Tag Archives: Relationships

Mercy, Justice and Grace in “Suits”

Suits is a popular TV show about slick lawyers who are rude, nasty and deceitful while bending, skirting, or straight-up breaking the law and playing interminable office politics, and it may be the last place one would expect lessons in mercy, justice and grace, but as St. Augustine says, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Mike Ross is a bike messenger and drug dealer who was expelled from high school for giving his best friend Trevor the answers to a math test, which his friend sold to a girl who happened to be the dean’s daughter, leading to the dean’s dismissal. While evading the police, Mike stumbles in upon a job interview for law graduates, and is hired by Harvey Spector despite his lack of a law degree, after demonstrating his exceptional eidetic memory and knowledge of the law – Mike had also been making a living sitting the LSATS for other people. This incredible opportunity enables Mike to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, which was derailed by the incident with Trevor as he had had to give up his acceptance to Harvard law.

To the associates and partners of the firm Pearson Hardman, their jobs are not just jobs, but become their entire purpose for living, their telos and identity. Jessica Pearson tells Harvey that when he joins the firm, he’s joining a family. The lawyers are married to their work, and this theme is played out over and over in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, as the language and norms of courtship are applied to their work relationships. Mike desists from destroying a dodgy opposing lawyer’s career, because that man pleads with him that being a lawyer is who he is, and all he has left after losing his family following the financially calamitous loss of a massive suit.

In more somber tones, Suits also shows how damaging it is to familial bonds when one becomes completely given over to one’s chosen career. Jessica’s husband divorces her, and Harvey’s mother repeatedly cheats on his father, who is often away as a traveling musician.

The show also explores how one’s childhood and family experiences can continue to play out throughout one’s life, especially when one is deeply wounded. Harvey seems to have everything go his way, and appears to be invincible and suave, fixing everything that goes wrong. But he is unable to sustain a romantic relationship, and although he and his secretary Donna have fancied each other for twelve years, he does not allow himself to truly love her and give himself to her. His inability to be vulnerable and trust others is traced back to his mother’s infidelity. We see how the sins of a parent can mar the child for life, damaging his future relationships.

As for Mike, he lost his parents in a car crash when he was twelve, and he is unable to forgive the lawyer who convinced his grandmother to accept a settlement. His anger bubbling from this ingrained sense of injustice is a key motivation in his practice of the law; he jumps at chances to defend the underdog. Yet, his anger and ambition also blinds him, and he handles 88 cases despite his lack of qualifications. That is something like an invalidly-ordained priest celebrating the sacraments – everything he touches is invalid. Despite good intentions, when the means are flawed, the consequences can be dire.

In Season 5, this lie blows up in Mike’s face when he is turned in for conspiracy to commit fraud, just after resigning following a soul-searching talk with his old school chaplain, Father Walker. We are on tenterhooks while he navigates the court case – will another incredible stroke of luck save him?

Mike ends up in prison after a self-sacrificial act to save his superiors’ skins, but though things look dire, his presence enables him to work for the freedom of his unjustly-jailed cellmate. It is terrifying to watch Mike deal with the resident murderous big bully, but Harvey continues to have his back, pulling all sorts of strings to get Mike out of jail.

Meanwhile, as Jessica faces the loss of her firm and all she has worked for, her romantic interest Jeff Malone reflects that sometimes God allows unpleasant things to happen, for a greater good. Indeed, this decimation of her firm allows Jessica to reevaluate her priorities in life, opening her mind to the possibility that there may be more to life than work.

Suits provides a nail-biting examination of moral issues and the motivations which drive people to cheat, lie and blackmail while trying to secure that nebulous thing called justice. It is a riveting show which deals honestly with questions of truth and the factors surrounding human relationships, bound by die-hard loyalty but also fractured by pain and fear. When viewed through the prism of divine providence working through the messy lives of humans, it demonstrates how good can eventually be drawn from the consequences of bad choices, although each character pays a price for their misdeeds.

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Dealing with Resentment

I’m one of those people who tend to attract people with problems.

I’d be sitting quietly at a party, or at a church event, and strangers come up and spill their guts about their illnesses, their romantic woes, their family problems, everything. Sometimes, strangers on the Internet do that too!

It feels good to be able to help with a listening ear, but after awhile one can get really overwhelmed and resentful, and wish everyone would just go away and deal with their own problems.

Jesus probably felt something similar when, following his cousin John the Baptist’s death, he retired to an isolated area by boat, only to be followed by crowds on foot. He took pity on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14)

How does one respond when one is overwhelmed?

Firstly, you should listen to your own feelings. Jesus was God, but He didn’t preach and heal non-stop. He took refuge in prayer and silence, resting in His human form and communing with the Father and the Holy Spirit so that He could minister anew. If you don’t recharge, you can’t serve, and you may end up snapping or burning out.

Secondly, it is important to set boundaries. People are not omniscient and they probably don’t know of all the other things on your plate. Sometimes it is also good for them to be declined, so they can actually stop fretting and do something constructive about their problems, or take them in prayer to God Himself.

Thirdly, it really helps to be able to put on the mind of Christ, even though it can be very difficult, and to see the other person as an occasion of grace, not as a pest. It can be extremely hard if they have a mental health issue and contact you every day, but that too is an opportunity to exercise patience and charity, while learning how not to compromise your own daily duties and much-needed rest.

These are also opportunities to lift others up to God in prayer. As Christians, we are our brothers’ keepers. When they get too much for us, one can ask for community help to shoulder the burden, and one should always turn to God in times of dismay. This allows Him to transform us and those whom we meet.

A deep prayer life enables us to be reservoirs of grace, overflowing with the peace of Christ, which can be hard to attain in this busy, distracted world of ours. By being reservoirs, we can face any trouble calmly with ease, knowing that God is present and works everything to good.

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Image: PD-US

He Noticed

For so many of us, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the multitudes. In the crowds of people at malls and stores, the workplace and schools, we lose sight of others, and maybe even more so, we ourselves feel truly lost in the crowd.

Jesus was familiar with swarms of people. It was a definitive aspect of His ministry to be frequently surrounded by the people:

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.[1]

But in the midst of that crowd one day, a sick woman, who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, recognized Jesus. She knew He was there, and she did everything in her power not to lose sight of Him: more than that, she wanted to reach out to Him.

For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.”[2]

She did not cry out for attention. She knew her littleness in contrast to all the multitudes of people swarming around Jesus. And yet, in her humble faith, she trusted that God could work a miracle for her if she but touched Him. Would He notice?

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?”[3]

The woman did not go unnoticed: Jesus sensed her act of faith, though she but reached out and caught the hem of his cloak in her fingers for a moment in time.

And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”And he looked around to see who had done it.[4]

The disciples are confused: how can Jesus even ask the question ‘Who touched me?’ Probably half the people in the crowd have touched Him as they buzzed excitedly around Him for the past ten minutes alone. Further: why should Jesus care?

And yet, He does care. The others who touched Him did so because they were pressing upon Him in the crowd. The woman, on the other hand, was purposely reaching out in humility and trust. Her loving faith, so hidden to the eyes of the disciples overwhelmed by the masses, draws Jesus to reach out to her who reached out to Him.

But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”[5]

A living faith, however overlooked by the crowds, is never lost on God. The woman trusted in God’s goodness and mercy and reached out to Him. She was rewarded not only with His healing, but also with a return of His loving recognition. Even the Apostles saw nothing special in her simple touch, but Jesus saw her intention.

He noticed.

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version: Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Mark 5:24.

[2] (Mark 5:28, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[3] (Mark 5:30, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[4] (Mark 5:31-32, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

[5] (Mark 5:33-34, RSV: Second Catholic Edition)

Movie Review: Mary Magdalene (2018)

A friend and I were given free tickets for a preview of the upcoming film Mary Magdalene.

The visuals were truly exquisite, bringing to life the stark beauty of poor Hebrew dwellings, their dress and cuisine, and the simplicity of life in a fishing village, with the soothing susurration of the waves ever present.

However, I was really disappointed with the lack of true understanding of Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple of Jesus, and how the film pits her against the apostles. The film has a strong feminist bent while funnily leaving out Jesus’ other female disciples.

We are introduced to Mary as a strong-willed though mild young woman who refuses to marry, despite her father’s attempts to match-make her.

She flees to the synagogue to pray in distress, and is rebuked for bringing dishonor on her family by appearing crazed.

Her stubbornness is interpreted as demonic possession, and she is tricked into an exorcism ritual where she is nearly drowned.

However, she encounters Jesus, who is mobbed by villagers seeking cures. She runs away from home to follow him and his apostles to Jerusalem.

The apostles are portrayed as clueless Jewish patriots who see Jesus as the key to overthrowing the Roman Empire. Judas is portrayed in a sympathetic light, as someone who lost his wife and child to the Romans.

The movie depicts Mary Magdalene as being the only one to understand Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. At her instigation, he preaches to the women of a town, especially one who is filled with hatred and unforgiveness over another’s rape. This is in contrast to the Scriptures, where Jesus needs no one to prompt Him to approach the Samaritan woman, or to visit Mary and Martha, or to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

Also, Mary Magdalene is shown baptizing women, using a strange formula about being “baptized into the Light.” There is no mention of the Holy Trinity, which is necessary for a valid baptism.

Peter resents Mary’s presence and declares that she will cause division among the apostles. However, he is sent with her to minister to the towns. She tends to the dying, and he realizes that she, more than he, has grasped Jesus’ message of mercy.

Mother Mary meets them as they enter Jerusalem. Far from the beautiful and stately Mary portrayed by Maia Morgenstern in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), she looks crabby and restless. She sharply states to Mary Magdalene, indicating Jesus, “You love him, don’t you?” Mary Magdalene is then depicted lying down near Jesus, his one companion in his distress as he approaches his death.

Jesus is also shown breaking down in tears before entering Jerusalem, while Mary Magdalene comforts him, cradling his head in her lap. It is a poignant reminder of God making Himself vulnerable in His humanity, and that we can comfort Him by doing reparation for sins. Yet, all this intimacy between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the end does a disservice to the Gospel, where Jesus pursues His earthly mission as both God and man, the Anointed One with the strength to resist temptations alone in the desert.

The movie also omits the true friendship Christ enjoyed with the apostles, particularly St. John the Beloved, who stayed with Him to the bitter end and was entrusted with His mother’s care. Instead, after the Resurrection, Mary and Peter are again depicted at odds, with Mary Magdalene pledging to carry Jesus’ message despite the corrupted message she feels Peter and the apostles will pass on in forming a church. Yet, Scripture records that Peter was the one who stood by Jesus when others deserted Him over the Eucharist.

Oddly enough, the movie ends with references to the very Church built on the rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18); yet, again, it distorts the message of the Catholic Church. It notes Pope Gregory the Great as wrongly conflating St. Mary Magdalene with the penitent prostitute, and claims that because the Vatican has recognized her as the Apostle to the Apostles, that means she is equal to the apostles.

“Apostle” is simply Greek for “messenger”, and yes, Mary Magdalene brought news of Christ’s resurrection to the Apostles, so she was the messenger to the messengers of the Gospel, the messengers ordained by Christ to preach and to forgive sins with His authority (Matthew 18:18). All this hype about “equality” is a tone-deaf rendering of the roles of both men and women in the Church, which are different though complementary.

By denying St. Mary Magdalene‘s identity as a penitent, the film has omitted the awesome wonder of God’s grace working through a repentant sinner to bring the Good News that Christ conquered sin and death.

In the end, the 2018 film Mary Magdalene may be remembered for its beautiful cinematography, but it fails to deliver the salvific truth of the Gospel as ministered through the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ. The Gospel is not just about human charity and forgiveness or equality between men and women. It encompasses God’s great design for human salvation from the time of the Fall to the present day, and the movie very disappointingly lost His plot.

(Also, they forgot the donkey when Jesus made His entry into Jerusalem, foretold in Zechariah 9:9.)

An Indonesian Miracle of Muslim-Catholic Friendship

One of my friends was a Buddhist when she and her family narrowly escaped being raped or killed by riots against the Chinese in the May 1998 riots of Indonesia, which saw over 1000 murdered. She told me about the miraculous survival of a Catholic family living in the vicinity. They tied a rosary to their gate and hid in the house, praying fervently. The rioters looted and burned the homes on either side of their property, but passed by their house as if they could not see it.

My friend escaped to New Zealand to build a new life in safety. After much heartache and struggle to find a job so that she could remain in the country, she knelt before the crucifix in a cathedral, begging God for help. The very next day, her last possible day before she had to leave the country, someone helped her carry her suitcase up the stairs of a hotel, and when he heard of her dire situation, he mentioned that he was the manager and in search of an accountant – which just so happened to be her profession.

Tensions are still high in parts of Indonesia, and Christian clergy are advised not to wear even a cross. Hence it is remarkable to see how a young Muslim lady recently sang a beautiful Ave Maria at her dear friend’s funeral. Indonesia has a policy of assimilation where Chinese have to take on Malay surnames, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the races, when individuals happen to have similar skin tones. People of different religions grow up cheek by jowl in this populous nation of over 260 million souls, and it is always heartening to see acts of friendship and love bridging racial and religious divides.

You can watch the video here.

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Image: PD-US

The Beggar on the Bus

One afternoon, I was on a bus to the city when a disheveled young man boarded the bus. He was in gray pajamas, barefoot, and looked like he hadn’t had a shower in awhile.

“Can I please get on? I only need 60 more cents,” he begged the driver.

The driver demurred, probably adhering to company policy.

Being one of the nearest passengers, I rose and fished out the necessary change.

The man sat down. “Thanks,” he said. I decided to start a conversation with him.

He told me that he had no siblings, his mother was overseas, and his father refused to talk to him.

As we neared the next bus-stop, a disheveled lady came up. “Here, have this,” she insisted, pressing ten dollars into his hand. “I’ve been there before, mate. Use it for whatever you like. Look out for me on the streets. I just have to report to the cop shop now!”

Of all the people on the bus, that impoverished lady was the most generous. She was able to see past the grime to the face of a person in need of love. She identified with his situation and did what she could to alleviate his privation.

May we learn from her example and find the face of Christ in the lowliest-looking people we meet.

Please keep Chris and Carla in your prayers.

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Image: PD-US

Movie Review: “King’s Faith”

The Christian movie King’s Faith (2013), available on Netflix, is a beautiful and moving story of faith and redemption. Best of all, it manages to convey the reality of faith without being corny or trite, examining complex human issues like death, crime, divorce and abortion with tenderness, displaying the full reality of the pain and trauma of loss while demonstrating the healing that comes with trust in each other and in God.

[Caution: some spoilers ahead]

King’s Faith centers on 18-year-old Brendan King (Crawford Wilson), who has been on the wrong side of the law multiple times and is placed in his eighteenth foster home after being detained for three years. His foster father Mike Stubbs (James McDaniel) is a math teacher at his new high school, and mentors the after-school Bible study group as well as the faith-based community service youth group, The Seekers.

Brendan was given a Bible while in juvenile detention, and came to accept the saving truth of Christianity. With his newfound faith in God, Brendan applies himself to his studies, determined to leave his old life behind.

However, trouble comes calling when Brendan saves a fellow schoolmate, Natalie Jenkins (Kayla Compton), from a car crash and appears on the news. His old gang tracks him down and demands that he hand over a stash of drugs and cash that he and his now-dead best friend had hidden before the federal drug raid that ended his friend’s life and landed Brendan in detention.

The Stubbs are recovering from the death of their only son, a police officer who was killed during a routine traffic stop. Vanessa Stubbs (Lynn Whitfield) is unable to move on, and spends most days cultivating flowers for her son’s memorial on the side of the highway.

Mike, meanwhile, has been able to surrender his pain to God and welcomes Brendan as a foster child, knowing that God may bring good out of this gift of a stable, loving home for a troubled youth. He is a trusting man who looks for the good in others, even those rejected by the rest of society.

As we follow Brendan through his new life and watch him and other characters grapple with the past, we witness the power of faith to transform even the most terrible circumstances, binding old wounds and uniting the estranged in love and truth.

Cardinal Pell’s response to his charges

The sexual abuse crises in Catholic dioceses from the USA to Ireland have created great distress and fomented considerable media attention. It is a sickening tragedy and grave injustice, always and everywhere, when adults in positions of trust take advantage of vulnerable children and young adults under their supervision. However, it is also a tragedy and injustice when the reputations and lives of the innocent are ruined by false allegations, and also when organizations which provide significant support to the community are tainted by scandal, with the ongoing contributions of the majority of their members overlooked.

The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world, and also in Australia, providing vital healthcare, educational and social services every day. At the same time, the 2016 census found that, for the first time in Australian history, there are now more people identifying as non-religious than Catholic. Meanwhile, the media has fudged the statistics to make levels of historical abuse appear higher than in actual fact. In reality, priests are less likely to commit sexual offenses than the average male (for example, in the USA, 4 percent of priests active between 1950 to 1992 were accused of sexual misconduct, and it is estimated that 10 percent of American males commit sexual abuse; as George Weigel notes, the Church is probably the safest place for a young person today). David Gibson of The Washington Post reasons:

Part of the issue is that the Catholic Church is so tightly organized and keeps such meticulous records – many of which have come to light voluntarily or through court orders – that it can yield a fairly reliable portrait of its personnel and abuse over the decades. Other institutions, and most other religions, are more decentralized and harder to analyze or prosecute.”

The charges against 76-year-old Cardinal George Pell in particular have occasioned significant media frenzy, in Australia and overseas. His case is unique, because he is the highest-ranking Australian Catholic and highest representative of the Universal Church to be charged. Pell was ordained in 1966 and served as the Archbishop of Melbourne (1996–2001) and eighth Archbishop of Sydney (2001–2014) before becoming the first Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy (2014–present), in charge of managing the Vatican’s finances. He is the third most senior official in the Vatican.

Cardinal Pell was not obliged to return to his homeland to face the charges, as the Vatican has no extradition treaty with Australia. However, he said: “Court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here, back to Rome to work.” Pell has willingly cooperated with the entire legal process, beginning with an interview with three Victorian police in Rome last October. His legal bills will not be funded by the Archdiocese of Sydney.

On 26 July, Pell appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for a filing hearing and entered a plea of not guilty, even though he was not obliged to do so, and had to walk through a massive media scrum including reporters who had flown in from other countries. Pell has thus demonstrated his complete willingness to engage with the proceedings against him.

Pell’s forthrightness is unsurprising, given that he established the Melbourne Response in 1996 to handle allegations of clerical abuse, six years before The Boston Globe broke the scandal which became the premise for the 2015 movie Spotlight. The Melbourne Response was the first Catholic redress scheme addressing child abuse. It was only last year that the Australian federal government introduced a national compensation scheme. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been holding inquiries into various Australian organizations and state institutions, including the Australian Defence Force. Child abuse is a horrible scourge in Australian society, now increasing with technology.

Let us pray not only that the truth will be uncovered and justice be done, but also that the wounds of all involved, and all those affected by the media coverage, will be healed.

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Degrees of Sin — Separation from God

Sin is not wanting too much, but settling for too little. It’s settling for self-gratification rather than self-fulfillment.
— Scott Hahn, First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity

It should have been better that all the stars should have fallen from Heaven than that one soul should have ever committed a single venial sin.
— Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

Recently, some friends and I were discussing an interview with Milo Yiannopoulos, in which he said:

“Sins of the flesh, let us remember, are at the bottom of the scale. The Church says self-righteousness is at the top. Therefore, I’m in a lot better shape than some of my feminist and establishment Republican enemies.”

That part made me wonder about his grasp of Holy Scripture and the Catechism, not to mention Our Lady of Fatima’s sobering warning:

More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.

A friend of mine chimed in: “Sins of the flesh rank lowest in Dante’s Inferno and also Bishop Barron agrees in his CD Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Lively Virtues.”

Sandro Botticelli, Chart of Hell

I replied: “Indeed, lust of all the sins is most akin to love, Dante notes. But when you really love someone, offending them in any way is just downright bad. And no matter what degree of Hell someone is in, it’s all really bad ‘cos it’s eternal separation from Love. So on one hand it may be technically right to say one sin is not as bad as another… On the other hand, they’re all terrible and we ought to scram from every one!

Sometimes when we are in a state of sin, it is tempting to compare ourselves to other sinners, thinking, “At least we’re not as bad as they are!” But isn’t that really the pinnacle of self-righteousness? Isn’t it akin to the attitude of the Pharisee who thought himself better than the publican? (Luke 18:11)

It’s like a sick person comparing himself with others in hospital: “At least I’m not as poorly as that man!” or worse, “What’s the point in getting well, we’re all going to fall sick and die in the end anyway.” He’s still stuck in hospital, and comparing himself to another patient just creates a false sense of consolation. Instead, it would be better to focus on his recovery, comparing his current condition with the healthful one he hopes to be in.

When in sin, therefore, let us take the example of Christ and the saints as our standard, and lean ever more on God for the strength to strive for holiness: confessing our sins, performing penance, and amending our lives.

For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God. Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption, that is in Christ Jesus…
Romans 3:23-24

To confess your sins to God is not to tell Him anything He doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.
— Frederick Buechner

God does not judge Christians because they sinned, but because they do not repent.
— St. Niphon of Constantia

To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides itself from the blind.
— St. Anthony the Great, Cap. 150

Be ashamed when you sin, not when you repent.
There are two things: sin and repentance.
Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine.
Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness.
Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.
— St. John Chrysostom

Image: PD-US

Leisure: Rest & Virtue vs Distraction & Dissipation

“Regret is a waste of time.” Dream said.
“No, I think regret is when people realise they’ve wasted all the time they’ve had.” Chris argued.
— Mary Borsellino, The Boy Who Gave Away His Birthday

The Christian life is a harmonization of the contemplative and the active life. We see from Genesis that God rested after creating the universe, and sanctified this day of rest. The Douay-Rheims Bible explains:

“He rested”: That is, he ceased to make or create any new kinds of things. Though, as our Lord tells us, John 5:17,”He still worketh”, viz., by conserving and governing all things, and creating souls.

In ancient Rome and Greece, leisure was a luxury afforded to the free man.

In Athens, leisure was one of the marks of the Athenian gentleman: the time to do things right, unhurried time, time to discuss in.
— “Otium“, Wikipedia

We see that from classical pagan antiquity and Judeo-Christian tradition, times of rest were to be taken seriously. Times of otium or σχολή (skholē, from which we derive the word “school”) were valuable in rejuvenating oneself and considering how best to re-engage with society, in negōtium (non-leisure: business and politics.). Philosophers like Cicero spent their otium writing profound books which are still valued today. They used their retirement to consider what constituted “the good life” (εὐδαιμονία – eudaimonia) which would cultivate a healthy civic life that would ensure the flourishing of individuals and the country.

Virtual Vices

In contrast, today we usually fritter away our times of rest. We are absorbed in television screens, computer screens, smartphone screens or movie screens. Instead of spending our precious time interacting with our loved ones, enjoying nature or a good book, we often give in to the siren call of pixelated pleasures. Before we know it, the day has turned into dusk, and we are no better for it. Indeed, we may be all the worse:

… the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.
— Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?“, The Atlantic

Twenge notes that instead of drinking, driving, or dating, teenagers are trapped in their bedrooms, slaves to their smartphones. Their social lives are now conducted online, assisted by the addictive allure of “likes” and “followers”. This has precipitously increased the rates of depression and suicide.

Meanwhile, the widespread availability of pornography online is wreaking havoc across the globe, contributing to domestic abuse in India and the demographic winter in Japan.

Bodily Blessedness

As Catholics, we believe in the Incarnation of Christ, and the resurrection of the body. Unlike Gnostics, we treasure the physical world, which God created good and which He died to redeem.

… the Church does not come with a mere message. The Church is meant to be a Sacrament, an embodied manifestation of a transcendent reality that, by virtue of its transcendence, escapes full articulation.
— Dr. Matthew Tan, “On Liking the Gospel: the Church and New Media“, The Divine Wedgie

Sabbath Sacrileges

Maria von Trapp, whose life was memorialized in The Sound of Music (1965), wrote a magnificent reflection: “The Land Without a Sunday“.

She contrasts the traditional restful, holy Sundays celebrated in Austria before World War II with communist Russia’s destruction of the 7-day week:

“Instead of a Sunday,” Baron K. told us, “the Russians have a day off. This happens at certain intervals which vary in different parts of the country. First they had a five-day week, with the sixth day off, then they had a nine-day work period, with the tenth day off; then again it was an eight-day week. What a difference between a day off and a Sunday! The people work in shifts. While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the over-all impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work, work.”

Maria von Trapp goes on to voice her astonishment at the desecration of Sundays in the USA. She discovered the sad cause:

The climax of our discoveries about the American Sunday was reached when a lady exclaimed to us with real feeling, “Oh, how I hate Sunday! What a bore!” I can still hear the shocked silence that followed this remark. The children looked hurt and outraged, almost as if they expected fire to rain from heaven. Even the offender noticed something, and that made her explain why she hated Sunday as vigorously as she did. It explained a great deal of the mystery of the American Sunday.

“Why,” she burst out, “I was brought up the Puritan way. Every Saturday night our mother used to collect all our toys and lock them up. On Sunday morning we children had to sit through a long sermon which we didn’t understand; we were not allowed to jump or run or play.” When she met the unbelieving eyes of our children, she repeated, “Yes, honestly–no play at all.” Finally one of ours asked, “But what were you allowed to do?”

“We could sit on the front porch with the grownups or read the Bible. That was the only book allowed on Sunday.” And she added: “Oh, how I hated Sunday when I was young. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I would do the dirtiest work on Sunday, and if I should have children, they would be allowed to do exactly as they pleased. They wouldn’t even have to go to church.”

Redemptive Rest

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God.
— 1 Corinthians 10:31

Instead of “the Benedict Option” or “the Francis Option“, one of my friends is a wholehearted proponent of “the Tudor Option” (referring to the early Tudor period). In medieval days before King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, redistributing national wealth at the expense of the peasantry, peasants celebrated over 200 holy days each year.

… economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year. …

When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren’t trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric lightbulb came on the scene. Go back 200, 300 or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze. “The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed,” notes Shor. “Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.”
— Lynn Stuart Parramore, “Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you“, Reuters

This was curtailed in the Elizabethan era following Henry VIII:

In the Middle Ages, all of these feast days were excuses for a day off, Popish ceremonies, and general idleness. The thrifty Protestants, of course, disapproved, and limited the observance of many of the feast days. They remained on the calendar, but people were enjoined not to stop working.
— Walter Nelson, “Elizabethan Calendar“, Mass Historia

As Catholics, we recognize that all time is given to us as a sacred gift from God, with the responsibilities of growing in holiness and serving our neighbor. Let us neither waste our leisure time, nor allow it to be taken up by work. We must rather keep our days of rest holy, spending them in fruitful ways which will cultivate our souls and bring true joy.

My life is but an instant, a passing hour. My life is but a day that escapes and flies away. O, my God, you know that to love You on earth I only have today!
— St. Thérèse of Lisieux

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Article originally published at Aleteia.

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Superheroes: Overcoming trauma, and Self-sacrifice

All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once. Am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed. Why else would you dress up like a flying rat? You had a bad day, and it drove you as crazy as everybody else… only you won’t admit it! You have to keep pretending that life makes sense, that there’s some point to all the struggling! God, you make me want to puke. I mean, what is it with you? What made you what you are?
JokerBatman: The Killing Joke

Most comic book characters, whether hero or villain, have tragic backstories. Some have had their loved ones murdered, like Batman, Spider-Man and the Joker. Others have been in a horrible chemical accident or attacked by a creature which transmitted powers to them while disfiguring and ostracizing them from the human community, like the Anchoress or the Confessor. Still others were born with certain powers that enhance their abilities while marking them as freaks, like the X-Men mutants.

These characters may seem removed from our world, fantastic figments of imagination with impossible stories. But if we look closer, we can recognize ourselves in them.

An estimated 70 percent of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and up to 20 percent of these people go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. An estimated 5 percent of Americans—more than 13 million people—have PTSD at any given time.
— Sidran Institute, “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Fact Sheet

The experience of trauma tends to make one feel vulnerable, wounded and afraid. It diminishes one’s trust and colors one’s self-image, worldview and interpretation of others’ actions. Most of all, it makes one feel helpless, shorn of one’s agency and self-determination.

It takes time to heal from trauma, and the repercussions can extend beyond your lifetime, as wounds are passed on to the next generation. However, genocide survivors like Immaculée Ilibagiza and Eva Mozes Kor, as well as atomic bomb survivor Takashi Nagai, have been able to break the chains of hatred and hurt by extending forgiveness to those who decimated their families and nearly killed them.

Some superheroes, like Batman, carry survivor guilt with them all their lives, imprisoned by their anger while channeling it into crime-fighting, doing their best to save others from similar trauma. Their own suffering compels them to serve others, even at great personal cost.

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben’s famous line is: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Spider-Man’s constant crime-fighting takes him away from his girlfriend, and even endangers her when he makes enemies. He tries to keep his alter-ego secret from her for her safety, and he sacrifices his personal happiness for the good of others.

Sometimes, it is very tempting to stay in a safe bubble and detach from the world, which seems so full of miseries. However, as Christians we are challenged to be God’s hands and feet, bringing His Good News to the broken and wounded. Christ Himself is the paramount example of self-sacrifice, descending from Heaven and taking upon Himself the sins of the world so as to save mankind from eternal damnation.

Trauma tends to turn us inward, keeping us fixated on nursing our wounds, and triggering us to act in selfish ways that hurt others, like the many villains of comic books. Moving forward from trauma involves re-engaging with others in a healthy and compassionate way, acting for their good as well as ours. Although it can be difficult to regain self-control and self-dignity after a traumatic experience, we can do all things in Christ, Who strengthens us. Let us choose the good always, especially when it is most trying. At the same time, as a wise friend once told me when I was completely drained from listening to depressed classmates: “We should be giving them Christ’s Blood, not our blood.” We are not God, merely His instruments of love and mercy; let us lean on Him for the supernatural strength needed to heal the wounds of our broken world.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
— Isaiah 52:7

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Listen and Ask Before You Give

Lawyers are taught to listen carefully to what our clients say and to ask questions, because a client might think that one issue presents the right course of action to take in court, but in reality a detail that may seem incidental to them could present a stronger case with a different line of argument.

Doctors too, should listen carefully when patients describe their symptoms, lest they misdiagnose them. My mother, a frequent migraine sufferer, was quite adamant that something had burst in her brain and it was a crushing pain unlike any she had endured before, but the GP insisted that it was probably just another migraine and she should just take some painkillers. Five days and many painkillers later, my mother underwent open head surgery for a brain aneurysm.

Sometimes, when we are approached for charity, it pays to listen and assess what the person really needs, lest we end up harming them more than helping.

A disheveled lady approached me outside a hostel in Adelaide, asking for $4 to take the bus home. It seemed strange to me that she needed $4, because the fare from the airport to the city had been cheaper than that. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt and handed over the change.

Later, I noticed her playing a poker machine in the basement, and I felt simultaneously incensed and sad. It appeared that I had just contributed to her gambling addiction. How could I have better handled the situation?

In Melbourne, I met a young homeless, nearly toothless girl on a tram, who was being booked for not paying the fare. I offered to pay for her, but the lady booking her paid. So I offered to bring her to lunch at an Italian restaurant… and the waiter paid! After we went for a stroll around the nearby university grounds, I decided to pay for her night’s lodging. After receiving $30, she said, “I forgot, on Wednesdays they raise the price, it’s $40 today.” I gave her more, and she departed. Later, I googled hostels in the area, and there was at least one with rooms for $26. I hoped that she would spend the extra money on food.

A few weeks later, she asked me for more money, saying she would pay it back. Soon enough, she was asking for even more. However, I was in the midst of moving back to Brisbane, and didn’t see her again.

Now, looking back, and having met more people who have struggled with drug addiction, I wonder if I had just been unwittingly feeding a drug habit. What could I have done better under the circumstances? How does one begin to help another person break free of the chains in their life?

J.J. Tissot, "Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus"
J.J. Tissot, Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage of Jesus

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman, and when He met Zacchaeus, He asked them for simple things — a sip of water, lodging for the night. In asking them for things they could give, He opened the way for what He could give them — forgiveness and freedom from their sins, their patterns of addiction to lust and greed.

Perhaps here is a model for charity. Those mired in sin and addiction often feel helpless, even useless. Once you acknowledge someone’s free will and locus of control, they can begin to transform from within, breaking free of self-absorption while realising what they can still give to others. Jesus didn’t ask Zacchaeus to make amends for his misdeeds, but Zacchaeus joyfully announced that he would give half his possessions to the poor, and if he had cheated anyone, he promised to repay it fourfold (Luke 19:8). Our Lord’s request for Zacchaeus’ hospitality unlocked the man’s heart. How may we help to unlock other hearts today? And do our own need unlocking too?

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