Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What to Do When Holy Week Doesn't Feel Holy

Today is Tuesday of Holy Week.  Honestly it feels like any other Tuesday.  It doesn't feel any holier then the previous Tuesdays of the year.  I guess I feel this way because I haven't been partaking at mass regularly. My job simply doesn't allow me the opportunity to attend mass regularly. As a practicing Catholic christian I can't help regretting this especially during Holy Week.  This past Palm Sunday I was not able to attend mass.  I felt bad because Holy Week is my favorite time of year. I am also scheduled this week to work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the entire triduum. 

So why should anyone care who is reading this?

I am not writing to gain sympathy or pity.  I am not even writing this to sound mildly entertaining because spirituality isn't really that entertaining most of the time.  The reason I am writing this is to indicate that my relationship with the Lord is a deeply personal one.  I remember years ago when I wasn't into my faith how evangelicals would ask, "Do you have a relationship with the Lord?"  I would usually shirk my shoulders, roll my eyes and walk away.  But years after I realize that there is truth to that statement: a personal relationship with the Lord. 

My relationship with the Lord is just like any other relationship.  It has its ups and downs, it has its Triduum. 
heartbreaks and its elation.  Over the past year, especially during my personal struggles I have developed a poignant, personal relationship the Lord.  This relationship isn't confined just to pious practices such as mass, and structured prayers. (Even though those practices are important.) It is very real.  There is a dialogue. He speaks to me, I speak to him. With that being said it still doesn't take away from the fact that I miss the beauty and solemnity of the Easter

One of the beautiful things about being Catholic is that our faith is a sensual one.  There are smells, sights, and sounds all designed to get us into that place of worship where we become one with Christ.  I am artistic by nature so I am drawn naturally to the beauty of Holy Week services.   In spite of my limitations I believe there is a way to make this holy week special.  I hope that any of you who are also struggling can find some use from my suggestions.

Suggestion 1.  Make the most of the time that you have.   It is true that time is very limited but still that doesn't mean that you can't take a moment here or there to do some pious practice such as the rosary, adoration, or liturgy of the hours. (My favorites.)

Suggestion 2.  Try to do at least 15 minutes daily of mental prayer.  There is no set way of doing this.  The best way I feel to do this is just sitting in silence and listening with your heart.

Suggestion 3. Watch scenes from Jesus of Nazareth or the Passion.  These two films I believe are the best in capturing the life and sufferings of Jesus.

Suggestion 4.  Take some time to vocalize some personal prayer, especially during work.  Some examples of this are:  "Jesus I trust in you",  "Jesus forgive me" etc.

Suggestion 5.  Offer up any situation at work for someone that you love or for the atonement of your sins.

I believe that if you do this you can still have a very holy, holy week and a jubilant Easter.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Liberal Lie #2

B) Man becomes bad only through injustices in the environment.  Therefore the role of any government or institution is to rid the society of all injustice.

This argument of liberalism is the centerpiece of its philosophy because once a person accepts this then life becomes a series of injustices that need to be remedied.  The irony of this argument is that life will always be full of injustices and if these injustices need to be removed who can remove them?

I will give 3 reasons why this liberal argument is false.

Reason 1: There are people who are still able to live meaningful lives despite injustices in their environment.  Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor was able to find meaning despite his horrible circumstances; so much so that he developed a new school of psychology.  Nelson Mandela was able to survive 27 years of imprisonment and was able to forgive his captors and lead his country into freedom.  Now this logical criticism will arise: But these examples are extraordinary exceptions which happen in very rare circumstances therefore they are null. Nature proves otherwise. A law is a law in all cases regardless of exceptions. Now a person can manipulate natural laws such as in the case of gravity where airplanes do so everyday.  But even if airplanes are able to manipulate gravity it doesn't prove that gravity doesn't exist.  So if the environment did determine a person's behavior then it would be true in all cases. But since this isn't the case it therefore isn't true.  The converse then becomes true that a person shapes their environment.

Reason 2:  No other entity besides the person can influence their own decisions.  It is true that a government can provide legitimate incentives to encourage positive behavior.  An example of this are charter schools which are funded by the government which stress a more competitive environment to improve overall behavior.  There is a certain truth that the environment can definitely shape behaviors.  But there are also cases where the environment doesn't do this as is stated in my first reason.  With that being said it doesn't take into account a person's role in the change.  Somewhere during the process a person had to make a decision to change their behavior.  Whether this was done concretely or passively the person still exerted their will into the situation.  All behavioral changes whether using the will or not require the use of the will.  A person doesn't simply change without his or her consent.  A person can be forced through strong environmental factors such as through government coercion, totalitarian leaderships, troubled neighborhoods to act in a certain way.  But still in spite of the circumstances the person still made a choice to fit into their environment.  The choice to resist is always there no matter the consequences.  Therefore the power to change always comes from the person not an outside entity.  

Reason 3: Injustice will always exist no matter how altruistic the aims of a society might be. It is true that a society should do everything in its power to rid all injustices.  But injustice will always exist since humans are imperfect.  Imperfection is a form of injustice because every human craves perfection.  This craving implies a sort of unity that doesn't exist in this world.  Furthermore nature is replete with injustices.  The lion will always kill the gazelle.  Flowers bloom and die. Predators will always destroy their prey.  Strangely these injustices balance out the natural world and act as a series of checks and balances.  In human nature injustice can serve as a catalyst for change or can serve as painful reminder that there is more to existence then what there is. Because if human existence was just then there would be no injustice, but since this is not the case injustice will always exist.  The best any society can do is to limit as much as possible the cases of injustice.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Dramatic Retelling of John 5

A couple of weeks ago I began writing this short story on John 5.

"When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "Sir I have no man to put me into the pool..." John 5: 6-7a

Isaac feebly attempted to get into the healing pool. It was about noon, the time when the sick were brought into the water.  He crawled, he fell, he pleaded for others to help him, but each time he did so he would hear their scorn and whisperings.  He could never get into the healing pool.  So he gave up and instead sat in his corner, the corner being so worn that the outline of his body was permanently imprinted on it.

Daily he undertook this ritual, but to no avail.  The more he tried the less he succeeded.   After doing this for years he gave up and instead waited at the pool and made idle talk with his miserable cohort. To Ezekiel he said, “How are you doing today?”  Ezekiel replied, “The same, sick as always, can’t walk, and my last set of teeth just fell out.” After laughing and spitting out his last tooth he continued, ‘there used to be a time when I cared and I hoped to get well, but I have given up all hope.    I am shunned and despised by all.”  Another paralytic named Jacob chimed into the conversation exclaiming, “What is the point of all of this? What is the point of this life?  Why doesn’t God just take our lives?  I have been pleading for him to take mine for years.”  After all of these conversations Isaac replied, “ I, too have given up all hope.  In a strange way I am comfortable with my unhappiness, it is all that I know.  I don’t know how I would live without it.  The only
comfort that I have is your miserable company, and my own.” 

After bidding good night to his friends Isaac fell asleep and he said for the millionth time, “God if you are there help me but since you are not good night.” Not being consoled by these words he fell asleep.  The sun set rapidly and the night came as it always did without the promise of change.

The next morning there was a tumult at the pools.  There were large crowds, all vying to get closer to some self proclaimed prophet and his merry band.  Jacob awoke first and grudgingly said, “What is the meaning of this, at this hour!  Ezekiel also replied annoyed, “Another wonder worker, what spell will he cast!”  I hope that he casts a spell that sends this crowd away!” Ezekiel sarcastically said as he laughed and began to cough so violently that he nearly collapsed.  Isaac awoke lastly and asked, “What is this racket?  I bet you that it’s nothing.  I will try to fall asleep again.”  But as he tried to fall asleep he couldn’t since the noise of the crowd grew stronger and stronger. 

In the distance he heard the crowd shouting “teach us master, teach us” The teacher began, “Come to me, all of you who are burdened and I will give you new life.  Come with me for my yoke is easy and burden light.”  Isaac was intrigued, but as soon as he began to think about those words he grew bitter and angrier.  “…burden light?” “I will show this charlatan whose burden is light!” And as Isaac said this he clenched his fists and began to swing his right arm in anger.  But after tiring himself with this futile exercise he sat again on the same mat which he sat on for years imprinting the marble floor even more.

Again he heard the crowd asking, “Master teach us, teach us some more!”  Again he heard the preacher’s voice in the distance, but this time closer, about thirty yards not more.  The teacher proclaimed, “ I am the way, the truth, and the life…He who believes in me will have eternal life.” “Eternal life?” asked Isaac.  “What is eternal life?” a life of unrelenting misery.” A life sitting next to this pool without being able to get in, a life of being shunned, despised by all.”  If this is eternal life I don’t want any part of it.  Hell, I don’t even want a new life. I just want to be left alone.”

As he clumsily crawled back to his accustomed space he saw the crowd as it began to disperse.  But from the corner of his eye he saw the preacher heading towards him.  Isaac didn’t know why but each time he saw the preacher his heart began to beat faster and faster.  He began to sweat, and feel lightheaded.  But it was a strange lightheadedness, one mixed with exhilaration, and ecstasy; each time the master walked closer the feeling intensified until he saw the preacher’s  face not more than a couple of feet.  At that point Isaac was visibly sweaty, looking like he ran a marathon during those brief minutes.  But after seeing the master face to face, an unexplainable peace began to overcome him;  a peace familiar, yet a new one which transcended emotion. The master turned to him and said, “Do you want to be healed?”  Isaac cleared his throat and asked the question back, “Do I want to be healed?” Once he asked this all of the peace that he experienced vanished and he answered bitterly, “What kind of question is that?” ‘Do I want to be healed?  I won’t even answer that.  The master once again asked smiling gently, “Do you want to be healed?”  Isaac answered in a gruff voice, “Why do you ask me that? What are you some magician, do you want to perform in front of your audience here, what am I your clown? Your amusement! But after seeing that there was no one near him or the master he calmed for a brief moment until the master looked into his eyes again and commanded, “Stand up and walk.”  Isaac at that point began to realize the enormity of this command.  He thought to himself, “What if the master is right and I begin to walk.  What will my life be like after that?  Will I need to get a job? Will I need to find a new house? What will I tell my family?” All of these questions began encircling his mind in a deafening frenzy until he reached the point of resigned surrender.  “I have nothing left but the hope of a new life and I am willing to try that.”  As soon as he thought this he began to get up and walk.  At first he couldn’t pull himself up since he had not done so for most of his life.  But as he began to lift he felt a new strength in his back and legs so much that he was able to get up on his own.  With tears in his eyes Isaac exclaimed, “I am healed, I can walk.”  The master replied, “Your faith has made you well.”  Isaac asked could I join your group?  The Master replied “Go instead and tell the good news of your healing to everyone that you meet.  Tell them the news; spend your entire life doing so.  If you do this I will be in your heart forever and you will be at peace.”

After saying this master walked away into the distance.  Isaac attempted to follow him but changed his mind and turned the other way.  He opened and closed his eyes just to make sure that he wasn’t dreaming.  Once he realized that he wasn’t he turned and made his way to the pool where Ezekiel and Jacob were sitting. He began to walk towards them determined on telling them the good news of his healing

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Liberal Lie # 1

The goal of this post and the subsequent ones in this series is to refute the lies of modern liberalism.  My goal isn't political. Rather it is philosophical.  My goal isn't to support a political ideology over another.  It is to illuminate the weaknesses of Liberalism.

Liberalism is the 21st century's most dynamic religion its converts span the globe; its numbers rapidly
The French Revolution. The origin of modern liberalism.
growing. Liberalism manifests itself in many different guises such as socialism, secularism, humanism, etc.  Despite the form, its goal is utopian, of creating a life of comfort and ease.  The long term goal of liberalism is to replace all traditional institutions, philosophies, and religion.

Armed only with reason and common sense I will seek to debunk the lies of this flawed philosophy.

Liberal principle #1

A) All humans are inherently good.

I say that humans aren't inherently good. It doesn't take much to realize this.  Look at all the wars, injustices, perpetrated around the globe, throughout history. History is replete with these examples. If humans were good these conditions simply wouldn't exist. Further if humans were inherently good there wouldn't be the need for laws, courts, armies, institutions, and governments etc; goodness would be self evident. That's why civilized societies develop laws to curtail man's man's wrong doing. Man is motivated through consequence.  Man made laws are simply codified consequences which are found in nature.If mankind were good there wouldn't be the need for such laws. Nature is also full of laws, all designed at keeping the environment functioning efficiently.  Without natural law the world could not sustain itself.  If nature were inherently peaceful, natural law would be unnecessary. But since nature is also destructive it is necessary for laws to exist for it to become good. The same goes with man if there aren't laws to keep man's destructive tendencies in check man will never be good. Man is good only when he is continually taught through habit, reinforced through law to be good. Therefore because of these factors man is not inherently good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Mystery of The Heart

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt who can understand it?" Jer:17
The human heart.  Who can understand it? It is the most mysterious part of all of us. It makes us distinctly human.  It is the part which we know intimately yet can't describe it. It is the part that both frightens, and enlightens us.  It is the part which makes us great or depraved. It is the part which can bring us to tears, while tearing us to anger. It is summit of all our experiences, yet can only be captured in a few brief, illuminating moments. 

So what is the heart? 

Simply put the heart is the innermost part of us.  It is the center of all of our emotions, passions, and feelings.  It is not the soul, but feels very much like the soul. I like to think of the heart as the mind of the soul; making visible those invisible realities which we aren't always aware of.  It isn't the mind, but is perceived by the mind.  So what is the difference between the mind and the heart? 

The mind I believe is the great organizer of thought.  It doesn't originate thought, but perceives the thought and digests it so to speak. It is center of logic, building relationships between objects  The heart on the other hand isn't organized,  it is a wild and forbidden landscape, dangerous, and untamed.  It is like a thoroughbred without the breeding.  Sigmund Freud believed that the heart was the subconscious while the mind was the conscious. Aristotle believed that the heart was the center of sensation and movement.  Jesus taught that the heart was the center of evil in a person.  In short the heart is the sensual core of a person; it is the part that is activated by sensual experience.

So how can we harness the heart for good?

I don't believe that there is any one way to accomplish this.  I believe that it takes a lifetime to understand one individual, much less the heart.  I believe that one can best harness the heart through developing reason and free will through the acquisition of good habits.  One will always have passions, but what separates the animal from the human is that the human can choose to ignore or to channel those passions. The greater the development of reason within the person the greater capacity for good.  In this sense the heart can be looked upon as a neutral signal receiver; receiving thousands of signals. The mind can be looked upon us the selector of those signals, while the habits are the activators of those signals.

Ultimately the human heart is a mystery which will never be totally understood in this lifetime.  Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky appropriately reflects on this as he writes,

“Man is a mystery. It needs to be unraveled, and if you spend your whole life unraveling it, don't say that you've wasted time. I am studying that mystery because I want to be a human being.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Are We Unhappy?

Recently I watched a documentary titled, "I AM".  The documentary was created by director Tom Shadyac.
(director of Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, and Bruce Almighty.)  The documentary dealt with his spiritual journey after a serious biking accident. Shadyac sought to find answers to these these two basic questions, "Why aren't we happy, and what is the greatest evil in the world?

I will attempt to answer the second question in this post.

The greatest evil in the western world, particularly in the US is materialism.  What do I mean by materialism?  Living for things themselves. Going above what you need to fill an insatiable desire for acquisition. 

Aristotle over two thousand years ago philosophized that the greatest end a human can aspire to is the good life. So what is the good life?  According to Aristotle it was when one's legitimate needs were met in this life.  So what were some of these legitimate needs?  Happiness, health, virtue, and harmony between man.  So how did one acquire these ends?  Through honest cooperation with others and through developing good habits especially the virtues of temperance, courage, and justice.  If a man was able to achieve this he would be happy. 

Our economy tells us the opposite; that we need to buy more and more things to be happy.  From the earliest age we are conditioned to believe that our lives are lacking and that the only way to achieve happiness is through buying more and more things.  Think about it...what is the greatest reason why most people want to be wealthy?  It is to buy more things, to live an easier life.  The problem with this logic is that it doesn't take into account what makes humans really happy.The turning point for Tom Shadyac comes when he is all by himself in his mansion and realizes that he is still unhappy.  Despite having it all he was still miserable.

The thing that makes humans the happiest is the development of virtue, which in turn will cause humans to think of others and think of more altruistic ends.  Materialism robs man of this because it goes against the virtues.   Materialism is intemperate because it desires more than is necessary.  Materialism is unjust because it fosters competition rather than cooperation and unbridled competition causes poverty. Materialism is a vicious cycle which begins with one person and ends up infecting an entire civilization.  St. John Chrysostom illustrates this point as he reflects,
"The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”
Towards the end of the documentary Tom Shadyac gives up his mansion and private jet and decides instead to live in a trailer community while using his bike to commute to work.  Shadyac is much happier because he has given up his "stuff".  The antidote for materialism is to live simply and for others.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Power To Choose

"Your charity should be likable. Without neglecting prudence or naturalness, try to have, though you may be crying inside, a smile on your lips for everyone at all times, and try to render an unstinting service too."  St. Josemaria Escriva
"...a smile on your lips for everyone at all times."  That might be one of the hardest things to do especially when under pressure.  How does one acquire the strength to act the opposite of the way one is feeling?  Victor Frankl author of, "Man's Search for Meaning," speaks about making this decision even while he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.  Frankl's greatest discovery was that once man finds a purpose to live he can live through anything.

So how does one go about finding that purpose especially in the midst of mundane, daily tasks?

I believe that the way one finds this purpose is through adversity; through those times one when one is stretched to the limits, mentally, physically, or emotionally.  It's like lifting weights the more weight is applied the more muscle is developed. 

Another factor is the attitude one brings to the circumstance.  If one is consistently miserable and complaining then one loses out on that moment.  But instead if one accepts the situations as a way of growing then one will profit greatly from the experience.  One of the greatest gifts which God gives is the ability to choose freely.  This gift also extends to the realm of the mind where each one one us has the ability to choose our responses.  Take a look at most of the saints.  What is the one quality that drew others to them?  It was joy.  The saints despite their hardships were able to exhibit an unexplainable joy which drew others to them.  What was the source of that joy?  God of course.  But it also took the effort of the saints to choose their responses to their daily situations.

I believe that St. Escriva and Victor Frankl are both telling us that we have the power to choose our responses to any circumstance be it dealing with a belligerent boss, a rebellious child,or an aggressive driver on the fast lane.  Life is full of opportunities to grow.  If we can change our thoughts and attitudes we can literally change the world we live in.