“As Long As It Makes You Happy…”

+J.M.J.+

The next time I hear someone say, “As long as you’re happy…” I might just fall over and cry. Happiness is not why we’re here. We’re here to gain happiness for eternity. Which is better? A fleeting, inconsistent, temporary happiness now, or a perfect, unending and never-diminishing happiness in eternity? In other words, I don’t particularly care if I’m happy or not. So long as I am doing the will of God, I will have the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is more than enough. Whatever pleases God, may it please me to accept it. To purchase temporal happiness at the price of God is never, ever, in any way, shape, or form, worth it. But gaining God at the price of being resigned to God’s will, at the price of loving Him and keeping His commandments (which are for our GOOD, not our MISERY, by the way), is ALWAYS worth it. “For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” (St. Matthew 16:25, DRA) May I never say, “As long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters,” ever again. In many circumstances, those are words that kill, words that encourage people to sin, words that show a dire lack of charity on the part of the speaker. In other words, they mean this: “I don’t care if you’re offending God. I don’t care that sin cuts you off from the friendship of God, which is the greatest good anyone can possess. I would rather you have this temporary good, which in reality is an evil, because it separates you from God. It also does me the benefit of not having to correct you, because who likes being corrected? You would just not like me, and I can’t deal with that. So yeah. Do whatever you want. Go to hell. I don’t care. As long as we can still be buddies and exchange happy sentiments (which by the way, can only last as long as we’re alive, which isn’t very long, relatively speaking).”

This is honestly what people mean when they say these words. I know this, because I’ve said them myself. Some, granted, say it with an ounce of sincerity–they truly do wish happiness to the other person. But they are wishing them a lesser good, one that will ultimately lead to an evil, the worst evil that can befall any man–the loss of God. And for those who do not believe in eternity (it’s real, either way you believe), this is the only good they can wish someone. A fleeting, temporary, unsatisfying happiness that may or may not even happen. That’s the best they can do for someone. Just sort of, in a disinterested way, hope that their life is happy, because hey, life is meaningless anyway, so you might as well have the semblance of joy while you’re here. Wicked or just, suffering befalls all humanity. No atheist, however sincere, can do their neighbor an ounce of real charity, because they cannot alleviate the spiritual suffering of their neighbor. Sure, they can perform works of mercy. But as for the supernatural virtue of charity, the queen of all virtues, they cannot possess it or use it. It is the love of God, and the love of our neighbor for the love of God. And the only way to comfort the suffering is to remind them that God sees and knows all, that He ordains suffering only to bring them closer to Him, and that Our Lord has instructed us to carry our crosses with Him, that we may gain the eternal reward once our work is faithfully completed. What meaning, what purpose do those who do not believe in eternity assign to suffering? An inconvenience, a misfortune…but without meaning, without purpose and therefore, without consolation. If I knew that typing this blog post was purposeless, what reason would I have to continue it? Those that believe life and suffering have no purpose….what reason do they have to put up with life and its ‘misfortunes’ and ‘inconveniences’? The love we feel for other human beings, the affection we feel for our pets, the fierce love parents have for their children…how can anyone say that is purposeless?

And knowing that God is our only and greatest Good, how can we, who KNOW better, say that we are performing actual charity when we say “As long as you’re happy” to someone who’s about to commit some grave sin that will sever their friendship with God?

Just a few pointed questions for the day.

P.S. I apologize for the delay between posts. I’ve been kept busy with my novel (which is a good thing, but it does cut into my blogging time…). I hope you will forgive me, dear reader.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Forgive me the delay in posting. This post was written (the vast majority of it) on Sunday and was meant to be posted on Sunday. 

+J.M.J.+

It is Sunday once more, and for the first time in what feels like forever, I was able to go to Mass today, thanks be to God! I am so richly blessed to be able to receive the True Sacraments as often as I do. I met with two good friends of mine after Mass, who were recently married just earlier last month. I can’t believe they’ve already been married a month. It seems that though the ‘honeymoon’ phase still lingers a bit, the stresses of married life have already set in. In leaving one’s father and mother, especially if you have several younger siblings, it sometimes requires that the many duties which the married sibling used to perform must now be performed by another, and usually the mother or another sibling. With this young couple, there are already stresses with work, school, and family, that even with their nearly-ideal circumstances (the wife coming from a traditional Catholic family), are very hard to bear. Seeing their bliss coupled with their responsibility presented a seemingly discordant picture in my mind. How can married life be happy when there is so much sacrifice involved?

I know (from watching others and from advice given to me) that marriage is NOT the pretty tea-cup ride that many, if not all, of us are taught to imagine. But I guess it’s taken me a little while to work up the courage to take off the rose-colored glasses and face the inevitable: Marriage, especially Catholic marriage and especially in this day and age, is a heavy cross.

Now, don’t go looking at my thesis statement there and think, “Wow, that’s pretty pessimistic.” No, my friends, this is REALISTIC. Just because marriage is a cross does NOT mean that there aren’t any joys to be had in it. In fact, for truly Catholic spouses, the fact that marriage is a cross makes the bond sweeter. Our Lord Himself tells us that if we would gain heaven, that we must take up our crosses and follow Him. In a marriage, we are accepting the cross that God gives to us (marriage and its duties, responsibilities, and sorrows) and carrying it together. I believe married people are intended to carry a single cross, a cross much too heavy for only one to bear alone. It requires both spouses carrying ALL that they can carry in order to lift it, and it takes both spouses walking the SAME DIRECTION in order to take it where it needs to go. If either of these requirements are lacking, if either spouse slacks in their duties, the burden on the one remaining faithful becomes almost unbearable. Now, this is the case with secular marriages which exclude God. They take on the cross, but with no supernatural helps, no sense of direction or even agreement of direction, and no promise or bond tying them to the cross. This is why when one partner is remiss in their duty, the other leaves. They have no help to carry the cross and so they cannot bear it up. They do the only thing that they know how to do—they abandon the cross. We have many abandoned crosses littered throughout our world today. But these crosses are not wholly abandoned, even when those who took it on leave it behind. Parts of it are passed on to the children of such partnerships, and parts of it are kept within the hearts of those who leave it, as a painful reminder of their failure and insufficiency.

This, my friends, is why marriage is a Sacrament, and why the Church urges her children so much to marry within the Church, that is, to choose a Catholic spouse. She knows, through centuries of bitter experience, how many separations, how many miseries, how many unbearable crosses have been borne unnecessarily throughout the years, all because her children were not wise in the choosing of their partner. If we are going to choose a fellow laborer, we do not want to choose someone who is slothful in their duties, who is not punctual, who is not loyal and faithful to see the work through to the end. No, we want a good companion, someone who will make the work lighter, who will help steady us when we stumble, who will lead or be led as need be. Why would we choose any less for our spouse, who is to carry such a heavy load with us until death? Why would we choose any less for our spouse, when this work that we shall take up with them will determine not our temporal wages, but our eternal welfare? And why would we shun the helps that Christ Himself offers us through Holy Mother Church in the undertaking of such an important enterprise?

It is inconceivable to me, and to many Catholics, that some that call themselves Catholics frown upon the Church in her wisdom. Can they not see that it is out of a supernatural, motherly love that she calls her children to choose very carefully, and forbids them to choose from those that would be a danger to their souls? Such ‘Catholics’ act like headstrong youths, who declare that they know better than their mother, who declare that they can choose more wisely, who declare that ‘love conquers all’, even boundaries of religion and sinful habits of character.

No, my friends. I can say, from my own experience, that there is a terrible wake-up call for those who find themselves unequally yoked with an unbeliever. I myself just barely escaped such a union, because my circumstances enabled the use of the Pauline privilege. I had a natural marriage contract that I had made with someone as a Protestant that had not been overseen by any minister, but my ‘spouse’ was not a baptized Christian, and when I left him and began my process of converting to the Church, he let me know just what he thought of my pending conversion, and declared he never wanted to talk to me again, that Catholicism was evil and that I was a bad influence. I was able to call upon the Pauline privilege because of his aversion to my faith and his certain antagonism toward it, and because he was not baptized, rendering the marriage contract we had non-Sacramental, and therefore dissolvable in such a case as this. Now I am free to remarry a Catholic (and indeed, God saw fit to bring me and my current boyfriend together after the process of my conversion). But I still suffer the consequences of such an improper and unlawful union—I’ve had to wait longer for this marriage, and because of my over-scrupulosity sometimes suffer attacks of doubt and guilt because of my lost purity.

I can honestly say that out of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life so far, that previous union was the worst and has had the most effect on me. I wish with all my heart I had listened to everyone who had told me to hold off on commitment until after college, until after I’d ‘found myself.’ But unfortunately, all too often, it takes such a sobering as this to finally shatter the rose-colored glasses, and unfortunately, many times the damage is irreversible and inescapable. I thank God every day that He saw fit to bring me through the fires of that trial without leaving me in them, and that He is giving me another chance to prove the lesson I’ve learned and carry the cross with someone very capable of carrying it with me. I promised myself and God that if He were to give me another chance at marriage, I would do it right. And so far, God has helped me very graciously to keep that promise. I have been dating my boyfriend for almost 3 years—our relationship has been pure and chaste, thanks be to God and to Mary, our Mother, and we have shared all of our hopes and desires for marriage, pleased to find that time and time again, God has implanted in us a GPS, so to speak, and it’s set for the same place, going the same route.

My situation, I feel, is very rare, and I would caution any young readers who believe they have been called to marriage: PLEASE CHOOSE WISELY. The choice of your spouse doesn’t just affect you now—it affects you for the rest of your life. Do not think that it is a mistake easily remedied should you find that you chose unwisely. And should God give you the grace to realize your mistake before marriage—PLEASE GET OUT OF THAT RELATIONSHIP! It doesn’t matter how much feeling you may have for someone, or how much you believe in the power of love to change people. Do not play God. God is the only one with the power to move hearts, and even He does not move unless He is invited. Do not think you are so powerful, or that purely human love is so powerful, as to erase a person’s bad habits or irreligious tendencies. Human nature does not work that way. Each of us has a free will, and only when a person truly desires to change is there any hope for change. All the power of your will cannot change another person’s actions, cannot make them want to change, cannot make the change happen in them. Not even God can make this happen against a person’s will. He has given this privilege of free will to each of us that we may CHOOSE to love God—otherwise we would be automatons.

All this to say, that marriage is a cross—why choose a partner that is going to make that cross more heavy and difficult for us to carry? Why let ourselves be deluded by the world’s promises of bliss and fairy-tale contentment and happy-ever-afters, no matter who you marry? Young men and women, do not let pretty looks or the fires of passion consume your reason and judgment. We are young and inexperienced…we need to take the advice of our dear Mother Church, who has centuries of wisdom to pass on to us, and wishes only for our happiness, both here on earth and most importantly, in eternity. Only choose a spouse who is going the same direction as you are, who is going at the same speed, and who is equipped with the spiritual muscle to shoulder the cross of marriage with you. Note that this takes time and wisdom to discern; do not shun the advice of your elders and superiors with regards to your possible candidates for marriage. Very often they advise based on both solid experience and a deep inner intuition that comes only with time. They do not advise to bring you misery, but rather, to help you avoid misery and bring you happiness. So often, young people like myself wake up to their awful predicament and regret, with tears and heart-rending contrition, that they spurned the kindly admonitions of a parent or spiritual father. And very often, it is too late for them to extract themselves from their horrid condition.

I sincerely apologize that this has turned into a sermon, but I feel it is only necessary to share my own experience in the hopes that it will deter another young person like myself from treading a dangerous and deadly path to temporal misery and eternal ruin. The choice is entirely in your hands, dear reader: You can gain a treasury of precious advice and gems of wisdom at the small price of your youthful pride, or you can cherish your pride and run headlong into the arms of destruction. Note that I am preaching as much to myself as to any of you. In some ways I feel too young to be saying these things. But experience is experience, and because I have learned from it at a dear price, I feel it too precious a gem to keep to myself.

May God bless you and Mary keep you, dear reader.

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

Monday, September 1st, 2014

+J.M.J.+

First of all, dear readers, I want to apologize for the unexpected hiatus. I suppose a few updates are in order…let’s see. I have graduated college (Thanks be to God!) with my Bachelor of Science in English and Minor in Music. I have purchased my first car, reclaimed a summer job at a local daycare that I hope to keep for a while, and am doing well being a real-live adult, making my own car payments and insurance payments, paying for my own groceries, etc. I have a smartphone now as well…I finally upgraded in July when the buttons on my old Samsung Blackberry spin-off started to malfunction. (They’d actually been doing that for a while…I just was too lazy/too broke to replace it.) I got my hair cut as well…suffice it to say I have PLENTY to donate. =) I also passed the benchmark for two years as a Catholic in July!

Also, in less exciting news, I got a filling replaced a couple of weeks ago. But I did learn a valuable lesson from that whole experience that I want to share with you guys.

It started a week or so before I made the appointment towards the end of August to see a dentist. I began to have random, aching pains on the left side of my mouth. It became so bad that I would wake several times during the night, or in the night tear my retainers out of my mouth to try and relieve the pain. It came to the point where I could not chew with that side of my mouth, and I couldn’t eat crunchy foods even on the other side of my mouth (I was in the habit of bringing baby carrots for lunch…that definitely had to stop.). I had to chew super carefully and was on a strict regimen of extra strength Tylenol that barely took the edge off the pain. And shame on me if I did something to trigger it…no amount of Tylenol could stop the throbbing pain that overtook the whole left side of my face and shot up into my head, once almost giving me an instant headache. I would have to lay down with pressure on that side of my face and breathe deeply to get the pain to ebb, and then I would have to be sure not to eat or drink anything crunchy, chewy, hot or cold.

Eventually, after one such incident where I could hardly finish my lunch for the pain, I decided enough was enough. The next day I called and made an appointment with a local dentist and described my symptoms, and (thank God!) she said she could get me in the next day, first thing in the morning.
That afternoon, I reflected on the whole experience, with the hope that I was nearing the end of this continual torture. I realized that, though the pain was problematic, and that it could indicate a health issue with my teeth, it had helped me to do a couple of things that were hard for me to do on a regular basis, me being young and all and still in pretty good health (thanks be to God!).

First, I was able to be more moderate with food. I had never really understood the connection between fasting and grief, although I had experienced the loss of appetite that comes with high emotion before. When I was in pain, worrying about the health of my teeth, food was no longer appealing. I ate much less during that week or so than what I normally do. Normally, I’m a bored eater. I also “graze” throughout the day, taking small snacks here and there, rather than eating 2-3 full meals. Not so when I was in pain. Food was torture. It triggered my pain, and when the pain came my hunger left. I ate only as much as was necessary to keep my energy up, and drank coffee for the caffeine boost. I also drank lots of water and cut out sugary foods, as I was worried that my pain was from some hidden source of decay deep in my teeth. In this way, I realized I was becoming detached from food (that may sound weird, but I am what some people might call a ‘fat kid’ or ‘foodie’ in that I particularly enjoy my comfort foods, and trying new foods.)

The next area I noticed improving was my spiritual concern for others in that I was offering up my toothaches as penance for my family members and friends. This made the pain more bearable; I knew that any suffering can be put to a purpose when we offer it to God for our own good or for the good of someone else, whether they be living or dead (the holy souls in Purgatory). And with that in mind, my pain was not mindless and random. It was necessary, even merciful, and yes…sometimes even sweet. When we can suffer and say within our hearts, “God, I give this to you for so-and-so’s conversion or for the relief of so-and-so in Purgatory,” it makes the burden sweeter…it makes it a labor of love. Sometimes it was hard to think of it that way, especially when I just wanted to lay on the floor and cry despite my coworkers eating their lunches beside me, but the precious moments I was able to pull from that experience were well worth the pain. And the value of the old adage, “This, too, shall pass” was tested and tried and found most certainly true.
And now, here I am, with a new composite filling in one of my bottom left molars, and with the knowledge that I have two baby teeth with no adult counterparts just waiting to fall out of my head. Other than that, though, I’m good to go! Ha…just wait til these baby teeth fall out. It’ll make those years in braces worthless unless I can scrape up the money for implants. My dentist did say some people die with their baby teeth still in their mouths. We’ll see. If that’s what God wills, I’m sure I can deal with it, by His grace. The filling seemed to help greatly with the pain…I’ve been able to sleep with my retainers in again, and no more toothaches during the day. Sometimes I get a little pain here and there, but it’s mostly in my jaw, and I think it’s because the filling is a little too high…because I’m having trouble biting as well. Still can’t chew on that side, but as long as there’s no pain, I can deal with that.

Anyway. I won’t bore you with my dental problems. I only brought it up because I wanted to share those two valuable lessons I learned. I do hope to start posting more regularly again, at least once a week. My work schedule typically allows for some time in the afternoon while the children are napping, so I will do my best to be more consistent. In the next post, I hope to talk a bit about a book I just read (read: that I spent all day yesterday finishing) that is over 100 years old, but surprisingly relevant and accurate to the times we find ourselves in today; I also want to reflect on a conversation I had with a co-worker that took a surprising turn toward the faith, and revealed some interesting things.
I hope I have not lost you, dear readers…thank you for sticking around with me and my inconsistent posting habits! May God bless you and Mary keep you!

+Deo Gratias! Maria Gratias!+

P.S. Don’t forget—September is the month of Our Sorrowful Mother. There are also 3 Ember Days in September: on Wednesday the 17th, Friday the 19th and Saturday the 20th. These are days of fast and partial abstinence (except Friday, which is full abstinence), and the Ember Days should be offered for our priests, and for new vocations to the priesthood.