Tag Archives: John Paul II

The Conscience of the Modern Man

By guest writer Kachi Ngai.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself, but which he must obey, its voice ever calling him to love and do what is good and to avoid evil… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”
— Article 1776, Catechism of the Catholic Church

We no longer live in an age where truth and reason guide our principles. The mood of the current age is one of emotionalism, where a person’s feelings now become the inviolable truth for that person, and God forbid if someone else should dare to question it. The objective truth has given way to the subjective truth, provided that someone feels strongly enough about it. Take a look at how love is considered these days. The concept of agape (the supernatural, and certainly superior, sacrificial form of love) has been overthrown in favor of eros, the natural and more receptive form of love.

Variations on catchy slogans such as “love is love” and “love wins” are thrown around to somehow suggest that we as a society have thrown off the shackles of discrimination, and that only by “following what’s inside our hearts” will we find inner fulfillment and freedom. Arguments in favor of the protection of the family unit and society are pitted against the supposed personal fulfillment of the individual. If someone “follows their heart”, then they cannot stray.

I accept that I am taking liberties by assuming that the objective truth is a given, mainly because whether truth is objective is not the focus of this. I will discuss objective truth and how it is tied to human dignity in a later article. For now I will focus only upon the actual nature of the conscience, something on which Cardinal John Henry Newman spoke at great length, and how it applies to our Catholic Faith and the spiritual journey.

Newman was 15 when he experienced his first conversion which brought him into the Protestant faith. It was not until much later that he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which he describes in his Apologia as largely due to the acting of his conscience.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman saw the conscience as the connecting principle between the creature and his Creator. He went as far as to describe it as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ (Newman, 1885). In the secular world, a certain primacy is given to the conscience, almost as if it is some infallible judge. This is a far cry from the notions Newman had.

Our concept of conscience is misconstrued these days, whereby if our conscience dictates that we can act upon our whims even if they be contrary to Mother Church’s teachings, this would be permitted provided that we are at peace with it. Newman argued that this disparity between the internal conscience and the teachings of the Church did not give us free rein to reject the Church’s teaching. When the conscience no longer points towards the external (the Church’s teachings), but instead towards the internal, instead of directing us towards God and a life of virtue through obedience and discipline, it is turned towards the selfish and interior. Instead of God being our Lord and Master, it will be as Henley once poetically described in his famous poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Henley, 1875)

A lovely-sounding sentiment of the triumph of the human soul over suffering, but it encapsulates the current idea that the personal conscience is the final judge.

Newman argues that conscience advocates for the truth, and that the conscience is much cruder and almost ruthless. The conscience is the compass for non-believers by which God re-directs us towards Him. The voice of conscience has nothing gentle, nothing to do with mercy in its tone. It is severe and stern. It does not speak of forgiveness, but of punishment” (Newman). This is why the redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ is The Good News. It provides the relief for the condemnation offered by the accusing conscience. The conscience is to direct us towards where there is a particular deficiency or uncertainty in our judgement and spiritual life, and the conscience is the starting point for a particular conversion in our life.

The conscience is the call for conversion and a sign of humility. This is counter-cultural to the secular understanding of conscience as a sign of personal freedom, especially the freedom to reject the objective truth when it makes one uncomfortable (Pell, 2005). As a result of free will, man can choose to reject the prickles of their conscience, but the conscience is the beginning of the exploration and conversion through prayer and discernment, it is not some infallible judge. In Veritatis Splendour, Pope St. John Paul II describes the formation of the Catholic Conscience as a dignifying and liberating experience (Pp. St. JPII, 1993), which is why as Catholics we have a moral responsibility to develop an informed conscience (CCC 1780).

By divorcing the Catholic Faith from reason, reason becomes effectively neutered because we fail to see the impact of moral predispositions in reasoning. Simply put, the conscience can easily be fooled by our own inclinations and desires whether subconscious or otherwise, and can lead us down the path of lining up our reasoning in view of a desired result (Armstrong, 2015). This is the danger of reducing the conscience to a mere moral sense. Natural religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but cannot find the remedy (Armstrong, 2015). To emphasize the earlier point, this is where the call to conversion is required, and through this we can start to appreciate the necessity of Christ’s redemptive act.

The conscience points towards the need for constant discernment, prayer, and the turning of the heart towards the objective authority of Christ through His Church. To follow one’s conscience is not to do as one pleases, but to earnestly seek what is true and good, and to hold fast to this, as repulsive as it may appear. Only then can we truly and honestly say to our Lord: Speak Lord, your servant is listening (1 Sam 3:10).

_________

References:

Armstrong, David (2015). “Newman’s Conversion of Conscience and the Resolution of the Crisis of Modernity.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible.

Henley, William (1875). Invictus. England.

Newman, John Henry (1885). “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk,” V, in Certain Difficulties felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching II (London: Longmans Green, 1885), 248.

Pell, George (2005). “The Inconvenient Conscience.”

We Need the Voice of St. John Paul II

We need the voice of St. John Paul II in this day of superficiality, where we seem to care about how things look more than how they actually are, we experience the breakdown of the human person to the point of public approval of the objectification of men and women as a form of entertainment, and sex is used to sell hamburgers. We are witnessing the death of the innocence of children at a younger and younger age, as improper lewd sexual behavior is taught in schools, and much confusion is spread about human nature itself. Furthermore, it seems that we as humans have forgotten the higher call that we are given to lead through self control and virtue, the tasks that truly manifest our noble nature.

St. John Paul II’s teaching is the medicine given to us to help restore us to this greater call, to be human. This teaching can assist us in our escape from the misery and harm that come from a life lived steeped in utilitarianism and moral permissiveness. To do this, St. John Paul II was able to put into words the true longing and purpose of the human person, body and soul, a truth that still needs to be spread throughout modernity to instruct not merely on how to live, but how to be.

In much of his works, he was able to clearly lay out the interior and exterior complexities of humanity instructing us in areas of true freedom, true love, and true happiness. Even though his teachings were given in the 70’s and 80’s in a period following the decades of the mistreatment of human beings found in the movements of Fascism, Communism, and the sexual revolution, he was able to see through the consequential carnage to the issues at root. Humanity is still reeling from the effects of these ideologies and the words of John Paul II are still needed today. Maybe now that we have had time to better understand and reflect on them, John Paul II’s teaching can help more souls escape the terror that utilitarianism and moral permissiveness bring.

To assist others in connecting with his work, here are some of my favorite thoughts from St. John Paul II found in his various writings:

“True Freedom is liberation not from external ‘constraint’ that calls me to good, but from the internal constraint that hinders my choice of the good.”

This counters the lie that states that we are only free when nothing keeps us from doing what we like. However, the opposite is true as many people who choose to do drugs, eat too much, or other modes of immoderation and poor choices find themselves chained to addiction, poor health, or further consequences that restrict their freedom. John Paul II points out that we can only be free from these interior restraints by refraining from the bad choices presented to us and choosing the good. In this case, external ‘constraints’ such as just laws or rules placed upon us to lead us to the good, instead of refraining us from happiness, assist us in remaining free, which makes us more happy.

“Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband & wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love.” (Familiaris Consortia, 32)

Pointing to the profound unity of the body and soul of the human person, St. John Paul II acknowledges the truth that for the husband and wife to withhold from one another the fruitfulness of their bodies — namely their ability to create life — through contraception, they do great injury to what conjugal love is meant to be. Far from a cheap thrill, it is suppose to be a total gift with nothing held back from one’s spouse. Contraception alters what is meant to be communicated as well as closes the door of the heart to the proper end of conjugal love and many times the proper end is itself stifled. This makes the act only about the body, which in turn dehumanizes both partners, as humans are much more than bodies.

“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”

He once again points to the dual dynamic existence of the human person. More than Cartesian separation, we cannot forget the dignity that both the body and personal soul provide. We must never forget that humans are more than a body, something that is easy to forget in the allure of pornography. The viewing of pornography, in fact, is the continual practice of only keeping in mind the person’s body. We can imagine then, that this training would easily be continued in one’s view of all people even without the presence of nudity.

“Utilitarianism, based on an individualistic understanding of freedom — a freedom without responsibilities — is the opposite of love…” (1994 Letter to Families)

Remembering that to love is to seek the good of another and an individualistic understanding of freedom through the lens of utilitarianism means for one to do whatever one likes in one’s search of pleasure and escape from responsibility, we can see that love and utilitarianism are true at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first seeks what is best for others, the second, only what is best for one’s self.

“A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person”. (Love & Responsibility, 26)

Another articulation of the profound meaning and dignity of the human person. A person is not an object of use, a way through which one can acquire pleasure or material gains. This treatment is far beneath the dignity of a human. Furthermore, one who uses others for gain is viewing others as less than human, a treatment that will bring only isolation from others causing misery. We cannot have true relationships with people we view and treat as objects, and without relationship is the human person not doomed to despair?

In the world today, we can easily discover the many negative consequences that have arisen from those who fall into the temptations that St. John Paul II hoped we could avoid. However, it is not too late. We can still find the peace and joy that we are given through the proper treatment of others and following the guidance of one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century.

There is much more of the vast treasury of St. John Paul II’s teaching. In fact, many others have composed similar lists or have written much to echo and explain his writing. In service of his mission to spread a correct understanding of human persons and the proper treatment of them, we must continue to promulgate his words. Therefore, I recommend to all to visit and revisit his works, both to shape ourselves and the world.

Lent in the Year of Mercy

While it seems like we just put away the Christmas decorations, the season of Lent is upon us. Because Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, Easter is a little early this year. As someone who prefers to get the harder things out of the way as soon as possible (like eating my salads and vegetables first so I can enjoy the meat and potatoes), it seems like an early Lent is a Merciful Lent.

However, I am not hoping to be Merciful just to myself this Lent, but also to others. It seems fitting to seek this out during the Lenten season in the Year of Mercy. My desire to be more merciful this Lent is also inspired by the teachings of St. John Paul II on Mercy, particularly found in his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (DM).

In his second encyclical as Pope, St. John Paul II writes, “mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man” (DM, 6). This means that we are merciful when we respond to evil with good. We see this lesson first taught by Jesus as He tells us to turn the other cheek and shows us the application of this by bringing humanity eternal life from His Death. At the end of each Lent we celebrate this gift in particular by meditating on the evil brought upon the Son of God during Holy Week, and then the good He brings out of this evil through His resurrection on Easter Sunday.

God has shown us His Mercy. He has brought the greatest good from the greatest evil. In our Christian life, we must strive to imitate God and love like He loves and “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  It’s good to note that we cannot do evil to bring about good, but in the face of the evil that we experience we must only respond with good.

Ideas for the Lent of Mercy

My first thought is really already covered by the tradition of Lent, and so is more of a continuation of what has always been done, and that is offering sacrifices and sufferings up as penance for the forgiveness of sins. This truth of Redemptive Suffering allows us to make up for the wrongs we have done as we rejoice in our sufferings, and in our flesh “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). We are able to do penance for our sins and the sins of others and, in a way, participate in the Mercy of God. This could include offering up every suffering as a sacrifice throughout your day. Some ideas could be:

  • Getting up at the first alarm and offering it for someone you know who is struggling
  • Saying yes to anything (reasonable) others ask of you and offering it up for them
  • Letting people in front of you in traffic and praying for them at the same time
  • Take cold showers and offer it up for friends and family
  • Put a pebble in your shoe and offer it up for priests and religious
  • When you have the choice, pick foods you want the least and offer this up for those who are spiritually poor
  • Go on a spending freeze. Practice the spirit of poverty by not buying anything that is not absolutely essential
  • Maintain silence. This can include not turning on the radio and not always speaking freely your thoughts and opinions. Practice the virtue of silence and grow in your ability to really listen to others
  • Fast on bread and water on certain days to master your will

The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy taught by the Church show us many ways to bring good from the bad. We could make it a goal to intentionally seek ways to practice these works this Lent. This will include:

Corporal Works of Mercy-

1) Feed the hungry

2) Give drink to the thirsty

3) Clothe the naked

4) Shelter the homeless

5) Visit the sick

6) Visit the imprisoned

7) Bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy-

1) Counsel the doubtful

2) Instruct the ignorant

3) Admonish sinners

4) Comfort the afflicted

5) Forgive offenses

6) Bear wrongs patiently

7) Pray for the living and the dead

Be Merciful to Jesus

Finally, we can be merciful to Jesus this Lent. St. John Paul II explains, “Christ, precisely as the crucified one, is the Word that does not pass away, and He is the one who stands at the door and knocks at the heart of every man, without restricting his freedom, but instead seeking to draw from this very freedom love, which is not only an act of solidarity with the suffering Son of man, but also a kind of ‘mercy’ shown by each one of us to the Son of the eternal Father” (DM, 8). We show Christ mercy by loving Him. We can love him through seeking to nourish our relationship with Him and by avoiding sins that hurt our relationship with Him.

I imagine we can come up with a plethora of ideas, but here are a few to help:

-Daily Rosary

-Time in Adoration (either exposed on the altar or reposed in the tabernacle)

-Daily reading of Scripture

-The Stations of the Cross

-Frequenting the Sacraments

-Consecration to Jesus through Mary by the St. Louis de Montfort method.

Mary can lead us to Mercy

In this last idea for Lent we see a special link to the school of Mercy conducted by Mary, the Mother of Mercy, who watched her Son carry out His Great Act of Mercy. “ Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is” (DM, 9). St. John Paul II teaches that Mary’s own sacrifice of her heart is deeply linked to this act of her Son and that she is the “one who, through her hidden and at the same time incomparable sharing in the messianic mission of her Son, was called in a special way to bring close to people that love which He had come to reveal” (DM, 9). Therefore, growing closer to Mary this Lent means to grow closer to Mercy and a great way to start this growth is to speak to Mary as you would anyone else.

I hope these ideas can help you in your own Spiritual Journey toward Mercy this year. It would be nice to hear of any more ideas others have to share to help us all be rich in Mercy. Please comment below if you can think of anything.

Theology of the Body in ‘Friends’

The classic TV sitcom, Friends, is iconic for its long run, humor, and relatable characters that made everyone feel they were part of the “gang.” Friends also pushed the envelope, dealing with themes that America was just beginning to delve into in the 1990s. Taking a supportive and liberal approach to topics such as hook up culture, marriage and divorce, “alternative” families, and homosexual relationships, Friends dealt openly with themes previously considered taboo.

Yet, in the 10 seasons Friends ruled TV, the show made a compelling argument against all the social changes it tried so hard to support. Homosexual relationships, hook-up culture, and the redefinition of the family played prominent roles in each of the characters’ lives, yet, it is apparent that each of these elements were inherently bad for the characters on multiple levels. This ironic social commentary opens the door for a rich engagement with Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the themes of which play out in many of Friends’ characters and episodes. The relationships of the six characters provide an in depth social commentary as their friendships help one another to grow in maturity throughout the show. In the interest of time, I want to focus on the experience of one of the main characters: Chandler. 

We learn early on that Chandler’s parents divorced and his father left to become a drag queen in Vegas. This, understandably, sows many issues in Chandler that are most obviously noticed in Chandler’s inability to celebrate Thanksgiving. Since that was the day he learned of his parent’s separation, it has been irreparably ruined for him. Indeed, we see that Thanksgiving brings up enormous emotional scarring in Chandler that is hard for him to handle at best and completely debilitating at worst.

Chandler’s issues with his parents become more apparent as the show progresses. We see that Chandler is riddled with insecurities regarding his sexuality, social abilities, and worth as a person. He is incapable of maintaining long-term relationships, and finds intimacy threatening. He focuses on casual dating and one-night stands, resulting in a promiscuous and concupiscent character early in the show. This “concupiscence signifies … that the personal relations of man and woman are one-sidedly and reductively tied to the body and to sex” with no deeper intimacy established (TOB 259). This inability to establish long-term relationships is a reflection of Chandler’s “concupiscence [which] brings with it the loss of the interior freedom of the gift [of self]” (TOB 259). In fact, it isn’t until Chandler makes peace with his father that he is able to move forward and prepare for marriage to Monica. By mastering his fear of commitment, history of promiscuity, and the wrong he was dealt in childhood, Chandler is able to be vulnerable to his wife and “become a gift” which is only possible “if [man and woman] each masters himself” (TOB 259-60).

Chandler’s relationship with Monica also helps him engage with his sexuality in a healthy way. This allows him to establish the confidence so drastically undermined during childhood. Just as Adam in the tobgarden, in his original solitude, stood in “search of his own ‘identity’” and “falls into his [sleep] with the desire of finding a being similar to himself” so too does Chandler search for his own identity, only to find it when he awakens from his concupiscent torpor and enters a relationship with Monica (TOB 159). For Adam, it is only in the creation of the female Eve that he is finally able to understand himself as “male”, and rest in “the identity of human nature” (TOB 161). Likewise, Chandler struggles to establish his manhood before dating Monica. Yet, in the context of a woman who challenges Chandler to grow as a person, he does find his masculinity and rests in that knowledge. As Adam understands his “particular value before God [as] male first and … second because he is for ‘woman’” (TOB 161) so also Chandler finds a value in his role of male in his relationship with Monica.

Chandler’s character also makes a strong argument against alternate families. Chandler is dealing with the effects of his father’s homosexuality, his parents’ divorce, and his father being “replaced” with a womanized version of his father as a drag queen. Likewise, Ben, Ross’ son, has a mother who is homosexual, his parents got divorced, and his father is replaced with the woman of Susan. Since episodes focused on Chandler are repeatedly aired in close proximity with episodes focusing on Ben, it seems that, knowingly or not, Friends makes the statement that Ben will be dealing with the same problems as Chandler for a very long time. In many ways, Chandler’s experience prefigures Ben’s and establishes a strong stance against homosexual relationships. Chandler’s parents, “by violating the dimension of the mutual gift of the man and the woman … cast doubt on the fact that [every person] is willed by the Creator ‘for himself,” a doubt that plagues Chandler long term (TOB 259).

Finally, only Ross and Monica’s parents are still married, which is reflected in their children’s relationships. Monica and Chandler are able to get married and stay married only because Monica “coaches” Chandler in the ways of healthy relationships. While Phoebe does get married, it is only after several seasons of observing Monica and Chandler’s marriage and often inquiring into the inner workings of their relationship.

Furthermore, while Monica is able to establish a healthy and long-lasting relationship with Chandler, Ross’ marriage breaks apart and his separation from his wife subsequently causes him to lose his consistency and identity as a man. As the show progresses, we see Chandler’s and Ross’ characters reverse rolls. Chandler grows into the easy-going, good guy that Ross was at the beginning of the show and Ross slowly devolves into an insecure and awkward character.

It is significant that we learn in the first season that at the time of his divorce, Ross had only ever had intercourse with Carol, his wife. Since this fundamental human bond has since been broken, Ross continually tries to return to the married state his soul desires. Since Ross wants to know that the relationship is “for keeps,” every relationship he enters gets too serious too quickly on his part. John Paul II notes that in such situations, the over-sentimentalizing of relationships are often their downfall: “the ideal is more powerful than the real, living human being, and the latter often becomes merely the occasion for an eruption in the subject’s emotional consciousness of the values which he or she longs with all his heart to find in another person”(L&R 44). Ross becomes progressively more emotionally needy and awkward in relationships and makes a deity out of his idea of the perfect relationship, an effect consistent with the spiritual turmoil that these broken relationships are sowing. However, since Ross is anxious for marriage and many of the women he meets do not share his goals, the relationships Ross begins throughout the course of Friends never result in anything long term since “love between two people is quite unthinkable without some common good to bind them together” (L&R 28). In contrast, we see Chandler become healthier and “more Chandler” as his healthy relationship with Monica progresses, while Ross becomes more and more dysfunctional as relationship after relationship fails.

While Friends presents great food for thought on the Theology of the Body, there are definite week points in the show. For example, the indissolubility of marriage is never truly resolved which is problematic. Nevertheless, there are many other situations in the course of this sit-com that lend themselves to deeper analysis. I’ve only focused on one character and the other five have as much to offer as Chandler. I myself have only scratched the surface!

Do Not Fear Gay Marriage

There has been a lot of turmoil over the religious freedom law recently passed in Indiana. Religious freedom activists across the board are celebrating this “step towards religious freedom” while gay “marriage” proponents are in the throes of proclaiming this the end of the world.

It’s the same old run-around that always happens when such a bill is proposed, backed, voted on, or passed. This time, for some reason, it struck me as odd that Catholics seem so surprised by this step.

Perhaps we should be surprised. The law was established by a worldly government, which is (I admit) rather shocking.

However, I don’t think Catholics should be surprised when traditional marriage “wins” a battle. The fact is, the truth will always prevail. What’s more, the traditional marriage debate is not new ground for the Catholic Church. In fact, this is old squat as far as the Church is concerned.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take a quick tour through Church history:Saint-valentine-history-lovers-2

St. Valentine. St. Valentine died defending the Catholic view of marriage. In fact, Valentine was sentenced to a three-part execution consisting of beating, stoning, and finally decapitation because of his stand for Catholic marriage. That was in AD 269.

St. Augustine. In AD 410, Augustine wrote a work entitled Of the Good of Marriage in which he defends the Catholic understanding of marriage. He states: “it is observed, that there be no lying with other man or woman, out of the bond of wedlock.” Want to know why St. Augustine wrote this work? Because there was an attack on the good of traditional, Catholic marriage. Now, this attack came in the form of a monk claiming that there was no difference in merit between celibate marriages and conjugal marriages, so a bit different to what we’re facing today. This point serves to prove, however, that the Church is not only used to defending and fighting for marriage — it has done so in multiple fashions, against various onslaughts, and has always won.

Pedro de Corpa, Blas Rodríguez, Miguel de Añon, Antonio de Badajóz, and Francisco de Veráscola. These Spanish missionaries were martyred in September of 1597 by the natives in Florida who, as polygamists, could not accept the Catholic teaching of a life-long union between 1 man and 1 woman.

Or, look at scripture. Why was John the Baptist killed? Because he stood for traditional marriage, calling out Herod for an adulterous relationship.

There are other examples, but I think I’ve made my point. We’re seasoned veterans at this. Defending traditional marriage is nothing new for the Church. Every time the world thinks it has found a new course to take, a new argument to make, it hasn’t. The Church has been there before, done it in the past, fought this fight, and will continue to do so with more experience and grace than the “other side” will ever have to offer.

So, we as Catholics, need to have greater faith and trust in the institution Christ left us.

Pope Benedict XVI issued a year of faith two years ago. We were not called to renew or strengthen our faith for just that one year. Rather, it was a call to radically transform our faith into something that does not fear in the face of evil, and does not falter when faced with challenges. We may very well be martyred for our defense of traditional marriage, but the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” and our sacrifice will only serve to strengthen the teachings of the Church and the faith of its faithful. We can trust that our sacrifice will not be for nothing; the righteous position will prevail because it always has and always will.

This battle is just that: a battle in the war of Good against Evil. This battle is not the war itself. We already know how the war ends. Christ won it. He overcame the culture of death in the very act we are in the midst of celebrating this week. In His cross and resurrection, He defeated death and sin and all of the cultural manifestations that come with it. His Church will always stand through trials because she is the bride of Christ, Son of the Father, Lord of the Universe.

Pope Saint John Paul II once said, “we are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!” We must proclaim this to ourselves: we are the Easter people. Our entire faith is based on the belief that we will rise above sin and death, as individuals and as a faithful community. Our entire life should be one of celebration, hope, and joy in the resurrection of Christ: the defeat of sin and evil and its clutches on humanity by the Lord who loves His people enough to die on a cross for them.

Our Lord will not abandon His people. If we have faith in that, we can have hope in the eternal happiness He has ordained for us. If we have hope, we will have the love for our neighbor necessary to witness to the truth, bring about conversion, and ultimately, uphold the Church that for 2000 years has stood fast against the culture of death we fear so much.

This is not to say that worldly law does not have a place. Nor do I think we should cease at incremental legislation that will protect our faith and motivate authentic justice. Simply put, we ought to distinguish between Caesar’s law and the deposit of Truth that is the Catholic Church. Just because laws do or do not uphold a specific teaching does not mean that the Church is no longer the receptacle of Truth that will prevail in winning over the culture. This means that when a law is passed, whatever the outcome, we should not fear or become despondent, but remain calm and joyful in the presence of our Lord who has already won the war.

Gay “marriage” will threaten, snarl, huff and puff, but we should not fear. For, upon this rock Christ built His Church. It will not fall simply because evil huffs and puffs a little louder.

Our Lord is with us, and if He is with us, who could possibly stand against us? Let us abide by Pope Saint John Paul II’s famous words: Be not afraid!

Catholic Canines

TexIt’s a very long story, but suffice it to say, my husband and I are planning to bring home a dog at the end of this week.

Many people have expressed interest (to put it nicely) in why we are bringing home a dog when we do not yet have and are not currently expecting children.

Essentially, “why are you replacing a child with a dog?”

They have made it very clear that we are not truly Catholic because we are getting a dog before conceiving our first child.

This sparked some emotional turmoil in me, in part, because both my husband and I both feel called to bring home Tex (pictured right). As I began reflecting on it, I realized a couple of things:

1) We can never escape the fact that we care about what others think, nor should we.

We hear the mantra all the time about not caring what others think. It’s your life, do what you want. Be your own person. Make your own decisions.

We also know the repressing experience of peer pressure. It seems no matter what we do, we cannot escape the fact that we still care what others think.

In general, I actually believe this is a good thing. In the community of believers, we are all, in a sense, our brother’s keeper. We are all meant to help push and pull each other to greater holiness. Fraternal correction is one of the spiritual works of mercy, after all.

The fact that we care what others say to and about us reflects openness in us to receive the fraternal correction we all so desperately need. It is a good thing, and I believe a life lived hardened to others is a life of hardening your heart to the pleas of Christ.

However, just as we should be open to the advice, insight, and critique of others, so too should we develop prudence and recognize that we are all, ultimately, accountable only to our Lord and Savior. Shaking off what others say in a way that points us back to the Lord can be an incredible gift. If others remark on something in a way that allows us deeper insight into why what we are doing is indeed right, then that is an unexpected benefit. Without intending to, our brothers and sisters in Christ can form our souls to see beauty more intensely and strive to follow Christ more intently.

Likewise, those who intend to correct us by changing our decisions may still change us. In all of the comments on our apparent lack of Catholicism, I have learned more about softening my heart than ever before. Not simply to those people making such remarks, but also to the presence of God.

An openness to the beauty of and a love of creation I never thought possible has planted itself in my heart and begun to blossom. I understand more fully how many different ways there are to show Christ’s love, and in that sense, to be ever “more Catholic.”

We are the universal Church. If all of creation can groan under the weight of the fall, then surely all of creation can – in some way – long for resurrection and we can be a part of that resurrection with the rest of creation in sharing our homes with them.

We should celebrate our animals, not cast them off simply because they are not human.

2) Being pro-life means valuing and respecting all life.

I firmly believe in the pro-life side of things. If you’ve even glanced through my other articles or my personal blog, you will see that far and away the majority of my posts concern abortion. However, I also refuse to accept that the only way to be pro-life is to love people.

In fact, I argue that you are not truly pro-life if you flat out, blatantly, across the board dislike animals. I have addressed this idea in previous articles, so to save from being redundant, let’s just say that there is a proven correlation between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans.

This makes sense.

If you cannot respect, value, serve, and love those creatures which are less than you and rely upon you, then you will not be able to respect, value, serve, and love those creatures which are equal to you, but who still rely upon you (the elderly, the unborn, the young, etc.)

In a previous article, I argued that animals help us to see and experience God more fully. Pope Saint John Paul II explores this idea in Theology of the Body, when speaking of Adam naming the animals. It is only in knowing the animals that Adam comes to know himself as different from them and to see his relationship with God and Eve as unique. If that is so, then in some way, animals help make us more human. It is in coming to know God ever better that we grow to be more human.

In this sense, how much more pro-life can you be than to see a life, rejected because it was not perfect, and decide to love and nurture it anyway? Tex is coming to live with us because he is a special needs dog and his previous owner did not, or could not, do the work necessary for Tex to be healthy and successful. Don’t many adoptive parents experience something similar with their children? Children who were rejected because they were, in some way, not perfect either health-wise or timing-wise?

All of this is to say that, since my husband and I are currently not able to have children, but we are in a position to offer an animal a life that he could not otherwise offer himself, we should at least consider it. If God deemed this creature worthwhile to make, then we ought to consider that in serving this animal, we are also serving God. In seeing that “it is good,” we are seeing as God sees. God did not create the animals and say “it is so-so.” Or “it is good, but less good than other stuff I make.”

He created and then said “it is good.”

God does not see anything as useless, but rather as a beautiful addition to the playground that is creation.

So too, we do not see this as a replacement for a child, but as a beautiful addition to the playground of our lives. An addition who will teach us to love more deeply, care more passionately, and truly celebrate every life just as Christ does.

St. John Paul II on Depression

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Since this website features the Catholic perspective on young adult concerns, and since depression is a growing mental health concern among young adults, I decided to write about the address of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II to participants in the 18th International Congress promoted by the Pontifical Council For Health Pastoral Care On The Theme Of “Depression”, which was delivered on November 14, 2003.

In his address, St. John Paul II expressed his concern about the growing spread of depression, and stressed that it reveals “human, psychological and spiritual frailties which, at least in part, are induced by society”. He highlights “the effect on people of messages conveyed by the media which exalt consumerism, the immediate satisfaction of desires and the race for ever greater material well-being”. He stresses the need to “propose new ways so that each person may build his or her own personality by cultivating spiritual life, the foundation of a mature existence” and for “policies for youth aimed at offering the young generations motives for hope to protect them from emptiness or from dangerous fillers.”

Any perceptive observer of modern society will find it hard to disagree with these thoughts. At the same time, however, the question arises of whether being spiritual-minded and knowing the meaning of life is enough to prevent depression. St. John Paul II himself recognized that depression has “different complex aspects” and does not dismiss the role of therapy in curing this modern malady.

For me, regardless of what the real cause or causes of the modern depression epidemic are, one of the most important parts of the address is where St. John Paul II exhorted everyone – and not just therapists – to reach out to those suffering from depression. He said:

“The role of those who care for depressed persons and who do not have a specifically therapeutic task consists above all in helping them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, the desire to live. It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved. For them as for everyone else, contemplating Christ means letting oneself be “looked at” by him, an experience that opens one to hope and convinces one to choose life”.

Indeed, reaching out to the depressed is a corporal work of mercy (“to visit the sick”) as well as a spiritual one (“to console the sorrowful”) in demand. A depressed person is a brother or sister in Christ, one of the least of Christ’s brethren in whom we serve Christ Himself. Reaching out to the depressed may difficult as they may seem to refuse help and we may be clueless on how to approach them (fortunately, there are articles and other resources such as this one). But in the end, they appreciate that we accompany them in their sufferings, although we may not be able to solve their problems.

St. John Paul II also gave practical advice to help depressed persons in the spiritual life. He said:

“In the spiritual process, reading and meditation on the Psalms, in which the sacred author expresses his joys and anxieties in prayer, can be of great help. The recitation of the Rosary makes it possible to find in Mary a loving Mother who teaches us how to live in Christ.
Participation in the Eucharist is a source of inner peace, because of the effectiveness of the Word and of the Bread of Life, and because of the integration into the ecclesial community that it achieves. Aware of the effort it costs a depressed person to do something which to others appears simple and spontaneous, one must endeavour to help him with patience and sensitivity, remembering the observation of St Theresa of the Child Jesus: “Little ones take little steps”.”

The last point he suggested is very important. Those who’ve experienced the illness tell me that for a depressed person, the littlest spiritual struggles can be overwhelming: waking up early to go to mass, concentrating in prayer, being patient with a well-meaning friend who wants to help but does not know how. The teaching on spiritual childhood has been, for them, a very encouraging reminder that God appreciates the littlest efforts made out of love for Him, and readily forgives us and lifts us up from our falls.

Finally, St. John Paul II has very consoling words for those suffering from depression:

“In his infinite love, God is always close to those who are suffering. Depressive illness can be a way to discover other aspects of oneself and new forms of encounter with God. Christ listens to the cry of those whose boat is rocked by the storm (cf. Mk 4: 35-41). He is present beside them to help them in the crossing and guide them to the harbour of rediscovered peace. “

Looking to the Star of the New Evangelization

Our Lady of the Sign - The Star of Evangelization
Image Credit: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2011/04/our-lady-star-of-evangelisation-by.html#.UsiVqfRDuql

Stars are significant in the Christian tradition.  For example, God promised Abraham descendants more numerous than the stars of the sky (Genesis 22:17).  And today a star plays a prominent role in our celebration of the Epiphany when a star guided the Magi to the stable (Matthew 2:9-11).  Additionally, the Church has had a longstanding tradition of hailing Mary as a “Star,” for she is the bright and shining star of the human race.

The Church has two beautiful Marian antiphons (hymns) that call Mary Stella Maris (Star of the Sea).  The first is the Alma Redemptoris Mater: “Loving Mother of the Redeemer, Gate of Heaven, Star of the Sea, assist your people who have fallen…”  The other Marian hymn is the Ave Maris Stella (Hail O Star of Ocean), a devotional hymn popularized by the Pieta prayer book and the preparation for Marian consecration according to St. Louis Grignion de Montfort.  Given the devotion to Mary as the Star of the Sea, mariners fittingly called on Mary to guide them; there are stories of Christopher Columbus chanting the Salve Regina nightly aboard the Santa Maria.

Just as Mary was a guide for sea voyagers, St. Bernard of Clairvaux saw Mary as a guide for the spiritual life in his homily “In Praise of the Virgin Mother.”  He encouraged the listener, “If you do not want to founder in the tempest, do not avert your eyes form the brightness of this star.  When the wind of temptation blows up within you, when you strike upon the rock of tribulation, gaze up at this star, call out to Mary” (II:XVII).  For Bernard, Mary is the star guiding the Christian through the choppy and turbulent waters of temptation and trial to a calming respite in the Lord.

The New Evangelization and Our Lady of Guadalupe

The popes of the modern age, in a new way, also have called upon Mary as a “Star” in the Church’s work of evangelization.  Paul VI expressed his desire in 1975 for Mary to be the “Star of the Evangelization ever renewed which the Church, docile to her Lord’s command, must promote and accomplish, especially in these times which are difficult but full of hope!” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 82).   Taking his lead from Paul VI, Blessed John Paul II entrusted the work of the New Evangelization to Mary, calling her the “Star of the New Evangelization.”  This is evident in a number of his papal writings, including Tertio Millennio Adveniente (59) and Novo Millennio Ineunte (58).

John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, quoted a prayer from the synod that hailed Our Lady of Guadalupe as the “Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization” (11).  It is quite fitting for Our Lady of Guadalupe to be a patroness of the New Evangelization, for her apparition to Juan Diego was a guiding star for the millions of natives who converted to the Catholic faith.  In addition to Our Lady of Guadalupe, on October 18, 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI invoked Our Lady of Aparecida (A Brazilian devotion) as a Star of the New Evangelization.  Keeping with the custom of his predecessors, Pope Francis also has invoked Our Lady under this same title.

Looking to the Star

Stars have guided people all throughout history.  A star guided the Magi to pay homage to the newborn king.  And after they encountered the Christ child the Magi returned a different way because no person can encounter Christ and not leave along a different way.  Today we look up to Mary as the star of the new evangelization.  We look up to her and ask her to guide us to her son Jesus.  True and authentic Marian devotion leads us to Jesus.

There is a beautiful Polish hymn to Mary entitled Star Resplendent which speaks of Mary’s guiding role of faith.  The following was translated by the late Fr. Richard Wojcik of the Archdiocese of Chicago:

(1) Star resplendent, Star serene, Virgin Mother, Heaven’s Queen, lead us pilgrims to our Father, Virgin Mother, Heaven’s queen.  (2) Thru the storms that try us all, may we heed your urgent call, come to me, all you my children, you were made mine by my son.  (3) Here we gather at your feet, pledging you our love complete, sinful hearts to a sinless mother, make us holy, make us one.  (4) When in death we fear God’s hand, loving Lady, near us stand, help us know life’s holy ending, lead us firmly, lead us home.

In this new year, let us look up to the Star of the New Evangelization and ask her to guide us.  Mary provides the example through the proclamation of her fiat and magnificat.  Her instruction to do whatever he tells us still speaks to us today.    And may our prayer  “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” increase our faith and trust in Mary’s intercession both now and at the moment of our death.  Let us pledge our love and devotion so that she can make us holy and lead us home at our life’s end.

Children and Online Porn: Five Quick Stats

kids_on_computer_bw copyIn our media world children will almost certainly be exposed to images and material that can have a negative impact on their moral and psychological development. Exposure to pornography is one such concern that should be on every parent’s radar.

First, some statistics about children and exposure to online pornography:

1. One study in the US found that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to online pornography during adolescence.(1)

2. A study in the UK found that nearly 57% of 9-19 year olds who use the Internet weekly have been exposed to pornography. (2)

3. The same study found that only 16% of parents think their children have seen pornography on the Internet.(3)

4. A Dutch study found that adolescents aged 13 to 20 with frequent exposure to sexually explicit Internet material were more likely to show greater sexual uncertainty and more positive attitudes toward uncommitted sexual exploration (i.e., sexual relations with casual partners/friends or with sexual partners in one-night stands). (4)

5. Exposure to pornography among youth is often unintentional. One study in Australia found that 75% of 16- and 17-year-olds have been accidentally exposed to pornographic websites, while 38% of boys and 2% of girls have deliberately accessed them. (5)

So what to do?

Unfortunately, the reality that children will most likely be exposed to pornography online can lead to two extreme reactions which are counterproductive.

One approach well-meaning parents can take is to control the media their children consume to such a great extent that the child is led to believe that technology and the Internet are bad. This approach is actually contrary to Church teaching. In the encyclical Miranda Prorsus, Pope Pius XII wrote that technological advances are “gifts of God,” which like our own lives can be used for ill or for good. According to Communio et Progressio, a document of the Second Vatican Council, “the communications media can be seen as powerful instruments for progress.” The document goes on to say that “it is true they present difficulties but these must be faced and overcome.” In other words, media is a potential for great good. We are called to work with media to promote good in society and to teach our children to use it in accordance with Gospel values.

The Church, therefore, urges a balanced approach that requires much more from adults than either shutting down the Internet in their home altogether or having an anything goes policy. John Paul II, in his World Communications Day Message in 2004 advised parents “to regulate the use of media in the home” but “above all, parents should give good example to children by their own thoughtful and selective use of media.” John Paul II also urges parents to “join with other families to study and discuss the problems and opportunities presented by the use of the media.” (emphasis mine)

I highlight “opportunities” because when we speak to children about media and Gospel values it is important to be positive. It is necessary to have open dialogue with children about the dangers of the Internet, including, at an appropriate age, pornography. But often it is the dangers of the Internet that parents harp on while the seeds of the Gospel, and our role as Christians in planting them, are ignored.

Instead, parents can lead their children to the water of the Internet and teach them that while it is not all good for drinking; some of it is good. Children should be taught that they cannot drink everything in the media uncritically; the waters should be analyzed and strained before consuming. But it is equally imperative that children learn to identify the Gospel, even tiny seeds of it, when they see it in the media.

And most importantly, we can teach our children that as Christians, we are called to contribute clean, fresh Living Water for others to drink through our kind words and our thoughtful and patient presence  – online and offline!

Free Love And Other Redundant Phrases

We’ve all had that “ah-ha” moment, right, men? The one where you’re baking a meringue, blaring J-Lo, and you suddenly ask yourself, “Does love really not cost a thing?”. Or, ladies, when you’re working out to The Beatles and, right as you reach your personal chin-up record, it hits you that indeed, money CAN’T buy you love. Alright, so maybe those specific moments are unique to me, but I’m sure we’ve all had instances that came out of the blue and caused us to spend some time at our own Roxbury, asking the deep, eternal question: “What is love?” (On a complete side-note, I once walked into a gym full of weight lifters and the radio was blaring “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee-Gees, and it was one of the most surreal moments in my entire life)

Anyway, with a large majority of media being centered on using (and mis-using) the word “love”, it would do us all a world of good to pause for a moment and take stock of how we, as followers and friends of the God Who IS love, define and use it. I’m not referring to things like “I LOVE corduroy” or “I absolutely LOVE Fabio’s performance in Zoolander“; I’m speaking more along the lines of how we use it in relationships and sexuality. (Though, I HAVE met a few extreme types with an unnatural devotion to noisy, grooved trousers.) Considering that Enrique Iglesias’ hit “Tonight (I’m loving you)” is only the edited title (swap “loving” for “f*@#ing”), and the same goes for Akon’s “I’m gonna love you” (swap “love” for….), it seems that we need to find a way to wade through the mire of contradictions and euphemisms and arrive at solid ground. Fortunately, we have just such a path.

In his encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), Pope Paul VI gives us what I call a litmus test for finding authentic love, a test comprised of 4 characteristics, generally referred to as the “Four Marks of God’s Love”. These four marks, or signs, are: Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful. (Yes, it drives me insane that the “T” ruins the alliteration). This post is the first of four in which I’ll take a stab at giving a brief, cursory explanation of God’s love–and therefore, perfect love–as defined by Humanae Vitae.

Because the very essence of real love is the act of giving (which is why “actions speak louder”), for love to be authentic it must entail a true gift of self on the part of the one who is professing love. However, though our intention might be to love, there are myriad ways in which our struggle with weakness, selfishness, and sin can taint our attempts and chip away at these four marks. As today’s title makes clear, we are first going to address the need for true freedom in love.

We’re all familiar with phrases like “After all I’ve done for you…” or “The least you could do in return is…” or “You owe me this…”. Statements such as these get right to the heart of one enemy of freedom in love, namely that of expectation. Whenever we put on the guise of giving, yet hold within us the expectation of ANY form of reciprocation, then we are not truly giving and, therefore, not truly loving, either. If we clean the house expecting accolades and/or a foot massage, not only do we almost invariably set ourselves up for disappointment, but we also remove true giving from the equation, since the “recipient” is now expected to give something in return. Whenever someone says, “I work all day long to put food on the table, and all I ask is…..”, then all others involved are no longer free to simply receive the gift of food, since there is now, apparently, a contract of sorts in play.

This is even more poignant and relevant in regard to relationships and sex. How many women have felt obligated to “put out” as a result of some guy purchasing dinner and movie tickets? How many marriages are soured by the unwavering, incessant expectation of one spouse exacted upon the other? Conversely, though, I’ll wager we can all remember a moment in our lives when someone simply GAVE to us, and we could clearly tell that nothing was expected in return, be it a parent, a partner, or even a postman. (Ahhh, alliteration)(Plus, my postman has NEVER asked for anything in return for delivering my mail…)

The other primary enemy of freedom in love can be summed up by saying, “If you can’t say no, your yes means nothing.” Whether you’re being pressured into something or you “just can’t say no” to your hormones in the moment, if you feel (or are) unable to say no in any given circumstance, then freedom is lacking and, therefore, so is true love. Regardless of how much someone professes their undying love for you, if you don’t feel free to say no, then they don’t love you, at least not completely; likewise, if you can’t say no to your sexual urges, called “the launch sequence” by Ray Romano, then what you’re feeling towards the other person is not love, it is the force of chemicals, instinct, and attraction. As powerful as desire can feel, if you can’t say no to it, it is merely a powerful slavery. Saying you’re free simply because you give in to desire is like saying a nation is free simply because its citizens don’t resist invading powers; in actuality, behavior of that nature signifies defeat.

So, in the muddle of whims, urges, misconceptions, lies, and pain that we see around us, possibly in our own lives, how in the world are we supposed to find good examples of this free love? Well, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, our perfect example of free love lies in God’s love for us. (4 marks of God’s love) In God’s love for us we see complete freedom. We were created simply because He loves. Each of us was made “for our own sake”, as John Paul II put it. God made you with NO strings attached. He never says, “After all I’ve done for you….” You actually owe Him nothing. His love has already been 100% freely given, whether you accept it or not. Though He longs for intimacy with you, He is in no way disappointed in you, nor is His love diminished, when you don’t feel the same.

Likewise, when He became man in order to suffer and die for us, He showed us what true, free love looks like. Starting from His fervently human prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (“let this cup pass”) to His miraculously divine prayers on Golgotha (“Father, forgive them”), he showed us what freedom looks like by saying no to the urge to run, the desire to flee. He was so free to love you that He could embrace every suffering necessary to gain intimacy with you. His only goal was redemption, not reciprocation.

So, brothers and sisters, let us begin to love freely, without expectation, pressure, or shackles. Let us feed people because they’re hungry, not because they do what we think is right. Let us give our time, treasure, and talent simply to be loving, because everyone is always worth it. Let us crush the bondage of passions we are told to give in to. Let us scrub, clean, and organize our houses simply for the glory of the Lover of our souls. Let us love freely. However, first, let us open our hearts wide to the free, unconditional, expectation-less love of God, for it is only by continually receiving His free gift of love that we learn how to truly and freely love anyone else. (Though, you CAN start by making a Bee-Gees mix disc for the postman…)

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Bio-Pic.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Nic Davidson and his wife joined the Church in ’08 after growing up in the Assemblies of God.  He has been a youth minister for the past 4 years and is currently working as a missionary on the Caribbean island of Dominica while his wife attends Med School there.  He is also writing a 3-year youth ministry curriculum for the Diocese of Duluth, MN.  Since youth ministry and missionary work are his bread-n-butter, there are ZERO normal pics of him for the bio pic. So, what you see is what you get, and what you see is him in a valley of volcanic steam vents.[/author_info] [/author]