Friday, October 30, 2009

Especially For My Brothers

A girl approached Fr. Pablo Straub for spritual direction, and when he opened one of her school textbooks he read the following:  "The ideal personality of the future is neither a man's personality nor a woman's personality. The ideal personality of the future is androgenous." 

This half-hour homily, preached during last year's Fall Encampment for the Squires and Knights of Lepanto (click here to learn more about this group), is his response.

(Ladies, I know many of you will not like this, but he's right.)

(source:  Google Videos)

Why do I think he's right?  READ THIS BOOK.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Empty Heads, Empty Hearts?

Almost 13 years ago now I had the incredible privilege of working in a Catholic book store. It was there that my intense curiosity of all things spiritual was first nurtured. Over the years I've done a whole lot of reading on a wide variety of spiritual thought--not because I was looking for answers per se, but because (aside from one major backslide which I'll tell you about some other time) I've always been very much a Catholic. It's just that every time I read something new, or discover something different, my curiosity gets the best of me and I go digging around the topic until my curiosity is satisfied--for the time being.

My curiosity has had me reading not just Catholic books--the predominant category in my personal library--but books & documents about all kinds of religions, practices and disciplines. Some are very similar to Catholicism, some are very different, but all have a few things in common. One of these commonalities that I've never really questioned until very recently was this notion of "clearing the mind", or trying not to "think", but to instead focus our attention on a single thought or sensation, like our hearts beating, our breathing, the wind rustling outside, and to tune everything else out.

In some religions this practice is said to allow the person to enter another state of consciousness. As Christians we do not seek an altered state, but a number of Christians also suggest this practice as a good preparation for prayer. Clearing our minds and focusing intently on a single thought is supposed to bring about a mental state that facilitates clear, unobstructed meditation, as well as the posture to engage in contemplation. The idea is that we'll be able to hear the voice of God better without the noise of our own thoughts getting in the way.  It's by no means a new idea.

I thought until very recently that this was how it worked, but I couldn't ever attain it. I have one of those minds that just won't turn off. I start off not thinking and lets say listening to my heartbeat, then after two, maybe three beats I'm wondering whether or not my compost has the right ratio of brown and green matter and whether the local convenience store restocked their nightcrawlers (for the compost...yes, my mind is a scary place). It's a headache waiting to happen. I even have trouble praying rosaries because my mind wanders too much, particularly when I intently zero in on the mystery. Then about two weeks ago I read something in St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle:

"Some books," she wrote, "advise that as a preparation for hearing what our Lord may say to us we should keep our minds at rest, waiting to see what He will work in our souls. But unless His Majesty has begun to suspend our faculties, I cannot understand how we are to stop thinking, without doing ourselves more harm than good. (4th Mansion, Chapter III #4)" Talk about a relief. She continued on, comparing the suspension of thought with "forcible restraint", and discussing how thought and imagination are a sign of our creation in His image and likeness:

When His Majesty wishes the mind to rest from working He employs it in another manner, giving it a light and knowledge far above any obtainable by its own efforts and absorbing it entirely into Himself. Then, though it knows not how, it is filled with wisdom such as it could never gain for itself by striving to suspend the thoughts. God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher.  (4th Mansion, Ch III #4)

Charm them to sleep. How good is a dialogue with one person constantly asleep?

As I continued reading, I began to think of an element of my Christian life called Formation: the progressive use of our intellect to better know God and grow in love for Him. Our formation should roll into prayer, allowing us to dialogue with God on ever increasing levels. Metanoia is a change of the mind to know and to live God's will for us.  How can our minds change at all when they're forced into a state of inaction?  The more we allow our minds to stretch (so long as we avoid sin), the better equipped we are to develop our understanding of God, who is infinitely beyond anything we can comprehend.

Maybe the reason to not empty the head is as simple as this:  When God is ready to "employ" my mind according to His will, I want Him to have plenty of material to work with.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An 8-Minute Answer That Speaks Volumes

It's the most commonly asked question regarding the subject, and one of the primary reasons for unbelief in all eras:  "How could a God of Love condemn people to hell?"   Fr. Barron handles it masterfully. ... I'm a fan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Into The Mystic

I'm not talking about the Van Morrison tune, either (though it is a fabulous song).

For the last few weeks I've been working my way through Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila's treatise on prayer.  It's a book written conversationally and is to a great degree accessible; yet there does not exist an adjective available to express the depth of this work.

She describes the soul as a gemstone castle within us. The Lord Himself dwells in the very center of this castle, and through prayer we travel toward the center through the many rooms, or mansions as she calls them.  At the same time, the Lord reaches through the mansions toward us, calling to us and giving us the grace to continue on, until we are finally able to reach Him.  Sometimes we are aware of what's happening, sometimes we're not; but closer to the Lord we draw, the more extraordinary and intense our prayer becomes.  Like my other mystical friend St. Catherine of Siena had written, knowing yourself is vital to our spiritual life.

St. Teresa writes, "our thoughts, or it is clearer to call it our imagination, are not the same thing as the understanding. (4th Mansion, Ch. 1, #8)"

It's true.

About 12 years ago, I took on this book, and got only to the halfway mark, and couldn't understand any of it.  I could imagine much of what she described, but I couldn't even begin to grasp what she was talking about. I didn't know myself at all.  It wasn't until six years later, when I was really examining my life for my annulment, that I began to really understand what St. Teresa was talking about, even in the first mansion, and it was a far cry from what I imagined.  I'm learning--sometimes by leaps and bounds, other times in itty bitty baby steps--that prayer is far more than a "conversation with God".

To explain it would take volumes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ch- Ch- Ch- Ch- Changes...

“I bought one for everyone,” our team leader said as she approached the first member of our renewal team with her paper bag filled with polished stones. “Each one has a different word etched in it.” Everyone took a turn. A few didn’t like the first words they got, so they exchanged their choices for another, or switched off amongst themselves.

I kept mine. Six years later I still have it. It’s a polished jade stone etched with the word “CHANGE”. At the time I saw it as a reminder to expect change every once in a while. As my life continued on from that renewal, I experienced a wave of life-altering changes, and my stone became my warning. The more I continued to evaluate and re-evaluate my life, it occured to me that, since change was going to happen whether I liked it or not, initiating change is far easier than reacting to it. Suddenly my stone became a directive.

Change is hard…for even me, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. Some of the changes I've experienced were good, some not so good. The way we are created, though, we are not meant to stagnate. Change is necessary to our lives. Human life is in a state of constant change from birth through death. Perhaps that’s why we don’t like to initiate change-- the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. If we aren’t seeking out opportunities for growth, a different kind of change will come find us, and the results can be devastating. This is true whether we're looking at a specific detail of our individual lives, or those grand issues affecting human development as a whole, or any point in between: friendships, jobs, our health, etc. This includes ministries, too.

How often do you hear "I/we've always done it that way"? If it's simply to see where we've been, that's one thing; but when it becomes conventional wisdom, it is suddenly an excuse to avoid change. We ignore truth and facts, leaving that which we've worked so hard for vulnerable to changes we never saw coming. We should learn our history, but not become history.

If we are to avoid the stench of stagnation in our ministries--or anywhere else for that matter--the continual building of relationships is also vital. If we don't know one another, how can we serve one another? Well-formed relationships with others based on not just our sharing our thoughts, but openly and attentively listening to others and observing them carefully with a heart open to service will increase our capacity to love.

There's that commandment again: "Love one another as I have loved you." It's no coincidence that Jesus' commandment has taken on similar voices as did my CHANGE stone: a reminder, a warning, a directive. Love, after all, requires change of the self. The more we change, the better we love.

Perhaps my CHANGE stone should serve me in the same way as Jesus' commandment now a goal.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Welcome to the most disturbing hour on television . . .

"Hello there," announces host Michael Voris, "you're tuned to The One True Faith - the show we say is the most disturbing hour on television, because we talk about where you are going to spend eternity..."

If you've not tuned in to yet, go there today.  It's the home of The Vortex, Shepherd's Voice, St. Michael's Basic Training, The Catholic Critic, and the hour-long program billed as "the most disturbing hour on television":  The One True Faith.  Since October is Mary's month, I decided to link an episode from Season 1 titled, "Mary, Mother of the Church."  (Seriously, wouldn't you rather learn about Our Lady than watch yet another lame episode of Rock of Love 263?)

This year The One True Faith is taping it's 7th season.  Their theme: the Occult.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

No, It's Not A Dirty Word!

"Terrible are the wiles and stratagems the devil uses to hinder people from realizing their weakness and detecting his snares."

-St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle

It's been ripped from wedding vows. It's been side-stepped by Christian leaders. It's been subjected to creative interpretation by Christians everywhere. It’s a concept deemed so offensive or harmful by modern thinkers that parents no longer demand it of their children. It's a word that clashes with 21st century relativistic sensibilities. It has been disparaged, disregarded, denounced, dodged, denied and discarded as archaic, irrelevant to our temporal existence and unimportant to our spiritual health.

This is a concept over which the Church has never stuttered, and is discussed extensively in Sacred Scripture; yet still, even some of the most apparently devout Christians will find themselves sidestepping it. What on earth could this contemptible concept be?

It's ... It's ...



Ever since Adam and Eve were duped into eating the forbidden fruit, obedience has been our greatest obstruction. I know it's mine, and Christians who are honest with themselves admit that it's theirs as well.  Disobedience is what causes our separation from God.  Isn't sin quite simply disobedience to the divine law?  It will keep us from achieving union with God in this life, and could jeopardize our salvation in the next.

We read the following in Lumen Gentium: “The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church." (#37)

Obedience, after all, is a choice—it’s a choice based in love of God and love of neighbor over the love of the self. What is love of God and love of neighbor again? Christ tells us in the Gospel of John: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jn 15:13.

We can only truly obey when we die to the self.  Obedience isn’t subject to our scrutiny, interpretation, rationalization or personal preference. We aren't given an option to determine for ourselves any part of what we will or won't obey. We are given an instruction, and we follow it in its entirety, laying down our lives for our friends as commanded by Christ with a humble, loving heart.

Let's take a look at an example. A person who considers himself to be deeply Christian is given a task by his superior, who reviews the project, offers critique and asks for specific corrections.  If he were to be obedient, he would take the critique to heart and, out of love for his superior inspired by his love of Christ, would make the corrections as asked. Rather than submitting to the authority over him, however, he instead questions his superior and determines for himself those elements of the task which he desires to correct.

Through this one act of disobedience, this person has placed his own love of self over his love of neighbor, and in turn over his love of Christ. Additionally, what is the reaction of the superior?  Anger, aggrivation, frustration, all which will further deteriorate the relationship. It's a chain reaction that has been discussed by the doctors of the Church for centuries. St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue says it best:  "self-love, which destroys charity and affection towards the neighbor, is the principle and foundation of every evil."  It's why obedience to our spiritual shepherds is unconditional (note the lack of any qualification in the quote from Lumen Gentium).

Obedience doesn’t just refer to the clergy or religious, either. Parents, teachers and those appointed leaders of various ministries and apostolates also deserve our full, loving obedience, as they serve in the role of "spiritual shepherd" for many of us as well.  Love of Christ, and his command to love our neighbor, demands it. “Let them follow the example of Christ,” continues Lumen Gentium, “who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God. Nor should they omit to pray for those placed over them, for they keep watch as having to render an account of their souls, so that they may do this with joy and not with grief.”

May we all selflessly, humbly live in obedience to the Lord AND to His Church. 

Act of Love
O Lord God, I love you above all things
and I love my neighbor for your sake
because you are the highest, infinite and perfect
good, worthy of all my love.
In this love I intend to live and die.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Crossing the Border

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I went to a little jazz club in Canton, OH, to hear one of our favorite artists, Phil Keaggy. I keep going back again and again, and it's not just for his talent, which, by the way, would be enough. He's on a very short list of extraordinary guitar virtuosos.

What keeps me coming back is his profound courage. In a secular world, where God is rejected as a rule, Phil Keaggy puts his faith right out there front and center, and sings to the Lord with love, no matter where he may be.

We should all have such courage.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Successful Christian Leadership

“From childhood, she seeks out in her father’s house, the most menial occupations and joyfully takes the lowest place. Later, when the brilliance of her works would seem to expose her to attacks of pride, we find her constantly penetrated with the sense of her littleness and unworthiness. All her words indicate the most profound knowledge of herself. Never does contempt wound her, nor praise dazzle her.”

From “Devotion to St. Catherine of Siena, The Five Wednesdays”

A Church organization dependent upon volunteers selects two leaders to co-chair a very large project, which requires coordinating dozens of people and a complicated schedule. Each individual has a unique leadership style, and both methods result in what appears to be a successfully completed task.  Under closer examination, though, each method had a very different overall result.

Leader number one, let’s call her Sally, is very capable in the task. She has considerable experience, and in fact professionally provides the service required. Her attitude, however, is not one of charity. She shows little gratitude for the efforts of her volunteers, and treats them badly enough that they walk out, sometimes permanently. She somewhat meets the demands of the schedule, but not without excessive criticism of every deadline. She provides plans for several elements of the task, but vocally expresses her doubt in others ability to execute the plans as well as she can. She lists for anyone listening how much she does and why, and seems to expect recognition and praise. She even openly admits that she’s “praying” that the project fails. In the end Sally gets the job done, but at at what cost?

Let’s take a look at the other side of the coin. Leader number two, let’s call him Joe, is also capable in the task. He doesn’t have the professional experience, but he still understands very clearly what he needs to accomplish. Joe’s attitude is very different from Sally’s. He commands a prayerful, loving attitude among his volunteers, recognizing their effort with smiles and thanks. He encourages laughter, sharing and friendship. Prayer is essential to his leadership style, and pulls everyone together periodically to pray--this is, after all, a Christian project.

Joe doesn't draw any attention to himself, his opinions, his feelings, or his needs.  He relies solely on true Christian charity to get the job done, and he’s able to accomplish so much more.  The Second Vatican Council addressed how each of us, as disciples of Christ, proclaim our faith not just in words or acts of worship, but by our very lives. From Lumen Gentium: “the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (Lumen Gentium #10, emphasis mine)

Joe, unlike Sally, never loses sight of the reason he’s taken on this project in the first place. It’s never about him, or about the project really, but about witnessing Christ to everyone and anyone around him. The project is a catalyst for Christian Unity, and inspiring his volunteers to meet the needs of the project supercede everything to Joe, including any of his own needs. He sets a holy example, and his example inspires his volunteers to joyfully complete this task and consider volunteering for the next task.

While Sally inspires negativity and alienation, Joe inspires unity and a spirit of Charity. That makes Joe the real Christian success story.

Isn't Joe the kind of leader we should always seek?
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