Readings for 8/9/15

Old Testament: 1 Kgs 19:4-8

Psalm: 34

Epistle: Eph 4:30-5:2

Gospel: Jn 6:41-51

The primary message of these readings is the spiritual fullness that Jesus provides through our “daily bread”, the Eucharist, which is completely and truly his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

But every priest this weekend will be preaching about the True Presence (as they should be), so I want to focus on the Epistle reading.  Here, the author shows us not only how we should receive the Eucharist, but what the effect of the Eucharist should be as we “go out into the world.”

We are called to be sacrificial imitators, devoid of all anger, and forgiving as Christ has forgave us.  To forgive in such a way means to forgive all transgressions against us, not just the minor ones.

This is not humanly possible.  As fallen persons of body and soul, we cannot, of our own power forgive so much, love so much, and sacrifice so much as is asked of us.  It is impossible.

But do not despair, for we have the Eucharist, the living bread of Christ, our meal of Thanksgiving that sustains us for the journey.  The Eucharist is a sacrament (the Sacrament most holy), and as such it “efficaciously” gives us tangible and fruitful graces–forgiveness of sin, sensitivity to the Church and it’s poor, strengthening against temptation, communion with Christ, and an increase in Charity.

It is no coincidence that the very graces the Eucharist gives are the very qualities we must live by according to Ephesians.

Receive the Eucharist at least weekly.  Receive it more frequently if you can.  In taking Eucharist we become more like Christ, for he dwells within us.  In becoming more Christ like, we more easily accept the requirements for a life of Holiness–a life which will one day hopefully find us in the presence of Christ in Heaven.

Down with the Effeminate!

Recently the blog Those Catholic Men wrote a piece on how to keep our sons from being “effeminate”.  Let me say first that I agree, and very much support, the intent of this piece–that we need to raise sons that exemplify the virtues of courage, gentility (righteous anger), and truth.  But there are a couple of issues I have with the article, that need to be addressed and understood if we really want to help our men.

 

Is Intellectual Modesty Bad?

The author of the post used the following quote from G. K. Chesterton to help illustrate his point:

 

“At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table… Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy).

 

The appeal of this quote is understandable: it is from a well known and respected author and gets at the heart of what the blogger is attempting to show–that men today are failing to take a stand for Truth out of fear of “offending” someone.  But this quote, when taken in the context of what Chesterton is saying, is not really about courage, but about humility.  Chesterton is not commenting on a fear of “offending” but rather on the pervasive epistemological doubt that characterizes a generation that grew-up in full fledged post-modernism.  Yes, as a culture we do tend to fear “offending” people, and that is detrimental–but we also suffer from a serious self-doubt that we cannot actually be certain about everything we “believe”.  I would argue that this self-doubt, this “epistemological modesty”, can actually be a healthy thing.  While a man who is strong in opinion may unwaveringly assert that, for example, his system of economics is objectively the best, it takes a true man of courageous faith to assert that, while there are obvious merits and partial truths to the beliefs of others, his faith is objectively best.

And this is the actual problem that the author is trying to address–our men commit the vices opposed to true humility: either they obstinately adhere to a belief despite the obvious (as shown in the heretics) or they are so intellectually modest to the extreme of thinking all things true (as the pluralist).  In addition, the prideful fails to see any good in any belief system other than his own, while the overly modest fails to see the unique and even better good in his own.  Are we raising men who fail at the virtue of courage?  Yes, but only because they first fail at the virtue of humility.

 

The Curse of the Effeminate

As Catholics who wish to foster a culture of affirmation, virtue, and a true understanding of gender and sexuality, we need to banish the word “effeminate” from our vocabulary.   I understand that the author most likely used that word to draw people to the article, but I don’t believe the implications of using that word were worth the potential good that people may have gained from reading the post.

To be “effeminate” is defined according to Webster as “having feminine qualities untypical of a man :  not manly in appearance or manner”.  It derives from the latin effeminatus meaning “womanish, voluptuous, tender”.  It is not used only to imply that one’s mannerism are “womanly” but also in appearance.  As opposed to the word “feminine” it almost always is used in the negative sense and applied to a male.  It therefore implies that any qualities of tenderness a man may possess are unbecoming.  This can only serve to further the notion that “our” view of manhood is the only correct view.

We cannot commit the same offense as the secular world and portray men as a single, uniform, personality.  The Catholic stereotype is a man who is brashly outspoken and very abrasive about the superiority of the Catholic Church.  He probably smokes a pipe, loves to go camping, has fathered twelve children, and is the sole provider for his family.  It sounds ridiculous because it is.  Manhood, just like womanhood, is about manifesting virtues through one’s own calling in life–being a damn good professor, caregiver, lumberjack, soldier, writer, teacher, musician, artist, or whatever you may be.  Take, for example, two men: the first is a shy man prone to timidity, few words, and soft spoken.  The second is outspoken and has an opinion about everything.  Both men can be virtuous–for the first man it would be an act of courage to speak up when he knows he has something of value to say, and it would be an act of fortitude for the second man to keep quiet when he’s proven wrong. As Aristotle has said, virtue is particular to each person according to his natural state.

When we use the word “effeminate” we are setting up our young men to hate in themselves any manifestation of virtue, especially that of humility, which may be culturally construed as “womanly”.  Since when has the virtue of humility been relegated only to the domain of the female, and why should a quality of holiness, shown in a woman, be construed as a vice when shown in a man?  Holiness is holy, no matter the gender or how it is particularly manifest in one man compared to another. Ever try comparing what holiness looks like in the lives of the saints???

Furthermore, by continuing to use the term “effeminate” to describe what we would consider less than masculine men, we are unconsciously telling young men and women that the feminine is somehow “lesser” than the masculine. It’s like telling anyone “You throw like a girl!” and not thinking about how that implies that girls are weaker than boys. My point here is that it would be more productive and encouraging to charitably tell our young people about specific behaviors we find detrimental to their physical and spiritual well-being, instead of name-calling in a way which subconsciously projects unloving ideas about the opposite sex. So instead of saying “You throw like a girl!”, we should say “Throw harder! Put some muscle into it!”

The goal here is not to nitpick about political correctness, but to reflect on how our words affect the hearers–are we bearing testament to the truth and joy of the Gospel? Are the ways we are talking (even joking) about the differences between the sexes supporting the Truths we know from Theology of the Body? What is our goal in saying these things? Does it cut down, or does it build up? There’s a scripture about that somewhere.

Should We Encourage Youth Ministry?

Maybe it’s just my role in the Church as a Youth Minister and a Theologian, but it is my perception that every holy young man and woman who wants to serve the Church wants to work in the Church to do it. Whether it’s as a Youth Minister, Catholic Speaker, Theologian, or a DRE, a good portion of young people who love the Church are going to expensive Catholic Universities to persue a career working not only for the Church, but in a church.

This is great… It gives me hope that, even amid an expanding culture of death and a society that increasingly dulls the senses, our families, Catholic Educators, and Youth Ministry Programs are bearing fruit and Christ is using them to sustain the Church just as he promised.

However this can (and is) cause a problem–the “Theological Market” is inundated (so to speak) and many of these young people who, out of genuine love for God and His Church, seek their vocation in service to the Church will either fail to get a “job” in the Church or will burn out quickly. Both risk becoming cynical, disheartened, and feeling unwelcome or unappreciated by the Church.

Sure, we have “lifers” just like any industry, people who work joyfully at the same parish for 40 years. But in general, too many Youth Ministers church hop because they are unfulfilled in their ministry. For doctoral students, the ratio between candidates and available jobs is quickly increasing.

This leaves a lot of potential for many Catholics to feel at worst bitter at God and his Church, or at best who are lost and spend years of their lives attempting to re-discern God’s will for them. The same phenomenon can be seen in populations where the Priesthood is upheld as the ultimate road to Holiness. Men are in and out of the seminary for years, not happy, but still under the assumption, however unconscious, that the only acceptable way to Holiness is through Holy Orders. This is almost never explicit, but is subtly engrained in the fibers of many a Catholic who try to seriously and radically live their faith.

The main problem, and the solution, lies in how we are teaching our young people to discern, as well as implicitly glorifying or emphasizing certain vocations. We need to be teaching them to seek God’s will rather than to desire to know God’s plan. We need to once again allow ourselves to feel comfortable in discerning feelings, dreams, and desires as legitimate signs from God. Finally, we need to be emphasizing the value of choice, free will, and ASKING God for our deepest desires. Vocation is not something handed to us on a silver platter from something outside of ourselves, but is rather a slow and continuous realization that is drawn out from the depths of our hearts after much conversation with our Creator. Our Vocation is as much for us as it is for God.

Finally, we need to remind our young people, and ourselves, that there are many ways to serve the Church. We need Holy garbage men, police officers, and business people in addition to youth ministers. To serve the Church is not synonymous with working in the Church. In fact, many who work outside the Church serve it, and many who work in the Church do it a disservice.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. We need new people to work in the Church, but we need people there who have rightly discerned it as their vocation, rather than those who are there out of a false sense of duty.

I love my job, it gives me hope. But I honestly cannot see myself doing youth ministry for the rest of my life, although I do see myself serving the Church until the day I die (who knows though, God could have a lifetime of Youth Ministry planned for me). Holiness and vocations come in all forms. I hope I can adequately communicate that to the young (and older) people whom I serve.

Reflections on Christian Martyrdom

crucifixion

If for some reason you haven’t heard, there are many gruesome murders currently occurring in Syria as Muslim Radicals martyr Christian believers.

These murders are hard to accept on many levels–we supposedly live in a civilized world where we have, at the very least, stopped killing people who don’t believe the same things as us.  If there is one good thing about Liberalism and Pluralism, that should be it.  We have seen Christians protect Muslim worshipers, and we have seen Muslims do the same for Christians.  We have seen so many genocides, holocausts, and senseless killing that surely we as humanity as begun to move past causing senseless torture.  But the fallen human condition yet again rears its head.  Things such as this will happen in every generation, because there will always be humans who reject the redemption Christ purchased for them.  The Church will always have Martyrs.

I have always been blessed with a strong virtue of Faith–I have never seriously doubted the existence of God, am usually able to see the good in any situation, and know that “everything works for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  Even my wife will tell you, my motto of “it will always work out” can be quite frustrating at times.  But this is hard for me to accept and work through–as it should be for anyone.  Why does God allow this happen?  Can there truly be meaning and greater good brought from this?  In reflecting on these events, I think its important to remember a few things…

The Beauty of Martyrdom: These senseless, violent, and evil killings are not good.  The people committing these evil acts are as evil as people can be.  I do not wish for people to suffer a slow death.  But Martyrdom is the oldest beauty of the Church.  It is not only the fastest way to the eternal peace and joy of heaven, but it is the fastest way to spread the witness and truth of Christian love, devotion, and courage.  These men and women, and their unborn babies, who are refusing to renounce their faith should be admired for their heroic virtue.  It is easy to pity them for what has happened, but why should we pity those who are in heaven?  We should pray that we should have such courage to live our faith if the need ever arose.

These Muslims are Radicals: Why is it “easy” for a Christian to hate a Muslim?  Because of situations like this–the two religions have been fighting since the 8th Century.  It really is unfortunate, because there is much beauty in the practice of Islam, and the religion is filled with my devoted, kind, and peaceful people.  Just like certain things in Christianity give Christians a bad name (the sexual abuse scandals, the crusades, etc.), so do these killings give Muslims a bad name.  It’s EASY  for us to use these experiences to HATE each other.  The challenge, the Godly, Holy, Peaceful, soul-wrenching, spirit-testing, virtue-building thing to do is to LOVE  Muslims and…wait for it… especially THESE Muslims, who are killing our Brothers and Sisters in Syria.  Pray for them, for their souls, for mercy, for repentance.  This will keep you from hating them–hate is cancer for the soul.

God is Never Absent Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it–how can there be so much evil if God is supposedly loving.  If I had an adequate answer, we would all be Christians. Sometimes there isn’t an adequate answer–one that can satisfy the intellectual and emotional needs of our finite beings.  Sometimes evil done senselessly seems eternally senseless.  Some would argue that it is–there is no meaning behind evil and it is just a consequence of humans being horrible wretches.  I don’t believe that.  There is always some good that comes of any evil that God allows.  The difficult part is that seldom do we see it.  But that’s the challenge of faith isn’t it?  “Blessed are those who believe and have not seen”.  Please, believe.  And if you don’t believe, and least desire to believe–Christian Hope is essential in the fallen world.

 

I have always had a fondness for Compline (Night Prayer) in the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office)–it is the perfect blend of penitence, vigilance, and hope.  It embraces suffering. To me, it has a calming effect at the time when I need it the most (bedtime).  It feels, in this situation, particularly apt, for the very last prayer we pray during compline is, in Latin “Noctem quietam, et finem perfectum concedat nobis Dominus omnipotens”, which translates to “May the Almighty God grant us a quiet night and a perfect death”.  Isn’t that fitting for these Martyrs?  Perhaps as an act of solidarity, a prayer for peace, and a reflection on our own faith, for as long as these murders continue, we should all pray night prayer with the specific context of prayer for these victims, that their courage may not fail.

The Problem with “Offering it Up”.

one-does-not-simply-a - One does not simply offer it up

I thought  for Ash Wednesday this year I would reflect on the Catholic Catch Phrase of “offer it up”.  I mean… it’s Lent, so we definitely should be “offering it up” more than usual.  And don’t we have a duty to help our brothers and sisters in Christ become holy and remind them to offer up their own sufferings and inconveniences to unite them with Christ for the betterment of His kingdom on earth?  This logically leads many of us, when our Catholic friends or family have a complaint, to frequently tell them to “offer it up”.

I’m going to be honest though–I very much dislike that phrase, and here’s why…

Christianity is a religion of COMPASSION.  After all, as Catholics we spend so much of our time, especially during lent, meditating on the death of the innocent God-Man who suffered, not only with us, but for us.  We are told constantly that we we should try to suffer with him in any way that we can, not only to become closer to him, but also for the purgation of sin in the world and in us.  By suffering we become holy, right?  We also know 1) to take the plank out of our own eye before pointing out the splinter in our neighbors (Matthew 7:5), 2) that we cannot give what we haven’t received (Acts 3:6), and 3) our acts can be efficacious for the holiness of our neighbor.  Quite frankly, telling someone to “offer it up” typically comes across as insensitive, uncharitable, and runs the risk of making you sound like a prick.  But perhaps that’s just my opinion.

Therefore, I’m proposing a new practice–and since it’s Lent its a perfect time to start doing it.  Whenever you are tempted to say to someone “offer it up”, take these three steps instead.

1) Ask them to tell you more–Often times people just need someone to listen.  You don’t even have to give advice, just be there for them to listen so they feel as though at least someone cares.  This sometimes allows them to give up whatever is burdening them, can take them off-guard and make them realize it may not that big of a deal, and opens up the opportunity for the next two steps.

2) Tell them that you will offer it up FOR THEM–That’s right, we call this “leading by example”.  Be Christ-Like and help them carry the burden.  Maybe it requires giving up your Venti Mocha for a day as a prayer for whatever they’re going through, but that’s nothing compared to the burden of Christ’s cross.

3) Offer to pray with them–This is much more intimidating than back-handing them with an “offer it up” because it requires YOU to take that extra step to bring them closer to Christ.  But hey… if this is too intimidating for you, offer it up and do it anyway ;).

Seriously though, opportunities like this can be excellent moments for evangelization, even when the person you’re with in already a believer.  We all need a little reminder and support sometimes.  Even if the person is complaining how winter is driving them crazy, how they spilled their coffee this morning, or that McDonalds was out of their favorite happy meal toy–they may seem trivial to us, but why not use that moment as an opportunity to turn that negativity on its head and into a God-moment?

Are Memes Unchristian?

Facebook has become more than just a site for social networking–it has evolved into a personal platform for diatribing, pushing for one’s favorite cause, or attacking one’s least favorite political candidate, religious denomination, or famous person.  Much of this happens through status’ that range from pithy and insightful to poorly stated and ignorant.  

More often, however, people choose to let someone else speak for them.  The problem with these memes is that they’re often extremely biased, only presenting half-truths and thus doing more harm than good.  They don’t typically result in any meaningful conversation.  All too often they are divisive and lead people to become more entrenched in their positions.  Finally, many of them are just downright uncharitable, mean, or ad hominem arguments.  As Christians, we should be carefully considering 1) how we are evangelizing the most effective way, 2) if the position we want to publicly defend is actually upholding the integrity of our Christian faith, and 2) if any particular meme is the serving a positive purpose rather than just mis-informing or attacking people.

Here are some things we should consider before posting a meme.  This will not only help those viewing our newsfeeds, but will also help us to not embarrass ourselves.

1) Is this meme actually informed or will it end up making me look stupid?

How Are These People Even My Friends?

2) Is this meme actually going to serve a productive purpose?

Come On, Jesus, Be a Bro!

3) Is this meme hurtful, uncharitable, or promoting unreasonable stereotypes.

  

Memes are funny, and CAN prove a point and lead to decent discussion–so we shouldn’t get rid of them altogether.  But we should ask ourselves before posting anything if this meme will embarrass yourself, your church, or any group of people that we claim we love.  What are some examples of what I would consider appropriate memes?

Happy (and responsible) Memeing!

It Takes Three: A Wholistic View of Marriage

The last few days there’s been a lot of buzz around the Catholic Blogosphere about the purpose of Marriage.  Don’t get me wrong, this is awesome, and with society continually pushing the boundaries of marriage, we should be continually re-examining and re-evangelizing what marriage is.  The two most popular articles have been “Marriage Isn’t for You” and its aptly titled response “A Response To: Marriage Isn’t for You“.  While both of these articles are beautiful and make important points about the selflessness and God-focused nature of marriage, I think they miss the bigger picture, and are perhaps better when considered two sides of the same the coin. So who is marriage for?

Marriage is for Me.

We can try all we want to remove ourselves from the focus of marriage–whether for reasons of humility or whatever–but in reality I think we need to remember that we are still part of this marriage, and we have to put our own personal effort into making it work.  My wife and I recently had a relatively serious argument about a decision I made, and both of us were feeling hurt and unloved because we thought the other was being unsupportive.  Only when I realized that my feelings were both selfish and prideful was I able to move on and forgive my wife (and myself) for feelings that were causing disunity in the marriage.  And believe me, it wasn’t easy, and it took prayer and grace from the Sacrament to let go of that anger that was so easily felt.  

The point here is that if we push to ad-absurdium the fact that marriage is self-less and for our spouse, we risk missing the essential focus of marriage as a vocation and a path to sanctification.  My marriage to my wife should make me a better man, a better Christian, and a better person, and indeed I think it has to start with me allowing God to transform myself in humility, self-giving, and love, before I can expect my wife to be transformed by the marriage.

Marriage is for my spouse (and others)

“Marriage Isn’t for You” had it right in some sense…a husband or wife who is focused solely or predominantly on themselves is not fulfilling their marriage or bringing it to its full fruition.  While we do need to make sure we are allowing the challenge of marriage to transform and sanctify ourselves, it is equally if not more important, that we bring our spouse to heaven.  Not only is it for your spouse, but it requires a spouse that is equally committed to making the marriage work.    Furthermore, a solid marriage is needed to adequately and healthily raise children in the best possible situation.   It is also a reflection of the inner love of the Trinity, the devotion to and effectiveness of the Sacrament, the fruitfulness of faith in family life, and the positive role of the domestic church in the universal Church and society.  In this way marriage is not for “you” or “me” but for the good of my spouse, my family, the world, and the Church.

Marriage requires God

This brings me to my third point… and I think the “Response” article was close to making this point but I’d like to refocus it.  While it can be argued that marriage is “for” God (although the implication or nuance of God needing marriage makes the theological part of me cringe a bit), I believe that it is more accurate to say that marriage requires God.  Yes, insofar as a healthy marriage glorifies God, does his will, and brings about the Kingdom of God, marriage is for God.  But I think the greater point here is that marriage, in a sense, subsists, in God.  It is hard, some days its the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do, and its a lifetime commitment to daily choose to love this person and act on it.  Love like that cannot be sustained without grace–a grace that comes most fully through God and the sacrament of marriage.

It Takes Three

I don’t “disagree” with anything the authors of the other posts said.  I think they are very beautiful, pertinent, and well written messages that present a piece of the marriage puzzle.  The most important thing however, is that Christian couples realize that God needs to be at the center of their relationship for it to be most fruitful.  If marriage has only one person invested, it will fall flat on its face.  If it has two, it may hobble along for a while, but will be crippled.  If it has three people–husband, wife, and God–the marriage will dance and bare abundant fruit for the couple, the family, and the Kingdom of God as whole.

 

Did I miss anything?  Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below!