And the Lord Turned and Looked at Peter

“And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, ‘Certainly, this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are saying.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”

And Peter broke. Everything that he had promised to his friend, to his Master, to his God, had come to nothing in the face of fear. Peter broke and went away bitterly weeping. Can we not see ourselves in this moment? Peter, the leader of the apostles, Christ’s chosen rock, denied Him three times. Have we never done the same?

In this monumental moment of failure, he weeps. Deeply, bitterly, with great depth and passion, Peter pours himself out. Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Communion and Liberation movement sums it up well, “he saw himself in the light of all his defects. That betrayal had made him more aware of all his other errors, of the fact that he was worthless, weak, miserably weak.”

I want to look at this deeper. Peter was the supposed leader of this band of apostles, the chosen head of Christ’s church! Yet, he denied the Lord at a critical hour. How can we look to him for example? Because in Peter we see ourselves. We see our own failures, our own struggles for sanctity with all the successes and failures of a broken people. We see a divine preference for Him within us, just as Peter had, which overcomes all failures, struggles and sins.

Giussani writes about St. Peter that his life “had been a stormy one, because of his impetuous character, his instinctive stubbornness, his tendency to act on impulse.” He was a simple man, a fisherman, a family man, who worked, breathed, went to sleep, woke up just as any other. But he was rocked by an initial encounter with a man he had never met before. His first moment with Christ was unlike anything he had ever experienced. So too is our first encounter with the Lord. An intangible movement in our hearts, a discovery that this may be the answer to our desires. And with a simple look and the words, “come, follow me” we, like Peter are changed forever.

Peter lived with Christ, but did not fully understand him. None of the disciples did. Simply put, their three-year mission with Christ was one of a daily discovery. They couldn’t comprehend this Messiah, but they knew Him to be right and thus followed. What we see is that Peter had an overarching preference for Christ—a wild, reckless, radical desire to be with him and to serve him. But in this fire of love, Peter blinded himself often to the call to childhood, to love. His successes and failures highlight this fact. Look at the moment where the children come to Christ and Peter shoos them away! Christ looks at him and says “let the little children come to me.” Christ calls Peter personally to a humbling of self, to a childlike innocence and love.

In his experience with the children, we see a great call to humility and a total submission to God’s love and will, but we also see a very broken, human leader. Peter is almost a constant contradiction to himself. At every turn he has an “ah-hah” moment only to follow it up with an immediate stumble. Several passages highlight this well. First and foremost is one of the most powerful moments in the Gospels. Christ looks at Peter and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” This question should be a daily meditation that we pose to ourselves. Who do we say that the Christ is? Peter answers correctly and well, not because he understands the full message of his answer, but because his heart drives him to say “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” With grace and faith, he shows a great leadership in stepping forward to declare Christ’s glory!

This moment is profound. There is a recognition of Christ’s divinity, his power and glory to come. Yet immediately afterwards, Christ is rebuking Peter, saying “get behind me Satan! Whoever would save his life will lose it.” We see the beginning of a pattern with Peter, success and then failure. Look at the moment where Christ walks on water. Peter joyfully runs to meet Him, running on the waves to greet his Lord. Yet, his faith fails and he sees his own human weakness and sinks. Christ again rebukes him, “O you of little faith!” Trust ME! That’s Christ’s call to Peter and to us! TRUST ME, I won’t let you fall. And yet how often do we get so caught up in our own weakness that we lose sight of the fact that Christ is our success? We so often run on the waves of love to him, only to stumble in the knowledge of our own failures. Yet as His outstretched hand shows, our failures cannot and do not matter in such a great presence! “It is in Him that I hope, before counting my errors and my virtues. Numbers have nothing to do with this. In the relationship with Him, numbers don’t count, the weight that is measured or measurable is irrelevant, and all the evil I can possible do in the future has no relevance either.” Christ uses Peter to show us this truth! As he shows Peter, he also shows us, I don’t care what you’ve done! All I want is your love!

With this is mind we turn squarely to the greatest of Peter’s failures—the denial of Christ. Yet leading into the Passion, Peter is courageous and loyal! Lord I will never leave you, he declares. I will go to prison, even die for you! How often have you and I said that to Him in prayer? Yet moments later, Peter is asleep in the garden and we with him.

Even in his errors, one note and example we can glean from Peter is his passion. He doesn’t half-ass it in the Bible. He’s passionate about his successes, “YOU ARE THE CHRIST” as well as his failures, cutting ears off, almost drowning, denying his knowledge of Christ. All are extremes. Hot and cold. Never lukewarm, Peter is filled with such great passion! Only once is he lukewarm, and sleeps in the Garden. And Christ approaches him with great sadness. The lukewarm make Christ sorrowful, for they are far more lost than the hot or cold. Let us never be lukewarm! And it is with this sadness of such great love that Christ looks at Peter in his denial, and finally looks upon him at the seashore.

It is finally at the seashore that Peter “gets it.” In John 21, Christ reveals his message fully to Peter with three questions. “Simon Peter, do you love me?” thrice repeated. And Peter sees himself in the light of all his defects and flashes to his failures. He recognizes that same look in the eyes of Christ, from the moment that he said “I do not know him.” And realizing the love that is in those eyes, Peter replies, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Peter’s sins fall away, they don’t matter. His failures and denial are empty and nothing in the reflection of so great a mercy; a mercy that merely wants his love. The overarching preference in his heart culminates in his reply, “YES! I LOVE YOU.” And we too, must follow suit. Because as Giussani wrote in a meditation on this scene, “within this affection that emanates from You I learn, I learn to live, I learn to be a human being.” And every day, we too must reflect on Peter’s words, as Christ constantly asks us, “But you too, do you love Me?” And everyday we must follow that preference of our hearts to Christ, holding Peter as so great an example. Yes Lord. I love you. In that love we will grow, and the failures will fall away.

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On Eating Well (And Why God Enjoys Deep Dish Pizza)

I’m going to start this article by declaring I am not against fast food. In fact, it’s sometimes quite nice – who doesn’t like grabbing french fries from the golden arch at 10pm?

As humans, we’re a little obsessed with food. Just a little – we even have a holiday dedicated to it in America, called Thanksgiving. (I mean, let’s be real. We’re all about overstuffing ourselves and passing out on the couch after, as much as we’d admit otherwise. I will publicly admit to the sin of gluttony as well. This is not a civic virtue, for the record.) But there’s also something about eating that humans have peculiar to themselves – I mean transforming eating into a social event, into something particularly more than just the need of a creature. I refer back to Thanksgiving – we all look forward to the (hopefully) good conversation, time spent with friends and family, and general good will had by all. Food, something rather basic, becomes an opportunity to rise above the animal nature to something higher. The imagery of a feast is something included in many religions, whether it be the halls of Valhalla for the Norsemen, to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Heaven for Christianity. The art of eating becomes, in some ways, a path to the Divine.

Now I don’t want to over spiritualize eating. After all, a hamburger is just a hamburger. Or is it? Does the way we eat trickle into our culture? Our modern American dream, founded on efficiency and one-night stands, is all about how little commitment we need to put into something. We’ve all done this – selected the “maybe” response on a Facebook event; it’s so much easier to say we might make it than to make a hard decision either way. Charlie Brown is, in some cases, the perfect reflection of this; he doesn’t really know which way he’ll decide on something, and waffles back and forth forever. It’s so much nicer that way, actually. No obligations, no prior commitments – it’s a millennial dream come true!

But in the midst of all this, something very human is being lost and forgotten – the art of eating well. Yes, I did say art; eating well requires practice, and a certain level of decorum. Just as the ancient priests of any religion needed to be brought in slowly to the inner sanctuary, so we as humans need to be taught the art of eating well. If you’ve seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,  you know exactly what I mean. The Beast, through years of neglect, has forgotten what it is to eat well. Belle has to re-teach him what it means, and he begins to remember what it meant to, well, be just a little bit more human. While scarfing down a burger may satisfy our stomach, it’s not a particularly transcendental experience. But think instead about sitting down to a meal with family or friends. Seems a little more…human, right?

As a kid, one of my favorite series to read was Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. If you find yourself smiling at the mention of that series, good. You’ve done something well. (And if you haven’t read them, it’s never too late.) In Jacques’ fictional accounts of mice, squirrels, and otters fighting against wicked weasels and savage stoats (alliteration, anyone?), we find numerous feasts being laid out in great detail. You never ate (excuse me, read) the books on an empty stomach – Jacques’ detailed feasts would set your mouth watering and your stomach rumbling. Yes, all would eat their fill. But they’d share favorite platters with each other, and share in something wonderful. Now imagine if we had the same thing – we do at weddings, at least. The greatest celebration for humans is to have a feast, where simply nourishing our bodies becomes something more.

So why don’t we have more of these? Is it simply because we’ve run out of time – the 21st century was supposed to give us all the devices that would enable us to have more time, not less. Perhaps it’s because we never learned. Or we’re simply not interested. But I dare you to try it sometime – find a recipe (previously tried, of course – no one wants to see if eggplant and pineapple lamb will be a hit), and invite a few friends over. Don’t be rushing on to something else after – take your time. Start the night off with some appetizers; cheese and crackers are easy and a simple start. Have a tablecloth and real plates, not paper (as wonderful as they are). Think. Listen to your friends and get to know them better – what are they interested in? Bring the conversation a level deeper than just niceties; you’re friends with these people, so hopefully you respect them enough to respect the fact that they know how to think. Use your brain – after all, you are human, and more than just a creature. You’ve got within you the Divine Spark. Realize it, as you feast with friends. Eat well, enjoying what is before you rather than acting as if you’re in a food eating contest. Take your time, and slow down a little. And in so doing, may you become a little more human.

Slainte.

Witness to Truth

We exist in strange times; as someone once put it, “something is afoot”. The similar remark was made that Christianity is now entering into a new age, an Apostolic age. This comes as no surprise to many of us; the general culture is undoubtedly no longer as Christian as it once was. Instead of former Christendom, we’re now moving back into the Apostolic age, closer to the early first centuries of the Church.

If this is so, what does this mean for us politically? Since politics reflect to an extent how we are culturally, is it possible we need to readdress the existing political paradigm? In previous ages, much could be argued from a theological standpoint; now, with Christianity ever on the attack, this no longer seems to be the case. If we are indeed moving back into the Apostolic Age, it might be wise to briefly reflect on what attributes were found in the early Church, and then see if those apply to our modern “political problem”.

First of all, the Church won cultural victories through two ways: personal example and baptizing the local culture. Personal example could be the early Christians going to their deaths in the Coliseum singing, or bringing joy into a culture that had largely forgotten what true joy was. Baptizing the local culture meant finding what was good in the local traditions and claiming it for Christ. Taking the pagan celebration of Saturnalia and instead replacing it with Christmas was one way the early Church would do this.

Secondly, arguments could be made about the good simply because, well, it was good. Society benefitted if a man and woman stayed in a faithful relationship, i.e., marriage; local communities would benefit from this union as the man and woman would look to invest in each other, and the local communities around them as they become more stable and began to put down roots. Similarly, a society that valued its children generally fared better than one that did not; children were formed better, thus became better adults, and would grow up to be well-formed and invested citizens. In turn, they would then pass on the gifts they had been given as children to the next generation. All this meant that society flourished, and with it, the human person. People saw that there were some things inherently good for man That is to say, these things were to be pursued by man simply because they were good for him as a human being. Because of that, things could be argued for simply by reason; we look t Aristotle, who reached that virtue was inherently good for man despite having no revelation.

So what does this have to do with Christianity, in particular the Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church brings something distinct to society that no one else has ever, or will ever, do. In this case, proclaiming human rights, individual dignity, freedom, and a call to something higher. All these will disappear if the Church is forced from the public square. The Church stands for every human being because she sees each individual person as precious. The bigger she keeps the public square open for herself, the larger it becomes for others; and the reverse stands as well. If the Church is forced from the public square, then one of the last checks on government has been removed. Men then only have the incentive of Hobbes’ Leviathan to force its citizens into quiet servitude.

Living out our personal witness is crucial for the times ahead; people are not going to be won over if we’re always moaning and dour about life. Honey attracts more flies than vinegar (not to draw a perfect analogy, but still). But even as we live out our own lives well, we need to take what is good from around us and baptize it. America’s culture still has remnants of good left in it; it’s up for us to extract what we can from the culture around us just like the early Church (if you think I’m giving up on my annual summer Marvel movie, you’ve got another thing coming).

A recent story was circulating around Facebook about a priest that had recently passed away. Fr. Arne Panula, a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei, had worked for years at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., pursuing his vocation amid professional life to bring others to Christ. George Weigel penned the following comments about him in National Review here

Father Arne became, for many, the embodiment of what Saint John Paul II called the “New Evangelization” in the nation’s capital. He could do that because, like the witnesses the Church will read about during Easter Week, he had met the Risen Lord. And that made all the difference.

An encounter with Truth can only happen if we ourselves encounter Truth, Christ Himself. Yet, even if we ourselves experience this, we cannot then shy away from it, from proclaiming that same Truth to others. Charles Chaput, then Archbishop of Denver, reflected on Pauls’ example in using the language of the times to bring the Gospel to the culture in an article for First Things here. Written shortly after Obama’s first election in 2008, he speaks tellingly to our current situation:

There is a second practical lesson we can learn from Paul, for he refused to fear. If “Be Not Afraid” became John Paul II’s motto, it is because fear is the disease of our age. And Catholics are by no means immune to it. Paul wasn’t afraid to bring to the Areopagus the new and profoundly radical idea that God and truth could be known through a person—Jesus Christ—and ultimately in no other way. Finding this one way to truth matters eternally for each of us. Elegant, academic discussions may appeal to us as an intellectual exercise. But the only thing that finally matters is truth.

I would posit that John Paul II was one of the most admired and influential men of the 20th century. Yet, here was a man who was unafraid to proclaim the Truth. In doing so, he helped to topple one of the great evils of the 20th century – Communist Russia. Proclaiming the Truth boldly, with both joy and personal witness, can do much in today’s world.

I return to my thoughts at the beginning of this essay, and close with a thought about politics. Humans are by nature political animals, according to Aristotle. We are endowed with reason, and use it in entering into political life. As the Church moves back into the Apostolic Age, those of us in the beloved US of A should not despair. Personal example goes a long way, and true, authentic joy is something our world craves. We have a vast array of knowledge at our fingertips to help us better know and understand Truth. Our Catholic Faith is something built on both faith and reason; as we enter into public discourse, let’s make sure to use both. We can argue things from reason, and thus need to be well-formed intellectually if we are to be ready to engage in debate when necessary; prudence would dictate when and how. More importantly, however, are we ourselves living out what we preach in our daily lives? If not, we fall short of being a witness to Truth. And that makes all the difference.

Crossing the Threshold of Hope (And Why Smiling is Great)

“Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good”

-St. John Paul II

It’s very hard to come to grips with evil in the world. What are we to do when we’re surrounded by it? Today’s age of social media only exacerbates things – we see it everywhere. Mass shootings, people dying in the Middle East, the slaughter of the unborn and murder of the old and infirmed. And those who were supposed to be our heroes sicken us as we see all too often their humanity, and our society falters.

What are we to do, then, with the problem of evil? I don’t shy away that countless others more qualified than me have attempted to answer this question. Once again, I merely present some thoughts, some ideas, as a reminder for both you and me. As a child, we might have perhaps thought the world was perfect, immaculate. Then came that moment when it all changed. However early or late in life, something caused that vision to change.

And then we grew up. We wondered what had happened – we were supposed to conquer the world, after all. Things were going to be perfect – we would want for nothing and those around us would be perfectly happy. I’m currently working my way through Angela’s Ashes, a wonderful memoir of a boy whose parents bring him back to Ireland in the early 20th century. His parents have this vision of what life will be like in Ireland, but it ends up simply being not the case. In fact, it ends up being much worse than America.

We also seem to have this rather utopian, and slightly hopeful vision of what life will be like. Some of us think (mistakenly) that’s it’s going to be absolutely perfect. Yes, it might be slightly utopian, perhaps a little naive. But I say it’s something else, that it’s a dare, a draw, for something more. We instinctively know that we were made for more, and that something in us beckons. There’s something in us that says things aren’t perfect, but they could be; that place is out there, somewhere.

But it’s hard when we continually see things around us as being far from perfect. Let’s be real here. Moreover, our constant social media feed only exasperates this by pointing out the mud and muck around us. The worst news often becomes the best news, the most sensational. Did you hear what so and so did? Did you see that video of this awful thing?

I recently attended a talk by the professor Patrick Deneen. In his talk, Deneen outlined a message we hear all too often today; our social order is rotten and corrupting all around us, and things are not what they used to be. Highlighting a culture that is evermore “free”, Deneen reflected how this pursuit of a liberal order becomes the end of a society. This has been disastrous for our country as institutions like the family and the Church are being slowly encroached upon by the State; and it is the State which will become a god, bestowing goodness and mercy whomsoever it chooses. Deneen, like many others before him, pointed to how Christians are being pushed more and more to the edges of society. In short, it perhaps might be time to call it quits.

But wait.

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

The thing to remember is that there’s something beyond this; I don’t propose this as a form of escapism – on the contrary! Merely as hope. That while parts of this world may seem nasty and brutish, there are parts that are not. I point to an article here by David Brooks at the New York Times. It’s about a little town in Cometa, Italy where a lot of little souls are being shown a lot of love. In the town of Cometa, two brothers, Erasmo and Innocente Figini, along with their wives and several other couples look after hundreds of children. These children, mind you, all have either no homes, or come from broken families. It’s not easy. Brooks writes:

“Imagine looking after hundreds of children across 30 years, 24/7. By dinnertime, the adults around the table look exhausted. There are children seeking attention every second. Their daily lives are tied down to this place, even while some of the adults also work full-time jobs in the world outside. The sacrifices are real.”

But it’s all worth it – it’s an encounter with beauty, stirred by Erasmo Figini’s encounter with Father Luigi Giussani, whose encounter of faith becomes, as Brooks puts it “an encounter with beauty, a love story”. My brother Patrick has written a little bit on Giussani before here. The then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) reflected at Giussani’s funeral that he, Giussani was “wounded by the desire for beauty”. And in our encounter with beauty, our heart becomes pierced with a shaft of light, so deep, so sure, that we are unable to defend ourselves against it. The only thing we can do is make sure others share in this beauty. So I reflect on the quote earlier from Tolkien – above all this, there is much more! That’s the hope of the Christians; we’re merely (to borrow from Archbishop Chaput) strangers in a strange land who are on a rather long and unexpected journey. We’re never fully at home, and this world is not meant to be fully perfect now.

John Paul II, in an interview known as Crossing the Threshold of Hope , commented the following:

“The Gospel, above all else, is the joy of creation. God, who in creating saw that His creation was good, is the source of joy for all creatures, and above all for humankind. God the Creator seems to say of all creation: “It is good that you exist.’ And His joy spreads especially through the ‘good news’, according to which good is greater than all that is evil in the world…Creation was given and entrusted to humankind as a duty, representing not a source of suffering but the foundation of a creative existence in the world…there is a great challenge to perfect creation – be it oneself, be it the world.”

I’ve proclaimed this theme quite often over the past few articles. This is not an accident. I want to urge you, dear reader, that this while this world may seem cold and hard (which it can be), there is more here, that you are capable of more. The joy of life is to be found today, here, now! It’s to be found as we engage in the world around us, in perfecting and working amid the work of creation, no matter how dark and stormy it may become. If we are truly encountering the Gospel, the good news, we want to do something with it. But what exactly can you and I do?

We do better. I don’t mean this as some trite way out of answering the question. I mean just that. We do better. Are you in the middle of school? Put more effort into that class you hate, maybe help out a fellow student who’s struggling. Try to actually prepare that presentation instead of cobbling something together the night before (something which I am guilty of!).

Are you a professional working in the world? Then do your work well, without cutting cornerstones. Learn the best practices for your industry, how to do things even better. Work patiently and cheerfully with those around you. Know the name of your janitor.

It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old – these are all things we can do, no matter where we are. Do you look that homeless man or woman in the eye and smile? Do you take some time for silence? Can you see what I’m pointing to now? It is that anyone and everyone can do better. And it starts with small things right where you are. The joy of spreading the Gospel starts by doing the small things better. If we want to overcome the constant nastiness we encounter daily, it’s by bringing something better to the table. Overcoming evil starts by creating small pockets of joy that build daily.

It’s up to you to know what is good for your sphere, for your little garden that you can cultivate. All I want you to do is to think about how to do that one, very small thing, better.

It might even start with a simple smile to those around you. You can do that, right?

So. If there is something we should be doing, you and I, it is exactly what I’ve laid out above, what I (and my brother) have been laying out over the past year. Look ahead to tomorrow and ask yourself tonight: what is one thing I could do better? And for this week, just do that one thing.

And don’t be discouraged by the evil in this world. Don’t let it conquer you, smother you.

Be not afraid!

Risen (Gratitude for What We’ve Received)

A brief congratulations, my friend. You made it through Lent. Welcome to the oasis. Now to feast.
This article isn’t so much a call to arms for a particular subject, but rather on how to apply Lent well. We fast so that we might feast, right? But what happens when everything just falls apart and we realize we’re back to where we started?

Relax. You’ll get there – we all will, hopefully. In the meantime, feasting. Yes. So I can sit on my Lenten laurels and all will be well, right?

Well…not quite. But it doesn’t mean you continue to sacrifice like you’re still in the desert – it’s time to celebrate! It’s time to enjoy that which was given up (and if that was coffee, your office now loves you again). But as we enjoy the fruits the feast, don’t forget the price that was paid for them. In the simplest way possible, this was you giving up coffee. Let’s pretend it wasn’t for cutting back on caffeine, you only had a cup a day. But that cup! How you would enjoy it, savoring the velvety aroma, letting it wrap you in a warm embrace. With perhaps a little cream, and a dash of sugar (only to compliment the coffee, mind you!), this was truly participation in the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

And then…you gave it up for Lent and entered into the desert. How small it seemed, yet how much it meant to him! You trudged along, willingly giving that little joy for Him, to help Him along the Way. And so, in your very own small way, you died to yourself in a very little way and brought joy to the Heart of the World.

But then!!! He is Risen! And now!!! Oh, joy, ecstasy!!! Sweet nectar divine! How wonderful this drink now became, even more than before! (I mean, Easter is great, but I missed my cup of Joe!) And how thankful you were for the goodness of this cup. You wanted to share its goodness with others. Joy welled over, and you exulted.

Gratitude. What a simple thing, a cup of coffee. And yet, the desert made it all the better. The price made it so much more dear. And you realized how much this little thing meant to you.
True feasting, a true appreciation for what was won, involves gratitude for the gift given. We can only appreciate something if we learn how to look for it in daily life, in the little things. A smile here. The perfect French fry there.

This all comes from learning how to recognize the simple things in the moment. How? Through daily practice. Through our daily encounters, you and I are being given constant opportunities to be thankful. I don’t deny it’s easy when things are good – and excruciating when we find ourselves beset by troubles. Most of us would like to be like Job, but even he had a breaking point. Cultivating the daily encounters means learning how to be present daily, to recognize the small things as they’re happening to us. Start by trying to recognize one small thing daily that you’re thankful for and write it down.

The great G.K. Chesterton put it this way: ‘gratitude is happiness mixed with wonder’. Happiness mixed with wonder…easy for the good things, but what about the hard? I ask because this is…well…is really what I’m trying to reach here. What about that loss, that hardship? Can we be grateful for suffering?
I point to my last article for the Cross. The Resurrection only comes after the Cross. You want to rejoice, to rise? Then the desert must be entered – and with the hope of resurrection laying before us, we can be grateful for that which makes us better. So yes, we can be thankful for suffering, because it brings us into a closer and more intimate relationship with Christ. This is hard, and it is not easy. It isn’t easy to be thankful for suffering. I don’t mean that this is easy, because it isn’t. If suffering was easy, we’d all be saints. But it’s not, and since this isn’t supposed to be the main theme of this essay, I leave you with the theme of gratitude for the Cross and looking to Easter beyond.

For the grass truly is greener by the tomb. Really. Truly. The desert is worth it – we’re here! So let us rejoice at the price paid for us. Our happiness at rising again mixes with wonder like little children, who do not try and figure out why they are here, simply that they have made it. Think of Lucy from Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. She knows that somehow, someway, the wardrobe has brought her into Narnia, and that, for her, is enough. She wonders in the new land she has found, taking in all that surrounds her. She delights in her tea with Mr. Tumnus, even if unaware of what would happen next. And most importantly, she doesn’t want to keep it to herself. She wants her siblings to meet Mr. Tumnus, to enjoy the goodness of Narnia. Gratitude leads her to share, to her wanting others to share in this same joy and wonder.

In a similar way, let us, you and I, simple travelers that we are, not keep what we’ve gained to ourselves; for that would be miserly and ungrateful for all that we’ve gained. So, along this journey, let us build what we can for the next person to travel this road. As our hearts well over in gratitude, we should want others to share in this joy. It shouldn’t be kept just for us. No. Others need this besides us.
Gratitude invites (I say demands) us to do more. If history is a passing on from one generation to the next, then we have a duty and responsibility to pass on these things to the next generation. We teach those who come after us to wonder, to enter the desert well so they too can experience the joy of Easter. To do otherwise would be a gross misuse of that gift.

In a society that so often looks to tear down, to dismiss what came before us as old and outdated, we dare to stand on the shoulders of giants and look to the stars. We dare to hope that man’s fallen nature is capable of much more, that we are capable of great things.

Even as we feast, we do not merely sit and hope that all is done. No – that time is not yet come.
As always, much remains – for that is in part the way of the world; evil is never yet fully defeated, our country is never fully at peace. It is like the hobbits as they scour their Shire; Sauron may be defeated, yet the seed of malice still remains. There still is work to be done, yet we still should celebrate what has passed, for it is altogether fitting and proper to do this. Joyfully, we wonder at all that has come to pass. Our hearts overflow as we celebrate at the feast.

And so, before the tomb of Christ we wonder. But it is not enough to simply gape in awe. What can we build upon from this Lent? And what lessons have we learned about becoming more authentically human that we can bring to those around us?

Gratitude for the small things makes us better able to enjoy the small things, the little moments that come by. We’re better able to feast on the small moments and so enjoy the final feast as we enter it.
In the glory of the Risen Christ, we find the splendor of Truth, we discover the richness of the Lamb who invites us to his wedding feast. We see in the tomb the burial cloths, wondering along with Mary Magdalene ‘where they have taken my Lord’. We dare to wonder, to hope. And truly, our hearts were burning within us when we finally encountered him again along the way. And with hearts full of wonder, we rejoice.

On to the feast.

In the Shadow of the Cross

“The most beautiful act of faith is the one made in darkness, in sacrifice, and with extreme effort.”

-Padre Pio

“Even though  I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”

-Psalm 23

This week is truly a holy time, a Holy Week. During it, we celebrate our redemption, our freedom. No more will you and I be slaves in Egypt. For the Angel of Death has passed over us, and behold! Our mantles have been covered with the Blood of the Paschal Lamb. It’s also a time for  understanding that the Resurrection only lies in the shadow of the Cross – we cannot have the joy of Easter without the sorrow of Good Friday. And therein is the theme for this post: sacrifice.

Of all the things in this world, nothing provides more of a paradox than someone who is willing to undergo great suffering for another, willing to totally die to themselves so that another can live. In our modern world, we crave safety, crave comfort. We don’t want to step outside of our comfort zone at personal risk to ourselves (even if we laud others who do!). Why should we? It’s much easier to simply let things go, right? The irony of all this is the recent surge in superhero movies – we somehow want to be given super powers to escape this rather mundane world ours.

And yet, this world is very much not a mundane place. That’s what this week, these next few days, is all about – that it’s very, very precious. That you and I are very precious. Not only are we precious, but we are capable of great things, even if that’s doing ordinary deeds extraordinarily. We are being ransomed precisely because we are capable; we are being invited because we are capable of answering.

Ultimately, we hearken back to what we were made for: Love. Again, I don’t mean that in a weird, hippy way. Love demands a pouring out of self for another, so that self does not become the focus but rather the other. We become so lost in the gaze of the Beloved that we lose sight of ourselves, because we would rather that they be happy.

And this week is all about the Beloved giving himself up for us, the Bride. This week is a love poem, even greater than Solomon’s Song of Songs. It is about a King who rides in on a donkey, praises of his people surrounding him – how he wishes they would love him, not just worship him! It’s easy to be obeyed out of fear, but to be obeyed out of love, how much more is this! How things have changed by the end of the week!

Ultimately, the Lover so wishes to remain behind with his Bride that he leaves himself behind perpetually; truly, completely, body and soul. He leaves himself behind so his Bride might forever consume him, might forever be with him. If only we could do the same – how often we leave behind a picture, a note, something for our beloved to remember us by; our heart aches that we could do more! But he has done this, has done more – and he leaves himself behind as he goes out to be sacrificed.

If you’ve read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you may be familiar with Aslan’s walk to the Stone Table before being sacrificed there by the White Witch. In the dark of night, he goes out to sacrifice for his friends, for those whom he loves. He is, as Lewis puts it, very sad. And Susan and Lucy both accompany him, attempting in their small way to comfort him.

So the sadness of Gethsemane; Abba! Daddy! He cries. A priest once commented on this addressing of our Father God, Ab-ba. It’s like a little child who can barely form words, Ab-ba. Sound it out to yourself, say it like a little child when you are in the Garden with him. While dying to ourselves may be hard, it is not impossible – we have one who came before us, to show us that it’s not impossible. We have the example of countless others who stumbled like you and me, but kept moving forward; see the example of Peter here. Sacrifice is not easy – but it is most assuredly possible, and we are capable of great things if we are willing to grit our teeth a little.

We are not alone. You are not alone, and this week, these final few days, are a chance for you to enter into the loneliness of the Garden with Him, an opportunity to keep watch with him. The terror of sacrifice! How many of us quail from it now – it’s much easier to change our profile picture, to look the other way. Do we really need to do that, give up ourselves again? Do we really need to forgive that person again? But can we not do a small thing for our Lover, for our Love? Have we not been made for more, made of great things where we are here and now?

My brother recently related the following story about this Holy Triduum (the three days from Holy Thursday through Holy Saturday) that struck me. Throughout Lent, we’ve been denying ourselves of some small (or big) thing, entering into the desert to die more to ourselves, to totally deprive ourselves so that we can rise again with Christ. The Church reflects this as the Alleluia and the Gloria are no longer sung during Lent. We begin to deprive the senses in a small measure – and then, on Palm Sunday, we cover the statues and images in the Church. Our senses are further deprived of the reminders of our faith. Imagine if you had an image of your family, your spouse on your desk – if you covered it up, while the image is still in your head, you miss having their image there; that physical reminder is gone. Today, on Holy Thursday, we rejoice briefly with our Lord at the Passover – the Gloria comes back and all is lit up. But then, sorrow. Our Lord enters into the Garden, and we with Him; the altar is stripped, there are no flowers, everything is bare.

And then we enter into Good Friday. The altar, bare, lies before us. There is no music, a somber tone envelops all. We have Our Lord in the Eucharist, but there is no Mass today – Our Lord hangs on the Cross; we still have the Eucharist, Our Lord kept in the side Tabernacle, to be brought out so we can still consume the fruit of His sacrifice. But there is no Mass – for the Mass is a representation of Good Friday, and in the words of Thomas Aquinas “The figure ceases on the advent of the reality. But this sacrament is a figure and a representation of our Lord’s Passion, as stated above. And therefore on the day on which our Lord’s Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished, this sacrament is not consecrated”. Today when we commemorate the reality, that today really happened, Our Lord dies, and He is consumed completely. There is no Eucharist left, and no Mass to reach Him – all we have left is the silence of the tomb. Completely deprived of everything, we stand in the shadow of the Cross, wondering why. Hopefully we have remained at the side of the Cross with Mary like John; but if we have fled like the other Apostles, take heart! The Sea of Tiberius beckons.

In the shadow of the Cross, in the silence of night, this is what our Lent has led to – to completely die to ourselves, to join Christ on the Way to Golgotha. We cannot fathom the depths of this darkness, alone, without Him. But this darkness, this silence, is an invitation. God speaks in silence, so do not forget that at this moment our ransom has been paid at a great price. By His sacrifice, we are given a chance to participate, to unite our sufferings with His. Do not pass up on this opportunity – for you are being given a great chance for more, to do great things in a small way.

I once again do not give particulars – because that is up to you; what are your small things that you can do greatly? Where is your Cross, that beckons for you to carry? Like the faithful servant, we can only be faithful in great things if we have been faithful in the small.

Can you do the same?

Though I walk in the Valley of Darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me!

Call with him, accompany him, as you enter into the darkness.

For just beyond lies the light of brightest Heaven. Just beyond lies the open tomb with the burial clothes. It is so close!

But first, the Cross.

On Laughter (Or Why Lent is Really Worth It)

 

” ‘ A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.”

It’s a strange thing how infectious true laughter and joy can be. I can think of the nuns near my house where I grew up, who always were so happy. Something about their eyes, their faces, radiated a joy that we rarely see nowadays. To the modern world, this is paradoxical. These women have given up their lives to care for mentally handicapped women – why are they so happy? I’m not saying we don’t see people smile; but I do mean true, authentic joy.

What is mirth, or laughter? Where does it stem from? Why does it have such a ripple effect upon others?

Chesterton put it this way:

“Angels are able to fly because they take themselves lightly”. (and a pun! What joy!)

Tongue in cheek aside, we’re able to joyfully fly as we learn to take ourselves less seriously, to see ourselves the way we really are, which is beautiful yet fallen. We’re able to fly as we better understand and discover our relationship with Love.

Some thoughts from Pope Francis’ encyclical Evanglium Gaudi, otherwise known as The Joy of the Gospel:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.

That’s what this current season of Lent is for – it’s supposed to be a time of preparation, right? It’s a time when we withdraw, we reflect. A priest once put it this way – “Ask yourself this: at the end of this season of Lent, how will I become more like Jesus Christ?” Lent’s not this time to make us feel better about how much mortification we can give, how often we can deny ourselves. If it’s all about that, we’re missing the point that it’s to draw us into a closer and stronger relationship with Jesus Christ. It should remind us why life is so good, should remind us to taste the Cross so that we can live the joy of the Resurrection. No one is excluded from this, no, not even you! You too are called to take yourself lightly. More from Joy of the Gospel:

“How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew.”

Within this season of Lent, we’re given a wonderful chance to jumpstart – it’s every reason to renew those resolutions we made back in January. And guess what! You don’t even have to promise yourself you’re going to do it for a whole year – just until Easter! (And not even on Sundays, if you like!) The joy of life, of living well, comes only if we’ve learned how to fast – only then can we properly feast.  

Learning how to fast in order to feast is something that enables us, as humans, to better enjoy life. We appreciate things more after being in the desert for a while. Being people who are able to retreat and restrain ourselves translates as well into our civic duties; think of the Ancient Romans, who conquered through their civic virtue. Justice, temperance, fortitude – yes, mercy was at times lacking, but we’re overlooking that for now. But the thing is, if we want our world to be better, to become more…well…happy?, it can only start with us. The attractiveness of a joyful soul in love cannot be understated. It’s an ember that catches fire to all that draw near it.

Laughter and learning how to cultivate true joy is something that is greatly needed today by an unhappy polus. But is this really the case – wouldn’t it be just as easy if we were dour and serious? On the contrary! Think of the soul that happily sets themselves to the task at hand – all the posters from the last 20th century depicting patriotic workers have them smiling. This doesn’t mean we can’t be serious; sometimes we need to be serious, and oftentimes we are working with grave things. Our civic lesson for today is that if we want to be joyful souls in an unhappy world that’s forgotten what true laughter and joy is, we need to start by using this time to take ourselves more lightly; and we can only do that if we take time to better learn to shape ourselves through time in the desert. Time to give thought to where we really are – maybe some silence for a weekend would do you good.

But I’m not talking about some weird, clowny humor where we walk around with a constant smile pasted on our faces; life is great, we say, as we struggle through serious difficulties. No! On the contrary – life can be very difficult. Life is hard! But the joy I look for is that of a soul in love; no matter what life throws at this soul, they endure because they have found their beloved. Nothing can take away this joy, for it becomes the light that shines in greatest darkness. It is, in some sense, like the Light of Galadriel given to Frodo to ward away the darkness; it brings a constant, unfailing light in the deepest of night. Cultivating this joy is not easy – but it is possible.

That great Shadow has indeed departed. Christ has conquered – let us remember that as we renew for this week, entering once more into the desert. In doing so, I wish you the following words a close friend shared with me once:

May you seek Christ. May you find Christ. May you fall in love with Christ.

And so joyfully live out the good news.

 

Josemaria Escriva’s Sorrowful Mysteries

I find Josemaria’s meditations on the Rosary to be one of the most powerful spiritual readings I have ever encountered. Here in Lent, his meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries and Christ’s Passion and Death strike an especially poignant chord. I hope you may read his words with thoughtful prayer, as you delve deeper into Christ’s great sacrifice for the salvation of our souls. And as you read and pray, fervently, sorrowfully, may you think “Foolish child, look: all this… He has suffered it all for you… and for me. —Can you keep from crying?”

 

1st Sorrowful Mystery:

“Pray that you may not enter into temptation”. —And Peter fell asleep. —And the other apostles. —And you, little friend, fell asleep…, and I too was another sleepyheaded Peter.

Jesus, alone and sad, suffers and soaks the earth with His blood.

Kneeling on the hard ground, He perseveres in prayer… He weeps for you… and for me: the weight of the sins of men overwhelms Him.

Pater, si vis, transfer calicem istum a me. —Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from me… Yet not my will, sed tua fiat, but Thine be done (Luke 22:42).

An Angel from Heaven comforts Him. —Jesus is in agony. —He continues prolixius, praying more intensely… —He approaches us, who are asleep: Arise, pray —He says again—, lest you enter into temptation (Luke 22:46).

Judas the traitor: a kiss. —Peter’s sword gleams in the night. —Jesus speaks: Are you come, as to a robber, to apprehend Me? (Mark 14:48)

We are cowards: we follow Him from afar, but awake and praying. —Prayer… Prayer…

 

2nd Sorrowful Mystery:

Pilate speaks: It is your custom that I release one prisoner to you on the Pasch. Whom shall I set free, Barabbas —a thief jailed with others for a murder —or Jesus? (Matt 27:17) —Put this man to death and release unto us Barabbas, cries the multitude, incited by their chief priests (Luke 23:18).

Pilate speaks again: What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ? (Matt 27:22) —Crucifige eum! Crucify Him!

Pilate, for the third time, says to them: Why, what evil has He done? I find no fault in Him that deserves death (Luke 23:22).

The clamour of the mob grows louder: Crucify Him, crucify Him! (Mark 15:14)

And Pilate, wishing to please the populace, releases Barabbas to them and orders Jesus to be scourged.

Bound to the pillar. Covered with wounds.

The blows of the lash sound upon His torn flesh, upon His undefiled flesh, that suffers for your sinful flesh. —More blows. More fury. Still more… It is the last extreme of human cruelty.

Finally, exhausted, they unbind Jesus. —And the body of Christ yields to pain and falls limp, broken and half dead.

You and I are unable to speak. —Words are not needed. —Look at Him, look at Him… slowly. After this… can you ever fear penance?

 

3rd Sorrowful Mystery:

Our King’s eagerness for suffering has been fully satisfied! —They lead Our Lord to the courtyard of the palace, and there they call together their whole band (Mark 15:16). —The brutal soldiers strip His most pure body. —They drape a dirty purple rag about Jesus. —A reed, as a sceptre, in His right hand…

The crown of thorns, driven in by blows, makes Him a mock king… Ave Rex Judeorum! —Hail, King of the Jews (Mark 15:18). And with their blows they wound His head. And they strike Him… and they spit on Him.

Crowned with thorns and clothed in rags of purple, Jesus is shown to the Jewish mob: Ecce Homo! —Behold the Man! And again the chief priests and the ministers raise the cry, saying: Crucify Him, crucify Him (John 19:5-6).

—You and I…, haven’t we crowned Him anew with thorns, and struck Him and spit on Him?

Never more, Jesus, never more… And a firm and concrete resolution marks the end of these ten Hail Marys.

 

4th Sorrowful Mystery:

Carrying His Cross, Jesus goes out toward Calvary, a place that in Hebrew is called Golgotha (John 19:17). —And they lay hold of a certain Simon of Cyrene, who is coming from a farm; and they make him take the Cross and carry it after Jesus (Luke 23:26).

The prophesy of Isaiah (53:12) has been fulfilled: cum sceleratis reputatus est, He was counted among the wicked: for two others, who were robbers, were led with Him to be put to death (Luke 23:32).

If anyone would follow me… Little friend: we are sad, living the Passion of Our Lord Jesus. —See how lovingly He embraces the Cross. —Learn from Him. —Jesus carries the Cross for you: you… carry it for Jesus.

But don’t drag the Cross… Carry it squarely on your shoulder, because your Cross, if you carry it so, will not be just any Cross: it will be… the Holy Cross. Don’t bear your Cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous word. Love the Cross. When you really love it, your Cross will be… a Cross, without a Cross.

And surely you, like Him, will find Mary on the way.

 

5th Sorrowful Mystery:

For Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, the throne of triumph is ready. You and I do not see Him writhe on being nailed: suffering all that can be suffered, He spreads His arms with the gesture of an Eternal Priest…

The soldiers take His holy garments and divide them into four parts. —In order not to tear the tunic, they cast lots to decide whose it shall be. —And so, once more, the words of the Scripture are fulfilled: They have parted my garments among them and for my robe they have cast lots (John 19:23-24).

Now He is on high… And close to her Son, at the foot of the Cross, stand Mary… and Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen. And John, the disciple whom He loved. Ecce mater tua! —Behold thy mother! —He gives us His Mother for our own.

Earlier they had offered Him wine mingled with gall, and when He had tasted it, He would not drink (Matt 27:34).

Now He thirsts… for love, for souls.

Consummatum est. —It is consummated (John 19:30).

Foolish child, look: all this… He has suffered it all for you… and for me. —Can you keep from crying?

 

The Feast of the Presentation: Recognizing Christ in the Ordinary

Here at Passionately Loving the World, we write over and over about encountering the good, the true, and the beautiful in everyday life. We do so because, quite honestly, we think it’s possible for everyone to encounter them in their day to day happenings. My own personal reflections are merely here as food for you, gracious reader. Ok, well then. On to the good stuff!

So with that little tidbit, some thoughts about the Feast of the Presentation. I know, a little late to the party here – but hey! Something true in the past is true now, right? So hush and reflect, cause it’s still true now. Anyway. This feast celebrates Christ being brought to the Temple as a baby, where Simeon and Anna encounter the Child with Mary and Joseph. I’m sure you’ve heard the story many times before, but it bears repeating again. I paraphrase from the Gospel of Luke.

“And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon…and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

I pause there for a brief reflection on the passage above before moving on. Simeon had been promised something, but it’s not the promise itself I want to think about; it’s rather Simeon’s response to the promise – he didn’t give up. It doesn’t say when or where the promise was made – this could have been made when he was a young man! Think of the years waiting and waiting – it’s like being promised that you’ll meet your heart’s desire before you die, but without a time or place being specified. It’s enough to drive one mad!

But Simeon doesn’t go mad – he waits, patiently. He waits, day after day, trusting that what was promised would be fulfilled. In the same way, we can reflect Simeon’s patience as we move along with God’s plan for our lives. Day after day, we are given a wonderful opportunity to encounter the extraordinary within the ordinary. We are given a chance to be like Simeon, trusting that we will encounter the Christ. But there’s more.

“And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God…”

There wasn’t some massive army of angels going before Mary and Joseph proclaiming the Savior of the world was entering the temple. There wasn’t a massive neon sign pointing out to Simeon “Christ child here! Say hi while you can!” No. But Simeon trusted that what had been promised him would be fulfilled – and that’s the other part of Simeon’s response to the promise. He trusted that it would happen.

The virtue of hope is something we’ve lost to a great extent in our society today. Hope, to quote from the Catechism is: “The confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God…” We don’t, to a great extent, seem to act like we even care that this will happen. I’m not talking about even here; it’s also about what comes after this life. Either we think God is dead and have ceased to care, or we don’t think it’s possible for me to get into Heaven. I know, this is you we’re talking about here – little me! What could God possibly want of me?

But as I’ve written earlier , we’re made for a relationship with Love! Living out the virtue of hope implies, to some extent, the fact that we trust we’re made for just such a relationship. It’s not easy. Go back to Simeon and think of how many days he must have woken up, longing to see Christ. And at the end of the day, going to bed disappointed. But he didn’t give up, fostering that relationship as he waited for the day he might meet his Savior face to face. So we should take example of this, because we’re can encounter Christ in the people we meet, in the jobs we work, in the people we love (and hate). Hoping that God will give us what’s necessary to finally meet Him and be with Him forever, we shouldn’t give up on this pilgrimage of ours.

Our world needs us desperately to not do so. It’s hard – just read anything about our culture or politics, and it’s enough to make us want to step out and leave. But we can’t do that – it’s our time to keep watch, like Simeon, waiting for Christ. As we wait, we can’t sit idly by either; we’ve been given a task to take care of, a small plot of land to farm. Are we preparing it well? This can take all forms, from raising children, working a white collar job, ministering to the sick, to so many other things.

Just like Simeon, we’ve been told the Good News. We know that Christ has already come once, that he’ll come again. This is great – but what about my ordinary stuff? It’s hard to find Christ in the middle of dirty dishes, long commutes, and smelly garbage. But He’s there! Just as He was there with a seemingly ordinary couple coming to the Temple as prescribed by the Law. And Simeon, watching for Him, recognized his Love. Are we living out this same watchfulness, hoping that what the Lord has promised us will be fulfilled?

This week, let’s be like Simeon, watching at the Temple gates for our Lord, looking for Him in the most ordinary of circumstance. And in doing so, I can assure you that you will truly find (and begin to live) the extraordinary.

A Reflection of Love

Many, if not most of us these days, seem to struggle with what we might call a “crisis of identity”. We all wonder where we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to do, and most importantly, who we are. I know this happens to many of us in the few years after college.

We’re supposed to find ourselves, discover everything about who we are and why we’re here. Isn’t that why we went to college? But we don’t. Well, most of us don’t – and that’s ok.

It’s hard, trying to discover one’s identity. Because it’s something that stems in part from our relationships with others. College is, for some, a time where we learn better about what it means to have a relationship with someone; or rather, a time where we learn to choose to have a relationship with someone. My brother Patrick recently wrote an awesome article on the subject of fraternity, and the importance of having good male relationships for men that I suggest you check out.

Our relationships help form us, help us discover more about ourselves. How do we react to so and so after a long day? Why does that person rub us the wrong way, and we do we respond? Are we the one pursuing friendships, or do we simply let them come to us?

All of these are reflections on us because each of these involves a personal choice as to how we welcome the other. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “the crew”, signifying a group that always hangs together. Their identity comes, in part, from the relationship they have with each other as a whole.

Who we are, then, is defined in part by these relationships, because each one, no matter how superficial, is real and personal. We get to choose whether or not to enter into them.

This should give cause for thought. Because we are in part defined by our relationships, we should take care to choose wisely. Even as we can choose to have a relationship with Beauty, we can choose not to. Evil is real and personal. It’s something that we can choose, which is scary. Because we can so often be blinded in picking well, we can oftentimes pick quite poorly, even when we intended otherwise! It’s a scary thought that I could be blind enough to not choose well – that should scare you, too.

But our identity as a human person is not rooted in evil. It’s rooted in something far greater and better – Love. Our personhood, our human identity, is intrinsically rooted in an act of complete self-giving, in a pouring out from above, in Love. Sounds too good to be true? But it is! If God is Love, and we’re created in an act of Love, then our reflection and identity of our very human soul reflects that from which we came, Love.

But it’s hard to have a relationship with Goodness, with Love Itself. I mean, it sounds nice and all, but…it’s a little far away.

But it’s not. He’s not.

“For behold, I bring you good news of great joy. For unto you is born, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

And Love came down and took on human flesh. The God who so loves you, yes you, came down and took on human nature. In a way so that we could better get to know Him. Because we are made for a relationship with Love!

It’s hard to imagine having a relationship with some distant Being. But it’s much easier to approach a human being, right?

So often, we crave for a relationship that fulfills, a relationship that satisfies. But we come short. Because our infinite longing can only by satisfied by an Infinite Love. So as you go into this new year, take a moment to remember this time, this holiday or “holy day” of Christmas, which is a special gift for us. Important because it’s our celebration of why we’re here.

That we’re not forgotten. That we are beloved. Wanted. Terribly. Wanted so very, very much that our Creator, our Father, would send His Son to come down. And He would come down with the full knowledge of what would happen with His Passion. And yet He would still choose to be born.

The mystery of a Child who is God!

We here at Passionately Loving the World hope that you see this mystery, that you encounter it.

Remember this, as you go into this new year. Remember the Babe laying in the manger as we surge forward, full of hope and enthusiasm. Yes! You may be scared at why you’re here, scared because you don’t have answers. But it’s ok – just remember that you are made for so much more.

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Shamelessly, we hope it’s to go and passionately love the world.

There is Goodness in Fraternity

I’ve had a lot of good things happen in my life. Had and done a lot of bad things too. Sometimes in low moments, I in and of myself, was not enough to pull myself back up. I needed someone else to go to, to help me, to lift me up. Even in good moments, the cause of that good or joy or success was attributed to someone else doing something for me. Interesting how that works—when we reflect on it—how much we need others. Obviously we need Christ first and foremost–by no means am I challenging that. But we as young men, and especially single young men, need each other to grow. I’m talking about fraternity—brotherhood.

Now I’ve talked about fraternity in the past, often in a negative context. There’s the current “definition” of fraternity—often stereotyped as a group of college idiots dressed in Ralph Lauren and Star-Spangled banners, smashing brews and chasing girls. Young men wasting their potential and their formative years in an environment of degradation, all in the name of “brotherhood.” Similarly, in my past essay, the French “fraternite,” describes a similar attempt at equal brotherhood and minds. But I’m not talking about this; well, in a way I am, I’m looking at the good ideals that formed the original basis for these wayward themes.

Christian men need fraternity. All men do, but in a special way, Christian men desperately need it. We need a group of male peers who can support us, advise us, lift us up, and rejoice with us. With recent reflection, I’ve realized how many men have lifted me up or inspired me to greater heights simpler with their friendship. Men who ask each other about life, relationships, goals, and even as one asked me this summer “hey bro how has your faith life been?” Simply put, guys often ‘get’ each other in a way that no woman except a spouse could understand. In a society often predicating male friendship on pursuit of sex and alcohol, Christian fraternity finds itself especially needed. Men who come with as Pope Francis writes, “their wounds, their questions, but especially with the joy of encountering one another.” Such is the revolution of this fraternity, friendships formed in similar love of Christ and life.

We see examples scattered throughout the Gospels and the Church. Looking at the Old Testament, Daniel and his companions resisted the temptations of the Babylonians—remaining together. Similarly with Shadrack, Mishek, and Abednego who braved the fiery furnace in brotherhood grounded in God. In the Church, look at Francis Xavier and Ignatius of Loyola—friends who challenged each other to grow in holiness each and every day. Countless martyrs too—St. Paul Miki and companions, Isaac Jogues and companions, the Korean martyrs. These men who served the Lord with their whole hearts, some even to a bloody end. Could they have done it without the support of their brothers next to them? It’s a question worth asking. Even Christ gathered a group of men around him, his closest friends. Even when he withdrew to pray, Christ took the three closest with him—desiring their aid and support. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Should we do any less when our friends fall? When the apostles deserted Christ in fear, only St. John remained. One can only imagine how he lifted the spirits of his brethren in their regret after their reunion. I can imagine a scene where he and Peter sit in tears as he comforts the leader of the apostles who denied Christ in a moment where he had sworn he would not. True brotherhood, a moment of love, chastisement, forgiveness, repentance, and encouragement all in one. Our friendships should reflect this.

Our society is one that has adapted well towards picking off men one by one, driving them into sin, often through loneliness. The pornography epidemic is a stark example of such an attack on the individual. Look at it like a herd of elephants. One alone is easily picked off by the lions, lost in the night. Yet a herd protects the weakest, forming a barrier around the young and old alike so that the lions cannot take them, bearing the brunt of any attack that comes. They help the young to mature and grow, and in turn that young one will then be able to protect the older members of the herd should they falter. In such fashion should our brotherhood be. Support each other, especially the weak, raising them up.  We have a revolutionary opportunity to change the world, yet we cannot do it alone. Pope Francis writes “the new generation of young people gave the answer to today’s challenge. They gave a sign of hope, and this sign is called fraternity, because, in fact, in this world at war, we need fraternity, closeness, dialogue, and friendship. And this is a sign of hope, when there is fraternity.” Yet one key that is often forgotten, is that we must share in fraternal correction as much as we should share in fraternal joy. When based in charity, the ability to guide our brother from a negative action becomes essential and grows the friendship. So this responsibility becomes shared when in the context of a group of men. I look to St. Josemaria Escriva, who writes well on the struggles of friendship and fraternity, always exhorting loyalty, charity and humility as the keys to true friendship. In a time of such turmoil and struggle, fraternity is the answer to transcend all boundaries. Escriva writes

Christian freedom comes from within, from the heart, from faith. It is not something merely individual, it expresses itself externally in social behavior. One of its more characteristic features is seen in the lives of the first Christians: fraternity. Faith—that great gift of God—has reduced the divergencies, the barriers, so that they have disappeared ‘and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female’ To know that we are brothers, to love another as such—over and above differences of race, social condition, culture or ideology—belongs to the essence of Christianity.

In such context then is seen such a value to our friendships. True fraternity, founded in charity and drive for Christ, overcomes the boundaries of race, ideology, background and such. How fascinating is this? How beautiful!

What then can we do as men to increase our sense of brotherhood and bonding? In college it is as simply as engaging in activities and groups that will form and grow those friendships. However, in the post-grad life, it becomes a little more difficult. Here more effort is required—as oftentimes our friends and brothers are far away. I encourage you to make more effort in reaching out to these men! Give them a call, set up times, ask about life, revisit memories, but most importantly continue to grow these friendships! St. Paul intercede for us in this endeavor, as he too continued his friendships with other men in the church through his many letters and exhortations.

In closing, I would be remiss without mentioning the line “iron sharpens iron” Cheesy as it sounds, the truth behind it still rings true. Two good men in community will make each other better. It’s like having a lifting buddy—you keep each other honest on your goals, pushing each other to achieve more and more. Christ set the tone and the apostles carried it on. We must be brethren burning together in the fire of Christ’s life, becoming beacons of hope in the darkness of life. We are men fording the river of life, while the currents of secularism threaten to drag us away. We must link arms if we are to survive, and if one slips, our brethren will catch us or we will all fall together.

Hate Free Zones: A Modern Utopia

It’s getting harder and harder to start these posts…I was blank-ing something, and so forth seems to be the general trend. Insert philosophical thought about everything being a moment of the past, or how the present is a gift. Ha ha. Haters gonna hate.

Speaking of haters, we seem to have this obsession lately with creating these “hate free” zones. I’m sure you’ve seen the signs outside houses that proclaim the house is a “hate free” zone. Maybe your house has one. It seems to be a trend today that whenever we find an opinion we disagree with, we simply label it “hate speech” and call it a day. A classic example of this is our campus culture at most big universities, which seeks to protect the feelings of any and every student from a dissenting opinion that might hurt their feelings. Doubtless it’s important to help people grow, but it seems to be at the expense of any real thought happening at all.

The irony of all this is that our politics don’t reflect this at all; tweets about how someone is a “insert derogatory comment here”, or a that reigns supreme. Our gut reaction to all this is to go the opposite extreme and pull away from discourse altogether. The thing is…you’re doing the same exact thing as the name-callers. Those who name call cease to rise to the occasion of a well-made argument, of actually thinking through why a certain point is either right or wrong; this line of thinking out a well-made argument has a name, and it’s thousands of years old. It’s called logic (Rhetoric, technically, but let’s not quibble over details). In any case, by withdrawing entirely from discourse because of hurt feelings, we are failing to enter into a reasonable debate with our fellow man.

So instead of attempting to engage someone in discourse, our reaction instead is that we can create a place where no one disagrees, a hate-free zone where everything is perfect. Sound too good to be true? It’s because it is – unfortunately, Utopia isn’t a place of this world.

Man has been chasing after utopias since the world began. The roots of this modern American utopia can be traced back to Woodrow Wilson. Wilson and his fellow progressives thought that the end times were near, that only a few dissenters needed to be won over so that the perfect end times could be brought to the present. History existed as some tangible thing that man could manipulate. Take the following passage from Wilson:

“We are going to climb the slow road until it reaches some upland where the air is fresher, where the whole talk of mere politicians is stilled, where men can look in each others faces and see that there is nothing to conceal, that all they have to talk about they are willing to talk about in the open and talk about with each other.”

It’s almost the kind of message you’d hear from a preacher telling people about Heaven; except in this case, it’s coming from one of the most powerful men in the world. Not good when that person thinks they should run the country from the Oval Office.

This “perfect state” for man could only exist if those in power were willing to overlook the individual for the sake of a higher destiny. What matter was not the human, but humanity. All of mankind was yearning for this perfect state, and only a few stupid people stood in the way. Sounds awfully similar to a certain someone by the name of Marx.

In both Wilson and Marx’s vision, the individual became sacrificed for the sake of the “common good”. Wilson wrote often about the need for centralized thought to control the great mechanism of the country’s social and economic fabric. The times had changed and so government needed to change to become stronger to control things. Often referring to this centralized control as the queen bee of a hive, Wilson thought that a perfect state could only exist if one strong person in authority existed to tell everyone else what to do. If that doesn’t scare you, well…we need to talk. This hive mind doesn’t want you to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful. No, it wants you to simply do as it wishes, as it decrees. You become, well, a husk. And that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun at all. If you’ve ever read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In her book, L’Engle tells the story of a world that has been taken over by a evil being known simply as “The Brain”. All those on the planet fall into a deadly routine dictated by the Brain as it sits at the center of a web of despair.

So how does this relate back to hate free zones? I know, cheesy filler line to get us back to where we started. Feel free to send me a better transition line. But in all seriousness, when we simply surrender our ability to freely discourse with others because we’re in a “hate-free zone”, we’ve effectively given up our rights as an individual to pursue Truth. I do say right because we’re each rational beings endowed with the ability to pursue Truth. If we fail to engage people (charitably, mind you) with others, then we are succumbing to a Brave New World, to the Brain. It’s a scary thought – I like to be able to think for myself, and I sure don’t need some inanimate ruler doing it for me.

This is not to say that we should have a free-for-all. On the contrary. We need rational discourse; and rational discourse involves humility and listening to the other person. They actually might be right on something. Oftentimes people ask if you are of one party or another; we’re not really in an age of voting along party lines anymore because we should be able to think for ourselves. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary. But other times, you need to think. THINK. PLEASE. No, the upper case was not an accident.

If you don’t want to be under the thumb of the Brain, if you want to pursue your God who loves you so  much to die for you, then you better do something about it. Do better! Think better! I’m not asking you to be Einstein – just use your brain to the best of your ability. That doesn’t mean you need to be an intellectual: you might be better with people, or better at listening. Whatever your gift is, use it. We hear constantly about the steward who didn’t use his gifts well, and he had all that was left taken away – don’t be him!

This essay has come a long way from hate free zones. Why? Because if we’re patient, listen well, and see the other person as a child of God, then we don’t need some authority creating these zones. Every time that you and I fail to fulfill our responsibility to properly engage as an informed citizen, we cede a little bit to the administrative state. I don’t mean that we’re going to have an epiphany every time we enter into discourse with someone. Of course not; you may disagree vehemently with people you’re close to about things you hold very dear. But what does matter is that you take the high road by trying to see them as a child of God; it will be hard, but it will be worth it. What I mean is exercising prudence in your discourse with others; some hills are worth dying on, others are not. Choose yours wisely.

You’ve been given many talents. You know what those are; they can’t flourish if you let them sit in a “hate-free” zone being nice to others. You weren’t made to be nice. Nice is so…meh. You were made for so much more. You were made to be like a hot ember, turning all you touch into flame. Yes! You are made for greatness, as cheesy as that sounds. Your greatness may be different from others; it may never be seen by the rest of the world.

But do you know what? It could make all the difference in the life of one person. Just one.

And in the end, would it not be worth it?

Because if He were to come down and go through His Passion knowing that one soul would come to Him, you can bet everything you have that He’d do it.

You and I should go out and do the same.