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.

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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.

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.

The Revolution is Nigh

In the last few years, the modern left has largely found itself championing the rights of the marginalized. Their ideals are quite lofty, seeking equality, liberty, happiness, autonomy, among others. They claim to be the party of the masses, while the reverse is the party of the rich. Yet, their rhetoric has become largely contradictory and rings hollow in the face of fact. The masses are dividing rather than uniting, losing sight of the true ideals of equality. What we are seeing is a modern-day French Revolution here in this country, a party that has lost sight of the true Lockean nature of the Constitution and instead become only infatuated with the lofty—not necessarily practical—ideals of the Lockean and Rousseauian Declaration. A new Revolution is upon us, and the Terror is not far behind.

This seems like quite a claim at first, but with further explanation, hopefully I can clarify my point. Here in this country there is a distinct brokenness between classes and people, a separation between governor and governed. I find a core issue is a failure to understand the founding of our country, and a broken understanding of its Founding documents. As such, some political agendas are rapidly reflecting the beliefs of the French Revolution rather than the American founding. We must correct that. First, let’s briefly address the philosophical foundations of the two ideological events—Rousseau and Locke.

First, Jean Jacques Rousseau and John Locke were both products of the Enlightenment, thinkers who delved into the concepts of community, man and government. Both clearly believed in life, liberty and equality, but there, their definitions differ. Rousseau held a purer belief in the goodness of man, an understanding rooted in his theory that man’s perfect form was in the rawest natural state—the “noble savage”. While unable to regain that state, man seeks to enter into political life in order to enhance that goodness, returning total autonomy to the masses. Here the general will would rule through popular sovereignty. This political theory largely birthed the French thinkers in the Terror, and eventually partially influenced communist thought. In contrast, Locke presents a darker, more Puritanical view of man. Here, Locke sees that true, man is entitled to life, liberty and property, but the darker nature of man will lead towards those rights being trampled in a natural state. Therefore, government is founded in order to protect those rights and protect against man’s darker tendencies. To Locke, experience was the ultimate teacher—something that greatly influenced the Founding Fathers.

With this brief understanding in mind, what then do I mean that the modern left holds the ideals of the Declaration without the structure of the Constitution? Well let’s first look at the Declaration and its writer. First, Thomas Jefferson was a wholehearted advocate of the French, and eventually was a supporter of their Revolution. Like them, I think that some parts of Rousseau influenced him, and eventually a line in the Declaration. In writing this document, he was utilizing the rhetoric of Locke in that of life and liberty, but he changed property to “pursuit of happiness”—a distinctly abstract notion that is found much more in the ideals of Rousseau than Locke. Thus, a much loftier ideal is set, but one that is not necessarily clarified. Man must seek that which is his own happiness. But that was the very purpose of the Declaration, it was meant to convey a sense of lofty ideals and righteousness. It was never intended to be more than that, and most certainly never intended to be a ruling document. That’s why we have the Constitution. As it is often represented, the Declaration is a golden apple, while the Constitution is the frame that provides structure and protection to the ideals of the apple.

In the context of the French Revolution, the Rousseauian understanding of that apple removes the frame. Not that the left disregards the Constitution, but simply seeks to emulate the ideals of the declaration and specifically the section relating to pursuit of happiness—without the stability of the Constitution. This understanding leads to happiness and equality becoming equated with the general will of the people.

The French Revolution largely sought this—a return of the power into the hands of the 3rd Estate (the general masses). Now there were three phases to this revolution, but the most important are the first two. The first separated the nobles and king from the 3rd estate, as the nobles sought more power and the 3rd estate realized their own worth in the face of rising taxes. The third estate called for a total reconstruction of the government and social orders. What this then turned into would become the second phase, or the Terror. In seeking total autonomy through violence and their own force, the people took away structure. What was initially lauded as the will of the people turned rapidly into the will of Robespierre. As a result, the ideals of equality and liberte that were shouted from the rooftops quickly turned into the division of rival factions, to the point of execution without trial. Their ideals could not exist without a proper structure, which through their obsession with their own autonomy they destroyed.

The fault of the left is the failure to understand the fundamentals of a representative republic versus a total democracy. They call for social change through large crowds, social media, and even as we have seen through blocking those that they view as “anti” their own view. This is stark reflection of the old French Revolutionaries—the Voltaires and Robespierres. In the name of equality and autonomy, they seek to remove their rivals and institute their vision as fact. While promoting diversity, they instead destroy it. Nothing holds its original meaning. A paradox has set in, slowly creeping into the rhetoric of a party so obsessed with promoting welfare that they destroy opinion. The will of the people is their watchword, but not their action. Their salvific notions have raised a fictitious god of the masses who sets and dictates truth, just as in the Second Phase or the Terror. Now we see that this Terror is very much a growing beast in this country now; a beast hungry for opinion, discourse, and diversity.

This fictitious god of fraternity is traced by Kim Holmes in a lecture given to the Heritage Foundation on the ideological divide between the French and American Revolution. She discusses the three fundamental words of the French movement, liberte, egalite, and fraternite. According to her, the most dangerous was the French spirit of fraternite, a spirit fundamentally rooted in holding an indivisible consensus among the people—an impossibility. She writes “pushing for agreement to the extreme of violence is the most divisive—and exclusionary—thing you can possible do.” Her article nails the failure of Rousseau and the French. Essentially, their spirit of unanimous opinion and the single general will was fundamentally paradoxical. By including all you exclude many, by instituting a single justice through violence, you commit violence through injustice. Her article is worth a read. Yet this is the struggle that is facing America today from the progressive and radical left. In its desperation for agreement and inclusion, the left in fact has become exclusionary and divisive—look at any college campus with a conservative speaker or to a more extreme, Antifa; heck even the women’s march.

The issue then found in such exclusionary tactics is clear. It will only continue, excluding more and more. The French Revolution presented this—at the height of the Terror, two-thirds of those in prison were citizens who had supported the Revolution initially. Such a mentality will only turn on those that originally supported it and I think we are seeing that in sphere of public discourse. The new guillotine is not one where heads are rolling, but rather one slowly killing off  the great nobility of ideas and discourse upon which this country formed.

Yet too, we see that in the Great American Experiment, the Founders started with ideals—“we are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. That we are endowed by are Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are the defining words of the American people, there is no question to it. They were the defining words of the French as well. But these words are nil without the beginnings of another—words found only here— “we the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” The Founders saw to it that they put the foundation of ideals in place first, setting a moral high ground, but then placed a great fortress around that ground to protect it, known as the Constitution. Ideals without structure become merely fleeting emotions, not unlike motivation without drive or willpower—eventually it will die. Not so with stability.

The purpose then of the Constitution was and is to provide stability to the people. It provides a structure for society to function without impugning on the rights of others. It provides benefits, and protects against the imposition of the governing upon the governed. Additionally, it institutes the Lockean reality of equality—that property and opinion will not always be distributed equally. The structure of the system then works to promote peace among the citizens through stability against the darker nature of man. This stability is the catalyst for virtue to grow among the citizenry, its federalist intent placing the burden upon the lowest rungs of government to solve problems and promote happiness. But in order for this all to grow smoothly, this structure must be followed and lived in, with virtue as its key.

One of the most important things that the American Founders understood was the fallibility of human reason and understanding. Humans are fickle beings, easily swayed by the signs of the times. Thus, in order to counteract a fundamental failure of human nature, the Founders set out to institute a structure riddled with checks and balances against the worst tendencies of man. Simply put, experience is the ultimate teacher, and experience taught the Founders that reason alone was not enough. The French did not learn this lesson, elevating reason to the highest of thrones—and thus falling.

The fundamental misunderstanding by the left now is a failure to see the points made by the father of the Constitution James Madison. Federalist 10 is one of the most important documents to understand the calculated purpose behind the Constitution, a purpose directly opposed to the populist radicalism of the modern left. This essay, dedicated towards quelling the violence of faction, stresses the various methods and checks within the new system. Freedom cannot be destroyed, nor can human opinion be forced into solely one camp or another. Madison writes:

As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other, and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government.

There we see it—something fundamentally different between French and American. Here in the American world, the first order of our government is to protect the opinions of all and their right to voice that opinion. This in inherently opposed to Rousseau’s failed concept of “the general will”—there is no general will. Man will have different opinions, and that’s ok. We must encourage that and look back to our Founders for a constant reminder of how and why our system of government was formed. We cannot continue to fail, especially in the face of this new Terror.

 

The Time and Crises of Today

 “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We’ve all been there – talking with friends, colleagues, family, and the subject turns to how good people had it before us. We wish we had this president again, or that time of goodwill. If only they hadn’t enacted this policy, or followed that one through! This sense of nostalgia at times seems like it wants to engulf us – we’re creatures of the present eternally rooted in the past. Yes, we undoubtedly have ties to the past – we are creatures of time and space, after all. But there’s something important and worthwhile about being grounded in the present moment.

In his book The Fractured Republic, Yuval Levin talks about our nation being stuck in an “age of nostalgia”. Levin writes:

“Our political life is now exceedingly nostalgic. The ambitions of most of its various partisans begin with calls for a reversal of some portion of the great diffusion of our national life that has defined the American experience for more than half a century. This nostalgia is at the core of the frustration that so overwhelms our politics now. If we could see our way past it, we might gain a much better grasp of the nature of the problems we face and the shape of potential solutions.”

Levin goes on to reflect that most of us are stuck in either a hope to return to the 1960s or 1980s, depending on our political persuasion. But both, he thinks, are not thoughts focused on the present. We’re in a completely new age and social paradigm (what a great word), and what we’ve done before doesn’t set precedent now; simply sending a letter to someone via snail mail would be considered a rude replacement for a phone or Skype call.

This doesn’t mean we ignore the past in some Hegelian blindness that sees only the present age as the “end times”. No! We have roots in the past, and learn from it – but it’s about taking those experiences and learning how to apply them to the present moment. In arguing for the new Constitution, the Federalists used examples from history to illustrate how they had (hopefully) learned from the past, reflecting on the failures of Sparta and other ancient Greek city-states to show how their new Republic would be different. It’s ok to miss the past and hope for the good that was – it’s often because of something good that we yearn for a past time. Levin writes “Nostalgia, after all, is by no means bad. And the analysts, scholars, journalists, and politicians who bemoan how things have changed in this half-century are pointing at some important truths about both the past and the present. We must be careful not to dismiss what they see, but also not to ignore what they miss…to learn from nostalgia, we must let it guide us not merely toward ‘the way we were’, but toward just what was good about what we miss, and why.” We don’t want to cut ourselves off from our forefathers because they had some truths about ourselves that we could learn. But it’s up to us to actually digest these things and then see how we can apply them to our present time. Why? Because our present time needs us very, very badly.

Josemaria Escriva once remarked that “These world crises are crises of saints. God wants a handful of men ‘of his own’ in every human activity. And then…’pax Christi in regno Christi – the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ’.” Two idea pulled from this saying of his: One, these crises are ones that require a saint to face; or two, these crises occur as a result of a lack of saints. Either way you look at it, think about this: what would have happened to the Cold War if John Paul II had not helped topple the USSR? Or if Rudolph Hoess (commandant of Auschwitz) had decided to do better with himself? If we are indeed creatures of time and space, why aren’t we doing something to change the time and space we live in?

So my practical note to close. Why should I care? Who cares if I’m holy, if I’m pursuing the true, the good, and the beautiful? Who cares if I pursue a relationship with Love or not? The famous economist Milton Friedman had a theory about an idea known as “the neighborhood effect”. This effect boiled down to the idea that when someone did something good, other people would indirectly benefit. Say for example you decide to invest in repairing your local soccer field so your kids have a place to shoot goals. You’re not doing this at face value for your neighborhood, but as a result of your hard work, the rest of the neighborhood can now enjoy playing soccer. The same goes for us if we pursue holiness in the times given us.

Don’t look for the next crisis. The next crisis is now, here, today, now. It starts with you, in smiling at that person who’s being a particular kind of something this morning. It starts with you being patient with that coworker who’s maybe taking longer to understand a concept that comes easily to you. It starts with you. Frodo was welcomed as great by those around him – yet he didn’t slay any mighty beast. He didn’t even throw the Ring into Mount Doom at the end. But he did persevere in his small steps, day after day. He persevered so that while he was unable to cast the One Ring into Mount Doom, someone else was (albeit on accident). Abraham Lincoln wasn’t born in the White House – he was born in a little log cabin in the middle of nowhere. He worked his tail off quietly, silently for many years, preparing. So don’t be let down if you’re not at the center yet. You will be one day – it may not be where or when you were expecting, but it will happen. The question is, will you have used the time given you well so as to be ready for the time then? What will you decide to do with the time given you?

The Glory of Work and the Joy of Living

First off, Happy Birthday Teddy Roosevelt! Yesterday was October 27th, TR’s 159th birthday, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about one of my favorite presidents. Honestly, to those who don’t know much about him, he is a fascinating study into the evolution of the Presidency and the onset of the Progressive Era. Yet, in my opinion, he’s so much more important than that. In my eyes, he was one of the greatest Americans who has lived not because of his role in the public life, but rather in the way he carried himself—he was John Wayne and Ron Swanson all in one.

Now obviously, he was one of the all time greats—you don’t get your face on Mount Rushmore for no reason. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, that’s some pretty good company. One is considered the father of our country, the second was the author of the Declaration, and finally the third saved the country from the brinks of disaster. Now what about Teddy? Why does he fit in? Well, according to those who built this edifice, he represents the great changes in the United States. Considering all his work in both the preservation of national parks and the sweeping progressive changes he instituted, this seems fit. But I like to consider a different aspect, mainly that Teddy Roosevelt represents the great ideals of American manhood.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick” is one of his most remembered phrases. It calls to mind the silent but tough man, something inherently American. But let us examine TR further, by looking into his autobiography. He would write,

There must be the keenest sense of duty, and with it must go the joy of living; there must be shame at the thought of shirking the hard work of the world and at the same time delight in the many-sided beauty of life. With soul of flame and temper of steel we must act as our coolest judgement bids us. We must exercise the largest charity towards the wrong-doer, that is compatible with relentless war against the wrong-doing. We must be just to others, generous to others, and yet we must realize that it is shameful and a wicked thing not to withstand oppression with high heart and ready hand. With gentleness and tenderness there must go dauntless bravery and grim acceptance of labor and hardship and peril. All for each, and each for all, is a good motto; but only on condition that each works with might and main to so maintain himself as not to be a burden to others.

There is something beautiful to these words, hearkening back to the “old days” when men were free and tough. But there is also an inherent balance that Roosevelt construed. The balance between gentility and courage, peril and tenderness, beauty and labor. This balance is the perfection of manhood—as an old priest friend described, a balance between beast and wimp. In this sense then, man becomes a guardian. In Roosevelt’s own eyes, he became a steward of his family, his land, and his country.

These are the virtues that we must hope to reflect in our lives. Steward, guardian, leader, whatever label is placed on it, the virtues stay the same. American manhood is just such ideals. We are called to speak only when necessary, not raising our voices in gossip, slander, or wasting our breath with useless self-praise. Be appreciative of that given to you and the beauty that surrounds. Take courage and hold your ground for your fundamental principles. Think well. Read. Exercise. This is American manhood. Yet all is grounded in the principles of self-control, simplicity, and hard work. This is where Teddy is such a perfect example and such a great American hero.

There is something quite dashing about Teddy. He was the man of all trades—author, cowboy, statesman, family man, and soldier. He lived for the outdoors, loving nature and reveling in its beauty. As a child, he wanted to be a naturalist in the strain of Chapman or Muir. Roosevelt seems to have lived life to the fullest, taking advantage of every opportunity presented to him. We can take example from that—no adventure is too great. But we must be dedicated in our work, as Roosevelt was; only then can we master opportunity.

This theme of dedication and work were constants in Roosevelt’s life. By this I mean that hard work and perseverance were the watchwords that he lived by. Indeed, nothing was easily gained by him—he worked for it all. This fundamentally hearkens back to his youth, when as a sickly boy he forced himself to become physically adept, training for years in boxing and weightlifting. From this point on, all revolved around hard and brutal work. Discussing his years on a cattle ranch, Roosevelt would write “we knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst; and we saw men die violent deaths as they worked among the horses and cattle or fought in evil feuds with one another; but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins, and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.” This is the best kind of success, but that which is least recognized—the success of hard work over talent. I especially like that last line a lot, the glory of work and the joy of living. Often we try to separate those words, especially glory and work. But there is glory in a hard day’s work, even if you are the only one who lives it—there is victory in a small accomplishment.

I feel the need to diverge on this briefly, that there is glory in work which leads to joy in life. Josemaria Escriva writes, “heroism at work is to be found in finishing each task.” This is exactly it, as to work is man’s intent—even in the Garden, man was placed to work. Roosevelt is a modern model for this, reinstituting the glory of work into our minds. Hard work is virtuous. This is the basis for American manhood. Even more so in a spiritual sense, there is sanctification to be found in the daily work. This heroism of daily work is our calling. Yet there is also so much joy to be found in life. Look at Roosevelt’s work in the natural surroundings of this country. He found so much perfection in nature. Not all of us are outdoorsmen, but we can still stop to value a starlit night or a simple moment with an autumn leaf.

You see, this is the mindset behind the American dream; work hard. Yet that vivacity in life and its joys is often set on the backburner. Teddy brings that back to the forefront. Life is full of joys, even in the midst of the its most brutal labors. You must seek them out. This is what separates him from the workaholic mindset. Teddy found joy in wherever he was, seeing his work as a growth in virtue. Workaholics see their labors as a never ending means to an end, rarely seeing true joy.

This virtuousness of Roosevelt has been lost in the America of today. Rarely do we see our generation simply putting their nose to the grindstone with a reckless abandon. It seems that today, to work is license to complain. Yet, Roosevelt reveled in the challenge of the daily. We must hearken back to his example. There is a stark need for balance in our lives—a balance of joy and work, beauty and courage. There is glory still to be found; we can find it.

When You Come to Narnia, Your Worries Come Too

It’d be a little cliche to say I was reading something lately…that seems to be the going trend for how I write most of these articles. But I was reading something recently, and I am going to start that way. So ha.

I was recently reading an article  in The Atlantic on why we should read fiction by a fellow of the name of Lev Grossman here. Apparently he’s written some sort of “older” Harry Potter (Whatever that means). I’ve never heard of him before, nor have I read his works , so I post a caveat that this post is not a proclamation of his works. Merely of an article I read by him. So if I’ve accidentally introduced some modern Nietzsche, my apologies. There is more than the void.

So with that out of the way, I was reading this article about why we should read fiction by Lev Grossman. For Grossman, fantasy is something that helps us better learn how to deal with the world we live in. He writes:

I bristle whenever fantasy is characterized as escapism. It’s not a very accurate way to describe it; in fact, I think fantasy is a powerful tool for coming to an understanding of oneself. The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you re-encounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world. Edmund doesn’t solve any of his grievances or personality disorders by going through the wardrobe. If anything, they’re exacerbated and brought to a crisis by his experiences in Narnia. When you go to Narnia, your worries come with you. Narnia just becomes the place where you work them out and try to resolve them.

When you come to Narnia, your worries come too. There’s something about the world of fantasy that helps us see better what it is we fear, what we’re most afraid of confronting. Perhaps it’s the dragon under the Lonely Mountain. Or maybe it’s the Brain, sitting at the middle of its web of despair.

What reading good fiction shows is how human we really are; it flips things upside down so that we can gain a better perspective on things by putting us in someone else’s shoes. Even something like Jacques’ Redwall, mentioned in my earlier blog here, shows us how much we need good companionship and community through something like food.

I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago who was rethinking his school’s history curriculum. His grievance with the current history textbooks was that they simply transposed a series of dates onto a timeline. The problem when we do that, he said, is that we lose sight of why we actually study history. We study history (or used to) in order to learn something about the human person; that’s what history is, after all – a series of events involving the human person, right? People used to read Plutarch’s Lives not just because they were learning about a series of dates, but because they were learning about the human person. When we simply hear about the dates of the Peloponnesian War, we lose sight of what really happened. We lose sight of Pericles and his love for Athens, the city of beauty. Instead, when we learn history through reading the lives of those who came before us, we learn not just dates, but something more. We learn how about the human person as that human person reflects us and those around us. So too with fantasy.

By taking things and putting them inside out, we’re better able to get a sense of where the land lies. By exacerbating things, as Grossman put it, we’re forced to come to grips with things sooner. Edmund undoubtedly would have let things fester for much longer if he hadn’t been put on the line by the White Witch. Yes, sometimes fiction can help us to escape, for a little while, the cares of this world; and sometimes not. Sometimes it is to help us see clearly, to help us turn things inside out so we can get a better look. It’s meant to help us learn more about..us. About you  and me. Good literature, then, is one that helps us be better, to be more human. C.S. Lewis’ closing book in his Space Trilogy, entitled, That Hideous Strength, is a wonderful example of this. Within the pages of this book, Lewis paints the human person with all their struggles. One particular character, the scientist Mark, is caught in the middle of the battle between good vs. evil, but in this case, it’s a much more real, more “grey” evil. The evil of Lewis’ Hideous Strength is one that paints itself as “that group” that we all want to be part of; it’s the “inner circle” that we’re all afraid of being left out of. Marc so desperately feels left out, so alone, that he gives up his very soul to be “in”. And do you know what? We’ve done the very same, so many times. Like Mark, we come this close to forsaking what is most dear to us – to find out more what I mean, you’ll have the read the book. Cheers.

Reading then, is not just a path to some escapist reality. Rather, it helps us to see the world better, to get a better angle on things through characters with whom we’ve learned to laugh, cry, and love. Reading helps us see that the wicked prince we hate so much was once good. Really, he was; he just made a few bad decisions, surrounded himself with the wrong people. We see the dragon and realize that sometimes it’s okay to run away when we don’t have Gandalf to protect us. And we see the Pearl of Great Price, so valuable that a merchant would sell all he had to possess it.

So why read fiction? Why walk into the land of Narnia at all? Sometimes, a story can help us see what it is we really value most. It can help us turn our darkest corners inside out, so the light can help us better clean out those dusty corners. And sometimes, it can help us see that good really does win in the end, that we really are made for more.

So maybe reading fiction isn’t your thing. Fine. Good. Go read some history. Go read Plutarch’s Lives. But do think about what you read, and ask yourself this: am I more like Lucy, or am I more like Edmund? Am I like Alcibiades, or am I like Coriolanus? Where are my worries, and how am letting Aslan conquer my White Witch?

Take my hand, then, and take a step with me through the wardrobe. I guarantee you will not be the same.

Who knows? Even brats come back as mighty kings and queens. And sometimes the most unbelievable things really are true – like a lowly village girl becoming the Mother of God.

It’s a dangerous world out there. But it’s a beautiful one.

The Instinctive Presence

In the Christian life, we often become discouraged, feeling alone, angry, despondent. In moments like these, it is important to recall why we call ourselves Christian, why we follow the call of the One. We must hearken back to that first moment when we instinctively felt Him touch our lives, that first moment that we can clarify His Presence in our life. We must reflect back on that first moment we said yes to His call and felt our longing fulfilled. In the Gospels, this initial call to fellowship with Christ began with the most simple of calls, “follow me.” What follows is the profound journey of the Christian calling, to enter into life with Christ by following the Master, for those who have found Him have felt the emptiness that was and is no more. The journey is one of seeking, always searching to discover the greatness of that Presence.

Biblically speaking, Christ promised to be with His chosen people always, promising “I will be with you even until the end of the age.” Truthfully, he kept to his word, and remains with his people. He founded a Church into which those who respond to His call must enter. Within this, He centrally placed Himself—in the form of the Eucharist. In this, Christ is recognized and truly present with his people. Yet to be recognized as Him, one thing is most apparent—that first yes by man to His call.

With all its constructs, codes, laws, and dogmas, the Catholic Church fundamentally stands upon the yes of man to follow the call of Christ. As it was with Peter, “You are the Christ” and Christ’s subsequent proclamation, “upon this rock I will build my Church,” there must be a moment in the life of every Christian where they feel a burning of truth within their heart, and follow it to its source. Peter found this, did not understand it and yet still followed, knowing that the truth was just so, even if he did not understand it. In the words of Fr. Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, Peter saw Christ as “an immense revelation, still to be clarified.”

There is something quite profound in Giussani’s statement on Peter’s understanding of Christ. Yet this idea of the mystery surrounding Christ is actually quite common throughout the Gospels. The apostles never seem to fully understand what His mission is, until after His death. Even on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion were wandering, unclear, lost, and failed to recognize Christ until again he was gone— “and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.” Yet this mystery of Christ seems to consistently take root first in the heart of man, as a silent, emotional movement that will not be ignored.

The beginning of Christian understanding and morality, begins first and foremost in the heart. As at Emmaus, when their hearts burned within them, so to must our hearts burn with the fire of Christ. This is the beginning of faith, of our true life in Christ. This is an instinctive knowledge and attraction placed within our hearts, our first encounter with Him. The encounter is that which draws us, roots desire in our heart. It is this first moment that we are then constantly faced with, which becomes a deeper and deeper call to fellowship and love. St. Peter encounters it dramatically in John 21, at the seaside with Christ. Christ asks him thrice, “do you love Me?” and peter is dumbstruck, heartbroken, ashamed. Yet in spite of his failures, he hearkens back to that original moment when he was called by Christ to leave all behind, to follow, when he followed that stranger, and in reply he says, “Yes.” Giussani calls this the true birth of the new Christian morality. An instinctive Presence that once is rooted, can never be forgotten.

This is not to say that we must never grow in our faith; we must or we will constantly be falling into sin or waywardness, but this initial hearkening to Christ’s Presence in our world, our personal life, is the moment that our faith truly becomes our own. In it, we take the faith as much more than a set of rules, rather it becomes our life, for in it we begin to reach that Presence more and more, closer and closer. The Presence becomes not a long distant memory, but a constant moment in our life. This is living presence of God, realizing that this Presence is omnipresent, always here to be recognized, received, and reciprocated. Julian Carron speaks on this as well, describing Christ and the human heart as a perfect correspondence in love, “It is precisely in meeting Jesus that what the heart is comes to the surface, because Jesus corresponds to the heart and so He fills us with reasons, and the more you meet Him, the more reasons you have for following Him. Little by little, this arouses an affection for Jesus unlike anything else, because you experience this hundredfold in life, you see how life becomes more and more intense, greater, finer; as time passes, you become more and more aware of why Jesus is different.” In the most intense way, “a presence like that of Jesus, an instinctive attraction like that evokes by Jesus prevails over all the misdeeds we may have committed.” This is not to say that we will not stumble often—we will, St. Peter did too—but rather, that the “do you love of Me” of Christ is so present in our lives that we cannot help but always return, and continue to seek the depths of our Yes to Him. And the reason that this Yes is manifested truly in the Catholic Church, is that the Presence can be truly and fully sought by us in the Eucharist, where He is truly and fully. As at Emmaus, His Presence is manifested to us in the Eucharist, where we realize what we were seeking and what we said Yes to, which is joy and life. With this, we cannot help but continue to follow.

Here love is found. Here that despondency of the heart is removed. Christ’s Presence is one so fundamentally magnetic, that once found, cannot ever be truly left. The yearning for it is so wholly human, and so Christ gave himself in a human physical way to us. The Eucharist is the Presence, truly and wholly. Daily we have the opportunity to re-enter into that yes, by going to Him, receiving Him and giving Him our hearts as He gave us His. There in the Eucharist, He calls daily, “Follow me. Be not afraid, for I am with you.”