Wednesday, October 28, 2020

When Patriotism Isn't A Virtue

Catholic Americans seem to revel in polarization. Our country's two-party political system, which siphons the electorate into severely limited options, certainly doesn't help. But there's an accompanying divisive insistence, particularly among Catholics, that one secular party or the other holds exclusive claim to virtue and love for our homeland.

What we overlook in these claims of virtuous patriotism are integral components of piety and charity. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "piety is a protestation of the charity we bear towards our parents and country."

Imagine if our children spoke to us with the same tone we exercise in online political comment feeds. Has your 8-year-old ever passive-aggressively expressed concern for your eternal damnation? How effective has that been in furthering parent-child dialogue?

Comparing filial dialogues to patriotic ones is not far fetched: the Catechism addresses patriotism in its exegesis on the Fourth Commandment"Honor your father and mother"—as an expression of filial piety to our fatherland. This means, as in a family, our interactions are meant for charity and the common good of all members, leading to growth in reverence toward our parents and, by extension, our fellow citizens and homeland (and ultimately, God).

Endless online pseudo-dialogue only compounds our poor practice of patriotism. Pope Francis addresses this failure of social networks to facilitate meaningful conversation in his most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti:

"Dialogue is often confused with something quite different: the feverish exchange of opinions on social networks, frequently based on media information that is not always reliable. These exchanges are merely parallel monologues. They may attract some attention by their sharp and aggressive tone. But monologues engage no one, and their content is frequently self-serving and contradictory."

Why are Catholic comboxes some of the most vicious places on the Internet when it comes to politics? We miss countless opportunities to contemplatively turn issues under the light of church teaching when we compulsively pitch them left or right instead.

Please read the rest over at Where Peter Is.

Photo by Jon Sailer on Unsplash

Monday, October 26, 2020

Always, In Every Place: A Reflection on the Solemnity of All Saints

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, November 1, 2020, at From His Heart, our parish blog.

We celebrate a different saint nearly every day of the year. Some days, such as St. Patrick's on March 17, are more popular than others. (Anyone remember St. Isaac Jogues and St. Rene Goupil on October 19?)

With such a crowded liturgical calendar, is All Saints Day just a catch-all feast for leftover saints?

We might try to put a number to it: 800 or 1,700 or 10,000 "official" canonized saints. Or in this week's First Reading, St. John references 144,000 Israelites in heaven:

"I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the children of Israel." 

(Revelation 7:4)

But it's St. John's next revelatory insight that best captures the spirit of All Saints Day: 

"...I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue…" 

(Revelation 7:5)

On November 1, we celebrate every saint, known and unknown, from every time and place in history. And we're not just celebrating that they've made it to heaven, but that all of us can

This week's Responsorial Psalm describes saints in the making: 

"Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face." 

Do I long to see God's face? Do I long to be in God's presence?

Our Second Reading from 1 John helps us further understand what it means to be a saint. To become a saint, we are—

Loved by God: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us…" (1 John 3:1)

Walking by faith: "...what we shall be has not yet been revealed…" (1 John 3:2)

Trying to imitate God: "...we shall be like him…" (1 John 3:2)

Living in hope: "...has this hope based on him…" (1 John 3:3)

Do I see myself as God's beloved? Do I try to imitate God's love for others, living in virtues of faith and hope?

Finally, in this week's Gospel reading, Jesus gives us a new standard for sainthood. Maybe, as we listen to the Beatitudes, we're surprised to hear that eternity with God isn't based on someone's place in church hierarchy, name recognition, or number of theology degrees.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 

(Matthew 5:3)

The first condition for sainthood is to simply realize we're too spiritually poor to even reach heaven without God's mercy in the first place. The Penitential Rite, prayers we say at the beginning of each Mass, and examinations of conscience are regular reminders of our spiritual poverty: 

"I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do…"

"May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life." 

Jesus lists seven more blessings for those who desire sainthood, an eternity with God in heaven:

"Blessed are they who mourn… the meek… they who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the clean of heart… the peacemakers… they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me…" 

(Matthew 5:3-12) 

Who comes to mind when you hear the Beatitudes? A particular saint? A family member who's passed away? Perhaps a friend? How can I better live the Beatitudes?

"Always, in every place, one can become a saint, that is, one can open oneself up to this grace, which works inside us and leads us to holiness… Every state of life leads to holiness, always! In your home, on the street, at work, at church, in that moment and in your state of life, the path to sainthood has been opened." 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed (Mary's Seventh Sorrow)

Two people show up unexpectedly as Jesus dies on the cross.

They're late in coming—but not too late.

It's Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two of Jesus' secret disciples. To this point, they've only met privately with Jesus for fear that his friendship would destroy their hard-earned reputations and high rank on the Council. But in the final hours of Jesus' life, something changes.

Not only do Nicodemus and Joseph publicly identify as Jesus' followers, they ask Pilate for his body and then provide everything that's needed for Jesus' anointing and burial. Their actions passionately declare: I know this man. I love him. I bless him.

This is the final post in a series on Mary's Seven Sorrows as reflected in our seven basic human desires. This week we consider Mary's Seventh Sorrow, Placing Our Lord in the Tomb, in light of our basic human desire to be blessed.

To be blessed is for someone to see us as special and beloved. Surely Mary always had this regard for Jesus. From the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel first described Jesus to Mary—"the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God"—she believed in the unique goodness of her Son. How profoundly deep her sorrow as she buries the One who blessed her, who knew her and loved her better than any other. And now, as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea help with the entombment, they confirm a similar deep friendship with Jesus: yes, this is someone special, and we love him.

Are you blessed by someone in your life, someone who sees you, knows you, and loves you just for who you are? 

"Affirmations are about what we do, [and] blessings are about who we are," Mark and Debra Laaser write in Seven Desires, explaining how our desire to be affirmed differs from our desire to be blessed. "...This desire to be blessed may be our deepest, most primal need."

When we realize that we are blessed—known and loved exactly for who we are—it's a nourishing comfort deep in our souls.

At Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River, He receives a blessing from God the Father. Jesus is blessed, not for any miracles He's performed or wisdom He's shared, but simply for who He is:

"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Our first experience of blessing should be from our parents. Do you remember your parents delighting in you? As a parent, how can I comfort my children with the assurance of my blessing?

When we're unsure if we are blessed, unsure if we're loved for who we are, we might question if we're really worthy of love. It can lead to sadness, anger, and insecurity over whether we are enough.

Did you know that God blesses you? God knows you and likes you. God delights in you.

Did you know we can bless the Lord? God is blessed by our desire to know him, our love for him, and our delight in him.

"Bless the Lord, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name!"

When life is difficult—seasons of discouragement, loss, disappointment, isolation, sickness, even death—may we experience blessing, God's interminable love for us, as a deep, sustaining comfort.

When life is joyful—like the party that Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Mary must have hosted when their friend Jesus, whom they so lovingly buried three days earlier, came back to life on the first Easter Sunday—may our celebrations spring from the comfort of blessing deep in our souls, the assurance we are seen, known, and loved by God.

Posts In This Series:

Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Parish.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Sorrow, Presence, & The Desire To Be Heard And Understood (Mary's Sixth Sorrow)

Centuries of tradition and artistic representation contemplate the sorrow of Mary receiving her Son's body from the cross.

I wonder if John and Mary Magdalene considered pulling Jesus' mother away until after his body was wrapped for burial. Such a tortured body would surely rupture her heart. Often, if a victim is badly hurt, a medical examiner will only allow discrete opportunities for family members to view or touch part of their loved one's body.

And yet, Mary holds her precious son's body, grieving at the brutality of his death, while also aware his story isn't over. After 33 years of presence, listening with her heart, pondering one strange occurrence after another in the life of her son, Mary understands, even in sorrow, something bigger is happening here.

This is the sixth post in a series on our seven basic human desires reflected in Mary's Seven Sorrows. Consider the Sixth Sorrow, Mary Receives Christ's Body from the Cross, in light of our basic human desire to be heard and understood.

At Jesus' death, his followers were confused and despondent. Many had fled. Perhaps they were thinking, "What was it all for? What a waste."

But Mary recalled Jesus' warnings about what was to come. She remembered Simeon's prophecy that her heart would be pierced. She knew Jesus had allowed himself to be scourged, mocked, crucified, killed. And from Mary's song of Magnificat in Luke 1, she recognized this was all somehow connected to God's promise to Abraham nearly 2,000 years earlier.

Even as chaos and sadness descend, Mary's intentional presence throughout Jesus' life helped her hear and understand her Son.

Was there someone in your childhood who really listened and understood? So often, when one of my kids begins to talk, I hold up a finger of pause: "Not now… I'm busy… I'm on the phone… I'm tired… I just talked with you five minutes ago… Can you just give me a moment?" What about as an adult? Can you recall a time when someone really listened intently as you shared?

When we're repeatedly ignored or misheard, we might begin to think our concerns and ideas don't matter. We might stop trying to communicate altogether—why bother if no one's listening? We might start shouting our thoughts in an attempt to make ourselves heard. We might talk quickly without stopping, afraid to lose control of an opportunity to speak. When children feel unheard, they often resort to tantrums, yelling, flailing, and acting out.

How do I respond when I feel unheard? Talk louder? Talk more? Talk angrily? Do I stop trying to talk altogether?

How can I be present with intentional attention to hear and understand others? As a parent, how can I help my child feel heard and understood?

Friday, October 9, 2020

Sorrow, Loss, & The Desire To Be Included (Mary's Fifth Sorrow)

Jesus' dying words were a gift of community to those He loved most:

"When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, 

'Woman, behold, your son.'

Then he said to the disciple, 

'Behold, your mother.'" 

(John 19:26-27)

As Mary's physical motherhood ends with Jesus' death, He asks her to begin a spiritual motherhood, not just for John, but for any, for all, who might desire to slip their name into Scripture as "the disciple whom [Jesus] loved." (John wrote several opportunities in his Gospel account for readers to substitute their names as "the beloved disciple" of Jesus. See John 13:23, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7, John 21:20.) 

This is the fifth post in a series on how Mary's Seven Sorrows reflect our seven basic human desires. Consider the desire to be included in light of Mary's Fifth Sorrow, Jesus Dies on the Cross. 

Each of us longs to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Our first experience of community is within our family. As a child, did you feel included in your family? What about your churchdid parish life help you feel known, welcomed, and included? Sometimes a bad encounter at church makes us think God is exclusive, definitely not interested in someone like me.

But Jesus loves community. As He died, Jesus created a community, a spiritual family, for his disciples that continues even today: "Woman, behold your son... Son, behold your mother." Mary, recognizing her unique relationship with Jesus wasn't meant to be exclusive, expands her motherhood, including anyone in need of a spiritual mother.

Mary responded to Jesus' desire for community by opening her heart to all. How will I respond? Are there ways I can open my heart to include others, to create communities where people feel invited and welcomed?

As a parent, how can I meet my child's need to be included?

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published October 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and March 2021 at CatholicMom.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Sorrow, Suffering, & The Desire To Be Touched (Mary's Fourth Sorrow)

What a moment of solace for Jesus to encounter a caring face among an angry crowd.

Scripture doesn't record Mary meeting Jesus on his way to be executed. However, John 19 confirms Mary's presence during his final suffering, and tradition has long held she met Jesus as He carried his cross.

Jesus Meets His Mother, Mary

It's said the soldiers jeered at Mary, labeling her a failure as a mother. Why else would her son be executed by the state?

Could Mary and Jesus hear each other amidst the crucifixion noise—accusations, torture, heckling? Even without speaking, a moment of touch between them could communicate a lifetime of truth more loudly than any words: You are a good mother. You are a good son. I believe in you. I love you. I support you.

Positive physical touch is powerful: it lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and stress; it calms crying babies; it expresses deep sentiment when words fall short; it brings solidarity in suffering.

This is the fourth post in a series on our seven basic human desires (to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood) in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. Consider the basic human desire to be touched, as we reflect on the Fourth Sorrow, Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary.

Every person desires honest, positive touch. Touch is the manifestation of mutual love and affection in a relationship. Do you remember positive touch as a child? Hugs, high fives, snuggling, kisses, holding hands, gentle guidance through daily tasks…

In the Gospel scriptures, Jesus constantly reaches out with affirming, gentle touch:
  • Peter's sick mother-in-law: "He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up" (Mark 1:31),
  • Jairus' dead child: He "took her by the hand, and the little girl arose" (Matthew 9:25),
  • Two blind men: He "touched their eyes… and their eyes were opened" (Matthew 9:29-30),
  • The disciples: "he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash [their] feet" (John 13:5),
  • Children: "he took [them] in his arms, placed his hands on each of them, and blessed them" (Mark 10:16).
In the sacraments, we still experience this physical interaction modeled by Jesus -- a gentle touch, sometimes with water or oil -- that reveals and communicates a spiritual reality.

Touch is a healthy, normal part of our humanity that expresses love, affirmation, and even healing. However, touch can also be used in negative, harmful, or dissonant ways: for example, when Judas kissed Jesus, not as a reflection of their strong friendship, but as a signal of betrayal to the Roman soldiers (Mark 14:44). When we experience the harm of negative touch, healing is needed to restore our trust, to heal our hearts and minds. Professional counselors or therapists are an invaluable resource for help in this restorative healing.

As we reflect on Mary's Fourth Sorrow, a brief encounter with her tortured Son shortly before his death, may the Lord help us reflect on our own desire to be touched in positive, affirming ways. As a parent, we might ask, how can I help my child experience love with positive physical affirmation?