identity. Here we are all safe.”* The conservative view might, equally roughly, be described as, “Grow up! Get over yourself, toughen up. Grow some balls! Nobody cares about your feelings, you big babies.”
I approach the question of safe space from the Catholic understanding of human worth. I do not support safe space, as I am discussing it above, not because I don’t believe that humans deserve respect, but because I believe they deserve growth. The problem with living in a safe space is that there is no growth. Just like the people who go to the gym and spend an hour casually turning the peddles on a stationary bike while watching a movie, or chatting, or reading a book, without ever breaking a sweat, will never reach their true physical potential, so the people who insist upon living in a circle of people who do not and cannot disagree with them will never grow mentally. They will never grow.
On the other hand, this does not mean there is no place for safety, respect and for sharing your beliefs with people who agree. Contrary to popular meathead belief, you do not actually make gains at the gym. You grow best in the rest time between workouts, and even while you are asleep. That growth is conditioned by the time spent in training, but a lifetime of training without rest doesn’t make you stronger. It grinds you down and breaks you.
So I encourage those who want a “safe space” to consider what they want it for. Is it so that you can be comfortable? There is no growth in comfort. You must be stretched and challenged if you wish to grow, and that can best be done by those who disagree with you.
*Of course the “anything goes in here, no judgment” mentality can only operate if there is one unwritten, but inviolable and strictly enforced rule: i.e. no judgment or intolerance. The one point of view that cannot be respected is any point of view that disagrees with some other person’s.
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