If you died tomorrow, where would you go?

pearls

Life is a funny thing.

That we can inhale and exhale, consume food and drink, create things with our hands, think things with our brains, witness beauty with our eyes, take in the scents of our surroundings, or choose to walk left or walk right is a funny reality, is indeed very strange.

Of course, it’s entirely normal as we experience it. But at the same time, all of those things which are so easily taken for granted are really quite peculiar. Our lives are constantly in motion. From the moment of our conception, at least some part of our being remains constantly–voluntarily or involuntarily–moving.

What’s more, our lives are in a constant state of alteration. Though much of it is gradual, like learning to walk or spending years in school, significant portions of our lives will undergo sudden–even violent–change, even (at times) to the point of death.

An example: The family in which I’ve grown up in has been blessed with mostly good health. Two of my four grandparents are still living, with the two deceased having gone gradually, a result of slowly depreciating health. But in mid-July 2012, I had cracked a beer and was headed out to enjoy the evening sun on my parents’ patio when the phone rang. On the other end was news that my mom’s aunt, on her drive to see a play and visit us, had been in a car accident and died.

It was a jarring time, to say the least, but as some years have passed it’s caused me to stop and ponder every now and again the life we’ve been given; more importantly how quickly it can end and what that means for how we ought to spend the time in between.

I’ve always liked the Garth Brooks song “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” mainly because Garth is the man. But also because the first half of the chorus provides a striking parallel to the spiritual life and addresses this very question rather poignantly:

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her?
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she’s my only one?

Replacing the woman in this scenario with God, it’s a sobering thought for anyone, and is especially so for us Christians. While salvation is a free gift from God (yes, Catholics believe this too), it’s the work that we do — the attitude of our interior life, how we act toward others — that puts us in a state to allow us to decide whether we desire heaven – eternity with God – or desire (according to our actions) hell – eternity without God.

Questions like, “Do my choices matter?” or “What choices do matter?” or “Is there something waiting for us after we die?” are asked by children, or by good buddies around a fire after a few beers too many, but how often is it something that we really think about in a sober and mature state?

Ask yourself: When was the last time you sat for even 5 minutes and thought about nothing but what would happen to you if you died tomorrow?

If it hasn’t been recently, it’s probably worth it to do that now.

*****
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jk rowling quote.png

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The incredible story of Montana’s 90-foot statue of Mary

One of the most picturesque views in Montana comes into focus when rounding the bend on eastbound Interstate 90, about 6 miles from the historic city of Butte. On the towering East Ridge overlooking the city sits the third-tallest statue in America: a 90-foot-tall homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary, brilliantly white and perched 3500 feet above the valley floor.

Her story began in 1979 with Butte resident Bob O’Bill, whose wife was nearing death from cancer. O’Bill, who for many years worked as electrician in one of Butte’s surface mines, prayed that his wife be healed, and promised to build a 5-foot statue of Mary in his yard if God answered.

When his wife made a full recovery, O’Bill and his friends set about to fulfill the promise, but the plan soon developed from a small statue in a yard to a massive icon on a mountain.

An important note: During all of this, Butte – once a mining boomtown, the world’s top copper producer, and the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco – was suffering through its worst economic recession ever. Mining companies had left not long before, jobs were scarce, and morale in the most Irish city in America was at an all-time low.

And yet, through backbreaking volunteer labor, unparalleled generosity, and more than a little dose of the miraculous, the statue of Our Lady was finished in 1985, just over 30 years ago. The details of this amazing story parallel perfectly with lessons we hear over and over again in the life of Christ and in the life of the Church:

1. The builders, like the Apostles, were just regular guys. 

Bob O’Bill and his mining buddies, by the world’s standards, were nobody special. Leroy Lee, for example, the man who designed and welded the statue’s three pieces, brought no design experience and a grade school education to the table. But since when does God care about the world’s standards?

It was fishermen and tax collectors, not society’s elite, who became Jesus’ disciples. And the builders, like the Apostles, more than made up for it in their faith and their desire to follow the will of the King.

2. The Lord provided. 

What that community lacked in economic wealth, it made up for in generosity. Virtually every piece of the project was donated: the land on top of the East Ridge, the heavy machinery needed to cut a road up the mountain itself, the cement base for the statue, and (most of all) the labor.

As more men lost their jobs due to the recession, they gladly lent their time to pushing the project forward, while the volunteers’ families held benefit dinners and bake sales to make up for any intermediate costs. Even the placing of the three-piece, 60-ton statue atop the mountain, requiring a National Guard unit and Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane, was given to them.

3. It was in their lowliness that they triumphed.

Throughout the centuries, in the life of nearly every saint and the story of almost every culture, the sense of the divine is highest when the individual or group is at their lowest point. The moment when all seems lost, when the world has dealt us its death blow, God’s grace is able to flow through in its freest form.

Butte, an aging titan of a fallen era, had been brought to its knees. Families struggled to put food on the table. There seemed to be no way out. And yet, at that very moment and in those very circumstances, a community was able to hope for something. Only then could this monument have been built, for surely in better times such a project would have been thought unnecessary or frivolous.

“It only could’ve been done in Butte,” O’Bill recalled.

4. The miracles. Oh, the miracles. 

The best part of the story. Leaving aside the sudden recovery and healing of O’Bill’s wife (seen in the video below), the sheer number of pieces that fell into place are astounding.

  • When panic set in with how the crew would pay to fuel up their seemingly abandoned donated heavy equipment, every tank was found to be completely filled with gas.
  • Each one of Leroy Lee’s welds when constructing the statue were inexplicably perfect, as he recounts in the documentary made last Christmas. 
  • On the day of completion, when Mary needed to be flown to the top of a normally gusty and windy East Ridge, the air was eerily and peacefully calm, with no wind to speak of.
  • And when the middle piece of the statue, the biggest and most awkward to carry of the three, caused the helicopter to careen sideways in midair and lose altitude, the pilot was able to somehow recover without dumping the load, eventually setting the piece safely atop the base and bringing tears of joy from those watching below.

These, of course, are only a few examples.

“Everything we asked of Mary up there, we got,” said Jim Keane, one of the builders.

So if you’re looking for a pilgrimage that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, make a drive to Butte this summer. Stop at Pork Chop Johns for lunch, then catch the shuttle from the Butte Plaza Mall up to the top. Always watching over us with her maternal gaze, Mary really is a sight to behold.

Our Lady of the Rockies, pray for us!

*****

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SOURCES
1 – http://www.thechristianreview.com/our-ladys-miracle-on-the-mountain
2 – http://www.ourladyoftherockies.net/the-story.html
3 – http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/article_39f6e28f-240e-5f83-8ac7-e7c8868024f6.html
4 – http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700045097/Our-Lady-of-the-Rockies-90-foot-statue-dedicated-to-workers-women-everywhere.html
5 – https://roadtrippers.com/stories/our-lady-of-the-rockies

C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and the Scourge of Gossip

Those who have read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will remember well the book’s closing sequence — a battle between the White Witch and Aslan, who, accompanied by scores of animals from all throughout Narnia, eventually defeated her and brought peace to Narnia. Organizing his troops for battle, Aslan says:

And now! Those who can’t keep up — that is, children, dwarfs, and small animals — must ride on the backs of those who can — that is, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants, and eagles. Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is. Look lively and sort yourselves.

In battle, if an attack on the enemy’s line is to be successful, two things have to happen: the charge must be ordered in the minutest detail, and every soldier must know the role he has to play in it. If either of those things are missing, failure will follow.

Life is no different. If we believe that God is real, and that He loves us, then we know that each of us is willed into existence with a divinely given purpose. This is exactly what C.S. Lewis referred to in his battle sequence. God is the General, the Organizing Force. We are the soldiers, each unique in our own right, each with a different responsibility, each with the capacity to accomplish it. Our “battle plan” is, in essence, our vocation. It’s that particular calling each of us has, but also more generally the duty of striving for friendship with God: happiness in this life and heaven in the next.

What is perhaps the most intriguing from Aslan’s rallying cry, however, is the line: “Look lively and sort yourselves.”

Here, Lewis is alluding especially to each person’s need to mind themselves through both action and awareness. And yet, this is somehow difficult and almost foreign for us modern types. In a world where seeing the imperfections of others is so easy — through tabloids, social media, reality TV and the like — it’s often the furthest thing from our minds to instead look inward, examine our own imperfection, and take action to change it.

This sad phenomenon rears its head most through gossip — the sin of carelessly reporting the lives of others in conversation, almost always without the subject being present and more often than not about details that are private or otherwise sensational, spoken typically by people who have no business speaking them.

Gossip, innocent though it may seem, always divides, and never unites. Gossip by its nature accomplishes the opposite of Christ’s call for us to sow peace and unity by bringing down another person

Plus, our words matter. If we trust what Jesus said (even one little bit), then we should keep Matthew 12:36-37 in mind:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Jesus is indicating to us, once again, that our actions — good or bad — will always carry consequences along with them.

Lewis was keenly aware of the utter importance of understanding that each person’s story is between him and God alone. It’s a theme he emphasized many times in his writing, but most prominently in Book Six of the Narnia series, The Horse and His Boy:

[Shasta] “Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

[Aslan] “It was I.”

[Shasta] “But what for?]

[Aslan] “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own. (p. 159)

And again, later:

[Aslan] “The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.”

[Aravis] “Yes, sir. Please–”

[Aslan] “Ask on, my dear.”

[Aravis] “Will any more harm come to her by what I did?”

[Aslan] “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No-one is told any story but their own.” (p. 194)

See, though Shasta and Aravis were allowed to know details about others insofar as they related to their own relationship with Aslan. Details beyond that would only satisfy curiosity and thus be frivolous. Frivolity would only detract from the attention Shasta and Aravis should pay to themselves and the love they should show those around them. With God, there’s no room for frivolity, because time is not unlimited.

So it is with us. Gossip is nothing more than frivolous speech, wasting precious time better spent reflecting on ourselves and building relationships.

Pope Francis has made gossip a point of focus in various homilies over the past three years, equating the “tactics of a terrorist to the tactics of a gossip”, and connecting it to the 5th commandment (Thou Shalt Not Kill) in its tendency to “kill” a reputation or the subject’s self-esteem.

I think his inclination is worth listening to, not just because gossip kills others, but because, in some small way, it kills a part of us, the gossiper. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

“If you could kick the person in the pants

After all, no matter how much we point out others’ faults and ignore our own, we keep sinning nonetheless. In fact, because our actions, no matter how small, always affect the person we’re becoming, we only sin more the longer we let something like gossiping run unchecked.

But, as the story will always go in the Christian life, there will be hope for us to our dying day. At any moment we can choose to change our behavior. Any time we choose, we can opt instead to ask forgiveness, to better ourselves, and to love others radically. Because as long as we’re willing to ask for mercy, God will be there to grant it.

So go do something crazy. The next time you catch yourself talking about another person’s life, stop yourself and direct that scrutiny upon yourself. Doing so will only lead to a better you, and a better you can only ever lead to a better everything else around you.

In the end, if we wish to be better we must be aware and we must be active. We must look lively and sort ourselves.

*****

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Five “Truth Bombs” About Marriage from the Catechism

Over the past half century or so, the institution of marriage has fallen on hard times. It’s not for lack of trying, though. The wedding industry is big business, taking up public consciousness for what seems to be all summer every summer (and year round on Pinterest….ladies). But sadly, I think the true perception of a wedding’s purpose is dwindling in our society.

It seems more and more people these days are understanding marriage as merely a legal contract between two people with romantic feelings for one another, as opposed to the much richer purpose and meaning that has been understood, at the very least in Christian culture, for centuries.

There’s SO much to be said about the latter understanding of marriage, and for that we look no further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a rich resource compiled in part by one of the greatest writers on love and marital flourishing the Church has ever seen, St. John Paul II.

Below, you’ll find five “truth bombs” on marriage from the Catechism that are so awesome, by the end you’re sure to be doing this (kinda like you did the last time):

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1. “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” (1601)

Some big concepts ought to jump out at us from the get-go here. First, a “covenant” isn’t just any old contract, but something much, MUCH more significant. It’s the same thing as what God made with Israel in the Old Testament and what Jesus came to fulfill by dying for your sins on the Cross — it’s permanent, it’s real, and it’s a big deal. Like, if-you-break-it-you-pledge-to-pay-with-your-life kind of big deal.

Second is the phrase “by its nature.” By pointing out that marriage itself has a nature shows us that it’s something whose qualities aren’t up for us to determine. Note, too, that part of marriage is the education of offspring, meaning parents ought to be the primary educators of their children (including faith) — something becoming exceedingly more foreign to our modern sensibilities.

2. “‘The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.’ The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. (1603a)

There’s that dang “nature” word again. As Christians, we believe that we’re created with a purpose and with a nature that is ordered toward a particular good given to us by God. In order for that purpose to come to fruition, we of course must cooperate with that call from God. This is true of people, of created things, and, most importantly here, of certain relationships as well. Just as the priesthood or the religious life is a unique vocation written on the hearts of men and women, so too it is with marriage.

Also, you’ll notice that “the married state” has distinct qualities: It’s a community, which means both husband and wife must cooperate and participate to make it work (that means sharing your feelings, husbands). It involves love and life, meaning a marriage isn’t a marriage unless it’s radically open to life, both spiritual (i.e. prayer) and physical (i.e. BABIES).

3. “Since God created them man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man . . . And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation.” (1604)

One of the first verses in the entire Bible seems to be one of the most overlooked — that being “be fruitful and multiply” from the Book of Genesis. If, as we just read, the marital union is meant to reflect the love God has for man, then it follows that it is also meant to bear fruit both in its utter openness to new life and the charge to “fill the earth and subdue it.”

But why is part of marriage to be open to new life? Because new life is good. To understand this concept we need only reread the Creation narrative — “God looked at all he had made, and he found it very good.” Being fruitful and multiplying doesn’t mean casting your prudence to the wind and single-handedly populating a small town, but is simply an openness and an understanding that new life is inherently good and is therefore to be desired.

4. “Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’ The woman, ‘flesh of his flesh,’ his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a ‘helpmate’; she thus represents God from whom comes our help.” (1605)

I couldn’t help but notice the lack of language about women being inferior to men…interesting that the Church doesn’t actually hate women, yes? What many seem to miss is that women being different from men isn’t the same as being of lesser value. Men and women are made for one another because they complement one another in both body and spirit — they are inherently different, and are made to be so by God.

The reason the vocation to marriage is such a special bond — indeed, honored as a sacrament by the Catholic Church — is precisely because it reflects God’s bond with His creation. Back to the “covenant” language from the first line above, God’s relationship to his creation is nuptial in nature, and our existence is meant to reflect that.

5. The experience [of evil all around and within us] makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. (1606, 1608)

We begin our marriages as broken people, and that’s just the reality. We’re born into a fallen world, and every person must battle against the forces of evil if he or she wishes to be strong in virtue. This is the most true when it comes to marriage. A good, holy, fruitful marriage doesn’t happen by accident.

A good marriage is the product of husband and wife first being radically aware of their own sinfulness — particularly their inclination to sin against each other — and second being willing to keep trying, to keep asking God and spouse for forgiveness, and, above all, to keep praying. At any given time in marriage, just as with anything else in life, the spousal bond is either growing stronger or weaker, and we alone make the choice of what to make it.

*****

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The Means Have Become the Ends, and Our Society is Suffering

Several years ago, a friend of mine told me a story about an interaction he had with his father one night after playing in a high school basketball game.

In that game, my friend’s team was losing badly and he committed a lazy foul, scowled at the referee as if he hadn’t done anything, then saw his replacement checking in at the scorer’s table and sulked to the bench, head hanging and feet dragging. When my friend got off the court, he caused a small scene (witnessed by all in the gym), throwing his armband angrily under the bench, and rudely rejecting offers from teammates for water.

Afterward, on the drive home, my friend’s dad said to him simply, “Act like that again, and you won’t be playing for any team in any sport.”

The message came through to him loud and clear: playing basketball isn’t about playing basketball. Instead, it’s about learning virtue through an otherwise trivial activity — learning discipline, learning the value of being part of something greater than yourself, learning to adapt in the face of adversity, learning that everything doesn’t happen on your terms, among others.

My friend’s dad knew that basketball is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Basketball is a vessel by which its players ought to grow in maturity and excellence independent of the game itself, because, as the saying goes, “there’s more to life.”

Sports tend to serve as the best metaphors for this, but all that we do in life ought to be aimed toward an ultimate end, something greater than ourselves, and something that actually has worth in the grand scheme of things. Our lives deserve a purpose toward which we strive by making our every decision meaningful, calculated, and intentional. Every one of those choices should be “means” and not “ends,” but more and more frequently it seems that our culture has ditched the former and clung to the latter.

We’re becoming a people of many ends and no means, and that’s a bad thing.

Don’t believe me? Look at the year-round reporting of NFL coverage or “St. Jerry’s Basilica, sponsored by AT&T” where the Dallas Cowboys play. Look at the 24-hour news cycle and our search for the “if it bleeds, it leads” stories, or our obsession with the next presidential election when it’s not even the year of the election yet. Most of all, look at the throwaway culture we’re in of status-quo contraception, abortion-on-demand, porn addiction for boys and young men being through the roof, or rampant objectification of women wreaking havoc on society.

So many things today are done “Just because.” Just because we “need” it at the time, just because it makes us happy in the moment, just because it feels good, just because it’s entertaining, just because it’s noise, and on and on.

It’s not that many of the “just because” things are necessarily bad things in themselves, it’s just that there’s more to life than “Just Because.” There’s more to life than “all about me.” Life is too important, too valuable to drift through selfishly.

The fact is, we aren’t here of our own accord, so it seems that we aren’t intended to exist to be a service to ourselves, but instead to those around us. Add in the fact that those around us, past and present, were also created, then consider that all we possess — life especially — is given to us by a God who loves us and desires the absolute best for us, and it’s easy to see that “Just Because” shouldn’t even exist in our vocabulary.

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses, illustrates this perfectly:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Being pleased by the things we do isn’t a bad thing, but it’s all too often the only thing we think about. It’s like the difference between a Big Mac with fries and Filet Mignon with mashed potatoes; both will please you, and both will fill you up, but there’s a richness and a value to the steak that Mickey D’s just can’t fulfill.

So ask yourself: Why am I doing the things I’m doing? 

If the answer starts with “Just because…”, we owe it to ourselves and to those around us is to rethink our choice.

jesusneversaid
Source: “Things Jesus Never Said” Facebook page

Of course, life is hard. Anyone in any tax bracket will acknowledge that. But acknowledging that life has meaning is something much more uncommonly said, and acknowledging that the meaning of life ought to spur us to right action is more uncommon still.

So, the first step in living a life of means and not ends is to figure out why we’re here — why we have this life that we have.

The feeling that we all share deep down, that life has meaning, isn’t just a coincidence. Where does that feeling come from? Consider, for a moment, the case for the timeless, spaceless, immaterial, enormously-powerful and personal God (in other words, the God of the Bible). If that God exists, then the fact is that He doesn’t need any of us humans. God is self-sustaining, and we, as creatures, cannot add anything to God or contribute to His growth in any way.

If you think about it, the fact that God doesn’t need us, coupled with the fact that we exist (when we don’t need to exist) means one thing: God wants us to exist.

God wants us to exist — Jesus wants us to exist — so that we can be “fully alive”, as St. Irenaeus said, by being in relationship with Him, both here on earth and (eventually) in heaven. In fact, Jesus took on our same human flesh to show us how we can “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) through that relationship with God. We exist to “glorify God with our lives” to reach the Ultimate End of heaven, which is the spending of all eternity as one with our Creator.

The Ultimate End is everlasting joy, infinite happiness, the most joy-filled moment of our lives stretched out for all eternity. That’s what we were created for.

But why does that matter here?

Considering the nature of God, His wanting us and infinite love of us means that He created every single one of us with a unique purpose in mind that excludes no created thing. The best analogy of this comes from St. Paul as he speaks of us being parts of the Body of Christ:

But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Cor. 12:20-26)

Our lives having inherent purpose is the sole reason that each one of our decisions ought to be intentioned and never be done “Just because.” No decision that helps us get to heaven is done without intention.

After recognizing the purpose of life, St. Therese of Lisieux captures this call beautifully, saying, “Let us go forward in peace, our eyes upon heaven, the only one goal of our labors.”

The hardest part about all this? Some of our “Just because” decisions will need to be given up cold turkey. If we want to live fully intentional lives, and we desire in earnest to make it to heaven, some of the things we do in life have to be given up…forever. Whatever that is for each person, we’ve already been promised that it won’t be easy:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

It will be worth it, though, and we can be comforted in knowing two things: 1) Everyone is called to heaven, the Ultimate End; and 2) There’s a map we can follow to get there.

That map is the way of the Cross. More specifically, it’s the mastery of the will and the submission to God’s grace in order to accomplish it. St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church and great 16th Century saint, wasn’t always “saintly” in the way she lived her life, so this bit comes from her direct experience:

A great aid to going against your will is to bear in mind continually how all is vanity and how quickly everything comes to an end. This helps to remove our attachment from [trivial things] and center it on what will never end. Even though this practice seems to be a weak means, it will strengthen the soul greatly and the soul will be most careful in very little things.

Your life has value. Your life has a purpose. You were made for more than temper tantrums, mud pies, and Big Macs. Make your every action the means to the Ultimate End, and I promise you won’t regret it.

*****

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Understanding Pope Francis Requires More Than Shallow Thinking

Pope Francis just started Year Three of his papacy, and commentary has been rife with predictions and analysis of what’s still to come, the meaning of his first two years, whether he’s been good or bad, and on down the line. The quality of any article on this particular pope, given his personality and wide-ranging appeal, typically runs the gamut between “Spot on” and “Dude, seriously?” but one in particular may have set a new boundary past the latter.

The article, written by Nicholas Frankovich of the usually-spectacular National Review, bears the title “Pope Francis Enters His Third Year of Scolding Introverts,” so right from the get-go one could guess that the article likely won’t have a positive tone, and perhaps might just amount to a superficial smearfest, as is all-too-common lately in analysis of the Vicar of Christ.

The reality is just that — the article, while of excellent writing quality, is built on a foundation of sand, pointing lots of fingers without any attribution and extrapolating on a false dichotomy in the Church and elsewhere of introversion (which Pope Francis apparently hates) and extroversion (of which Pope Francis is apparently World Champion).

While I think the author’s intentions were good in pursuing this topic, the end result shows instead that personal bias, not critical thinking, came through the loudest.

Again, the basic premise of the article was pitting introversion vs. extroversion, with the author claiming that Pope Francis consistently hates on introverts and encourages everyone to instead become extroverted. This, of course, would be absurd and cause for uproar if it were true. 

j0ye8

An army of straw men seem to have found themselves at the mercy of Mr. Frankovich, so here are four keys to understanding Pope Francis correctly:

1. Selfishness is not a synonym for introversion

One of Frankovich’s biggest sticking points comes not from a direct quote by Francis, but instead by another writer opining on the following quote by Francis:

If you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.

To me, this quote spoke of self-absorption and the selfish tendencies we have as humans in a fallen state — which is far from legitimately supporting a disdain for introverts. Indeed, put in the proper context (which wasn’t included in the opinion piece or Frankovich’s article) we see this is the case, since Pope Francis prefaced the line with, “Be giving of yourself to others.”

If we turn to Philippians, we can plainly see that St. Paul taught something similar:

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but for those of others. (2:3-4)

The REAL issue (as it has been throughout all of human history) is not about introversion and extroversion, but about two other, completely unrelated things, which brings me to my next point …

2. This is more about “selfishness vs. humility” than it is about “extroversion vs. introversion”

The false dichotomy of introversion vs. extroversion manifested itself in a rather interesting way once Frankovich allowed it to play out. In pegging Pope Francis and Co. as extroverts, he necessarily had to plop all of the Church’s contemplatives — those monks and nuns, past and present, who gave their life in prayer and service to Christ. This poses a bit of a problem.

Lillian Vogl, a reader who posted a rather appropriate comment on the article, wrote:

The difference between extroverts and introverts is not how much they talk or like to interact with others, but how they “recharge their mental batteries.” Pope Francis isn’t criticizing those who prefer to recharge in private contemplation, he’s asking them to not forget what they are recharging their batteries to do. Which is to LOVE, which requires self-giving to others, not to admire oneself in self-satisfaction at one’s intellectual depth and orthodoxy. The Pope is criticizing those who do the latter, not those who find strength through frequent introspection to love their neighbors in any number of ways, whether quiet or bold.

She went on:

Healthy spirituality balances both the horizontal and vertical, and does not get offended about being urged to exercise those muscles which are not as naturally strong. [Speaking to Frankovich] You did not cite a single thing that Pope Francis has actually said to “scold” introverts. He has only scolded the “self-absorbed.” If you hear that and think he is talking about you, then that is a matter for you to work out in your introspective conscience, not to react by spreading the calumny that he is disrespecting introverts.

I don’t think I’ll add anything else … Lillian seems to have it covered.

3. “Being in the world” and “Worldliness” are vastly different things

At the 2013 World Youth Day celebration in Brazil, Pope Francis delivered a brilliant speech to young Catholics gathered there to “make a mess” and to “go out” and evangelize the world. In saying this, the pope was making the same missionary call to Christians that Jesus gave to his disciples 2000 years ago, to “Go!” and “make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19).

Francis went on:

I want a mess in the dioceses! I want people to go out! I want the Church to go out to the street! I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, that is installation, that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut-in in ourselves. The parishes, the schools, the institutions, exist to go out! If they don’t go out, they become NGOs, and the Church can’t be an NGO.

Dubbed as a “brain-bruising knot of contradictions” by Frankovich, actually understanding the context in which the Holy Father spoke would tell a great deal about the true purpose of these words. Francis is spurring young people to action (which is a great thing), he’s directing them to become more authentic Catholics Christians (which is a great thing), and he’s reminding the universal Church’s youth what the point of the Catholic Church is — to bring souls to Christ and to help people get to heaven through Him (which is the greatest thing of all).

By saying essentially, “go out into the world in order to fight worldliness,” Pope Francis is acknowledging that, though we are born in the world, we must rise above the temptations of the world. Once upon a time, there was a man named Jesus who was also born into the world, and who also rose above the temptations of the world — even with the Devil himself standing next to Him. That’s a valuable distinction that Frankovich missed.

It’s almost as if Pope Francis was alluding to the words of St. Paul yet again:

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

4. Pope Francis DOES have a robust prayer life.

Throughout the entire article, Frankovich implicitly assumes that Pope Francis is somehow opposed to people whose vocation called them to give their lives in prayer and service to the Church, and in so doing implies that extroverts (the pope included) just don’t have time for prayer. Really?

On his two-year anniversary, Pope Francis related his interior experience on the night he was elected:

During the vote I was praying the rosary, I usually pray three rosaries daily, and I felt great peace, almost to the point of insentience. The very same when everything was resolved, and for me this was a sign that God wanted it, great peace. From that day to this I have not lost it. It is ‘something inside’ it is like a gift. I do not know what happened next. They made [me] stand up. They asked me if I agreed. I said yes. I do not know if they made me swear on something, I forget. I was at peace.

It hardly sounds like a man who doesn’t have a robust interior prayer life and relationship with the Lord. Know what it does sound like, though? From Frankovich’s own hit piece:

From the gospels, we know that Jesus in his own life integrated solitary prayer with the busyness of his public ministry. The pattern was for the former to precede the latter.

Darn, it seems like the pope thwarted that shot too. In fact, Pope Francis is nearly as big a fan of the Blessed Mother as St. John Paul II was, having not only entrusted his pontificate to Mary, but also having said (among many other quotes) about the rosary:

Mary is the mother, and a mother’s main concern is the health of her children … Our Lady guards our health … helps us grow, face life and be free.

A prayer-less extrovert isn’t likely going to receive an interior peace from the Lord out of the blue, much less get elected pope of the universal Church. Good thing our pope is the furthest thing from prayer-less.

Vatican Pope

Looks like prayer to me…

You wouldn’t know that from Frankovich’s article, and that’s a very sad thing indeed. Our pope may not make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, but neither did Jesus. Our faith is not one of comfort. Our faith is equally difficult for extroverts and introverts, and sufficiently so for each — God guarantees us of that.

Saying Pope Francis is “shallow” or “at least presents himself as such”, that he “preaches mercy for everyone except [introverts]” or “leans left in his politics and theology” (which has been proven wrong time after time), and that he “has little apparent interest in the life of the mind” or “lacks the patience to think slowly” is simply uncharitable and profoundly disrespectful. Especially so when it comes without any attribution to Francis whatsoever, save for second-hand opinions of him.

On top of that, Frankovich puts the icing on the cake with three short sentences in stomping on the New Evangelization: “Drop that sourpuss, Counter-Reformation stance contra mundum. Engage the world with a smile. Let’s dialogue.”

Ultimately, Frankovich makes himself look silly in writing, as a friend of mine put it when bringing the article to my attention, an “article of shallow hating.”

The Catholic Church isn’t an island. We exist in the world with many other faiths, as well as hundreds of thousands of people who currently don’t ascribe to a single one. If we want to grow the Church, we won’t get the job done acting like it sucks to be a Catholic, and we won’t get it done if we don’t engage with others unlike ourselves. We especially won’t get the job done putting people in boxes labeled “Extrovert” or “Introvert” in place of pursuing true Christian virtue regardless of temperament.

We have to go out. We have to set the world ablaze. Whether we’re introverted or extroverted, we must do it authentically, because that’s the witness Christ asked of us.

But maybe most of all, at least for the immediate future, we have to stop bashing our leader, who’s doing a pretty darn good job, whether we think so or not.

*****
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5 Ways to See God in Ordinary Household Tasks

UPDATE: To hear an interview on this post with the author on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air Show, click here (fast forward to the 28:45 mark)

To say the least, God is easily misunderstood. Many take God to be a grandiose, out-of-reach source of guilt and outdated morals, and, in any case, seem to assume that God and everyday life simply aren’t compatible. That assessment couldn’t be further from the truth (though the “grandiose” bit is pretty spot-on), and yet even lots of people who are firm, faithful believers in God — myself included on many occasions — tend to feel that God is still somehow far away. We know He loves us and never leaves us, but man, can’t we just get a little affirmative nod from Above every once in a while?

Well, it turns out those little signs may be right under our noses, but we either are attentive to other things or simply don’t have an adequate understanding of the nature of God to understand that our day-to-day life is chock full of opportunities to witness the Divine. So much is made of lives being “exciting enough” anymore, that we all have a tendency to believe that somehow our lives in the day-to-day aren’t good enough.

I’ve previously used a quote by Fr. Robert Barron about the goodness of simple, seemingly insignificant daily occurrences. It also applies well here:

God is the unconditioned source of goodness, truth, and beauty. Therefore whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful participates in God and reflects God. And so…the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, a beautifully-proportioned building, a handsome face smiling in friendliness, an innocent child at play, a crisply executed fast break, a well-written television program, all these things in their truth, goodness, and beauty speak of God.

We’re driven by our culture to believe that something far beyond simple, daily tasks are needed to find fulfillment or worth in life. However, if we look in the right places and do those tasks with the right mindset, our lives will become infinitely more valuable than we ever though possible, especially in the eyes of the One who created us and our day-to-day life.

Here’s five great places to start:

1. Opening the blinds.

blindssuck

There’s something that speaks to the soul in opening the shades on a warm, sunny morning (or even a chilly, winter one) and letting the light of the new day into a cozy home. Light has long been an identifying characteristic of God — “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), the Transfiguration of Jesus, beautiful multi-colored cathedral stained glass windows — and It’s no different in this case.

Light is one of the most basic goods of our lives. Without it, we could do almost nothing, but light has value far beyond its mere use to us. As Fr. Barron went on to say, “Light is that by which we see, that which illumines and clarifies. But at bottom … light is beautiful.” There’s a spiritual aspect of ourselves being fed in the simple act of opening the windows and letting light into our lives. What’s more, doing so physically is bound to help us do so metaphorically in our spiritual lives as well.

2. Making food.

food

Whether we’re cooking for ourselves or for others, the act of preparing food to nourish our bodies is one of the simplest “goods” we can experience or accomplish in life. We were given by God a body which needs nourishment in order to live, so by the very act of nourishing ourselves and those around us, we actively participate in the will of God for us on the most basic of levels. Health and well-being are intrinsically good things, therefore acts that bring those two things about profoundly “speak of God,” especially when they’re done for others.

The next time we make a meal for someone, or even for ourselves, simply thinking to ourselves, “my hands are being used to prepare nourishment for someone who was created and is loved by God,” helps us to be better aware of both the Father’s immense love for us and for the dignity of ourselves and those around us.

3. Using a towel.

Drying dishes. Drying hands. Drying feet. Wiping your child’s face. Cleaning up messes. The night before He died Jesus used an ordinary towel to wash the feet of his disciples. What might be an odd or insignificant practice otherwise was made profound in the person of Jesus.

Source: Reuters/Enrique Garcia Medina
Source: Reuters/Enrique Garcia Medina

Feet, in the First Century, would get incredibly filthy from walking dusty roads, so it was customary for a host to provide not only water for foot washing, but also a servant who would wash them. It’s a great service when anybody does it, but considering that the Son of God/Second Person of the Trinity/Creator of the Flippin’ Universe knelt down and did a servant’s job in washing the feet of his friends makes the act all the more remarkable. Each time we use a towel, especially using it in service to another person, allows us to remember that humble act of Jesus and make our act all the more meaningful.

4. Dusting & Vacuuming.

vacuuming

Dance Moves: optional.

What on earth can dusting and vacuuming have to do with the spiritual life? One of the easiest traps in life to fall into is a sense of complacency, of allowing struggles in our lives we’ve successfully worked against to find a hold once again in our lives. Another all-too-common occurrence in our lives, if we’re not careful, is to let decisions “make” themselves instead of exercising our will and making a definitive choice according to the fruit of prayer and the whisperings of our conscience. In essence, it’s easy to let the dust build up on our souls just as it is on the coffee table.

Dusting and vacuuming, the routine sprucing up of the places in which we spend the most time, are good things on their own simply because taking care of our possessions is an intrinsic good. However, they can also serve a great symbolic purpose if, while doing them, we consider areas in our lives that have perhaps grown a bit dusty. Thinking through our day or our week while moving and shaking behind the vacuum won’t just result in a benefit within ourselves; the people we love most will also enjoy those fruits.

5. Cleaning the windows.

window

The dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding uttered perhaps one of the more classic lines in modern film when he said (repeatedly): “Just put some Windex on it!”  After all, what’s better: a smudgy window, or a sparklingly clear window?

Just like the cleanliness of a window is directly related to the ability to see clearly what lies on the other side, so too does the state of our lives directly relate to our ability to see clearly through that “window” into the spiritual life. If our lives become smudged, mud-splattered, or covered with bird feathers from those dang robins that keep flying into it, chances are good we’ll see a lot less clearly what the best direction for our lives are. Next time you bust out the Windex, we ought to consider the parts of our lives that could use a little of the blue stuff themselves.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the physically-small-but-spiritually-large saint best known for her “Little Way” of holiness, once said:

“Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.”

We can be partakers of this “Little Way” too. We just have to know where to look.

*****

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