Tag Archives: pride

Imitating the Gaze of Jesus

I used to be (and unfortunately, still am at times) a rather obnoxious Catholic. Fueled by my enthusiasm for Truth — and wanting affirmation of my knowledge — I would loudly proclaim Church teachings urgently, so that other people would no longer live in error. Particularly in a culture of moral relativism and a “do what makes you happy” environment, wanting to immediately step onto a doctrine-blasting soapbox seemed like a good thing to me. Yet, the more I examined my life, heart, and ever-abundant pride, the more I realized that I was going about evangelization in the wrong manner. As I began to read Scriptures more and more, I began to really notice how Jesus interacts with other people.

“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,* like sheep without a shepherd.” ~Matt 9:35-36

Jesus’ heart was moved with pity. In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus encounters a rich young man, we learn that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). Time and time again, we see that Jesus is moved with love, and pity for the people he meets-and he lets this compassion flow into the interactions he has. He looks at these men and women intently and listens to them. 

As I reflect on the actions of Jesus, I feel challenged. Even when people were living in sin, he didn’t immediately jump onto a moral high horse. First, he looked upon them with love. In our current culture, Jesus’ approach may not seem to initially be challenging — after all, we are living in an age that is all about acceptance and affirmation. “Just love people for who they are and accept them” is a common refrain.  How dare we criticize sinful actions! After all, aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus, who looked on others with love?

Yet, while Jesus looked on people with love, compassion, and pity, he never affirmed the sinful choices and lifestyles that pushed people away from God. The story of the woman who was caught in adultery (recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel) is fairly well-known and loved, so let’s look at that for a moment. When Jesus encounters this woman, does he say “Woman, I just want to love and accept you; you need to do what makes you feel happy“? No, he does not. Instead, Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:11). He looks upon the woman, loves her, listens to her, and invites her to become transformed and change her life. 

This is what really challenges me as I reflect on the words and actions of Jesus.  It would be fairly easy for me to, upon meeting another person, jump into an attitude of “I will preach doctrine at you because you’re living in sin and I know better.” I’ve done this far too many times as I’ve sought to fuel my pride and be known as the person who was instrumental in another individual’s conversion. It would also be convenient to fall onto the other end of the spectrum and embrace the all-too-common attitude of moral relativism that’s sweeping our culture.

Instead of these extreme approaches, I’m trying to imitate what Jesus does — and this is hard for me. I’m holding my tongue more and first listening to the stories of the people I meet. I’m seeking to encounter others with an open heart. I’m trying to walk into conversations without the expectation that I’ll convince another person of a certain teaching or doctrine. I’m trying to slow myself down and actually form relationships and build bridges of communication with other people. I’m striving to be more open to the Holy Spirit, and while I don’t back down from my convictions, I’m seeking to gaze at other men and women with God’s love and compassion.

I often fail at this. Sometimes, I should be quicker to speak up about my beliefs, but I’m silent. Other times, I should probably remain silent instead of speaking up in a rather harsh manner! I’m an imperfect evangelizer, but I’ll keep praying and try to let God use me in whatever small ways he can.

Photo Credit: “People” by MabelAmber via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain. 

A Question of Fairness

Peter turned and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them – the one who had leaned on His breast at the supper and had said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it that will betray You?’ Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘What about him, Lord?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow Me.’ (John 21:20-22)

Have you ever felt unfairly picked upon? What is our reaction? “How come you didn’t ask person A…? Why can person B do this, but I cannot? …”

Last Supper, Jacopo Bassano (1542)

It is curious, Jesus did not address the unfairness which St Peter pointed out. Instead, He seemed to chide him even more! Strange how the Just One seems unjust. Or could it be that it is not always a question of fairness but of love?

Many a time we choose to focus on the cost of discipleship and forget the privilege of being chosen as His disciple! We choose to attend to our pride instead of to our love; for the husband of a pregnant wife does not say it is unfair when he might have to put in extra hours to bring home the money needed for the family, nor does a woman in labor say it is unfair to have to suffer so as to see her newborn baby for the first time, nor does the child cry unfair when they spend their hard-earned savings on a Mother’s Day gift.

The question is; how much do I love others as compared to myself? Can I humble myself for those who love me/whom I love? Can I humble myself for Love?

So the divine love is sacrificial love. Love does not mean to have and to own and to possess. It means to be had and to be owned and to be possessed. It is not a circle circumscribed by self, it is arms outstretched to embrace all humanity within its grasp.
— Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Spiritual Envy

In the Gospel on 23 May, the Apostles witnessed other people “driving out demons” and they grew jealous. John asked Jesus to stop them, but Jesus did the exact opposite, saying: anyone who is not against us, they are for us.

Everyone has the right to use the powerful name of Jesus for something good and noble.

Therein lies the beauty of Christianity: Jesus is for everyone, not just for ourselves. It is in sharing Jesus with others that we experience true joy.

Some of us fall prey to spiritual and intellectual pride. Sometimes we say that we are always working for Jesus and that we know Him very well. It is exactly in this that we are not true followers of Christ.

We need to recognize the good in others and not grow jealous. In our world today, there are so many of us who grow jealous when others around us do something good. We get jealous that WE were not the ones who did the good deed, that WE didn’t get the praise and credit.

But the real call to the cross is this. Can we put our selves (ego) down and raise others up, are we (really) happy when others do good things in society? Can we feel true joy that someone out there is contributing to the good in the world?

We need to be generous in attitude — appreciating that someone out there is continuing the mission of Christ.

Prayers today for those struggling with spiritual pride. May you have a generous heart and rejoice in the fact that others in this family of Christ are continuing His Mission!

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles. Image: PD-US

A Journey Home

By guest writer Louis Felix Figueroa.

My body was strung out on the couch and pain filled every part of me. This was the changing point of my life. I had thoroughly been a product of modern society, relativistic, an adherent to indifferentism, a modernist in many respects. Many until this point had regarded me as a very understanding guy, compassionate, knowledgeable of the world. In reality, I knew nothing. I was arrogant, filled with pride, and though I had love it was incomplete. I had to be completely humbled to realize my true identity and see the greatness of God who created me.

As a child, I learned like most Catholics through Sunday school. I had been baptized at birth, received First Communion, but I wasn’t instructed much beyond that. I can remember having a deep love for God, but I wasn’t taken to Church very often and I was exposed to the occult. My parents practised Santería, a practise as a child that I abhorred, but this would be my entrance into the world of the occult and my confusion about religion. As I grew up, my parents left Santería; however, my father avoided church like the plague and my mother, fearful of saints from her exposure to Santería, rejected Catholicism for what would seem like ages. I still had a love for God and would walk into the neighborhood Church on weekdays on my way home from school and pray, but I never attended Mass on Sunday. I never went to confession; in fact, I began to know less and less of my professed religion.

At the age of 13, I left home and attended school in a town in Connecticut. It was a big change from my hometown of Bronx, New York. I still felt some connection with God and prayed quite often, but wandered further and further from Him, as I had no real foundation. I took what I had learned in school and constantly applied it to my life. I was fortunate enough to have a host family with whom I stayed with on occasion and they would include me in their church-going activities. It was marvelously wonderful to be exposed to the Bible, but I had no clear or definitive understanding of it. I became ambiguous about homosexuality, premarital sex, masturbation, and many other sensitive topics. I also saw God as a method to obtain things and no longer my close friend whom I had known in my childhood. Times were becoming darker.

As I went through my high school years, I became more deeply involved in the occult, though there was always a voice trying to keep me away. I remember, looking back now, something telling me that this was all wrong. I was stubborn to say the least. I wasn’t a malevolent fellow and wished no one any evil, as best as I could remember I was just horribly confused. I practiced tarot cards, and I guess you could say that there were things which were around which gave me answers to the questions I wanted answered. That is putting it simply.

I eventually joined the United States armed forces. The branch is not important. It was here that I became more familiar with aspects of Wicca and Satanism. There were actually servicemen and women who practiced both, and no, I was not a Satanist. However, I had become vastly interested in Wicca. At the same time, I was becoming an excellent soldier. I excelled in many aspect of war fighting and leading. Slowly, but surely, I began to develop a sort of hubris about me. I felt there was a power that controlled something, but I became further from it. Years had passed and I began to look at myself and I didn’t like what I had become. I was kind at times, but I could flip a coin and become utterly ruthless. What I found more disturbing was that I longed to cause damage. I had less and less peace in my life and a voice could be heard very faintly. This voice told me to turn to God, but I was too powerful or so I thought.

My life began to slowly unravel and I sought respite. I didn’t trust Christianity, yet! I began to read works by the Dalai Lama and about different aspects of Buddhism, but something deep down told me that I wasn’t supposed to give up Christ. I know it doesn’t quite make sense, but this was how things were happening. I began to hang out with Protestant friends and attended services with them, but I wasn’t convinced or moved. I felt like it was more acting than anything. They were kind to have shared their faith with me, but it would have impressed me more if they had been living it. I had some Catholic friends whom I associated with and they brought me to Mass. As I went to the Mass, I was distressed. I said to myself: “I am Catholic? I know nothing of my religion!” Still, I hadn’t been motivated enough to do anything solid, except read the Bible on occasion.

It was toward the end of my military service that I said to myself, I have to change. I have to find God. I have to go back to the Catholic Church. The voice in me was yelling now; it was no longer a whisper. Yet, I was still obstinate. I came home from service and was contemplating entering Special Forces and in the midst of this I was struck ill. In my illness, my mind was made clear. It was like an intimate conversation with God. I knew then that I could not return to what had help make me what I was, but had to become something new. I started to read and read and read. Every book that read was inexplicably linked to the next without my intention and before I knew it, I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. I was digesting the Bible and swallowing books on the saints and I just could not stop. I was like starving child eating a long overdue meal. Then the moment of truth came, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Over 18 years of sins upon my chest to offer to my Lord with sincere contrition. It wasn’t too long after this that I considered the priesthood, but one step had to be completed first. I was finally confirmed at the age of 24. However, I did not become a priest. I found my vocation was to be a husband, but this was not a decision that was taken lightly; rather I fought with myself for almost 3 years. Nevertheless, I now strive to serve in any way that I can.

I can honestly say that my life finally has light in it. The world makes sense and my place is understood, as is the infinite mercy of my Lord. Many who knew me as a soldier and know me now would say that they don’t know me. I am not the same person.  I was still the guy they had known who would listen to the multitude of their problems for hours on end, but my approach toward helping them resolve their problems had changed. I looked deeper than the superficial considerations that I had previously focused upon. I now understood that there was more to the world, and what I had once held to be true held partial to no validity. They could see that I loved, but my love extends further now. They don’t understand my view of the world and why I reject so much of what modern society holds true now. My only reason is that Divine Truth demands it, and once you see it you can never go back to darkness.

I went down to the lowest parts of the mountains: the bars of the earth have shut me up for ever: and Thou wilt bring up my life from corruption, O Lord, my God. When my soul was in distress within me, I remembered the Lord: that my prayer may come to Thee, unto the holy temple. They that in vain observe vanities, forsake their own mercy. But I with the voice of praise will sacrifice to Thee: I will pay whatsoever I have vowed for my salvation to the Lord.
(Jonah 2:7-10)

I live each day now and I am grateful. There is much more to my life than what I have shared, but sometimes we must endure that ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ and it is through the humbling of ourselves that we truly begin that conversation with God. My ignorance, my arrogance, me… I kept myself from God. I thank God for all I have been through, much of which I will probably never pen, but I am most grateful for God humbling Himself so much as to talk to me. It has been partly through this that I have begun to ponder how great His love really is.

Deo Gratias.

____

Louis Figueroa is a father and a husband. He sees everything in life as pointing to something greater than himself. He is a cancer survivor, and suffers from a rare neurological illness, but sees that all things are opportunities to live our faith.

The “I’m ‘More Catholic’ Than You Are…” Problem

I will be the first to admit that I love knowing (often useless) bits of information. Trivia games excite me, as I like to impress people with my knowledge. Who doesn’t enjoy looking intelligent? However, just as I can get prideful over the facts that I know, many of us Catholics can get prideful over the devotions we know about or follow. And just as I sometimes don’t comprehend how the facts I know fit into the grand scheme of things, sometimes Catholics don’t realize that their faith is so much more than they take it for.

Catholics who have been raised faithfully can occasionally become caught in pride. Many of us have had this pride at some time or another, to a greater or lesser degree; sometimes we don’t even realize that we have it. We can become proud of our faith, which is a good thing, but we can also become proud of it without fully understanding it, which is not a good thing. Then we sometimes start looking down on those whom we deem “less holy” than ourselves. “So, you haven’t memorized St. Gertrude’s prayer for the souls in Purgatory? Well,” I might say with a knowing smirk, “I have.” Whether I mean to or not, I’m hinting that I’m a better Catholic than you are, forgetting that I’m not the judge and that Catholicism is not something that is measured by degrees.

Just labeling yourself as “Catholic” is not going deep enough. Just being proud of the fact that you know the St. Gertrude’s prayer, or wear the brown scapular, or pray a daily novena, isn’t helping you if you don’t truly understand why you perform these actions. These devotions are to help us get to Heaven and grow closer to God, and if we don’t understand this then they are of small use to us. If we don’t carry out these devotions seriously and with all our hearts, we’re not accomplishing that for which they are meant.

Also, viewing the Catholic Faith simply as if it is some sort of “cool club” with cool stuff for cool people is not appreciating Catholicism’s inestimable value. It’s superficially treating something that is sacred and beautiful. It’s comparable to someone simply waving a hand and saying dismissively, “oh, that’s kind of cool,” when he hears a heart-wrenching movement of music or sees the ocean at sunset. Christ died for us, and we are His children. That is something to be proud of and something to be taken seriously.

So don’t just advertise yourself as Catholic. Don’t just say the words about how much you love being Catholic. Truly live your Catholic faith in your deeds as well as your words, so that people can see it and love you and God for it. We should not become too caught up in what we know and look down on those who might not have performed specific devotions or heard of specific saints. We should instead focus on deepening our faith and growing together in love of God.

Militant Scientism

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This is the first book in the “Spiral Arm” series.

One of my favorite series in science fiction is the “Spiral Arm” series written by Michael Flynn. This series is set in the future, during which mankind has colonized one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, only to fall into a dark age in which much knowledge and even technology is lost. The series takes place after mankind has re-established interstellar travel, and follows the adventures of several secret operatives of the two major interstellar governments of the spiral arm.

One interesting plot element used in this story is that men have recovered much of their forgotten technology, but not the underlying knowledge of how it works. Einstein and Newton and other famous historical scientists are invoked as gods whose decrees over nature are obeyed, and not merely men who discovered the laws of nature. It is a society skilled in engineering (or re-engineering) technology, but not in discovering knowledge about the universe or the understanding and creativity to develop new technologies. What is depicted is a high-tech and low-culture civilization, of sorts, and one whose technological prowess is advancing but lucky re-discoveries of old technology, and yet whose culture is stagnant at best.

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Or “sign the certificate,” or “legitimize the license,” etc.

I am reminded of these stories of a society on the edge of returning to decay whenever I read an essay like the recent article by physicist Lawrence Krauss in the New Yorker. There, Dr. Krauss calls on all scientists to become “militant atheists.” Though he devotes much of his article to discussing the recent jailing of Kim Davis and the Obama Administration’s assault on religious liberties—he is in favor of both—he does devote some space to discussing why he thinks that all scientists should become militant atheists:

“In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise. “My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.” It’s ironic, really, that so many people are fixated on the relationship between science and religion: basically, there isn’t one. In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature—just as it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to follow the law.”

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Image source.

There is an old adage that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. A gentler error of the same sort is that when your only tool is a hammer, you tend to look for the nails and ignore things like screws, nuts and bolts, staples, etc. So too with scientism. Since Dr. Krauss has limited himself to using only science—or so he himself appears to be claiming—he becomes blind to anything which science cannot also see. The crux of Dr. Krauss’ argument—essentially, that God is not presupposed by any scientist in the process of “doing science” and thus is unnecessary to and ultimately precluded by science—has been amply rebutted by Dr. Feser:

“Is this a good argument? Only if this parallel piece of “reasoning” is also a good argument:

“Checkers is an atheistic enterprise. My practice as a checkers player is atheistic. That is to say, when I move a game piece across the board, I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my career as a checkers champ. In my more than thirty years as a checkers player, I have never heard the word ‘God”’mentioned at a checkers tournament. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of the game.”

“So, it isn’t just science—even checkers proves atheism! Who knew?

“Of course, the fallacy in the latter ‘argument’ is obvious. That we need make no reference to X in the course of doing Y doesn’t prove that X does not exist. We need make no reference to general relativity when studying dentistry, but that doesn’t cast doubt on Einstein’s discovery. We need make no mention of the physiology of tapeworms when engineering bridges, but that doesn’t mean that reports of people having tapeworms are all bogus. Similarly, the fact that scientists need make no reference to God when doing physics, biology, or any other science doesn’t prove—or even suggest—that the existence of God is doubtful.”

Professor Krauss continues by stating that

“Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion. The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems.”

This smug aside is not so much the crux of Dr. Krauss’ argument as its desired conclusion. Of course, where the argument fails, so must its conclusion. I am not here interested in investigating whether or why “science…draws people away from religion,” though any field which has as its current gatekeepers those who are hostile against religion will tend to have that effect on those who wish to enter that field. Instead, I true to the latter statement, that knowledge of the universe tends to dispel notions that there is a purpose behind the universe.

The idea of “purposefulness” is ultimately tied to final causality: the very thing which many scientists and would-be philosophers of science have attempted to banish from the endeavor of science! We could, in other words, re-phrase Dr. Krauss’ statement as, “The more committed we become to a philosophy which denies final causes, the fewer final causes we will discover.” Again, this is a rather tautological statement. Yet this is in essence what is being asserted by Dr. Krauss here.
Students Guide Natural ScienceOf course, even science cannot entirely escape from final causes, try as it might. It may not need to invoke final causes to be successful, though as Professor Stephen Barr and others have noted, there are final causes in science:

“Newtonian mechanics is also ‘mechanistic’ in the sense of dispensing with ‘teleology’ [1], which played so important a role in Aristotelian science. That is, in Newtonian physic the behavior of a system can be predicted without invoking any ‘final cause’ (any future ‘end’ towards which it is tending, or ‘goal’ towards which it is striving). Rather, it is enough to know the past state of a system and the laws of physics [3]. This fact contributed to the idea that nature is ‘bind’ and without ‘purpose.’ It should be noted, however, that a somewhat more teleological way of looking at Newtonian physics is possible. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries…powerful ways were developed to reformulate Newtonian physics in terms of the so-called ‘least action principle.’ A similar principle for optics, called the ‘least time principle,’ had been formulated a century earlier by Pierre Fermat…The analogous principle in mechanics says that any system will evolve from its initial configuration to its final configuration by following the series of intermediate configurations (called the ‘trajectory,’ ‘path,’ or ‘history’) that minimizes the quantity called the ‘action’ (usually denoted S).

“This way of formulating Newtonian mechanics is mathematically equivalent to the older way or formulating it in terms of forces, in the sense that it gives exactly the same answers. However, the action-principle formulation is more beautiful, powerful, and profound. In the older formulation, one start off with as many ‘equations of motion’ as there are coordinates needed to specify the state of the system (and for a complex system that number can be exceedingly large). With the least action principle, however, one starts off with the single fundamental quantity, S, and the requirement that the trajectory minimizes it [which] allows one to derive all the equations of motion. One thus sees another kind of unification taking place: many laws (or equations) flow from a single dynamical ‘principle’ involving a single fundamental quantity.”(A Student’s Guide to Natural Science, pp. 44-45).

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Porpoises must pursue their final cause, their purpose, like everything else.

That there are final causes even in the sciences, indeed even in that hardest of sciences which is physics [4], should give pause to those who reject the very notion of final causes. And where there are final causes, there are hints and glimpses of purpose. But science as science does not train us to look for purpose—indeed, centuries of “modern” muddling have practically trained us to look away from purpose. Rather, modern science has long been concentrated upon efficient causes—the “what” and the “how” of the universes’ workings, but not the “why.” Science is descriptive but rarely prescriptive or proscriptive. These latter tasks fall to philosophy and theology, which can (and should) of course draw from the knowledge gained by science, by history, and even by simple experience when forming their judgments.

What Dr. Krauss and his ilk are advocating when he says that “all scientists should be militant atheists” is not science but rather scientism. It is not so much a matter of following the evidence provided by science as eschewing the possibility that we can gain knowledge through other avenues. It is to make the nakedly philosophical assertion that no philosophies matter, to embrace the dogma that there are no final dogmas. Down that road lies madness. Down that road, even science will ultimately find itself in ruins.

 

—-Footnotes—-

[1] In his conclusion, Dr. Krauss writes that

“I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments—totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic—that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered ‘sacred.’ Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may ‘offend.'”

While I agree with parts of this conclusion—we should strive to combat ignorance, since this is contrary to Truth—the context of this statement is ominous. He is arguing, in essence, that this pursuit of knowledge should trump the right of conscience and the right to life. As an ironic aside, he argues here that abortion is not a religious issue, but rather is a social one. This, after decades of hearing from the pro-abortion side about how it is not a social or political issue, but rather a religious one, and thus that it had no place in the public square.

[2] Teleology means the study of “telos,” that is, “ends.” That is, it is a study of final causes.

[3] Of course, “the system will do this in order to obey the laws of physics” is itself a sort of statement of final causality.

[4] To say nothing of the other hard sciences. Biology is replete with final causes, as Etienne Gilson shows in his From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again.

Glory, Glory, Glory

I have been going about this all wrong. I have been making myself the victim to this tyranny I have projected onto God when, in fact, I have become the tyrant trying to dictate to God how His Will should play out in my life. I make the rules, I throw a tantrum when thing don’t go my way, I punish arbitrarily. Not God. Me. And therein lies the problem.

It is said that Lucifer’s fall was caused by his pride, his declaration of “I will not serve!” He wanted to make the rules himself, to be equal to and independent from God. He certainly got what he asked for (although I’m not sure he had the foresight to see God throwing him into the sulfuric depths of hell to gain that independence). But God gave Satan exactly what he asked for and look where it landed him. And Satan started off in heaven! What could possibly be so bad about heaven that would make an angel, one of the highest angels at that, feel like God was treating him unfairly? No matter his reasons, Lucifer decided he wanted things his way; then Adam and Eve decided they wanted to be equal to God, and now I want to be the one in charge. I. I. I. Me. Me. Me. Mine. Mine. Mine.

With each sin, each time I refuse to or chicken out of going to confession, and each time I act out of anger, I worry that my heart is hardening beyond repair. The fall from pride is a hard fall and it often leads to despair. This is no surprise as pride demands not only perfection but leads people to believe they are perfect; the reality of our shortcomings is an intense slap in the face. Despair is another form of pride, another way of saying, “I’m equal to my Creator,” just with a tragic slant that I am unfixable and unworthy. Despair leads to a true hardening of heart and, in the most tragic cases, to death.

Despair leads to placing a lot of the blame on others and God makes the perfect scapegoat – creation and humanity, in particular, have been blaming God since the dawn of time. You are doing this to me, God! You could make it stop at any time, but You don’t. You just want me to be some pawn in Your game, some cog in the machinery of creation. In fact, the opposite is true: I make God a pawn in my game and use Him as necessary. When I need something, I turn to Him. When I am in a difficult situation, I turn to Him. When I want an easy way out, I turn to Him. And perhaps most egregiously, when I am angry and not getting my way, I turn to Him. I only know God as much as I need to so I can achieve my ends. God is the polar opposite. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Since the dawn of time, before the creation of people was even a twinkle in God’s eye, He knew me intimately and He continues to seek me out and know me. “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you…plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

God and I have the same objective: for me to thrive. If I was more concerned with knowing God, perhaps He would be more concerned with letting me in on His plan. More likely, if I was more concerned with knowing and loving God, perhaps I would stop whining and complaining long enough to actually hear God when He speaks His plans to me!

“He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). The only thing that is truly mine to do is say yes to God and let His glory become my glory. That’s what I was made for, to know, love, and serve God, to help bring about His glory. My glory is extremely tame compared with God’s glory; I hoard mine up while God shares His freely. My glory is temporal while God’s glory is eternal. I give myself the short end of the stick when I seek only my own glory and I deserve so much more.

When I stop to think of what I truly want to attain in life, it boils down to changing the minds and hearts of people so they can know and share in God’s love and go to heaven, a.k.a. to work for the kingdom of God, a.k.a. to increase God’s glory. And that’s what He wants, too. I’ve been going about this all wrong. God doesn’t want me to be separate from Him, He wants me to be glorious just like Him.

His Burthen is Light

My training is in Classics. That kind of nearly obsessive focus on grammar bears some peculiar fruit in my day to day life. For one, I find it immensely difficult to sit down with a book and read it. Every sentence, no matter how prosaic, fascinates me.

Without meaning to, I find myself immediately engrossed in one problem after another — why did he choose to say it that way? Is that construction accurate? Unwieldy? — so I become engrossed in every problem, that is, but the problem that the author means to address and would have me consider.

The same holds sadly true when I read the Scriptures.

But singing Handel’s Messiah only exacerbates the problem, as small phrases and phraselets pass through my lips and my mind over and over again. Last night at rehearsal, after the fifth iteration of, “His burthen is light,” the part of my brain that puts things in historical and linguistic context shut down (completely) and the part of my brain that, in another life, would have made a fine 9/11 Truther of me kicked into high gear, and suddenly I started connecting things that never should have been connected, and that really couldn’t be connected. But it was beautiful. It was so, so very beautiful.

“His burthen,” I thought to myself, “is light.” I smiled. I grinned. I laughed. I had finally lost it.

But whosoever loses his mind for His sake shall gain it.

I had discovered that the Scriptures made a sense beyond sense. His burthen is light.

That is to say, His light is our burthen. For God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. And those who were wicked wished to hide from Him, for their deeds were darkness, but this is the true light that illumines every man coming into the world. His burthen, or rather, our burthen from Him, is His light. We pretend to have proved our Saviour’s words, in their intended sense, false, and often complain about the weight of our crosses. More often than not, however, it is no suffering that weighs upon us, no innocent pain borne innocently. The weight of our cross is the malice of our sins, tangled up in a web of emotion, psychological disorder, and a mess of pride. Or, at least, mine is.

It is the Light of God that is our heaviest burden, the burgeoning realization that our favorite dark corners will not always be there for us to hide in, that our deepest and most carefully guarded secrets will come out in the end and, in the meantime, that at any moment of any day, each of us may be exposed as a fraud. But the fear is compounded, for more often than not, we are not conscious selves defrauding others. We are sleepwalking selves deceiving ourselves, just barely awaking to our condition, aware that the entire dream is about to end, and the harsh reality of Monday morning will stand starkly before our eyes, a reality which we can no more escape than we can ignore.

Light is our Cross, or more, it is our Purgatory. For we will be purified by the flames of that Light before we cross over into the Light that brings us joy.

Too often we overreact against the Protestant opinion and find ourselves Pelagians, equally erroneous. We don’t save ourselves. The Calvinist, though overblown, is on the money. If we look back on our lives, we will surely find ourselves seeing, at some point, a wretched, miserable, weak, wimpy, spineless, gutless turd admiring his reflection in a toilet bowl, grabbed by the Almighty Hand and dragged heavenwards by the wrist. Unlike the Calvinist, however, we know that we can put up enough of a fight to stay in the bathroom if we want to.

Trusting in Christ is not trusting that Christ will save you (full stop). It is, rather, trusting that Christ will save you, if you let Him, and it is also the very act (or the very acts) of letting Him.

In Heaven our pride will at length pass away,
The Light will expose what we freely admit,
And the burthen, at last, of Light will be light,
The Light from the face of Our Lord, Jesus Christ,
The Savior who saves our selves from ourselves,
Giving us cause after cause without end
To praise Him alone, who alone is our Friend.

And he is meek and humble of heart,
And his yoke is easy, and burden light,
For those as meek and humble as He.

Pharisees, Publicans and a Pope

This week, an in-depth interview with Pope Francis was released in Jesuit publications around the world. In the opening question, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”, the Bishop of Rome took his time to answer:

“…I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

If we were asked this kind of question, how would we respond? What kind of man answers in this vein? Is it the beginnings of a holy man? What is holiness then?

In many spiritual writings I am often struck by the paradox involved in our call to holiness. Words often used to describe this quest linger in my mind: progressing, striving, climbing, self-discipline, reaching heights or levels, with each of these expressions of action able to mislead us. They suggest a physical movement, an effort we make to obtain holiness through our deeds and acts of piety. If we are not careful, we can leave our “ascent” towards God at this level – a self-made, false, holiness and forget the true source of our sanctity which lies outside of our human grasp.

Let”s use the scene from Luke, chapter 18 as an example. We have the Pharisee on one hand, who was probably a model citizen, well respected, and externally a tower of piety. He gave to the poor, fasted and prayed, was honest in his dealings with others, and yet, he fell short before the eyes of Jesus. Our culture today, like the Pharisee, often determines one”s worth by his accomplishments and status. It is easy to look upon others, such as the publican, who externally seems less, with contempt or simply presuming they “got what they deserved”.  But how does Jesus see the publican? He doesn”t look at him on the basis of his status in society, nor in the eloquence of his prayer, nor by the works he has done, but solely in his reverence of God and his humility before the Almighty. “O God, be merciful to me, a poor sinner”. No eloquence here. The publican sees the truth of who he is in the light of God, and clings to God”s mercy as his hope. This is the power beyond our own capacity; we remain In The country, sports betting ate up up to 50 % (49%) of GGR, then poker cash games (23%), (13%), tournament poker (10%), bingo (4%) and horseracing (1%). small and allow God to be great.

Imagining these two figures in a dark room makes their contrast a stark one. The publican is bathed in light as he “humbly ascends” towards God. The Pharisee, only feet away, is stumbling in the dark trying with all his might to illumine his own greatness so that others may see how high he has ascended. As was a common theology of his day, the Pharisee believed that his obedience to the law and man-made perfection equate with sanctity. The thrust of Jesus” praise of the publican”s prayer opens a before-concealed door to the heart of God; it reveals how much God doesn”t want us to be self-made saints, but rather made holy through Him who is refuge and mercy.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that perfection passes through the cross and that there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (CCC 2015). Renunciation is evident in the publican”s display of humility. It was once described to me that the spiritual battle as filled with often imperceptible barriers which mask themselves under the name of virtue; a virtue that in the end deceives us into climbing up the rungs of the wrong ladder disguised in our prayer and works of mercy. The problem with going up the wrong ladder is when we meet with obstacles of fatigue and unpleasant situations, we have nothing solid to stop our fall – it crashes down like a house of cards. We begin to think like the Pharisee that believes he has done everything right, so “why is this happening to me?” Our failing in these circumstances lead to discontent, envy, and maybe even despair. These feelings are signs we are going in the wrong direction. The right direction is pointed out to us by the publican whose prayer is focused solely on God, and who was perfectly comfortable to admit his lowliness.

It is in moments such as these, we can choose to be the Pharisee and cling to our external shows of piety, hoping all will notice our virtue. Indeed, the world will congratulate us for our “goodness”. We have a choice, and can dare to follow the publican”s ascent down, off the ladder of external practices and perfectionism, into the depths of true humility where we risk to lose position and esteem before others. It is here, before God, we are not afraid to cry out, “Have mercy, O God, I am a sinner” and be wrapped in his grace. Here we can place ourselves before the Lord, in His light which reveals how truly small and broken we are…and not be afraid to be home there.

Perhaps it is the Pope”s attitude of first attributing himself as a sinner, that has many people intrigued. He is in a position of power and yet he is not ashamed to lower himself, placing all down at the feet of God, and publicly defining himself with the lowest. Perhaps this sign of humility makes him so able to reach out to the crippled and wash the feet of sinners. He sees himself as one of them.

May the Lord grant us the grace to follow the publican”s and Pope Francis” examples, shedding the outer layers that give reason for boasting, and instead walk resolutely down into the earthiness (humus), or humility.

The Weak Who Shame the Strong

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul explains how, when God calls people, he does not base his decision on human criteria –  wisdom, power, nobility – but often chooses uneducated, unimportant and even despised people in the world’s eye to convert the wise, the strong and the “important”.

Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinth.

1:26-31)

Obviously Jesus Christ himself is the supreme example of what St. Paul is talking about here. As a newborn baby in Bethlehem he was greeted by kings and adored by shepherds and at his presentation in the Temple, this 40-day-old infant who was, by all appearances, nothing more than a “carpenter’s son” is recognized by two prophets as the Savior of the world. An infant Savior! The paradox of our Lord and Savior’s humble human origins also makes me think of Christ crucified and the foolishness and weakness of God that is wiser and stronger than men (1 Corinth. 1:23-25).

The Apostles and many of the first Christians also demonstrate God’s desire to use the lowly of the world to carry out his will and he has not stopped using those who are weak by the world’s standards to reveal his glory and shame the proud and the strong to this day. There are many modern day examples of this. The following came to my mind when I heard the above reading from St. Paul at Mass last Saturday.

garvan byrneTo the “wise and learned” of the world, life with a disability or terminal illness is not worth living. When a child is prenatally diagnosed with various diseases parents are pressured to abort and assisted suicide is promoted as a way to escape pain and suffering. Enter Garvan Byrne.

Terminally ill and handicapped from birth, young Garvan endured intense pain as he faced certain death at the tender age of twelve. Throughout all of the trauma, however, he remained hopeful and optimistic, finding peace and meaning in life that most healthy, able-bodied adults have never seen.

In 1985, just a two months before he died, eleven year old Garvan recorded an interview with Mother Francis Dominica, the founder of one of the hospices he often visited. It has been uploaded to YouTube in three parts. If you can, do yourself a favor and set aside about 20 minutes to watch all three, you will not regret it.

I don’t think it matters how handicapped you are or how sick. You always succeed in something. God gave us each a gift. –Garvan Byrne March 20, 1973 – April 16, 1985

Abortion is the ultimate war against the weak and here I think of abortion survivors like Gianna Jessen and Melissa Ohden. How in their cases God used an infant, the very weakest among us, to show their would-be assassins who really has power over life and death. Not only that, but now both of them are very outspoken, internationally known pro-life speakers – Gianna with her “gift of Cerebral Palsy” on top of everything – and have challenged many who see nothing wrong with the stronger dominating the weaker and deciding who lives and who dies.

“I didn’t survive so I could make everyone comfortable. I survived so I could stir things up a bit. And I have a great time doing it.” –Gianna Jessen

In 2008 Jessen addressed Queen’s Hall, Parliament House in Victoria Australia on the eve of the debate to decriminalize abortion in Victoria. It is one of the best pro-life speeches you’ll ever see. Watch it. That same year, she also used her powerful voice and story to highlight then candidate Obama’s disturbing defense of doctors killing babies just like her who survived abortion attempts. This year Ohden has lent her voice to a similar campaign. There ain’t nothin’ weak about these two women anymore!

“Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” These words of St. Paul tell all of us to recognize our own weakness, the limits of our human nature, and have recourse to God, apart from Whom we can do nothing (John 15:5). We may not be physically poor in health, wealth or knowledge, but we can always allow ourselves to be poor in spirit, detached from our own ego, so that the power of Christ may more easily dwell within us, strengthening us to carry out his will.

“‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’ (1 Cor 1:27). Therefore the true minister of Christ is conscious of his own weakness and labours in humility. He tries to discover what is well pleasing to God (cf. Eph 5:10) and bound as it were in the Spirit (cf. Acts 20:22), he is guided in all things by the will of him who wishes all men to be saved. He is able to discover and carry out that will in the course of his daily routine by humbly placing himself at the service of all those who are entrusted to his care by God in the office that has been committed to him and the variety of events that make up his life.” (Presbyterorum ordinis, 15).

False Greatness and its Remedy

Most of the time I assume myself to be a person falling into the same category Churchill found himself in when dealing with people he didn’t like: “He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” People rub me the wrong way, and they will continue to do so until the day I die. But at least I try to keep an eye on my own prejudices; that someone rubs me the wrong way might not be a problem with the other person, but a problem with me. Maybe a person’s loudmouthed, snap-to-judgment personality isn’t truly something to despise, rather a facet of their person-hood that deserves all the tolerance and respect as their annoying but harmless mannerisms and inability to manage a working relationship with personal hygiene. A person may be annoying, grating, and obnoxious, but that hardly makes them evil. Thus it makes it even more difficult when, in dealing with a person, that deep unease takes over and, without calculated judgment or malicious intent on my part, I realize that, yes, this person is truly and unmistakably nuts.

What makes this even more difficult is when I come to know a person, have some real understanding of their character, and then I see that most of what they emanate through the grating obnoxiousness is a real and willful striving toward a notion of greatness that lacks a basis in reality. Great a man as he was, for example, Steve Jobs was a bona fide jerk toward those he worked with and who worked for him: he always lived as though he were some exceptional person to whom the rules did not apply. He would park in handicapped spaces because he felt like it; he would be unrestrained and particularly harsh in his criticisms of others. I do not mean to defame an otherwise good man who made real contributions to the world–what I mean to say is that our notions of greatness can become so inhuman, so draconian, and so self-centered that we lose sight of the real importance of life itself.

Contrast this pragmatic, one-dimensional view of greatness with the teachings of Catholic morality and spirituality. If we can put them side-by-side, we can see many similarities and differences, but the most foundational difference between our notions of greatness lies in the places of both charity and humility: the foundation and the keystone of the whole structure, respectively.

Humility and charity. Great men have feared very little, except these two things. Caesar could have embodied all of the great virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, but when reminded that he too was a mere mortal prone to mistakes, he lashed out in fury. When the face of charity looked him in the eye and hinted at some sort of reality beyond politics, pragmatics, and power, he had it crucified, and hasn’t stopped since. How delightfully humorous it is, that the humility of a child is enough to make a great man lose himself in fear; how deliciously ironic that the love of a saint can make such “greatness” retreat to the bowels of Hell. No, this is not greatness at all–greatness refuses to associate itself with the petty trifles of the world and the stifling limitations one puts on oneself. If ego, slavery to one’s own opinions (and by extension, enslaving others to your own opinions), fretting over having one’s own way, and treating others as mere accessories in achieving your own vision, goals, and dreams don’t count as petty trifles and stifling limitations, then there’s no such thing as a petty trifle or stifling limitation.

The Christian call to greatness raises us up out of this one-dimensional and inhumanly pragmatic view of greatness and into something truly great, based on Truth and Charity. It calls us to recover the essence of our human nature and to fulfill it. Without humility we can’t know the truth of our nature; without charity, we can’t use it to aspire to anything. Any substitution to either of these is false and will lead to frustration, fruitlessness, and futility.

Humility means that we base our understanding of our nature and worth on what is authentic and true. That means that we do not base our worth on our work or achievements, but on the fundamental openness we have to God and to each other. Nothing else matters.

I find it telling that all the qualities that we associate with an ugliness of person all have to do with an overreaching ego, with a preoccupation with self and an exaltation of one’s own personality. The more you strive for greatness, the more you are to surely lose it, unless you first start by striving for humility.

Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation. — St. Augustine

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/DSCN0288.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Nathan Kennedy is a 25-year old student living in Amarillo, Texas, who converted to the Catholic Church in 2008. He is currently involved in vocational discernment to the religious life, and his hobbies include music composition, reading science fiction, spending time outdoors, and learning biology. His website isSinging in the Shower.[/author_info] [/author]

Humility Still Matters

In our so-called enlightened society of the 21st century, many people keep making the unfortunate mistake of confusing humility for low self esteem, meekness for weakness. As we await to celebrate Christmas, let us not forget this most important virtue that made God Himself to become mortal for our own good. A Creator becoming a creature. A Master becoming a servant. The perfectly rich becoming poor to the extent of being born in a manger. If God can be humble enough to become like us poor creatures, then how much more we who claim to be His followers? Let’s think about this deeply. For indeed “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 RSV)

Below are some thought-provoking quotes on humility:

IN Paradise there are many Saints who never gave alms on earth: their poverty justified them. There are many Saints who never mortified their bodies by fasting, or wearing hair shirts: their bodily infirmities excused them. There are many Saints too who were not virgins: their vocation was otherwise. But in Paradise there is no Saint who was not humble. ~Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo

Humility is the only virtue that no devil can imitate. If pride made demons out of angels, there is no doubt that humility could make angels out of demons. ~Saint John Climacus

The gate of Heaven is very low; only the humble can enter it. ~Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
(James 4:10 RSV)

“Jesus is your friend. The Friend. With a human heart, like yours. With loving eyes that wept for Lazarus. And he loves you as much as he loved Lazarus.” Saint Josemaría Escrivá — Godwin Delali Adadzie is a Catholic living in Ghana, West Africa. A former smoker (Fish smoker now a Vegetarian) but still loves to drink a lot (of water). He attempts to blog at the Fair (HubBlogs with GADEL), the Good (Blessed Virgin our Mother Mary Immaculate), the Bad (GADEL Said What?) and the Ugly (Catholic Fiction: Responding to Myths & Half-Truths)

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/GADEL-e1313956313253.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Godwin Delali Adadzie, also known as GADEL, was baptized as an Evangelical Presbyterian (1986) and is now a Roman Catholic (1999), although he spent most of his childhood life in Kabbalah and Paganism. He attended the Methodist University College of Ghana and has a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. He loves apologetics, drawing and humour. He strongly believes that faith and reason are two sides of the same coin. He blogs at HubBlogs with GADEL and also GADEL Said What?.[/author_info] [/author]