Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Loving your Sister 

Based on an email I wrote to a friend:

In further explanation of my position, my firm belief is that, in the words of St. Thérèse, there is really only one vocation: to Love. The other vocations - priesthood, "religious life", marriage - are but temporary manifestations of that one vocation. They are temporary in the sense that they exist for this earthly life as an anticipation of the life that is to be revealed at the end of time.

"Treat. . . younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." In a way, if I am married to a woman, I need to keep in mind that above all, she is my sister in Christ. The bonds of marriage end with death, but she is my sister in Christ for eternity. I could phrase it in an analgous way to how I explained vocations above: marriage is a temporary manifestation of the call to love a particular woman as my sister in Christ.

So, in regards to any sister in Christ, the question is not whether or not to love her, but how does God want me to love her.

"Treat. . . younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." I must have a "passion for purity." By God's grace, I am to keep in the forefront of my mind that she is my sister, and that the goal is to see her fall more deeply in love with Jesus. True love must want what God wants, and the one who truly loves desires that the other should follow Jesus wherever he leads them.

And really, should that not be my goal with everyone I meet?

May God help me to do so.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Prepare Your Minds for Action 

From the Gospel of Luke:
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (8:14-15. All Scripture references are NIV)
The parallel account in the Gospel of Mark talks about "the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things" (4:19).

Is that me? Is the Word of God in my life choked by my worries and the deceitfulness of wealth? Is the working of the Holy Spirit in my life inhibited because I am filled with desires for other things? Does this letter I wrote in 2004 apply to me?

Ah, my friend! How long it has been since I have enjoyed your presence! I have seen you passing by and I have heard your voice from across the way, but, I've been too busy to stop and talk. We do talk in the morning at work everyday, but that's just business talk. Its important for me to focus on the upcoming project, so I can't afford to really listen to you unless your telling me something that relates to my project. People think that we're the best of friends 'cause I talk about you a lot. Most of the time though I talk about you when I get in discussions with other people. It's easier for me to convince people when I can tell you that you agree with me, and that way, when they don't listen to me, I can pass it off and tell them that really they aren't listening to you.
Or can this describe me?

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers. (Ps 1:1-3)

Over the past few months I have grown increasingly irritated with myself. I can make St. Paul's words fully my own: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." What have I been doing, that I keep falling in the same way to the same temptations?

As I have struggled with this, God has slowly been revealing to me what I think is the root cause of this problem:

Without him, I can do nothing. It really isn't an issue of trying harder, or praying more, or cutting bad influences out of my life, although those actions can be very helpful. But the actions themselves, as performed by me, are powerless. Satan didn't need MTV and the internet to fall from heaven. And he didn't have a lack of significant interaction with God. He just had to turn away from God.

This Lent began with a call: "Repent and believe." In a narrow sense, I ought to repent of specific sins, and I should believe in the truths contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. But I think I need to respond to that call in a broader sense. "To repent" means to turn away, and in Scripture it means to turn away from sin and back to God. "To believe" is not just an intellectual assent to a set of propositions, but to say "Yes!" to Jesus and to all that he wills for me.

Repenting is not a wistful looking back over the shoulder towards God. No, it is a turning to God with my whole being, with all that I am. And believing happens when Jesus calls me to jump into the ocean of God's Love and I do it, even though I don't know how to swim. I just let go and entrust myself to him.

Why am I not experiencing the total freedom that Scripture speaks about? Probably because I am not totally repenting and believing! I'm not letting go of the worries of this life, and the desire for other things, so it shouldn't be surprising that the Word doesn't bear as much fruit as it might otherwise.

What is it about the worries of this life and the desire for other things that cause them to choke out the Word?

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:57-62)
We can replace their words with many others:

"Lord, first let me go and finish school."
"Lord, first let me go and get married."
"Lord, first let me go and find a good job."

And even with very small things:

"Lord, first let me go and finish my homework."
"Lord, first let me go and check on my team at ESPN.com."
"Lord, first let me go and. . ."

None of those things are bad, in and of themselves. But we clutter our minds with all sorts of minor and major preoccupations, and there's no room for the Word to take root in our hearts and grow and flourish.

That brings me to the title of this post. I'm starting to think that I have a far more worldly mind than I ever realized. Ready for action? The only action I seem to be prepared for is falling asleep in the moment of temptation, or flat out running into the arms of sin. My mind often feels sluggish, or as if in a cloud, and it becomes hard to remember the things of God. I often care far more about purely earthly, temporary things than those things which will last forever.

That's mediocrity, and I've been settling for it.

In the midst of realizing this last week, a Scripture verse came to mind:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. (1 Peter 4:7)
How does one be "clear minded"? I don't know exactly, but I don't think it's anything I can do to myself. I have to let the Holy Spirit do that. But first I need to recognize that I need him to do that, and then I need to ask him to do that. As if to point out that this is important for me to consider this right now, several other Scripture passages were brought to my attention:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the patter of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Col 3:1-2)

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Pet 1:13)
I decided that 1 Peter was so filled with good things for me right now that I was going to memorize it. I started working on it Sunday and I think I've made good progress. There was, however, a surprising (though it shouldn't have been so) effect to this Scripture memorization.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers. (Ps 1:2-3)

The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes. (Ps. 19:8)
In rehearsing the words of 1 Peter in my mind, I was in turn meditating on it, and in meditating on it, it was filling my mind — it was giving light to my eyes. In this state, I went to school this morning and was surprised: both at all the distractions I hadn't noticed very much before and at how much easier it was to deal with temptation.

I want to have the mind of Christ. I want to walk in the Spirit. I want to free to love with all my heart and not be burdened by sin. And just as he is holy, so I want to be holy.

Holy Spirit, fill my heart and my mind with your presence. Teach me how to pray. Teach me how to love. Make me holy.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Reflections on the Saints 

While I’d love to post everyday, I will most likely not have the luxury of doing so.  Instead, I shall make a sincere effort to post at least once every week.  Toward that end, I will be posting my reflections based on the daily readings from Bert Ghezzi’s “Voices of the Saints” (© 2000, Image Books)

Today, by my calculations, is the 326th day of the year, but I will simply write a reflection based on the very first entry in this book (pg. 2)

St. Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 – 1167)

     And so praying to Christ for your friend, and longing to be heard      by Christ for your friend’s sake, you reach out with devotion and desire to Christ himself.  And suddenly and insensibly, as though touched by the gentleness of Christ close at hand, you begin to taste how sweet he is and to feel how lovely he is.  Thus from that holy love with which you embrace your friend, you rise to that love by which you embrace Christ.

How glad I am that my own experiences of love and friendship were described by one who lived almost a millennium before!  Indeed, it is almost distressing to pray in such a way as this for a friend.  I have experienced this first hand.  When filled with the “longing to be heard by Christ for your friend’s sake” and with that “holy love with which you embrace your friend” and then expressing it in prayer to Christ, one becomes aware of the development of an intimate connection between them and their friend.  This is distressing in our modern age, where we are taught to remain disconnected and isolated, in a world unto ourselves, where autonomy and individuality have supplanted love as chief of the virtues.  For, now, because of this intimate connection, one’s fate is in part caught up in that of their friend.  They render themselves vulnerable to the other.

Even greater than this is that devotion and desire for Christ which springs up from this love.  At first this may come as a surprise, and it may seem that this is merely incidental or secondary, but this is not so.  No, for holy love, authentic love, has Christ as its beginning and its end.  It streams forth from the heart of the Crucified and returns “from whence it came.”  It can only come to be in Christ and it can only find its completion in him.

This shows us how we can tell whether or to what degree true love is present in our hearts.  We can ask ourselves, “Does this thing I call ‘love of Christ’ cause an increase in my love of my neighbor?  And does this thing I call ‘love of neighbor’ lead to a greater love of Christ?”

A brief reflection on the condition of our love reveals how little is actually present.  But if we find ourselves in this condition (and who in this life could ever claim for themselves the perfection of love?), we should not despair.  Not at all!  Remember that this holy love comes from Jesus.  It is not really ours at all.  We cannot manufacture it, or cause it to be by mere force of will.  Know that Jesus wants to fill us to overflowing with this love.  All we need to do is ask him for it and to remain open to receiving it.  He will not give it if we do not ask him, and he will not force us to take it, if we do not open our hearts to receive it.  So, we ought to pray,

“Jesus, give me an ever greater love for you, for my dear friends, and for my neighbor.”

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Vocation of Love 

In a previous entry I wrote:
I wonder how it is that I continue finding these Theresian themes cropping up in my life. “My vocation is to love” she said. Perhaps if I had chosen a different saint for my patron when I was confirmed I would have seen the development of things attributed to them instead.
All other vocations must have this vocation as their source. Each of them is but a different expression of the same vocation to love. I can be faithful to my vocation, though I do not know what form it shall take, for it is in the end a vocation to love.

I further resolve that I shall not seek out any particular form of this vocation, but shall trust that he shall reveal his calling in his good time. Indeed, he is already calling me and leading me in the way I should go, though I cannot tell where I am going.

In the absence of a clear call to take decisive action, I shall content myself with remaining as I am. I shall heed the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:24 NIV)
Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
He continues in vss. 29-31:
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they are not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
The earth in its present form is passing away. This means that I ought not to do anything for the sake of earthly gain, for any earthly gain will pass away with the earth. I must fix my eyes on what is unseen, on what is eternal, that which does not pass away. What does this mean when it comes to discerning my vocation in life, particularly as concerns whether to marry or to remain unmarried? Jesus says (Matt. 19:11-12):
Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some. . . have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.
The gift of celibacy is clearly a symbolic anticipation of the kingdom of heaven. It proclaims, "We live for more than this life, our destiny reaches beyond the doors of death." What then, is marriage but a concession for incapable of controlling their passions? Certainly it has that function. But let us consider an example from history:

Louis and Zelie were an ordinary man and woman. As young adults, they were both drawn to the religious life and each unsuccessfully sought entrance into a religious community. With that path closed to them, at least for a time, they each settled down in a town in France. After some time, they met each other and were married.
Louis, 34, and Zelie, 26, married and began their remarkable voyage through life. Within the next fifteen years, Zelie bore nine children, seven girls and two boys. "We lived only for them", Zelie wrote; "they were all our happiness".

The Martins' delight in their children turned to shock and sorrow as tragedy relentlessly and mercilessly stalked their little ones. Within three years, Zelie's two baby boys, a five year old girl and a six-and-a-half week old infant girl all died.

Zelie was left numb with sadness. "I haven't a penny's worth of courage," she lamented. But her faith sustained her through these terrible ordeals. In a letter to her sister-in-law who had lost an infant son, Zelie remembered: "When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and buried them, I felt sorrow through and through....People said to me, 'It would have been better never to have had them.' I couldn't stand such language. My children were not lost forever; life is short and full of miseries, and we shall find our little ones again up above." (Source)

Loius Martin and Zelie Guerin married because of the kingdom of heaven. In their vocation to marriage, they were choosing the way of love, and were living for the world which is to come. Their last child was a girl, one who is known far more widely than either of her parents. They named her Therese — Therese Martin, whom we know as St. Therese, the Little Flower.

It is clear to me that it is not important whether I am called to marriage or celibacy, but that I live out my vocation to love. Whether I am called to marry or to remain unmarried, I shall do so "because of the kingdom of heaven."

How else can I live?

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Heaven vs. Hell (or Love vs. Fear) 

I have no fear of hell, for fear and love cannot co-exist. In fact, it is very simple to avoid hell and reach heaven. But why does Jesus say that narrow is the path to eternal life, and few there are who find it? Because of the pride of our hearts We insist on saying with Lucifer, "I will ascend to the heavens" even thought we are powerless to do so. It is simple because Jesus knows the way to heaven, and his will is to take us to be with him there, and whatever Jesus wills he is able to do. All we have to do is entrust ourselves to him. It is like we are little children and between us and heaven there is a vast wilderness fraught with peril and danger.

While it is simple, we may find it very hard to trust him, for he will carry us through many difficult and tyring experiences. Deserts, "dangers, toils and sanres", dark forests, harsh and rugged mountains, frozen tundra, hordes of enemies, perhaps passing by the gates of the Enemy himself. At each state of the journey we will be tempted to succumb to fear and leap from the arms of Jesus and run away and hide. Or in our spiritual myopia, we may think there is a better way, a safer way.

At each of these moments we must cling to Jesus ever more tightly, we must entrust ourselves to him over and over again. We are not smart enough, wise enough, or strong enough to make our own way. Compared to the greatness of that to which we are called, we can barely move a finger. Indeed, it is not so much we who cling to Jesus more tightly, but he who holds us ever closer — if we ask him. He will not hold us against our will, thought it pains him to see us run away.

But do not fear if you have let go of him and have run away; he will come looking for you. Indeed, he already knows where you are. Listen. . . he is gently calling for you, trying to woo you from your hiding place. Raise your head and open your eyes. . . he is already standing at your side, longing to pick you up and carry you again. And, he will follow you all the way to the gates of hell, trying to woo you back to him.

But he will not prevent you from walking through those gates.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Entrusting to Jesus 

From a journal entry:

Jesus, I need your help. This is too great and wonderful for me. To love another and so to love you more, and to love you and so to love another more. It is possible, is it not? To have this: the more I love the one, the more I love the other. Surely in my heart my great desire is to love without end.

I wonder how it is that I continue finding these Theresian themes cropping up in my life. “My vocation is to love” she said. Perhaps if I had chosen a different saint for my patron when I was confirmed I would have seen the development of things attributed to them instead.

Dear Therese said that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth. Well, I want to spend my earth living as if heaven is already here. It is my firm conviction that it in fact is. “The kingdom of God is within you.” Which is greater, the Lord of the land or the land, the kingdom? The Lord! And does not the Lord of the Kingdom of Heaven dwell within me? Have I not been baptized into his death and become a part of his body? Have I not begun to enter into his very life, or as Peter writes, to be a partaker of the diving nature? So what prevents me from living accordingly?

I do.

I do not want to let go of my pride. . . . I do not fully trust Jesus. My pride says to me, “I am your only sure guarantee that you will not be lost, that your identity will not fade away, that you will be able to maintain your grasp, your hold on being important. If you let go you may be so fully assimilated into Him that both the world and God shall forget you. . . you will not even be a memory.”

While illogical, that is a very compelling argument. For, that is the greatest fear of selfishness: being forgotten by all, especially by the person in whom it resides.

But we do not lose our identity in allowing the love of God to overwhelm us. We do not become oblivious to our own existence.

I have some idea of what it means to love God, and to love my neighbor, but what does it mean to authentically love one’s own self?

I think the key is entrusting, actively entrusting oneself to God. I think that is the key to truly loving another.

All love goes out and returns to its source: God. Whatever love we have finds its first and ultimate source in God. Flowing through us, its natural direction is towards God again.

So to love myself, I place myself in the place which is the source and end of love: the heart of God. I place myself there as a whole being; I give myself to him; I entrust myself to his keeping. From then on, gazing on myself I cannot help but see myself in the context of the Beauty and Love of God. Thus, I do not love myself for my own sake, because my gaze becomes transfixed on the one who holds me.

Likewise with others: If I entrust them to Jesus, insofar as it is for me to do so, I cannot help but see them in the context of the Beauty and Love of Christ. They do not lose their identity, nor I mine – no, rather than being obscured by the light of his Beauty, we are illuminated by it. Not only does it shine upon us, revealing the surface, but so intense is this light that it shines through us, and we become illuminated throughout the whole of our being.

For the full completion of this, we shall have to wait until we are raised to live, but raised incorruptible, even glorified.

Hasten the day, Lord Jesus.

Come Holy Spirit, begin your work in my heart today.

Father, glorify your name.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Joy in Suffering 

Suffering can be very instrumental in bringing us closer to God. It can help a great deal in making us holier. We can even find joy in our suffering:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. 3:10-11)

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplines by his father? . . . .Our fathers disciplines us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No disciplines seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Heb. 12:7, 10-11)

"Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin." (1 Pet. 4:1)

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Pet. 4:12-13)

"If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." (1 Pet. 4:14-16)

"So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." (1 Pet. 4:19)

Just make sure that your suffering isn't brought on by your own stupidity. . . Some of the suffering we endure in this world is a direct result of our thinking patterns and our habits. We should work to change those things rather than simply bear it.

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