Tag Archives: weakness

Catholicism is Impossible

“Baby Jesus” by Jennifer Hickey

Earlier this week a friend of mine shared an article on Facebook, written by Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity on Patheos. In the blog she describes some of the challenges surrounding the use of NFP, particularly the issues that arise when the risk of an unintended pregnancy are so high as to be unacceptable, but abstaining from sexual intercourse is not conducive to mental and emotional health. A priest told her in essence to try her best, and if she failed to know that she really was trying and to leave it in God’s hands. She describes the mind games encouraged by this situation, saying:

“What it meant was that I was in a position where I couldn’t have a realistic discussion about what I actually wanted in my sex life… but provided I was responding to seduction, swept away by my passions, or just doing it because I felt pressure it wasn’t really my fault.”

I recognize this mind game in my own life. To pick one example, let’s say I have composed a particularly biting and sarcastic email, deliberately not giving myself time to think, stifling that nagging feeling that maybe I should reconsider or at least wait a few hours, and pushed the send button before I could come to my senses. Later on in the throes of regret I told myself it was “in the heat of anger.” It wasn’t. I wanted to be cruel, and I encouraged and hid behind a feeling of anger to make that cruelty possible, and now I allow myself enough regret to make me feel I am not so uncharitable after all.

She goes on to say:

“–the attitude that I generally find in Catholic chastity culture… external circumstances are always the Cross that God is calling you to bear. Internal weakness, on the other hand, is natural. Everybody stumbles. It’s a dirty little secret that almost nobody actually practices the teaching. It’s understood that you are going to succumb to passion, that “frequent recourse to the confessional” will be necessary. That if you’re actually rigid enough to follow the teaching as you profess it, well,  probably that would be harmful. But nobody actually does that.”
I do not know if the author actually believes this statement of the “dirty little secret” of NFP, i.e. that no one actually practices it strictly. The comment boxes, both on the particular Facebook thread I read, and on the article itself, contained both rebuttals and affirmations of it. In any event, I don’t want to turn this into an NFP blog. For what its worth, my wife and I practice NFP, it doesn’t seem to cause us too much stress (Deo Gratias), and I don’t think I have ever come across this “Catholic chastity culture” she references, so my two cents on the topic would likely be neither here nor there.

Rather, I want to address the unspoken assumption at the heart of some of the comments, and of much of the debate around (insert hot button topic of sexual ethics in the Church today). NFP is one such arena, but I have personally heard this argument used more frequently in regards to debates around homosexual behaviors and lifestyles, and reception of sacraments by divorced and cohabitating couples. Very few are even talking about what I consider to be the real epidemic, that of pornography within the Church. The argument goes something like this:

“Sure the Church teaches X, Y and Z. But that is not what people actually do. Lots of great Catholics do exactly the opposite and they are still good people, and it’s just a shame that they can’t be more open about it until the oppressive, backwards Church changes her teaching to reflect how people actually practice.”
The problem is that this thinking is 100% wrong-headed. It is exactly backwards.

Whenever I hear this argument used, i.e. that the Church should adjust her teaching to practice, because her ethic is just too hard for people to live up to, I can’t help but think they have understated their case. God’s commandments are not too hard.

They are impossible.

Of course NFP is hard (for a lot of people, not for everyone). Chastity in general is hard. And, as Dorothy Sayers would remind us, lust is not the only deadly sin. There are, in fact, six more, though we often tend to ignore them. Temperance is hard, industry and frugality are hard, generosity is hard, honesty and patience are hard, mercy and justice are hard, and of course, don’t even get me started about humility and charity.

Let me repeat the title of this blog: “Catholicism is impossible.” We get hung up on pelvic issues, (NFP, contraception, divorce, remarriage, homosexuality, but always on the one that other people are committing) possibly because these are so noticeable, possibly because we are just obsessed with sex as a race. We talk about everyone else’s sleeping arrangements and never notice our own sins of gossip and slander. We neglect to mention the extortion, usury, greed and envy that are the backbone of our nation’s economy. We don’t bat an eye over the gluttony and sloth wreaking havoc on our health and happiness.

Have you read the Sermon on the Mount recently?
Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

Or to pick another example:

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:22-27
Since when has ease or convenience ever been one of the Gospel’s selling points? This is the standard we are called to live up to.

Everyone has a secret failing. For some, NFP is hard. Probably for most. Those for whom it is easy do others a disservice when they act or speak as if it should therefore be easy for everyone, or as if it was easy because of their own merits or strength. Continence, which means perfect control over the appetites, is a gift of God, given to all eventually if they struggle long enough (everyone is continent in Heaven) but very few seem to receive it right away.

Likewise, those for whom patience comes naturally should no go around telling everyone else that patience is easy. The same for every other virtue/vice.
But those who think that the Church should change her teaching to reflect practice have mistaken what the Church’s teaching is. It is not an arbitrary decision that some actions are okay and others are not. When the CDC tells us not to smoke tobacco it is not because a bunch of old white men in D.C. decided that they hate tobacco and are choosing to punish those who like it with cancer. The Church makes statements about what she believes to be fact: e.g. homosexual activity is not in keeping with the best nature of man; usury is not in keeping with love of neighbor; contraception is harmful to marriages and societies; gossip is harmful to communities and souls, and so on and so forth. We may agree or disagree, but let us not have any muddled thinking that these teachings ought to be based upon what people actually do. If people actually were chaste, just, temperate, merciful, humble and charitable, we would not need teachings. We need these teaching because we are, in fact, unchaste, unjust, intemperate, vengeful, proud and selfish. We need to teachings to tell us when we have fallen short, and to warn us to try harder.
I will share with you my own discovery from that process of trying harder, that if you try to battle a besetting sin long enough you will find that two things are true:
  1. You are not really trying as hard as you think you are. You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood, you have not quit your job, moved towns, smashed your computer, engaged an accountability partner, changed your route to and from work, sold your car, cut off your hand or gouged out your eye. Until you have done those things, you aren’t really trying.
  2. Even when you do really try with every fiber of your being (that in itself is a gift) you will find it is impossible. Sure, you may rope yourself off from the sinful act itself but the desire is still there. Part of you still wants it. It is not a sin in itself, but it is not perfect continence either.
We must strive for perfection, not in the hopes that our striving will accomplish it, but so that our striving and failing may reveal our weakness and frailty to ourselves. Then we will pray as we ought, “Lord, I can do nothing on my own. Have Mercy on me, a Sinner, and save me by your power.”
 
When the humility, weakness and vulnerability of the Infant Jesus enters our souls and shapes them into His helpless image, (swaddled in a feeding trough, or nailed spread-eagled to a wooden beam, both show the same vulnerability) then His power will be made perfect in our weakness.
Merry Christmas! God Bless us All!

7 Weaknesses for Today’s Catholics

I’m a practicing Catholic. And by that I mean I am practicing, I’m not a pro yet. Just like the 11 year-old me used to watch Isaiah Thomas, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, studying their every move so as to imitate them later in the driveway, so I do the same with my spirituality. St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Theresa of Avila. What did they do to attain greatness? What can I do in modern times to imitate them?

The only way I know how to become better at something is to practice. The following list is an autobiographical list of my spiritual weaknesses. Some, I’ve strengthened throughout the years while others, I’m still learning how to dominate. In any case, I don’t believe I am the only one struggling with them. Comment below to add your own. Perhaps we can help strengthen each other in the combox.

 

1) Spiritual Direction

Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. ~Acts 8: 30-31

It took me until I was thirty to get a spiritual director. I had never known they existed until I began reading the lives of the Saints. It seemed like every single Saint had a personal confessor or spiritual director to help them make sense of their inner conflicts. I think we convince ourselves that we don’t need a spiritual director for many reason; we have good families and friends to support us, we are already spiritually mature enough, we don’t have time, we don’t want to bother our already overworked priests for such a trivial service, etc.

The truth is we need someone who is spiritually superior to take us higher. Whether it be in education, work, hobbies or any other arena, we always seek a teacher to guide us through the difficulty of the tasks we have taken on. Why wouldn’t we want someone to guide us towards holiness?

 

2) The Divine Office

“Pray always without becoming weary.” ~Luke 18:1

The breviary is scary. If you’ve ever watched someone pray the Liturgy of the Hours for the first time, you marveled with confusion at their page flipping and ribbon movement. If you were valiant enough to try and join them, you were probably discouraged and instantly thought “There’s gotta be an app for this.”

Prayer routines are different for every person. Whether you study papal encyclicals from the twelfth century or pray Our Daily Bread booklets daily, if it doesn’t lead you closer to Christ, then you should probably bag it. However, one prayer that we should all know how to pray is the Divine Office. Any description I give it would be sub-par as I am merely a novice with an app, but the Dominican Brothers of the Western Province do it great justice.

 

3) Discernment

“He is not the God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the holy ones” ~1 Corinthians 14:33

Lately, it seems that a thin line has been drawn between good and demonic. It is much more difficult to discern what is of God and what is evil. Our world has become increasingly relativistic and, as a result, the once sought after mountain of virtue has been leveled to the plains of indifference. People no longer strive to attain spiritual perfection because they are convinced that it is a traditional thing of the past, a weakness that keeps humans from progress.

I’d lobby for the opposite: it is because of people with strong virtues that we are where we are and it will be the people who maintain their common sense that will survive this lull in social history. Priests, Religious, and educated laymen and women will find solace because they will have discerned their place in the world well.

 

4) Not appreciating priests & deacons

“Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” ~1 Peter 4:9

Seriously I know he’s busy, but invite him over for a home cooked meal. Don’ you think he deserves some physical nourishment for all of the spiritual sustenance he provides for you every Sunday at the sacrificial table to the Lamb?

1dinnerwithfather

 

5) Praying with others

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.“ ~Acts 2: 42

Christ desired that His people be one. He didn’t mean that we should operate as an island. Prayer is the means by which we connect to our divine Father, but it is also the way we connect with each other. Yes, Jesus did tell us to close the door and speak with the heavenly Father in silence (Matthew 6:6), but He also encouraged us to love one another in the same spirit (John 13: 34-35). We are one body with many parts and the whole of this body is Christ’s Bride, the Church. It would do us well to interact with one another as if we understood this mystery.

 

6) Examining conscience

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” ~1 Corinthians 11: 27

I’ve found that the most difficult task I have is examining my conscience. Whether it be before receiving the Eucharist, before entering the confessional or before I go to sleep, my memory deceives me. Throughout the day, I am faced with millions of decisions regarding my family, my work and my ministry and it all goes by in a translucent blur. When it comes time to reflect on those actions, I feel like I can only cast a net into a huge sea and hope that I come up with what is keeping me away from Christ so as to disown it.

Today’s world is filled with millions of distractions. Examining your conscience is becoming much more difficult to do.

 

7) Not sharing (or creating) anything Catholic on your social media feeds.

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”~Matthew 28: 19

I have approximately 500+ friends on facebook and the majority of them are family members and close, Catholic friends. I lay the catholicity down pretty hard on my wall. I fill it with Catholic news, memes, posts and status updates. Ironically, I very rarely get likes or shares. However, when I post a picture of my daughters, you can bet they’ll get at least 30 likes by the end of the day. Yes, I know they are cute, but what do they have over Christ’s bride?

Why don’t we “like” our Catholic faith? Are we afraid of having to defend it when others see it at the top of their news feeds? Are we not convinced it is beautiful? Is it too cliché, not modern enough for our taste?

Do me a favor and share this post. Tweet it. Comment below. I really want to know why.

 

What about you. Do you have spiritual weaknesses? Let us know in the combox.

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).

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]