Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Assent to Gratitude, Descend for Others

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 Kant doesn't even make it to the order of intentionality because 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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Taking up your cross: Lessons from Sts. Monica and Augustine

I have been anxiously awaiting the feasts of Saints Monica and Augustine this Saturday and Sunday. There is something so special about this mother and her son, which gives them a special place in my heart. Monica is my confirmation saint, whom I also refer to as my patron. And Augustine was a big influence on St. Teresa of Avila, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns- the religious order I am entering in one week!
Although I have been confident in recent years that the Lord chose her specifically for me for a reason, I didn’t really have a good reason for choosing St. Monica as my confirmation saint at 14 years old.  I remember there were cards with saints on them that everyone was looking through in class. I think I was looking for a name that I liked, and Monica stuck out. I also saw that she was the patron of alcoholics, and apparently I already knew how much I liked the stuff ;)  When Monica was little, her parents would have her run down to the wine cellar to fetch them a bottle. She had gotten into the habit of taking little sips while she was down there. One of their servants called her out, and from then on Monica gave it up. So maybe we should pray for Monica’s intercession as I give it up to enter Carmel J
But more importantly, she is patron of wives and mothers. And I still appreciate that, because even though I may not become one in the natural sense, it is extremely important for me to become one in the spiritual sense. We can learn so much from St. Monica about marriage and motherhood; about patience, perseverance, and prayer.
Her parents arranged for her to marry a 40-year old pagan named Patricius when she was 22. He was a character. I don’t think he was the nicest to her or very faithful. And on top of it, the mother-in-law lived with them and gave Monica a hard time as well. But she stayed faithful to God’s will for her and tried to live out her vocation in love. Her and Patricius had three children, Navigius, who seemed to be a good son, Augustine, who was very intelligent, and Perpetua, who joined a religious order. Monica did have the consolation of her husband converting to faith right before his death.
But there’s no rest for the weary. It was around this time that she was given yet another cross to bear. Her eldest son Augustine not only left the faith and was living in sin, but became a heretic. He moved in with a girl who bore him a child. Then, being tortured by the problem of evil, Augustine, in default of solving it, acknowledged a conflict of two principles and joined a Manichean sect that held that view.
When Augustine returned from his studies in Carthage with his concubine and son, Monica had to decide whether to let them into her home. She didn’t want to condone his Manichaeism. But she allowed them to stay after having a dream in which an angel told her that her son would be with her. When she relayed this to her son, however, he tried to convince her that the dream meant she would give up Catholicism. She quickly corrected him because the angel had said he would be with her, not the other way around.
It would be nine more years before Augustine’s conversion. And Monica continued to pray, fast, and weep on his behalf. She implored the local bishop to help her win back her son. He told her that it would be in God’s time, and finally said "go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish."
Then Augustine wanted to move to Rome to teach rhetoric. His mother, still worried about his conversion, was determined to accompany him. He tricked her by telling her he was leaving in the morning, then took off that night while Monica was praying in the church. Did she let that stop her? Nope, she traveled on her own to Rome. And when she got there she found out her son had gone to Milan. So she went home. Just kidding! She followed him to Milan.
In the meantime, Augustine had already met the influential Bishop Ambrose. He first started listening to him speak to get ideas from his rhetoric. But then the content rang so true that Augustine started questioning his beliefs.  By the time Monica arrived, Augustine had renounced his Manichaeism, but had not yet become a Christian.
Monica became friends with Saint Ambrose, who gave her direction. She led women in prayer and in charitable works there in Milan, just as she had in North Africa. She was obedient to Ambrose’s counsel when he told her to give up certain customs practiced by Christians in Africa that were actually derived from pagan rituals.
Augustine had to undergo a period of conversion of the mind and of the will. I think of him and his inner struggle in the first reading for this Sunday’s mass:
Reading 1 Jer 20:7-9
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

To be intellectually honest and true to his heart, Augustine necessarily was led back to Christ. I love this quote of his that characterizes the pursuit so well:

To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find Him the greatest human achievement.

As he moved towards the faith, he had to live that out in the moral dimension as well. When Augustine converted, so did his concubine of 15 years. She left their son with Augustine, and Monica arranged for her return to Carthage, where she lived out the rest of her life in a convent. My friend Mallory asked me if this woman, Augustine’s concubine, is a saint. I don’t think she’s officially declared, but she must be a saint to have that kind of docility and faith.
When Augustine finally converted, Monica felt like she had fulfilled her mission, her reason for living. She died shortly after, and Augustine went on to become a Saint and Doctor of the church.
Just think how different the church would be if these souls would have refused to take up their crosses and follow Him. If Monica had grew weary and given up hope for her son. If Augustine wouldn’t have persevered through his search for Truth. Let us take these great saints as an example. Let us think of them and seek their intercession as we take to heart this Sunday’s readings which implore us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, to let Christ transform us, and to take up our own crosses and follow Him. Then and only then will we truly live.
Reading 2 Rom 12:1-2
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Gospel Mt 16:21-27
Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
"God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
He turned and said to Peter,
"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life"
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Breaking the alabaster jar

After a beautiful send-off from my DC friends, and my parents coming to romantically scoop me up and bring me home, I am here now in Bloomington. But I can't say the same for my cell phone- somehow it didn't make the cut. My roommates have all my clothes now, so you guys might as well keep the phone too! (Just kidding, please send ASAP. I may need to detach from the things of the world, but not yet.) It's a month away- my entrance date is September 3rd. I am both anxious to enter Carmel, and looking forward to this time with family and friends before entering. As I was researching St. Teresa of Avila this afternoon, who I will be presenting to the Dead Theologians Society at St. Pat's of Merna this Sunday, I ran accross this video on the vocation to the cloistered life.

I wanted to share it, because I think this young lady says it better than I can. And I love the reference to Mary Magdalene, who has had a pround impact on me and whose feast we celebrated on July 22nd. Her feast day came at an important time for me, because I think last month I had been feeling particulary unworthy of the call which I am pursuing. But Mary Magdalene shows us that love covers a multitude of sins. A week later, we celebrated her sister Martha's feast day, who is known as the one who served our Lord. This feast day again had perfect timing, as this was the day that not only I was packing up to move, but all my roonmates were moving to a new house as well. We were indeed being Marthas and cleaning ALL the things.

As I grew tired of cleaning all the things,

I thought about how Jesus didn't scold Martha because she should have been at His feet like Mary. He scolded her because instead of focusing on Jesus and humbly accepting God's will for her with a joyful heart, she was worried about what others were doing and upset that Mary wasn't helping her. Little did she know that Mary was right where she was supposed to be, and so was she. So here I am in the world praying for the grace to be generous of what He asks of me this month. But I for one can't wait to break open that alabaster jar for my Lord if that is that is His will for me.