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I once heard a Christian speaker talking about the need to avoid certain movies and TV shows. Is it really a big deal what kind of entertainment I watch, listen to or read? Is it not better to know what is going on in the world than to be closed off? This is an extremely important question.
Not only is it pressing (we decide on our entertainment on a daily basis), but it is also deeply personal. All of us must choose how we will entertain ourselves. Let us clarify the importance of the situation. While we could look at this from a cultural perspective, let us skip that and bring things a little closer to home.
There is a psychological principle that has been termed “the law of exposure.” This states that the things we expose ourselves to have an effect on us. Music affects our moods. I have a friend who listens to “death metal.” He knows that it makes him angry and frustrated, but he listens to it anyway. Language affects our own language. I have another friend who finds himself, swearing left and right after a “weekend with the guys.” Images affect how we see other people. I talk to many men and women who find themselves in sexual sin after viewing certain photos or videos.
To deny “the law of exposure” is to deny reality. Some people like to claim immunity, but this is simply a lack of self-knowledge. It is not limited to people of a certain age. I do not know how much sillier we could be than when we turn off the TV for a child saying, “You should not be watching this,” but then return to it ourselves. Does the fact that I am in my 30s mean that I am unaffected by these images and ideas? Certainly, I am better equipped to discern the truth, but if a movie is bad for a child, how can I be so confident that it is good for me? If it is garbage for a 12-year-old, then it is garbage for me, even if I have learned how to sort through the garbage a little better.
Just as important, we live in a free market society. We vote with our dollars. On what do you spend money and time? For example, I know a number of Catholics who went to see “The Da Vinci Code” or “The Golden Compass” even though these movies are clearly anti-Catholic. It does no good to claim, “I don’t agree with them!” The people making this entertainment do not care if you agree or not. Your interior motivation matters, but it is not absolute. Once they have your money, you have already stated that you are on their side. If the movie is evil (or promotes evil ideas), then you just gave $9.75 to the cause of evil. (How much did you put in the collection plate? In the end, all of those numbers will be made known and there will be no room for excuses like, “It was only a movie!”)
Entertainment is never “only entertainment.” Every form of media presents some philosophy of life, a belief about the world, the human person and God. These ideas mean something, because ideas have consequences. Every great (and every terrible) movement started with an idea. Have you ever noticed that every dictatorship first seeks to control the media? Because when you control the media, you control ideas, and once you control ideas you can lead people wherever you want.
Rather than attempt to list movies, TV shows or songs, it is more important for our purposes to have some principles that we can apply. When encountering some form of entertainment ask yourself, “Does this reveal the dignity of the human person or in some way distort or obscure it?” Another way to phrase the question is, “Does this entertainment reveal truth and beauty?”
Some art does this in ways we would not expect. Flannery O’Conner is arguably the finest American fiction writer of the last century. She wrote about sin and grace in a powerful and truthful way, but it was not pretty. I always thought her stories were grotesque, but they were true. She revealed beauty through writing about ugly things. It is the difference between the violence and gore in “Saving Private Ryan” and that found in the “Saw” movies. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, “We may never be entertained by the suffering of others.”
What does this mean when it comes to “Ultimate Fighting Challenge?” Will I have to change my TV watching? The next thing we need is conviction. If something is bad for me, then why would I expose myself to it? If I am going to be a follower of Christ, I need to be the kind of person who makes a decision. Are you the kind of person who can make a decision? Are you willing?
If you are convicted that “this entertainment does not uphold human dignity” are you willing to then not watch it? Seriously, we need to say, “no matter how funny this new ‘The Hangover’-style comedy is, it is not good for me and so I won’t watch it.” In the end, all of this entertainment will pass away. What will remain, for good or for ill, is the kind of person into which it has fashioned me.
© FATHER MICHAEL SCHMITZ serves as the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth. He also serves as the chaplain for the Newman Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Father Schmitz’s homilies can be found online at www.UMDCatholic.org or on iTunes.'
A problem many Christians face is being too serious. One can almost measure the level of (noticeable) public contributions by Christians on newspapers, network television and social media by the amount of negativity and even bile staining the page or the screen.
At one level, this is understandable. Battling the powers and principalities of this world is not exactly a light-hearted affair. Be that as it may, the burden has made a good proportion of Christians into a dour race and people are noticing.
The mirthless nature that has become synonymous with many public expressions of Christianity is very often a ridiculous stereotype, but it is a stereotype that is not completely undeserved. Intended or otherwise, there is a noticeable layer of gloom sprinkled quite liberally on even the most faithful of Christians.
There may be good reasons for this, key to which may be the realization that our true happiness cannot be found in this world. That this somehow means that no happiness whatsoever can be found in this world opens up a whole metaphysical discussion on God’s involvement in the world.
Noticeably, dour orientation in which many Christians—or more honestly, all Christians—adopt in their engagements with the world, at various times and with varying states of permanence, is prominent.
The fact that there is a kernel of truth to the ridiculous stereotype is serious on a number of levels. It has evangelical implications for those both within and outside the Church. If Aristotle is right and we are constantly drawn toward a state of happiness, then no one would, on a natural level, be moved to enter the house of a sour people.
There is, however, a more profound problem with equating the sour orientation with faithfulness to the Christian tradition. It flies in the face of the Christian tradition itself, particularly in the writings of some crucial figures within that tradition.
Take for instance, Saint Teresa of Avila, the Doctor of the Church who, with all her profundity in reaching the depths of the spiritual life, was also renowned for her one liners— the most famous of which was, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, Oh Lord, deliver us.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas, not exactly a lightweight on the Christian life, once remarked that a person who is unable to say or laugh at anything funny was morally unsound. Much, much later, GK Chesterton wrote that the test of a good religion depends on whether one could joke about it.
The moral implications highlighted, important as they might be, pale in comparison to the theological reality in which a properly exercised humor participates.
In his book on preaching, “Giving Blood,” Leonard Sweet pointed to a more serious, supernatural underpinning to an insistence for a lack of humor with these words—“the devil never laugh.”
In a similar vein, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote in his Principles of Catholic Theology, “[W]here joylessness reigns, where humor dies, the spirit of Jesus Christ is assuredly absent. But the reverse is also true: joy is a sign of grace. One who is cheerful from the heart … cannot be far from the God of the Evangelium, whose first word on the threshold of the New Testament is ‘Rejoice’.”
Sweet also reminds us of the inverse, a theological reality that far outweighs the absence of real mirth inherent in satan.
Sweet draws our attention to the medieval Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, who spoke of the Trinity—in whose image all reality is made—in these terms:
“The Father laughs at the Son and the Son at the Father, and the laughing brings forth pleasure, and the pleasure brings forth joy and the joy brings forth love.”
The Christian life, then—the taking up of one’s cross—is not merely, having to buckle under the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. To be faithful to divine revelation (encapsulated in the laughing Trinity) while living in a sin-stained world ruled by the powers and principalities of this world (under the influence of a humorless satan) is to live with both lament and laughter.
We should not downplay our having to honestly face misfortune. Christ saw the depths of this sin-stained reality many times in Scripture and was on record as having lamented in the face of these realities.
Having said that, Christ also points out to us that sadness is not at the heart of divine revelation and, thus, is not the heart of our ultimate reality. The heart of revelation is a reality of two Persons whose laughing at each other produces a third. If Eckhart is right, reality actually is brimming with laughter, a laughter that echoes faintly in every age and behind every moment of sorrow; awaiting for the day when it will finally boom forth from between the cracks of sorrow, breaking the awkward silence of the cosmos that groans inward for its redemption.
© DR. MATTHEW TAN is a theologian based in the Archdiocese of Sydney and an adjunct senior lecturer of theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He also writes for the Patheos Catholic blog channel at The Divine Wedgie. Originally published at www.catholicweekly.com.au. Reprinted with permission.'
Sometimes the best thing you can do for the pro-life cause is to just “smile and walk out into the world.”
I have been to marches; I have prayed at clinics. I have written articles and letters to the editor. I have ten children. Yet, the most effective witness I ever gave to the pro-life cause was when I was not trying to do anything other than find a way to not be lonely.
Back in 1993, I became a mother and I felt the walls of the world encompassing me. So I went out seeking connections and adult conversations and anything to help distinguish one day from the next as I worked to recover from pregnancy and adjusted to being a full-time mom.
One day, I saw the receptionist at our apartment management company and it looked like she had been crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me, “You.”
I did not understand, but she invited me in to sit with her. It turned out she had just broken up with her boyfriend and found out afterward that she was pregnant. Two girlfriends already offered to drive her to get an abortion, but she said seeing my son every day, holding him as he smiled and kicked, she could not. She just could not.
Her reaction to me actually echoed my own reaction to someone else: I had become a stay-at-home mom because I had seen a baby boy in the daycare and witnessed his smiles. I could not not be with my son, I just could not. That unknown baby’s smiles led to my staying home and being desperately lonely … and that led to sharing my son’s smiles with this pregnant receptionist. I hugged her and we cried over her worries.
We talked about what she could do. I had never counseled anyone before, but we created a plan. It involved calling a doctor to get checked, calling her folks to get support and calling her boyfriend to let him know. I did not know what would happen but told her we would be there for her regardless. She gave my son a kiss and dried her eyes.
I left thinking that the loneliness of being a new stay-at-home mother was nothing compared to hers. It rained hard for the next week, so I did not get out for my daily walk. The few times I made it by the office, she was not there. I worried.
However, the next time I saw her she threw open the door and hugged me. Everyone had rallied for her—her boyfriend and her parents. Now instead of the loneliness, there was a family fully engaged and fired-up alive, eagerly anticipating the child’s birth. They married and before I moved away, they had had a son and a daughter. My son’s smiles allowed another two children’s smiles to be known to the world and a whole host of smiles for the mom, the dad and the grandparents.
It was not marching or protesting or lobbying that won a heart in a crisis pregnancy. It was presence. While we march for all those who were not given the opportunity of life or who were wounded by abortion (fathers, mothers, siblings and everyone else) and while we hope for a defunding of Planned Parenthood, we should recognize the other part of being pro-life: We have to be more pro-life and pro-living than protesting.
Smile and walk out into the world and know that God will put you where you can be most effective.
© SHERRY ANTONETTI (sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com) is a full time mom to her ten children. She hosts a weekly column “Small Success Thursdays” at Catholicmom.com, and writes freelance for multiple online and in print newspapers. Her work has appeared in Catholic Digest, Aleteia, National Catholic Register, the Washington Post and the Catholic Standard. Her blog ‘Chocolate for Your Brain’ focuses on parenting and the unique struggles of raising a large Catholic family in the modern age.'
We are in the season of “thankfulness.” While it would be nice to think that we appreciate everything we have and that we are always grateful, most of us benefit in taking the extra step of stopping and appreciating more formally. But expressing gratitude for the good things in our lives can lead to confusion, sometimes.
There are many things in our lives that we refer to as “blessings.” My children are healthy; I see that as a blessing. I have never truly struggled to provide for them, I see that as a blessing. I am married to a good man; I see that as a blessing. This is not to say that those who have sick children, broken marriages, or struggle in their daily lives are not blessed. It is simply my way of recognizing that all good things flow from the goodness that is God.
Sadly, our culture often sees blessing—gifts freely given—as rewards. So the assumption naturally follows that if I do not have the same blessings, I am being punished. And worse yet, if I am suffering in this life, I am being punished. This is a natural, human response. But it is not true.
I was recently reading a book that touched briefly upon the prosperity gospel, which teaches, very simply, that Christians are entitled to a good life because they are Christians. So they should expect material success in life, because they are faith-filled followers of the Lord. It is a comforting line of thinking that if we are good and follow all the rules, we will live the good life, financially speaking. But, in truth, it is a fairly shallow vision of God. God is not Santa Claus, depositing presents for us because we have been good. God is a Father; He desires good things for us. But He also recognizes that we were not created for this world.
Treasures in this world are temporary; He is forming us for eternal life. God sees us as whole creations, body and soul, and His gifts are meant to nurture both. Catholics can be swayed by the good feelings the prosperity gospel invokes, but there is very little of it that reconciles with Catholic doctrine.
Very often, Catholics find themselves falling for a different, but equally misleading and erroneous understanding of God’s plan in our lives. The gospel of “if.” If I had prayed one more Rosary, if I had taken my children to daily Mass, if I had said more novenas, then….then my life, my pain, my problems would be resolved. If I was a better Catholic then I would not be sick, would still be employed, and have complacent children. It is that missing prayer, the forgotten devotion, the candle unlit—that is the source of my struggles and my pain.
This too is a shallow vision of God. He is not the great score keeper in the sky, deducting blessings for lack of prayers. We do not earn God’s love. We do not pray our way into His good graces. That undermines the concept of love as something freely given. And it undermines the concept of prayer. Prayer is not a currency. It is communication. It is built upon a relationship, not rewards. It is hard. We see ourselves living “by the rules.” Doing the right thing. And yet, we do not always see the benefits. Or at least, what we think the benefits should be.
We see someone’s success and wonder why God does not bless us similarly. What are we not doing? How have we displeased the Lord? Why? When things go well in our lives, do we live in fear? Waiting for “the other shoe to drop?” Trying to do everything right so that God does not get mad at us and take away His gifts. But that is not how God sees us. He wants us to be happy with Him in Heaven. So all that He gives, or does not give, is towards that end. How does this help us grow and progress towards the next life? He does not give so that He can take away. He loves us. He cares for us. He does not desire harm to come to us. He does not retaliate against us.
Look at the Book of Job. At first glance it seems to be a horrible read, the just man suffering through no fault of his own. And that is heart wrenching. He did everything right and yet he suffered greatly. His wealth was not guaranteed because he was a good man. He did not fail to pray enough and therefore suffered great loss. He suffered due to circumstances beyond his control. He was not responsible for the pain in his life. And that should be extremely comforting to all of us.
It seems odd to speak of someone’s suffering as comforting, and yet that is how we should look upon the book of Job. There are many messages contained within, but maybe the most important is that our suffering is so very often the result of the world we live in. It is not the failure to pray one more Rosary or tithe one more percent. It is life. We all suffer and we all struggle. It is not always punishment. Sometimes we have to suffer the consequences of our poor judgment, but often we just have to struggle.
That, to me, is the most important take away message of the Book of Job. Life is not fair. We cannot prevent pain in our lives. And through it all, God is there with us. Our burdens, our sufferings, and our heartbreaks are painful. But they are not because God is angry with us. And, more importantly, God does not leave us in these dark times. He does not move closer if we pray more, we just hear His voice more clearly. The more we unite with Him, the more we feel the reality of His presence in our lives—the never abandoning, never changing presence. He is with us all and loves us all. And that is something we all can be thankful for.'
Have you ever noticed how NFP (Natural Family Planning for the uninitiated) is marketed? It Is sold with glossy photos of couples holding hands and dancing in flower-filled meadows, their faces plastered with blissful grins. It will make you so much more intimate! It will change your life! You will never be so in love as when you chart your spouse’s cycles! So they said.
Well the truth is, NFP stinks.
And while hate may be too strong a word, NFP is anything but blissful. It is abstinence. In marriage! To be perfectly real and honest, NFP has not lead to blissful meadow-dancing, but rather to hurt feelings, grumpiness, pouting, and temper tantrums (do not worry, I hve gone to confession.).
But that said, it is probably the best thing for me, and I will tell you why.
I need NFP because it reveals a hidden love affair competing for the love I have for my wife. It is called self-love.
Put another way, I hate NFP because there is still so much selfishness and immaturity in my heart, and marital abstinence brings it to the surface in all its ugliness.
When I was first preparing for marriage, I had read countless marriage books and articles on how to be a great husband. “I’m going to be the best husband ever!” I thought smugly. “I’ve got this down.” And then I got married. In no time at all, that marriage advice that once seemed so clear and simple evaporated. I quickly realized I was nothing more than a selfish jerk; impatient, rude, demanding, and insensitive. Boy did I have to get over myself fast.
The truth is, though, loving my wife has gotten easier the longer I have been married. What used to be a struggle has become natural. There are times when I really think that I am doing well and growing—and perhaps, by God’s grace, I am. But then NFP rears its ugly head and reveals just how much self-love is still lurking in the dark recess of my soul. And that selfishness has to be put to death.
MARRIAGE IS A CROSS
You see, society sells us a lie. It tells us that marriage is about self-fulfillment, about happily ever after, about using others to create your own happiness. It is about one and a half kids in an 8,000 square foot McMansion, with a couple of SUVs in the driveway. Oh, and the greatest good in marriage is sex; unlimited contraceptive, child-preventing sex. If your spouse is not meeting your “needs,” you are free to move on and look elsewhere for someone who does.
But this could not be further from the truth. Marriage is not about you. It is about losing yourself, about putting the old man to death. It is about giving yourself away. It is about loving your wife in the same way Christ loved His bride, the Church—all the way to the cross.
Have you ever noticed that every sacrament contains an image of death? We are immersed into the death of Christ in Baptism. Priests lay face down on the ground when they receive Holy Orders. The Eucharist is the passion of Christ made present. In confession we enter a box that could be considered a coffin. In every sacrament, we must die to ourselves in order to receive the grace and life we so desperately need.
In case you have forgotten, marriage too is a sacrament—and a happy, fruitful, and faithful marriage will always involve death to self. There is a spiritual law that goes like this: The harder we cling to our own happiness and fulfillment, the less we find of it, but the more we die to ourselves and live for others, the more joy we find.
In a very real sense, marriage is a martyrdom, a very real kind of death—but a death that gives life.
SO WHAT ABOUT NFP?
What is the point? NFP is hard and we are prone to hate it because we often enter marriage thinking about our rights, our needs, and our wants. In other words, we so often want to take instead of to give, because giving always hurts.
The truth is, though, we desperately need NFP and the self-denial it represents. Without it, all that selfishness and immaturity and greediness would still be there, buried under layers of self-deception. It would manifest itself subtly, or not so subtly, in many other aspects of marriage, wounding the intimate bond between husband and wife. Yes, it would still be there, and it would still do harm.
Marriage is a sacrament because God wants to convert our hearts. Marriage is not about two-incomes, an oversized house, and overpriced vehicles. It will not always look like the American dream, which all too often is more of a nightmare. Marriage according to God’s plan is hard and sometimes painful because marriage is meant to be a school of genuine love, and genuine love always looks like the cross.
Do not get me wrong, a Catholic marriage well lived is full of joy. I mean it. Yet that abundant joy is always the byproduct and not the prime product. It flows from self-forgetful, self-emptying love, never from selfishness or self-seeking. We must surrender ourselves in order to find the happiness we seek.
So do I like NFP? Nope. Sometimes I downright hate it. But maybe it can help me grow.
Sam Guzman is founder and editor of the Catholic Gentleman (www.CatholicGentleman.net). He and his wife reside in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with their three children. Guzman serves as a marketer at Covenant Eyes (www.CovenantEyes.com). He has been published in the Catholic Exchange, Aleteia, Truth and Charity Forum, the Christian Science Monitor, One Peter Five, and a number of other faithbased blogs. Reprinted with permission'
The last photo of Sister Cecilia Maria, the Argentinian Carmelite sister who recently died of cancer at age forty-three, has drawn the attention and affections of the Catholic world.
Accounts tell us that Sister often played the violin for her fellow Carmelites as a sweet gift of music, but it was in her final moment that Sister Cecilia Maria provided her smile as one last antiphon of sweetness to the world. And it is worth pondering her smile, and her life, because she had some very important lessons to teach the world.
First, she reminds us what beauty really is.
For a society that is so focused on beauty, very little attention is spent on defining beauty. What is beauty, and what relation does it have to love? What relation do love and beauty have to happiness?
These questions are not original to this author; indeed, these are the primal questions of the great literature, the great thoughts, and the great philosophy. But we have stopped asking them, not because we have answered them properly, but because we stopped caring about the questions.
Yet, regardless of philosophy, society nevertheless proffers its explanation of beauty. Sadly, these explanations are often tepid, if not altogether stupid.
Case in point. The covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines serve as a microcosm of a generation that has lost it; indeed, who is lost. The cover girls are gaunt, distant, and unhappy looking—all by editorial design.Their God-given inner beauty has been robbed; they often embody a plasticity of soullessness, and that denial of soul is a bigger lie than any airbrush could ever accomplish. These ubiquitous covers offer our wives and daughters a poorly-scripted fictional world that is governed by mannequins.
Then, in a stroke of spiritual serendipity, we see the picture of Sister Cecilia Maria; in a striking and immediate contrast to the faux world of models, we see the type of beauty that is borne of love and happiness. Among the vast array of cover girls who look dour in life, here is a woman who looks majestically happy in death.
Truly, hers is the countenance of Christianity. Christianity may not be in vogue, yet if one seeks the issue of happiness and fulfillment, the love of God is where to look.
Whereas our society is like a man who holds the key to happiness in his hand, yet insistently looks for it elsewhere, the smile of Sister Cecilia illustrates that she looked for happiness in all the right places. And found it. She showed the world the inescapable connection between love and beauty.
Second, Sister’s life and death also showed us the importance of truth, and its connection with beauty.
The worst lie ever told was that we can be happy apart from God. The original sin was the product of the original lie—a perfect untruth told by a master rhetorician. And one of those lies is that a life dedicated to God is an exercise in futility.
Ironically but predictably, much the world looks at Sister Cecilia Maria and thinks that she missed out. She missed out on almost all the things that are supposed to make women happy today. She missed out on the material of modernity. She missed out on the high-priced wardrobe, the high heels, and the high-power career, the travel, the treats, and the trinkets, the bling, the boyfriends, and the breakups. This discalced sister, spiritually tethered by her vows, whose wardrobe essentially consisted of one dress and zero shoes, missed out on everything.
Everything except happiness.
Everything except God.
In truth—because of truth—she missed out on nothing.
In truth, it is those who are insistent on sin who are missing out. As a wise priest once put it, “Sin is boring; virtue is exciting.” The biography of sin has a million chapters, but all of them are the same boring story. Each with a storyline of sadness.
Twenty-three hundred years ago, Aristotle posited that the key to happiness is simple—aggravatingly simple. Aristotle wrote that “happiness is an activity of soul in accordance with perfect virtue.” The ensuing twenty-three centuries have witnessed a world that has strenuously objected to that basic truth observed by the philosopher.
But Sister Cecilia Maria knew this central truth, and her life and death were in accordance with virtue.
A Glimpse Into The Future
One of the most exciting things about the smile of Sister Cecilia Maria is that she seemed to glimpse into a future that can be ours. For some people, that kind of thought might be intimidating. After all, the thinking might be that while Sister Cecilia Maria is exactly the kind of person who goes to Heaven, I am not.
But if that is your thinking, look a little closer at her smile. Hers is a smile of assurance and trust. It is a smile that acknowledges a merciful and loving Creator.
Whether you have lived a life like Sister Cecilia or a life like Saint Dismas, whether you have loved God since your infancy or began loving Him in your final moments, the same merciful and loving Creator awaits you.
There is a saying that Dismas “stole Heaven” in his last moments. But this is untrue. Heaven is ours—ours to gain or ours to lose. The deed to Heaven was signed in blood by Our Savior’s deed on the Cross. Heaven is not stolen; you cannot steal that which God has purchased for you. It is not Heaven, but hell that is stolen.
The beautiful truth is that God made you to be happy with Him. Sister Cecilia Maria recognized this. In her final note, she wrote, “I was thinking about how I would like my funeral to be. First, some intense prayer, and then a great celebration for everyone. Don’t forget to pray, but don’t forget to celebrate either!”
Sister Cecilia Maria’s death, her life, and her smile were a testimony to happiness. Our Lord assured us that the world would know we are Christians by our love. What Sister reminded us is that part of that love is a smile.
© JOHN CLARK is a graduate of Christendom College, holding a degree in Political Science and Economics. He is a professional author and speechwriter. His book “Who’s Got You? Observations of a Catholic Homeschooling Father” has reached #1 in the Amazon Kindle “Fatherhood” category. He has written scores of articles about Catholic family life and has been published in such places as Catholic Digest, Latin Mass Magazine, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and CatholicExchange.com. He publishes a popular monthly column in Seton Magazine and a weekly column for SetonMagazine.com. He and his wife Lisa have nine children. Reprinted with permission from Seton Magazine.
My poor little girl was totally miserable the other day. “My day was horrible!” she said, as she loaded her backpack into the car after a rough day in the first grade.
I googled images of children from Haiti to show her how lucky is she is. After all “horrible day” is a relative phrase . . .
. . . Her horrible day consisted of “first world problems” in a clean, safe school, and while I did not want to diminish those problems, I thought it might help give her perspective if I showed her kids who had had a really horrible day . . . but all I could find in google images for “Children from Haiti” were kids with big, big smiles.
Of course those images confirmed what I had preached countless times but had momentarily forgotten (and I often forget this for myself): real happiness (let us call it “joy”), is 90 percent attitude and 10 percent circumstance. The poorest places on earth lack material goods but are rich in gratitude for everything. They are rich with the knowledge of just how much they need God and need one another for everything. They are rich in something Jesus called, “poverty of spirit.”
The real first world poverty is forgetting all that. The real first world problem is ingratitude. That is why children from underdeveloped nations tend to smile more than children of privilege.
You cannot always control your circumstances, but you can control, moment by moment, how you respond and on what you choose to focus your attention.
You are busy. Your life is harried. I know. So is mine. We cannot always control that.
Or maybe you are having a horrible day. You are facing hard times. You got a bad medical report. You are struggling in your marriage. Your boss is a pain. We cannot always control that either.
Without diminishing the reality of the splinters sinking into your shoulder as you carry the cross, I want to challenge you to stop for a moment and take inventory of all you have to be grateful for, and say THANK YOU as often as possible to God and to other people. All circumstances aside, you will be happier at the end of the day if you do.
“I have told you these things so my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” – Jesus
© CHRISTOPHER STEFANICK'
If someone were to ask you, “How would you like to be remembered when you pass on?”; you probably do not want to hear, “Well, he really knew how to sin!” The irony in this is that sin was introduced as part of our heritage from the actions of our first parents which also opened our inclination to continue this practice and offense against God (concupiscence). Even though at first this may sound dreary, God’s infinite love and mercy opened the opportunity to forgo sin and not make it our lasting heritage if we so choose.
Saint John Marie Vianney once said, “Those who say: ‘I have committed too many sins, the Good Lord cannot forgive me’ is a gross blasphemy. It is the same as putting a limit on God’s mercy, which has none; it is infinite.” The Cure of Ars reminds us that God’s mercy has no limitations regardless of our human condition. Even when we try to limit our opportunity to receive mercy, He easily supersedes the best of our human intentions whether positive or negative. Saint Vianney eschews the human tendency of losing hope, thus settling for a heritage of sin instead of a heritage of grace and mercy.
Understanding our Human Heritage
An interesting characteristic of our human condition is the tendency to seek mercy but yet ignore the opportunity for conversion and renunciation of sin (see Deuteronomy 28:15-46; 18:9-22; Exodus 16:1-21; Exodus 32: 1-14). The protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 sets the stage where God expounds on His infinite mercy to Adam and Eve but yet reminds them of the work they will need to perform both spiritual and corporal. It is His loving reminder of the need to prepare for the One who is to come in order to release the bondages of this first sin. This “New Adam” will perfect the human condition in a way that would open the door for all of God’s children to repent, seek forgiveness and in turn be in full communion with Him. Saint Paul echoes this point quite well reminding us that “as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12).
He strengthens this point in Romans (7) where he reveals to us his own struggle in doing the very things he should not do but does them anyway. What he is trying to tell us is not to settle on a legacy of sin but instead center your actions on Christ Himself. The book of Wisdom expands this point even further; “For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience (2: 23-24).
Keep in mind that the devil himself wants a legacy of sin established in every single one of us. His demonic desire is a direct assault on the Incarnation because the devil does not want us to be partakers of the Divine nature, know God’s love, or be reconciled by Him (“Catechism of the Catholic Church” 456-460). In order not to succumb to a legacy of sin we must be open and honest about our fallibility and place our trust in Christ (Colossians 3:1-3). Blaise Pascal once said; “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think such things” (Pensees, 133).
Establishing a Heritage of Grace in the Family
As a father of four children the last thing I want is to leave a lasting legacy of sin for my children to follow and emulate. I am called to be cognizant of my actions both verbal and physical because, as mentioned, the last thing I want is an imitation of my sinful behavior to fall upon them. But yet when I am caught disciplining my children, it is because of an act they have imitated from me. In many ways it ends up being an examination of conscience for me as a parent.
Man is called to perform good acts (CCC 1749). This means as children of God, created in His image and likeness, we are naturally inclined to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Our Christocentric heritage also calls us to obey and be attentive to the voice calling us to do what is good and avoid evil (CCC 1776). We hopefully understand that sin is a rejection of God’s love and, looking at this a bit further, is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods (CCC 1849). Our Christian responsibility is to center our very being to Christ which leads to an active renunciation of sin.
How can we strengthen the Heritage of Grace within our families while at the same time weaken the heritage of sin? Here are several suggestions to consider:
- Establish a central time to pray every day as a family, i.e. family rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Liturgy of the Hours, general intercessory prayers, reading a chapter and verse from scripture.
- Pray over your children every night before going to bed by making the sign of the Cross on their foreheads calling upon their guardian angel to be with them.
- Establish a sacred space within your home consisting of a Bible, crucifix, and the colors of the liturgical season to serve as a focal point of prayer and to bring an awareness of Christ and the liturgical season.
- Make a daily examination of conscience and go to confession as a family.
- Faithfully attend Holy Mass on Sunday.
- Perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy as a family toward one another.
- Cultivate and Practice the virtue of charity (1 Peter 4:8, CCC 2517-2519).
- Consecrate your home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
- Remove any distractions that contradict Christ, e.g. inappropriate music, clothing, images, movies, etc.
- Pray for prudence and wisdom in your daily tasks.
- Call upon the intercession of the Saints at all times and especially during times of struggle.
“O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word, and by your wisdom have formed man, to have dominion over the creatures you have made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me wisdom that sits by your throne, and do not reject me from among servants. For I am your slave and the son of your maidservant, a man who is weak and short-lived, with little understanding of judgement and laws; for even if one is perfect among the sons of men, yet without the wisdom that comes from you he will be regarded as nothing” (Wisdom 9: 1-6)
“I love you, Lord, my strength, my rock, my fortress, my savior. My God is the rock where I take refuge, my shield, my mighty help, my stronghold. The Lord is worthy of all praise. When I call I am saved from my foes” (Psalm 18:2-4)
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19)
My three-year-old niece has always been a bit of a fraidy-cat. When she was two, she was so terrified of new people that when someone walked into the house she would screw her eyes shut and cling to whoever happened to be holding her. For two hours. Even when the stranger was my 95-year-old grandmother.
She’s been working on it as she grows. Frequently, she will announce to her family that she is “vewy bwave” because she can do scary things like have a ladybug land on her or play in the street all by herself (do not worry, we explained the difference between brave and stupid).
But with all her big talk, she is still easily frightened. So I should not have expected the Fourth of July to go smoothly. But we had been talking about fireworks and she was a good distance away from the driveway where her father was setting them off. She seemed ready.
Then the first Roman candle went off and so did Elizabeth, screaming in terror and fleeing for her life, past the carport and the garden and the cherry tree, running for the woods and anything that she could put between her and the terror of those fireworks.
I chased her, of course, calling for her to come back, but she was having none of it. When I finally caught her, she clung to me like she has never clung before—not even in the horror of a visit from a pleasant old lady—and sobbed, “Take me far, far away! Take me very, very far away!”
It took a while—and a trip indoors where I promised to hold her for as long as she wanted—but eventually she was comforted. She was being held by someone she knew would keep her safe, and once she silenced the voices of fear in her head and listened to me instead, that was enough.
This is the image I have of trusting God the way the psalmist does. The Lord tells me I am going to be fine, He sets me up so that I am safe, and then He starts to work. And I panic. I run like a bat out of hell, putting everything I can between me and whatever delightful (if scary) thing He had planned for me. And He does not roll His eyes and leave me to my own devices. He chases after me and catches me and reminds me, again and again, that He will protect me.
It is hard for me to imagine the need for a fortress or a shield to protect me from my foes. But I know what it is to need strong arms holding me and a confident voice promising that the terror of this night will not last forever. I need His love to cast out my fear.
I always thought that this passage from 1 John was a challenge: if you love perfectly, you will not be afraid. If you give your whole heart to Jesus, holding nothing back, you will trust Him. And that is true, but it is not the whole truth. It is not just our perfect love that casts out fear or we would never know peace. It is His perfect love that pushes our fear away. It is His love that holds us, sobbing and afraid, and reminds us that He will protect us.
As we are held by His perfect love, we begin to love back. Because He loves us, we are able to love Him and trust Him and let Him be the rock, the fortress, the savior.
Elizabeth’s fear did not change the world around her. Her dad kept setting off fireworks while her siblings shrieked and giggled in awe. The world kept shaking and the scary things did not go away. But she was held.
So often our prayer is for God to take away the bad things, the fear of ISIS or cancer or a crazy person with a gun. In a world where some new terrifying thing is happening every time you pull out your phone, we just want God to fix it. But sometimes what we need is not for God to take away the ugly things but to hold us close. Sometimes what we need is for the scary things to happen so that we will run to God to hold us. Our love is imperfect so our fear will remain, but His perfect love will make up for much of it. Held in His strong arms, we will finally be free.
© MEG HUNTER-KILMER (www.PiercedHands.com) travels around the country speaking to youth and adults and leading retreats and parish missions.'
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