Category Archives: Virtue

Oct 11 – Bl James of Ulm (Jacob Grissinger/ Griesinger), OP, (1407-1491) – The Art of Obedience

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-paper mache’ covering the remains of Bl James, Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna, Italy.

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-by Br James Wallace, OP, born in New York, James became a Catholic after college, where he earned a degree in applied math.

“I will honor those who honor Me.” – 1 Samuel 2:30

“What would you do? You’ve been working on a project for hours. The end is in sight, and you’ve done well. This might be some of your best work. All that’s left to do is to watch carefully over the final process—a slight error in timing might ruin everything. Suddenly, someone enters the room and tells you that you’re needed elsewhere immediately.

A thousand protests come to mind. Does it have to be right now? Is it really so urgent? Couldn’t it wait for just an hour? Am I the only one who could do this? Who is it that needs me?

It was in a situation just like this that Blessed James of Ulm found himself one day. But he didn’t make any of those protests. The order had come from his superior, and somehow James knew there was nothing to be done but to obey. He immediately left his stained glass window—a labor of love that he had spent days preparing—in the furnace to be ruined. And he went out to beg for his community, as his superior had ordered.

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Someone once said that you can know the depth of a man’s love by how much he is willing to suffer for the beloved. Blessed James’ act of obedience wasn’t a bitter and constrained act, but we can imagine how painful it was for him. This gives us some insight into the depth of his love for his brothers and for God. Today, people have mostly forgotten the windows which James made over 500 years ago, but they remember this story of his love and obedience.

James was used to following orders. He had served for years as a soldier, first under King Alfonso V of Aragon and later under one Captain Tartari. One day, when the army was stationed in Bologna, James, who had always been devout, decided to make a visit to one of the local churches – the one that happened to have the relics of St. Dominic. While praying before those relics, he was suddenly inspired to give up military life and consecrate himself to God as a cooperator brother in St. Dominic’s Order.

Throughout history, Dominican cooperator brothers have been assigned a variety of offices: doorkeeper, housekeeper, infirmarian, cook, to name a few. In his youth, Blessed James’ father had trained him in the craft of making stained glass windows, and to this craft James returned as a religious brother. He had been working at it for a number of years when the event described above took place.

There is actually more to that story. When James returned from his begging trip, he found to his astonishment that the window was intact and the colors were set perfectly—an impossible thing, as he knew from long experience. Sometimes God rewards obedience in remarkable ways even in this life.

James spent 50 years in religious life, beautifying various churches in Italy. After his death in 1491, so many attested to his sanctity and to miracles obtained through his intercession that he was eventually beatified and himself entombed in the church of San Domenico, where he had received the call of God. Blessed James had sought to honor God by religious art and religious life; now, in San Domenico, God has honored him.”

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-reliquary altar of Bl James w/glass coffin & wax figure, Basilica of San Domenico, Rome.

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-St Nicolas & Blessed James of Ulm, OP.

First Vespers:
Ant. Strengthen by holy intercession, O James, confessor of the Lord, those here present, have we who are burdened with the weight of our offenses may be relieved by the glory of thy blessedness, and may by thy guidance attain eternal rewards.
V. Pray for us, Blessed James
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Lauds:
Ant. Well done, good and faithful servant, because Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will set thee over many, sayeth the Lord.
V. The just man shall blossom like the lily.
R. And shall flourish forever before the Lord.

Second Vespers:
Ant. I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock..
V. Pray for us. Blessed James.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

O God, who didst wonderfully adorn Blessed James, Thy Confessor, with the virtues of humility and obedience, make us, through his intercession, to despise earthly things and evermore cleave to Thy commandments. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Love, yet not even closely having mastered the virtue of obedience,
Matthew

Chastity vs. fornication 2 – “It doesn’t make sense!”

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Catholicism defines “love” as the willingness to suffer for the beloved, if unavoidable, or for the greater good of the beloved, like the salvation of their soul.  Sound like ANYONE you “know”?  Now, where HAVE I heard that kind of talk before???  Think, think, think.  Nope.  Nothin’.  Typical, for me.  Crazy talk.  Crazy like…God? 🙁  :/ )

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-by Emily Stimpson, Sunday, Apr 10, 2016 8:22 AM

“My fiancé, Chris, and I are not living together. And it doesn’t make sense.

More accurately, it doesn’t make sense to the world. Currently, we pay my mortgage, his rent, two utility bills and a food bill consisting mainly of restaurant tabs. Moreover, we live 45 minutes apart. Most nights, one of us spends 90 minutes in the car. And on the nights we don’t, we miss each other terribly.

Combine those sacrifices with the ever-mounting cost of our upcoming wedding, and it’s understandable why most people look aghast when they discover we’re not cohabiting.

Today, two-thirds of all couples live together before marriage, including at least half the couples marrying in the Catholic Church. Most of those couples cohabit for the same reasons that not cohabiting feels like such a sacrifice to Chris and me. They want to be together. They need to save money. And there’s no social pressure to do otherwise. So why wait? From a practical perspective, it seems logical.

Decades of research contradicts that logic: Couples who live together before marriage run a substantially higher risk of marital unhappiness, domestic violence and divorce. But when you’re in love, it’s easy to ignore research. Sociological evidence can’t compete with desire … and wedding-strained pocketbooks.

For those reasons and more, Chris and I understand why so many couples cohabit. We sympathize with them. But we still choose to sleep apart. And that choice only makes perfect sense in light of our faith.

The New Testament doesn’t leave any wiggle room regarding how God feels about sex outside of marriage, biblically known as “fornication.” Jesus explicitly condemns it in three Gospels (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41). St. Paul does the same in three Epistles (Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5).

Moreover, unlike some biblical prohibitions, which the Church deems more reflective of ancient Near-Eastern culture than God’s unchanging law (i.e. the injunction on women cutting their hair), the Christian prohibition against premarital relations hasn’t changed (and won’t change) (Catechism, 2350).

And yes, premarital relations and cohabitation aren’t the same. Some couples, more virtuous than us, might manage to live together chastely. The Church considers the possibility of that so remote, however, that she frowns on even the attempt (Catechism, 2391).

It’s also a question of public witness. The world mocks the Catholic understanding of sexuality, denying the mere possibility of loving both chastely and joyfully. Publicly cohabiting, even if privately abstaining, is, at best, a compromised witness. It shows the world what it already believes and hides what it claims impossible.

Regardless, Chris and I live separately (and chastely), because we trust Jesus and his Church. We believe that Jesus is Who He says He is — the Son of God — and the Church is who she says she is: His Bride, divinely appointed to transmit, guard and interpret God’s word.

Accordingly, we take the Church’s prohibitions against premarital relations and cohabitation as seriously as we take her prohibitions against lying and cheating. God is God. We are not. If He says something is sinful and a danger to our souls, then it is. It’s not up to us to pick and choose which of His teachings to accept. That’s not what faithful disciples do.

This can sound like blind obedience. But only when seen from the outside. Like stained glass, which looks dull from one side but brilliant from another, our decision to trust Christ and his Church with our relationship has been a decision illuminated by beauty, grace and reason.

The Church’s teachings on marital love, described so powerfully in St. John Paul II’s theology of the body, help us see love-making as a precious gift from God and a sacred renewal of the marriage covenant, meant to bring new life into the world and draw husband and wife closer together.

We’ve not yet entered into that covenant, so its joys aren’t ours to claim.

We’ve also learned to see living under one roof and sharing one bed as an embodied sign of Christian marriage. For Christian spouses, dwelling together isn’t about sleeping arrangements. It’s about what we are — one flesh — because of what we vow on our wedding day: to give ourselves totally and completely to one another for the sake of our salvation.  (Ed. – The living in and through one’s vocation, one’s state in life, is the vehicle through which we realize our salvation in Catholic theology.)

We haven’t yet made that vow, so its blessings aren’t ours to enjoy.

We do get to enjoy some blessings now.

There is the blessing that comes from a deep friendship, rooted in a shared love of Christ and a mutual desire to sacrifice for the other’s good. (Ed.  don’t know about you, but Paris Hilton and I think that’s romantically HAWT!!!  !!!En fuego!!!!  !!!!Muy caliente!!! 🙂 !!!Ay carumba!!!  Very Catholic, very.)  There is the blessing of learning how to love in non-sexual ways, preventing sex from becoming a substitute for affection and communication. And there is the blessing of never feeling used or worrying that we’re marrying out of convenience or guilt.

There’s also the blessing of anticipation, of mounting desire and tension that will only be answered on our wedding day. (Ed.  !!! Aye, aye, aye!!!  !!!Agua, por favor!!!!)  We’re looking forward to so much more than a big party on July 1.

Most of all, though, there’s the blessing of knowing that we’re walking the path Jesus asks us to walk, trusting that, through obedience, we’ll reap unknown graces and be spared unknown crosses. In trust, there is peace.  (Amen!!!  Sistah!!!)

Yes, that peace comes at a cost. It requires sacrifice. But we’re betting on God — laying odds on the rightness of His wisdom, not the world’s ways or our desires.  (Good bet!!!  I LIKE IT!!!  May the odds & Jesus, be evah in your favah!!! -St Katniss Everdeen, pray for us!!!  Mea culpa.  [courtsy])

And, fortunately, if we stumble we know we can start over with a good confession.  (Mine ALWAYS begin “Bless me, Father, how much time DO you have? 🙂 Should we order in?  I have an app for that!)

That’s true for all couples. It’s never too late to trust Jesus and His Church in your relationship. (Ya know, I KNEW I liked that Guy!!!)  It’s never too late to move in with a friend or onto a couch. It’s never too late to love your future spouse as Jesus asks you to love, sacrificially and purely. Lastly, it’s never too late to witness to the world that there is a better way: the way of life-giving love.

Pray for engaged couples; so few even know that way exists. And pray for Chris and for me, so we can continue to walk it.”

(Count on it, Emily & Chris.  It’s already in the bank.  Emily Stimpson writes from Steubenville, Ohio.

Easter Joy!
Matthew

Chastity vs fornication

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-former militant atheist, Rosalie Contrite, now a contrite Catholic

“Of course, I was told to wait for marriage and I considered it, at first. People in my life were telling me to wait. The reality remains that undetectably and over time, the culture, my friends and even, the adults that I knew, did not really expect me to wait. The movies I saw didn’t show waiting, and many of the people in my life as caregivers or relatives had or were co-habitating.

I had babysitters in my life who told me how I could get contraception, secretly. I had friends tell me about how they got free birth control from Planned Parenthood. The pills they gave me never warned me about the pain that they would cause. I knew that the prevailing wisdom was to wait, but that was it. No one ever told me why. Without the why, the what is useless.

Of course, today I know the why. I can tell you with 100% certainty, if I had known the why, I would have waited. No question. This is the pain that I live with, and the choice that lead me to great dysfunction in my life, for a time. I would have waited had I known. I wish people had believed in me. I wish I had known WHY waiting is wonderful.

As a young adult, after I had already given away what rightfully belonged to my husband, my mind was always pondering, “What can I do next to keep him interested? What level of depravity can I jump to so that I will seem alluring and captivating?”

I often wore next to nothing. I was so numb and dead inside from making myself vulnerable and being left by people who said they loved me. Immodest dress ensured constant attention. I didn’t care where it came from, so long as it came. The stress of constantly needing to be exciting because that’s what Cosmo says, was so demeaning and depressing long-term.

I had to become very masculine in my behavior because I had no excuse for not wanting to be together, when I was on contraception. Some freedom….

The culture told me that there was something fundamentally wrong with my natural, healthy body. I was broken, and I needed to be fixed with contraception. If I didn’t think so, I was at best naive, and at worst, reckless and irresponsible. What no one ever told me was what sex was supposed to be. No one ever told me it was the physical renewal of marital vows, which would only be a lie, if I were not married.

No one told me the emotional connection that would be formed as the result of a powerful chemical, oxytocin, released in the body during these encounters. This chemical has been shown to cause women to overlook the bad in their partners – even abusers. It’s the same hormone that is released when women nurse their newborn babies, to help them only see the wonderful in the baby during those first trying weeks. That is the kind of power you fight against when you misuse the greatest gift given to mankind. No one told me that. Yes, I should have waited for marriage. Why? No one told me. No one had answers.

These answers, I would blessedly find later in life.

There is so much comfort and safety knowing that you aren’t being compared to anyone else in your martial relationship. That is what you can have if you wait. Your spouse won’t have to imagine you embracing another in a way only meant for them, if you wait. Anyone worth being with, in this way, is someone who will wait with you.”

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 6, The Theological Virtue of Hope – Little Girl Hope

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

“The French Catholic layman Charles Péguy (1873-1914) wrote a beautiful poem that can make the virtue of hope more tangible for us. The poem opens with the striking line, “The faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.”85 The poem continues:

“Faith doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
I am so resplendent in My creation . . .
That in order really not to see
Me these poor people would have to be blind.
Charity, says God, that doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for each other . . .
But hope, says God, that is something that surprises Me. (n.b. theologically, God cannot be surprised…)
Even Me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better . . .
That is surprising and it’s by far the greatest marvel of Our grace.
And I’m surprised by it Myself.
And My grace must indeed be an incredible force.”
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Péguy employs striking metaphorical and poetical images here to suggest the power of hope, indicating to us how surprising hope can be when we experience degradation, deprivation, suffering, and evil in the world. He depicts Hope in the poem as a little girl who has two older sisters, Faith and Love. Hope is the innocent, wide-eyed, trusting little child:

“What surprises Me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little hope who seems like nothing at all.
This little girl hope . . .
Faith is a loyal Wife.
Charity is a Mother.
An ardent mother, noble-hearted. Or an older sister who is like a mother.
Hope is a little girl, nothing at all.
Who came into the world on Christmas day just this past year.
Who is still playing with her snowman . . .
And yet it’s this little girl who will endure worlds.
This little girl, nothing at all.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.
As the star guided the three kings from the deepest Orient.
Toward the cradle of My Son.
Like a trembling flame.
She alone will guide the Virtues and Worlds.”87

Our hope should make us feel every day more and more little — like a small child who relies on God his Father for everything. This life of spiritual childhood has been recommended by many saints, notably St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It is actually indicative of Christian maturity and has nothing to do with childishness. Hope is a child, walking between her two older sisters: wide-eyed and innocent, trusting and joyful. Such should be the shape and character of our own hope. Can a person who is totally imbued with this sort of hope ever be completely overtaken by despair, however terrible the burdens and cares of this life? The depressed person may indeed often feel overwhelmed; but this need not be a cause for final despair. Just as we cannot imagine an innocent little girl giving in to total despair in the face of setbacks or contradictions, so the person with hope can endure even these things with serenity and perseverance.

To understand the power of hope, we can examine the vices that run contrary to the virtue of hope. Regarding these, St. Augustine wrote, “There are two things which kill the soul, despair and presumption.”

The Catechism lists them under the First Commandment as sins against hope:

2091 By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice — for the Lord is faithful to His promises — and to His mercy.

2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high) or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

When we fall into presumption, we do not have hope, because we mistakenly assume that we have already arrived at the goal. This is a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride. The second vice contrary to hope is probably more common, and a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride, despair. Certainly this is the greater temptation for those individuals suffering from depression. We sometimes hear it said that a person has “fallen into” despair. But despair is not actually something we “fall into”; in the end, it is something we choose. To despair means to deny that the Lord wants to or can forgive or assist us. Even the severest depression, however dark, does not entail despair in this sense.

In Dante’s Inferno, the inscription written over the gates of hell is “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Final despair (I refer here not to the difficulties with hope of the depressed person) is the state proper only to the damned, of those who no longer have the possibility of being saved. To be utterly without hope is to be in a hellish state. So you could say that total despair in this life is something of an anticipation of damnation. As St. Isidore put it, “To despair is to descend into hell.” Total despair is a sort of hell on earth, where suicide may appear to be the only option. This is why the person who feels utterly hopeless finds it so difficult to summon the will to continue living.

For example, listening to accounts of addiction given by those who have recovered from drug and alcohol dependence, one can see that the life they describe is simply a state of profound despair — a sort of hell on earth. This is what a person experiences when he places his ultimate hope in a bottle, a needle, or a pill. Depression itself is not equivalent to this kind of despair, although it can predispose and incline a person to despair, as anyone who has experienced it knows too well. It is a great trial of faith to overcome this tendency. But it can be overcome with all the means discussed in this book, and especially with God’s grace.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “It is not so much sin as despair which casts us into hell.” We may fall into sin, as even the just man sins seven times a day. But in hope, we become a repentant sinner and therefore, through Confession, a forgiven sinner. Sin never has to have the last word. Hope means we do not have to be the people we were. But despair makes our sin the last word about us, even a definitive word, because despair denies the possibility of forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable if we do not despair, if we seek God’s merciful forgiveness. Likewise, every addiction, every vice, can be overcome if we do not give in to despair.

This helps us to understand that mysterious Gospel passage which speaks of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31) that Jesus says cannot be forgiven. This sin is simply the refusal to accept the grace of forgiveness. It is an obstinate despair that refuses God’s mercy. As the Catechism states:

1864 “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of His sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”88

The contrast between St. Peter’s repentance and Judas’s despair illustrates this: both men sinned grievously, but Peter repented with tears of contrition. He did not abandon hope. Peter’s repentance led him to become one of the greatest saints. Judas despaired, and this despair led him to take his own life.

To say that hope is a “theological” or “supernatural” virtue is to say that it is fundamentally a gift, the result of grace. To possess this hope, we must be in a state of sanctifying grace, which we can be sure of when we have confessed grave sins we are aware of. But for this hope to grow in our hearts and operate powerfully in our lives, we should pray that our hope will be increased; we should ask God to increase our hope. Our will and our effort do play a role here, since God wants us to cooperate freely with the graces He grants. “Lord, increase my hope” should be an aspiration that comes to us often, especially in times of difficulty.”

85 Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, trans. David L. Schindler, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 3.
86 Ibid., 3-7.
87 Ibid., 7-8.
88 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1864.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 216-220). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & Hope,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 5, The Theological Virtue of Hope, Everlasting Life!!!

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Q. Why did God make us?
A. God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.

-Baltimore Catechism, Lesson 1: On the End of Man

“(Viktor) Frankl observed that the death-camp prisoners could tell when another prisoner had abandoned hope. When a prisoner lost hope, the despair could be seen in his eyes, in his face, in the way that he walked. The change was so noticeable that the prisoners had a name for such persons, which roughly translates as “the walking dead.” Inevitably, before long, this “walking dead” prisoner would be selected for extermination, or he would fall back in formation and be shot, or he would stop eating or drinking. When the will to meaning was abandoned — when all hope was lost — the person was literally doomed. Man cannot live without hope.

Yet this truth can be stated conversely: even in the cruelest, the most atrocious, the most miserable of circumstances, if man has hope, he has life. If this is true on the natural level, it is much more true on the supernatural level. If a man has Christian hope, he has everlasting life. We are indeed, in St. Paul’s words, spe salvi — “saved in hope” (Rom. 8:24).

Hope is a virtue that changes everything. It changes the way we think, the way we act, the way we live. In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI puts it simply, “The one who has hope lives differently.”76 Even if he should be sent to the gas chamber, a man with Christian hope is a man who has been saved. St. Maximilian Kolbe understood this, which is why he sang songs of praise to our Lord even as the Nazis starved him to death.

Returning to Frankl’s observations of his fellow death-camp prisoners: in order to face their horrifying present situation, the prisoners needed some sense that a future might await them, a future that promised something better than the present. This insight is congruent with these words of Pope Benedict on hope: “We have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”77

Pope Benedict goes on to say that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.”78 This can be applied analogously even to those who are not baptized: although the theological virtue of hope is the ultimate safeguard of human happiness on this earth, natural human hope is the starting point for theological hope and is itself ennobled by the presence of Christian hope in the world.

The sense of a foreshortened future, of a future that appears only dark, which many experience in the depressed state, is not our true reality; it is merely a trick of the diseased mind. Without hope in the present, man cannot live toward the future. Why, for example, do we see rising rates of depression, as well as rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, among teenagers today? Because many of them do not sense that they have a future. The present feels unbearable to them, and they have no hope to orient them.

In an address to the bishops of Japan, Pope Benedict remarked: “Young people especially are at risk of being deceived by the glamour of modern secular culture. Yet, like all the greater and lesser hopes that appear on first sight to promise so much (cf. Spe Salvi, 30), this turns out to be a false hope — and tragically, disillusion not infrequently leads to depression and despair, even to suicide. If their youthful energy and enthusiasm can be directed towards the things of God, which alone are sufficient to satisfy their deepest longings, more young people will be inspired to commit their lives to Christ.”79

Hope cannot be merely a nice theoretical idea. It is a virtue that has very practical, everyday consequences for our life. Cultivating and sustaining hope is a central task in the process of recovery from depression, and perhaps the most demanding and challenging. Regarding the practical consequences of living in hope, Pope Benedict teaches that the Christian message of hope does not just tell us something: it is not just informative; it also changes the way we live. It is performative: “That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known — it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.”80

Finding hope need not be complicated; it can be remarkably simple. Consider the case of a young father who was struggling with depression because of a debilitating physical condition that kept him from working. As a result he was at home with his youngest daughter. He related later that just seeing the face and constant smile of his joyful girl was enough to instill in him sufficient hope for the day. Our reasons for hope may be right there in front of us, if only we have eyes to see.

While many of us can rattle off the three theological virtues, hope is often the forgotten middle of the three. We hear much preached about faith and about love, but we hear less about the virtue of hope. What exactly is hope? The Compendium of the Catechism defines it succinctly: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.”81

Let us unpack this definition. First, hope involves desiring happiness. This, of course, is not hard for us. In fact, it is impossible not to desire happiness, as we know from our own experience. Aristotle maintains that the desire for happiness lies at the foundation of every human action. The person suffering from depression, of course, wants nothing more than to recover the capacity for happiness, for spiritual joy. But this happiness consists ultimately in only one thing: eternal life with God. Every person, whether he knows it or not, is seeking God, because everyone is seeking perfect happiness and fulfillment, which can be found ultimately in God alone. Our search for happiness can go astray when we mistakenly place our hope in something that cannot deliver. But this fundamental desire for happiness — this desire for God — remains, even when we go astray. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

Hope, according to the definition just cited, involves placing our trust in Christ, relying on the grace of the Holy Spirit, and persevering to the end of our life — all for the sake of eternal life, which only God can grant. What are we to make of these words, eternal life? Many of our contemporaries wonder: Is eternal life something worth hoping for? The depressed person may have difficulty with the idea of looking for his happiness beyond the present world and placing his definitive hope in the next life. Perhaps this very thought has crossed our minds, especially in times of difficulty or temptation, or during periods of depression or despair: Is the effort toward holiness worthwhile? Is the goal of eternal life worth the sacrifices made in this life? Drawing on the writings of St. Augustine, Pope Benedict responds to this question: “Ultimately we want only one thing . . . the life which is simply ‘happiness’ . . . In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.”82

The very fact that in this life the human heart remains restless — that it is vulnerable to anxiety, depression, demoralization, and despair — is a clue to the human need for hope and a clue to our ultimate destiny in God. All we can experience in this life falls short of this restless yearning. The man knocking at the brothel door will not find there what his restless heart truly desires. The man downing another bottle of gin will not find at the bottom what his heart thirsts for. The man popping another narcotic pill will not experience what his heart hungers for. God made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest finally in Him.

We are reaching here beyond what words can adequately express. Benedict XVI observes: The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown.” Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.83

To appreciate fully the meaning of eternal life, we have to try to get outside our usual ways of thinking and our usual experiences. Pope Benedict says: “To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt.

We simply cannot extrapolate to a vision of eternal life from our typical earthly existence, even on the best of days. Reaching beyond our words and concepts, Pope Benedict takes a stab at expressing what the term eternal life might actually signify: “It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of God, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.”84

77 Benedict XVI, Encyclical letter Spe salvi, no. 1.
78 Ibid., no. 2.
79 Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Japan on their “Ad limina” Visit, December 17, 2007.
80 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 2.
81 Compendium of the Catechism, no. 387.
82 Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, no. 12.
83 Ibid., no. 12.
84 Ibid.

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 210-216). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 3, The Theological Virtue of Hope

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Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” -Dante Alighieri’s inscription on the entrance to Hell, and maybe, just maybe, if “Our Hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven & Earth!” (Ps 124:8), that is EXACTLY what Hell is?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -1 Cor 13:13

I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” relating his experiences and personal, formative revelations while a prisoner of conscience in Auschwitz while I was in high school. Not because it was assigned, but because I just wanted to. The most astonishing revelation to the reader of this powerful work is Dr. Frankl watching who did and did not survive, among those not killed directly by the Nazis through their various and hideous means.

He concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. ” (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, had a great talent they still needed to express, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.

But “…meaning must be found and cannot be given.” (1, p. 112) Meaning is like laughter, he says: You cannot force someone to laugh, you must tell him a joke! The same applies to faith, hope, and love — they cannot be be brought forth by an act of will, our own or someone else’s.

So we attempt to fill our existential vacuums with “stuff” that, because it provides some satisfaction, we hope will provide ultimate satisfaction as well: We might try to fill our lives with pleasure, eating beyond all necessity, having promiscuous sex, living “the high life;” or we might seek power, especially the power represented by monetary success; or we might fill our lives with “busy-ness,” conformity, conventionality; or we might fill the vacuum with anger and hatred and spend our days attempting to destroy what we think is hurting us.

We might also fill our lives with certain neurotic “vicious cycles,” such as obsession with germs and cleanliness, or fear-driven obsession with a phobic object. Or, we self-medicate through alcohol, drugs, etc., just to numb the pain of our emptiness. Perhaps this is Hell as it truly is, without hope, forever, for eternity, outside the dimension of time? The defining quality of these vicious cycles is that, whatever we do, it is never enough. ONLY JESUS satisfies. ONLY JESUS. ONLY JESUS. Thank you, Lord! Thank YOU!!!

Martin Luther, while an Augustinian monk, began to lose hope in penance and good works as having any efficacy for the baptized, literally in God’s great mercy. Rather, he adopted the view, obsessively, that all of mankind were hopeless and wretched sinners before the sight of God, unworthy of salvation – literally, the “steaming pile of dung”, if you are familiar with that phrasing. Covered like snow by Christ’s redemption, hidden from God, having no worthwhile quality unto it’s own self. He carried everything to such an extreme that his superiors were worried about him. He wore out his confessor with marathon sessions of confessing, going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. His confessor, Father Staupitz, told him: “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery -instead of all these peccadilloes.” Fr. Staupitz also, further insisted with Martin: “We are commanded to hope!”

Catholicism differs in this perspective holding fast to the ancient understanding that God’s creation is GOOD!!!! Wounded by Original Sin, but, still, inherently GOOD!!! And, God LOVES His Creation, because it is HIS, and He declared/declares it GOOD!! (Gen 1:31) In the present tense, because to the Catholic mind, ALL Creation continues to be held in existence by the mind of God. If God stopped thinking about Creation, it would disappear – poof!!! 🙂

We are commanded to hope by the first part of the Greatest Commandment, namely, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with ALL your heart! ALL your mind! ALL your soul!” You cannot, truly, love the Lord your God with everything you have, and then turn around and say, “There is NO hope!” No. Truly. Our hope is in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!!! Amen. Amen. Counter-pointedly, if there is no God Who loves you, what exactly IS the point of ALL of this? There is none.

“The third, and most important, protective factor conferred by Christian faith is the indispensable theological virtue of hope, bestowed in Baptism and subsequently developed in the life of faith. Christianity offers hope in the midst of difficulties and pain. Through our faith, in hope, we can find redemptive value even in and through suffering. The psychiatrist Aaron Beck…did a long-term prospective study of eight hundred suicidal patients to determine which risk factors were most closely linked to suicide. He studied individuals who had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt or for suicidal thinking.

Beck managed to follow these patients for the next ten years to see who survived and who eventually completed suicide. In trying to find the key differences between the survivors and those who died by suicide, Beck examined the patients’ diagnoses, the number and type of mental and medical symptoms, the degree of physical pain a person was in, social and economic factors, and so on. The results surprised some behavioral scientists.

The one factor most predictive of suicide was not how sick the person was, or how many symptoms he exhibited, or how much pain he was in. The most dangerous factor was a person’s sense of hopelessness. The patients who believed their situation was utterly without hope were the most likely candidates for completing suicide. There is no prescription or medical procedure for instilling hope. This is the domain of the revelation of God’s loving goodness and baptismal efficacy. We can have a natural sort of hope when things clearly appear hopeful. But when our situation appears or feels hopeless, the only hope that can sustain us is supernatural — the theological virtue of hope, which can be infused only by God’s grace.“2

1. Frankl, V. E. (1975). The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Originally published in 1948 as Der unbewusste Gott. Republished in 1997 as Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.)

2. Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 98-99). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love, hope, and prayers for you, and those you love. Pray for me, and mine, please. Let us ALL put ALL our hope and trust in the Lord, Who made Heaven & Earth!
Matthew

“We are saved by those we despise.” -Pope St Gregory the Great

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-by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, PhD

Saint Gregory the Great taught that God uses the people we despise to save us. This does not necessarily mean people that we hate, but people we think little of or that we see as impure. Those who we see as steeped in sin today often surpass us in holiness tomorrow. His example of such a person was St. Paul, who participated in the brutal murder of St. Stephen before becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the Forty Gospel Homilies, Gregory preached that God places these people in the Church so that we are forced to recognize our own imperfection. They highlight the contrast between the richness of God’s mercy and the littleness of our own judgments.

Humble Christians, who have a sense of their imperfection, are able to be sympathetic to the struggles of sinners. Humility breaks through the walls of the self and allows the Christian to love others. For Gregory, love always involves an extension or gift of self to another, which is not really possible for people who feel self-satisfied and self-sufficient. This type of love, which he called the bond of charity, can only be learned in a community and can only be achieved through humility.

The bond of charity is central to Gregory’s spirituality and his understanding of the Church. He believed Christ’s perfect and solid uprightness (soliditas standi) is not given to His followers through the grace of redemption; instead, Christians are justified through the firmness of love (soliditas caritatis) found in the Church. Since God only accepts the humble and contrite heart, and since God rejects the proud, the effort to extend ourselves to those we despise is an integral part of the process of sanctification. In fact, the Church purifies us by demanding this extension of patience, love, and mercy to those we despise.

This dynamic is also why there are so many irritating people in the Church. We need people who are irritating, offensive, and even wicked, in order to exercise patience, mercy, and forgiveness. The Church brings us all together so that we can learn to be like God. It is a mixed community: good fish and bad fish, sheep and goats, wheat and tares. If I am irritating you, I might be serving as an opportunity to grow in holiness. You’re welcome.

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The fact that God frequently moves the people we may see as sinful to great holiness also inspires hope. It shows us that we should not ever give up on anyone. If your son or daughter, aunt or uncle, mother or father, friend or spouse has fallen away and seems steeped in sin, realize that they may yet excel in holiness.

Because we are saved by those we despise, we must welcome people to our communion and avoid attitudes and actions that discourage them from entering or returning to our community, which is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing. The challenge, of course, is to stop despising anyone, which I must confess I have not quite mastered.

If you are comfortable with despising people and wish to exclude the impure, you may have fallen into the sin of Donatism, a heresy that seeks a pure Church on Earth. The new Donatism is growing increasingly evident.

Lord, save & protect us, help us love one another, especially when that is most inconceivable. We shall receive mercy from You in proportion as we offer it to those we despise. Help us love one another, for our own sake. Be merciful to us, Lord, for we have done what is evil in Your sight.

Love,
Matthew

The temptation we face to come down from/put down our Crosses…

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Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. – JC

As life goes along, rather light-of-foot/quickly/ too quickly, if you ask anyone with a few years under the belt, this temptation grows stronger as we grow weaker, more feeble, more tired, more infirm.

An elderly woman in a wheelchair once commented, respectfully, to a much younger priest, when the priest reminded her of the Passion of Our Lord in regards to her own troubles, “Yes, but He was only thirty-three.” I, myself, have harbored such thoughts, and I am only middle-aged.

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-by Msgr Charles Pope

“One of the most remarkable aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus is the humble reserve He displayed. As God, He had the power to end His suffering and humiliation in an instant. He had already reminded Peter, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt26:52-54)

And now, as Jesus hung on the Cross, Satan and the crowds give Him one final temptation: the call to come down from the Cross:

Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You Who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if You are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him. (Matt 27:39-44)

The temptation is to pride and power, comfort and ease, to anything but the Cross. They seem to taunt Him by saying, “Since God is powerful, if You were God, You would have the power to come down and not be overpowered by Your enemy.”

The temptation is very crafty and very worldly. To the worldly-minded, the demand makes sense. In effect, they are saying, “If it’s faith You want from me, You can have it if You’ll just come down from the cross. Then I’ll be impressed; then I’ll believe.” In effect and truth, the tempters want to be saved on their own terms.

Why does Jesus stay on the Cross? For three reasons, at least:

1. Humility – Jesus is out to overcome Satan. In the world, we seek to overpower our foes. Does it work? No. Usually the cycle of violence just continues and in fact often gets worse. We think, “If I can just yell louder and outwit or outgun my opponent, I’ll win the day.” Yes, but there’s more to life than one day. The next day your opponent returns with louder and wittier arguments and bigger guns. And the cycle of violence goes on. It is an endless power struggle.

But as was once said, Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that. And I would add that here at the Cross, pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that.

And therefore, although the crowd and Satan try to coax Jesus into a power struggle, the Lord chooses the only weapon that is truly effective against pride: humility. Humility is like kryptonite to the Devil!

To our eyes, it seems that the Lord is defeated. But in His humility, the Lord is doing more damage to Satan than we could ever imagine. He stays on the Cross to defeat Satan’s pride by His own profound humility. Jesus does this despite Satan’s desperate attempts to engage His pride, and entice Him into a power struggle.

2. ObedienceIt was disobedience that got us into trouble in the first place. And it will be obedience that restores us. Adam said, “No.” Jesus, the New Adam, says “Yes.” It is not essentially the suffering of Jesus that saves us; rather, it is his obedience. And Jesus’ suffering is part of that obedience.

Jesus decides to obey his Father, no matter the cost. Isaiah says of Jesus, “He suffered because he willed it.” (Is 53:7) St. Thomas says that if Jesus had suffered and gone to the cross, but not willed it, we would not be saved. Jesus himself said, “No one takes my life from me, I lay it down freely. (Jn 10:18) Cassian says, “We are saved by the human decision of a divine person.”

Jesus went to the Cross and decided to stay on the Cross in obedience. And it is by his obedience, by his will to obey and to save us, that we are saved.  AMEN!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!

3. To save ME!!! – On a more personal level, we can also see (based on what has already been said), that Jesus decided to stay on the Cross to save ME. No, really, ME!! If He had come down, I WOULD NOT be saved; you WOULD NOT be saved. We might have been impressed; we might have even had a kind of faith. But it would not be a SAVING FAITH.

Pure and simple, Jesus decided to stay on the Cross and to endure mockery, shame, pain, and death, in order to save a poor sinner like me. An old gospel song says:

When Jesus hung on Calvary, people came from miles to see
They said, If you be the Christ, come down and save your life

But Jesus, sweet Jesus, never answered them
For He knew that Satan was tempting

If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost
If He had come down from the cross, my soul would still be lost

He would not come down from the cross just to save Himself
He decided to die just to save me.”

“I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?”
—2 Corinthians 11:23-29

Love,
Matthew

“…and lead us not into temptation”?

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-“Last Judgment”, fresco, 1535-1541, 45′ 0″ x 40′ 0″, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, (please click on the image for more detail)

Why would God LEAD us into temptation?  Would He?  Rather, this petition is asking for strength to face God’s judgment of the world at the end of time.

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-by Joel Schorn

“You can find the short answer in the New Testament Letter of James: “No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (1:13). Don’t try to shift responsibility, James is saying; God does not tempt, and God cannot lead people into evil. But that answer only produces another question: So why ask for something that’s not only contrary to what Christians believe about God but also impossible?

Of course believers make this odd petition so often because it is part of that most famous of prayers, the Lord’s Prayer. Different versions of the prayer appear in Matthew 6 as part of the Sermon on the Mount and in Luke 11 as Jesus’ example of how the disciples are to pray. This context—along with the fact that by the prayer’s opening address “Our Father [abba],” Jesus invited the disciples into his own special relationship with God—makes the prayer and its words important.

“Lead us not into temptation” comes in the second set of the prayer’s petitions. The first set asks for the complete coming of the reign of God on earth, when the divine name will be known by the whole world and all will follow the divine will just as it is already obeyed in heaven. The second addresses the needs of the community of disciples: asking for a day’s sustenance, realizing one’s own forgiveness lies in forgiving others, and—here it is—asking for help in facing “temptation.” But that’s the word the liturgy uses; the Bible passage says “do not subject us to the final test,” or, in another translation, “do not bring us to the time of trial.”

The final test, the time of trial: This petition is asking for strength to face God’s judgment of the world at the end of time. Like the whole prayer, though, it has a present-time dimension as well. Just as to ask for the coming of God’s kingdom is to hasten its arrival now, to pray for courage at the end of the world is to ask for it in this moment.

Admittedly “lead us not into temptation” is a strange way to put it, but the phrase acknowledges that tests and trials of faith which call for strength—and that is what God provides. And it gets better: God offers deliverance and rescue from evil as well, as the closing words of the Lord’s Prayer say.

So there is hope. “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength,” St. Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “but with the trial He will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it” (10:13).”

Love, and praying for God’s strength for you and yours. Please pray for me and mine, too.
Matthew

Love vs kindness

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-by Msgr Charles Pope

“Kindness is a very great thing and has an important place in our relationships. Kindness is evidenced by goodness and charitable behavior, a pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others. According to Aristotle, kindness is an emotion manifesting itself by the desire to help somebody in need, without expecting anything in return. Peter Kreeft defines kindness as “sympathy, with the desire to relieve another’s suffering.” [Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

However, as Kreeft himself notes, it is a very great mistake to equate kindness with love. Kindness is an aspect of love, but it is necessarily distinct from love. For is sometimes happens that love, which wills what is best for the other, may deem it best not to remove all suffering. A father, in fact may impose punishment on a child out of love. Kindness generally seeks to alleviate suffering and negativity. Love understands that suffering often has a salvific role. My parents disciplined me out of love. Had they been merely kind to me, I would likely have been spoiled, undisciplined and ill-equipped for life.

Paradoxically the more we love the more we will often see mere kindness diminish. Consider how kind we can be to strangers. We may sometimes give money to strangers with little questions asked. But if a son or daughter asks for money we may often want to know why and, even if we give it, we will frequently lecture them about being more responsible with their money. The interaction may be less kind, but it may also be more loving for it seeks to end the problem rather than merely relieve the symptom of the problem.

The good eclipses the best – And herein lies the danger of reducing love to kindness. In simply seeking to alleviate the suffering of the moment or to give people what they want, many deeper issues go unresolved and worsen. Welfare has created a slavish dependence for many in our culture. And it is not just the poor in our cities. There is corporate welfare, and many other subsidies and entitlements that too many can no longer go without. Rather than addressing the root causes of poverty, dependence or poor economic conditions and bad business models, kindness interrupts love’s deeper role and treats only the suffering of the moment. In this sense the merely good (kindness) replaces the truly best (Love). True love gives what is best, not merely what is immediately preferred.

Further, many false expectations are centered in the exaltation of kindness over love. Generally this is manifest in the fact that suffering of any kind is seen as obnoxious and even the cause for legal action. It has also led to our demands for comfort to go on steroids. Demand for euthanasia flow from this sort of thinking as well.

A final and very terrible effect often flows from mistaking mere kindness for love is that it disposes many towards atheism. Here I simply want to quote Peter Kreeft because he says it so well:

It is painfully obvious that God is not mere kindness, for He does not remove all suffering, though He has the power to do so. Indeed, this very fact — that the God Who is Omnipotent and can, at any instant, miraculously erase all suffering from the world, deliberately chooses not to do so — is the commonest argument that unbelievers use against Him. The number one argument for atheism stems from the confusion between love and kindness. [Peter Kreeft, Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20]

Kindness is a very great attribute and it surely has its place. But we must carefully distinguish it from love. Exalting kindness over love amounts to a denial of the wisdom of the Cross. Kindness focuses on comfort and alleviating suffering and this is a very great thing. But love is greater thing for it wills what is best, not what is merely desired.”

Love,
Matthew