Friday, July 29, 2011

Profiles in Fiat: Adam

It's been more than two weeks since my last post.  I apologize.  Lesson plannings and the facts of family life have caught up with me more than I ever thought.

As I've been writing my Scripture curriculum, I've been thinking about the Fiats of those who came before us.  It strikes me how much the Bible says about following God's plan without always speaking of it directly.

Take Adam, for example.  He was the first man, our first father, and he was also the first sinner.  He didn't do a particularly good job of following God's will, at least, not in what is recorded, but the Church acknowledges him as a saint, so he must have turned back to God!

That brings up an important point about following God's will.  There are only two people in all of history (and pre-history) who gave a perfect Fiat.  The rest of us fail, often and miserably, to do God's will.  Yet, we are still called to be saints, and to do that, we need to remember our sins and to be sorry, to turn back to God and repent, and to resolve once again to follow God's will.  For all that, Adam is a truly holy example to us, even if we don't know the story of his repentance.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

Authentic Masculinity: Of Men and Jackasses

Last night, I was in a debate for quite a long time defending the dignity of marriage.  It was an online debate, so naturally, people started getting rude.  When two of them decided to start saying disgustingly offensive things and making ignorant insinuations about the Catholic Church and sexuality, I sent off one last message telling them why I would not continue to debate with them, and I left.

In reality, it was probably pride enough that led me to go that far.  I should've just left without explanation.

A little later, I discussed it with my wife, who is quite feisty, and she went and tore them a new one.  It makes me wonder about masculinity.  The men I was arguing with were very clearly trying to be macho debaters.  They probably thought they were being manly by throwing out grotesque sexual commentary to offend me, whom they perceived as some academic pansy.  That's just one of the differences between authentic masculinity and phony masculinity.  One of the keys of masculinity is confidence.  I was confident in the points I made.  I had no reason to descend into name-calling, intimidation, or rudeness.  A real man doesn't have to prove he is.  The men I debated were demonstrating false masculinity.  They felt the need to prove they were men, and they ended up only proving that they were jackasses.  So, I want to start a series on authentic Christian masculinity, and the first rule of authentic masculinity is:

  1.  Real men don't have to prove they are or men who try to prove they are men inevitably prove themselves jackasses.


Spiritual Short-Cuts

Fr. Longenecker at Standing on My Head has a great new post, Gimme That Ole Time Religion, which I recommend to everyone.  The last bit caught my attention:
Now the marvelous thing is that if everyone did this--if everyone really went back to the core gospel message and took it seriously and tried to follow the old path of sin, repentance, faith and sacraments, then all the other problems would be solved too. You would have a wonderful Christian fellowship. You would have the right kind of liturgy, you would have justice and peace. You would have the answer to your intellectual questions and you would find your heart's desire.

Try to seek those things first though--and without sin, repentance and faith--and all you end up with is piffle. You may find the treasure chest, but it will be empty. Worse, you may find some sort of religion, but it won't be the Christian faith.
I've been saying that last bit for years, but never as concisely. If we're aiming for the effects of grace, but trying to reach them by our own effort, we will utterly fail and end up as some empty social justice organization everyone feels obliged to participate with, but no one really wants to. If we are trying to love God, and be sorry for our sins, then every effect of grace will follow. It's the spiritual short-cutting that messes everything up. Perhaps especially because Americans are obsessed with results.

Maybe you've had a priest tell you before that Catholicism "is not a 'me and Jesus' religion."  Usually, there's an agenda hiding behind that.  I've met a lot of heterodox priests who like to use this line as the starting point of precisely what Fr. Longenecker is writing about.  It goes something like this:
Catholicism is not a "me and Jesus" religion.  It's the Church and Jesus.  So if you want to be closer to Jesus, you need to be closer to the Church. [so far, that's fine]  What you need to do is stop worrying about having all these personal devotions and start taking part in the Church.  [here comes the fun part]  Instead of going to the Adoration Chapel, you could be working at the homeless shelter.  Instead of praying the rosary with those little nitpicky hypocrite EWTN-watching old gas bags, you could be going door-to-door for UNICEF!  Then we'll be seen by all building the Kingdom of God!
This is why I cringe when I hear priests and theologians say that Catholicism is not a "me and Jesus" religion, but a "Church and Jesus" religion. I don't cringe because they're absolutely wrong, but because it's a false dichotomy. It's another "both...and..." If we don't make a personal effort to love God, then we can't be a part of the Church that loves God. If no one is making a personal effort to love God, then there can't be a Church that loves God. Likewise, if there is no Church that loves God, then how could I do it on my own? Or if I love God, how could I ever be content loving God without the Church?

We absolutely need to be involved in the Church, but we need to be involved in the Church as holy, God-loving individuals.  We need devotion on individual and parish and diocesan levels. 

If we do not have devotion, we will never build the Kingdom of God.  Whatever good we do will not have been done by saints.  Saints are devoted to God.  Saints pray.  We cannot hope to build the Kingdom by abandoning prayer.  That would be like picking up tools to build a house but never once looking at the instructions are talking to the contractor.  Spiritual short-cuts have the same result as construction short-cuts: the ugly, hollow edifice all comes tumbling down.

Fiat Men, let's never give up our quest for devotion to God, but let's absolutely live it out in service and love for all we meet.  Nevertheless, let's not worry ourselves primarily about those things.  Let's devote ourselves to God so that those things come naturally.



Friday, July 8, 2011

Why is Hostage-Taking So Effective for Bank Robbers?

Why is hostage-taking so effective for bank robbers?  Ponder that for a moment and read on.

The idea behind being FiatMen is to be prepared at all times to say "Fiat" to God's will.  The trouble with that is knowing God's will.  How can I be certain that what I am saying "Fiat" to is indeed God's will?

There are a number of practices which help us to discern God's will.  In this post, I want to reflect briefly on detachment.

"Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever."
-1 John 2:15-17

This passage from St. John (like most Johannine literature) is filled with depth of meaning, but I'm going to focus on his general instructions and the three specific categories he refers to.

First, St. John instructs us not to love the world or its things.  Why?  Because they are passing away.  St. John, the last living apostle, had the apocalypse on his mind a lot.  His friend St. Peter described the end of the world this way: "the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out" (2 Peter 3:10), to which St. John added, "the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more...there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away" (Revelation 21:1, 4).  The world in which we live, all our astonishing monuments and engineering achievements, our cities and our homes, our landscapes and our wide open country places, the heights of our mountains and the depths of our seas, all these will come to an end.  St. John is warning us: don't get attached to the world, lest you be destroyed with it.  Instead, you should do the will of God, which abides forever.  Saying "Fiat" to God goes hand in hand with being detached from the world.

What constitutes detachment?  Detachment can mean different things, according to how one is called by God's will.  The rich young man in the Gospel (Matthew 19:16-22) was called to be an apostle and to detach himself from everything absolutely, but cowered before his calling and went away, still possessing everything, but ultimately empty-handed.  Everything he valued was in transit.  It would not last through the end of the world.  For most of us, it is not an absolute detachment that requires us to give up everything.  We can still possess things, indeed, many of us need to possess things for the good of our families.  Still, Christ tells us:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."
-Matthew 6:19-21
It is for most of us simply a matter of what we treasure.  King David, recognized as a saint of the Old Testament, normally practiced genuine spiritual detachment.  He had great riches, but was not attached to them, and instead devoted them to God.  His treasure was not in earthly things, but in heaven.  We are called also to put our treasures in heaven, so that we will place our hearts there, also.  In other words, if we treasure earthly desires, we will devote our hearts to them, but if we treasure heavenly things, we will devote our hearts to God, that is, we will say "Fiat" to His will.

King David may have been a great example of spiritual detachment, but his son was not.  In the earlier passage, St. John made reference to sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life.  These three things have plagued us since the beginning.  They were present in the Garden of Eden, when Eve desired the fruit because it was "good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom" (Genesis 3:6).  They were also present in the Law of the King, which prohibited the king from having "a great number of horses [an army]..., a great number of wives, ... [or] a vast amount of silver and gold" (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).

Pride, lust, and greed were prohibited to the king, but David's son, Solomon, had massive amounts of gold (1 Kings 10:14), 1400 chariots (1 Kings 10:26), and 1000 wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3).  These things dragged his heart down to worldly desires and turned him toward idolatry, his downfall.  Solomon's son, Rehoboam, made the same worldly mistake.  When the people of Israel asked him to lighten the workload Solomon had set for them, he replied, "my father put on you a heavy yoke, but I will make it heavier" (1 Kings 12:14).  This selfish attachment to his own glory led to the division of the kingdom and the eventual descent of Israel and Judah into exile and slavery.

Yet we have an example for ourselves: Our Lord is the same King who called to Himself the the people of Israel, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Matthew 11:28-30).  This same King began his reign in the midst of detachment.  While fasting in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11), he was tempted to pride, greed, and lust by Satan himself, and responded with His own "Fiat" to God's will in the form of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Why is hostage-taking so effective for bank robbers?  Because the negotiators are attached to the hostages, and do not want them to come to any harm.  In a real bank robbery situation, this is a good thing (human life is more valuable than money, afterall).  Consider, though, a spiritual bank robbery.  Satan wants to steal your virtue and get you to sin.  So he holds hostage the things you love: "if you don't do this, you'll miss out on pleasure.  If you don't do this, you'll never be able to buy that sports car.  If you don't cheat, how will you ever be able to compete with your coworkers on the new project?"  Lust, greed, and pride.

The evangelical counsels (or the penitential "prayer, fasting, and almsgiving") are the way for us to be detached.  When we are detached, we can resist the devil's temptations because we put all of our desires under our desire for God.  If we desire nothing more than we desire God, them temptations cannot draw our hearts away from Him.  When we are tempted, we simply remind ourselves, "that is a sin.  I value God more than I value pleasure/sports cars/victory in competition."  To practice detachment is to work at making oneself free from temptation and sin, that is, free to say "Fiat" to God and no to sin.



Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jedi Catholics

Lately, I've been thinking about a particular plague to my spiritual life.  Maybe it's a plague to yours as well.  I call it Jedi Catholicism.

Jedi Catholics want to master the faith as if it were the force. They want to master spirituality.  They want to master the Church.  Really, they want to be the best of the best in the Catholic world.  In my case, it goes hand-in-hand with a sense of duty.  I feel strongly drawn to perfectionism and so I want to be the best at what is most important to me: my faith.

At the heart of this is pride.  We should want to be saints, but we should not want to be masters of the faith.  Saints follow the faith and practice the virtues of faith, hope, and love.  They have faith.  Jedi Catholics try to know everything and do everything associated with the faith.  They want to control the faith and make it their own, something they have conquered, an achievement they have gained.  Will they despair when they realize they can never master it?  Thinking foolishly that they have mastered it, will they move on from Christ to try to tackle other things?  Saints have humility, Jedi Catholics have pride.

Secondly, saints are saintly in Christ.  They participate in His holiness by having faith and living out that faith in the moral life, in prayer, and in the sacraments.  They share Christ's holiness.  Jedi Catholics want to be stand-alone gurus of Catholicism.  Once a person strives to master something, and goes at it with all his pride, he will want to be the greatest master.  A Jedi Catholic doesn't want to share in Christ's holiness.  He wants to be holy on his own (which is impossible).  Eventually, he may even get delusions of grandeur and become jealous of Christ, wishing that he himself could be crucified or have the stigmata.

If you ever experienced this temptation, you know how vicious it can be.  It is nothing short of demonic, because it wishes to dethrone Christ and claim dominion over everything He gave to the Church.  If you find yourself acting like a Jedi Catholic, know that you are being drawn to the Dark Side.  Run to humble yourself in prostration before the Sacred Heart.  Call to mind that you are dust, and that you are only anything when you are in Christ, and that you wish only to receive His graces, not to claim anything for yourself.

Pray briefly and humbly something like the following, the Sub Tuum Praesidium, the oldest Marian prayer in the Church:
Under thy protection
we seek refuge,
Holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions
in our needs,
but from all dangers
deliver us always,
Virgin Glorious and Blessed. Amen.



Friday, July 1, 2011

Small Decisions, Big Consequences

A few thousand years ago (in Bible years, at least), a husband and wife ate a piece of fruit.  I love the story of the Creation and Fall of Man, not because I'm pleased that we're all in a fallen state, but because it is more chock-full of meaning that much of the rest of the Bible.  I could write pages and pages on it that would either excite you or bore you to tears.  Not the least reason is the astonishing aspect of consequences.  A single act, seemingly insignificant, can have a huge impact.  If you don't believe me, watch this video before reading on.

The decisions we make in daily life have a huge impact - even minor decisions.  In the Bible, Adam and Eve doomed all humanity to a fallen existence in this life.  Ham, the son of Noah, doomed his son and all his descendants to a type of slavery, just by shaming his father (or sleeping with his mother, the exegetical jury is still out on that one).  Abraham, by giving into his wife's wishes for him to have a child by her servant (Abraham may not have had street smarts), fathered a race which rivaled the Israelites through their entire history, even until today.  Mary, by saying a single word, "fiat," became the Mother of God and gave to us a Savior.

I remember vividly the day I went to register for classes my freshman year of high school.  I was taking the normal courses: algrebra, american history, integrated physical science, debate, Japanese.  Japanese?  Really?  Why?  I don't know, I kinda like Japanese art and culture.  I knew a Japanese woman who taught me to count to 10 in the language.

So there I am, reading the course catalog in the car while my mom drives me to the school, and I see something like "Latin I is focused on learning the basic syntax and grammar of the Latin language, as well as Greco-Roman culture, with a heavy emphasis on mythology."  Cool!  I thought.  I always liked mythology.  "I think I'll take Latin," I blurted.  Mom looked at me like I was crazy.  For whatever reason, I stuck to my guns and I felt like it was a really good decision.

What might have happened if I had stuck with Japanese?  Well, I guess I would have taken Japanese and I presume I wouldn't have done as well as I did with Latin (without the mythology to guide me).  I wouldn't have met my high school girlfriend, who had a lot of personal struggles, and would never have developed a sense of empathy or a desire to help others with the gift of counsel.  I probably would've gotten into anime (those were the kinds of kids taking Japanese) and the hyperactive anime culture.  I might even have made some really nerdy friends.  Coupled with my natural emphasis on duty, I might have read up on the Samurai Code and built a philosophical worldview around a sort of far eastern stoicism.  Because I entered the seminary largely in response to both my desire to console others and because I was burned by my relationship with my girlfriend, taking Japanese probably would have led me to go straight into a secular college, rather than the seminary.  However, I do think I probably would have continued to explore apologetics in high school, so I probably would have continued along a general Catholic path, but with eastern stoicism and anime culture attached.  I would likely have continued to take the architecture or physics classes that so strongly attracted me, since I wouldn't have been distracted by my love of Latin, and may have decided to go into an architecture or physics program.  Who knows where I might have gone for college, but since my motivation to find a wife was spurred on my leaving seminary, I suppose I wouldn't have noticed my wife, or even joined the website where we were pen pals before we began dating.  It is highly probable that I would never have married her, and my son and daughter would not now exist.  I would probably not be working for the Church and would not be writing this blog.

Having taken Latin, I did extremely well and discovered a gift for something that won me four gold medals on the National Latin Exams.  I also met my high school girlfriend, who introduced to me a sense of empathy.  As I became interested in apologetics at the same time, I continued to grow in my faith throughout high school.  Latin became a pre-occupation with me.  I was writing full poems according to the classical model in elegiac couplets by the time I graduated, and I lost interest in pursuing physics and architecture, although they intrigue me to this day.  Having broken up with my girlfriend in October of junior year, I decided to enter the seminary and pursued that path in spite of insults and slurs (the sex abuse crisis was announced only a few weeks after I told my family and classmates about the seminary).  I ended up attending the seminary and because they did not offer a Latin class at my level, I delved into Biblical Greek.  Although I ended up leaving the seminary, I began a pen pal relationship with a lovely woman on Phatmass and made a great group of friends at UNL's Newman Center.  Having invested so much time studying theology and ancient languages, I decided to transfer to Franciscan University of Steubenville to pursue theology and also to be with my love interest who was also transferring at the same time.  We dated, I proposed. We graduated and were wed.  We immediately had two children, back to back.  Now we are a happy family in Louisiana.

The decisions we make are much more important than we think at the time we make them.  It is therefore all the more vital to our own well-being that we are at every time seeking to say "Fiat" to God's will.  If we are humble and follow His will, then we will produce consequences which lead to greatness, and hopefully, save the souls of those around us.  If we are proud and follow our own will, then we will produce consequences which lead to mediocrity at best and scandal and sin at worst.

So, Fiat Men, consider the decisions you make.  Ask for God's guidance.  Ask for humility.  I know this is definitely something I need to do!



Thursday, June 30, 2011

Off-Topic: Gay "Marriage"

Occasionally, I feel the need to provide some practical knowledge on the issues of the day.  As you probably know, the New York Senate "legalized" gay "marriage" a few days ago.  The Catholic world has been abuzz since with all sorts of meaningful tidbits.

The media in America do not appreciate arguments from faith.  In order to engage secular culture, it is often necessary to use reason apart from the revealed truths of the faith.  That's okay.  On all sorts of moral issues, philosophy provides solid answers without reference to religion.

Specifically, let's take a look at natural law.  Natural law theory states that there is an ethical law built into nature, just like there is a physical law in nature.  That natural law means that things operate according to their natures (which is a very ancient, well-established principle of secular philosophy).  Consequently, the nature of anything has an implicit law on how that thing should act.  A rock just kind of sits there because that's what rocks do.  Their nature is solid matter, more dense than air, but inorganic (or at least not alive).  Consequently, they just sit there.  A plant grows and flowers because that's what plants do.

Among the many things that humans do according to their nature is sex.  The entire gay "marriage" debate comes down to sex.  Sex is what marriage exists for (I'm not talking merely about the sexual act as the purpose for marriage - there is more to sex than just that - but the sexual act is the most direct demonstration, so I will use that).  The sexual act does two things:

  1. Unites two persons into one couple, by which union such persons each transcend their "I" to become "we."
  2. From that unity, sex creates more persons.

Marriage exists because it is a social necessity built into human nature.  From the beginning, throughout the world, we humans realized that the unitive and procreative powers of sex were incredibly wonderful or terribly destructive.  Marriage exists as a natural social structure in which a sexual relationship - the sexual act, romance, and all that we find in such relationships - can take place.  The children that form the family stem from the union of two spouses.  Open marriages, divorce, adultery, and other attacks on the unity of husband and wife harm the dignity of each spouse, who have entrusted themselves to one another, and the dignity of their children, who derive their being and identity from that union.  So sex is central to marriage.  This is why it is called the consummation of marriage, because marriage serves sex and sex is a way of living out marriage in its fullest meaning.

In order to see the nature of sex, we have to ask ourselves what it does.  Fortunately, we already answered this.  Sex (1) unites two persons (2) in the procreative act.  No one can deny this.  Sex obviously unites two persons.  They are physically joined.  What they are joined in doing is the procreative act.  They are joining their reproductive organs, the natural purpose of which is procreation.

So here comes the big conclusion: to use the reproductive organs for something other than their natural purpose would be an abuse of those organs.  You can have unity, but if you do not have the procreative act, then what you are really doing is not sex.  Since you are not engaging in sex, you are engaging in an abuse of the natural functions of the reproductive organs and therefore a violation of natural law.

Likewise, if you have procreation without union, you are not really having sex, and are misusing the sexual faculty against the nature of sex.

Examples of common acts which abuse sex via a lack of the procreative aspect: contraception, homosexual activity, masturbation.

Examples of common acts which abuse sex via a lack of the unitive aspect: open marriage, divorce, adultery, bigamy, masturbation, rape.

Some acts lack both aspects.

Common Objections

  1. Scientific studies show that many other animal species regularly engage in homosexual activities.  Therefore, it is natural.  This is a very common objection, but it falls flat on its face.  First, humans have a human nature, and so the natures of other species are really irrelevant.  Second, all this shows is that other species have members with homosexual attraction.  No one is debating whether some humans have homosexual attractions.  We are debating whether those attractions can be followed morally.  This argument assumes that humans should always follow their instincts and desires, which is evidently a very destructive idea.
  2. Scientific studies show that some species can switch their sex between male and female, so gender is really not as rigid as you suggest. Whenever this does happen, notice that it is always so that procreation may occur.  The frog-genome-injected raptors in Jurassic Park didn't switch from male to female in order to have homosexual activities with the other raptors.  They switched in order to serve procreation.  This argument actually shows how uniform nature is in orienting sex toward procreation.  It is only humans who try to keep sex from being procreative.  As for the rigidness of gender, this doesn't apply to our scenario.  It is not possible in human nature to switch from one sex to the other.
  3. Studies show that children are just as well-developed in homes with same-sex parents as they are in traditional homes.  Be careful about "studies" cited in any argument such as this.  What criteria did the researchers use?  Did they base development on a child's self-esteem?  Tolerance?  Physical health?  We all have different values for which we would test if given the chance.  Many of these studies are very subjective and can easily be tilted to one side of the debate or another.