Tuesday after Low Sunday (April 29, 2014)

+J.M.J.+

I have learned quite a few things this week already, and it’s only Tuesday! God is good.

Sunday, as I may have already posted, I listened to an excellent sermon by St. Alphonsus de Liguori on avoiding the occasions of sin. Yesterday, in the process of reading “The Catechism Explained”, I learned about happiness, and today about how that happiness can only be gained in the knowledge of God. And, on a slightly unrelated (but still pertinent) note, I have been watching a children’s show produced in the 90’s called “Adventures from the Book of Virtues,” which never fails to illuminate and illustrate the many natural virtues that man should strive to possess to have peace with himself, with his neighbor and with God. Yesterday and today, I watched episodes of the show pertaining to true friendship, and to integrity. There are many insights I would like to share with you, but I’ll try to keep the explanations to a minimum. I am so excited! +Deo Gratias!+

On a personal note, in the process of all of this studying and thinking, I have come to the conclusion that one of the virtues I must strive the hardest for is selflessness. In light of a few personal experiences in my recent past, I have come to this sad conclusion. I suppose it shouldn’t be saddening…I am human, after all. It should prick me to make me work harder at attaining this beautiful virtue, but not make me angry or sad or upset with myself. These strong emotions do nothing but cloud reason, and they are also signs of hidden pride. “How could I have fallen so far into this vice of selfishness?” No. Count it as a grace, friends, when God reveals to you your faults that you were previously unaware of. He has given us the first and often the hardest step towards transforming the vice into virtue, and with the help of His grace, and perseverance, we can and must turn it to virtue.

In learning about true happiness, and realizing (for the thousandth time, it seems) that it is not connected to material goods or even relationships, but rather to the knowledge of God, it struck me that I could do without some things, or at least detach myself from some things. I do think it is beneficial to have some sort of small daily penance so that we are constantly detaching ourselves, even in just a small way, from the earthly goods that seem to have the most sway over us. For me, I know these goods tend to be sugary foods, coffee, and sleep. (Raise your hand if you, too, are a coffee-aholic!) If we can narrow down our focus to the things that have this sway over us, we will make much better progress, I think, if we just chose some other thing to give up that we don’t really care for to begin with. For instance, it is no penance to give up asparagus if we do not like it. But our penances do not have to be great. Often it is in little daily sacrifices that great piles of heavenly treasure are created. When we sacrifice our will here, give up some treat here, lose an hour of sleep for someone else’s good here…God counts these things as much as the great works of saints and martyrs, so long as we sacrifice self in charity.

The lessons from “Adventures from the Book of Virtues” were also intensely beneficial. Yesterday’s show on friendship reminded me of my duty to be a loyal friend. If we want to find a true friend, we must first be one ourselves. Scriptures tell us that a true friend is worth more than all the gold in the world, and the show made an interesting comparison between old and new friends; new friends are as silver, whereas old are as gold. Older friends tend to have been tested more, have been through more with us, have stuck by us through good weather and bad, and have never abandoned us. The show makes use of fables, myths, biblical accounts, and other literature to pull examples of virtues from. For friendship, possibly the most striking tale it drew from was the story of Damon and Pythias. Damon and Pythias grew up together, becoming steady friends. Eventually the two noticed the injustices being done to their countrymen by their monarch. Pythias stood in public, trying to convince the people that they needed a new ruler. When Pythias was taken by the guards, Damon also went with him. The monarch, upon hearing Pythias’ criticism, sentenced him to death but gave him one last wish. Pythias wished to return home and say goodbye to his family, but promised to return. Damon offered himself as the collateral: if Pythias did not return, the monarch could kill Damon in his place. The monarch agreed. Pythias ended up returning right before the monarch was to execute Damon, begging his friend’s forgiveness, because he had been delayed by bad weather and robbers. The monarch, so moved by the loyalty and friendship between the two, released them both under the condition that they teach him to be worthy of such friendship.

“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (St. John 15:13, DRA). How selfish, then, have I been, who have withheld compassion, withheld the sacrificing of my will for their good? How can I claim to love my friends if I do not make sacrifices for them? How can I claim to love God, Whose friendship I claim, if I am not willing to give up those things which would separate me from Him, and if I do not trust Him with my whole being, as Damon trusted Pythias, a human, to return, with such patience and fidelity? Ah, God is good to point out to our feeble eyes and understanding the places wherein we need most to improve. Often we do not and cannot see it for ourselves. Let us pray that God would enlighten us, show us where we must get better, and grant us grace to advance on the path of those virtues we are most lacking in. And let us praise Him for His kindness. He is our truest Friend, and His friendship is worth everything we are, worth much more than we can give Him. So let us give Him what we can, Him Who died for love of us.

In the next post, I hope to connect what I have learned here with what I have also learned about integrity. I hope you are enjoying these posts, dear reader, for I do enjoy writing them and sharing them with you. May God bless you!

+Deo Gratias!+

Low Sunday (April 27, 2014)

+J.M.J.+

I am a little embarrassed…I forgot to post a notice about what I planned to do on the blog after Easter arrived. I wanted to dive into some deeper spiritual reading and post 1-3 times weekly reflecting on what I had read or learned that week. This will be my post for Easter Week. Hopefully I will be able to post a bit more next week, seeing as it is my very last finals week of my college career, and I graduate in 6 days with my Bachelor of Science in English and Minor in Music! 

The nature of these posts will probably be a bit more personal, and because I am a baby Catholic, newly converted from Protestantism, I beg in advance your forgiveness for any unintentional errors of judgment/interpretation on what I have read and learned. Please know that I do not claim to be a theologian, nor do I want to claim this title. I only want to keep growing, so any charitable corrections or reminders are heartily welcomed and please know that I will truly take them into consideration and that I appreciate them. 

Also, I am not set on a ‘format’, if you will, for these posts yet. I had a format for the Sermon in a Sentence posts, but the nature of those worked well with a layout. All that to say that if I start out kind of everywhere at first, and then develop into a format, don’t be shocked. 

All that being said, let’s talk about some of the things I’ve learned this week! 

This morning, I listened to a sermon by St. Alphonsus de Liguori on avoiding the occasions of sin. This sermon was chock-full of heavy teaching; it was a full-course meal for the mind and soul. The primary lesson that I learned was that avoiding occasions of sin may be seen as cowardice, and may appear so even to the devout mind. However, we must think of fleeing sin as obedience and courage, rather than cowardice. Especially with sins of the flesh, and especially with impurity, we must immediately flee. We must listen to our Captain Who sees the advancing hordes of devils and, knowing they are too strong for us, orders us to retreat. “These you cannot fight. Let Me fight them for you. You must run. They will try to pursue and overtake you, and they will if you do not obey My words.” Instead of stubbornly relying on our own strength or the courageous sentiments that come with a recent conversion, we MUST flee and retreat. If God is telling us to run, it is not cowardice, but obedience. We must trust our Divine Captain Who in all circumstances knows perfectly what is best for us. When it comes to our pet sins, especially, we are too weak to fight them, and we would be fools to jump into the fray and try to fight them. 

But, some may say, what if the devils find us? What if we find ourselves in a near occasion of sin through no fault of our own? St. Alphonsus tells us that God is faithful to provide the grace for us to flee, and if we cannot flee, to resist the temptation. But when we put ourselves or leave ourselves in these occasions by our own will, God sees the heart and leaves us to our evil inclinations. We cannot expect God’s mercy and grace if we go out of our way to seek these occasions out. He knows that when we do this, we do not really wish for His grace. “A hard heart shall fear evil at the last: and he that loveth danger shall perish in it” (Sirach 3:27, DRA). We must not love the danger, but must desire ardently to be delivered from it. Then God is faithful to provide us the grace we honestly wish for. 

This reminds us of the constant battle and duty we face to detach ourselves from our evil passions. If we do not hate them, they will be our ruin. We must hate them because they will separate us from God if we do not turn from them. And when we love God above all else, we will find that He gives us the grace to avoid those things, once so addicting and once the rulers of our will, and to detest them for His sake, and for love of Him. Let us remain risen with Christ, risen from our sins and from the old man, and avoid those roads which might lead us back to sin.

+Deo Gratias!+

Feelings vs. Truth…

Every once in a while I have a moment where I just think to myself, “Enough is enough. I am not scared of my faith. I will embrace it. I am a soldier for Christ. I will not let this modernistic, emotional, subjective, relativistic society tell me that I cannot stand by my faith, or that I must stand down in the face of the majority belief. God is my judge, not man. Truth is real and exists outside man. I must follow that truth at whatever cost.” I wish those moments would come more often. 

Why am I scared of them? I should fear God, not man. Just because my beliefs garner me a bouquet of enemies does not mean I need to let the irritating accusations coming from their end get me down. 

They are entitled to their rights and opinions, but once the Bible gets mentioned, or Christ, I am stripped of all dignity as a human being with free will and a right to choose what I believe. I am stripped of the right that they possess to correct us ‘erring’ Christians. I cannot expound the truth without being called judgmental, arrogant, bigoted, archaic, or some other endearing terms that the modernists use to describe Christians. 

And, as Matt Walsh recently expressed on an excellently snarky blog post regarding abortion, “we know that one cannot reach an objective conclusion unless one is emotionally tied to the issue at hand” (“This woman exercised her right…” April 17, 2014). 

Since when does emotional experience count as hard data? You can have an emotional experience with just about anything. That does not make the experience valid proof of whatever you are trying to convince me of, the exception being with something that is actually related to emotional experience, such as depression medication and the like. You cannot use emotional experience to teach morals. You cannot use emotional experience as a valid fact to cling to in support of falsehood. 

But that is exactly how these modernists like to work. “Because I feel this, it must be true.” If you follow that logic out to its logical conclusion, you will find that the modernists have a valid excuse for everything. Isn’t that handy? 

Just because I feel depressed right now about engaging in a fruitless debate does not mean that I am a worthless writer or that I should stop being a Christian or even that I ‘lost’ the debate. It means nothing more than that I feel depressed right now. It does not mean I will be depressed in the future. All it means is that I am depressed right now. But according to modernist logic, I could use this as a jumping board for all sorts of things, like taking medication, committing suicide, eating a bunch of chocolate, or petting the neighborhood cat. Some of these are extreme, yes. Some of them are things that people might actually do if they were depressed. But does being depressed mean these things? Of course not.

So when people say, “I think you are a bigot” or “The way I see it is this…”, they do not get to claim that their words are truth. But that is what they do all too often. “You shouldn’t be so judgmental.” According to you. But whose standards am I called to live by? God’s. Your version of judgmental and mine are two completely different things. 

People claim that Christians do not have valid ‘opinions’ about things. What is the basis for their claim? Sentiment. They ‘feel’ like we are wrong because they ‘feel’ differently.

I do not care about FEELING! I want to know what IS! God does not care about FEELING! He IS the Way, the Truth and the Life! So who is it better to listen to? Our own fleeting feelings, or the Word from Truth Itself? Our ‘opinions’, as they are called, are based on the Truth that God has revealed to us. So it is not an opinion. It is Truth, and we cling to it and live it. It is not ours, but God’s. 

So if there is no truth, as some claim, people can believe whatever they wish, for all of it will be “true”. At the same time, none of it will be true. If there is no truth, there is no basis for life. We cannot say that this is this or that is that. We cannot say that we are human. We cannot say that it is wrong to kill or to steal. We cannot separate what is wrong from what is not. 

So what is this Truth? How do we find it?

Well, why don’t we go to the Source? If God is Truth, let us find out what Truth has revealed about Himself. 

What other is there that has claimed this title of truth? What other is there that has claimed it AND proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt? 

Let us not rely on feelings or thoughts. They are illogical, impractical, fleeting and always changing. Let us instead rely on Truth itself, releasing our own ‘opinions’ and clinging to God, the only One with perfect knowledge, the only One Who can claim the title of Truth after proving Himself by the Cross and the Resurrection. 

Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas (April 18, 2014 [Good Friday])

“Right reason makes one abstain as one ought, i.e. with gladness of heart, and for the due end, i.e. for God’s glory and not one’s own.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 116. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.

+J.M.J.+

Good Friday has come fast upon us. Here we are, in the midst of that holy day when Our Lord was scourged, crowned, and took the burden of the cross upon Himself for our sake. But even amidst the sorrow and repentance that naturally comes with Good Friday, we should remember that our sorrow and penance should be accompanied by ‘gladness of heart’. But what is this gladness of heart? Where can we find it on such a day of sorrow?

This gladness of heart comes from offering our penances and sorrow as we ought, not with a spirit of discontentment or bitterness, but willingly and gladly, as Our Lord did when He received the Cross and started His agonizing path to Calvary. Do you think God is pleased with our grudging sacrifices? They are not sacrifices at all, then, and profit us nothing, because they are not made with charity. Remember what the Apostle Paul says about the importance of charity: “And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). We ought to make our sacrifices, then with a glad heart, for love of God, not offering our penances grudgingly but gladly and willingly, that He might see them and be pleased.

That is another point: God alone should see the sacrifices we make. This ties into sacrificing “for the due end…God’s glory and not one’s own.” We should make our sacrifices of love, keeping them hidden and away from the eyes of men as much as possible, not seeking to show other men how much we love God, but seeking to show God how much we love Him. He is the only One Who needs to know, if you think about it, and if we love God sincerely, other men will know by our actions and our words, indeed, our very lives. If we are doing penances so that other men can see us and commend us, we already have our reward, says Our Lord. Their reward is the praise of men…but their punishment shall be that their ‘sacrifices’ will be rejected by God because they were not given to Him, but to men. We should not seek to glorify ourselves by our penances and prayers, but rather pray in secret, so that our Father can see us and reward us, and not men, whose praise is fleeting and often deceitful.

If we seek to offer our sacrifices to God alone, with a glad heart, we will be rewarded by God, for He is never outdone in generosity. Let us seek to praise Him, making reparation for our past sins by our penances, and offer it all with joy and willingness for love of Him, seeking only His approval. Then our sacrifices will become a sweet aroma to God, and will be sweet to us also, because we sacrifice a lesser good for a greater–that of God’s friendship and grace. Let us think on this throughout this holy day, this Good Friday, and amidst the sorrow and tears shed in repentance and remembrance, let us offer ourselves and sacrifice generously and willingly for God, to honor His Son on the day when He died in agony for our sins upon the Holy Cross.

+We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee,

Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.+

Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas (April 17, 2014 [Maundy Thursday])

“We should, on the contrary, forget the offenses of our enemy, even though he neither repents nor amends, in imitation of Christ who prayed for those who crucified Him, and who, far from repenting, mocked Him….For the height of perfection is to love our enemies, and to pray for them as did the Lord Jesus.”  –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 43. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.

+J.M.J.+

This is quite possibly the hardest lesson for us to learn. It is one thing to willingly receive rebukes and chastisements when we have deserved them. But what of when we are innocent? What if an injustice has truly been committed against us?

Our Lord’s example is then presented to us, both on the cross, and in keeping with the tradition of this holy Maundy Thursday, at the table where He ate the Passover with His disciples. He did not prevent Judas from eating the Last Supper with Him and His other disciples who were faithful to Him. He did not shun him or turn him away, although He knew of Judas’ mind to betray Him. Even when Judas lied to His face, asking mockingly, “Is it I, Lord, who will betray Thee?”…Our Lord did not turn him away, instead rebuking him gently with the words, “Thou hast said it.” Our Lord kept the Passover, the Last Supper, the first Holy Mass, with the very man who was to give Him over to His Passion and Death, counting Him even amongst His disciples at the moment when he was most offensive to Him.

What room does this example give us for vengeful thoughts or words? What right does it give us to demand justice for ourselves, when Our Lord not only prayed for His enemies while being mocked and in agony upon the Cross, but shared a meal, no, not just a meal, but the institution of the Holy Eucharist, with His betrayer? He let Himself be led like a little lamb to the slaughter, without reproving or rebuking, without retaliation, but with humility and infinite love even for those who mocked and scourged and scorned Him. He let Judas dip his hand into the bowl and eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup, all the while knowing that it was he who would betray Him, and who had already betrayed Him in his heart. Our Lord could have very rightly barred him from this holiest of suppers. But He in His infinite wisdom did not.

Our Lord in His great love for us has made us in His image, and therefore we have the use of reason and freedom of will. He will not force His love upon us, but He will also never stop loving us. If we choose our own will over His, then we damn ourselves by our own choice. God does not throw anyone into hell who does not will themselves to go. And in His most precious gift of all, He has died for us, given His life for our sins, and left us the Holy Eucharist by which we can be unified with Him here on this earth, in anticipation of the reception of our Greatest Good in heaven–that of God Himself, and the perfect knowledge of Him, seeing Him as He is.

But we must first follow after Our Lord, loving our enemies and those who curse and betray us, praying for them and forgetting all claims to vengeance and retaliation, for this is what Our Lord wills for us, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and as He is perfect. Our Saint tells us that to love our enemies as Our Lord did is ‘the height of perfection.’ Let us seek after it with fervor, forgetting ourselves and desiring true union with Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, offering to Him our crosses and trials for love of Him and love of our neighbor, of which He left us so perfect an example.

+Deo Gratias!+

Sermon in a Sentence: St. Thomas Aquinas (April 16, 2014)

“We should believe what is of faith even more than the things that we see, since man’s sight may be deceived, whereas God’s knowledge is never at fault.”  –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 123. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.

+J.M.J.+

Isn’t this a blessed thing to remember? “God’s knowledge is never at fault.” It seems a silly thing to believe more in what we cannot see than in what we do. But it is true–our senses fail us and are limited in what they can perceive. We may see one thing, but in truth, the thing we see is not what we think it is. How blessed is it, then, to look to God with childlike confidence and faith, and exclaim, “Your knowledge is never at fault, O my God! Teach me that I may see!”

And God is faithful to teach us, so long as we seek Him and do not rely on what our feeble senses can perceive. He can teach us to have faith in His laws, His commandments, His wisdom, for it is never at fault. How often can we say that of our own perceptions? And how foolish it is for us to continue to rely on our own perceptions when we have the wisdom and omniscience of Almighty God to uphold us in the way of truth! How dare we look at something and make judgment on it, demanding of God an explanation, demanding of Him justice, demanding of Him relief from sorrow? It is He Who sees all things as they really are, and it is He Whose knowledge of us is perfect and faultless.

Therefore, we would do well to remember that His knowledge infinitely surpasses our own, and have faith in His judgments and in what He allows to happen to us, or what He allows us to see. When we look upon things with the eyes of faith, trusting God to show us the truth, He is always faithful. But we must trust and we must have faith; otherwise we will continue to be led astray by our own weak senses and judgments. Without the light of God’s knowledge, we are but wandering sheep.

Let us make a firm resolution to God to trust in Him, to make use of the lights and graces He gives us and to not rely on our own knowledge, for He is the Only One Whose knowledge is perfect and faultless, and it is He Who also holds the power to help us see. So before we make a judgment on some occasion or person that comes across our lives, let us look first with the eyes of faith and trust God to reveal to us what the truth is, and how we should go about living it.

+Deo Gratias!+