Search This Blog

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.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Further Reflections on Political Parties and the Religious Middle

I was thinking about things on my way to work today, and one of the things that crossed my mind is the fallacies that occur in the philosophies of our political parties, particularly in concern to social and moral issues.

I'm not a political genius, but here's how I see it breaking down.  The primary mistake Democrats as a whole make in their social-moral philosophy is thinking that social issues are actually individual issues, whereas Republicans, as a whole, overlook the value of free-will and personal choice.

Democrats believe that what happens in the bedroom or in the womb is an individual choice which doesn't affect the population as a whole.  Ironically, this is despite what the individual might think concerning the "moral rightness" of an act.  They say, "I believe abortion/Birth Control/Homosexual Marriage is wrong, but I have no right to impose that view on others, especially when it doesn't affect me".  Granted, some Democrats think abortion is a moral good, but that's not the point here.  What I'm trying to say is, we ARE our brother's (and sister's) keeper.  This is actually an act of love, despite what much of the modern secular world might think. Individual acts do affect the greater population both immediately and indirectly.  Abortion has negative effects on women, birth control in one woman can affect various sexual partners, the psychological ramifications of damaging acts affect how the individual relates with others, it leads others to do those immoral acts (through scandal), and from a theological standpoint it further corrupts the state of the world, increasing the presence of social sin.  All those baptized are part of the Body of Christ.  Sinful acts damage the world as a whole, not just the person(s) committing them.

However, some of these acts in and of themselves, should not be so far as outright banned on a federal level.  This is where, I think, Conservatives sometimes overlook the value of personal choice and free-will.  It's the same reason why the Church doesn't hold socialism as legitimate economic system.  Just as you can't FORCE people to give up their hard-earned money, you cannot FORCE people to uphold the positive norms in every and all instances.  While I agree that negative norms should be prohibited, we must still find a way to assure that people are able to live lives focused on a freedom to choose love rather than obey the religious law. 

Its a hard balance to tread.  I'm sure there are gaping holes in my argument.  I also realize that I'm arguing a primarily religious position.  Indeed, this is written mostly to my Christian brothers and sisters, those of whom think we should not hold each other accountable, those who think we need to control every action, and those of us who are stuck in the middle not knowing which side to take.

Being a Christian is hard work, often there is no apparent right answer.  However, I believe there is a middle way somewhere in this mess; a balance of Christian morality and civil law that helps people avoid moral evil and yet challenges them (without forcing) them to live out the fullness of the positive norm Christian Charity.  I have no answers, just observations about some of our problems.  I realize this was kind of a rambling post, but hopefully you found a nugget or two of Truth within it.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten Reflection—“Choose Life (again)”

One of my Lenten devotions this year is to reflect on the daily readings.  While I won’t always have the time or motivation to post my reflections every day, I will try to post some of the ones that I find more edifying or relevant.

I reflected on these same readings two years ago as well, but I wanted to come at it from a slightly different angle this time around.

The “sound-bite” that we can take from the 1st reading, and which will serve as our theme for reflection is “Choose life… that your descendants might live”.  This begs the questions—how do we choose life, and what does it mean to do so?

In the Readings:

In today’s first reading we see that we have two choices: Life or Death.  From the Old Testament perspective choosing life, or rather, choosing God, means keeping the commandments as well as “loving him and walking in his ways”.  It is these last two that I think are especially important, and we will flush out their meaning next.

We find a completely different story in the Gospel reading.  Though we should still keep the moral law (commandments) of the Old Testament, we find, through the fulfillment of Jesus and thus the law, that we are charged with a responsibility that is both harder than merely keeping commandments but also easier, as it speaks to our deepest human nature.  Basically, we are called to love. 

Loving in Lent:

I’ve posted a lot about love in the past, both in my Lewis Blog and this one.  However today I want to focus on a particular aspect of it as it pertains to the readings and to Lent, and which may be especially relevant over the last couple months.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Well I think it can be more than just flattery, it can also be a sincere form of love.  In fact, as an act of love, we are called to imitate Christ and do the will of God.  Today’s readings outline the best (though hardest) way to imitate Christ—dying and Sacrifice.

A good parallel is John 12:24-25, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

The Gospel for today is much the same, and in fact it’s likely that John used the words of Luke for his passage.  The point is, if we truly want to love God, if we want to be with him in eternity (choosing life), there is better way (and in fact really no OTHER way) than to sacrifice everything for him, even if that be our lives.  This is what the focus of lent should be… teaching ourselves to sacrifice so that we may love Christ and love like Christ.

How do we Sacrifice?

Now let me concede a point—very few of us, especially those of us with the means to be reading this blog right now, will be called to literally sacrifice our lives for Christ.  Martyrdom is still a very real and beautiful reality within the Church (and we should all, with God’s grace, pray that we be willing to accept it if it comes), but it most likely won’t happen while residing in a first world country (despite the path that certain first world countries seem to be taking concerning religion).  However, there are other ways to sacrifice or give up our lives for Christ, as well as opportunities, every day in fact, to sacrifice smaller things.  We call this “dying to ourselves”.

The major way in which we give our lives to Christ is through vocation—offering ourselves, our gifts, our work, to do what God is calling us to do.   Whether it’s being a priest, religious, raising a large family, doing missionary work, serving the poor, etc. following God’s will despite how scary it can be is a form of giving up our lives.

There are other, smaller ways, however, and this is where Lent comes in.  Dying to ourselves, to our desires and passions, is a way to grow in virtue (particular those of temperance and fortitude), and this is why we fast.  By fasting and giving up things that are important for us, and which are hard to give up, we slowly come to form the habit of giving things up.  Not only that, but it also drives us to prayer and contemplation on Christ’s suffering, and further cultivates in us a desire to imitate him.  See how this is cyclical?  See why it’s important to give things up, even if it’s little, as long as it’s important to us?  By practicing the small things, we can begin to find the larger sacrifices a little easier.

I was going to take this and apply it to why some people choose to have abortions or use birth control… but perhaps this isn’t right place or time, and I think you can make that connection by yourself (plus that’s why there’s a comments section ;-) ).

Choose life…

With all this said and done, let us try to choose life this lent by sacrificing those little things, and if need be anything big.  Let us pray as well that we may be willing to imitate Christ in love for him.  When it all comes down to it, loving like Christ is what we should all be focused on, whether it’s Lent or not.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

One Year After Marshall

Today (Jan 15, 2012) marks the one year anniversary of me quitting my Youth Ministry job in Marshall, MN.  I've thought a lot about what happened over the last year, why it happened, who its changed me, and where I am in life now because of it.  This post is, for the most part, a reflection and attempt at healing, it is also in part, an apology.

As much as I would like to blame my departure from Marshall mostly on other people, the truth is it had as much to do with me as anyone else.  Yes, I was working long hours with what seemed to be very little support from parents.  Yes, there were people I didn't get along with.  But more than that,  I had no friends and I was homesick--four hours away from my now fiance, and 3 from my family.  I was spiritually dead--I didn't feel a part of the parish or able to upkeep my spirituality.  I missed grad school and the challenge of learning.  I was inconfident in my ability as a youth minister and got very little affirmation I was doing a good job.  All these combined lead me to be depressed, which lead me to be apathetic about how I was doing.  Let's get one thing straight though--I did not leave because of the youth.  They were great, and the reason why I stayed as long as I did.  The reasons I left were because of the parents, the job itself, and even more so because of my personal inadequacies.

My program started to slip, parents began to meet and decide whether I should stay or go.  I think secretly I was looking for a way out, so when the priest came and offered a chance to peacefully resign, I jumped at it, and I was gone two days later.  Without saying goodbye to anyone.

This last part is what I regret the most.  It's not that I was a crappy youth minister, that I didn't do everything I could have done in the program, or even that I realized that's not what I'm called to do as a job--but what I regret the most is that I feel I both ran away and abandoned the youth.

And it is this regret that I am still trying to get over--did I do the right thing, or was leaving in the manner I did cowardly?  I don't really know yet, but i'm working through the answers to some of my questions.  Was going to Marshall in the first place the right decision?  I'm pretty sure it was.  Was leaving Marshall the right decision?  I think it probably was.  What I do know however, is that no matter how much I regret the manner in which I left, if I'm to evaluate the decision based off of the current status of my life, leaving Marhsall is quite possibly the best decision of my life.

In just a year I've gotten engaged to (I can honestly say) the most beautiful woman in the world (an event that probably would not have happened if I had stayed in Marshall), I've completed a semester of my Masters of Arts in Theology program at Saint Paul Seminary, and I'm two weeks into a job that I absolutely love.  I must say, while in Marshall I was nearly miserable, lately I am the happiest that I have ever been.

I still have some healing to do, still have some things to work out in my mind and heart... but now that I'm happy, I can do that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

No Place to Call Home: The State of Catholic Young Adults in American Politics

This is one of the few political posts you will ever see me write, mostly because, as I will discuss later, I hate politics.  Why do I hate politics?

There is a movement among my generation of devoted Catholics to move towards the conservative and traditional aspects of the faith, perhaps in response to the (some would say) abusive implementations of Vatican II.  However, that's not the point of this post.  Rather, it is a platform for me to stage the conundrum my generation faces against the rising liberalism of the western world.

First, let me say this:  I am not educated in politics, I understand very little of it, and for the most part I'm relatively apathetic about it.  So if I say anything that objectively untrue, please feel free to logically and reasonably correct me with evidence.  However, if you care to spout partisan bias based off of something you hear from one of your catered news shows, please don't bother.

OK.  So why do I hate politics?  Quite simply, I view politics as a lose-lose situation.  The only reason I even vote is because its my obligation to do so as a responsible citizen and Catholic.  I hate doing it because there is NO mainstream political party or movement that correctly lines up with traditional Catholic views.  No matter who you vote for, the person you vote for will be against something in the Church.

I firmly believe that, from a Catholic (and hopefully mainstream Christian) perspective, we should be voting for "socially conservative--financially liberal" candidates.  This ensures that our culture is held accountable to live moral lives while providing for the poor and vulnerable.  It is the best balance between Social Justice and virtuous internal and family lives.  Now, "liberals", which fall mostly under the term "democrats" are obviously liberal on both axes, while "conservative" "republicans" are conservative (again obviously).  So the problem, in theory, is that we can either vote on fiscal matters and go democrat, or vote on social matters and go republican.  Still there are problems with this... many young Catholics have been brought up to think that voting democrat is near evil, and that democratic fiscal views are socialist, communist (yes there IS a difference), or at the very least want to take away what people earn.  Additionally, we've basically been told to "pro-life" (another term I loathe), and thus "socially" is the only way to vote.  The problem is, and let me try to be succinct in this, Republicans don't have a consistent pro-life platform either, and economic and educational status has at least a correlation with the likely-hood of getting an abortion.  Could the economy be at least a partial solution to reducing abortions?

This is the problem I, and I think a decent portion of my rational, un-brainwashed, catholic peers feel.  We have no political home.  And so, as a defense mechanism we either just don't care, or we try to rationalize why one party is better than the other.  Let me say this though: if there is ever a "pro-life" democrat (and mind you this includes: war, abortion, marriage, death penalty, euthanasia, etc.), they would most likely have my vote.

Let me just give a couple more reasons about why I hate politics (and excuse me for my rant).  I have seldom had a good discussion or experience with politics.  In fact, I find it to be one of the most irrational, stubborn, biased, and divisive topics I know.  Most people who claim to be from one party or another do it for one or two issues and don't actually know what they're party fully believes.  Political parties become more like a label and status symbol then they do for any platform for discussion about a better country.  If you can rationally think about what you believe, what you, the country, and the poor and vulnerable truly NEED, can get your head out of your butt, and take everything you hear from news channels with a grain of salt, and still say you're from one party or another, then more power to you.  However, if you think that being either republican or democrat makes you more or less American, please don't even bother discussing politics with me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What Makes Love Work?

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what makes Emily (my fiance') and mine's relationship so good.  Don't get me wrong, we definitely have our problems in our relationship, but there is a solidness and security there that I don't seem to see in many relationships, even some marriages.  Over the 15+ month's we've been dating we've seen good (and bad) relationships crumble or go through some serious tribulation.  We've had our problems too, the first 6 months was a constant struggle and there were times when we both thought about calling it off (her more often then me though ;-)).  Still, we're now at the point of planning the wedding, so we must be doing something right.  Now, I will be the first to admit that the primary reason we are together is through the grace of God.  It if wasn't for Him helping us through some difficult situations, and Him wanting us to be together, we would have broken up a while ago.  However, after thinking about it for a while I've come up with the 3 basic elements that makes our relationship one of the most solid I know.  I think any relationship that has these three, as well as God's help (which is the most essential), can be a good and secure relationship.

1) Commitment:  If you think love and relationships are supposed to be easy, I suggest you re-examine the state of marriage in this country.  Love, marriage, and relationships of all kinds will be the hardest things you do in your entire life.  This is why love is not about feeling, but about commitment.  Emily and I CHOOSE to be with each other no matter what.  Our confidence in this decision is held strong by our prayers and the numerous signs that God has given us to be together.  I'll admit, there are times when I just need my space from her, when we fight and get angry, or when our "feelings of closeness" aren't so present.  That doesn't matter, because we know we will whether any storm because we are each others' vocation.  Commitment must be the building block of any relationship, otherwise it will crumble.

2) Communication: This is another obvious relational pillar that people, quite frankly, tend to suck at.  Communication must be open, honest, respectful, and consistent.  I worry when some couples tell me that they never fight... fighting is what healthy couples do! IF they do it in the right way.  When you have a problem it is important to tell your partner about it so that both your needs can be met.  However, do it at an appropriate time.  When discussing or arguing, don't use negative tactics such as name calling, score keeping, or generalizing.  You can find tips on these all over the net, so if you have problems with healthy arguing, I suggest you look up some advice, or get a hold of me and I'll help you.  Some couples are afraid to talk about problems because they are afraid that a fight could get ugly and end the relationship, or they just don't like confrontation.  Well, this is where the commitment comes in--if you know a fight won't break you up, then you can have it and still feel secure.  I could go on and on with this paragraph, but because you can find this info everywhere, I'll cut it off here.

3) Intimacy: This is the element that everyone thinks they do great at but know one really knows how and thus people end up in unloving marriages.  Put simply, intimacy is a mutual feeling of love between two partners.   Yes, this is the FEELING part.  However, its not just about sex! Sex can be without intimacy if you are using the other person, and a lack of at least occasional intimacy can break any committed bond.  You must show and communicate your feelings of love for each other.  This is tricky, since each person speaks a different love language.  In other words, each person expresses and receives love in a different way.  If you feel you are not receiving love you cannot give love.  It's a very delicate circle, but someone has to start it.  Gary Chapman writes a great book on this called The 5 Love Languages--check it out if you or your partner are feeling unloved, or if you just want to learn how to love better.  The movie "Fireproof" also has some very good examples of this principle.

Every relationship has it's weaknesses, struggles, and strengths.  It's primarily through the Grace of God that relationships work out, and some, quite frankly shouldn't last.  I don't have all the answers, but for some reason my relationship has lasted, and will continue to last, and I believe it is for these three reasons.  Please, if you are in a relationship that is struggling, examine which area(s) need work and talk about it as a couple.  If you have good friends or parents who have beautiful relationships, ask them for advice and help as well.  Good relationships don't flower in a dark closet, they are meant to be shared and thrive in a Garden of Relationships.  Cheesy I know, but its true.  A private relationship is a dead one.

Happy Loving