Finding Happiness Where You Least Expect It

By: Trent Beattie

happiness

Ask someone where happiness may be found,  and you’ll get a variety of answers. Many of them, however, are centered on attaining something currently out-of-reach. The thinking goes like this: “If only I could make more money,  then  I would be happy.” Or “If only I had a nice car,  then  I would be happy.” Or “If only I could win that tennis tournament trophy,  then  I would be happy.”

The problem is, there are people all around who have plenty of money, a nice car and maybe even an entire collection of tennis trophies, yet they are not happy. Material goods don’t bring happiness, and in fact, the more earnestly such goods are sought as if they would bring happiness, the more bitter the disappointment that follows.

Many years ago, Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote: “Every earthly ideal is lost  by being possessed.” After someone attains the object he was searching for, he no longer places happiness in it. He realizes that his unhappiness was not due to his lack of that material item. He got what he had wanted, and, despite a possible temporary kick, the general unhappiness remained.

Instead of deriving satisfaction from what we’ve achieved, we use our achievements as baselines from which to achieve more. Those making $30,000 per year want to make $40,000; those making $40,000 want to make $50,000, and those making $50,000 want to make $60,000. As the material rewards increase, the search for happiness does not abate, and it can in fact intensify.

If happiness cannot be found in material possessions, where can it be found? The answer is: we find happiness where we least expect it–in self-denial. This is not a piece of wisdom that is easily learned and lived, because it is so paradoxical. Who, without being told, would ever imagine that denying oneself would bring happiness?

Yet, we are told by Jesus Himself in Matthew 16:24 that “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” Self-seeking ends in destruction of self, while self-denial (and seeking of God) culminates in happiness.

Self-denial being the route to happiness is possible, because,  as Sheen points out, denial of self prepares us for disappointments from others: “Contradictions from others will hurt us less when we have first contradicted ourselves. The hand that is calloused will not pain as much as a soft hand, on catching a hard ball. Contradictions can even be assimilated and used for further taming of our own errant impulses.”

Yes, even the disappointments of life can be used for out greater good, if we take them in the right way. What happens outside of us is not nearly as important as what happens inside of us, and the latter is oftentimes the only thing we have control over. Good can come even from the worst situations, by a mere act of the will.

Sheen reminded us of the great important of the will. He said, “There is one thing in the world that is definitely and absolutely your own, and that is you will. Health, power, life, and honor can all be snatched from you, but your will is irrevocably your own, even in Hell. Hence, nothing really matters in life, except what you do with your will.”

Happiness, then, is found by making decisions (acts of the will) to contradict our own errant impulses. When our own wills have been negated, we can live out the will of God here on earth and for eternity in Heaven. Complete happiness can only be attained after this life, but true happiness does start here by saying no to oneself.

Because I wanted to share this great paradox  with others, I chose passages from Venerable Sheen found in the new book  Finding True Happiness.  Sheen’s prescription for happiness is just as relevant to us today as it was decades ago when he first wrote it. In fact, it is even more imperative to get his message out now, because even fewer people know of its value. Finding happiness in self-denial and God-acceptance is a reality we all need to be taught or reminded of.

Credit to  Trent Beattie of CatholicExchange.

 

See & Imitate the Good in Others

By: Edward F. Garesche, SJ

friends

Whether you like it or not, you are sure to imitate other  people.  The impulse to follow the example of others is so strong in us that we obey it unconsciously. We begin as little children, copying those around us, and we imitate the bad in them as well as the good.

But now that you are older, you can choose what to imitate. On that choice depends, to a great degree, your character and your destiny. If you observe and imitate the good and choose to copy the good qualities of those with whom you associate, you will be, in the old comparison, like the bee that gathers honey from every flower and leaves the poison. On the other hand, if you do not choose carefully whom to imitate, you will collect bad qualities and accentuate the faults of your character.

To have a clear, alert, and fair mind, and to judge men’s good qualities rightly are of supreme importance, especially to the young. Do not be deceived by appearances; do not adopt wrong standards of conduct. Some people have showy, specious, false characters that make a good impression at first, but there is no substance to their personality. Others do not attract or impress us much at first, but they improve on acquaintance. They wear  well; they have solid characters, fine hearts, good minds, and consistent principles. Those are the ones to imitate. Many a young person has gone wrong and wrecked his whole life be ­cause he did not see truly and judge rightly whom to follow, but let himself be carried away by his first impressions, his feel ­ings, or his emotions.

All human beings have some good qualities, of course, and by observing their good qualities and imitating them, and rec ­ognizing their mistakes and avoiding them, you can steer your way safely through the difficult seas of human character.

It is told of one young man who made a supreme success in life, that he deliberately noted the good qualities of all those around him. He would jot down such notes as this: “I like A’s pleasant, kindly smile; I am going to try to imitate it. I like B’s everlasting willingness to oblige and serve other people, and I am going to try to make it my own. I like C’s custom of punctu ­ality and reliableness, and I am going to try to be the same my ­self. D’s fine mental culture appeals to me, and I want to be like him in that respect.” In this way, the young man deliber ­ately emulated, and made his own by constant practice, the very best that he saw around him.

No human character is quite ideal, but every one has some divine spark of goodness in it. By taking all the good characteristics of those around you, you can build up the ideal of a perfect character, just as, by taking all the unpleasant charac ­teristics of each one, you could create a sort of monster.

One advantage of this method of looking for the good qualities of others and imitating them is that it brings out by contrast your own imperfections. If you study the best in oth ­ers and compare that best with your own corresponding traits,  you will feel humble and be stirred up to be better. There is hardly anyone around you who does not surpass you in some ­thing. Yet, you have the divine gift of free will, by which you can continually practice and aspire after the good qualities that others possess, without envying them and without taking anything away from those whom you imitate. This is the very opposite of jealousy, that wicked and hideous monster of vice, which observes the good in other people and is saddened by it. Your keen observation must pick out the good qualities in oth ­ers not in order to envy them, but to rejoice in them and imi ­tate them. Thus, you will multiply their goodness and gain by it, by becoming like them in that particular characteristic in which they most excel.

Suppose you had the power of taking for yourself the best qualities you see in others. With what keen interest you would study each one’s character in order to choose the very best trait you would find there. You would weigh each one’s per ­sonal charm and try to find out on what it depended. Here you would see that it was the result of a spirit of great kindness and interest in others, and you would choose that characteristic. There you would see that it came chiefly from a finely cultured mind, and you would make that quality your own. Another man’s influence over others and power to do good to them has come, you would perceive, from his deep conscientiousness and faithfulness to duty, and you would make those qualities your own.

Now, in literal truth, you can obtain to a degree any one of these things, by wanting it earnestly enough and seeking it persistently enough. The measure of your right judgment in seeing clearly the best that is in others and your strong will in  disciplining yourself to acquire their particular excellences will be the measure of your success in getting the best that they possess.

When thus trying to acquire the best characteristics of man ­kind, you need not confine yourself to the people you actually know. Through the magnificent works of literature, you can associate with marvelous familiarity with the great minds, the noble hearts, and the shining characters of all history. Saints and heroes of hundreds of years offer you their knowledge and companionship on the shelves of libraries.

This is one of the greatest blessings of a love of reading: it brings us into communion with the choicest spirits of all the ages. Entering a library in a thoughtful and reverent mood, we can stretch forth our hands and bid this, that, and the other of the most excellent of mankind to speak to us. In great books, we find a revelation of human character in its excellence and nobility that our personal experiences could never offer us. The ordinary dealings of everyday life are sometimes like a game of hide-and-seek, in which men and women carefully conceal even their own excellences. They are reluctant to show the finest depths of their characters. But the wonder of good books is that they can faithfully reveal these hidden excellences of human nature and can acquaint us with the in ­ward workings of good hearts and cultured minds. Therefore, in our reading, we may choose our associates from the most ex ­cellent of mankind and, through our knowledge of them, learn to emulate their finest characteristics.

Then, too, in our wonderful times, when nations are drawn so much nearer, we can become acquainted with the intellec ­tual and spiritual nobility of all the nations. We should avoid  that excessive nationalism which sees no good in people of other nations. On the contrary, we should try to recognize in nationalities, as in individuals, the excellent qualities in which they excel. This is one reason among many why it is a fortu ­nate achievement for anyone to learn a new language. When ­ever you learn a new language, you think the thoughts of another race and acquaint yourself with new models to imi ­tate, new excellences to emulate.

Human nature, therefore, lies before you, like a beautiful garden, in which a variety of exquisite flowers delights the eye. Some are more beautiful or more fragrant than others, and through the exercise of your intelligence and your will, choos ­ing from each character its more beautiful blossoms, you can pick for yourself an exquisite bouquet of fine characteristics and make for yourself a personality that will bring color and fragrance into the lives of others.

Credit to  Edward F. Garesche, SJ &  CatholicExchange.  

 

Saintly Wisdom for Worriers

By: Judy Keane

worried man

A recent  Gallup  poll revealed  that most Americans, ages 18 to 65+, say that the U.S. economy is their greatest worry followed by the national debt crisis and sluggish job market.  While it is not surprising that economic issues are top of mind when it comes to what American’s are most worried about, I think we can also agree that, to one extent or another, we worry about many things during these challenging times.   We may worry about our relationships, retirement, our children, or our individual workplaces.   Perhaps we cling to worries of the past, or are anxious about the future? We may worry about paying the bills on time, making rent, our endless “to-do” list, health issues, and so many other things!

We can literally wear ourselves out with worry! It is now widely known that chronic and excessive worry can negatively impact the body leading to high anxiety, high blood pressure and higher risk of serious disease.   While it is unrealistic to eliminate stress and worry entirely from our lives, wouldn’t it be far more beneficial to dramatically reduce our worries and instead, like the Saints, increase our prayer and trust in God to the point of resting in his love and care for us?

Here we can confidently look to the saints and their wisdom in helping us to overcome our many worries. While there is no Church declared “patron saint of worriers”, one can certainly look to St. Padre Pio for some great advice.   In fact, the motto most often associated with Padre Pio is, “Pray, hope, and  don’t worry!” Padre Pio noted that, “Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer!” With unwavering faith in God’s providence, St. Pio never hesitated to abandon his past, present and future into God’s hands saying, “My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.”  We would be wise to imitate Padre Pio’s great faith, especially when we feel overwhelmed amid our worries and concerns.

St. Louis-Marie De Montfort also emphasizes that we focus on living in the present, placing our trust explicitly in God and Our Lady, “What God wants of you…is that you should live each day as it comes, like a bird in the trees, without worrying about tomorrow. Be at peace and trust in divine providence and the Blessed Virgin, and do not seek anything else but to please God and love Him.”

Soon to be canonized Blessed John Paul II also encourages us to find answers to our worries by spending time with Jesus in the Eucharist, “Confidently open your most intimate aspirations to the love of Christ who waits for you in the Eucharist. There you will receive the answer to all your worries and you will see with joy that the consistency of your life which he asks of you is the door to fulfill the noblest dreams of your youth.”

Passionist Founder Saint Paul of the Cross advises us, “When you notice that your heart is moving away even the tiniest bit from that inner peace that comes from the living faith-experience of the divine presence in the soul, stop and examine what the cause of this anxiety might be. Maybe it is some worry concerning your house or children, or some situation you cannot change at present. Bury it in God’s loving will.”

You may find that you are more of a “Martha” than a “Mary” when it comes to having many cares.  Like Martha, are you also “worried and upset about many things?” (Luke 10:41-42). American humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote that “worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere!”   The saints recognized this and with prayerful perseverance, abandoned their cares and entire selves to Christ, knowing that nothing happens without the Lord’s knowledge and permission.   St. Paul of the Cross knew such worrying was counterproductive saying, “Stop listening to your fears! God is your guide and your Father, Teacher, and Spouse. Abandon yourself into the divine bosom of His most holy good pleasure. Keep up your spiritual exercises and be faithful in prayer.”

So this Lent, why not pay special attention to spending less time worrying and instead make a conscience effort to prayerfully bring all of your worries to Jesus.  Such relinquishing prayer along with positive thinking and positive self-talk has the ability to transform your life.   According to physicians at Mayo Clinic, more positive thinking and less worrying can increase your life span, promote better psychological and physical well-being and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.   On a spiritual level, like the saints, let us refocus our hearts, minds and souls on our Divine Savior amid the worries and anxieties of our day, trusting that his providence and grace is sufficient for all our needs.   Once we begin the practice of bringing our cares to our Lord in prayer, the sooner we can begin to experience His peace in our lives and leave the energy zapping worry habit behind us.   It is also important to reflect back on our lives and remember how often the things we worried about never came to pass!

Let us also call to mind the actions, dispositions and words of the Saints who refused to let worry overcome them.   After all, there isn’t enough room in your mind and soul for both worry and faith — therefore you must decide which one will live there!    I close this article with a prayer for worriers like me to Saint Anthony and hope this Lent we can all worry less and pray more with the help of our friends, the Saints.

O Holy St. Anthony, your deep faith in Jesus Christ comforted your heart, especially during times of trial and distress.   Help me to grow in faith, so I may experience peace of mind and heart in my present needs (here mention).   Free me from undue anxiety, needless worry, and burdensome fears.   Grant me sure confidence; unfailing trust in God’s loving mercy and daily serenity.   Amen.  

Credit to  Judy Keane of CatholicExchange.

Your Faith and Debt

By: Judy Keane

money:rosary

The statistics are stunning.    According to a recent  Washington Post  article, the majority of Americans with 401(k)-type savings accounts are accumulating debt faster than they are setting aside money for retirement.     While the amount varies, it has also been found that the average credit card debt per U.S. household is around 3,364 (Source: Federal Reserve) along with an average mortgage debt of $149,925 per household and average student loan debts of more than $26,000.  In total, American consumers owe more than 856.9 billion in credit card debt and more than 11 trillion in debt overall.

Meanwhile, our culture and the media continue to urge us to spend beyond our means to buy even more!  As a result, we are steeped in a buy now, pay later mentality, with little thought given to financial consequences down the road.   It seems everywhere we turn; we are bombarded with ads that attack our self-esteem or body-image if we don’t purchase the latest and greatest anti-aging creams, automobiles, or outfits.   “Retail therapy” has become a popular term of our time in which we seek to spend ourselves happy.   Beyond this, there is the ongoing barrage of credit card solicitations and endless parade on online shopping sites where one can easily purchase everything from major appliances to trips abroad without even leaving our homes.

A recent survey among our youth (ages 18-34) showed that 60% said they were jealous of celebrities and other public figures whose lifestyles are glamorized by television shows such as  Rich Kids of Beverly Hills,  Real Housewives  and  Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  Of course, I don’t’ need to go into detail about our national debt which now tops more than 17 trillion dollars and continues to grow by nearly 2.5 billion a day!

Is it any wonder that so many of us find ourselves in debt?   Of course, it can’t all be blamed on external pressures.   We must look a hard look at ourselves, our spending habits, our lack of control, our priorities, and our ability to identify needs verses wants.   We know that debt leads to depression, low self-esteem, failed marriages, health problems, hopelessness, and despair.

Yet, God wants us to be debt free!   In fact, he calls us to be debt free! He wishes us to be free from the shackles of debt and the psychological ramifications it has on our minds and spirits.   Not only does he want us debt free, he in fact, wants us to prosper, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).     God also discourages us from getting into debt in the first place and warns of its dangers in Proverbs 22:7, “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender.”   This clearly states, we are in a form of bondage to our lenders until our debt is paid in full.

So what can we do in our own lives to get our debt under control or make sure we don’t go into debt again? The bible offers some solid advice to guide and direct us.   First the bible emphasizes we develop a realistic budget to make sure we can afford our purchases.   As we all know, we can easily get in over our heads financially by making even one purchase that is more than what we can afford.   The Gospel of Luke emphasizes this — “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish” (Luke 14:28-30).   In prayer then, ask God if what you want is really something you actually need.   After all, God has promised to meet our needs, but not necessarily our wants, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom  and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).   In my own life, I’ve prayed over significant purchases and have on occasion waited 24 hours to think about them.  More often than not, I’ve discovered I didn’t really “have to have” what I thought I wanted and was later glad I didn’t make the purchase after all.

Ultimately, we must gain control over ourselves when it comes to our spending habits and also teach our children to do the same.  Enlisting God’s help along with creating a budget to keep us from the temptations of overspending can go a long way in keeping out of financial hot water. Sometime a health crisis, emergency home repairs, or natural disasters cause us to go into debt through no fault of our own.     Yet, in this case, it is the same.   We must do everything we can to pay down our debt and never lose hope that God will continue to provide for us as we work our way out of our debt crisis.     We can trust that God will show us the way and offer ways to move beyond it, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (Psalms 32:8).   Most of all, we must never lose hope nor give into despair in the face of that which seems insurmountable, recognizing that the circumstances of today do not define our tomorrow’s and that God has plans for us that are so much greater.

In a culture where material possessions and status are more important than character, we must strive to keep God in the center of our hearts amid all the consumerism and temptations to over spend.   To this end, Pope Francis recently offered advice saying, “The world tells us to seek success, power and money.   God tells us to seek humility, service and love.”  We know that it took time to get into debt and it will take time to get out of it.   So if you find yourself in debt, be patient!   Have faith and don’t despair!   God is in the midst of your debt crisis and working with you as you work toward your financial freedom!

Credit to  Judy Keane of CatholicExchange.

Approaching Alcohol and the Addict

By: Jeannie Ewing

alcohol

Summer heat and sun conjure images of laidback, outdoor fun enveloped in a carefree, capricious atmosphere, and it is not uncommon to envision or expect alcohol to be a central (or at the very least, peripheral) aspect of our annual summer fun.

While alcohol in and of itself is not evil, of course, it is prudent for us to examine our use of it.   I say this, because alcohol (and now marijuana in some states) is considered alegal  substance in our American culture; therefore, most of us believe this means it is also a  safe  substance.   The truth is both alcohol and marijuana are classified as drugs, so they  must  be approached with caution and propriety.

Moderation may be a goal for some of us as we enjoy our gin and tonics or an ice-cold beer at a cookout, but for others of us, moderation is an abstract and futile goal, especially those of us who have a predisposition to alcoholism or addictions in general.   We can know this by being familiar with the disease itself: its neurological and biological origins and manifestations, the psychological aspect of compulsion, and also by acknowledging the pattern of substance abuse in our families of origin.   Finally, we need to be very self-aware and honest with ourselves if we have a tendency toward  anysort of addiction, be it an illicit or legal substance or a compulsive behavior.

I have often heard my non-Catholic friends remark that their only experience with Catholicism is the hypocrisy that one can imbibe excessively on a Friday evening with the intention of confessing the sin of drunkenness on Saturday so that s/he can still receive Communion on Sunday morning with the majority of the congregation.   My heart is instantly immersed in a deep sorrow that  this is the perception we offer to our modern culture.  

While it’s true that, as Catholics, most of us have justified our own — or someone else’s — excessive indulgence in food or drink at least occasionally, it’s only perpetuating the fallacy that we can engage in sinful behavior as long as we ease our guilty consciences with the misuse of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.   Confession must be approached with a sincere and authentic spirit of contrition and  with the intent to change.   That is what the rest of the world does not witness when we do not exemplify one who is actively engaged in ongoing, personal transformation.

Approaching substance abuse with an open and humble heart extends beyond our personal understanding to how we respond to other people who suffer from various addictions.   As I was browsing my Facebook feed recently, I noticed a video posted by a friend; curious, I began to watch it, and I quickly realized it was an exploitation of a young woman who clearly suffered from substance abuse.   Most of the comments displayed were made in jest or a mockery of her obvious addiction.

That’s the temptation most of us face, isn’t it?   We may witness the embarrassment of someone whose speech is slurred from drunkenness or, even worse, a person who has developed substance-induced psychosis due to prolonged abuse of drugs and alcohol.   We find that laughter and jokes are the cover, the façade, we carry in an attempt to conceal our discomfort or perhaps even to justify our own sins.   We tell ourselves that we are nothing like these people who are sloppy in speech and social graces, unkempt in appearance and humiliated as a direct consequence of a lifestyle choice; we put ourselves at least one tier above them, rationalizing that we, at least, have a good grip on our lives and would never lose control like that.

All of my life I have been surrounded by drugs and alcohol.   That is not to say I grew up in a sketchy neighborhood that was unsafe and riddled with overt addiction.   On the contrary, my childhood was filled with warmth, love, and security.   I grew up in a middle class family with both parents who loved my brother and me and each other.

Even so, somehow I have known, loved, and lost several people in my life to drugs and alcohol.   From family members to close friends, I have witnessed the demise and decay of good people’s bodies, hearts and souls because of substance abuse.   As a child, this (rightfully) frightened me and served as a powerful witness that I carried with me throughout high school and college.   I vowed silently and secretly to never, ever touch drugs and to be extremely cautious with alcohol.

But it wasn’t until more recently that I recognized the  pain  behind the addict and alcoholic.   The fear and trepidation of my childhood was replaced with empathy and a deep, deep sorrow.   I believe it is because I finally realized that  substance abuse is a disease,  and it can afflict virtually any of us.   It does not discriminate among socioeconomic status, age, race, or gender.   The stereotypes of addicts and alcoholics I subconsciously adopted for so many years — the dirty, homeless, toothless, jobless slobs talking to themselves on the street corners — vanished slowly and steadily over time.   I realized that good people with good hearts can develop this disease; I realized that  Icould fit the demographic of a potential alcoholic, especially since it is pandemic in my family of origin.

God unveiled my intense aversion to the addicts and alcoholics with whom I came in contact so that, in an unprecedented humility, I saw for the first time the  person,  the soul behind the disease.   I was able to separate the sickness from the dignity of the person, something I was incapable of achieving without Divine Grace.   What’s more is that I noticed that I had reacted to the addicts and alcoholics with misplaced fear.

I have come to believe that  we fear what we do not understand.    The only way we will change our perception about those who suffer from addictions of various types is to respond to them with  love  instead of  fear.    “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).   This, I believe, is the key to self-mastery and to humility: the grace we receive by opening our hearts to truth in charity, in our awareness of self and others, and in embracing the reality that  we can enjoy life with or without alcohol!

Credit to  Jeannie Ewing of CatholicExchange.

Don't Give in to Discouragement

By: Dom Hubert Van Zeller

discouragement

Psychologists tell us that one of the chief evils of our age, an evil apparently less evident in earlier ages, is that of easy defeat. Be this as it may, most people who are honest with themselves would probably have to admit to indulging in despondency. They are fortunate if they have nothing worse to confess than despondency; there are many who labor under the weight of near-despair. Whether guilty of surrendering to the tempta ­tion or whether burdened with a sense of guilt that in fact is without foundation, a man can reduce his spiritual vitality so as virtually to close his soul to the operation of hope. When hope dies, there is very little chance for faith and charity.

It is a commonplace to observe that the saints were not those who never fell, but those who never gave in to their falls. It is less generally understood that the saints felt just the same longing as we do for the excuse to go on falling. The parable of the wheat and the cockle  should show us that the saints were not only as divided against themselves interiorly as we are, but that they had to go on struggling all their lives against the de ­sire to let the cockle have its way.

A mistake we make is to think of the saints as triumphing over temptation by the felt force of ardent love. Some of them, certainly, experienced this fire, but for the most of them it has been a question of grinding out dry, hard acts of faith and hope through clenched teeth. The saints have had to fight every inch of the way against discouragement, defeatism, and even despair.

How could it be otherwise? No virtue can be productive of good unless it comes up against the evil that is its opposite. Courage is not courage until it has experienced fear: courage is not the absence of fear, but the sublimation of fear. In the same way, perseverance has to be tried by the temptation to give up, by the sense of failure, by an inability to feel the support of grace. The reason Christ fell repeatedly – one tradition would have it that He fell seven times – is at least partly be ­cause we fall repeatedly and have need of His example in re ­covering from our falls. The difference between His falls and ours is that, whereas His were because of weakness of the body, ours are because of weakness of the will. The likeness between His and ours lies simply in the use that can be made of them.

Even if we do not reproduce the Passion in any other re ­spect, we have the chance of reproducing it in perseverance under exhaustion. If, as we have seen, the Passion is con ­stantly being renewed in the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, there must always be some aspect of Christ’s suffering to which our own personal sufferings can show an affinity. If we are bearing witness to the same truth, opposing the same evil, moving in the same direction, then the same means must be used by us as those that were used by Christ – namely, patience and endurance in the all-but-defeating experience of life. The effort that we make to regain the position lost by ei ­ther circumstances or sin will reflect the effort made by Christ to return to the interrupted work of cross-bearing. Nothing of our experience need be wasted, not even our sinfulness.

So it would seem that the truly Christian man transcends discouragement only by accepting it. No man can pass beyond an obstacle except by facing it and rising above it. To go around an obstacle is not to overcome it, but to evade it. Circumven ­tion may be all right when we are traveling along a road, but it will not do when we are advancing toward God by the way of the Cross.

This article is from Dom van Zeller’s book, available from Sophia Institute Press

Of the three answers that are given to the problem of pain, it is only the Christian answer that is found to provide any lasting conviction. The Stoic approach, stifling complaint, can carry a man to heroism of a sort, but it does not supply him with a philosophy; it does not point to anything beyond a nat ­ural nobility to be developed in physical endurance.

Then comes the Christian ideal, which has nothing to do with negation and emptiness. Here is the invitation to take up the Cross; here is St. Paul preaching Christ crucified and glorying in nothing save in the Cross of Christ; here are the Apostles going about glad to be accounted worthy to suffer for Christ.  In the Christian dispensation, happiness and sanctity are found in accepting the Cross with Christ, bearing the Cross with Christ, falling under the Cross with Christ, getting up under the Cross with Christ, and going on in the knowl ­edge that this is Christ’s cross-discouragement.

A man cannot deny his discouragement any more than he can deny his existence. It is part of his existence. All he can do is deny himself the luxury of discouragement; he can mortify his tendency to self-pity. By becoming Christ-centered instead of self-centered, a man re-orientates his perceptions so as no longer to see discouragement by the light of the world, or in its purely human context, but by the light of grace and in the setting of the Passion. If Christians lived out their lives in relation to the Passion – if their wills remained in proper harmony with God’s will – they would be incapable of expe ­riencing more than the first stab of disappointment and would suffer only such pains as creation necessarily imposes. There would be no settled mood of disillusion, no dispirited pursuit of the second best, no trailing of despaired purposes, no ac ­cepted exhaustions and wastes.

But because most people live in a lamentably distant relationship to Christ’s Passion, inevitably there must result a lingering malaise in their lives that drains away their irreplaceable resources. Failing to see their place in the suffering Body of Christ, they remain blind to the significance of their discouragements.

What, after all, are the grounds for human discouragement but experience of inadequacy and loss? A man is discouraged either because he looks back at the past and sees a sequence of misfortunes that has shaped for him a mold of failure, or be ­cause he looks into the future and can see no security, happi ­ness, or prospects of success. His experience of life has given him these findings, so he feels, understandably, that life is insupportable.

But if he knew more of Christ, he would know that he had misinterpreted his experience, and that life is not at all insup ­portable. He would neither shy away from the thought of the past, nor stand dismayed by the thought of the future. The im ­mediate present would not daunt him either: he would know that it could be related, together with the failures that have been and the horrors that are in store, to the Passion.

This is not to say that deliverance from disillusion, discouragement, and despair can be effected by a mere trick of the mind – the knack of referring our desolations automatically to God – but that, in the gradual and painful conversion of the soul from self-centeredness to God-centeredness, there will be a growing tendency toward confidence. No longer brought low by the sight of so much evil in ourselves, in oth ­ers, and in the world, we rise by the slow deepening of detach ­ment to the sight of a possible good in ourselves, in others, and in the world. The vision extends to a probable good, and then to a certain good. Together with this widening of a horizon, which reveals the positive where before only the negative was expected, goes the knowledge that the only good is God’s good, and that it exists on earth – as those who receive the Word made flesh exist on earth – not of the will of man, but of God.

In the measure that we allow our desolations to be transfig ­ured by grace, so that they become part of Christ’s desolation, do we bring at the most significant level comfort to others who are desolate. “If you wish men to weep,” says Horace, “you must first weep yourself”:  if we weep for the right reason, we shall prevent others from weeping for the wrong one. If we unite our sorrows with those of Christ, we not only sanctify our own souls, raising them above the discouragements of life, but also come to act as channels of grace to the souls of those for whom, like us, Christ fell and started up again on His way to Calvary.

Credit to  Dom Hubert Van Zeller of CatholicExchange.  

The Pope, the Sinner, and Me

By: Dr. Greg Bottaro

cathedral

This is not a response to the media distortions of the recent interview with Pope Francis.  I’d rather focus on what Pope Francis actually is saying to me as one of his flock, and admit that maybe there is something here to personally grow from. Second of all, this article is not advocating or in any way considering a “change of church teaching.” If that’s what some readers take away from it, I’d ask them to please read it over.

This has been on my heart to write about for a while, but I must admit, I’ve been a coward. As a Catholic and as a psychologist, I want to add in my two cents to the conversation on homosexuality. This might be one of the single most divisive issues of our immediate time. I have been a coward up until now because this topic is a minefield, and I’m scared of bombs. I say up until now because our Pope has given me an offer I can’t refuse. In his recent interview, Pope Francis gave an example of courage and unyielding tenacity for truth, beauty, and goodness that sparked something in me.

Religion has become for some — myself included — an opportunity for mediocrity in following Jesus. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has been this way for thousands of years. Jesus certainly spoke out pretty vehemently against this sort of mediocrity in his time, and now the Vicar of Jesus is speaking against it now. By mediocrity, I mean to say that religion gives us categories to snugly place ourselves into. It gives us a moral system to fall back on that distinguishes “us” from “them.”  Well, for all of us comfortable Christians in the world, Pope Francis just punched us in the gut and knocked the stale air out of our moldy lungs.

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.  The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

Despite some “spiritual” traditions, trends, and movements, the Church is not to be primarily a megaphone on the street corner calling out peoples’ sins. Likewise, members of the Church, the body of Christ, are not to have these megaphones blaring out from our hearts. Mediocrity is a mentality of  “us vs. them,” those of us behind the megaphone, and those that are on the other side of it. Pope Francis is telling us that we can’t let church become for us a system of dividing “us” from “them.” What then, is he saying the bosom of the universal church is to be?

“Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis outlines pretty clearly the mission of the Church.  We must make a proposition of Jesus to the world.  We must propose Love.  “From this proposition the moral consequences then flow.”

Pope Francis calls on an image that is extremely important in his interview — the road to Emmaus.  What happened at first on the road to Emmaus?  The two walking with Jesus did not recognize him.  They were the “them.”  Did Jesus chastise them, saying, “Idiots, don’t you know who I am?”  “Dirty scum, how are you so blind?”  No.  He walks with them. He speaks with them, as one of them.  They don’t feel the need to form coalitions and march in parades to find some form of validation.  He validates them. He builds friendship with them and leads them into a true encounter with himself,after  which “their hearts burned.”

As a society, we have been so wrong about homosexuals.  As a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I can also say that the majority of “faithful” Catholics I have ever known have also been so wrong about homosexuals.  I have a question to ask to make my point.  As you sit with the discomfort this article may be causing, ask yourself this question:

How does your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who identify as homosexual compare to your attitude, belief, and demeanor toward men and women who engage in some other mortal sin such as contraception?

How about masturbation?

How about drunkenness?

Let that sink in a bit. How do you treat the person?

I’d especially like to elaborate on this last issue of drunkenness. It astounds me how many Catholic circles consider drunkenness, at least implicitly, as acceptable.  Have we not heard Galatians 5:21 before?  “Envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that  those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Wow. So it’s ok to get together and drink a few too many with our friends, but being homosexual is the supreme debauchery?

I am not advocating puritanical teetotaling. I enjoy my scotch or wine at the appropriate time.  Sometimes it is even me who has too many with my friends and I have to hand the keys over to my wife for the ride home. Yes, I am a sinner. Not in the garment rending, abstract, and safely generalized way, but I commit very specific sins. Somehow there is an appallingly strange mercy for me.  If we are to love with the love of Jesus, if we are to be Jesus as members of his body, his Church, we will love men and women who experience, and even act out on, homosexual desires the way we love ourselves or our friends when we know the types of sins we commit.

Now as a follow-up question, if you haven’t thought this already (and kudos if you have), let me ask: Did you realize my first question asked about the sinfulness of those “who identify as homosexual”?  Is homosexuality a sin? No, it is not.

First of all, if you do happen to know a person is committing mortal sins such as acting out on their homosexual desires, why in the world is it ok to treat him or her any differently than anyone else you happen to know committing mortal sin, including yourself?

Second of all, homosexuality in itself is not a sin. When you meet someone who is homosexual, you very well might be in the presence of a saint. If someone is living chastely with homosexual desires, he or she is living heroic virtue. Homosexuality is a cross that no heterosexual will ever understand. It is a life called to celibacy without the luxury of discernment. It is potentially the most extreme example of “chastity for the kingdom” that I can imagine. Do you happen to know the interior life of every homosexual?

If they look deep enough, many Catholics might be ashamed of their disposition of heart towards homosexuals. I know I am. Sure, I knew how to say that I “Loved the sinner, hated the sin.”  But Pope Francis seems to think such words aren’t enough.

If I’m the only Catholic who had these feelings, so be it. Here I am confessing my sin to the world. As Pope Francis said, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Credit to Dr. Greg Bottaro of CatholicExchange.

 

The Gift of Christian Death?

By: Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P.

grieving

There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.

–  Fr. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (1948 — 2013)

What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest?  Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide  exactly  when and how it happens!  Of course the avoidance of death is not limited to the modern condition. In his famous study,  The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes of its universal quality:

The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity — activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny for man.

Surely Fr. Oakes must be morbidly misinformed or manifestly mistaken, mustn’t he?

Well no, actually, although a distinction is desirable. It is not any old death that is the greatest gift, but a  Christian  death, a death given by God, which is the greatest gift. Why? Because in a Christian death one does not die alone; one dies  with Christ. The  Catechism  puts it succinctly: “To rise with Christ, we must die with Christ” (1005). To be united with Christ fully, one must be united with him in his death, and therefore in our own deaths. Death has a new dimension, a new character, thanks to Christ’s death. The  Catechism  goes on to quote St. Paul in this new definition of death:

Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).“The saying is sure: if we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Tm 2:11). What is essentially new about Christian death is this: through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and if we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act. (1010)

This summer I have had the privilege of spending a month with the  Dominican Sisters at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, NY. The sisters here, part of a congregation founded by Rose Hawthorne (Mother Mary Alphonsa), the daughter of American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, work day and night to assist cancer patients in just such a “dying with Christ.” Unlike many hospices that offer a kind of  palliative  care that involves the refusal of suffering and the denial of death, the sisters here offer truly  passionate  care: the suffering-with of compassion and the acceptance of death with Christ through his passion.

Death is not covered up or ignored at Hawthorne; patients are here to die well, to die with and in Christ. It is an incredible grace and truly a gift to die with the sisters; I can attest to this because of my experiences with both patients and their families. As one family member said: “This place is the closest thing to heaven on earth.” Those gifted enough to come to Rosary Hill are taught to die well, to die with Christ, to die with love and grace. Truly what a gift!

Unfortunately, not everyone can die in the care of the Hawthorne Dominicans (Young ladies, you can change this:  vocations). And yet we all face death, the final enemy and proper punishment for our sins. Thankfully, like the patients at Rosary Hill, the Church has not left us alone in this serious task of dying well; she gives us daily numerous ways of preparing well.  One way is to ask for a holy death every time we see a crucifix in our house (You don’t have one? Why not?) or Church. There are also excellent works dedicated to living well by thinking about dying well, both traditional (Dominican  and  Jesuit) as well as  contemporary  (written by a friend of mine). And of course we pray for such a holy death, through the intercession of Mary, at least fifty times a day in the rosary (You don’t pray the rosary every day? Really?). The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of death (CCC  1114). After all, if this life is to be a  sequela Christi, a following of Christ, one must follow him to death and through death. Christ’s call to each disciple “to deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Lk 9:23) finds new meaning and resonance in this daily reflection and preparation for death.

To die with Christ is truly a gift, a gift that may be the greatest because it is the way to unite ourselves with Christ. Christ offers us the gift of his death and we offer ourselves united to him through our own deaths as our final thanksgiving for all he has done. While not all of us will have the gift of dying with the Hawthorne Dominicans, we can all experience a hint of their charism with the help of the Church. And of course our death is not the final word, for the gift of death contains also the gift of the resurrection.

Credit to Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P. of CatholicExchange.

 

Social Media Makes Us Ruder

By: Tamara Rajakariar

facebook friend

Have you ever argued with a friend  on Facebook? Blocked or deleted them after a virtual agreement? Well, it turns out that you’re not alone. It’s actually a thing!

It doesn’t surprise me at all that relationships — whether with friends, family, lovers — have been ruined thanks to social media. According to a  recent article, 78% of people surveyed have reported increased rudeness online, and most have no qualms at all about forgetting their manners in the online sphere.

Yes, online media connects people, but it is also fosters people who are less thoughtful.  Think about it; it’s much easier to express an unpopular opinion or mean comment over the internet than to a person’s face.  That disconnect of not being in front of them means we often end up treating them with less dignity than they deserve.


I think this is what happens:
 social media makes people a bit like objects, and therefore easier for us to disregard. Bear with me! For example, take the action of adding and deleting friends. Isn’t it almost object-like, how we can “gain” and “discard” friends with the click of a mouse?

There’s also the problem of gossip. Rumour and scandal is facilitated, because we have so much access to information about people we might hardly know. This makes it so much easier to be critical and judge them.

People on our social media accounts can also become a form of entertainment. They are like objects for my viewing and analysing as I please, instead of an actual person. I see this especially with the style blogs I like to look at. While most would never walk up to a girl in the street and tell her that her shoes are disgusting, on Instagram this is exactly they’ll say. And there are no apparent consequences.

You could be thinking — who cares? Why does it matter if at all? I’ll tell you why it’s scary. I did a class on genocide back in university, and every case we studied began with the victim group being constantly degraded to animal status, so that it didn’t feel so bad to kill them. Jews in World War II were often called rats, and in the Rwandan genocide the Tutsis were referred to as cockroaches. This rhetoric made their abuse acceptable, as it demoted them from human level. And to some degree, the fact that we interact with others like objects in social media, could be why we are getting ruder online.

Anyone who’s read my past posts must think I am completely anti social media. Well I’m not, believe it or not. But I do think that it’s developing and changing so fast that often ethical modes of behaviour don’t have time to catch up. As a result we should be constantly on the alert, and have a healthy criticism of the technology we use.

As for what to do to stop being impolite on social media — I think the first step would be to actually make an effort to see the important people in your life, so that your friendship doesn’t only exist in a virtual space. And perhaps we should try to spend less time on social media, so we can move away from entertaining ourselves with the lives of others.

Credit to Tamara Rajakariar of CatholicExchange.

 

How Faith Conquers Worry

By: Dr. Greg Bottaro

 

candles in church

Pope Francis’s  encyclical on faith  may seem like old news compared to the headlines he’s made since he released it. There is probably enough material in that one little document to keep me writing for the rest of the year though, and I think it deserves much more attention than its been given. Obviously I read it with my psychology lenses on, which is only one perspective.

The introduction to the encyclical reminds us that Christ says, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” It is this distinction between the light and the dark that I want to elaborate on.

What we first have to realize is that Christ entered a dark world. What was this darkness? What does Christ give us that we don’t otherwise have? What is the darkness that exists as fear in the deepest crevices of the human heart?  Eternal loneliness and misery.  Actually eternity itself is pretty scary. Humans exist in time, which means that the human brain is capable of processing reality from moment to moment. Einstein figured out that our concept of time is not actually objective. There are theories about overlapping time, and somehow if you travel faster than the speed of light, when you get back you haven’t experienced the same amount of time as everyone you left behind. That will really blow your mind if you spend too much time on it. The point here though is that we process time in a certain way. In a sense, our brains create time.

Actually our brains create a lot of things, and they also figure out a lot of things that already exist. Science is a process of trying to figure out what already exists. But again since we humans exist in time, it takes time to figure stuff out. Most scientists pretend that we already know everything, or at least they know everything. The best scientists are the ones who realize there is more we don’t know than what we actually do know. Why do some pretend to know everything? Because time is scary! The fact that time unfolds, and the development of thought and truth progresses means that we do not have all the answers right now.

When studying some peripheral reality, like the meaning of whale noises, it might be acceptable to say, “we aren’t totally positive what this means yet. Further study may reveal the full truth to us.” What about when the study becomes more personal? What about when the question is “what will happen to me?” When we are uncertain of our own future, we tend to get scared.

This means we are actually not in control! This means we might be powerless against something or someone that we don’t even know about yet. It’s scary to not be in control, to live in time where things can change from moment to moment. What we take for granted now might be gone tomorrow. We have no idea what will happen tomorrow.

We are made of both body and soul. The body part of us exists in time, and only knows things from this perspective. The soul part, though, is connected to a reality outside of time. It is the part of us that knows only part of us is processing things in time. The soul is the part of us that can anticipate what will happen in the  future, AFTER this moment. Our souls can anticipate a whole lifetime ahead of time, and then ask the question, “what happens after we die?” (This is not to say the body and soul are separate, but with our soul we have the unique ability to ascend to the level of the eternal realities that make up the objective world- wait that’s too much philosophy.)

So our bodies are stuck in a moment-to-moment reality and we can only really know for 100% sure what is happening right now, but our souls know there is a point when that will run out. WHAT?!? What was God thinking making us this way? How are we supposed to NOT freak out when we think about the fact that we have no idea what will happen to us in the long run?

There are three basic ways of dealing with this reality. One is to pretend like it doesn’t matter. To ignore the heart’s questions and pretend like all that matters is what’s happening right now. “Carpe Diem!” and sometimes, “c’est la vie” sum up this hippie type of attitude. You can only ignore the nagging questions from the heart or cover them over with distractions for so long. Some people pretend to know what happens based on rational thought. “We turn into dust. There is no soul. Heaven is an illusion.” Really? How do you know for sure? I’d like to see the double blind study that produced those valid statistically significant results. My rational mind won’t let me believe in that kind of idiotic faith in bad science. The third option is real faith.

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

Christ is the answer to our anxiety. He comes to tell us that all will be well. He is the light for those who believe in him. There are no guarantees here. God doesn’t just wave a magic wand and make everyone happy. There is a huge response on our part that needs to happen — belief. This is faith, to believe in God’s answer to our incessant questioning. He never claimed to answer the specifics of the day to day — how something will turn out, or especially why anything happens the way it does. He only came to tell us that if we believe in him, all will be well for us. Even though our minds can’t figure out how everything is going to happen all at once and hold it in awareness right now, we don’t need to. If we believe in him, all we need is to trust that however it unfolds, it is going to be ok.

Another simple way to think about it is this: God is the all-powerful creator and king of the universe. He is also a father who is madly in love with his children. If your dad was the all-powerful king of the universe, and you knew he loved you, would you ever be worried about anything? He is, and he does.

Credit to Greg Bottaro of CatholicExchange.