Tag Archives: Self-control

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

I have been working with this coworker for awhile, he was hired around the same time that I did. He was hired as a maintenance worker and quickly became my favorite one, because I felt comfortable asking for help without feeling as though I was being an imposition. In exchange for his help, I gave him some extra samples of the pastry I was planning to sample that day. We would joke that he was the official taste-tester and if he dropped dead I would know that I shouldn’t sample that pastry.

Over the course of our time working together I developed the suspicion that he had a “colored” past, as they say. He went to Las Vegas for his birthday and let’s just say he was not going for the shows. I never asked him for details because it was not my business to know. On Tuesday he was sporting a freshly-shaved head and I commented on how dapper he looked. He smiled and thanked me, he then added that he did it every few months to keep him humble. I asked him what that meant and he admitted it helped him remember what life was like for him when he was in prison. Looking in the mirror everyday and seeing his shaved head was a good reminder of where he came from and to be thankful for the life he had now. It is easy for him to forget how terrible life was in prison. He confessed that he can easily fall back into his old ways and lose control with money; he needs to constantly check himself. He can receive a lot of bonuses at his other job and the temptation to use them to go back to dealing drugs can be hard to overcome at times. He needs to see his shaved head to remind him how awful his life was. He never wants to go back to prison — he has a better life now with a son that he needs to provide for and set a good example.

After telling me his story, I think he recognized how vulnerable he was being and tried to joke it off saying that he knew how weird it sounded. I told him that it didn’t sound weird at all and I admired him for being so aware of his limits. I said it was great that he took active steps to keep himself from giving in to temptation. The fact that he is smart enough to recognize that he still has the impulse to misuse money and shaving his head helped keep him from repeating his mistakes was a great accomplishment. I thanked him for sharing his story; he was an inspiration. He is a blessing in my life because he reminded me what a gift my life was and not to take anything for granted.

___

Originally posted at Kitty in the City.
Image: PD-US

Battles and Battlefields: Choose, But Choose Wisely

I have the worst timing. One year ago, I informed the editors at Ignitum that I had written my last article for them—at least for a while—citing an equal-parts mixture of zero time, zero creativity, and zero desire to add another plot of land for Disqus to bloom in.  My sabbatical from writing included a firm commitment not to comment or reply to media of any kind, whether I found it on-point or off-rail.

One month ago, I contacted those same editors, asking if there was space for me to jump back on board, and was told that I was welcome to start whenever. Not knowing or caring much about the date of the GOP debate, I chose this week. Yes, I chose this week to start back up with an article lamenting un-restrained responses, comments, replies, and posts. I chose this of all weeks to encourage people to steady themselves, remember everyone’s humanity, and, if at all possible, just put a sock in it. Oh, well. Once more into the fray…

From my armchair of year-long digital silence, I noticed two things which I’ll be covering in this and next month’s article.

First, having hit my own mute button, I was suddenly unable to assert my opinion and wisdom to the greater world even though I was certain they were eagerly awaiting my input and would be adrift in a sea of confusion and doubt without me. I was wrong. It all kept moving at its usual vehement pace; I was just unable to keep up. I suddenly felt like I was finally getting my comeuppance for all the snark, sarcasm, and shade I’d thrown out in my younger days, WAY back when the internet was new, chat rooms were a thing, and comboxes seemed like they had potential.

Instead, if I chose to venture out into the intrawebnet, I was doomed to receive the ignorant jabs like a powerless fool, keeping it all to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I still got to write people off; I just didn’t get the satisfaction of letting them know I’d done it which, honestly, takes all the fun out of righteous indignation. And when I chose to truly ponder something that I would normally have disregarded, I found that the silence not only stung a lot more than getting to lash back, but I actually felt some of the spite and spit that the writers intended, on every side of every fence. I was experiencing a bit of what I’d dished out through the years. To quote David Gray, I felt like I was “in collision with every stone I ever threw”. It was exhausting and painful.

Consequently, every time I clicked on an article, I first had to evaluate whether or not I was in the frame of mind to be appalled, outraged, impressed, etc., and still not reply. I was forced to actively decide not only what to let myself ingest, but also how I would let it make me behave since I wasn’t allowed to respond. I had to just shut up, take my hands from the keyboard, and breathe in and out. I had to contain my ire, and, contrary to intuition, the box I’d put myself in was liberating!

I was suddenly able to choose my battles. I could choose to let my guard down and be influenced or to move on to something that might be more important like cooking dinner, running errands, or even—dare I say it—praying. As a result, I ended up reading a bit less of the opinions I zealously agreed with since I couldn’t give them a nod anyway, and in many cases it would simply have been self-affirmation.  I also ended up reading a bit more of the opinions I furiously disagreed with, since I couldn’t get mired down and tangled, trying to silence them with my un-arguable, airtight logic submitted 593 replies down in the comment box.

I’m sure you’re all different. Odds are you’re perfectly balanced. You’re most definitely open to new ideas, yet still anchored in the good old ones. You’re soft on the softs, firm on the firms, no mountain molehills, no minor majoring. However, in the rare case that you’re like me and the talking heads know how to push your posting buttons, please allow me to offer you a mild remedy.

Pump your brakes, kid. Just stop for one ever-loving minute. Put your hands in the air and slowly step away from the computing machine. Take a few moments and honestly ask yourself a couple of questions.

First, is what you’re about to say actually able to build up humanity in truth, goodness, and beauty, or is it yet another of your self-bolstering tirades, serving as the “great response” you can bore your spouse with later tonight?

Second, is there any logical reason to think what you’re about to send out will be genuinely received, or will it get lost in the piffle, bulldozed into the Livefyre landfill?

Once you’ve answered those questions, and most likely once you’re back from buying milk, then proceed—just with caution. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that we should not engage in heated dialogue, both in person and in avatar. I’m saying we need to be drastically more wise and loving in how we do so. I know that holier people have called it “self control“, but I prefer to think I’ve discovered a new virtue, especially since I’m going to be writing about it now. For a fee. Under a pseudonym. With the comment section disabled.

The Sugar Sacrifice: Who Will Win?

A while back, the associate pastor at our church announced that he would be taking three months off to go to Mexico.

Now, before you sigh with envy and work to painstakingly squelch your urge to covet, Father isn’t off to bask in the luxury of carefree relaxation in Cabo. On the contrary, he is probably working harder than he ever has, seminary studies included. You see, our beloved priest is currently facing his own personal struggle with food head on by participating in a health management boot camp of sorts.

The bulletin announcement about his impending absence, written by Father himself, explained that, during a recent medical check-up, the doctor was coming up with all sorts of excuses for some pretty significant health concerns. In his attempts to be kind and “sensitive” to Father’s feelings, the M.D. failed to address the proverbial elephant in the room, which was that his patient’s dangerous weight was the likely cause for – or, at the very least, exacerbating – his various ailments.

After reading the message, I was so proud of our priest: proud of him for confronting his demons; proud of him for being courageous enough to share his struggles with us; proud of him for knowing that these struggles, once overcome, would help him to better attend to his vocation.

I also felt a teensy bit convicted by his forthrightness, to be honest. Okay. I felt a huge, wheelbarrow-sized conviction that smacked me in the middle of my forehead. You see, God has been talking to me about my own health for some time now. While pregnant with and nursing my children over the past several years, I had slowly but surely given myself permission to not monitor my food intake. “Oh, I’m eating for two,” I’d say, rationalizing the extra helping of dessert or bread or whatever. I wasn’t really thinking of the baby’s – or my own – real needs. I was thinking of my stomach – of how good it felt in the moment to eat three or more scoops of ice cream or some other less-than-healthful food substance on a regular basis.

Only, it wasn’t really feeling good anymore.  Small allowances and minor indulgences quickly became regular habits, and these habits became cravings – especially for sweets. I’d overeat, then hate myself for doing it, then eat to make myself feel better, only to start the cycle all over again. Being a “food zombie” wasn’t bringing me any lasting happiness, and it definitely wasn’t glorifying God. I truly had become a sugar junkie – an addict – someone who would impatiently wait for my next cookie, scoop of ice cream, or candy bar to get a sugar “fix.”

Not too long ago, I had a medical scare and two procedures that forced me to miss about a month of my “regular” life. Mercifully, I was able to recognize these incidences as a gift from God – a clear sign to change my unhealthy ways. I needed a better diet and more exercise. And so, I tried for a while to “do better” (perhaps a month or two), but inevitably, I slipped back to my old bad habits and probably caused my guardian angel to give himself an open-palmed slap to the forehead while rolling his eyes to China. I felt like, no matter what I tried, I just could not make any lasting adjustments of my own free will. As St. Paul lamented to the Romans, I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do – I was doing what I hate!

Thankfully, I saw Father’s commitment to changing his life as an opportunity for transformation in my own. I reasoned that, if our priest could make some heroically virtuous adjustments regarding his health, then so could I. To my husband’s overwhelming delight (he’s been on my case for years), I decided to (gasp!) give up sugar as a sign of solidarity with and support for our priest. I needed my sacrifice to mean something, and I adopted Father’s struggle as my own personal cause for solidarity.

“Great timing,” an acquaintance sneered, when I mentioned my plans. “Do you understand you’ll be going through several holidays and other festive occasions? This will mean no cake, pie, ice cream, or other sugary desserts!” She looked at me like I was crazy. She laughed as she added, “Let me remember you the way you were,” implying that there was no way I’d be happy (or any fun to be around) without chocolate. Grrr. If there’s one thing God knows about my stubborn self, it’s that I’m about 500% more likely to do something if someone tells me I can’t. I steeled my resolve, dug in my heels, and ripped off the proverbial sugar Band-Aid that very day.

So, practically, speaking, what does my sacrifice look like? “No sugar” means just that: no dessert, no sugary snacks, no soda, no sugary coffee drinks (ACK!), no added sugar in anything, etc. Every time I think of sugar, desire sugar, am around or in close proximity of sugar, I pray for Father’s success in his endeavor to win back his health. I also pray that with each small “no,” I tell myself, God will help me detach from a relationship with food that, truly, had become disordered. I pray that my sacrifice will lead to virtue – namely, prudence and self-control – for both Father and me.

And, how’s it going so far? Well, it’s been 36 days – over a month’s time – since I began this journey. I wish I could attest that saying “no” to sugar has become easier. It honestly hasn’t – yet. I wish I could also say that I have lost 20 pounds – I have not. I wish I could tell you when Father will get back so I can have sugar again (truth). I CAN say, however, that I think I have more energy now to chase my kids around, which is a huge blessing. And I think my complexion might have improved. I’ll take it. But, more importantly, I genuinely know that, with God’s help and by His grace, I am empowered to use my small sacrifices to help another. And I truly have faith that I CAN overcome anything through Christ who strengthens me – even sugar. Pass the carrots.

A version of this article originally appeared on RealCatholicMom.com about six years ago. The author believes it is time to exercise this sort of sacrificial solidarity yet again. 

Purity Balls: the Good, the Bad, and the Catholic

He kneels before me, taking my hand in his, and slips a ring on my finger. I look it at: it’s beautiful, so sparkly, and I’m in awe of what it symbolises. This is what love is, I think. He tells me how glad he is so that he is able to give me ring, this pledge, this promise before God Almighty.

SilverRingThing

I am twelve.

We are at a Purity Ball, and “he” is my dad, one of many pledging to protect their daughters’ purity at similar balls across the United States and the World, as recently featured in a Daily Mail article last week.

Okay, so it’s not actually me or my dad. My dad wouldn’t take me to Purity Ball anymore than he would a strip club. (Thankfully!) For many girls around America, however, this is a reality.

What should we make of this as Catholics?

I think these young women and their fathers are to be commended for their intentions, but seriously need to re-think their approach and what it says about it says about sexual purity, paternal authority and self-control.

The good news is that these young women are trying to live the virtue of chastity. As we all know, that’s no easy thing. Purity Balls rightly recognize that chastity is tremendously important, that it is extremely difficult in today’s culture, and that we all need a whole lot of help to remain chaste. 

Purity Balls, however, reveal a distorted view of what purity actually is. Essentially, they say purity = nothing sex at all.

Purity isn’t just about sex.

In both the Bible and Christian Tradition, purity = holiness. Christ promises us that the “pure in heart” will see God. (Matthew 5:8) Indeed, “purity of heart is the precondition of the vision of God.” (CCC #2519) This purity is holiness in heart, mind, spirit and body and without this holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

Purity includes sexual purity or chastity because “chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart.” (CCC #2520) It is so much more than who you do or don’t kiss, touch, date or have sex with.

The other concerning thing about Purity Balls is the role of fathers. It must be said that these fathers obviously love their daughters and want the best for them.

Still, it is the fathers who are, arguably, the primary subjects of Purity Balls. Their daughters, in contrast, are the objects. This is a problem — not least because WHERE ARE THE MOTHERS AND THE YOUNG MEN??? Leaving that can of worms, Purity Balls reveal a problematic understanding of paternal authority.

Each father makes the following pledge:

I ……’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and my family as the High Priest in my home. This covering will be used  by God to influence generations to come.

In the Purity Balls featured by the Mail article, the daughter signs as a witness to her father’s covenant to protect her purity and makes a silent pledge herself through “the symbol of laying down a white rose at the cross, before engaging in a wedding-type dance with [her] father.” (HT)

For me, this is easily one of the most concerning aspect of the Purity Balls. Why aren’t these girls the primary subjects in this ceremony around their own chastity? Why are they silent?

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Purity Ball pledges like these reinforce a cruel lie: that men control women’s sexuality.

In a sense, all men are responsible for the chastity of women, just as women are for the chastity of men. We are all responsible for each other — we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 2:6) and make every effort not “to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13)

But a woman’s body — just like a man’s — belongs first and foremost to her by the gift of God. Only when this is absolutely fixed in our minds can we begin to comprehend how marriage — and indeed sex — is a gift. You can’t truly give what was never truly yours.

Purity Balls encourage young and impressionable girls into a state of passivity about her own sexual being. That is no healthy preparation for marriage.

Paradoxically, it can damage a woman’s determination to pursue chastity.

If she has wrapped her notion of sexual purity in the authority of her father, what happens if he fails her? If she’s used to a man telling her what she can and can’t do with her body, what happens a more persuasive young man comes along? And what of young women who have no fathers to be “her authority and protection in the area of purity”?

On the contrary, the secret of chastity, for both men and women, is self-control. As one of the seven heavenly virtues, chastity is a corollary of the cardinal virtue of temperance or self-control.

Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom… “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.” (CCC #2339)

Young women — all of us — need to know that our bodies and our chastity are our own responsibility.

You might be thinking, that’s just a heavy load! Indeed it is: that is the dignity of human beings, created in the image of God.

Just because Purity Balls have a distorted view of sex and authority doesn’t mean vows of chastity are pointless. Perhaps consider a Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary Immaculate or enrolling in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, an apostolate of the Dominican Friars for pursuing and promoting chastity.

Saint_Thomas_Aquinas_Diego_Velázquez
Diego Velázquez, St Thomas Aquinas, 1632

Best of all, we have the sacraments. As anyone who’s read Scott Hahn knows, our word sacramentum also means oath or vow. In the Eucharist, truly Christ, we receive all the graces we need to lives of purity. It is our pledge that we belong to Him and better still, His that we belong to Him. Without His grace, self-mastery is impossible.

While the loving support of our family and friends is truly helpful, the only “authority and cover” we need to live a chaste life comes from God.

Our Eternal Father offers purity of heart and eternal life to all — no matter who you are, what you’ve done… or who your dad is.

Is Smoking Morally Wrong?

Is smoking cigarettes a moral issue? If one were to rate moral problems of the day would smoking cigarettes even end up on the list? I ask these questions, because if we listen to mainstream culture it is the one issue that they are more than willing to warn kids of the danger of. It can be rather annoying that we teach kids not to smoke, and display countless graphic pictures to warn them of the health problems associated with it, but when the abortion debate comes up, mainstream culture does everything to discourage them finding out the facts. Obviously the smoking issue is nowhere near the abortion debate in terms of gravity, but that leads me to ask; how serious is it?

From a personal standpoint I have never been a fan of smoking. I was blessed to have good friends and grew up in a place where smoking had become socially unacceptable. When I was a teenager I thought I was “Miss- all-knowing” on the subject, and never failed to engage others in a debate surrounding the facts. I will never forget the day I was visiting a well-known Catholic college, and ended up sitting down to a meal with a bunch of seniors. Somehow the topics turned to smoking, and before we knew it we were engaged in a solid debate. More than one of us was smoking in a totally different sense of the word after that!

So let’s look at some of the facts…
-Kids are picking up smoking at the alarming rate of 3,000 a day.
-Smoking causes 30% of all cancer deaths in the US, mostly lung cancer.
-It can cause birth defects, and stillborn births.
-It causes heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US.

And the list goes on and on…

There is no debate that it is bad for our health, but what about our spiritual lives? Is smoking tobacco sinful? The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not forbid smoking tobacco, but it does state that Christians should avoid using it to excess. Here is the direct quote from the Catechism.

“The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air”.
(CCC 2290; emphasis in original).

Then there is this wonderful quote from the YOUCat, question 389:

“Every form of a person’s dependence on legal substances (alcohol, medication, tobacco) and even more so on illegal drugs is an exchange of freedom for slavery; it damages the health and life of the person concerned and does great harm to the people around him. Every time a person loses or forgets himself by becoming intoxicated, which can also include excessive eating and drinking, indulgence in sexual activity, or speeding with an automobile, he loses some of his human dignity and freedom and therefore sins against God. This should be distinguished from the reasonable, conscious, and moderate use of enjoyable things.”

My final thought on the matter is the view Mother Elvira (The founder of Comunita Cenacolo, a rehab place for young people) takes. She teaches the young people under her care that smoking is simply a sign that you are stepping in the wrong direction. It is an exchange of freedom for slavery.

So what are your thoughts? I would love to know what the young adults of the world are thinking on this matter. Post away in the comment box!