Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Theology of New Year's Resolutions

Apparently this is a thing with me-- going through phases of trying to quit things. Last year I wrote a post about my replacement strategy of diffusing essential oils rather than smoking.

This year, my desire (or rather ambivalence) to quit smoking remains. My motivation, however, and thus implicitly my strategy, is different.

A main theme on which I focused in my study of Saint John Paul II's Theology of the Body last semester was reverence. Reverence for the body. Your body. The body of another. Neither of which are materially isolated objects of reverence. They ARE the person-- a some-body. And Viktor Frankl, whom I compared and contrasted with JPII, says that unique to humans is history-- personal and communal history. We have a past, present, and future. Dr. Michael Waldstein, my dear professor, would use the analogy of a sausage-- looking at a person in the continuum of their existence at every given moment. Failing to see someone in this totality runs the risk of reducing them to an object of mere concupiscent pleasure in the passion of the moment.

On one of the last days of class, my professor's wife, Dr. Susan Waldstein, came to speak to the class about NFP from a woman's perspective. One thing that she mentioned stuck with me in connection to this concept of reverence and future-oriented cognizance. She said in regards to dating, "Think about your future children." In assessing the qualities of a future spouse, ask yourself if you'd want the father of mother of your children to be this way. She said that sometimes we are more lenient and sacrificial when it affects us than we would be on behalf of another.

I may lack the normal instincts for life-preservation due to my in-the-moment, instant-gratification, thrill-seeking, and misplaced memento mori dispositions. Despite my lack of regard for my future, God still has a plan for me, and it necessarily involves others. If I cannot respect my body for my sake, is it possible that I could revere it for the sake of another, or others?

My dad likes to repeat "Smoking is a killer." I know that, but that knowledge is no deterrent in and of itself. I've always wanted to die young. It's some sort of "one foot out of this world" thing I picked up in the convent. But at what cost to others?

Herein lies the new source of motivation to avoid destructive habits-- the stuff that comprises New Year's resolutions: REVERENCE. Theology of the Body taught me this. Logotherapy helped me understand it in psychological terms.

So, when the topic came up on New Year's day, I latched onto the possibility of new beginnings this year. An effort in which I will be encouraged by my family, those to whom I am responsible and whom I wish to please because I love them.

The night before, I received a gift from my dear childhood friend:

I showed off this bold gift to all our family gathered at my parents' house to ring in the New Year together. It got some laughs, and probably some affirmations, as many are former-smokers. Quitting for Jesus is too vague and removed. My spiritual director and I have talked about this before. It just doesn't do it more me-- it's a spiritual problem, I know. But quitting for those whom Jesus has given me-- in whom he lives and moves and has his being, those to whom I am connected in his Body-- that moves me. Mindful of the power and efficacy of the gifts of the Spirit working within us when coupled with virtue, which begins through the hard work of self-restraint, I can look at myself and my inter-subjective relation with others not merely as a present reality, but in the fullness of our destiny. I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that.

In the beginning of Man and Woman He Created Them, JPII talks about the sin of Adam and Eve resulting from casting doubt on the mystery of creation- that God who is Love, created us out of love, for love. Dr. Waldstein says most sexual sin is committed in despair. And I would extend that further to most sin in general, for it certainly holds true in my moments of weakness-- I usually act licentiously in times of personal desperation.

Our remedy is reclaiming the power of the redemption to live in the Spirit- in piety and reverence, in our personal and interpersonal activities, for through them God himself is glorified.

PS- I almost forgot. The irony of the whole thing is that when I arrived home to Florida on day 3, the occasion of which I knew would be the real test, guess what was waiting for me? A carton of cigarettes and my very own pink zippo lighter.

I will prize them as I prize my ashtray. I will take the most pleasure in my lighter if it does not become accessory to my death. My friends give the best Christmas presents, even when they become trophies rather than tools. Happy New Year!!!

Monday, December 14, 2015

For unto us aZélie is born!

Saint John of the Cross used the story of Tobias and Sarah as an analogy in the Ascent of Mount Carmel. He describes three ways in which faith is experienced as a dark night, and compares them to the three nights of prayer that Tobias had to undergo before consummating his marriage to Sarah (an aspect of the story found in Saint Jerome's version of the book of Tobit.)

We can offer three reasons for calling this journey toward union with God a night. The first has to do with the point of departure, because individuals must deprive themselves of their appetites for worldly possessions. This denial and privation is like a night for all one's senses. The second reason refers to the means or the road along which a person travels to this union. Now this road is faith, and for the intellect faith is also like a dark night. The third reason pertains to the point of arrival, namely God. And God is also a dark night to the soul in this life. These three nights pass through a soul, or better, the soul passes through them in order to reach union with God. 
They are represented in the Book of Tobias [Tb. 6:18-22], where we read that the angel ordered the young Tobias to wait three nights before any union with his bride. On the first night he was to burn the fish heart in the fire. That heart signified the human heart that is attached to worldly things. To undertake the journey to God the heart must be burned with the fire of divine love and purified of all creatures. Such a purgation puts the devil to flight, for he has power over people through their attachment to temporal and bodily things. Tobias, on the second night, as the angel told him, was to be admitted into the society of the holy patriarchs, the fathers of the faith. After passing through the first night (the privation of all sensible objects), a person enters the second night by living in faith alone; not in a faith that is exclusive of charity but a faith that excludes other intellectual knowledge, as we shall explain later, for faith does not fall into the province of the senses. The angel told Tobias that on the third night he would obtain the blessing, which is God. God, by means of faith, which is the second night, communicates himself so secretly and intimately that he becomes another night for the soul. This communication of God is a night much darker than those other two nights, as we will soon point out. When this third night (God's communication to the spirit, which usually occurs in extreme darkness of soul) has passed, a union with the bride, who is the Wisdom of God, then follows. Tobias was also told by the angel that, after the third night had come to an end, he would be joined to his bride in the fear of the Lord. Now when the fear of God is perfect, love is also perfect, which means that the transformation of the soul in God through love is accomplished.

Saint John of the Cross was the Co-Founder of the Discalced Nuns of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. One of his most famous spiritual daughters and heir to his spirituality was Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Thérèse Martin was born of holy parents, the recently canonized Saints Louis and Zélie Martin.

As a souvenir of their marriage (at midnight between July 12 and July 13, 1858), Louis Martin designed a medallion as a gift for Zélie.  At the moment they exchanged their vows, the priest blessed the medallion.  Louis slipped the wedding ring on the finger of Zélie's right hand, and then placed the medallion in her left hand, saying "Receive the symbol of our wedding promises."  Louis chose the Biblical figures of Sarah and Tobias for this souvenir. Below are photographs of both sides of the original medallion, now located at the bishopric of the diocese of Sees, in which Zélie was born.

Last year my dear friends got married.

In their beautiful Wedding Mass, the reading they chose was from the Book of Tobit:

Tobias arose from bed and said to his wife, “My love, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.” She got up, and they started to pray and beg that deliverance might be theirs. He began with these words:
“Blessed are you, O God of our fathers; praised be your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve to be his help and support; and from these two the human race descended. You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like himself.’ Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.” They said together, “Amen, amen,” and went to bed for the night.

And today, on the Feast of Saint John of the Cross, to this dear couple a child was born, and they named her Zélie.

When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. -John 16:21
All my prayers and love today go out to my dear friends and their new bundle of JOY.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Assent to Gratitude, Descend for Others

“May you be for ever blessed for that moment of bliss and happiness which you gave to another lonely and grateful heart. Isn’t such a moment sufficient for the whole of one’s life?” 
--Fyodor Dostoyevsky, White Nights, 1848

The Will to Meaning- Finding purpose in relation to the Other

Getting trapped within yourself is the definition of hell, right? My professor recently tried to explain to me that for Kant, nothing exists outside of his own mind. When I suggested that Kant just wanted to be in heaven, he corrected me by saying "No, he wants to be in hell!" I think this is what happens to us when we get consumed in our own thoughts, worries, and cares.

I believe in a will to meaning (Frankl), as opposed to Nietzsche's will to power and Freud's will to pleasure. Everyone needs to know that their life has meaning, and I would say that this can only be found in relationship. In isolation, nothing seems worth it. When you bring others into the picture, it can elicit within us the noblest of ideals.

This is an evangelical principle. The conviction that you have a responsibility to others, that you have something to offer them even as a mere instrument or conduit of truth and love-- to which I think the individual does make a unique contribution in the transmitting process, but even without that, the value of the person for another remains-- brings with it a sense of purpose. It brings you out of yourself, which is the definition of ecstasy, right? So the pleasure of joy in doing God's will is a bi-product of being a gift to another.

And thus happiness, bliss, eudaimonia, or beatitude cannot efficaciously be sought for one's own sake-- it's only at the moment that you leave it aside that it comes to you. And it comes to you precisely in fulfilling your purpose. God has created you in community, for others. Mother Teresa is oft quoted as saying charity begins at home. It's easy to claim that you love humanity as a whole, that you're pro-immigrant, when you won't invite that obnoxious "stray cat" (to use my father's term) in your life over for Thanksgiving.

Arthur Brooks addressed an important issue, per usual for him, in the New York Times last week. He was looking at the role of emotions in acts of thanksgiving. Must one feel grateful in order to give thanks-- in order to be true to yourself? No, he says. Utilize your will to choose your attitude and perform mental acts of gratitude, and this active habit will elicit the corresponding emotions. Don't wait to be grateful, give thanks anyway.

Now don't get me wrong-- I'm in the heart camp. I'm a big fan of emotions, and I have a lot of them. I think eros is absolutely essential in love. But eros, longing or desire, is what brings you out of yourself. John Paul II describes it as a step on a staircase, and my professor reminded me that this is not a one-way flight of stairs, but one that as Pope Benedict would often remind us, we are continually ascending and descending-- being filled, going out in charity, returning to God, and pouring ourselves back out in service.

So ascend the mountain as you prepare for Thanksgiving. Receive from God the grace He wants to pour out on you. Make acts of thanksgiving for the people in your lives. Ask for the grace to be truly grateful for them in all their imperfections. And then descend the mountain to serve them. Be ready and fortified to give Him to Others, and the joy will come.
On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789, as an official holiday of “sincere and humble thanks.” The nation then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution. On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln made the traditional Thanksgiving celebration a nationwide holiday to be commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday of November. In the midst of a bloody Civil War, President Lincoln issued a Presidential Proclamation in which he enumerated the blessings of the American people and called upon his countrymen to "set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise."

Friday, November 6, 2015

Charity vs. Philanthropy

When I tried to pin the First Things book review CHARITY OR PHILANTHROPY? by Ian Tuttle on my 'Murica Pinterest board, my description exceeded the allowed number of words. This is as good an impetus as any for a blog post, right? Here goes:

I love the implied exhortation in this article- but it's easier said than done.

The instersubjectivity essential to charity (and absent in philanthropy) makes real demands on the person beyond the mere act of giving. It necessitates a reciprocal relationship, creating a vulnerability that is lacking in the role of a mere provider.

A literary illustration of this phenomena is contained in the novel Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, where the protagonist's act of "charity" ultimately entangles him in a web of disaster.

At the same time, love cannot expect anything in return. For example, it is laudable that the Godfather refuses to perform acts of philanthropy divorced from a personal relationship. He holds family in high esteem, and thus if he's going to take care of you, it will be as a member of the family. This relationship, however, comes at a price that he will determine at a future date and you must accept in order for the relationship to be sustained. These are relationships that resemble that of a master and slave more than a father and son. They are bereft of mercy and forgiveness.

The Corleones, the Sons of Anarchy, and all such family-like associations of organized crime, while making the positive contribution of community in a culture of individualism, also create their own moral code aligned with their own idea of justice.

Philanthropy commits the same error. Only true charity, as a humble participation in the love of Christ, truly connects you to your brother and sister and acquires merit for the salvation of souls. Anything less misses the mark and becomes vanity of vanities.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Theology of the Wound: Teresa, Frodo, and SOA

Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila. She is my spiritual mother. Not that she is my favorite saint, or I have the greatest attraction or feel closest to her. Love for a mother is something quite different than mere friendship. I would venture to describe my relationship to her as one of filial respect, a certain indebtedness to her for forming me as her spiritual daughter.

Childhood is not a bed of roses. In fact it sucks being a child, in a very different way from the hardship of adulthood. Learning, growing, and maturing are exhausting, painful, and humiliating. Although this process never ends in this valley of tears, it takes on a different form after leaving your parent's home—the point at which you become “independent.” This line is probably blurred in many instances, but I'm sure parents recognize stages at which their role as a parent changes in relation to their child. The "adult-child” is given more space, if you will, more liberty and autonomy.

But the child, always under a watchful eye, experiences, at least in hindsight, a gratitude for that security that they knew under their parents’ roof and protection. As they grow in self-knowledge, they may recognize the impact and influence that their mother has had on them. This has definitely been my experience. 

Accompanied by these reflections there may exist a certain nostalgia—a longing for the past, with all its innocence and naivety. There are ways in which mothers shield and prepare their children for the evils of the world. But they can’t take them away for good—they must let their children go and find their way.

The looking back in itself may be painful, as memories often are. At the same time that I experience joy on this feast day, I feel a wound. When I left Carmel, I had just read and watched The Lord of the Rings. It was a dramatic time for me, and I related all too closely with Frodo on his difficult journey and return home:
"Are you in pain, Frodo?" . . . . 
"Well, yes I am," said Frodo. "It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today." 
"Alas! There are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured," said Gandalf. 
"I fear that it may be so with mine," said Frodo. "There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?" [967]
All the saints know this pain. All of humanity does too, whether they realize its significance or not.
"The malady from which he suffered, we all, who are of Adam's seed, suffer from the same. Such a malady has befallen us, as Esaias says, It is not a wound, nor a bruise, nor an inflamed sore; it is not possible to apply a mollifying ointment, nor oil, nor to make bandages? Thus were we wounded with an incurable wound; the Lord alone could heal it. For this reason He came in His own person; because none of the ancients, nor the law itself, nor the prophets, were able to heal this wound. He alone by His coming healed that sore of the soul, that incurable sore" -St. Macarius
Though we have been redeemed, the wound will keep hurting until we reach the “Undying Lands.”

Monday, March 9, 2015

All the single ladies

I entrusted my vocation to Saint Joseph upon entering Carmel, and I don't think his intercessory power is limited by cloister walls. He's protector of virgins, but maybe more commonly sought after by women waiting for husbands. 

This is for all my single ladies out there, who I will be recommending to the intercession of dear Saint Joseph.

Saint Joseph Novena Prayer
(March 10-18)

Heavenly Father, You gave St. Joseph a share in Your Fatherhood and placed him as a father to Jesus on earth. Help us to be obedient to Your will as he was. Teach us the way of prayer that we may enjoy the friendship of Mary and Jesus as did St. Joseph. During this life's hardships, give us courage to walk with those who need us that we may be enriched by their gifts. Carry us through sufferings and trials with St. Joseph at our side. And may we look to him at the final hour of death. We ask this through Your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gregorian entrance

The Lord in His infinite wisdom has chosen the feast of Pope Gregory the Great for my entrance this Saturday. I just learned that Saint Gregory the Great had a major influence on Teresa of Avila, and so I know it is good and fitting that we seek his intercession as I take this step in the way of perfection. Saint Gregory the Great, pray for us.