Friday, September 27, 2013

Discovering God in a Child

Up until this past June I was a very lucky step-father to four wonderful children. A divorcee myself, I came into my second marriage assuming a couple of things. First, that I was never going to have children of my own and second that I'd never be called dad without a hyphen. A sad state of things but one that I was okay with. I was happily married and my "prefab" kids as I call them were all great.

My loving wife and I had two miracles occur at roughly the same time a couple years into our marriage. First, we both talked about exploring Catholicism (only to find out that we both wanted to pursue) and secondly that we were going to have a baby! It may seem weird, but I cannot help think about my own growing knowledge and understanding with that of my newfound fatherhood. To me the two are not a dissimilar as you may believe.

Sometimes we get so busy worrying about this or that we sometimes forgot to really, truly appreciate the little things all around us. I'm a much different person with the birth of our child. Things have a much different focus. I find myself (again) lamenting the younger stupid me. If I had even a wisp of the wisdom I have today, back then I can tell you my stress level would have been less and I certainly would have been a bit more choosy about who I married. That however, is a lengthy post on how the Church handles/handled my annulment proceedings.

I digress. Having a baby changes things (I can hear the selective "duh" from many of you). Perhaps differently when you are younger than older. The young seem to lament the lack of sleep, the constant messes and the loss of self. I don't want to call it selfish, but certainly not self-less. When you give up on a dream like I had you come to realize the gift that a child actually really is; the blessing that the creation miracle actually is. It's changed my views on several things. I'm no longer okay with abortion on any level. I understand why contraception and sterilization are sinful and wrong. See, it took not only the birth of our baby girl, but months before that, the passing of our baby before her (miscarriage).

I wish I'd been less selfish and allowed the miracle of children earlier in my life. Thankfully, to a certain extent, it didn't thus making my divorce from an awful excuse for a marriage that much easier. That said, it's regretful and just a bit painful when I look at my four step-kids and wonder what "could" have been. Thankfully, the Lord blessed me and literally changed my perspective on this and a great many things. See, the Lord gives us great gifts. It's up to us to figure out how best to use these and understand them. My beautiful daughter is nothing short of our miracle and she has already done more for me and our marriage than she will ever know. As I said, way back when we found out we were having her; I've seen a glimpse of God, and it changes everything.

God is very, very good. Thank you Lord for this glimpse of miracle.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Loss of Shame

There was a time in the not too distant past where individuals protected themselves from public acts of stupidity/pornography/lewdness because of shame. Since our increasingly secular society continues to push out God and morality it should come as no surprise as we witness a young person, in this case Miley Cyrus, take her once blossoming and promising career and ruin it. For the love of me I still don't understand what or why she is doing any of what she is doing. Worse still, I can't believe that the parents and friends that love and surround her aren't helping -- or at the very least publicly chastising her.
Miley Cyrus on the cover of Rolling Stone

Specifically, to get "technical" we are talking about the Ninth Commandment. "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife." The Catechism does a much better job of breaking this down and linking it to shame. Purity begets modesty. Sadly, those words are often linked with prudery and a repressive or overbearing parentage. I feel sorry for women most of all. In our present day society in order to stand out as a strong and independent woman you essentially have to "show the goods". Why on earth would any woman think this makes them "more" independent" or increase their personal power? Further this loss of morality seeps into their relationships. It's okay to flirt as long as I don't have sex. It's okay, no one knows so rumors can't start. It's a sad place to find oneself and it seems that young women in particular are the biggest victims.

We as Christians live in a time where it is assumed that shame is old fashioned and that they should learn to ignore feelings of shame in exchange for the good now. We are to embrace that "animal" in us and somehow reconcile that with that voice in our head that is screaming "No!" As Christians, and as Americans we need to rediscover this sense of shame in our works, vocation, interactions and entertainment. With our technology it's far to easy to send lewd pictures, and arrange secret rendezvous. It's almost like we've accepted that its not bad and won't be presented at our final judgement. How can one possibly reconcile this behavior? There is ALWAYS SOMEONE WATCHING! A teen may not get caught watching porn on their smartphone but He is there.

We all need to take stock. We need to realize that God is right there. We may be able to sneak or ignore this for the short term but why? Is the thrill of the moment really that important? Truly? We all need that deep relationship. It all starts with Christ. He's there as you watch your porn. He's there as you send that topless picture to your boyfriend. He's there as you arrange that secret meeting with your lover. He's just waiting for you to turn away from that sin. What will giving into that sin get or benefit you?

At some point we will reach an apex in this country of sin and lewd behavior; hopefully there are people that will reach that personally. Sooner rather than later. At some point, with all shame pushed to the side and everything is done for the "feeling" or "the moment", the victims will they realize that they pushed away true love from God, friends, family and spouses. The pain at that moment will be very, very bleak. I pray that those struggling with this particular broken commandment seek the help they need. Either by confiding in a friend, spouse, or during a heart-opening Reconciliation sacrament. When you feel shame, you are doing wrong. If you are hiding something, you are doing wrong. If you have to lie, it's already hurt yourself and others; you are doing wrong. Simply ask yourself, "If I took this moment of __________, and Jesus was standing right there would I continue? Would he want me to stop?" If we all took this as our filter, the world would be a much better place. We would be married and love deeper, we'd have a new level of trust, and we wouldn't feel helpless or hungry for a cheap thrill. As a father of a newborn daughter, watching Miley continue the downward spiral into oblivion it scares me. I hope that my daughter never has to learn the lesson of shame by destroying herself.

As bleak as it sounds, I'm hopeful for the future through Christ.

"Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell; lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy. Amen."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Forgiveness -- The power of letting it go; Totally

One of the hardest things I've every had to reconcile with, being a Christian, is the act of true forgiveness. As a Southern Baptist my original line of thinking was very easy to reconcile -- eye for a eye. If there is one thing that Southern Baptist do well, it's an ingrained sense of not revenge so much as almost a belief in karma. "Just wait, God'll sort them out."

The idea was more waiting for God to take out his big stick rather than true and honest forgiveness. I used to take it a step further. More in line with William Blake's poem which haunts me to this day:

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine -

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

That is certainly not what Christ teaches nor in anyway the way we are supposed to react when people hurt us. We know it, we just accept this sin and go on. We continue to take this hate (READ: Degree of Murder) and root for our Lord to send forth a well aimed lightning bolt at worst. At best, we hope that our intended victim realize the hurt and pain they are inflicting. The answer is, that's their burden and what they will have to answer to; and it likely won't be in this life. They likely know it is wrong and hurtful; at the very least they don't care at worst, they want to hurt you. What we are called to do is forgive -- really forgive.

The image attached to this posting is from an old high school friend of mine that has obviously been hurt. And the analogy of the image hits really close to home for a lot of us. However, we as Christians cannot expect our God to then go through the cabinet find the offending dish and break it to bits. That's not us!  We as true Catholic Christians need to accept our cross, forgive whoever broke our hears, and pray daily that Jesus Christ is a talented super glue user as well as carpenter. Okay so my analogy breaks a little but I think you see where I am going. We are taught that God is LOVE not a lurking karma bully.

Trust in God. REALLY trust in him. To forgive is to leave yourself vulnerable. To be vulnerable and get hurt, AGAIN is very possible. No one likes to be hurt, much less opening themselves up for the pain again and again; often to suffer in silence. Pray for that strength. Pray thanks for that hurt. Then take that pain, betrayal, anguished heart, and give it to His glory! Personally, I have a lot of personal baggage that I need to do this with -- a lifetime of accumulated baggage. It is NOT easy, and it takes a long time getting there. I too have a ways to go but to see how I've transformed over just the last year. It's truly a miracle of Grace.

Whereas I can forgive, my biggest problem is actually giving it to God and NOT reacting. It's a reflex. I'm a doer and when I was younger I was very proactive in my hurt distribution.  I'm sure we all have and one continuous painful hurt that it will takes years of discipline and prayer to overcome. I've come to a place in my life where I can forgive, and trust in God to give me the strength to endure. I may never reach the place I don't "hate" in return. But I trust that through the power of Jesus Christ I can keep trying.

Take a moment to thank God for the cross he's given you, prayer for those who are hurting you then really, really, try to let it go. You'll be very glad you did, and as always if you need a little extra help. I will pray for you too.


As Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote “Pain, agony, disappointments, injustices-all these can be poured into a heavenly treasury from which the anemic, sinful, confused, ignorant souls may draw unto the healing of their wings.” We can use the suffering for good of others. Just takes a little work.

As I've said numerous times, I come from a Baptist tradition where sin RESULTED in pain, agony, etc. The Father of Lies was the reason these things happened and you should have let him in. Nonsense I realize but it's much easier to blame, than to take suffering and make it something positive.

It's hard and painful to accept a bad thing -- someone lying to you, talking behind your back, treating you like dirt. Take that suffering and offer it as a personal sacrifice; your own cross. Today alone, I have two people that nearly hit my car (I LOOOOOVE commuting), I took that anger that vitriol, that fear and anger and offered it to my Lord. 

The next time that you have a bad day, person, place or thing. Offer it as a personal sacrifice for His glory. Your personal cross as a gift for another soul in need.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Sneaky Sin(s)

There is a reason we think of sin as a dark and horrible thing. Beyond God's spark of grace that puts that feeling into each of us, sin loves the dark. It loves to manifest in dark places. Sometimes you won't even notice you are sinning; or worse not "that" sinful. Sure you'll rationalize it away but in general each of us is guilty. The posting today, we'll take a look at the 10 commandments and expand on them. It was Father Larry Richards on Catholic radio that once said something to the effect of, "We all break the commandments." Thankfully, after we take a more indepth look, we will then take a look at a couple of ways we can fix our broken relationship with God.

Before we dive into things here's God's Top 10!

1. I am the LORD your God:
you shall not have
strange Gods before me.

2. You shall not take
the name of the LORD your God in vain.

3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.

4. Honor your father and your mother.

5. You shall not kill.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

7. You shall not steal.

8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

I have a Facebook friend that posted a saying "You don't have to have sex to cheat. Once you find yourself deleting texts and emails you're probably almost there." Same goes for the Ten Commandments. You don't have to truly commit murder to break that command. Hatred is a very powerful emotion. Ever though about hatred being a "degree" of the 5th commandment? Other than your hold on morality, what is hatred but withheld malice and murder? What is "harmless flirting" but adultery in word and not in deed. With this kind of outlook we all need to evaluate our commitment to these simply commandments.

Everyone knows the list. Certainly familiar to some more than others and thankfully we still live in a time/place were the Commandments are still listed in some courthouses. But have you thought about "degrees" of those sins? Seriously. Have you given the Sabbath, Holy Day entirely to Him or football and tailgating? If I see another "drive-thru" communion person I swear I'll scream; it is the most bizarre thing I've seen since joining the Church. Or perhaps, men, you are looking at that cute girl in the cube next to you; and you're married. You're not acting, perhaps not even flirting. Are you honestly being faithful? In your heart, with your spouse present would you really be doing stuff. What if it was God and your spouse standing by? Much different lenses than simply not getting caught, or "not that bad". We need to understand that bad is bad regardless of the "degree" of getting caught.

If you take the letter of the law verbatim, it's unlikely that many of us are actually breaking the commandment in total. However, if we look at them with a bit of a different filter, then likely the next time you get a chance I'd suggest taking the 10 into your reconciliation and making it a good and meaningful experience. I'm still looking forward to my FIRST, once I get past the annulment process and fully come into the Church. I have a TON of emotional and spiritual baggage. I'm looking forward to talking and praying with my priest and begin the healing. It sounds weird but I'm very anxious for both the healing process and partaking in the Eucharist.

I'd also suggest fervent prayer and we can dive into the use of the Rosary and whatnot next time. That's a whole other new and interesting thing from my standpoint.

Regardless of your "list" remember that you can use those sorrows and trials in prayer. Like the one below:

Dear Lord,
Help me to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (whatever your concern or problem here) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen

I've used this particular prayer when my back has been against the wall or I felt alone, isolated, and defeated. Take this prayer and add it to your arsenal. God only gives you what you can handle, you can always ask God for strength and confidence to accept the burden.