Tag Archives: Philosophy

The Problem Of “Them”

My dad and I have been re-watching the Marvel movies leading up to “End Game” and the new Spider Man movie. We found a list that goes through them in an actual timeline that starts in the 1940’s with the first Captain America movie, and ends in the present day. I love super hero movies. In fact, I pretty much like any story that involves an obvious battle between good and evil. I like to see the “good guys” win.

It’s a really simple, but enjoyable story premise. We’re presented with it over and over, starting when we’re as young as five years old. At face value, that’s fine, and even good to an extent. Good and evil do exist; they are real things. The problem is when the lines between good and evil get blurred. The problem is when this story premise gets translated into “us” and “them” in our daily lives.

As I’ve mentioned before, Last fall I joined the Carmelite community in Danvers MA as an aspirant. It means I’m a newbie. For months, when talking about things we do, I would say “they” do X, Y, or Z. I’ve consciously had to train myself to say “us” and “we.” Our other members have been fabulous in making me feel welcome, and that I am part of the community, even though, as an aspirant, I’m not yet officially a member.

Last week my family got a letter from Social Security. It was vague at best, and said  they had detected something that might affect my disability stipend. It said if we had any questions to call the number they provided. We gave them a call, and no one answered. We gave them another call today because the letter said if they didn’t hear from us, they would call us today at 10:30, but they didn’t. Finally someone answered, and said that they would call us back before 3:30, but they didn’t. I mentioned in my last post that I am prideful, and don’t like to be helped. I particularly don’t like getting a disability payment. My mom took care of the phone calls today. It’s a good thing she did because if it had been me, things would have got ugly. I don’t normally have a foul mouth, but I told my mom to “tell them to cut the shit… Gimme the phone.” She didn’t.

So I went to the next option. I posted on Facebook, “Our government is run by idiots.” A minute later, I deleted it. I realized that I fell into the problem of “us” and “them.” I used to think I wasn’t allowed to be angry when I pray. That mentality, luckily, is long gone. After deleting my post I said, “Sorry, Lord, I’m just pissed off and looking for someone to blame.” I was looking for “the bad guy.” The real problem is in the system itself. It’s a system that fosters apathy, and it’s no one’s fault in particular. On the same token, though, it’s a system that fosters the “us” vs “them” mentality. I, and I imagine many others on disability have a tendency to see those working for the social security system as “the enemy,” while those same workers see us as, in a sense, “enemies” because we’re at best, inconvenient.

No individual within this messed up system is my “enemy.” What is it that I really want? I want to be left alone. What do the people in the office likely want? Me out of their hair. I recently went to confession because I was having trouble forgiving. I know that, in confession, I’m meant to talk with the priest as if I’m talking directly to Jesus, so I said, “I’m not sure I totally get forgiveness. I feel like I can forgive, but it’s more than a feeling, right?” He said, through the priest, “Yeah, it’s about letting it go. If you feel like you can do that, you can leave it in this room.” It seemed simple, and in that moment, I was able to leave it behind. The trouble is that it’s just as easy to pick it back up. It’s easy to pick it up because blame can evolve and mutate, and it’s easy to pick someone out as “the bad guy.”

The “us” vs “them” mentality; the idea of good vs evil is built into human nature. It’s a survival instinct. We weren’t always at the top of the food chain. That’s fine. God created us to be like Him, though. He built us with a consciousness that can understand right and wrong. He knew that we would eventually get to the top of the food chain, and on a human-to-human level, we’re not supposed to have enemies. The spiritual always trumps the natural, but our survival instinct is still there, and it causes us to be jealous of colleagues or friends; it causes us to categorize people where we shouldn’t; it causes us to see people who support certain political positions, religious beliefs, or whatever else, as “the bad guy.” It can cause us to see ourselves as “outsiders,” even when this is completely irrational, only because we’re new to a community, club, group, school, job, or even family.

Normally I don’t try to write my posts really as “advice” because mostly I just think too much. I think I do have actual advice this time, though. 1) Try to use “us” and “we” more than “They” when referring to a group of people you’re involved in, whether it’s your church, your workplace, your school, or another community. 2) Figure out who you haven’t forgiven, or who you see as an “enemy,” and figure out how to “let it go.” It can help to find a place to leave it, but it’s not necessary. It can be super helpful, though not always necessary, to leave it in confession (if you’re Catholic). 3) Pray for those perceived “enemies.” It can be a bit difficult to get started, but it can eventually feel really relieving.

Advertisements

As Simple And As Difficult

One of my most recent songs was entitled “Just An Honest Prayer.” I struggle a lot with the story Jesus tells of when the King will separate the sheep and the goats–those who helped “the little guy,” and those who did not. I struggle with this because I want to do more to help people than I physically or financially am able to. It sometimes leads me to thinking that what I do, or even what I am, is not enough.

On Saturday I went to the monthly meeting of our Carmelite community. My epilepsy happened to be acting up that morning. I don’t have violent seizures, but I “space out,” and I can’t process language, or communicate easily. A few of our members noticed, and were able to calmly help me out until it was under control. At some point during the meeting, I noticed a picture I hadn’t ever noticed before. It was a black and white image, like a photograph, of the wounded face of Christ. Through that image I felt like He was saying to me, “I’m here. I’m with you.” The members of my community who were able to help me through my “brain fuzz” were great, but more than anything, what Jesus silently said to me was extremely moving and calming.

I’ve been listening to the podcast “Catholic Stuff You Should Know” for a long time now. Their most recent episode was, in a sense, about hospitality. An idea they presented was that hospitality is about receiving well, as much as it is about being a good host. I realized that I am not good at receiving. I don’t like being helped, especially if I need help. I realize that this is a symptom of pride. I’ve asked the Lord more than once to take my “brain fuzz” away. His answer has been, “No,” and I think I know why. To make me into who I’m meant to be, He needs me to need help. Also, if I didn’t have unpredictable fuzz, I’d be able to do more than I’m able to do now, and because of that, I likely wouldn’t be making the music I am, and I wouldn’t be able to offer my suffering to God with Jesus’ suffering.

Saturday ended up being a fabulous day. Dad got me a “Romantic” sandwich (broccoli, cheddar cheese, avocado, garlic, and spices) from Life Alive in Salem, and we headed to Maine. I went to Mass with my dad and Godfather that afternoon, got my favorite chicken sandwich at my favorite restaurant in Bridgton Maine for dinner, and that night, I saw the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen. Our house up there faces south, looking down a hill at some trees, and the river beyond. The sky was bright because the moon was nearly full. The clouds were long and streaked, running north to south, and the sky looked striped. There were also smaller, thicker clouds that were dark, but bright on the edges. My dad was the first to notice it because I had been looking at the fire we had started in our yard. He pointed it out to me, and I was absolutely captivated. I didn’t want to look away. I realized that this sky was a gift to my family. Not everybody would look up.

Finally, when I went to bed that night, I started praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This is something I try to do every day. As I started praying, though, God spoke in my heart and asked me, “Do you really believe in the power of My mercy?” I said, “Yeah, I do. Help me to believe it more.” I have a habit of praying for everybody but myself. That’s not a good thing. I need His mercy and His help as much as anyone else. As I said, I’m not good at receiving help, and I’m especially bad at asking for it. That night, I prayed for myself, though, and He showed me something.

Often when I pray, I say something that ultimately translates to: “What do you want/need me to do?” I ask partly out of gratitude for everything He’s done for me, but part of it is that I frequently fall into the false belief that I have to “earn” all of it. Saturday night, He didn’t let me ask the question. In a sense, He let me see myself through His eyes, and I was surprised at what I saw. I didn’t see the mess I thought I would. I just saw me. I was even more surprised to see Him. I shouldn’t have been surprised at that. I had taken communion just a few hours earlier. I saw very clearly that, yeah, I’m a sinner, but I also saw very clearly, that He took the blame for my sins, and accused me of nothing. He looked at me as my Savior, and saw the one He saves.

Last night I went to Adoration. I don’t go as often as I would like, but I’m going to try and go more regularly, because I often find myself going with tears in my eyes, and leaving with a smile on my face. At the front of the church I went to–I didn’t go to my home parish–the Eucharist was on the altar, as it always is at Adoration, the Crucifix was on the wall behind it, as it always is, but the Divine Mercy Image was very prominently in view on the wall just to the left. I know that when I look at the Eucharist, or an image of Jesus, or what have you, I’m looking at Love. Last night, I realized more deeply that I was staring at Mercy.

In my song “Just An Honest Prayer,” the third verse and chorus go as follows:

I know I need a Savior
‘Cause I can’t do this, my Lord
And I know I am broken
‘Cause trusting You isn’t easy
But I’m ready to be honest
I so want to believe
I want to be with You in Heaven
So Help my unbelief

(Chorus)
You know the world is broken
When saying “I love you” is hard
Even when you want to
And even when it’s true

Trusting the Lord should be the easiest thing. He is Love itself. We don’t find it easy because our world is broken, and we are broken. I once read something along the lines of: Mercy is where love meets need. I am spiritually weak, and I’m not very nice to myself sometimes. Saint Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that he is content in his weakness because the Lord revealed to him that His power is made perfect in human weakness. In other words, He can, and often does use our weaknesses for our own good and His glory.

As I said earlier in my post, I often want to help “the little guy” where I can’t. Jesus says that “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I remember once I was at an open mic. I don’t remember what song I had been intending to play, but the guy who played before me got on stage and said, “This song is about how basically life is terrible.” I was up next and I said, “I wasn’t actually planning on playing this song, but the song I’m about to play is called, ‘Good In Things,’ and it’s about how everything is inherently good because God is good, and He made it.” My dad said he saw a woman at a table nearby with a look on her face like I had just “saved” her with that song. I don’t really know what he meant by that, but it made me happy to know I had made someone else happy.

It feels good to help people. Praying for people and making music that people can relate to and find joy and comfort in is about the extent of what I can do. At least that was what I thought until I heard the episode of “Catholic Stuff” on hospitality. I think part of being merciful actually means allowing people to help, and being grateful and humble about it. Everybody needs help in some way, at some point. Not everyone can do everything all the time. Maybe part of being merciful is allowing yourself to be “the little guy.”

A few days ago, I actually got some great advice. Someone who knew I was a musician told me that Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “do something beautiful for God.” They said if I wanted to glorify God, I should sing only for Him. God isn’t expecting of me what I can’t do. I can make songs that give people hope; I can be grateful when I need help, and in that, I can give someone else the joy of being helpful; I can take the time to pray that many others can’t because I don’t have a “conventional” job; I can offer God my suffering with Jesus’ suffering because I have a cross to carry that many others don’t. I can do all that.

Yesterday I realized that there’s something else I can do, and so can everyone else. It felt like God dropped a love bomb on me on Saturday, so I wrote a short post about it on Facebook. Then I realized I could do more than that. I wrote in my song, “You know the world is broken when saying ‘I love you’ is hard.” In another song I wrote, “We are fighting a war You’ve already won.” Both of these are true. Jesus saved the world, yes, but He’s still in the process of saving it, too. We’re meant to be a part of that. Saying “I love you,” or giving an honest compliment, or what have you, can be weird or awkward, so we don’t, even when we want to, and even when it’s true.

It’s easy to say to ourselves, “They already know, so I don’t need to say it.” I realized that, actually, yeah, we still need to say it. Even if we already know it, we need to be reminded. We’re really good at finding the flaws in ourselves, and when we find those flaws, it’s relatively easy to start thinking “I’m not lovable.” So yesterday, I started dropping love bombs. I looked through my contacts and decided on the three people I thought most needed a reminder. I did the same thing today, and I ended up having pretty nice conversations with a couple of people I haven’t talked to in a while. I just started with “Hey! Happy Thursday! I love you!” It was a little awkward, but it turned into something beautiful. The world is broken, but we can be a part of fixing it, and it’s as simple and as difficult as saying “I love you.”

“Where Do All The Roads Go?”

My Godmother once told a story about when my dad was teaching CCD. We were six or seven, and at the time, we had class at my house. I don’t actually remember the lesson, but when my dad was finished teaching, he said, “Does anyone have any questions?” One of the kids in my class asked, “Where do all the roads go?” It had nothing to do with the lesson, but actually, it’s a really good question.

I’ve recently come to love the song “When It Don’t Come Easy” by Patty Griffin. It’s a sad song, but I think a hopeful one, too. A few lines that invariably get stuck in my head are:

You’re out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you’re walking in the wrong direction

Followed by the Chours:

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

Today at Mass we got some bad news. One of the priests who serves at our parish is being re-assigned. He’s a fabulous priest. He exudes true Christian joy, and you can tell he’s truly in love with the Lord. I’m really going to miss him.

This afternoon I’ve been thinking about that little kid’s question. “Where do all the roads go?” Two decades later, all I know is that they all go somewhere. I do know that my Guide knows where they all go, and if I trust Him, He’ll lead me down the right ones. Sometimes I don’t exactly follow His directions, and I get a little lost. I find myself wandering down that highway where the signs got blown away, but I know He’ll come and find me.

Earlier I was angry about our priest’s re-assignment. Now I’m just sad. I prayed about it, and I told the Lord that I don’t like this, but I know He can bring even more light out of any darkness. Hopefully our priest can be a help to whatever parish he’s going to. They’ll be getting an absolutely inspiring priest, and apparently we’ve been assigned someone who has just recently been ordained. I may not like the situation, but I am hopeful. Our parish has been going through a lot of change in the past year, and I really just want a sense of permanence.

What’s The Real Goal?

I just read a post about how (supposedly) Christians are killing Christianity. The post largely claimed that it is due to the hypocrisy of many people who claim the Christian title, but do not live Christian lives. The ultimate problem with the article is that it suggested that Christianity has been, at various times, a respected belief system and moral philosophy, and is no longer. It went on to suggest things Christians can do in order to make Christianity a respected belief system again. I do not disagree with the claim that many Christians do not live according to Christian teachings, and this is part of the problem. The problem I have with the article is actually that its writer is missing an important point. Jesus never said that, as His followers, we would be respected. In fact, He said we should expect to be discredited, mocked, and persecuted for our belief.

I do, however, agree with much of what the writer of the article suggested. His suggestions were as follows:

1: “Stop focusing on your position in life, and concern yourself with Christ’s position in your life.”

I would absolutely agree with this point, and I have had to relearn it many times. However, I have never thought of it in terms of making Christianity, or the Church more respected. The point is to make sure Jesus Christ is respected, and respect for His Church will follow.

2: “Realize that Christ is distinct from any other cultural influence or person.”

He goes on to explain that Christ, and therefore Christian philosophy, is outside of any cultural influence, whether that be popular media, politics, local, or the life of one’s particular church/parish. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Jesus inserted Himself into a particular culture in a particular place and time. He promised before His ascension that He would always be with us. That means that He is always involved in our culture in our place and time. He is not attached to it, and He is not influenced by it, but He is aware of it, and He does use it because He is directly involved in each of our lives. Furthermore, it’s a simple fact that there are distinct aspects of our culture that are in line with Christian philosophy, and distinct aspects that are opposed to it. I would agree that Christ is distinct from all of it in that He, and by extension, we can use all of these aspects to complete His work.

3: “Do not try to fit Christ into your culture. Make Christ your culture.”

Christians have literally never done this. It is impossible. This implies that it is possible to live entirely outside of one’s culture. What is most important is to make Christ the center of one’s life, and to structure everything else around that center. For example, Christian poets have used pagan imagery (like the phoenix) to express Christ’s beauty and greatness. Furthermore, Jesus Himself did not live outside of His culture. It was His mission to be a part of the lives of sinners in order to redeem them. That meant doing the things that “normal” people do. As Christ’s witnesses, it is our job to bring Jesus into our culture to transform it; it is not our job to take ourselves out of it.

4: “Stop looking at how “church” can better other people’s lives and look at how your life does not line up in obedience to Christ and repent.  Scripture is not a window you use to look out at other people and judge them, Scripture is a mirror showing us how God wants to transform us into the image of his Son.”

I’m not sure how much I need to expand on this because I think it really says all it needs to. I think I would just add that, particularly from a Catholic standpoint, we simply don’t spend enough time studying Scripture or actually listening rather than talking when we pray. I would also say that it’s important to keep in mind that your pastor or priest really isn’t the ultimate authority, and it’s important to know the Scriptures, but it’s also important to know Church history and tradition.

5: “We need to model our lives after Christ, not the cultural expectations of other influences.”

I would also agree with this, but it’s easier said than done. It inherently means we will be seen as strange because Jesus was seen as strange in His own place and time. It does often mean going against popular opinion. It means forgiving the unforgivable. It means giving and expecting nothing in return. It means praying for those who have offended you. It means making and staying friends with people you vehemently disagree with. It means being patient with frustrating people. It means praying for people who don’t deserve even that. People see that and are often perplexed because they have never experienced God’s mercy. This is how we live it. It doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect at it, but we have to try.

6: I am paraphrasing here, but his final point was that we need to make sure that we are following the true Christ, and not a skewed version of Him.

Jesus makes plain who He is in the Gospels, but also through the witness of the prophets, the various writers of the Old Testament, the Apostles, the Saints throughout history, and His faithful followers today. By “faithful” I here mean those who are committed to an authentic relationship with Him as their Friend, Savior, Lord, and God. To sustain this relationship we must read Scripture, we must pray, and again, as I am writing as a Catholic, we must take part in the sacraments that He has given to us.

As I said, I mostly agree with what the original writer said. The flaw, however, is that he is putting forth these points in order to make Christianity a respected mode of living. It doesn’t matter if our faith is respected. It likely never will be. As I have mentioned many times before, there are parts in the world where it puts one’s life in jeopardy to be Christian. In many cases in our own country we face, at best, rolling eyes, and at worst, scorn and ridicule, and occasionally, violence. Our purpose is not to make our way of living appear respectable. The Church is God’s Church no matter what, and though its members are flawed, the Church itself is holy because Christ the Head is holy. Our only goal is to help people come to know God’s love for them personally, and to work on ourselves to become the holy people God wants us to be so we can, with His help, make it home to Heaven.

American Idols

I never watched the show “American Idol.” When “The Voice” came out, which was basically the same thing, I watched some of that. I do like to see people’s talents. I had an interesting conversation with my producer recently about my talents and his. I’ve said it before, but I can confidently say that I’m a good songwriter, and my talents have improved over time. I’m an okay singer, and again, I’ve got better over time. My producer is likewise, amazing at what he does. He can take the bare bones of something I’ve written, so melody, lyrics, and harmony if I’ve planned it ahead of time, and turn it into a ridiculously awesome song.

When I was in middle and high school I would probably say that, in some ways, I worshiped various musicians. I think humans are naturally inclined to worship something, and if it’s not God, it’s a band, a sports team, money, the leader of their political party, or maybe a pantheon of these things. I’ve come to realize that something people idolize these days is time. Personal time is a high priority for people. I get it. if I had all the time in the world and no relationships or consequences to think about, I would spend eons playing video games and reading fantasy books.

As it is, I do have relationships and consequences to think about, so I don’t do what I am naturally inclined to do. What or who we worship is a choice, and choices have consequences. What’s frustrating is that none of the CCD students I teach attend Mass. They are all completely obsessed with whatever sports team they’re on, and of course, practice is on Sunday. I’m not frustrated with the kids. Their parents have made a game into an idol. They really had no choice. I’m frustrated with the parents, though, because they have chosen their idols, and they are passing those idols onto their children, and that’s dangerous.

Today I taught the kids about Ash Wednesday. It’s early, but the lessons kind of jump around all over the place. I explained to them that God loves us enough to die for us. He made His choice. No matter what, we are worth that to Him. I explained to the kids that the ashes are a sign of acknowledging our sinfulness, but they’re in the sign of a cross because God claims us as His, sins and all. I don’t know how to get that to sink in, but I’m trying.

Still, I know that soccer is more important to them than God is. I was the same way as a kid. The trouble is, you can’t just tell someone that God loves them and they’ll magically believe it. You have to choose to believe something, and even then, we’re meant to have a relationship with God. To these kids, God is a stranger, and the thing is, he’s not intrusive. He waits for our invitation. I only offered an invitation when I had nowhere else to turn. Misery was what it took for me. I don’t want these kids to have to go there.

I started rereading the book of Jeremiah. I wrote a post about this a long time ago, but Jeremiah was speaking on God’s behalf at a time when Israel had turned to many idols. It was also a warning. God said that the Babylonians would come and take them as captives if they didn’t repent, particularly of their idolatry. God allowed their defeat and exile because they didn’t acknowledge Him as their God. If they had asked and said they were sorry, God would have somehow helped. My guess is that might have looked like another nation allying themselves with Israel or something.

Some might construe this as God being petty. Actually, it’s as if you completely ignored your best friend right in front of them, even as they’re speaking to you, and instead, made conversation to a napkin. Your friend would certainly be offended. Because they loved you, they would try to get your attention, try to repair the relationship, and try to get you to see their hurt and get you to apologize, but eventually, that friendship would break. That’s what happens when we find or create idols.

No one likes to talk about Hell. I don’t like to talk about Hell. Sometimes as Christians, we have to. What people don’t realize is that Hell is a choice. We have so much freedom as human beings, and not enough people realize it. The difference between Heaven and Hell probably isn’t what a lot of people think. The difference is, eternal life with perfect happiness and love, or eternal life without it. God is Love. To choose to worship something else is to choose a loveless life.

Don’t get me wrong, leisure is important. If we don’t take time to relax, or do something enjoyable, we’ll lose it. That’s a given. All I’m really trying to say is, remember who loves you most, and make Him your number one priority. It’s not that hard. One thing I think people get hung up on is, they think about prayer as one more thing to get to. Prayer is just an ongoing conversation. You can talk to God when you’re watching a funny movie, for example. Comment about it to Him; laugh with Him. Talk to Him at work like you talk to your coworkers.

Idolatry is probably the easiest sin to commit. I think most people have the misconception that God is loud and scary. He’s not; at least not usually. On the other hand, the idols of the world clamor for our attention, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Luckily, our God is merciful, and we have the sacrament of penance. We can go to our Father and say “I’m sorry,” and He forgives us. There’s a misconception about this, however. Many wonder why we have to go to a priest. First of all, we can and should say we’re sorry to God right away. We go to a priest because he forgives us on behalf of God, but also on behalf of the Church.

The Church is the mystical body of Christ, so when an individual sins, we’ve not only hurt our own souls, but we’ve hurt the whole Church. A good analogy is to think of sin as an injury. A venial, or what we might think of as a “small” sin, is like a small cut that we can put a bandaid on and it’ll heal on its own (as long as we apologize to God). A “bigger,” or mortal sin is like if you got a bigger cut and needed to get stitches, so you go to a doctor. That’s what the priest does in a sense. He gives you stitches for your soul.

We’re not on our own. We are responsible for our own souls, but also the wellbeing of the Church in general. Many Christians don’t realize this, and I think that’s part of the reason the Church suffers. No two Christians are truly strangers, even if they’ve never met. A forty-year-old Christian man in Africa is my brother, despite the fact that I don’t know his name or anything about him, because we have the same Heavenly Father. I think that’s what I love so much about the Church, and what makes idolatry so dangerous. God unites us. Idols divide.

Fluent In Goodness

This past Friday I was up in Maine again with my parents. They were talking to my mom’s cousin (our contractor) about some issues with the house, which ended up all being okay, and about progress in general. While they did that, I went down to the river across the street, and sat on a platform and went through a bunch of my ordinary daily prayers. When I finished most of the structured stuff, I just started talking.

I realized that I talk to God about things I worry about, or things I need, or what have you, but I almost never talk to Him about “normal” stuff. In my last post, I talked about how I hear God’s glory in thunder. Friday in Naples Maine was hot, sunny, and breezy, and I absolutely love that. People were headed down to the lake in their boats while I was sitting on the platform, and they were having a grand time. Eventually an epic squirt gun battle broke out.

The first Creation story in Genesis is written in a poetic, systematic form. The world is constructed in six days, and after each thing God created, He saw that it was good. I looked at the shiny golden rocks at the bottom of the shallow river, the clear blue sky, the emerald shine of the sun in the trees, and it reminded me of the intrinsic goodness of everything. I was also anticipating hanging out with my godfather later that day, which is always a good time. We went to the same little gas station pub we usually go to and descended upon a horrifyingly large pile of chicken wings and french fries. We ate most of it. It seemed to me that there was something intrinsically good about that, too–not just the food, but simply being way too excited about it with my godfather. I saw God’s glory in all of what happened on Friday.

I’ve mentioned before a guy by the name of Bishop Robert Barron. He has a lot of short YouTube videos on a plethora of subjects, and I highly recommend them. In at least one or two of them, he has mentioned a quote by Saint Irenaeus. “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” The obvious question is: what does it mean to be fully alive?

He associates this with freedom. Bishop Barron explains that, to most, freedom is associated with self-expression. In other words, as I tend to render it, it is “freedom to,” while a more Catholic idea of freedom, as I render it, is “freedom from.’ What I mean is, it’s freedom first, from sin, but also, freedom from fear, anxiety, and a myriad of other human annoyances. Religious practice, in a sense, is also “freedom to,” however. Bishop Barron uses the example of learning a language. The more fluent a person is, and the more expansive their vocabulary, the freer they are to use that language. In Catholic terms, this means being free to act and express oneself as a child of God.

God’s nature in itself is goodness and love. He loves his creation, and he loves humans most of all. To love someone means to desire their happiness, and want what is best for them. Since God knows everything, He knows what will make all humans happy. To achieve Heaven essentially means to achieve what will make one most happy. Obviously being free is part of being happy. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, this means practicing a certain set of objective rules, standards, or whatever one likes to call them, to become “fluent” in goodness, because God created humanity according to his own nature.

Forgive Yourself As God Forgives You

I usually go to Mass on Saturday afternoons instead of Sunday mornings at our church. This Saturday I showed up a little bit early because I had decided to go to confession. I woke up that day with this thought in my head: “Forgive yourself as God forgives you.” I can hear over and over that God forgives without limit, but hearing it like this helped me to understand it better. Jesus told his disciples when He entrusted His mission to them to love others as he loved them.

The fact of the matter is, there are times when I feel like I shouldn’t be forgiven for one reason or another. I’ve messed up one too many times, or I’ve done something that must be beyond redemption. I know I am forgiven, but it often seems downright ridiculous. I’ve said before that I’m really hard on myself. I’ve been told multiple times that I’m too hard on myself. That in itself is problematic.

Forgiveness involves two people. God offers forgiveness, and I have a choice. I can accept His forgiveness, or I can continue being overly scrupulous and feeling sorry for myself. Accepting His forgiveness inherently involves forgiving myself because I’m His. If I’m going to live like Him, I have to forgive like Him, and because I’m messy, it means forgiving myself, and seeing who I am past the mess.

Who’s Right?

My dad and I have been watching this show on Amazon. I think Bishop Barron’s thoughts on it are really right.

The thing is, I like absolutes. I don’t like gray areas. It does matter who is right. If Christianity is not true, we are wasting a lot of time. If Christianity is wrong, I am wasting at least seven hours every week, but probably more. That’s just between structured prayer time and weekly Mass. If I factor in random mental prayer and “curiosity quests,” my faith is at least a part-time job.

In the show, Ragnar and Athelstan really struggle with this question. At one point, Athelstan says to another character, “I love Odin, and I love Jesus Christ.” It bothers him. At another time, he says, “I couldn’t help seeing some similarities between our God and their gods.” There are some similarities between the gods of myths and other religions, and the Christian God. This is the case because God wants his Truth to be known and accessible to all people. These similarities are simply a starting point, though.

Our relativistic culture likes gray areas. The fact of the matter is, we don’t like to be told that we’re wrong. I don’t like being told when I’m wrong. I don’t like conflict, and taking a stand about absolute Truth often causes conflict. This matters too much, though. I am taking a stand. I am not a crusader. What one chooses to believe is their business, but I believe that there is only one, absolute Truth, and only one true God.

 

Agape

Earlier today a question occurred to me. Why, or how do humans love? What is love, anyway? I thought of this question because I keep coming back to the question of why God loves us. Ultimately, that’s an insanely difficult question to answer, so I decided to try and dumb it down for myself. The obvious next step was to “Google” this because I wanted to know what experts, whether they be spiritual or scientific, had to say. First I got scientific answers that really didn’t seem very helpful. They only really touched on romantic love, which wasn’t what I had in mind.

Then I rephrased my question and got the answer I somehow knew I was looking for all along. There are four different types of love according to Greek philosophy: Eros, or a love that is deeply related to the body and the senses; Phileo, or affection towards people and sometimes things; Storge, which is a loyal love, generally towards one’s family, friends, a cause one believes in, one’s country, etc; Agape, or an active, sacrificial love that is chosen simply for the good of others for no reason. Agape love cannot be understood in a passive sense. Agape is always a verb. Agape is to will the good of the other.

Agape is perfect love, and it is the kind of love that God showed us when he died for us on the cross. God is love. This is why he is a Trinity. He is a lover, beloved, and loving. The Father and the Son love each other, and the Holy Spirit is the love that they share. A human relationship is shared between two people, but if there is no love between them, there is no relationship. People need other people because we need to experience love, and we can’t fill our need purely on our own. God doesn’t need, nor did he ever need humanity to exist because the Trinity was already experiencing perfect love.

God created us knowing that we would betray him. He saved us even though he didn’t have to, and even though it would mean experiencing the worst we had to offer. The crazy thing is that even though God doesn’t need us to love him, he wants us to. This is revealed over and over in the Scriptures, and also through the writings of the saints. In fact, Jesus says that the greatest commandment is simply to love God. Loving God means a great number of things, and can be anything from enjoying and appreciating nature, to imitating Jesus and doing good for others, to stopping to pray or participate in some form of worship.

Jesus said that to find one’s life, one had to lose it. He also said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. To lose one’s life does not need to be understood in a literal sense. It is meant that one is to give one’s self away freely, and in doing so, one finds out who they really are. Similarly, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends means to sacrifice for people without expecting anything in return. To make sacrifices for God’s Kingdom is Agape love. It is the kind of love that God wants from us.

You Are Time

Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.

Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.

Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.

And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.