Category Archives: Relationships

How To Be A Jerk With The Faith

This reflection is part public confession and part self-reminder of how not to share the Faith. I’ve caught myself (and others) doing many of these things in face-to-face conversations and on social media. It’s human nature to get sucked into these ways of interacting with others. So, this is a “note to self” to avoid these pitfalls and walk a better path.

The problem isn’t the Faith. The problem is that the Faith is being followed by people that have not yet reached perfection. I think it was Mother Angelica who said, “If it wasn’t for people being holy would be easy.”

Lord, help me to do better.

So, without further ado, here are some ways to be a jerk with the Faith (or even just a jerk in general):

 

Give in to your insecure “need to be right.”

Be a know-it-all. Have an answer for everything. Never say, “I don’t know.” Never admit that you might have a thing or two to learn. Don’t have a teachable spirit. Admitting you might be wrong or misinformed about something is just weakness, not a valid way to learn and grow.

Tell others how wrong they are.

If being right all the time isn’t enough, by all means, let others know how wrong they are. Point out and criticize where everyone else falls short. For that special touch, make sure to do it in a way that “means well.”

Don’t listen.

No need to really listen to the thoughts, feelings and words of other people. Focus on your own thoughts, feelings and words. Who has time to listen when there is so much to say? Empathy is overrated.

Hand out lots of unsolicited advice.

People need your opinions and your experience if they’re going to survive. How on earth does anyone make it without you? God forbid anyone make their own mistakes, learn their own lessons, do their own research or walk their own journey.

Judge people’s souls, motives and intentions.

Some behaviors are moral and some are immoral, but don’t stop there. Make sure to inform the people that are going to Hell of their destination and save God some time on Judgement Day.

Ignore the “plank” in your eye.

Plank? What plank? There can’t be any planks in your eye, otherwise you wouldn’t be so good at spotting all those splinters in everyone else’s eyes.

Brag about how happy/joyful/blessed you are.

You’re happy and blessed, dog gone it! Make sure everyone knows about it so they can see how high the bar has been set. After all, those miserable, unhappy people need something to shoot for in life. They need to be more like you.

Be unkind.

Use sarcasm, call people names or just be generally arrogant and puffed up. Look upon people with contempt. See them as stupid, ignorant, evil, or any other label besides “person created in God’s image.”

Witnessing To Friends And Family

An interesting point was made at the deacon meeting I attended last week.  The question was raised as to whether or not a newly ordained deacon should continue to attend his home parish or move to the parish where he was assigned as a deacon.  It was noted that, although some deacons continue to attend their original parish, it can be advantageous to move entirely to the parish of their assignment and develop new relationships there.

Some men have been at their parishes for a long time and people know them quite well.  In some cases, this dynamic may actually hamper their ministry as a deacon.  Since people know them so well, they may have difficulty taking them seriously as an ordained minister.  This is similar to the phenomenon Jesus referred to when he said that a prophet is not accepted in his own town.  People are often more accepting of a minister when they know him only as a minister and not as “that guy we grew up with.”  Jesus encountered this reaction when people who knew him said, “Who does he think he is?  Isn’t he that carpenter?”

The same principle may apply to anyone who tries to witness to friends and family members about spiritual matters.  It can be hard for friends and family to look past the person they know so well and receive the message being delivered.  On the other hand, the opposite may be true.  When a person’s life has turned around for the better, friends and family members may be the most amazed and impressed at the difference.  Or, like the Prodigal Son’s older brother, they may resent the spiritual awakening of a family member.  Only God knows the hearts of people.

Some people readily accept input from family members while others bristle at the thought of a family member offering any advice at all.  Parents of adolescents often experience the frustrating sentiment that “if Mom or Dad says it, it must be wrong.”  Adult children of aging parents frequently find themselves at a loss when Mom or Dad “won’t take any of my advice or even entertain any of my suggestions.”  The aging parent may be thinking, “You are still my child, so who are you to tell me what to do?”  Longstanding sibling rivalries may cause brothers and sisters to regard each other with skepticism.  Family dynamics such as these affect more than just communication about spiritual matters.

So, when we have friends or family members that we wish were more open to the message of Jesus Christ and his Church, we must not be discouraged when our witness has no apparent positive effect on them.  First, we do not know how the message is being processed in their minds and hearts.  Secondly, the message may need to come from someone outside of the family.  Personally, my return to the Church was prompted by people I had never met.  My family cared for me, influenced me and prayed for me, but nothing they said to me triggered my reversion.  God used the voices of people outside of my family for that.  It had to be my decision to come back to the Church.  I decided to be Catholic because Catholicism is true, not just because my family is Catholic.

Like a new deacon who must go and create new relationships as a deacon, we must allow our friends and loved ones to experience new people and new places.  God has a plan.  God knows who we need to encounter and when we need that encounter.

What can we do for our friends and family to help them find Christ and his Church?  Love them.  Be available to them.  Listen more than we talk.  When we do talk, speak the truth in love.  Be ready to answer their questions and hear their complaints without judgment or criticism.  Be patient.  Let God do His work.  Pray for them.  Specifically, pray that God will give them encounters with people that awaken their hearts and minds to His truth.  Sometimes the last person one needs to hear from is a family member.

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.

Rebel Without A Cause And Fatherhood

Last night I was channel surfing and trying to dodge commercials by flipping between shows.  It usually doesn’t work very well since every station knows to play commercials at exactly the same time.  (It’s a maddening conspiracy, I’m sure of it).  Then, I came across Rebel Without A Cause on PBS.  It was right at the opening credits.  Although I had already seen the movie piecemeal over the years, I couldn’t recall ever watching it all the way through from start to finish.  Here it was commercial free and I didn’t have to rent it.  If not now, when?

It’s hard for me to watch Rebel without thinking of Mr. Magoo and Gilligan’s Island thanks to the pop culture contributions of Mr. Jim Backus.  Nevertheless, it is a good, classic flick.  James Dean never loses his coolness factor in the passing of time.  It sure paints a stark contrast to the Happy Days portrayal of the 1950s.  Between Happy Days, American Graffiti, Rebel Without A Cause, and Grease, it’s not easy to discern what the 50s were actually like.  (I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, although I really like a lot of 50’s music).  In any case, being an adolescent can be tough no matter what era one lives in.  As Judy’s mom said, “It’s the age when nothing fits.”

No doubt Rebel Without A Cause has been analyzed into the ground over the years, but it gave me my own impressions.  The biggest thought it left me with is the importance of fathers.  Fathers are important to the formation of daughters and sons.  It’s just part of how we are designed.  Mothers are important, too.  Since I am the father of a son and a daughter, the movie spoke to me mostly about that.

I don’t have statistics to present here.  But I believe it has been well established how important fathers are to families.  The first step is for fathers to actually stick around and not abandon their families.  Plato’s father did not stick around (nor did his mother).  The fathers of Judy and Jim were present, but unbalanced in their approach to fatherhood.  Judy’s father was strong, but was at a loss when his daughter needed his tenderness.  Jim’s father was tender but lacked strength and decisiveness.

The movie reminded me that my family needs my presence (physical and emotional), my strength and my tenderness.  Jesus and his family are models of presence, strength and tenderness.  The Holy Trinity is a model of presence, strength and tenderness.

My daughter and my son need their father in similar yet different ways.  Every day I have to resolve to step up to the plate and give it my best shot with the help of God’s grace.  Even as I write this, my kids are beckoning me to play a game with them.  Time to step up!

Teaching Children To Fly: Parents As “Flight Instructors”

As a flight instructor, it is important for me to be aware of and make use of the four levels of learning.  It is equally important for me to set an example for my students.  The attitudes and behaviors I exhibit will impact the type of pilots my students become.  Flight instruction has similarities to parenting.  Parents are the primary instructors of life in general, and of the Catholic Faith in particular.

The first level of learning is “rote.”  Rote learning is the ability to repeat back something from memory.  I can tell a flight student how to turn an airplane.  “Apply coordinated aileron and rudder with slight back pressure on the yoke.”  If the student can repeat that back to me, rote learning has taken place.  However, this does not mean that the student can properly turn an airplane.

Next is “understanding.”  Why will the airplane behave a certain way when the student applies coordinated aileron, rudder and slight back pressure?  The student must gain an understanding of the aerodynamics of flight.  Why must the ailerons and rudder be coordinated?  What will happen if they are uncoordinated?  Understanding is a higher level of learning.  Yet, the student may still not be able to properly turn an airplane.

“Application” begins when the student is in the airplane and actually attempts to turn the airplane.  When the student can perform turns well, the level of “application” has been accomplished.  It is possible to turn an airplane without understanding aerodynamics.  However, it is preferable to have a learning process that promotes understanding prior to application.

“Correlation” is the highest level of learning.  When the student can properly perform turns while climbing or descending, for example, then correlation has been achieved.  The student has taken the skill and incorporated it into more complex maneuvers and situations.  Turning the airplane has become “second nature,” and the learning has been “transferred” to other maneuvers.

During the learning process, the instructor must instill good attitudes in the student.  If the instructor is casual or noncompliant with safety concerns, for example, the student will not learn how to be a safe pilot.  The instructor must exemplify the “culture of safety” expected from all pilots if the students are expected to be safe pilots.  An apathetic, careless instructor tends to produce apathetic, careless pilots.

Parents are the primary instructors of their children.  This includes the Christian Faith.  For example, parents must teach children certain prayers (rote), what the prayers mean and why they are praying (understanding), how to pray (application), and how prayer affects all aspects of their lives (correlation).  In order for children to adopt a “culture of praying,” they must also see their parents praying.  The parents set the example just like flight instructors.  Parental attitudes and practices regarding the Faith are very important in teaching the Faith.

One thing I quickly realized as a new instructor was that teaching is the best way to learn.  Before I could teach a lesson to a student, I first had to teach myself.  I had to make sure that I personally had achieved the highest level of learning with each lesson before teaching it.  It would be no good for me to explain to my student how to perform a maneuver if I could not properly demonstrate the maneuver myself.  It would not be helpful to insist that my student learn FAA regulations if I myself did not know the FAA regulations.  I needed to constantly be teaching and re-teaching myself in order to remain proficient as an instructor.

Parents must teach themselves the Faith if they expect to teach the Faith to their children.  Parents cannot rely solely on the Church or Catholic Schools to teach children the Faith.  If parents are “stuck” on a lower level of learning, they will not be able to teach their children effectively.  For example, if parents only have a rote level of learning of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Rosary or the Mass, they will not be able to take their children beyond a rote level.  Children will not gain an understanding or be able to apply those things to their lives in meaningful ways.  The Mass and prayers may become meaningless rituals that are shed by the children as they seek meaning in the world beyond their families.

When parents accept their responsibility as teachers of the Faith, everyone benefits.  The children learn their Faith in meaningful ways that transfer to real life.  The Church and the Schools are better able to pastor and teach the children that already have a fundamental grounding in the Faith.  The parents learn and strengthen their own Faith by teaching it.  Families grow closer as they learn and explore the meaning of their Faith together.  Love, compassion, empathy, discipline, togetherness, all the things families crave are realized in living the Faith genuinely.  Society benefits from having faithful, ethical Christians that are able to live and apply the love of Christ.  Everyone wins when parents learn and teach the Faith to their children.

Parents do not need to have degrees in theology to teach their children.  There are plenty of reputable resources available through books, CDs, DVDs, the internet and Church programs.  All it takes is for parents to claim the responsibility and step up in faith.  One resource I have found is a series of DVDs for children called “Brother Francis.”  My three year olds love them and I have learned from them as well.  Just start with the basics and build upon them.  Teach yourself.  First and foremost, pray for the grace to be the loving Christian your children need to see and follow.  Any parent with children of any age can do that!  Teach your children to soar on what Pope John Paul II called “the wings of faith and reason!”

A Therapist’s Question

The question that is famously associated with therapists is, “How does that make you feel?”  There is a time and a place for that question (or a variant of it), but answering it is certainly not all there is to therapy.  There are many questions to be asked and processed.  One question that seems to probe the heart of the matter quite often is, “What are you afraid of?” or “What are you afraid will happen then?”

So many people are driven by fear.  I don’t mean the healthy kind of fear that causes one to avoid genuine danger, but a nagging sense of emptiness or discontentment (I am not necessarily discussing anxiety disorders here).  It is a fear described by Tillich as a fear of “non-being,” although few people draw that conclusion as they move through their fearful lives.  People generally attempt to ease the fear by means of acquiring material goods, pleasures, or by investing in relationships.  Since people, pleasures and things are imperfect and finite, they will eventually disappoint, deteriorate or disappear.  Therefore, the fear remains below the surface.  It is Thoreau’s life of “quiet desperation.”

I have seen many couples, for example, that found in each other what they initially perceived to be the antidote to their fear of non-being.  Yet, they failed to resolve that fear in each other.  They discovered that it is not possible for one person to be “everything” despite what the lyrics of romantic songs may suggest.  They have somehow failed to “complete” each other and now they sit before me, their therapist, wondering what is wrong with their relationship.  Generally, each partner wants me to change the other partner into someone that will ease their underlying fears and make them feel whole.

One of the most repeated phrases in Scripture is, “Fear not,” or, “Do not be afraid.”  Having created us, God understands us to the core.  God also knows that our fear of non-being cannot be entirely eased by people, pleasures or things.  Only God can fill that void.  We are designed that way.  Hence, people of all places and times have turned to some form of religious expression.  As St. Augustine said, “We are restless until we rest in You, oh Lord.”  The admonition to “fear not” is a constant reminder to be adequately unattached to people, places and things, and to place our ultimate “OK-ness” in God alone.  Having placed our trust in God, we become free to fearlessly enjoy God’s gifts without desperately clinging to them as our source of being.  Relationships, pleasures, places and things take on new meaning.

The beauty of Christianity is not that it is one religion of many that seeks after God to resolve the fear of non-being.  The beauty is that through Christianity, God seeks after us.  God, knowing our fear, has revealed Himself to us as the antidote for fear.  We do not need to scratch and claw our way to the peace of God.  God has come down to us, embraced us, and told us to rest in Him.  Jesus shows us that we can live lives of faith, not fear.  There is more to our existence than this short life.  Through Christ we can live abundant lives instead of quietly desperate lives.

Becoming One Flesh: Eucharist And Marriage

Dr. Scott Hahn recently posted an excellent Facebook response to a question about the Eucharist being closed to non-Catholics.  His answer reflected on his own spiritual journey from Evangelical Christian to Presbyterian minister to Catholic.  Each step in his journey brought him closer to understanding the sacramental aspect of both marriage and the Eucharist.  Each relationship is a “one flesh” union requiring fidelity and integrity.

As I reflected on Dr. Hahn’s answer, it occurred to me that perhaps a lack of understanding about the Eucharist and marriage contributes to the wide acceptance of contraception.  For example, if marriage is not viewed as a sacrament, it becomes only a symbol and loses integrity.  It can be manipulated according to the will of anyone desiring to make use of its symbolism.  If Holy Communion is only a symbol, it loses any need for fidelity.  Anyone can “join in.”  There is no need for full union between participants.  The Eucharist becomes merely a symbol of common feelings rather than a reality of a “one flesh” union.  Since everyone “feels good” about Jesus, they should all be allowed to partake of the Eucharist, right?

Ironically, few married people would be comfortable becoming one flesh with someone they were not fully united to in marriage.  That’s called infidelity and it is rightfully frowned upon by most married people.  We don’t let everyone “join in.”  So, why should we be ok letting people “join in” the one flesh union of the Eucharist if those people are not fully united with Christ’s Church?

And why should we let people partake of the Eucharist if they don’t even believe that what they are participating in is an actual, “one flesh” union?  That’s like being in a contraception marriage.  There are lots of “good feelings” that feel like bonding, but there is not a one flesh union taking place in the marriage.  It is a lack of integrity.  The marriage is only symbolic of the feelings they have about each other.  They do not take the marriage to its full realization of a one flesh, life giving union.

One of the best ways for the devil to mess up our relationship with Christ is to promote the following errors:

–          The Holy Communion is only symbolic.  The bread and wine are not transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  We don’t need to become one flesh with Christ at Communion.  All we need is our good feelings about Jesus and the Bible.

–          Contraception is fine and even preferable.  Sex and marriage are mostly about bonding and “good feelings,” not primarily about becoming one flesh and creating new life.

–          Anyone that believes in Jesus should be allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  No fidelity to the Church or her Christ-given authority is necessary.

The two Sacraments of Eucharist and Marriage are intimately connected in such a way that an attack on one serves as an attack on the other.  A deeper understanding of one leads to a deeper understanding of the other.  “Becoming one flesh” is a critical theme that connects the two Sacraments in a unique way.

Catholics are not mean, snobbish “elitists” that refuse to let other Christians “join in.”  We simply hold to the understanding of Jesus and the Church Fathers who saw the need for covenantal integrity and marital fidelity within marriage and within the Church.