Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinking Rules!

my boat my rules

Any genuine relationship has certain “rules” whether spoken or unspoken. Families have rules. Parents have rules for their children. Married couples have rules that both partners agree to in order to preserve the integrity of the marriage. Businesses have rules to maintain customer relations. Societies have rules for keeping things civilized.

Call them “rules,” “parameters,” or “expectations,” the fact remains that relationships have them.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a genuine relationship with God would include certain parameters, expectations or rules. Yet a major objection some people have about religion in general and Catholicism specifically is “all those rules” being imposed upon them. This is short-sighted.

Imagine a man who cheats on his wife. When she complains about his infidelity, he could respond, “Don’t impose your rules on me! I’ll make up my own morality!” This relativism may justify his actions in his own mind, but is it good for the relationship? Of course not.

Catholicism is not simply a list of rules to follow for being a “good person.” Atheists can be “good people.” Catholicism is not about climbing our way up to God by following some arbitrary, man-made rules. Catholicism has “rules” because it is ultimately about a relationship. It is a relationship where God comes down to us and helps us discover how to authentically reconnect with him and with each other.

Easter In July

This past Easter, we brought home an Easter lily. After a while, it seemed to have run its course and the pot sat ignored out on our deck.  Recently, we noticed the stalk producing a bud, and today, Sunday morning, it opened into full bloom.

How appropriate, since every Sunday is a “little Easter” celebrating the resurrection. If we are willing to listen, God can be heard.

Easter Lily

Can I Be A Man of Constant Prayer?

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I’ve decided to try a different approach to my prayer life.

St. Paul tells us in 1Thessolonians 5:16-18 to pray without ceasing or, to pray constantly. Constant prayer seems like a lofty goal impossible to achieve. It’s tempting to say, “Oh, Paul just means we should pray a lot and be consistent about it. He didn’t mean literally all the time every day of the week! Good grief, even monks aren’t on their knees with folded hands all the time!”

Instead of minimizing Paul’s challenge, I’ve decided to accept it at face value. However, I won’t be constantly praying on my knees or even with words. I’m taking a clue from St. Thérèse de Lisieux who said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

So, here is what I have decided to do:

When I wake up in the morning I will start by making the sign of the cross (which, by the way, is a prayer). Then, I will resolve to make my living out of that day a prayer by recognizing God’s presence and God’s love regardless of circumstances. If I’m feeling mad, sad, scared or glad, I will do so knowing that God sees, cares and understands. I will allow my heart and my mind to simply look toward heaven.

I like to use the metaphor of being in a car with someone. Even if both of us are silent, we still sense each other’s presence. It’s hard to be in a car with someone and forget about that person entirely. If we have a conversation, that’s like “on-my-knees” praying. If we are silently riding along together, we’re still aware of each other.

I still intend to have “on-my-knees” conversations with God. In between those conversations I will pray constantly simply by being aware of God. Before I go to sleep, I’ll dedicate my heartbeat and my breathing to God (like lighting a prayer candle), and let my body pray until my mind wakes up the next day.

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.”

Smashing Coconuts

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When an animal uses a tool, people applaud. Using tools is a sign of advancement. Intelligent beings use tools. Humans use tools like crazy because we are the most advanced species. We’re pretty smart.

If, for example, an ape uses a tool to accomplish some task, we tend to think it is being like us. We might remark, “See how intelligent that ape is? See how close it is to being like us?”

The same holds true when animals seem to communicate with us in various forms. From the tail wagging of dogs to apes learning sign language, we hold ourselves up as the standard to shoot for. “If we can get them to use language like we do, it will show how intelligent they are.”

If humans are the most advanced species, why do so many people disparage and criticize a human behavior that sets us apart from all the animals? I’ve never seen a monkey worship. Yet, worship is often dismissed as a primitive, superstitious, backward thing to do.

Worship is much more intellectually advanced than using a tool. A monkey can figure out how to break open a coconut with a rock. In fact, doing so is similar to the trial and error ways of the scientific method. But, monkeys don’t seem to want to contemplate the existence of God or reflect on their own mortality and virtue. They can do some “science” but they can’t do any theology. Theology is a uniquely human endeavor that requires a high degree of thought and reason.

Perhaps those that place science on a higher plane than religion and theology ought to reconsider. Perhaps the behavior that would make any intelligent animal the most “like us” would be the ability to worship, not the ability to use language or tools.

Faith and reason work together in achieving the pinnacle of human existence. Science is good and so is faith. If we abandon human spirituality in favor of pure science, we reduce ourselves to being glorified coconut smashers. That would be backwards indeed.

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.

Imagine

Imagine seeing a close, personal friend, who was innocent of any crime, being brutally tortured and executed by civil authorities. Imagine seeing that person dead and buried. How would that impact your life?

Imagine you and hundreds of other people seeing that same, executed person a few days later alive and well. How would that impact your life? What would change for you? What would it do to your priorities? How would you live your life differently from that point?

What if you stopped imagining and accepted the historic reality of the event?

“All You Need Is Love” or “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

“Why can’t we all just get along?” This is a common question. One might as well ask, “Why can’t we all just pick up musical instruments and play beautiful music together?” The answer to the later question is clear: “Because not all of us have been properly trained and practiced in the art of musical performance.” So it is with people’s ability to love.

In the story “The Music Man,” con man Harold Hill sells musical instruments to people with the promise of creating a wonderful band. He provides no musical instruction beyond telling people to “think Beethoven’s Minuet in G.” When pressured to actually direct the musical piece, what results from his “band” is a horrible sound with only the slightest resemblance to the Minuet in G.  There is certainly no display of excellence. Nor is there any ability to play other songs.

It is not enough to simply have a musical instrument and “think” about playing music. Musical excellence requires proper instruction and years of practice. Playing music with a group of musicians only works when everyone in the group understands the musical rules and has the proper musical skills. So it is with love in a marriage, a family, or an entire society.

Harold Hill’s “band” is similar to what results from telling people to “just love one another.” Saying “all you need is love” is like saying “all you need is a musical instrument and the passion to play it.” People need to be taught how to love. They need to learn and understand the “rules” of love and relationship. In other words, people need to learn and practice virtue.

Love is not a “feeling.” Love is an action. In order to perform an action with excellence, one requires skill and practice. Virtue is the skill of loving with excellence. Without virtue, all we have is feeling and emotion. One can “feel” very passionate about playing music. But, without the skill, one is not truly free to actually play the music. One can “feel” very passionate about love. But, without the skill to love (virtue), one is not actually free to love. In both cases, one becomes a slave to one’s passions. “Feelings” alone, as powerful as they may be, are not reliable guides to life and love.

An excellent musician is a “virtuoso.” The ability to love excellently is “virtue.”  Love is not “all we need.”  We must know how to love. Knowing how to love involves more than being led by emotions. Even the most passionate desire to love will lack excellence without virtue.

Learn more about the importance of virtue here and here.

The “COEXIST” Bumper Sticker

Christians are supposed to, as much as possible, live peaceably with everyone (Rom 12:18). In that respect, we are to “coexist.” At the same time, Christians are to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Coexisting with the world is not the same thing as adopting the world’s philosophies and behaviors. We are called to be different than the world; peculiar even.

We are called to be a “city on a hill” and not “hide our light under a bushel.” We are here for the same reason as Jesus: to call sinners to repentance and to a relationship with God the Father. This will not happen without us swimming against the current.

It’s not possible to be a genuine Christian without rocking the boat. The Gospel is a radical, subversive, counter-cultural message. It is a message of love to be sure, but not the same kind of love that the world generally espouses. Just looking at a crucifix drives this point home.

Christianity is not simply one of many fingers pointing to the moon. It is not simply one path among many for seeking God. Christianity is about God seeking us. Jesus claimed to be God, and proved it. Other religious leaders may claim to direct us to God, but only Jesus claimed to BE God. He came to find us and set us free from sin. God is not distant. The world needs this message, like it or not.

So, while we are to coexist in one sense, Christians cannot genuinely follow the Gospel without making any waves. We can’t be content to quietly take our “place” as the “T” on the end of a “COEXIST” bumper sticker and leave it at that. Jesus didn’t command his followers to blend in. He didn’t call us to huddle in our church buildings and leave the world alone. He called us to stand out and be different. He called us to be holy. He called us to change the world (all that “salt of the earth” stuff). That’s going to run up against no small amount of resistance. People might talk. They might say we’re not coexisting and “fitting in” very well.

The Devil Uses Scripture

Recently, I read a couple of articles by pro-abortion advocates who were using some Scripture passages to allegedly “prove” that the Bible supports abortion. Immediately, I was reminded of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Satan quoted Scripture against Jesus to try and derail His mission. Jesus, being God and the Author of Scripture, shut the devil down. Christ, the biblical Author, decides the meaning behind what has been written. Proper interpretation and use of Scripture requires the right authority. Otherwise, Scripture can (and will be) used for all kinds of diabolical purposes.

It’s not uncommon for individuals to pick up a Bible, read it, and get it wrong. This is not always done with malicious intent, but with ignorance. However, when people use the Bible to directly attack the teachings of the Church to which Christ gave His own authority, there is more than ignorance at play. Outright spiritual warfare is underway. It’s demonic and diabolical. When the proper interpretive “key” is thrown away, Scripture is up for grabs. Anyone can make it “say” anything.

Satan still attacks the authority of Christ by attacking Christ’s authoritative Church. The Bible as we know it does not exist apart from the authority of the Catholic Church that compiled it, approved it, and rightly interprets it. The Church is not being “arrogant” in making the claim of authority. The Church is living out the responsibility given directly by Christ who also promised to protect and preserve the Church from error.

Whenever you see someone trying to discredit or undermine an official teaching of the Catholic Church (especially by using the Bible), just picture the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. A similar battle still wages.