Sunday, July 19, 2015

Our armchair trip to heaven

Every summer, when it begins to really get hot, I get the same question: "Why can't we just turn on the air conditioner?"  (First of all, "Why can't we" questions are always the wrong question...we should always ask, "Should we?" instead...)

No matter how many times I answer this question, the answer never sticks.

It is a good reminder of how like our forefather Adam we are: “but why can’t we eat the fruit of that tree?  It sure looks good!”  How little coaxing we need to cast off what God gives us for our good, in favor of what we think seems better.

Perhaps in the Garden the weather was always fair, but since the expulsion, God willed that the seasons should have their turn – cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  And who are we to place our own self-indulgent comfort above His Will?  From the dawn of time until fairly recently, only the most wealthy, powerful and self-indulgent could have more than the most rudimentary heat or the benefit of servants to cool them with fans.  Yet we pity ourselves in the extreme to have to share the lot of the rest of humanity.  We will have our artificial environment, since it is (in our own minds) superior to the one God created.  We will have our comfort above all.

And comfort – well, we all need some emotional or spiritual comfort now and again – but when has physical comfort ever benefited our souls?  What does love of comfort bring but the inability to do without – resulting sooner or later in the loss of our discernment of what is truly important, should it come in the way of what is for our comfort?  Like tender seedlings exposed to the wind and sun, we perish when things get hard.  Only by privation do we learn to account the true value of things...sunshine after rain, rain after a drought, spring after winter.  Shall we attain to any sort of spiritual advancement if we artificially circumvent this plan of God to teach us of his goodness, and instead seek to make our lives perpetually sunny and 68 degrees?  What foolishness is this!

Look at our God!  Beaten and bruised, bleeding and torn, gasping out his last, nailed to a cross – all for love of us.  To show us that if we would follow him, we too must leave behind what is important to us – family, respect, money, comfort – and take up our cross and follow.  If we cannot do without comfort, shall we, like the rich young man, go away sad, who came so close to attaining heaven by his acts, but could not give up the pleasures to which he was accustomed?  Shall we trade our birthright for a mess of potage like Esau?  Shall we choose comfort now, and be cast into fire later?

No! The choice of the cross is the only hope we have avoiding the fire that is prepared for the lukewarm:

"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert cold, or hot.  But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.  Because thou sayest: I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing: and knowest not, that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.  I counsel thee to buy of me gold fire tried, that thou mayest be made rich; and mayest be clothed in white garments, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear; and anoint thy eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.  Such as I love, I rebuke and chastise. Be zealous therefore, and do penance." (Apoc. 3:15-19.)

How much better to accept God’s will in all things, and like St. Lawrence, joke about being roasted alive?  What was his reward?  And how shall ours be different if we can manage to suffer willingly even the small discomforts the seasons bring, for His sake?

For broad – and supremely comfortable – is the path that leads to destruction. And if you are never uncomfortable, perhaps you should be asking yourselves if you are on the right path to your destination.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rape, Shame and Responsibility

As I finished reading it and started wading through the comboxes, it occurs to me that there’s a huge piece missing from this puzzle, and it’s one that no one seems to want to talk about.  They’ll talk around it; they’ll come so close to talking about it that you’re sure someone, somewhere, will say something.  But we have the same elephant-in-the-room syndrome about so many things in our culture, and this is one of the biggest.

You see, we’re all about freedom.  Ask anyone nowadays: freedom is about being able to do what you want, whether it involves having guns or having abortions.  No one can tell us what to do.  We make our own decisions, and any impingement on this unquestionable right is shouted down as misogynistic, unfair or—gasp!—unconstitutional.  But at the end of the day, no one ever wants to talk about the responsibility that comes with freedom.  The quality of our freedom is inextricably linked with our collective responsibility toward each other, and if our freedoms are eroding, it’s due less to power-grabbing politicians and due more to our own unwillingness to see past the end of our noses.

A very good example of this chest-pounding can be found in the recent furore over our endangered second amendment.  Since I’m generally found on the “conservative” side of most issues (wherever that is; it seems to be a moving target…), I’ve been told over and over lately that I should be stocking up on guns.  Now, I believe there is an important reason why we have the second amendment, but I won’t be buying any guns any time soon, not only because I don’t hunt, but because I have children who are young enough, moody enough, and foolish enough that they just might use them to harm someone.  As a parent, it is my job to be wise where my children cannot.  And that means no guns for me.

Now, most people would applaud my reasoning there, but when we apply the same thinking to other sacred cow “rights”, things start to get messy.
There are a lot of people out there who see abortion as a “right”.  To curtail such a right—to force a woman to bear a child that she doesn’t want—is tantamount to tyranny in the eyes of many people nowadays.  But just like those who are convinced I should buy guns, we’re ignoring a very important part of this decision.  First of all, no one ever talks about what happens after abortion.  There are women out there who still are not whole and are living with the consequences of what seemed like an easy, obvious decision.  But above and beyond the aftermath, no one ever, ever talks about what happens before an abortion.  And now we get to the real stuff, and we also come full circle to the topic of rape.

No one with half a brain goes and buys a $20,000 pearl necklace and then carries it around on their keychain.  No one with half a brain buys a $2000 laptop with all the bells and whistles and leaves it on a table at the library while they go to the bathroom. No one except those with a death wish go dancing around at the edge of a cliff.  And surely no one in their right mind would force their precious teenage daughters to wear provocative clothes and stiletto heels and go out drinking and carousing with young men every weekend. Wait.  They do that voluntarily.  And we let them.  Yes, we let them.

Because to do otherwise is nearly impossible.  Everyone else is doing it, so even if you’re as strict as my parents were, you’re just throwing gasoline on the fire.  Everyone with teenagers knows that we are practically powerless against this sex-crazed culture.

But then the worst happens: a girl is impregnated, or in this case, raped.  And then we cry as we pay the piper.  Articles are written about how unfair it is to the men: after all, they can’t help it, they have hormones and urges and stuff, and she was dressed like a streetwalker and so drunk that she passed out.  And articles like the one I linked to are written, saying, “Shame on you, rape is never OK.”  And they’re both right, and they’re both blind.  Because the time to do something about it was before your precious daughter ever left the house dressed like a streetwalker.

When will we stop expecting to be able to get away with murder?  How is it that we hold the value of our sexuality to be so low that we give it away for free every chance we get, but then suddenly feel its cost when it is taken from us forcibly?  We would call the owner of the pearls on a keychain an idiot for whining that they were ruined; we would think the owner of the stolen laptop stark raving mad—surely everyone knows better than to leave such things unattended in a public place!  And we’d have the cliff dancer committed before he does himself serious harm.  But we have to bite our tongues till they bleed when we see twelve-year-olds wearing bikinis, because apparently these girls are not valuable enough to be cared for as though they were priceless pearls, and their fragile innocence is not a crucial enough asset until it’s lost.  It’s easy to vilify those who prey on low-hanging fruit, but meanwhile we never wisen up.  Rapists and murderers and thieves deserve punishment because they have loved evil.  But what punishment have we deserved, who enabled them?  Why do we cast our pearls before swine?  As a parent, it is my job to be wise where my children cannot.  And if we pretend that sex isn’t dangerous, and keep dancing closer and closer to the edge of the cliff, we shouldn’t be surprised when gravity happens.

Now that I’ve cried “Pink Elephant!” I’m sure I’ll be accused of such things as wanting all women to wear burquas and stay home and do needlework or something.  Surely, to go against the grain on something like this means I must intend to imprison my daughters in an ivory tower and doom them to arranged marriages.  Nothing could be further from my mind, though I would say that I’d rather keep them cooped up at home than risk pimping them to every male caller.  What is my answer, then?
Well, first and foremost, I walk the walk.  I dress modestly, and I make a big deal out of it.  I let them see me fuss about making sure my shoulders are covered and my knees are covered.  Not because shoulders and knees are unbearably sexy, but because it’s a line in the sand.  Because if there’s nothing unreasonable about being reasonably covered up, they’re going to feel seriously naked in a bikini, as well they should.  

Second: I don’t wear makeup.  Many will argue with this one, saying that they need it, or that I’m just lucky that I don’t, but at the end of the day, what is makeup really for?  My answer starts and ends with the Italian word for makeup: trucca.  Trickery.  Ask yourself honestly: what do we gain by tricking people into thinking we look different than we do?  Enough said.  

Third: I wear dresses instead of pants.  Not because there’s something inherently sinful about bifurcated garments, but because I’m a woman, not a hermaphrodite, and my clothing expresses my femininity.  Why be plain old leaves when you can be a flower?  Yes, it takes effort to get up in the morning and put on all the necessaries that go with wearing dresses, when it would be so much simpler and easier (and sometimes warmer!) to wear jeans.  But anyone can wear jeans.  And I’m not just anyone.

But while I’m doing all those things, I don’t just neglect my appearance.  I do my best, within these limits, and without unnecessary fuss, to show that I can be attractive, happy, and fulfilled by staying within these boundaries.  Because when I do, the real person that I am shows through, and I make sure that my daughters can see that.

Fourth, while they’re still young and not boy-crazy, I am building a relationship of trust with them.  I want them to know that there is no question they may have, no temptation they may experience that I haven’t wondered or experienced too when I was their age.  I have rules, yes.  And I am careful to ensure that they understand them; that they see I am doing my best, with what wisdom I have, to spare them from making the kind of mistakes they will regret most.  Because I’m all about natural consequences in lots of situations, but not this one.  

And I this is what I tell them—unready as they are—about sex:

  1.  God made Eve for Adam, so that they would find their happiness in each other, and that their love would bear fruit.
  2. God made men to have a very strong longing for women; even stronger than your dislike of boys right now.  Because of this, young men, who are not yet wise, may want to persuade you to be with them in the way that a man and wife are together.  They will try to make it seem like it’s no big deal.  But you have to ask yourself: what did God intend?  That a man and his wife should find their happiness in each other, and their love should bear fruit.  If you’re not ready for what God intended, you have to be the one who is wise.  And I’m totally prepared to be the bad guy if it helps.  Tell them what a mean, strict mom you have.  I’m so OK with that.
  3. Men experience women with their senses, especially with their eyes, and they like our bodies very much.  This is natural, and it is what God intended.  But we teach them how to treat us by how we treat ourselves.  If you are carrying a basket of eggs, you would be wise to walk carefully and not swing the basket around.  Likewise, if you want a young man to know that you are worth a million, you will not be immodest in the way you dress or behave.  Otherwise, you will be sure to attract a man who likes immodest women, instead of a man who loves you for who you are.

These things seem so stupidly simple because they are.  But ours is a fallen nature and we struggle with the stupid stuff the most.  So it doesn’t hurt to remind them of these things as often as possible (without driving them nuts, of course…).

And yes, it’s easy for me to say all these things because my daughters are still prepubescent.  No doubt I’ll find the holes in this boat once it hits the water.  And while I know what course I would set for them, at some point, they must be captain of their own ship.  Perhaps heartbreak will be inevitable no matter what I do, but pessimism will not stop me from showing them all the pitfalls along the way.  And if they end up on the shoals, at least it won’t be because they didn’t know they were there.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ours is a God of Exquisite Suffering..

If this is truly our God, how can we possibly expect to glide into heaven in an easy chair?

This is our God.  Look at His eyes, lifted up in agony, in fear, and yet in trust. 

God can do anything.  He could have saved us all with but a word.  But this is how He chose to do it, because His ways are more perfect than ours.  He chose to suffer the most painful, ignominious death possible.  Why?  Because he wasn't only trying to save us, he wanted to teach us what real love is all about.

Real love makes us put our selves last and do anything--even the impossible--for the one we love.  True love always involves at least a little bit of suffering.

In our age of addiction to self-entertainment and instant gratification, what hope have we of learning this lesson?

How can we say no to sin if we can't say no to our selves?

If we would save ourselves, we must cultivate at least a little bit of real suffering in the garden of our souls.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

How awe inspiring.

Who could have guessed that the Olympic Opening would be an hours-long ceremony glorifying the descent from a respectable agrarian society that glorified the arts into a chaotic, party-driven culture that worships the whim of the individual!

We started with with love and beauty, nature and art.  If not God, then at least a benign, patristic hierarchy was an unstated constant.  Shakespeare's poetry was surely the natural literary expression for this golden age of history.

But like ants marching, the masses descended and transformed the idyll into a barren wasteland of progress at any cost.  (Where were the poor, dropping like flies from the ravages of starvation and disease?  And despite being dressed in Dickensian costume, neither Austen nor Dickens nor any other literary giant was quoted...)  Like demigods the ruthless advocates of progress strutted around the stage: it is the age of men.

Ah, but now finally the sick show up in their hospital beds, tended by the swing dancing nurses of the National Health Service!  And literature is back, but we've skipped over generations of pith and moment to Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and...Harry Potter???  And speaking of giant menacing monsters (and in keeping with the theme of socialized medicine) it's the nannies (or the Nanny State?) that rule the day, scattering the baddies and putting the naughty poppets back to bed.

Ah, but the poppets get their revenge!  Party time means hookup time and as the music gets less and less musical, the costumes and dance moves less and less decent, suddenly "boy meets girl" jets right past shy hellos straight into tongue hockey!  Art is replaced by noise, beauty by whoredom, nature by electronic binkies and love by sex.  What else could we expect?  It's now the children who are in charge.

This is our glorification of progress.  This is the pinnacle of our society.  God, parents, order and all authority have been eschewed...for this???  What, can anyone tell me, will be the fearful fruit of this despicable tree?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How do we define poverty?

This morning I read a post on National Review Online deploring the fact that the demographically poor are not living in third world conditions.

Now I'm the type who politically leans toward the National Review type, and some of you may have read a post I wrote a few years back about something quite similar, but something about the tone of this piece really bugged me.

I fail to see the point that Ken McIntyre is trying to make here. It would seem to me that he is trying to say that if you are living in poverty, you should also be living in squalor? If you follow his thinking to its logical conclusion, what it suggests is not pretty.

I mean, really? I can see complaining about the poor choices that people in poverty often make--one of my pet peeves has always been seeing the "poor" wearing the latest fashions in clothes, shoes (and jewelry!) each costing more than my mortgage payment. Now that's something to complain about.

But begrudging them television? A modern refrigerator and cooking appliances? Do we really need to have the poor starving, living in overcrowded, unsanitary tenements, or hovels with dirt floors, in order for them to "count" as poor? Shall we pine for the days of cholera and tuberculosis too? That's a bit Dickensian, don't you think?

True, third world poverty is utterly heartbreaking, but one can be living in the first world, among the most basic of first world comforts, and still be eking a living on such small means as to be worthy of compassion.

Let's get down to the real reason why "poor" people have more stuff than we think they "ought" to: the absolutely insane, pie-in-the-sky credit atmosphere that has prevailed in this country for decades, and continues despite the attempts of reality to crash down and bring us to our senses. We have ALL charged our way into a pretty mess, and debt ceiling or no debt ceiling, gravity is a force that must be reckoned with sooner or later.

The entitlement mentality exists at some level in EVERY household in this land, poor and rich, welfare and non welfare. As long as we can buy it on credit, we're entitled to it, whether it's as small as an Xbox or as big as a PhD. How many of you can imagine living without air conditioning? (I do all the time, by choice.) If we weren't ALL conditioned toward instant gratification of our every desire by years of easy credit, we wouldn't be in this mess. For us to get indignant that the poor should be using whatever money they can get their hands on--welfare or not--to imitate the spending habits of the rest of us is a bit obtuse, isn't it?

If you object to the state of the welfare system, I'm with you. It's disgusting. But then complain about the welfare system. Complain about the homeless panhandler who spends every cent on booze. Complain about the abuse of the system that comes with any sort of handout--including the handouts that come with an interest rate. But don't whip out your Ipad or your Blackberry or your new laptop to dogpile those who suffer the same gadget envy you have.

And then start by cutting up all of your credit cards, pay off your loans and actually live on your means. Then you'll have something to really complain about, because let me tell you, that's a whole new world.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

You are what you eat...

...the number one reason for receiving our Lord in the holy Eucharist as often as possible.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Love trumps Fear

As sinners, it is easy for us to get hung up on the seriousness of sin and the necessity of penance--and to let our own unworthiness become a barrier between ourselves and God.

But what we too often fail to grasp is the warmth and immensity of God's love for us. Jesus himself tried to explain this to us in the parable of the Prodigal son. Our Father in heaven positively burns with unquenchable love for each and every one of us. He waits and yearns for us to come to Him so that He can once more throw His arms around us and welcome us home with tears of joy.

Fear of the Lord is...good...but what He really prefers is love. When we truly love someone, we will do anything at all for them--not because we feel it is our duty, but because we really, really want to.

With this in mind, a trip to the confessional becomes less of a chore and more of an opportunity to experience heaven's embrace. Likewise, an hour spent with the Blessed Sacrament is like a visit with our best friend. And the thought of receiving our Lord in the Eucharist ought to inflame us with longing!

During this Lent, seek to cultivate this love for our Lord, and experience the change it can make in your life.