Tag Archives: Philosophy

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.

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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.

Holy Week (Thursday)

I’m only just getting to writing this after midnight, so when I say “tonight,” I mean Thursday. Anyway, there was a service at my church tonight for the beginning of the Easter Triduum. Our priest explained that it was on this night that Jesus passed his ministry on to his disciples and instituted the sacraments. The service was long, and the church stayed open afterwards for Adoration. I go to Adoration almost every week, but it felt special tonight, even though it was significantly less formal, and I didn’t stay for the whole hour. I was able to really pray.

A lot of times when I’m scared or nervous I’ll pray for Jesus to stay with me. Tonight my prayer was simply, “I’m with you.” Like I said in a previous post this week, relationships go both ways. I know he’s not suffering again, but the memory is a pretty dark reality. What I do know is that loving Jesus means loving his people, and I definitely know how to do that. I can certainly get better at it. That was my prayer tonight: that he would help me to get better at it.

Earlier today I spent quite a lot of time trying to write a lengthy philosophical post about why life is fundamentally good. I will write that post some other time, but what it really all adds up to is that life is good because God is good. God is so good that he is willing to do the insane and impossible and unthinkable for every single human life so we can be with him despite how small and imperfect we are. I think it has always been a very weird, paradoxical mystery, and we’ll never really figure it out. A word of advice: the next couple of days are a really good time to say “Thank you.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Holy Week (Tuesday)

What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of life? People generally ask these questions, or some variation of them, explicitly or implicitly. Some will assert that life has no purpose or meaning, and will therefore live and act according to whatever seems most pleasing and/or convenient. However, others will assert that the actual purpose of life is to live in the very same way to attain the maximum amount of pleasure, or what have you. The purpose of using this kind of philosophy is to illustrate that though people often have different ideas about what the meaning or purpose of life is, they often can reach the same conclusions.

I found an article today that grouped various ideas about the purpose of life into several different categories. In short, they all tended to be relational. Some find meaning in life by focusing on themselves various ways: to live as long as possible, to get as much as possible, to experience as much as possible, to reach one’s full potential (in general or at something specific), or to survive, seeing the world and life as a challenge that must be constantly overcome. Others find meaning in symbiotic relationships, meaning that these relationships cannot be entirely altruistic. There must be give and take. Still others find meaning in altruism, which may or may not be connected to spirituality. Finally, some find find meaning in worship.

Still, this may only generally help some in discovering their own life’s purpose. It begs the question, does everyone have a specific purpose in their life? Is there one particular thing that everyone is meant to do or meant to be? I think I would have to say yes and no to that question. As intelligent, thinking beings created by God, we are meant to grow in holiness; i.e. to become more like him and get to know him better. The Catholic Church also asserts that everyone has a primary Vocation and a secondary vocation. One’s primary Vocation has to do with how one relates to God and the Church, while one’s secondary vocation has to do with how one relates to other people and society in general. Ultimately, though, both relate to how one is meant to live before God’s kingdom comes.

God created us each differently, though. Some of us are good at writing or public speaking. Some of us are good at teaching. Some of us are great artists. Some of us are highly successful at whatever we do for work, and are therefore very altruistic. It seems that part of our life’s purpose is to discover what it is we love and what we’re good at, and figure out how God might want us to use these skills and knowledge. It seems, then that the purpose of life is, in part, to find God’s purpose.

Of course I am answering this question from a Catholic standpoint because I am Catholic, and I believe in an absolute Truth that I am striving to reach and understand. However, the same question could be answered from the perspective of anyone who strongly believes in any faith or philosophy. Interestingly, it would seem that, according to different faiths or philosophies, it would be easier or harder to answer this question. I would imagine that to someone who believes life has no purpose, it is easy, provided this is satisfying to them. At the same time, it is easy for me to say that my life’s purpose is at least in part, to worship God and enjoy his presence.

I would ultimately have to say that finding life’s purpose is a process. Do I definitively know what my ultimate purpose is? No. For all I know it changes over time and I’ve fulfilled one and am working to discover the next. It wasn’t until I graduated college and wrote half of a novel that I could comfortably say that I am not just a writer, but a good writer. My suspicion is that I am meant to write. Right now I write about personal stuff, spiritual stuff, and (not on this blog), a mythology. By the time I’m forty that could change drastically. What I write about is less important than who I write for, though. I do what I’m good at, and I do it for God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

Holy Week (Monday)

This week is Holy Week. Friday is Good Friday. Even though I know what comes after, I’m dreading it because of what happened on that day 2,000 years ago. This post is not about that, though. What I intend to do, Monday through Friday of this week, is to write precisely about what Good Friday tried to destroy. Life. What I mean is that Good Friday stood for Death. It stood for hopelessness.

Probably some, and possibly many will take my posts this week as political. I urge you not to. Some of the things I will post about are tied to political issues, but they are not political issues in themselves. All that being said, I’ll get started on my first topic.

What does it mean to be pro-life? What does it mean to live life to the fullest? These two questions are closely related. As many readers already know, I am pro-life. Yes, I do strongly oppose abortion and the death penalty, but that is not the extent of what it means to be pro-life. It means supporting discussion and if that fails, civil disobedience when it is necessary. It also means helping disadvantaged people in constructive ways that build relationships and boost confidence. It involves being creative. It requires time, effort and sacrifice. My dad used to use a cliche every so often: “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime.” Do I always know how to “teach a man to fish?” Nope. Am I always capable of it? Nope. I do, however, think that there are people who are willing and able, and that this is the best solution to dealing with a multitude of social and economic problems. Again, this is getting borderline political, so I’ll leave it at that.

However, none of this addresses what it means to be pro-life on a spiritual level. One of the most commonly known things that Jesus said to his disciples was, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Jesus is our connection with God the Father. Another Christian cliche is that we’re meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Relationships are a two-way street. He can chase us forever, but if we’re not interested, he won’t force us to pay any attention to him. To be spiritually alive means to enjoy the relationship that Jesus is offering us. To be pro-life from a spiritual standpoint, then, is, I think, to simply encourage people to acknowledge the invitation, and if they choose to pursue things further, to help them along. People never have only one relationship. Everyone has to ask for advice or direction in many relationships. A relationship with God is no different. What strengthens a relationship with God is worship (both individual and communal), prayer, and reading. Even fiction can help. Let God enjoy life with you, whether it’s playing with your pet, or taking a walk, or eating too much ice cream.

This addresses my second question. What does it mean to live life to the fullest? To an extent, this is a matter of opinion and preference. However, it also depends on one’s personality in general, and one’s overall situation. Some are happy living with the bare necessities, while others strive for extravagance. However, when one cannot attain what they want or need, living life to the fullest means accepting what one has and what one can attain. It also means being able to adapt and go outside one’s comfort zone. This will mean something different for every person. Sometimes it will mean watching a movie in a genre you might not usually pick. Sometimes it will mean skydiving. Lastly, living life to the fullest means allowing one’s self to let loose, and let go of one’s ego. It means learning to laugh at yourself with genuine joy.

Of course living life to the fullest also has a spiritual dimension. To address this aspect of it, I think I need to ask another question. What constitutes a full or fulfilled life? Every person will have a different answer for this, but I think it is possible to find a partially objective answer. Every human requires and seeks a handful of things in life. These are reflected in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with physiological/biological needs being the most basic, and self-transcendence being the highest. Self-transcendence refers to the need to give oneself to something outside of oneself. As an example, he specifically refers to spirituality. Maslow also describes his idea of self-transcendence as “ends rather than means” to oneself, significant others, and even the cosmos. In other words, oneself is something sought after by things outside oneself. God seeks us out. God is infinite and perfect. We are not. God has no actual need for us, but he has a desire for us. It seems that to respond to that desire positively is exactly what Maslow means by self-transcendence.

However, there is one aspect of this that I have not addressed. In both sections on our relation to God, I have primarily focused on what God gets out of it. What do we get out of it? I think the best way to close this off is to address that question personally. Strengthening my relationship with God has made me more creative, more outgoing, more honest, more altruistic, and more patient. It has raised my self-esteem, and given me immense comfort when things aren’t going quite right. It has made me more positive and less egotistical. That all has happened in the span of seven or eight years. I certainly won’t claim that my life is perfect, but it’s good.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

 

 

Cry

I have a hard time being vulnerable. The trouble is, I’m kind of sensitive. I take certain things too literally. I let things get under my skin. I over-analyze. Sometimes I’m too critical of myself. I used to just let things build up. I would hide my emotions. I would refuse to cry because I was stronger than that. Instead I would block out the world and play violent video games while silently hating everyone.

The reason I’m writing this is because I saw a post on Facebook today that said “When life gives you a hundred reasons to break down and cry, show life that you have a million reasons to smile and laugh. Stay strong.” The problem with this idea, is that this is exactly what I used to try and do, and I don’t think it’s healthy. If you have one hundred reasons to cry, then you should cry. You should cry your heart out because that’s what you’re truly feeling.

Sometimes you do simply have to disregard perspective. You might have a million things going for you. You might have a pretty darn easy life compared to so many millions of others simply because you life in a first world country, etc. While that’s important to remember, it’s also important to take care of your emotional well being, and if something really crappy happens, it’s perfectly okay to forget everything else, go to your bedroom and cry.

It also helps to have someone to cry to. For you it might be a friend, or a parent, or a pet. Personally, I still don’t like people to see me cry, but I’m comfortable letting God just be with me while I cry because he knows I’m upset anyway. Sometimes you’ll want to talk, and sometimes you just need someone to be there. It’s important to have someone like that.

I don’t claim to know much about psychology, but burying reasons to cry in reasons not to does not seem like a good idea to me. If we widen the scope beyond our own lives and the things that directly impact us and the people around us, we see almost nothing but sadness and devastation on the news. In the past several months I am guilty of almost entirely ignoring the news for a multitude of reasons. Staying uninformed is a method by which one can bury reasons to cry in reasons not to.

Powerlessness is an unpleasant feeling, and waiting for results is hard. We watch the news, and we think, “What am I watching this for? I can’t do anything about it. I can’t end a war. I can’t bring those people back to life. I can’t change (insert social justice issue).” The thing is, on your own, no, you can’t, and even if you get organized with a bunch of like-minded people, change takes time. Peace takes time. It’s just the dreadful truth.

When you scale it back to your own life, though, the dreadful truth is that crap happens–crap that is out of your control, and maybe you have to lose a battle to win a war. You don’t always have to impress everyone. You don’t always have to be perfect. You don’t always have to agree with everyone. You don’t always have to be liked. When crap happens, sometimes you just have to let go and recharge so to speak. It’s counter intuitive, but I have found that allowing yourself to lose is often the only way to get through.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Complementary

I had an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance a few weeks ago. I haven’t really thought too much about it, but I thought it would be worth sharing. Our conversation, of course, started with small talk, but for some reason, we both felt very comfortable with each other, and I found out in a fairly short amount of time, that this person was also Christian.

The interesting part of this is that she and I had very different views of things like science, philosophy, mythology and logic going into the conversation. It also turned out that she and I came to faith through very different means, had different upbringings, and were part of different denominations within Christianity. All this being said, I want to explain, in particular, my view of science and logic, as well as some broader sociological issues from my personal Catholic point of view.

As I mentioned in a recent post, there was a time (mostly through middle and high school) when I was Catholic in practice, but Agnostic in belief. I went through the motions without actually knowing what any of it meant. A lot of this has a lot to do with where I grew up, who I hung out with, and what my education was like.

I grew up in a suburban town in Massachusetts where the political standpoint on many issues tends to be relatively liberal, and the line between church and state is drawn boldly. When I was a kid, the most important things in my family’s life were our extended family in Maine, and my education, including the cultivation of my imagination. Often, these things superseded God entirely, so our church attendance was infrequent, and we didn’t really talk about God at home.

My education as a kid was delivered from an atheistic standpoint. I went to public school, and no one, kids or teachers, talked about God. Therefore, my initial understanding of Truth was from a scientific and mathematical standpoint. 1 + 1 = 2. The Big Bang created the Universe. God was there somewhere, sure, but at the time it didn’t really matter to me. Then when I got what you might call the equidistant of an internship in high school developing a disability advocacy program, I ended up working with a devout Jewish guy, my brother’s age, and a Muslim woman, ¬†who I’d guess was in her twenties, and it was interesting to work with people of other faiths who were also far more invested than I was.

Then I went to a Christian college, as I have previously mentioned. Although we were saturated with the culture and Christian worship, I ended up taking a few philosophy classes where the whole point was to think logically and atheistically. All of this comes back to my conversation a few weeks ago. My acquaintance was surprised that I put so much faith in physics, for example. However, this also relates to another question she asked me. She asked, “So how do understand Greek mythology, since it was once an actual belief system?” I told her that this was a belief system based on what was inferable and observable at the time. I put faith in science because it can prove what is inferable and observable to be true. I also explained that I have never thought God and science were at odds, and that God often works through, natural, scientifically verifiable means.

One last thing I would like to add is that I have come to understand that a belief system has stages, and is personalized invariably by everyone. What I mean is that the primary stage of one’s belief system informs their secondary, their secondary informs their third, etc. Specifically this refers, in my case to my understanding of science through Christianity, my understanding of politics and culture through both, and my understanding of economics through all three. In other words, certain beliefs hold priority over others, but they all inform each other to some degree. If science can help me understand what God is doing, then great.

We Took A Walk

Yesterday’s meandering started with resentment. I was annoyed about something, and I almost wrote about it, but that would have been unfair to the people involved. Instead I decided to leave it alone and putter around on Craigslist. I’m hoping to start a new ministry at my church for young adult types, so I figured I’d advertise a bit. After posting there and on Facebook, I was sufficiently distracted.

I thought maybe I’d try designing a new “thing.” Visual art isn’t exactly my strong suit, but I have a pendent that I designed that came out really well. It’s designed around what the Eucharist represents. It’s two hands together, holding a flower with a butterfly on it. It represents life, sacrifice, change, redemption, and togetherness with God.

I didn’t come up with a new design because a question occurred to me. If Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, what does that actually mean? What does it mean for us, and what does it mean for him? I googled a few things and watched a few videos on YouTube, but I couldn’t really find an answer, so I decided to go for a walk. Sometimes when I have a question, I look high and low for the answer and forget to ask God.

One thing I did find before I left was that when we receive the Eucharist we receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. That sounds great, but what does that actually mean? I started thinking about when he said “I become one with you, and you are one with me.” I also read that we become “vessels for the Lord.” All of this together was sounding very complicated.

So I left my house and started asking questions. We took a long walk. I don’t remember all of what we talked about. Something that bothered me at first, though, was the idea that a perfect God would become “one” with an imperfect me. What does that do to or for him? I started working with the analogy of someone taking care of a sick friend. The sick person isn’t necessarily going to make the healthy person sick.

My analogy started to get a little muddled, though, because I started thinking about how taking care of a sick person makes a healthy person better in other ways. They become more patient, or more compassionate, or what have you. But Jesus is already perfect. So what does he get out of it? What does he want to be with us for? Then it hit me. God is love. By necessity, he loves. It’s just God being God.

While figuring all this out, I was talking out loud. I would have looked like a crazy person, but I live on a busy street, and no one was around. I had been talking and asking questions the whole time, but at this point I was speechless. We got down to my church, and I thought I’d just see if the door was open. It wasn’t, so I started heading for home.

We wandered along for a little while, but I had to ask: “So, I still don’t get what it means that I’m a vessel. I mean, what does it mean for me that we’re ‘one?'” It means that he’s making me more like him. It means that he’s always with me. It means that I can do things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

It also means that I have a job to do. I have to love like a crazy person. I have to forgive the unforgivable. I have to tell people who God is and what he does and why he does it. I finished off last night with this: “Lord, if you are light and you’re with me, let me be a light, too.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly