Category Archives: Christian Living

But, That Teaching Doesn’t Make Me Happy.

There is a common misconception that, if a teaching of the Church makes one uncomfortable, or somehow interferes with what one desires to do, it must be wrong. This is when many people turn on the Church and declare their right to “think for themselves.” How dare the Church “tell me what to do!” This is particularly true regarding sexual morality since the “sexual revolution.”

Partly, this behavior stems from a Western, individualistic mentality, but it also comes from the mistaken notion that being Christian is supposed to magically make one’s life “feel good.” Christianity certainly does bring joy. However, joy must not be confused with “happiness” or “always feeling good.” Joy is an abiding confidence that things will ultimately work out in this life or the next. “Happiness” depends on “happenings” and transient “feelings.” Happiness is a mood. Joy is a state of being.

Of course, there is much happiness to be found in living a genuine Christian life. But happiness is never guaranteed by Jesus. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that they would face persecution, even to the point of death. That does not sound very comfortable.

Jesus also said that unless we take up our cross and follow him, we cannot be his disciples. A cross is not a happy, comfortable thing. Just take a good, long look at a crucifix. That’s one reason we Catholics have crucifixes in our churches and in our homes. It reminds us of what Christ did for us, but it also reminds us of what Christ expects of us.

Can you be a Catholic Christian and also be happy? Of course! But, you also must be willing to accept your crosses. Doing so might not make you “feel happy.” The ultimate goal of Christianity is not to acquire happiness in this life. The goal of Christianity is getting to Heaven and bringing as many souls as possible along with you.

The teachings of the Church are there to serve the ultimate goal of Christianity. They are not designed just to make us feel good all the time. So, the next time you find yourself struggling with how difficult or “unfair” a certain Church teaching is, take a good, long look at a crucifix. Then, ask Jesus for the strength to pick up your cross and follow him. As wonderful as this life can often be, it can’t compare to where Jesus will ultimately take you. To follow his Church is to follow Jesus.

Worthiness

No one is worth more than you.

If someone is better than you at something,

Or has discovered a better path,

Understands something more clearly,

Has been given better opportunities,

Is more privileged,

Is more virtuous,

Is more spiritual,

Is more intelligent,

Is funnier,

Is more anything,

No one is worth more than you.

So, treat yourself as valuable and worthy.

Do your best.

Seek the best path.

Seek better understanding.

Seek better opportunities.

Recognize your privileges.

Strive to be more virtuous.

Grow spiritually.

Use your intelligence and reason.

Improve your sense of humor.

And remember that you are not worth more than anyone else.

We Walk By Faith, Not By Feelings

I saw a church sign that said, “God seem far away? Who moved?”

Implication: it’s your fault if God seems distant.

Nonsense. What about Job? What about the Psalmist? What about Jesus who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What about folks going through a very real depression or “dark night of the soul?” What about Saints such as Therese of Lisieux or Mother Theresa, etc. who felt a distance from God despite their holy lives?

Sometimes God seems far away and there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. There’s more to being Christian than sitting on a mountaintop and dancing for joy all the time. There are valleys, too, and sometimes they are excruciatingly deep and wide.

We walk by faith, not by feelings.

Go Ahead And Be A Princess, Girl!

I recently took my family to see the new Cinderella movie.  I applaud Disney for making this movie.  Prior to seeing it, I watched Fr. Barron’s video commentary.  You can watch it yourself, so I’ll not go into everything Fr. Barron said.  Suffice it to say, he helped me see the story from a Christian perspective.  For me, it made the movie that much more impressive and inspirational to watch.  (If you have not seen the movie, there are a few little spoilers in Fr. Barron’s commentary, but they didn’t bother me).

Disney princesses tend to get a lot of criticism from people that disapprove of their unrealistic representation of girls.  Disney makes their waists too thin, their eyes too big and their hair too perfect.  These princesses rely too much on being rescued by handsome princes when they ought to be fending for themselves and determining their own destinies.  They give girls the wrong idea of what true feminism is, superficially and internally.  Some of this criticism is probably justified.

Recently, there were billboards around my city advertising for an all girl Catholic high school.  The ads had fairy tale imagery and the message was, “You’re not a princess,” or “Make your own dreams come true.”  I understood that the idea being promoted was for girls to get their heads out of the fairy tale clouds, quit waiting to be rescued, stop being the proverbial “fair maidens in distress” and get a practical education.  I think the idea certainly has merit.  However, I believe girls need not relinquish the title of “Princess,” as long as they know where true royalty comes from.

The Cinderella story (and the movie) focuses on the Catholic virtues of fortitude (courage) and charity (kindness).  Other virtues are exemplified within the movie as well.  Fr. Barron’s video commentary highlights the Christian salvation theme in the story and how it mirrors the relationship between Christ and His Church.  Cinderella is all of us.  We do need to be rescued from the slavery of sin which covers our true beauty.  We do need to embrace virtue.

As Christians, we are all called to embody fortitude, charity and all the virtues.  We know from Romans 8:15 that we are adopted children of God and cry, “Abba, Father.”  We know from 1Peter 2:9-10 that we are royalty.  We are destined to reign with God on high.  As children of The King, what else can we be but princesses and princes?

I have no qualms about referring to my daughter as a princess and my son as a prince, because I am teaching them that they are children of the King.  As they grow, they will know that their ultimate destinies lie not with Disney, but with royalty on high.  They will know that, long before there ever was a Disney, they were called from above to have courage and to be kind.  They will know they have a seat at the royal table.

Self

Self awareness is good. I must pay attention to my body, my thoughts and my soul. I must know myself and know how I may be affecting myself and those around me for better or for worse.

Self care is good. My body, my mind and my soul are gifts given to me. I must take good care of these gifts and not neglect them or abuse them.

Self control is good. I am responsible for managing my emotions and for choosing my thoughts and my actions. No one else can do this for me.

Self-centeredness is not good. I am not the center of all things; God is. My life must revolve around God. God is love. Love includes self, but love is not centered on self. Love must ultimately be centered on others.

A Shift In My Focus

The largest percentage of my blog has been apologetic in nature.  Partly I’ve been motivated by a desire to grow in knowledge of my own faith by explaining some of it to others.  I also hoped others might take an interest in the Faith and discover Christ for the first time or rediscover Him in new ways.  All I can really measure is my own growth.  Maybe others have been influenced, maybe not.

I’ve come to a point where apologetics interests me less.  Certainly, if someone asks me a question about Catholicism I will do my best to answer or suggest further resources.  However, I’m finding that too much focus on apologetics is stunting my spiritual growth.

Apologetics is, after all, a discipline of defending a certain position.  It has its place.  Nevertheless, as a marriage and family therapist, I am keenly aware that defensiveness can be quite toxic to relationships.  In fact, high levels of defensiveness between spouses has been deemed a “marriage killer.”  I see it play out often in my therapy office.  Considering the fact that marriage models the relationship between Christ and His Church, it seems fitting for Christians to avoid a defensive stance as much as possible and choose the opposite approach of vulnerability.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).  Vulnerability is the cross.

Vulnerability leads to openness, dialog, discourse, empathy, understanding and unity. Defensiveness leads more often to division, blame, accusations, lack of personal accountability and closed hearts.  Would one rather embrace a knight in armor or a vulnerable child in swaddling clothes?

Again, apologetics has its place and I do not disregard it as important.  But even apologetics must contain a degree of vulnerability to be effective.  No human can be 100% right all of the time.  The best armor is never completely impervious to attack or injury.  Christian apologists must be humble, vulnerable and willing to admit error.

Personally, I’m becoming less interested in explaining Catholicism and more driven to live it.  Let’s face it, most people really don’t care how something works as long as they know they can depend on it to work.  There’s only so much I can explain anyway.  I just want to be an example of the transforming power of Christ and His Church.  Hopefully I can shift my writing to reflect that goal.

The following is a song written and performed by a skeptic who also happens to arguably be the most popular and talented rock drummer in the world, Neil Peart.  (If you don’t like rock music, humor me.  The lyrics are pertinent.  I’m a drummer, so, there you have it).

The Eucharist: Living To Eat Or Eating To Live?

Some people think that going to church is what Christianity is all about.  That’s like saying that eating is what life is all about.  Eating (though enjoyable) merely keeps us alive so we can actually live life.  People who focus too much on eating end up obese and unhealthy.  They can’t live life as well.

People who focus their Christianity on “going to church” have a similar issue.  Mass is where we are spiritually fed so we can leave church and live the Christian life.  After Mass we are told, “The Mass is ended, go!”  We have been fed, now it’s time to get to work!  Many folks consider their church attendance to actually be their Christian work.  That’s like going to a job and only “clocking in” during lunch break.  Who would hire such an employee?

Imagine if soldiers never left their training grounds and mess halls during a war.  They would be very good at running obstacle courses, marching, doing drills, cleaning their weapons, etc.  They would not be much use in defending their country.  In fact, an invading force could simply take over.

Spiritual warfare is no different.  If Christians are preoccupied with “going to church,” who is out in the world “fighting the good fight?”  Who is out there putting God’s love into action, healing and defending the hearts that the enemy seeks to devour?  A lot of well fed soldiers are not much use unless they are willing and able to risk themselves and engage in battle.

Catholicism is meant to be shared with the world.  It was never intended to be a “private religion” we keep to ourselves.  The spiritual food we consume on Sunday is given to us to sustain and equip us for daily life.  That means that from the time we wake in the morning until the time we fall asleep at night we are to be conscience of the fact that we are Christians on a mission.  We are always disciples who serve a Master.  We need to resist the tendency to flip our “Christian switch” on or off as it suits us.  We can’t be Christian only when it’s convenient or comfortable or acceptable to others.

I’m not suggesting that we Catholics all become obnoxious, Bible-waving, verse-quoting, overbearing, over-zealous, Christians that people avoid like the plague whenever they see us coming.  I’m suggesting that we allow the gift of Himself that Christ feeds us at every mass to change our hearts into Christ’s heart.  Then we will not mentally leave Christ behind in the tabernacle as we leave church and go out into our daily, distracted lives.  We will actually be Christ in our daily lives.  Then, life won’t be all about eating.  Eating will be all about life.