Tag Archives: Relationships

God’s Relationship Rules

Every relationship comes with certain expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. In other words, rules. The rules might be spoken or unspoken, but they are there. Even saying, “Our relationship has no rules” becomes the rule! Examples of relationships include:

  • Parent/child
  • Spouse/spouse
  • Sibling/sibling
  • Friend/friend
  • Boss/employee
  • Coworker/coworker
  • Coach/player
  • Police officer/citizen
  • Pet/pet owner
  • Neighbor/neighbor
  • God/believer
  • The list goes on and on.

Every relationship comes with rules and boundaries that help to define it. This is why, for example, a dating relationship, an engaged relationship and a married relationship are different, even though the same man and woman are involved. Different words are used for different types of relationships.

The relationship between God and humanity also has certain expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. In other words, rules. The word that describes this relationship is “religion.” This is why it makes no sense to claim that Christianity is “relationship not religion.”

The fact that there are different religions with different rules simply means that we must discern which set of rules is legitimate. Ultimately, we will either settle on a religion that meets our own terms, or one that meets God’s terms. Jesus (God) said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” In other words, in order to be in right relationship with God, we must follow the expectations, boundaries, dos and don’ts, acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, etc. established by Jesus. In other words, the rules, the religion of Christ.

The religion of Christ cannot be fully discerned by reading the Bible alone. This fact is evident when we observe the multitude of Christian denominations that have conflicting rules and ideas about how to be in right relationship with Christ. While these many denominations all possess some truth, they can’t all possess the fullness of truth Christ intends for his Church. Christ promised to lead his Church into all truth, not into a plethora of conflicting interpretations of scripture.

Christ established a visible Church with a visible hierarchy possessing his own authority (Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me).” Without that authority, believers end up following rules of their own making based on their own interpretations of what a relationship with God should look like. In other words, religion on human terms, not on God’s terms. We lose sight of God’s terms when we abandon the authority of God’s Church. Hence, the ultimate result of the Protestant reformation has been confusion and fragmentation rather than true reform and unity.

Christianity cannot possibly be a “relationship without religion.” On the contrary, in order to fully realize the relationship, we must choose the right Christian religion. Anything else is less than what God desires us to have, even if it does contain elements of God’s truth. After all, God came to us, we did not ascend to God. It behooves us to heed and embrace his terms for the relationship.

Can a non-Catholic Christian have a relationship with Jesus? Yes. Will that relationship include everything God intends for a relationship with him? No. It will not be the fullness of the Faith. Much of it will be based on human interpretations of scripture which followed the rejection of Church authority. This is the reverse of the process in which Jesus first establishes an authoritative, teaching Church from which scripture emerged. To take those same scriptures and attempt to build churches apart from the original authority results in the confusion and disunity we see today.

Due to all the confusion and conflicting doctrine, people have largely given up on trying to resolve discrepancies and concluded, “Oh well, I guess it doesn’t matter which church you go to as long as you love Jesus.” The popular meme “it’s a relationship, not a religion” makes it easier to swallow the idea that any set of Christian rules will do since we really can’t agree on the rules anyway. In some cases, it results in outright hostility towards legitimate practices of a “religious” nature (the definition of which depends on the opinion of the observer). Catholics, for example, are often accused of not being Christian at all because they do “religious” things. The irony is that all Christians do “religious” things.

Christians, of course, do have much to agree on. This can be a starting point, but it is not the unity Jesus and the apostles demanded and prayed for. Catholics and Protestants are united (albeit imperfectly) in Christ through baptism. However, the reality still exists that the thousands of Christian denominations with their conflicting doctrines and practices cannot all be correct. The Holy Spirit does not lead God’s people into conflicting “truths.” Only one Christian Church has claim to the historical, apostolic authority given by Christ. Like it or not, Catholicism is the only historically credible choice.

Catholicism is the fullness of the Faith. This does not mean that all Catholics have a good relationship with Christ (many do not). It does not mean that non-Catholic Christians have no relationship with Christ (many do). It means that, to have the fullest relationship with Christ as Christ intends, being Catholic is the way to go. Catholicism is the religion of Christ. It’s where we meet Christ on his terms and learn the rules for the relationship.

The Love Language of Jesus

The Five Love Languages is a popular book by Gary Chapman. The book explains how people differ in the way they give and receive love. This principle comes up often in my counseling sessions with couples. Essentially, people tend to give love in the same form that they prefer to receive love. After all, aren’t we supposed to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us?”

The key is discovering how your partner prefers to receive love. Does your partner primarily prefer gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), or physical touch (intimacy)? After discovering the answer, one is then better able to provide the kind of love one’s partner desires the most.

The love language principle has helped many couples realize that, although they meant well, they were “spinning their wheels” trying to actively love each other. For instance, it is counterproductive to constantly buy gifts for a partner that actually desires more physical touch. It soon becomes evident that, “You don’t really know me that well, do you?” The partner can only get so much consolation by thinking, “Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.” Genuine thought seeks to know a person intimately, including likes and dislikes.

Chapman’s book helps partners discover from each other what their actual likes and dislikes are. This removes the assumptions and “mind reading” games that plague so many relationships. The best way to really know your partner is to get the information from your partner. This helps build intimacy. It also helps to shift the focus away from “self” and towards “other.”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” becomes, “Learn your partner’s love language as you would have your partner learn your love language.” In other words, the question shifts from, “What would I like?” to, “What would my partner like?” The idea seems simple enough, but it is not so readily implemented in so many relationships. We tend to fashion a relationship into our own version of how it “should” be. We tend to give love the way we want to give love.

Now, consider the following phrases:

  • Accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior.
  • It’s all about a relationship with Jesus.
  • Many in that day will say, “Lord, Lord,” but I will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Just as in a marriage, it is possible to accept Jesus and desire to have a relationship with Him without really knowing Him. We can have a relationship with Jesus that exists on our own terms. What is the “love language” of Jesus? We can talk about how much we love Him, but the more important question becomes, “How does Jesus want us to love Him?”

Do we look for a place of worship that “feels right” to us, or do we look for a place of worship that worships the way Jesus desires us to worship? The implication here is that Jesus may actually desire a form of worship that does not feel right to you, because it is not your love language, it is His!

The challenge for married partners with different love languages is that it may feel very awkward and uncomfortable to switch languages. Hopefully, more time and practice will make it more comfortable. Nevertheless, the act of love is not based on how comfortable it feels to you. It is an act of love because of how it feels to your partner. The same holds true for how we love Jesus. How Jesus wants us to love Him, is not about how it feels to us!

Shopping around for a church that “feels right” is like loving your spouse the way that you like to be loved. The key is in finding which church was established by Jesus and worships Him the way that He wants to be worshiped. We tend to do the opposite. We tend to look for a church (or create a new one) that worships Jesus the way we want to worship Jesus.

Jesus only established one Church, not many. Jesus did not provide a shopping mall where we browse around looking for the church or the theology that best suits our tastes. Jesus never asked people how they preferred to love Him. He always had a “love me or leave me” approach. Our job is to love Jesus on His terms, not ours. This means we must follow and obey the Church Jesus established. It doesn’t always feel comfortable. Sometimes it can feel downright abominable (just read John chapter six and you’ll see what I mean).

The “love language” of Jesus can be found in His one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. In particular, the Scriptures and the Seven Sacraments display His way of loving and being loved. By accepting His Church, one fully “accepts the Lord Jesus as personal Lord and Savior” and “has a personal relationship with Jesus.” Through His Church we learn to fully love Jesus according to His very own love language, not ours.

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.

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.

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!”