Category Archives: Love

Facebook And The Refrigerator

Yesterday I was on a men’s retreat at my parish.  During lunch break one of the guys was looking at his phone and scrolling away.  I asked him if he was looking at Facebook.  “Yeah,” he said, “just killing some time.”  I nodded my head.  Then he said, “Facebook is kind of like standing in front of the refrigerator.  You open it up and scan through it to see if anything looks good.”  I laughed in agreement.

His comment reminded me of a talk I once heard from a priest who was teaching a class on Catholicism.  The priest was introducing the idea that all of us have a built in longing for God, but we seek things other than God to appease that longing.  He quoted St. Augustine as saying that “our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in you.”  Then, he shared his own experience of something that is familiar to most of us.  It is the tendency to open the refrigerator door and stand there looking for something, even when we’re not really hungry.

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said, “Every man who ever knocked on the door of a brothel was looking for God, but he just didn’t realize it.”  Whether it is the brothel door, the refrigerator door, the pantry door, the log in page of Facebook or any number of endeavors, we all look for something besides God to appease our longing for God.  Actually, it’s not something but someone we are seeking.  It is a longing that can only be satisfied by a relationship with God, for only God can provide the pure, unconditional love that we crave.  If we seek that relationship in anything or anyone other than God, we will eventually find ourselves unfulfilled, frustrated or disappointed.  We may even find ourselves addicted, constantly returning to that which can never fully satisfy, and that which ultimately leaves us empty and restless.

Close the refrigerator door.  You’re letting all the cold air out.

Critical Thinking Versus Being Critical

I was taught to use critical thinking skills.  I’m not always good at it, but I do try to see all sides of issues, and I try to avoid being duped.  Critical thinkers should be able to step back and see potential problems within their own conclusions as well as the conclusions of others.  No one can be right about everything all of the time.  Nevertheless, we must make conclusions regarding values, principles and morality, especially if we claim to be Christian.  Such conclusions must be based on reason as well as faith.  Pope John Paul II said that faith and reason are the two wings on which the soul takes flight.  Hence, even Christians need critical thinking skills.  Being Christian is an intelligent choice as well as a choice of faith.  Being a critical thinker, however, is not the same as being a critical person, and many folks get the two confused.

Critical people tend to seek out and point out the faults of others.  They will look a person “up and down” in an attempt to spot a blemish or shortcoming.  They also tend to find ways to make “imperfections” known to others.  This is the attitude of the Pharisee whose prayer consisted of thanking God that he was not like the sinners around him.  It is an attitude of superiority which expresses contempt for others while “pumping up” one’s self.  Having a critical attitude is not the same thing as using critical thinking skills to arrive at different conclusions than others.

There are also people that, if disagreed with, will throw out accusations of hatred.  “Since you disagree with my conclusion, you must hate me.”  These people are dismissing the possibility that the conclusion that differs from theirs could have been arrived at through legitimate, critical thinking rather than through hatred.  Using critical thinking skills is not hatred.  In fact, it is a loving thing to do as it attempts to see all sides and operate justly rather than through pure emotion.

As Christians, we are compelled to use critical thinking skills but not to be critical people.   We are to be, as Scripture says, “Wise as serpents but harmless as doves.”  James tells us how difficult it is to “tame the tongue,” yet we must strive to “speak the truth in love.”  As soon as we use truth as a hammer to beat down or insult other human beings, we enter the realm of sin.  We must, at all times and with all people, act with charity (love).  Faith, hope and charity: the greatest of these is charity.  Think critically, but don’t be a critical person.  Critical people tend to attract other critical people, and that is not the mission of the Church.  Criticism doesn’t usually win people over.

Most of us are critical rather than loving at times.  That’s why we have the confessional.  And Jesus waits for us there, not to criticize us, but to love us and to help us think more critically about how we can be more like Him and bring others to Him.

“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 Choice Of Christian Love: Where The Rubber Meets The Road

The love that Jesus demands from his disciples is not a feeling or an emotion.  Jesus commands Christians to love as an act of the will.  It is a decision that we make.  It is a decision to desire good for the other.  That is what godly love is.  Godly love is not:

-liking that person

-enjoying that person’s company

-feeling good or warm and fuzzy about that person

-approving of that person’s sin and evil behavior

-completely understanding that person

-an absence of anger toward that person and/or injustice

-an absence of accountability for that person’s actions

Godly love desires the good of the other, which would include the healing of mental, physical and spiritual wounds and the removal of any evil influences that have taken hold of that person.  Hence, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies and to pray for those that despitefully used them and persecuted them for his name’s sake.  Human perpetrators of evil are perhaps mentally ill, deeply wounded or even possessed by powers of darkness we cannot comprehend.  We live in a world that is both natural and supernatural.  We cannot see all ends, but Jesus can.  According to him, love and prayer is an important response.  He showed us that very thing, even from the cross.

Love of enemy is probably one of the hardest commands of Jesus Christ, but also one of the most critical.  The closer to home it hits, the harder it becomes.  I don’t know how I would react to evil acts perpetrated against my own family.  I don’t know if I could find my love of enemy hidden within all of my anger, grief and desire for vengeance.  It is hard enough when evil hits a family I don’t even know.  But, I also know in my heart that such love is precisely where the rubber meets the road where Christianity is concerned.

I think about Pope John Paul II meeting with his would-be assassin and forgiving him.  I think about the Amish folks that expressed forgiveness for the murderous attack to their community.  I think about the United States being called a Christian Nation by so many.  There are lots of prayers for peace.  I wonder how many sermons will be about love of enemy this Sunday.  I hope our prayers for peace include the love of enemy Christ requires of us.  Scripture says that without love, we are nothing.  Yes, perpetrators need to be held accountable.  But, if our prayers for peace are tainted by hatred, they might be more noise than prayer. 

All the Bible knowledge and Christian apologetic skill in the world is nothing if it’s not put into practice in real life.  I’m working on my attitude.  God help me.  God help the victims of evil and violence.  God help the perpetrators of evil and violence.  God help our world.

For The Husbands

I’ve had a request for some ideas for husbands in terms of marriage and spiritual leadership.  I decided to create a list of ten things (in no particular order) that regularly come up in counseling sessions, daily life and in spiritual conversations.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  I personally have a lot of work to do.  We all do.  The point is to know what needs work and then work on it.  Keep in mind that doing these things can be fun.  Just because it takes some effort doesn’t mean it has to be drudgery.  It all depends on your attitude.  The rewards are well worth it.  So, here you go husbands.  I hope you find something useful here.

1)      Mutual submission:

A lot is said about wives submitting to husbands.  Yet, husbands are also called to submission.  Jesus Christ is the model.  He is the Bridegroom.  How does the Bridegroom behave towards his Bride, the Church?  He does not consider his position as God (the ultimate leader) as something to be grasped at, but humbles himself as a slave.*  Are you that way towards your bride, or are you constantly trying to dominate and overrule her choices and opinions?  Jesus submitted to the point of death for his Bride.  “Husbands, love your wives, as Jesus Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it.”*  Would you die for your bride?  Are you willing to let even a small part of you “die” so that she can have her way?  Do you sacrifice with joy or do you allow resentment to build in your heart?

2)      Non-sexual touch and affection:

If your wife thinks you want sex every time you touch her, that’s a problem.  She needs hugs, kisses, hand-holding and physical closeness that has no “sexual strings” attached.  Many men regard women as sexual objects to be used for their own pleasure.  Not good.  Your wife is a person, a human being, a child of God, not a blow-up doll.  Treat her accordingly.  Jesus treated women with respect.  Follow his lead.  Find out what she likes.  It won’t do much good to hold her hand if she doesn’t like hand-holding.  When you know what she likes, you know her.  Then you can deliver the affection, with no expectations of having sex.

3)      Kind, respectful speech and humor:

No name-calling, even when you are angry and frustrated.  No name-calling.  No curse words.  Do not swear at your wife or your children.  Speak to them as Jesus would speak to the Church, with love.  Don’t say hurtful things to your wife and then try to cover it up with, “I was only kidding around.”  Don’t say things you will wish you could retract.  Oh, and did I say, “No name-calling?”  Bridle your tongue.*

4)      Eye contact and undivided attention:

When your wife speaks, listen, even if you think it is not relevant to you.  If you are unable to listen for some valid reason, tell her so.  Tell her you want to hear about it, and that you will listen as soon as you get a chance.  Then, keep that promise.  Also, give her eye contact.  Mute the TV, pause the game, whatever you have to do to look her in the eye and really listen.  If you forget what she said a few minutes ago, you probably weren’t really listening.  Develop your listening skills if you want to be a good husband.

5)      Conversation:

Being a good listener is part of being a good conversationalist.  Yeah, I know, men are all about “report” (just give me the facts) and women are all about “rapport” (let’s be in synch with each other mentally and emotionally).  So, conversation means different things to men and women.  That’s why men generally have shorter phone calls than women (get the gist of things and hang up).  Nevertheless, men, try to develop your rapport with your wife.  Listen and respond with more than a grunt.  Be happy with her when she’s happy.  Be sad with her when she’s sad.  Show some empathy.  Tune in.

6)      Follow through on promises, big and small:

Be faithful to your wedding vows.  That’s a big one.  Take out the trash when you say, “Ok, I’ll take it out.”  That’s a small one.  A promise is a promise.  We can’t trust someone in big things if we can’t trust him in small things.*  By the way, fidelity also means getting rid of and avoiding pornography in your life, your home, your computer, your phone, etc.  We are all called to purity and chastity within our vocations whether we are married or single.  You chose one, special woman out of millions.  Love her and her alone.  Forsake all others, even the paper or cyber ones.  As the Scripture says, “Rejoice with the wife of your youth.  Let her breasts satisfy you at all times.”*  And, yes, guys, that means the Victoria’s Secret catalog needs to go, too.

7)      Acts of service:

Find out what means “love” to her.  Do it.  Say it.  Mean it.  If it’s washing her car, wash it.  If it’s flowers, get them.  If it’s taking the kids away so she can rest, take them.  Get the picture?

8)      Spiritual initiative:

“Man up” and be a holy, spiritual Christian man.  Jesus chose twelve, ordinary, “unlearned”* men to be his apostles.  Quit making the ladies and the clergy do all the “spiritual work.”  The clergy is only there to prepare us, the laity, to do the real work.  That means go to church, pray with your family, read and study your Bible and your Catechism, know your faith, share your faith and be prepared to defend it against secularism, relativism, hedonism and any other “ism” that distorts truth.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”*  That ought to make a guy feel like wielding the sword of the Spirit to defend his family from the powers of darkness.  Look at it this way: if you heard someone breaking into your home, would you send your wife to deal with it while you stayed in bed?

9)      If you have children, be active and engaged with them:

You are a role model, whether you want to be or not.  You are either a good one or a bad one.  Be a good one.  Love your children with your time, your attention, and your presence.  It isn’t enough to be a financial provider.  They need their dad, not just dad’s money.  It also shows that the sex you have with your wife means more to you than lust or physical pleasure.  It means that you and your wife share in God’s creative power together and God blessed that union by creating new human beings.  If you want to know why sex is sacred and not to be used, abused or taken for granted, spend time with your children and look deeply into their eyes.  Yep, that’s why God made sex.

10)  Ask your wife what she needs/wants/likes:

There is no better expert on how to treat your wife than…your wife.  No two people are the same.  No two wives are the same.  Talk to your wife.  Ask her how you are doing as a husband.  Ask her where you can improve, and then, actually work on it.  You and your wife decided to create something that never existed before; your marriage.  Your marriage is not there to serve you.  You are there to serve your marriage and your spouse.  Find out what you need to do better and what you are already doing well, for the sake of your marriage.  With a humble heart, ask God to help you.

 

*I’ll let you look up these Scriptures on your own.  Good way to show some initiative, men!

I’m Pro-Unity For Christians

When I left Catholicism in my twenties it was largely due to the influence of anti-Catholic, evangelical, fundamentalist sources I encountered.  It also didn’t help that my own spiritual formation and knowledge of Catholic teaching was lacking.  At the time, I thought I was being liberated from a complex religious system and replacing it with a simple one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ.  In my naiveté, I regarded Catholicism as a man-made obstacle to Christ rather than a God-made organism of Christ designed to lead us to him.  For a while, I took a rather anti-Catholic approach to spirituality and sharing of the Gospel.

My return to the Catholic Church was preceded by the realization that I had been taught many misconceptions and untruths about Catholicism, both from an historical and a doctrinal perspective.  I had mixed emotions because I felt relieved and deceived at the same time.  As I processed my transition back to the Church I realized I had to be careful.  It would be very easy for me to adopt an attitude that was decidedly anti-non-Catholic, or anti-Protestant.  What I mean is that I could easily have adopted a less-than-charitable attitude towards non-Catholic persons.  This became particularly apparent as I delved deeper into Catholic apologetics.  Debates on sensitive topics can quickly produce a lack of charity in people.

Obviously, there are non-Catholic teachings and practices I am “against.”  But, I never want to be “against” any person.  Genuine charity (godly love) desires the ultimate good for every person.  I believe that such charity resides within Catholic teachings.  What I am really against is division among Christians.  I am against a divided Body of Christ.  I am against any religious system where Christians function as something other than one flock with one shepherd.  Since the sixteenth century the one flock has become increasingly divided and multitudes of shepherds now lead in vastly different directions.

I am not “anti” anyone.  I am anti-division and pro-unity.  I am for all the scattered Christians finding their way home to the Catholic Church.  I am for Christians uniting under one banner instead of constantly finding things to protest and divide over.  I am for Christians learning authentic Catholic teachings instead of misconceptions and misunderstandings that keep them away from home.  I am for one flock with one shepherd.  Jesus already established the office of Peter to “strengthen the brethren” and to “feed the sheep.”  The one shepherd has always been successively present on the Chair of Peter.  What Christianity needs is for the flock to reunite under that shepherd.

We don’t need a unity that flattens out diversity and creates bland uniformity.  We need all the gifts, strengths and diversity of all the Christians that love Jesus Christ living in one accord.  Then the world will see the Church as it should be.  Rather than seeing many protesting, clustered, individualized churches competing for attention, the world will see one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  They will see the love of Christ.  This is what I am for.  This is why I talk about and promote the Catholic Church, sometimes juxtaposed with other doctrines.  It is not just another denomination.  It is where the flock finds home.

Don’t Put Me On Display…Christian Love

There’s an old song from the 1960s called You Don’t Own Me, by Leslie Gore.  It’s been covered by other artists and used in movies as well.  One of the lines in the song says, “Please, when I go out with you, don’t put me on display.”  This line came to mind recently when I was thinking about how Christians are supposed to love each other.  Scripture says that the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another.  The world is supposed to see us and remark, “See how they love each other!”

The girl in the song is upset because her boyfriend uses her to put on a show.  He displays her as a trophy.  His public affection for her is designed to make him look good to others.  What others see is not real but a display.  It is an illusion.  Contrast this scenario with couples that genuinely and obviously love each other.  Their concern is for each other, not for how others perceive them.  They are in love.  They are friends.  They treat each other with respect and kindness even when they disagree or feel angry.  Upon observing such couples, one naturally notices their deep love.  Many will remark, “I wish I had that.”  Those around them notice the love, not because the couples tried to be noticed, but because the love between them is real and desireable.

Christians don’t need phony displays of affection towards each other.  We don’t need the “kiss of peace” in public and the “kiss of betrayal” when backs are turned.  We don’t need a false ecumenism.  Don’t pretend to love each other because it looks good to others.  Don’t pretend to love others so people will think you are a great Christian.  Really love each other even in the midst of disagreements.  Really love each other and it will automatically have an appeal to the world because the world is thirsting for genuine love.  The world has a void that only the love of God can fill.  Christians are called to demonstrate that love.  Don’t put your Christian sisters and brothers on display.  Love them, even when it hurts.  Seek unity.  Where there is division, there is sin.  Where there is sin, there is disobedience to the faith and to the love of Christ.