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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On Nostalgia, Faith, and Worship

As part of my job in childcare this summer, I've spent the last few days furnishing a classroom in an old abandoned private middle school, getting it ready for 5th and 6th graders to learn and have fun.
I noticed that last month many of the old students (from as far back as 1990 even) had visited the old school and its classrooms and left messages on the chalkboards.  Now... I may be a bit cynical, but I honestly don't know of anyone (especially in their 20's and 30's) who would characterize middle school as "the best time of my life".  And yet there was not a negative message on the board, and most of them read things like "this was and always will be my home", and "all my best memories are here". Now...maybe I'm wrong and there's actually an entire generation of people who enjoyed middle school (and of course I know that anyone who hated the school wouldn't have showed up to commemorate it), but this sounds like "nostalgia":
"A sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.[and/or] The evocation of these feelings or tendencies, esp. in commercialized form."
So nostalgia is an emotion that colors our perception of something... It gives us a longing for something past that we've perceived to be good in contrast to a current state that we perceive to be not as good. This may be contrary to the actual case, and often times it keeps us from remembering the not-so-good that may have formed our character. In other words, the grass is always greener in the past when we wear nostalgia glasses.
There's definitely a detriment that can come with this-- primarily it distracts us from being grateful for our current blessings and state of life in preference for something that we really can't get back.  Secondly, in nostalgia we feel to acknowledge (or even move on from) sufferings and inconveniences that have formed our character and given us virtue.  If we ignore these events in our lives we are not using them for our benefit and they, in a sense, beat us and trap is in the past.

Is Nostalgia good for our faith? Does is serve a purpose in worship or drawing us closer to God?

The Hebrews were nostalgic for the kingdom days while they were exiled in Babylon. Psalm 137 shows how the Israelites would not sing or celebrate the old days in gratitude but rather looked on them with longing. They forgot that the reason they were exiled was because of their own disobedience. Instead of learning from the exile, reflecting on how to become more righteous because of it, they only sat and wept. Furthermore, they hung up their harps and refused to sing and worship the LORD. They were trapped in the past, rather than using the current situation to move forward.

Where I most often see nostalgia present in my faith is through Worship music. When I hear certain songs (most often cheesy P&W songs that were written when I was in High School), I think back to the "good old days" when I was first really passionate about my faith, I had a very strong community that I saw many times a week, and when I was really enjoying ministry and learned what it meant to be a leader. Sometimes... I long to go back to those days, to have that type of faith.

But then I realize--God has brought me to where I am in my faith for a reason. I know what my vocation, and probably my occupation, are supposed to be. I'm more educated and able to defend and express my faith. I am ready to raise children in the faith. And I have a deeper understanding of how God works in my life through providence and grace. Those days of past faith were essential in bringing me to where I am now, but they're not where I'm meant to stay, and I should seek to grow and move forward in my faith, even if that means changing how that faith is manifest and expressed, and even if it means embracing suffering.

I think that nostalgia CAN be acceptable if one does not get trapped by it, if it doesn't preoccupy one from one's current situation, and if it motivates one to pursue correct happiness. However, it is a hard thing to do, so perhaps outside of the occasional and brief relapse, nostalgia is best avoided.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You're Still Beautiful America: Towards a Renewed "Nationology"

I've become a big fan of Matt Maher's new song "Woke up in America" but its gotten me thinking not only about what he's trying to say about our wonderful country, but also about my own feelings about our "national identity".

Currently I'm in an ecclessiology class for my graduate program.  I would like to propose here that, just as many our problems in the Church arises from how we perceive the Church to be (our ecclessiological identity), so do most of the problems of our nation arise from our "nationology".

While I often amn  discouraged by the sate of our nation, Matt Maher's song reminds me of a couple points.  First, patriotism is a virtue, one that falls under that of Justice.  Not only is it good to support our country, but it is proper and right ordered to do so--to some extent.  Therefore, to what extent should have "patriotism" for a country that is in error concerning many of its values and workings? 

Patriotism is basically having love for your country--especially in history, culture, physical beauty, etc.  America has much to offer from most of these--we have beautiful landscapes of every variety, we are a "melting pot" nation where people of every culture is welcome (which helps us form our own unique culture), and we are a champion of freedom, democracy, hardwork, and social mobility.  All of these things it is proper to love.

However, there is much about the country we cannot love.  While we both democracy and capitalism are inherently good structures, both in our country are inherently broken.  As a country we are individualistic, God-less, against life, materialistic, and petty.

What causes this?  Our idea of what america is, about what constitutes a nation...our "nationology".  I believe that in general, we view our nation as merely a group of individuals, under the charge of a group of individuals, with a purpose of promoting the good of each and every individual person.  Each of these views is not, in and of itself, wrong, but they are all incomplete and when held without balance lead to an inadequate view of what our country is and thus how we live as a country.

--Yes, our nation is a group of individuals.. but as the virtue as patriotism shows us (and as most american's would admit, though they live contrary), America is so much more than that.  It is about the beauty of the land, the freedom, the men and women who have given their lives, and that it is a GOD GIVEN GIFT that we are able to live with all of these blessings.  The problem is that most people live their day to day lives without remembering this fact.

--Yes, our nation is run by a group of individuals... and when we focus on that is when we realize the inherent problem with that fact.  Human's are flawed, therefore a country that is run merely on human values, according to human ideals, and only concerning the will of human's, will always be gravely flawed.  The fact that we must daily try to remember, the two phrases that will save us, are currently frequently being petitioned for removal--1) One Nation Under God, and 2) In God We Trust.  This reminds us that, though separation of Church and State is inherently good, they cannot be completely separate.  We must not live to merely human values, standards, and desires, but must always be careful not to cultivate a country, culture, and worldview that forsakes God's will.

--Finally, while each individual person has a right to be happy, and the country and government has a responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that each person flourishes, a focus on individual good leads to a country that is broken and fractured.  We must instead be focused on the "common good", an idea that isn't necessarily foreign to America, but which seems to get pushed aside for the individual good.

I believe that if we do all these things--move towards a more collective worldview, remember that God is a necessary aspect of our country, and love America for the appropriate reasons--we will be a happier and more prosperous country, and other countries will have more respect for us.

Our "Nationology" must be more than an individual survival of the fittest.  We must remember why America is beautiful, and continue to work to make it even more so.

Monday, August 6, 2012

On Happiness

At some point in our lives we all have to ask ourselves a couple questions.  The first among them is, “what kind of person do I want to be?”  Some of us want to be like our parents… some don’t.  Some of us want to live a life of optimism and love, while some people have resigned themselves to living a life of cynicism and apathy.  Some want to do great things and change the world, whereas others desire only to serve people in small ways and stay in the background.
After this, the next question we must ask is, “what kind of person am I now”?  The disparity between these two can be either discouraging or depressing.  Some people, despising how their parents raised them or the type of people their parents were, spend their whole lives trying to become the opposite, only to realize eventually that, at some level, we all must become like our parents.  Some people can’t even ask this question… rather than working at trying to be happy and fear not being so, they instead resign themselves to depressing lives of cynicism and sadness.  Do some of us even know the type of people we want to be? Or are we too scared to ask for fear of realizing how far we’ve strayed from our ideals?
I want to live a holy, Christian, masculine life.  I want to serve God in everything I do.  I want to be a good father and a good husband, and I want to be able to lay down my life for my family if ever I need to do so.  I want to be courageous, and be able to go off to war if that is what my country needs.  I want to have a fierce heart.  But most of all… I want to be happy.
Happiness seems a sort of paradox.  It’s something that every single human person wants (on some level), but very few of us have.  Here’s the funny part… everything that a human person would naturally think brings them true happiness never really does.  It’s definitely not money, most rich people actually aren’t happy just because they’re rich.  Many of them actually find out money has taken from them everything that otherwise would have been important to them (a marriage, a sense of purpose).  It’s not even family or “making a difference”.  Many people are happy without a family, and many people who make a difference in the world feel empty after their great accomplishment.  Where then do they turn when they feel they’ve fulfilled the purpose of their life and still live twenty or thirty years?
What it all comes down to is that happiness is not attainable without God in your life.  Atheists might claim they are happy.  But it’s a superficial, bodily type of happiness.  At some point in their life they will realize that reason alone, that sex, that money, that even a happy marriage, at some level have left them feeling empty.  As C.S. Lewis states (roughly), “If I find myself with a desire that nothing in the world can satisfy, the most likely explanation is that I was made for a different world”.  Without God, you will always feel empty.
That’s not to say Christian’s don’t feel moments of emptiness… of desolation, of abandonment, of fear, of uncertainty.  It does mean, however, that they have a consistent foundation on which they can stand, to which they can look, when their world starts to shake and crumble around them.  Christianity and God allows a person to know where they need to go, and provides them tools to get there.  It is easy to see why people without such a worldview so often become cynical of the world around them.
                Who are you, and where do you want to be?  Are you happy?  If not, how are you going to get there?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Comments on the Aurora Shooting

Violence saddens me... especially senseless violence like the shooting and killing of some 12 innocent people in a movie theater in Colorado... and the injuring of dozens more.  Why would it even cross someone's mind to ever do something such as this?

Human beings... in our free-will, our gifts of intellect, and the gift of our passions, are capable of great sacrifices of Love and virtue.  It is apparent, however, that we are also capable of grotesque and abhorrent acts such as the one in Colorado this morning.

The motive of this "alleged" shooter, a 24 year old man, is unknown.  New information says he also planted bombs in the apartment which he lived, and that he just waited there for Police to come and arrest him.  He did not take his own life, which so many of the shooters like him tend to do.  It seems he was not afraid of what would happen to him.  This makes me believe that this was well planned on his part, not an act of passion, and that through it, he wishes to make some statement.  He will surely get enough stage time to say what he wants.

But really... why does anyone do something like this?  While this action can never be excused, and we can never initially know the fullness of motives for why violence happens, especially in this case, there is a history of shootings among those who are bullied.  We live in a SINFUL world, my friends, and we MUST, we are OBLIGATED, do to everything we can individually and as a community to make sure things like these never happen.  At the end of time, when we stand before God and he shows us the effects of our actions throughout our whole lives... how many of us will be happy with what they see?  I urge you, do not let this act, or Columbine, or Cold Springs, or Virginia Tech, go in vain!  Keep them in your mind, pray about them, and let them motivate you to live every moment of every day in love for your neighbor... especially those who feel as though no one loves them.  Love can change hearts.  Love can convert sinners.  Love can prevent acts such as this shooting.

Finally, brothers and sisters, I wish to impress on you the importance this shows us of being ready for our death!  Those people in the movie theater, I say with confident certainty that none of them went to the movie expecting to be killed.  How many of them now, wish that they had lived lives closer to God, that they had gone to Church or confession just one more time, or that they had made amends with broken relationships they just never got around to?  Life is precious! But even more important is what happens to us after life... let's not take either for granted--let's live life to the fullest, loving, maintaining healthy relationships, and doing what God wants us to do, and lets do it with our eyes set to heaven, taking care to avoid any sin, and asking for forgiveness as soon as we can for those sins we do commit.

We pray, O Lord, for all those affected by the shooting in Aurora, CO this morning.  For those who were taken, eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine on them.  For those who loved them, or who will be forever changed by the experience, we ask you to send down your Holy Spirit to console them.  We pray that, in the devastation and suffering that they are feeling, they cling closer to you and that they're hearts not be hardened or despair.  Finally, we pray for the man who committed this atrocity, may he feel true sorrow and repent of his sin, and may everyone who hates him, who wishes damnation on him, experience a softening of heart and pray for his conversion.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reflections on the Purpose and Size of the Universe

One of the things I've been meditating on lately is the universe, particularly: Is there other life out there, and if not, then what is the purpose of the universe being incomprehensibly "big".

First of all, let me just give a little background for those of you who have never studied how big the universe is...  Our Galaxy, the milky way, is one of millions in the universe.  Even if we could channel the science of Star Trek and travel at "above light speeds" (in a sense), we could never hope to physically explore more than a fraction of the universe.  Furthermore, the universe is bigger than we can even observe, and its constantly expanding.  To use theological terms, the universe is somewhat like a mystery... we can begin to comprehend its vastness, but there's things we just don't even know we don't know about it.

So why did God make a universe that is so big?  I have a few theories, and if you as a ready have others, or agree with one or more of these, please feel free to let me know.

1) Mystery: The reason God made the universe a mystery is exactly that--to give us something that will always be a mystery, even to the realm of science.  In some sense, it puts humans in their place, reminding us of how small, finite, and powerless we are compared to the rest of creation.  It helps us to be OK with mystery... we can keep trying to understand it, but ultimately, much like some of revelation, we must be OK with not understanding it completely.  It enables us to continually be amazed at the beauty of creation--it's nearly impossible to meditate on the universe and feel awe at its beauty and complexity.  Finally, this also helps us be a bit more humble.

2) A Purpose Unknown:  It's possible that the universe is so big because God has it purpose for it that we just don't even begin to realize.  While this is much like the first reason, this theory postulates that there is a reason beyond just being a means of exploration and beauty for the universe.

3) Other Life: This is the most commonly believed theory as to the universe, and it's the one that I personally struggle with the most.  As far as I know, the Church holds no definitive teaching about whether alien life exists, or even if believers shouldn't believe in it.  I remember reading something about JPII saying it was up to the choice of the believer, but don't quote me on that.  Anyway, I'm not sure where I stand on the issue.  I know C.S. Lewis, in his sci-fi space series, posits a very believable scenario in which alien life could exist on other planets.  Furthermore, from a statistical standpoint, it's very hard not think that intelligent life could exist on at least one other of the millions of planets in the universe.
      However...from a theological standpoint, it would seem that believing in other beings would compromise the state of human persons as the crown and center of creation, Christ's sacrifice for human's of all time, and our unique relationship with God.

I haven't made my mind up about reason #3, but the first two seem completely reasonable.  Am I missing anything?  No matter what the reason why the universe is so dang huge, it's still one of the most fascinating things in existence, and I will probably never grow tired of thinking about it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Comments on the Regnerus Study

There is a new study out being touted by Catholic and Anti-Gay Marriage believers as proving that same-sex parent (SSP) families are uniquely detrimental to children.  To them, this is another reason that Same Sex Marriage should not be supported.

As Catholics, American's, and human being's endowed with intellect and rational function, we have a responsibility not only to seek the fullness of Truth according to reality, but to uphold, support, and defend the Truth through realistic, prudent, and valid means.  Therefore, I would like to examine this study to see what actual conclusions can be drawn from it concerning the same-sex marriage issue.

First however, to remove any doubt of my bias, let me share my views concerning SSM.  I believe marriage is a Sacrament between a man and a woman, a reflection of the Trinitarian nature of God, for the purpose of begetting and raising children in a God centered environment.  Therefore, I believe that any form of legislation endorsing same sex union is contrary to the will of God.  For various theological, philosophical, psychological, legal and social reasons, same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry nor adopt or birth children.  Furthermore, the raising of a child by a same sex couple after a heterosexual divorce provides complicated legal issues that could also be avoided by a marriage amendment.

That being said, the idea presented in this study that SSP is significantly and uniquely detrimental to the child being raised is, from a scientific paradigm, contrary to prior studies I have read, specifically one by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association*, but also numerous other studies (some of which even suggest children of SSP are actually better adjusted than even IBF's**).  However, Mr. Regnerus addresses the reliability of these studies in his article and thus appropriate doubt could be shed on their findings concerning their contrary views.

Futhermore, there are sources  pointing out the flaws of the study (anything from sample-size, its specific cohort as being unrepresentative, to unreliable measures) and while some of these arguments are more valid than others, they seriously handicap the ability of this study to be used in public discourse.  Of course, any secular instituion, most of which are in favor of SSM, will find a way to attack this study. However, Mark Regnerus himself says that the study has some weaknesses, does not say anything specifically about the morality of SSP, and should not be used to defend any political position.  I mostly agree with these criticisms--the study, in what and how it measures, is extremely limited in its findings, though there is some valuable information to be gleaned.

What can we take away from this study?  First, it must be noted that in nearly any scientific study dealing with this subject, the spiritual aspect of the child is ignored, and in that concern I believe that no SSP can ever be spiritually healthy for the child involved, as it presents an intrinsically disordered representation of love, sex, marriage, and natural law.  In general however, this study supports the opinion that, while SSP is no worse than divorce, step parentage, and single parent families, the benefits that proceed from an intact biological family cannot be ignored.  Traditional marriage is the best chance a child has at a healthy, spiritually fulfilling life and a realistic portrayal of love and sex.

What does all this mean for Catholics and Marriage Amendment supporters?  This study is not the savior of the Marriage Amendment cause, so please do not treat it as such.  The very sketchy and limited nature of the study, and the fact that most people are skeptical of it, means that it is very unlikely to help you win any arguments, or convince people to even more closely examine their views.  It is important as Catholics that we use all the tools (science, philosophy, revelation, etc.) to adequately support our point, and that we don't use an illogical, purely passionate, or invalid argument just because it supports our view.  This does not win us any respect.  Mark Regnerus' study has some points with which we can use as a piece of the scaffold in our argument, but it is in no way sound enough to stand on its own, nor does it disable the opponents argument concerning SSP and child well-being.  We must continue this fight in prayer, peaceful and respectful discourse, and with a firm handle on Truth and reality.

*cf. Carole E. Allen, James E. Crawford, Mark Del Monte, Jane M. Foy, Miriam Kaufman, Jonathan D. Klein, et al. “The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-Being of Children” Pediatrics. 118.1 (July 2006) p349)

** "Intact Biological Families"--I disagree with this conclusion based on merely spiritual grounds, but the point is that there are varying degrees of sound science which finds different views on the matter.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Adoration Meditation: Loving Your Enemy

The Background

Yesterday the fiance and I went to Adoration for some much needed prayer time.  On the way there we had a discussion which left me with a topic to pray about (even though I didn't necessarily want to).

I'm working in a parish again, and it has its stressful moments.  The actions and words of various people, inside the parish and out (abortion and HHS debates, rude drivers, control freaks, and just generally uncharitable people), have made me question why some people can even call themselves Catholics (for they in no way act like it), and unfortunately I have started to lose faith in humanity, the Church, and its people.

Worst of all, I have found a growth of hate in my heart, and it was this very thing I wanted to take to prayer before the Blessed Eucharist.  It's hard to feel hate in front of the embodiment of love.

On our way there we were nearly hit (and likely seriously injured) by a driver who was at the very least distracted, but most likely made a stupid or selfish decision to turn left (I realized later that I really should give him the benefit of the doubt).  I made a comment that I should have hit him as a matter of justice, to which my fiance began to lecture me about God's mercy.  So, considering I have, as of late, lost sight of God's mercy, that is how I decided to approach the topic in prayer.

The Meditation

I opened the book of Psalms (one of my favorite books, especially in times of trouble) and started reading from the beginning.  After about 7 of them, I realized something--the Old Testament is filled with examples of people calling to God for Justice.  In the Old Testament, this was natural and perfectly acceptable, as God was the deliverer of his people, and Israel trusted him to judge their oppressors.  Furthermore, it was this belief in justice after life, that the wicked would parish and the good would be united with him, that gives Christians the consolation they need to not kill or seriously maim those incredibly stupid people (I exaggerate...but only a bit).

I realized however, that Jesus calls to more than that--though asking God to rain down judgement on those who have hurt us (my fiance' pointed out the story of James and John) may be acceptable and sometimes just, it not what the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross calls us to.  We are called, in fact, to wish that that person is actually received into heaven.

This is hard, because in doing that, we are left with no consolation of Justice, except for our own reception and union with him.  I relate it to the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in which everyone, even those who worked less, gets paid the same amount.  This parable, and this act of giving up our own consolation of judgment is SO hard for humans because it is contrary to our nature as human beings.  Mercy is divine, and thus it can only be given through the help of Christ.

We should all only be concerned with how WE will be judged, and furthermore, be seeking to help others "get paid" by receiving the beatific vision.  This is impossible to do ourselves, and thus the only way to truly love, is to let Christ love through you.