Category Archives: Emotions

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.

Does Love Exist? The Burden Of Proof.

When I say, “I love my family,” most people respond, “That’s wonderful!”  When I say, “There is a God,” many people demand, “Prove it scientifically!  You now bear the burden of proof!”  Yet, there is more empirical evidence to support the existence of God than my love of family.  Why such doubt and skepticism about God?

It is complained that “Religion has caused wars, deaths and oppression.”  Has not love triggered the jealousy of many a murderer?  Has not love broken the hearts of people and led to crimes of passion?  Was it not love for a beautiful woman that launched a thousand ships and led to the destruction of Troy?  Isn’t it love that people seek after, often to the point of despair and anguish?  Isn’t it really a longing to love and to be loved that imprisons and oppresses many a heart?  Why do we not hear anyone demanding that the existence of love be proved scientifically?  Why has the burden of scientific proof not been placed on those who love?

Can love ever be scientifically proven to exist?  Is it simply a chemical reaction or a firing of nerves?  Where does love come from?  What exactly is a “broken heart?”  How many people would be satisfied by a scientific explanation of why their lovers were unfaithful to them?  Is love simply an evolutionary adaptation for human mating?  Why am I able to love people that I cannot or will not mate with?  Why am I able to feel love, or affection or sentiment towards a childhood toy?  Why form attachments to inanimate objects or places?  When I say, “I love being here,” no one responds, “Prove it!”

A woman may want a man to prove his love for her.  He may try with all his might to no avail, or he might succeed.  The outcome depends on the woman and her level of trust.  Different people will draw different conclusions.  Does he love her or not?

It has been hypothesized that there is no such thing as pure altruism.  Every good deed has an ulterior motive no matter how generous or self sacrificing it may be.  A good deed is partly done to make the doer feel “good” in even the slightest way.  Hence, the act is not purely altruistic, since it contains the least bit of selfishness.  So, can love really exist at all?  Are we all just walking around foolishly believing in something that does not even exist?  “No,” says the lover.  “My love is real.”

The belief in love is not based on science but on faith.  We give and receive love in good faith, all the while risking the possibility of a broken heart.  Why is it so hard, then, to believe in God?  The poet who writes, “I’ll say goodbye to love” has done so from a broken heart.  Those who reject love have been hurt.  I think the same applies to God, for God is love.  God does not cease to exist, but, in our wounded state, we may reject his existence.  Science cannot resolve such a dilemma any more than it can conclusively determine if, or exactly how much, I love my family.

And The Truth Will…Make You Feel Good?

There is, as far as I can tell, no “great commission” to spread the New Age message.  There was no single founder of the New Age movement that said, “Go into all the world making New Age disciples of all nations.”  Thus, it seems ironic to me that there are so many people willing to “spread the New Age word” by posting messages on social media and the bumpers of their cars.  The Disciples of Christ spread the Gospel not simply to voice their beliefs, express their opinions or make people feel good, but because Jesus commanded them to do so.  They also mostly died in the process.

We now live in a world of relativism where “truth” is subject to the individual’s whim.  People no longer want to seek the truth, find it and die for it.  Rather, people want to believe whatever feels best to them and call it truth.  Then they seek validation of that truth from others who also feel good about it.  One can post a New Age quote or sentiment on Facebook, for example, and the more “likes” it receives the more “true” it must be.  This is truth based on feelings and popular concenses, not divine revelation.

There are elements of truth sprinkled throughout different religions and philosophies.  One of the beautiful things about Catholicism is its ability to assimilate these truths and include them within the deposit of divine revelation.  Hence, Catholicism is not one belief pitted against all other beliefs, but an inclusive Faith that recognizes truth, filters it and places it in its proper order.

Ultimately, truth is not a feeling or a philosophy but the person, Jesus Christ.  The world has largely “domesticated” Jesus and turned Him into just another feel-good, New Age, religious guru who taught some nice stuff.  But, that is not the radical, subversive, divine Jesus that was killed for all the trouble He stirred up.  That is not the Jesus that the Apostles died following.  They knew Him best.  They knew the Truth.  Truth doesn’t always “feel” good.  There is suffering involved at some point.  People want Jesus, but not His cross.

Before you post some “spiritual truth” on social media, you might ask yourself, “Am I willing to die for what I’m about to post?”  Is it really the Way the Truth and the Life?  Or, is it just a way to make me feel good?

“I Love You, But I’m Not In Love With You.” (Marriage and Eucharist)

“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”  I can’t count the number of times I have heard that phrase in my counseling office.  When someone says this to a spouse it typically means, “I no longer have those honeymoon feelings I used to have.”  There are occasions when a person is experiencing a genuine state of clinical depression and has lost the ability to experience feelings of happiness and appreciation.  However, more often these individuals are idolizing the god of subjectivity and have allowed feelings to become their master.  They have reduced the objective reality of their marriage to a subjective state.  They may not “feel” married, but they are still married.

The Church is the Bride of Christ and, as such, is married to the Bridegroom, Jesus.  The Eucharist is the marriage supper.  Hence, receiving Holy Communion is a joining together of Bride and Groom in an objective way.  It is a very real union that is not dependant on subjective feelings.  The fact that two people might “feel” married to each other does not make them objectively married.  Conversely, marriage is an objective reality regardless of the subjective feelings.  The Eucharist is not real because it “feels” real.  It is real.

Dr. Peter Kreeft points out that to regard the Lord’s Supper as merely symbolic is to reduce the relationship of a marriage to the level of a friendship.  Although a healthy marriage will include friendship between spouses (Jesus called His disciples friends), it is not the friendship that makes the relationship a marriage.  The marriage is created by the unique union of the body and soul of the bride and the groom.  That is the objective reality.  When the Eucharist is reduced to only the symbolic, all that remains is the subjective feeling.  In other words, when people receive the Lord’s Supper in non-Catholic churches, they may experience feelings about their relationship with Jesus, but there is no actual union taking place between Bride and Groom.  The relationship is subjective.  Communion becomes all about remembering what Jesus did and how believers “feel” about what He did.  The Catholic Eucharist includes the subjective remembering as well as the objective uniting of married partners.  Jesus is in our hearts, but He is also really united with our bodies and souls, like a bride and groom.

Think about how a vaccine works.  It is not a placebo.  It is not dependant on how the patient feels about receiving it, although the patient may be very happy and grateful.  The vaccine works by a very real process of interacting with the body of the patient.  It is an objective reality, not a subjective reality.  The Eucharist is not a placebo (nor are the other Sacraments).  It “works” by the power of Christ interacting with spirit and matter, not by the feelings of those receiving it.

The union of the Bride and the Groom is not dependant on “honeymoon” feelings, although such feelings may certainly be present.  Any experienced married couple will testify to the fact that honeymoon feelings do not sustain a healthy marriage.  Unless the honeymoon feelings grow into something much deeper, the marriage will suffer.  In counseling, the goal is not to take a couple back to their honeymoon days.  The goal is to bring the honeymoon forward to a deeper place.  Similarly, Dr. Kreeft says, “God does not want us to have a spiritual sweet tooth.”  God wants us objectively united with Him in the Eucharist, not just going by our feelings.  Feelings can become an idol of worship.  Feelings often become the cake instead of the icing on the cake (especially in America).

Moses did not feel good about God calling him to lead Israel.  Jonah did not feel good about preaching to Nineveh.  Jesus did not feel good about going to the cross.  Children do not feel good about getting the Polio vaccine or eating vegetables.  Married people do not always feel good about their spouses.  Catholics do not always feel their hearts “strangely warmed” or a “burning in the bosom” when receiving the Eucharist.  When it comes to love and obedience, feelings are not important.  Feelings come and go.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He invites us to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  Will we come and dine out of love and obedience, or will we let our feelings be our god?  “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:57)  “This is my body…this is my blood…” (Matt 26:26-28)  Jesus never asked the “therapist” question, “How does that make you feel?”  He simply said, “Take and eat.”

The Little Rear View Mirror

I heard an analogy today that left an impression on me.  It launched a train of thought with many tracks.  “Your car has a big windshield, but a small rear view mirror.  That’s because you’re supposed to spend most of your time looking forward, and just a little time looking back.”  Maybe I’ve heard that before, but this time it stuck.  There are lots of ways to apply that analogy, but I’ll just focus on a few that came to mind.

Some people have lives that are wrecked because they spend too much time living in the past.  Maybe they enjoyed their past so much that they feel cheated or apathetic about the present or the future.  Perhaps they were deeply hurt in the past and their inability to forgive prevents them from enjoying life now.  Then there are people who live in the past because it is their familiar comfort zone.  They are afraid to grow.  Looking out the windshield is too scary, too intimidating.

Some Christians read the Bible and study Church teachings without really allowing what has been revealed in the past to impact their present and their future in a meaningful way.  It’s a bit like devouring books on carpentry without ever intending to build anything.  They like the reading and the studying, but the real-life application escapes them.  They are looking in the rear view mirror at revelation and doctrine, but failing to see how it applies to the road they are on.  They know all about Jesus, but they are not following him.  They are not seeing life and people through the eyes of Christ.

Some people use the rear view mirror primarily as a vanity mirror.  They are more focused on self than on the road or others around them.  When they finally do look out the windshield, it is out of concern for their own safety rather than everyone’s safety.  They care more about self than others, even others in the car with them.

When the rear view mirror becomes larger than the windshield, watch out.  Certainly there are times to embrace the memories of the past and reminisce with joy and gratitude.  There are times to examine the past for the purpose of healing and growth.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the past or learning from the past.  That’s why we write things down and take photos and videos.  In order to really live abundantly, however, we can’t live in the past.  Nor can we live in the future.  We must have our eyes forward and our hands on the wheels of our vehicles.  Christ is in the pace car.  Follow him.  Where he will lead you is better than anything you’ll see in your rear view mirror.

Growing Younger

When I was young
It seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees
Well they’d be singing so happily
Joyfully, playfully watching me

But then they send me away
To teach me how to be sensible
Logical, responsible, practical
And then they showed me a world
Where I could be so dependable
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

I can identify with these lyrics of The Logical Song by Supertramp.  I’ve always tried to retain a sense of awe and wonder about life and avoid a cynical attitude.  It’s hard to do sometimes.  The responsibilities of adulthood can become rather tedious and frustrating to the youthful boy inside me.  I’ll admit that I give in to my melancholy side on occasion, until I realize I’m just pouting.  Then I look for something wonderful and awe inspiring to pull me out of my funk.

When I was a boy, it was easier to find the wonder in life.  I suppose that’s just the state of innocence.  Some of my boyhood fascinations have lost their luster.  I’ve seen “the man behind the curtain.”  The glitter has rubbed off.  Other fascinations have endured.  For example, I can still stare at the moon with awe and wonder, or look at a space photo of the Earth and try to comprehend all the people that ever lived on it.  I can look at my own children and become lost in how amazing they are.  I also find more awe and wonder in my relationship with God as I grow older.

Recently, I have gained a greater appreciation for the union of the material and the spiritual.  There are many Christians that adopt a sort of dualism into their faith that can become rather cynical.  Life becomes all about getting out of this “bad” material world and into the next “good” spiritual world.  But that’s not really the goal of a Christian.  The goal is to be transformed in body and in soul so that we can live in the world as it is and as it will be.  In the resurrection we will get new bodies.  We will not be disembodied “ghosts.”  We will not be pure spirits like the angels.  We will continue to be the unique bridge between pure spirit and pure material, a hybrid of sorts (1Cor 15:51).  We will still be human, just changed humans.  There will be a new Earth for us to stand on.  That which is material will not be completely going away, but it will be renewed (Rom 8:22-23).

These days I look upon the future new Earth and my future new body with childlike awe and wonder.  It is a playground for the imagination that I will never grow out of.  In fact, the older I get, the more fascinating it becomes.  The great thing is that it is not just a fantasy I have to eventually wake up from, like a book or a movie, but the reality of life.  In fact, it is the essence and purpose of life.  It’s not that this present world no longer holds my interest.  It’s just that I have realized that the boy I used to be has not been shelved in a closet of memories.  My boyhood fascination with life was just an appetizer for the ultimate experience of living.  I will always and forever be a child of God.  I’m growing younger.

(Partly inspired by “The Little Way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower)

Can You Give And Accept An Apology?

One thing that often comes up when counseling couples is the issue of apologies.  I often ask spouses, “Do you apologize to each other,” or  “What is it like for you to apologize?”  A follow-up question is, “Are you able to accept apologies?”

A sincere apology requires humility because pride must be swallowed.  Some people have such an aversion to being wrong that it obstructs their empathy towards others.  They assume a defensive stance as they think only of self.  It’s hard to embrace someone through a suit of armor or a castle wall.  Apologies require vulnerability.  The armor must come off.  Knights wear armor for fear of swords and arrows.  When the armor comes off, vulnerability increases and so does the fear.  Apologizing can be difficult because one must drop the defenses.

Some folks apologize incessantly.  This is usually a sign of an insecure, passive type of person and/or an abusive relationship, not a healthy relationship.  There’s no reason for a genuine apology unless there has been a genuine offense.

Accepting an apology is another matter.  It’s even harder to drop the defenses and apologize to someone who can’t accept an apology graciously.  Some people use the apologies of others as opportunities to “twist the knife,” as in, “Darn right you shouldn’t have done that, you big jerk!”  A sincere apology is a gift.  The proper response to a sincere apology is, “Thank you, I accept your apology.”  The acceptance should then be followed up with genuine forgiveness.  One who holds a grudge, pouts or gives “the silent treatment” has not really accepted the apology.

I saw a quote once that said, “Marriage is an adventure in forgiveness.”  Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times.  Jesus told him, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22)  Of course, the point is not to forgive a person 490 times and then quit.  The point is to always be forgiving.  Forgiveness is not necessarily a onetime event.  Often we have to say, “Oh yeah, I forgave them for that yesterday, so I need to stick with it.”  Similarly, marriage is a choice we make every day, not just on our wedding day.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust.  If someone whacks me with a stick when I walk past, I can forgive that person.  That doesn’t mean I have to trust that person to cease the stick-whacking.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  If the person displays sincere remorse and proper behavior over time, however, trust may be reestablished.  One forgives in order to avoid carrying around a cancerous grudge, not in order to “let the person off the hook” of responsibility.  I can forgive someone for stealing my car, but the car still needs to be returned and/or jail time must be served.  This, by the way, relates to the Catholic understanding of penance, indulgences, Purgatory and the temporal punishment for sin that remains even after we have been forgiven of our sins.  Of course, Christ forgives our sins.  We are still responsible to make amends wherever we can.  That’s the fruit of true repentance.  Scripture tells us to avoid the altar until we have made amends.

So, if a marriage is rocky, each spouse can benefit from asking, “What am I not forgiving my spouse for?” and “What am I not apologizing for?”  Making amends is a sign of true friendship, spiritual humility and a happy marriage.

Closing Thoughts: Holiness, Humilty and Apologetics

I find myself being challenged daily by The Litany of Humility.  Letting go of certain desires and fears is not easy.  A daily dose of God’s grace is a must.  The phrase in the prayer that struck me the most was, “That others may become holier than I, provided I become as holy as I should.”  It took a while for that idea to sink in.  As a Christian, I’m supposed to seek holiness.  Asking “that others become holier than I” felt like I might be slacking off on my own pursuit of holiness.  Then a thought occurred to me.  Perhaps this phrase is another way of saying, “Don’t let me become a ‘holier than thou’ Christian.”

Godly humility seeks the best for others.  This means that my motivation must be rooted in a desire for others to have the best of what God has to offer, in this life and in the next.  In other words, my desire must be for others to become saints.  Consider the Works of Mercy, for example.

The corporal works of mercy are:

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences      willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living      and the dead.

How easy it can be to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful or admonish sinners in ways that are not merciful or charitable.  Apologetics of the Faith, for instance, seeks to defend the Faith, yet can so often come across as uncharitable or arrogant.  If I speak the truth, but not in love, I am serving myself, not others.  Faith, hope and charity.  The greatest of these is charity (love) (1Cor 13).

I left Catholicism in my twenties after encountering Fundamentalists that used Scripture to show me all the things that were “wrong” with my Catholic faith.  When I finally realized the error of my ways and returned to Catholicism, I had to be careful not to have a chip on my shoulder.  It was easy for me to have an attitude of, “Now I’ll show them how wrong they were to pull me away from my Faith.”  I lacked humility on more than one occasion.  I had a “holier than thou” attitude that sought not the holiness of others, but the self satisfaction of “winning an argument.”  Many of those Fundamentalists were holy, loving people who knew Jesus and meant well.

I do believe that the Catholic Church is the Church established by Jesus Christ.  I believe that Catholicism contains the fullness of the Faith in her teachings, her authority and her sacraments.  There are lots of folks that attack Catholicism, from within and from without.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There are perhaps a few hundred people that actually hate Catholicism.  But there are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be Catholicism.”  I want to be able to defend my faith with Scripture, with Apostolic Sacred Tradition, with reason, with love and with humility (1Peter 3:15).  Most of all, I want to live my faith with humility.  If I’m not doing that, what good is my faith to anyone?

Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.

Part 6: Grant Me The Grace To Desire It

The last section of The Litany of Humility takes the desires from the first section and shows that it is not enough to be delivered from them.  Once we are delivered from a self centered desire we could easily slip into a state of self satisfaction and miss the point.  We are delivered for a reason beyond seeking our own comfort.  We are delivered for service to others.

A true servant places a priority on the needs of those being served.  We all have experienced good and bad service at a restaurant or some other establishment.  Some servers put their hearts into it and leave their customers feeling well cared for.  Other servers just go through the motions to get a paycheck.  They really don’t care about customers.  Christians are called to service to God and to others.  Are we placing God and others in a place of priority?  Or, are we placing priority on making sure we are comfortable?  Godly humility seeks to be delivered from certain desires and fears in order that we may set self aside and prioritize others.

For example, “Lord Jesus, deliver me from the desire to be esteemed and the fear of being forgotten so that others may be esteemed more than I.”  All three parts go together.  The humility is a prerequisite for Christian service.  None of this can be accomplished apart from God’s empowering grace.  Therefore, the litany includes, “Grant me the grace to desire it.”  We won’t even want to seek humility without the prompting of God’s grace.  We must pray for the desire to even begin to seek true humility because it isn’t natural.  True humility is spiritual.

Part 5: The Fears

A recurring theme in Scripture is, “Be not afraid” or “Fear not.”  Yet, fear is often a powerful driving force in our lives.  Fear can often be traced to one or more of the desires the Litany of Humility asks deliverance from.  If any given desire does not have dominion over us, the fear of not meeting that desire will fade as well.

For example, consider my own experience mentioned earlier of being picked last to be on a team.  When my desire of being preferred was not satisfied, I felt humiliated.  The fear of humiliation and the desire of being preferred dovetail together.  If I am delivered of the desire, I am delivered of the fear and vice versa.  If I have no fear of being humiliated, I won’t have the desire of being one of the early picks for the team.  If I’m unconcerned about when I am chosen, I’ll have no fear of any humiliation by being picked last.

The fears mentioned in the litany, like the desires, place a focus on self interest.  Self preservation is human nature.  What the prayer seeks is a spirituality that transcends the natural human tendencies.  We are not simply animals motivated by natural drives and instincts.  We are both material and spiritual, a trait not shared by the animals (material beings) or the angels (spiritual beings).  We are created to bridge the gap between the natural and the spiritual (and will continue as such in the resurrection).  We are unique.  Therefore, it is not asking too much of us to seek a spiritual holiness that transcends mere natural drive and instinct.  In other words, we are designed to confront our natural fears with spiritual solutions.  This also means we can seek and find the ability to regard others over and above self rather than life being “all about me.”

Rather than address each fear in the prayer one-by-one, suffice it to say that fear is an obstacle to humility.  Fear prevents us from truly knowing God and placing complete trust in Christ.  Some fear is good and healthy, like the kind of fear that prevents one from stepping in front of a moving bus.  However, much of our fear gets in the way of knowing God and knowing each other as God would have us.  Our fear prevents true humility and godly love.

So, what fears are keeping me from true humility?  Deliver me from the fears, Jesus.  You who intimately knows both our material and our spiritual being, deliver us.