Thursday, December 06, 2007

Awareness and Resolve

I believe that I can do anything I put my mind to. It is all a matter of will. Of course I'm not talking about physically impossible things or other impossible things, I'm talking about anything within the realm of reasonability.

I am a strong believer in "mind over matter". If I really want to do it, then there is a good chance that I can do it. However, my resolve must last from the beginning to the end of the thing I wish to accomplish. That is often where I fail -- I have great inspirations or ideas, and I act on them, but then all too soon find that I really am not interested in following through.

We must all have our reasons for doing what we do, and we should take time to reflect on our reasons/motivations. As Descarte once said, "I think therefore I am," and it must be admitted that we are primarily aware of ourselves first and foremost. It is this awareness that we often fall back on for our motivations.

It is good and noble and true to strive to get beyond our self-awareness to be aware of other people. And the ultimate step is to let the self be forgotten and be totally aware of others. This is what heaven will be - total awareness of God and others with minimal awareness of ourselves.

If we want to experience heaven on earth, all we need to do is be completely aware of others and not of ourselves. Easy to say, not so easy to do, because we must be resolved from beginning to end.

My Will

If I fail to make a will before my death, everything is to go to my wife. :)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

JPII TOB and Christopher West

There is no doubt that JPII was a genius in philosophy and theology. The Theology of the Body is a testament to his genius. However, his reasoning tends to be above what most people can handle, mainly because of his advanced education. I, however, contend that JPII wrote in a fairly approachable manner. I don't think that his ideas are so vague or lofty that the ordinary person cannot read them directly.

It is interesting to note that English was not the language used by JPII when he presented the TOB - he used Italian. But what is language? It is a tool to express ideas. JPII did not write the English translation directly, nor that of nearly all the other various translations. So who wrote the English translation? I'm not sure, but does it really matter? As long as the ideas are properly expressed, everything is ok. I contend that the English translation is generally good, but not great. Whoever translated the TOB into English must have had an incredibly large vocabulary that most Americans do not possess. Additionally, they must have possessed an extensive background in theological writing. All of these factors result in a fairly unapproachable English version of TOB - more unapproachable than the original JPII TOB.

Christopher West has become a popular authority on TOB. However, I'm not a fan because of one main point. He interprets the English translation of the TOB. Also, he uses popular U.S. media examples to frame various parts of the English translation of the TOB. First of all, while it can be fun, entertaining, and memorable to use modern media for examples, I believe they fail to convey the full picture. Secondly, he is using the English translation as his source, which I think also leads to problems. I think it is better to teach the language and framework of JPII and let people read TOB for themselves, rather than providing an interpretation. The original will always be better, and the original in the original language is even better yet. I think what we really need is a new English translation from the original language that TOB is written in - perhaps a translation that uses more approachable language. But a translation, not an interpretation.

But in contrast to my personal preferences, it is commendable that someone is making an effort to make TOB understandable, especially for young people who lack the ability to grasp the concepts in raw form. However, it is too easy for adults to take the easy way out and latch onto West’s TOB interpretation. I think that adults should not be so lazy as to be spoon fed by someone else’s interpretation. We have the same problem with scripture, do we not? People often do not read the Bible; instead they read commentaries on the bible, or mediations and reflections on the bible. Are these bad things? In and of themselves, no. But when they are substituted for the Bible, then yes, they are not a good thing. Nothing should replace reading the Bible itself. Of course children cannot grasp the concepts in the Bible, so we make children’s Bibles.

Why should we treat TOB any different? It is not a good thing to completely substitute reading the TOB itself with commentaries on TOB, like West’s. However, until we get a new English translation what can most people do? I think it is acceptable to use tools like West’s to help grasp the concepts, but then I expect adults to go the rest of the way and make an attempt at reading the actual text. Don’t sell yourself short.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Recession, here we come...

It amazes me that "economists" keep trying to say that a recession won't happen. Recently they have been changing their mind and gave the odds of a recession a 1 out of 3 chance of happening. Are these people idiots or something? While I usually am a fan of optimism, I am not in favor of it in the face of realism, or better yet, the facts. Why can't they just own up and call it what it is?

Sub-Prime loans
I am not an economics expert, I have no job training or experience making economic evaluations, but I am not a stupid person and can put 2 and 2 together to see what is going on. It all started with a bunch of greedy lenders thinking they can make a quick easy million dollars by taking advantage of poor people. Unfortunately, some of them made several million dollars -In my opinion, we start an economic correction by taking that money back from these immoral thieves. Unfortunately for us, they were somewhat successful for a few years, and that resulted in other more risk adverse people joining in the game. Didn't anyone ask themselves (or their companies), "How are people going to pay when the interest rates skyrocket?" If they would have asked themselves that question and been honest about the answer, they would have reasoned out that people WON'T be able to pay. Did they just think that people will somehow magically come up with the money? Or that perhaps they'll work an extra job to pay for the doubled or tripled mortgage payment? Did it not occur to them that people were going to default on their loans in MASS numbers? Were these people blind to all this?

Beginning: Give people loans that have low interest rates now, but are higher in 3-5 years. ("You mean I can get a loan for that much money?")
Result 1: Houses sell for MORE money (sometimes WAY MORE money) than they are worth. Sellers are VERY happy and move into bigger and better homes. ("I can make a killing if I sell my house right now!")
Result 1.5: Immediate housing market boom - can't built enough homes fast enough. Everyone moves "up" a housing bracket. ("Wow, I can finally afford my dream home!")
Result 2: These new homes must be furnished - retail market boom. ("With all the money I have, now I can also afford that new HD LCD TV! And the new dining room set, and bedroom set... perhaps even a new car!")
Result 3: Unemployment goes down - Retailers and Construction Companies can't hire enough people to meet demand. Students and lower class people have more job opportunities - some people take second jobs. ("Now I can really afford that new cell phone - and maybe even a car!")
Result 4: Stock and Bond markets soar - it appears as if there is A LOT of money to be had. They are banking off future mortgage rate adjustments and a booming economy.
End result: A booming economy! (we had it for a few years)

Problem: As I stated earlier, the premise of this whole chain of events is faulty.
Result 1: When mortgage rates adjust, people have to stop spending in order to make house payments. Retail market suffers. ("No more eating out for me!")
Result 2: People start defaulting on their loans because they cannot pay. This is usually because they bought a home that was in reality out of their price range. ("Now where can I live?")
Result 3: People cannot sell their other home (The one they moved out of when they thought the market was good and they would get a high price for it.) In fact they can't sell EITHER home! So now they are stuck with 2 mortgages! ("How can I keep from defaulting and ruining my credit?")
Result 4: Housing market slows down (collapses in my opinion). Construction Companies lay-off 75% of work force. These people were hired at a really good wage rate, now they are jobless. Also, Retail sector slows down and they a let a large number of employees go. Unemployment skyrockets. ("I need a second job to pay for this mortgage, but there aren't any jobs to be had!")
Result 5: Banks foreclose on a lot of homes and try to recover their loan amounts. Unfortunately for them, the houses were overpriced when sold, so now they are sitting on overpriced homes in a flooded housing market. In order to recover their money, they artificially keep the cost of houses high. ("I just want to move beck into my old home, but it is too overpriced for me!")
Result 6: The Stock and Bond markets realize that the risk was too high and that they won't make money off this whole sub-prime thing anymore. They flee like rats off a burning ship. Stock market dips (mildly crashes). ("Oh great, now my retirement money is getting hosed too!")
Result 7: Most people reduce their spending in all areas. ("If I can just ride this one out, I'll be OK.")
Result 8: Businesses in most sectors downsize and try to increase efficiency (do more with less - or at least the same with less). They call their debts in and try to stabilize cash flow.
End Result: Economic Recession.

This is not anywhere close to a complete list of all the results of this whole mess-up. This is just the obvious stuff that comes to mind. We only need to open our eyes and look around to see that this is already happening and moving towards getting worse.

I think that the bigger problem is that our economy was/is still in a bubble. We are too inflated and this is a natural economic sequence of events. Our government has tried to "correct" the economic deflation, but have instead made things worse by drawing them out. A quick death leads to a sooner recovery. I think they should let this ride out to its natural end and THEN start rebuilding the economy. (And tax the hell out of the people who made millions in the process of ruining our economy).

I think that overall we as a country need to take a time out from being the Global Police and stop spending money like it is an endless source. We need to deal with some internal problems (like road infrastructure for instance) and get "our ducks in a row" before we can be fighting global wars. Just possibly, if we withdrew our troops from the dozens of countries we now are fighting in, people of other nations would be a little happier for it. I'm all for human justice and defense of the defenseless, but not when it is at the expense of our own well being as a nation. When the body gets sick, it needs rest and recuperation. Our nation has a sick body and needs some R&R right now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Iraqies - Who cares about them?

I know a family whose son was sent over to Iraq. I know someone else whose brother was shipped off to that land of sand. I know of a wife who lost her husband and father of their child to that hellish place. All of these people want their loved ones back. They all ask the question, "Why are OUR people dying over there?" They are tired of the rote response, "Freedom." "Whose freedom?" they ask.

I have learned that a lot of people dislike our involvement in Iraq. Many (perhaps most) Americans do not want our soldiers dying anymore. They disagree with the war and want our soldiers to come home. But when I ask, "What about the Iraqi people?" the response is usually, "Let them take care of themselves. They'll sort things out eventually. This isn't our war - it's theirs. Why should we stick our hands into someone Else's civil war?"
In the end, it seems that a lot of people think we (our country) should spend our time and money working on our own internal problems and less time and money on fixing other peoples problems. I think there is a good argument in that. However, I also think that it lacks something.

Selfishness - America has mostly become a place where we define freedom as the right to do whatever we want, whenever we want. We have become a country where many people (but not all) put their own personal needs above the needs of others. We have the mentality that we must look out for ourselves because no one else will. We have lost the spirit of charity as a nation. It stems from the belief that we can control our own destiny/lives - a major theme of democracy. But in reality we do not control our lives - and when people come in contact with this reality, much complaining and other unfavorable responses are usually involved. I've seen a lot of people freak out and lose it when they cannot control their lives (and other peoples lives as well sometimes). While we cannot control everything that happens to us, we CAN control how we respond to these circumstances.

Is looking out for our own good higher than looking out for the good of others? I think many Americans would answer, "Yes!" I say, "No!" The Catholic Church says no. We should be mainly concerned with the well being of others, and rely on God to take care of me- not the other way around. Christianity is built on self-sacrifice and charity. "You will know my people by their love for one another." We are instructed to give water, food, and clothing to our enemies. We are to conquer evil with good acts - acts of charity. "What you have done to them, you have done to me," says Jesus. Are we taking care of the poor, the helpless, the oppressed, the hungry? How we treat them is how we treat God. Gods asks for effort, not results. Are we willing to do something to help the less fortunate?
I recently read a Church document about the need for charity - not only within one's family, not only within one's community, not only within one's country, but in this day and age, within the global community. "To those who have been given much, much is expected." America has been given much in the global picture, so we as a country SHOULD be doing what we can to help out other countries who are less fortunate. This does not mean we should be doing what we are doing in Iraq, but in the big picture, we should be doing something to help people like them (the poor oppressed people of Iraq - not necessarily the wealthy or power citizens). I believe that we are obligated to do something for them, and what we are doing is doing something - regardless of how effective it is or isn't. The fact of the matter is that we are putting an effort toward helping them - and God asks for effort, not results. The church defines a martyr as someone who gives up his life for the sake of the Gospel - in others words, dies for someone else because of a deep love for God. I can only hope that the soldiers who have died were Christians who believed that they were preaching the gospel of love and self sacrifice for the sake of the love of God for his people.

I cannot control the fact we have soldiers over in Iraq fighting, dying, and trying to help - but I can control my response to the situation. I hope that the sacrifices made by these soldiers are out of love for the well being of other people - acts of selfless charity. I am proud that we as a country don't choose to sit back and let the world "take care of itself." I am proud that as a nation who has much, we are taking our global responsibility seriously and doing what we can to make this a better world. Sure we have our own problems, but the problems of many other countries are far worse than our problems. We should not by any means ignore our own problems, but we should not ignore other people's problems either. As much as I may disagree with Bush and his administration, I like that they have taken an intentionally active role in the global picture. They seem to take our national obligation to help other countries seriously - whether or not that leads to any specific results. We are called to have effort, not results.

For all of my personal disagreements with Bush and his administration, based on my Catholic perspective, I would have to say that this administration has done okay. They have defended life (in their pro-life voting and elections) and they have made an effort to make this world a better place for the less fortunate. Perhaps it came at the expense of some serious internal failures, but in the big picture, self-sacrifice is sometimes necessary - even as a nation. We are going to for sure have a very different administration after the elections next year, and I can only hope that we don't loose the few good things that have been accomplished by the current administration.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Kings and Queens

Take something good, and twist it into something bad. This is the technique used by evil to corrupt and lead astray. The scary thing is that us humans have been tricked into doing this to each other (although some demented people to this intentionally.)

I recently read an interesting article ( about the food we eat. While it was not breaking news to me that the food I eat isn't all its cracked up to be, I was taken aback by how dire the situation really is. I was further angered by the fact that I have given into this mentality and system without much thought.

GOOD: We are made in the image of God and so we want to be like him. We want to be treated like Kings and Queens (or perhaps princes and princesses since God is the King) and there is nothing wrong with that. We DO deserve dignity and respect, honor and praise (if we follow The King that is)

TWIST: Since we all (or most of us anyway) have a desire to treated like royalty, we can be convinced that we should be served instead of having to serve. In this day and age we aren't bold enough to think that people should serve us (slavery prevents most of that), but we still want the benefits of servitude - service. It has been often masked as "convenience." (note: there is nothing inherently evil about service or convenience, but thay can be used for bad ends)

We are a society that seems to crave good service and high convenience. This is the link to the article I mentioned above (food in America these days). Like the kings of old, we don't want to have to grow, gather, and prepare our own food. We have more important things to do, like ruling a kingdom or watching American Idol (or whatever the latest TV fad is). We don't want to be bothered with manual labor - some of us have to do that at work which is bad enough, we don't want to have to do it at home as well. Some of us have white collar jobs and God forbid if we ever have to do very much manual labor during our lives. There is a general sentiment in America that we are such an advanced society, that there is no reason we should have to do manual labor.

It has been long known that people crave service and convenience. Marketers and advertisers have been exploiting this attribute ever since they existed. The key in America was to make the royal lifestyle accessible to the average person. With the laws as they are, the only way to make it achievable was to make it cheap enough for the average person to afford. Most people cannot afford to hire a housekeeper, a butler, and a cook. So instead we refined the mass production of goods so that nearly anyone could afford them - like bread, milk, butter, meat processing, and all the other things discussed in the article.

So why do we voluntarily put this bad food into our systems? Because it is easier than doing it the "old-fashioned" way. Who wants to roll out their own dough every day and pick peas from the pod (from the garden out back), spending the entire day cooking and cleaning, when they can run to the store and grab a loaf of bread and can of peas in ten minutes? It's a dangerous combination of time saving and labor saving. We would rather be doing what we want (whether that be lounging around or doing other work) than "stuck" in the kitchen preparing meals. Deep down we want to know that we are more than a cook, a housekeeper, a butler - we want to know that we are in charge of our own time and our own lives; we want to feel as if we are capable of much more than those things. (Part of the problem is that we never have respected and valued those manual labor jobs enough - they are looked down upon - and who wants to be looked down upon?)

So we save time and respect by buying our processed bread (pre-sliced for our convenience) and our canned foods, and we prepare dinner in less than 30 minutes so we can sit back and enjoy an episode of Lost. Ah, life in America is good. Too bad we're slowly killing ourselves with the food we eat. I think living a healthy balanced life is worth turning off the tube and spending a few hours preparing a meal and enjoying it with people who can appreciate the hard work and effort. It's either that or I'll have to find a job that makes enough money to afford a family cook.

Monday, June 04, 2007

More of the pieces of the puzzle

Well, it has been 6 weeks since I have posted anything on my blog, so it's time to blog once again.

In my never ending quest to see the whole tapestry of the mindset of modern day Americans and the problems we face, I had a tiny epiphany today. It all started when I was about to eat lunch. I decided that I would like to eat outside because it is so dang nice out today. Then I was thinking that it would be a great day for a walk, because God knows I needs more exercise. I was thinking about the delicate balance of work or exercise (labor/expending of energy) and food consumption. I had a fleeting thought of how much I ate and the quality of food I ate (or lack thereof) when I was a kid and the cell division process of growth that was burning up energy like it was going out of style. I could eat almost anything and everything just to keep my normal processes going. Now that I am older and cell division has slowed to an adult level, I find that I need to make an attempt at finding a new balance of energy I'm putting in vs. energy I'm expending. After that fleeting moment I thought of how much exercise people got "back in the day" (aka. before 1600 - or in this country, before 1900).

Life was pretty much agricultural and men spent most of their day out in the fields working the land (by the way, I LOVE working with the soil - must be a leftover from creation). Men ate a lot of food, plenty of meat, potatoes and vegetables - 3 meals a day (sometimes 4). But because they were expending so much energy, the needed a lot of food. But what about the old Roman senators? Or the ancient Greeks and their philosophers? Or Kings and nobility of the days of old? Thinking doesn't expend nearly as much energy as labor! How did they maintain their energy balance? Well, some of them didn't - and simply became obese. (For a time obesity meant that a person was well to do and thus worth having as a spouse!) But what about the "average weight" people of the thinking occupations of old? Well, walking was a common form of transportation, as was horse riding which expends more energy than driving a car. Many of them had hobbies like hunting or fishing. Many of them played active games and such. I don't claim to know exactly what these people all did, but since they were normal humans, they must have done SOMETHING to keep their energy in balance. So I went for a walk today.

Anyway, that whole thought process took about 45 seconds and led to my new epiphany. Back in the "the day," due to lack of technology, communication was much slower and much less frequent. The average person (land worker class) didn't have access to world news, or often not even regional news, sometimes not even local news. Obviously people talked at community gatherings and in the local markets, so news did have a way of traveling. But what was rumor and what was real? Or did it really even matter to them? I'll bet they often just simply didn't care unless the news directly affected them (like an army is on the move and the are coming through town and will probably take all the local food for free or minimal compensation type news). But overall there was no Internet for breaking news or nightly news programs summing all the local, regional, and world news of interest. They took what they got and went about their lives. In a certain way, I admire their simplicity and ignorance. They didn't bother themselves with things that didn't have to do with them or things that were out of their control. They trusted that the nobility would take care of the big things that needed taking care of. They might not have always liked or agreed with the course of action of the local magistrate, but they focused on the task at hand - plowing the field. Life was simple and allowed for a certain amount of freedom that we no longer enjoy as individuals.

Look at us now. Knowledge is power and Information is Knowledge. Most Americans have access to major media sources (mass amounts of information), and so we think that we should have power. We stay up on current events so that we can... what? We stay tuned to the OJ car chase because... why? We get mad when Russia threatens to aim missiles at Europe because America is trying to help protect them because... why? To what end? Are we trying to gain information to make better and more informed decisions? Decisions about what? Do we really have any power or authority to do anything about these things that we watch so intently? Really? Do we trust the people we elected to make these decisions? Can we do anything about it before this particular event has passed? If we can't really do anything about it, why not just make a mental note (or actual note) about what it is that we really disagree with and move on without letting ourselves get caught up in the fury of the moment?

There is something we can learn from the people of old - don't get caught up in things that don't lead anywhere useful/helpful. Back in the day, people didn't elect their noble person. But they did learn to live without getting angry at every decision that wasn't agreeable. In fact, they didn't see their role as an evaluating and judging role at all. It was their role to live as best they could on what they were given. Something that is much lacking in today's culture. We often put ourselves in judgement of every decision made by our elected officials (or for everything it sometimes seems), and we declare our personal verdict and sentence people to condemnation (socially) and carry out our sentence - judge, jury, and executioner all in one. Who are we in America that gives us the right or authority to live like this? We are like 1 billion individual judges constantly scrutinizing every local, regional, and global decision, as if we know all the facts and are better at judging the whole of the situations? We act like a country of Kings and Queens all competing for control of the throne. Many people are OK with letting someone else sit on the throne (the seat takes all the blame), so long as we get to dictate what is promulgated from the throne. As long as we get our way, everything is OK. We are a country of arrogant people, all the while thinking we are victims of the government and of life around us. (By the way, not everyone is like this, but I exaggerate to make a point...)

This revelation caused me to rethink how I think. I need to evaluate the world around me less and deal with my own problems more. I am going to watch less media and purposely get out of touch with things out of my control. I'm sure I'll hear news the old fashioned way - hanging out with others, hearing a radio or TV as I take a walk, overhearing conversations at the local market, etc. But if I focus on the things I am responsible for, I won't have a lot of time to focus on things that I have elected other people to be responsible for. When elections come around, I'll pay attention and do research on the candidates and see if I agree with their track record. But until then, I'll trust them to do their job and I'll stick to mine, just like the people of old.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cho and the death toll

Cho has something in common with me...

I, like most other people in America and abroad, have been following the Virginia Tech story that has been all over the news lately.

First of all, my prayers go out to all of the families who suffered the loss of a child. May the Lord draw you closer to Himself through this tragedy.

Secondly, I am disgusted with the media. They are shameless and seem to not care very much for individual people, they seem to only care about the "all-mighty story." The media loves scandal and has the tendency to seek out and latch onto anything that might show how "bad" society is (or individual people in our society).

That said, Cho himself sent the media packet to NBC and I am personally glad that they have aired it. I think that the American public (and the world) have a right to see and hear the truth that has been revealed by Cho. There are a lot of complaints to NBC for airing the stuff they did, and several people cancelled interviews with NBC because they didn't approve of the airing of the Cho material. While they have the right to feel the way they do, and they reserve the right to cancel their interviews, I think it is selfish for them to "send a statement" to NBC because of their personal disapproval - that is a very selfish and childish thing to do. Do they have a right to deprive the whole nation of this information because it makes them feel bad? I think not. If they don't want to see this stuff, then they can simply turn off their TV or change the channel. No one is "forcing" anybody else to view this stuff - we all have the power to choose not to view it.

I think that NBC has an obligation to presenting the material, YET they are responsible for presenting it in a way that is moral, ethical, and retains the dignity of all involved.

So, what does Cho have in common with me?
We both share the idea that this world is seriously messed up. We both share a personal conviction that we need to take action to do something about it. While I do not agree with Cho's method of presenting his view nor the actions he choose to rectify the situation, we nonetheless both know that something MUST change.

I think that if we all stop the noise and distractions coming into our heads and take a good hard look at our lives and the world around us we will realize that things are messed up. Yet many people go on living as if "that's just the way things are" and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Many people fill their lives with busyness and entertainment so that they don't have to deal with the fact that we are all sinners and change starts with myself. It is easier to give into the wide stream of society than it is to try and step out of it.

Cho saw the problem, but was misled in how he should respond to it. He failed to embrace hope. He failed to see that while we are all sinners, we are created as good beings who are capable of doing good things (if we cooperate with the One that is the source of all Goodness). Just because some people choose to serve themselves over the others does not mean that there is no hope in the bigger picture. Cho was caught in a world that was closing in on himself. He was more trapped every day and saw no other way to break free. Cho's story is a sad story, and all the more so because of the death he dealt senselessly to others. He said that he was doing this for others, that he didn't want it to come to this. As the investigators have confirmed, this was not a spontaneous action. Cho was going down this path for many many years of his life.

Where were the Christians? The *true* Christians who love through actions and not words, who bring the Good News of Hope, who say "yes, this world is messed up, but there is something better waiting for us!"

I say that we have all failed Cho - I failed Cho - and not the other way around. This tragic event should serve as a reminder that we all need to stop pursuing the serving of our own needs and instead turn outwards and care for those around us. I will give credit to the few people in Cho's life who tried to reach out and help him. But the path had already been set and there was little they could do. Cho needed to hear this message much earlier in his life, before he ever set foot on Virginia Tech's campus.

There was a time in my life what I was not Catholic, and I can say from personal experience that if someone actually takes the time to shut out all the noise of this culture, that insistent droning of the capitalistic marketing engine, one begins to see life in America for what it really is - all the good stuff and all the bad stuff - and without Faith, Hope, and Love, there is little to live for. Life in America without hope in Christ is oppressive and burdensome and can easily lead to a Cho.

Yes Cho, there is something wrong in general, you HAVE been slighted and not treated with the dignity you deserve. But let us have hope that it will not always be this way. There is Someone who has a plan for us, a plan for our welfare and not our woe, a plan for a future full of hope.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Prodigal Son

Today I was reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son. I recently read a homily by the papal household preacher (Fr. Cantalemessa) and he had some interesting insights into the parable that I had never thought of before.
Of course, if you have ever read or heard this parable you know that this is a story about the mercy of the Father. While I can see myself as the prodigal son in different areas of my life, I can also see myself as the older brother. The only character that I cannot identify with is the father (probably because I'm single and not responsible for anyone). One of the problems I have always had with the story is the answer given to the older son. In the past I always took the older sons side and cried out "Not Fair!" How could the Father have this attitude about the older son? Sure, all that belongs to the Father is also his, but why reward all those bad behaviors of the younger son by throwing him a party? I often get indignant at the fathers response and think that the older son does indeed get the short stick.
Fr. Cantalemessa says "The older son's mistake is to have thought that staying always at home and sharing everything with the father was not an incredible privilege but a merit; he acts more like a mercenary than a son. (This should put all of us older brothers on guard!) " Fr. Cantalemessa goes on to talk about how we can apply this parable to Jesus himself - Jesus being the first born son of God and the rest of us being the younger brothers of Christ. Jesus was not the bitter and angry older brother who refuses to come into the house, but instead is the loving and caring older brother who throws down his plow and goes out into the world in pursuit of his younger brother and to try bring his younger brother back! When He finds His younger brother, He is able to bring him back to the Father and rejoice with the Father over the lost brother! Jesus is not passive, but He actively pursues us on behalf of the Father because He loves us as much as the Father does.
I took Fr. Cantalamessa's message to heart and have been pondering the question, "In what ways do I 'stay and plow the fields' instead of pursuing my lost brother and bringing him home to the father where we can all rejoice over the returned son?" After only a day of asking this I have found many answers, but most importantly I no longer take sides with the older son in the parable.

Look out, I might bite!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Good face day

This week has been a billion times better than last week. Thus It is time for another profile update...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bad face day

After having a bad week at work last week, I thought I would update my profile to show people the expression I wore most of the week. It was a pretty bad week...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Emotions, Feelings, and Desires

I was recently thinking about how often I do what I feel like doing. It brought back memories of some teachings I received several years ago about feelings/emotions and their role in a person.

In the original creation of man, everything was properly ordered. Pertaining to this subject, it meant that his will was subject to his intellect which was supported by his emotions/feelings. When that original man sinned, disorder was brought upon him and the world. Since that day, our emotions/feelings no longer act in a supporting role to our intellect, but they contend over the will against the intellect. Admittedly, I think emotions/feelings win this battle just as much as they lose it in my life. So as disordered beings, we must work hard to live a properly ordered life, which often means doing those things we must do/should do/need to do instead of the things we want to do.

Of course this does not mean that we should throw our emotions/feelings out the window or kick our desires out the door. Doing this would be committing a worse error than giving into them all the time! God made us with emotions/feelings and desires, so they should not be rejected. Instead we should occasionally take time to reflect on which side is in control of our will, intellect or feelings. If feelings are too often taking charge, it is time to practice a little self-control (which can be quite painful) to gain some proper order in our lives. We should also occasionally evaluate our desires, which can come from one of three places, God, evil, or ourselves. Ideally, as in original man, our desires are perfectly aligned with God's desires for us, but that changed with original sin and now we are often unaware of the source of our desires. Either source can look like our own desires and the opposite as well. This is a more difficult thing to discern, but well worth the work.

It is amazing how good life can be when proper order is established, within us and around us. It is something definitely worth working for.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Why do anything at all?

The title of this blog is a question I have been asking myself at various times throughout the last 15 years of my life. It can be rephrased into a specific question as, "Why do I do x?" I find it personally interesting that my answers have changed since I have been asking this question. 15 years ago I would have said something like, "Because I want to," or "Because I can." It evolved to something along the lines of "Because it makes me feel better," or "It's simply the right thing to do." When I became Catholic about 10 years ago, my answers made a radical shift to the lines of, "So I can get to heaven," and "It's what I'm supposed to do as a Catholic."

I have realized that deep down in my heart I have lived many years as an apathetic person. I cared little for my job, for hobbies, for friends, and as hard as it is to admit, I cared little for my family relationships. But what I now know is that, as a man, I need something to fight for; something to live and die for; an ideal higher than myself. The only thing I have personally found worthy of fulfilling this is the Beatific Vision. (The immense and mystical idea of living forever with God in heaven). As I have grown in my faith, I have realized that everything here is a mere passing shadow compared to what life with God in heaven is supposed to be like.

Have you ever looked out a window in the early spring and realized that because the window is dirty (on the outside and the inside) all of the colors look faded and because the window is down, all the sounds are muted and the smells entirely blocked. But because we know that the window is impeding our experience of the real thing we can imagine what it must be like outside. Sometimes (weather permitting) we will throw open the window and let in the fresh smell of spring and the chirping of the birds and see how vivid the colors of the spring flowers are.
This is like my experience thus far here on earth. There have been moments of grace where I was allowed to experience the reality of God; small moments of grace and God's personal and deep love for me. Because I have experienced this, life here seems dull and dimmed, like looking out that dirty window. I long to throw open the window and let the fresh air in! But alas I cannot; it is not within my power.

Now when I ask myself the question, "Why do anything at all," my answer is "Because I have found something worth living for!" I have a vision of what life can be like - life in God. I have realized that outside the context of the Beatific Vision, life holds very little meaning, and any meaning it does hold is but a mere passing shadow of a greater Truth and Reality that comes from God. What I have also realized these past few years of my life is that the thing that makes life bearable here on earth is relationships. My family, my friends, and hopefully someone special some day and children of my own. If I take people out of the equation, life here is no longer worth living in my opinion. So while I'm here, it's all about people - about caring for, serving, and loving them.

So why do I do x? Because doing x helps me to love and serve someone, and ultimately, makes life here worth living until I attain that great throwing open of the window.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Happiness and Risk

There are people who have theories about capabilities and reasonability. Specifically theories about categorizing what we should be capable of doing and those other things which are beyond our reach. Conventional wisdom says that a large part of happiness is found in being successful at the things we endeavor to do. The logic then says that if we reach beyond our grasp, more than not, we will fail to obtain happiness. So the wisdom advises us to do only those things that are within our reach.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is some truth in the wisdom, but not the whole of the truth. If we accept the definition of happiness as feeling good about ourselves, than the logic makes sense. But isn't happiness so much more than that? I cannot help but reflect on my past and regret those times when I accepted this wisdom and stayed within my reach. Indeed I experienced the satisfaction of achieving a goal, but I also felt regret that maybe I could have done more. I felt like I sold myself short, I didn't give it all I had. I sacrificed great dreams for earthly success and a feeling of happiness. This lingering disappointment I experienced ruined my happiness. Outwardly I was smiling and shaking hands and accepting praise, but inside I was pondering what I could have done if I risked failure.

The experiences of my past have shaped who I am today, and now I find that I cannot accept the wisdom laid out above. I can no longer stand to settle for less; to go only half way. I dream great dreams these days, I will not sell myself short. This has indeed led me to many failures, disappointments, and lack of earthly success, but now my disappointments do not have to do with half-heartedness or lack of risking failure. I still deal with criticism for reaching beyond my grasp, but I proudly accept it because I would rather risk great things and fail then settle for a life of mediocrity.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Beatific desires

Recently I have been struggling with Patience. After all I have been through in life, I would think that I would have become an expert in patience by now, but alas I am not. Don't get me wrong, I can be very patient in the small matters in life. It is the "Big Picture" patience that I seem to lack of late. That is to say, I long for heaven, and I am getting a bit impatient to get there. Not that this impatience would drive me to suicide or something crazy like that. I'm not THAT impatient! But every day that passes I long to be in a relationship where I am fully known and loved and I can know and love fully in return; a deeply intimate relationship that can only be experienced through God. I love my friendships here, I have some of the best friends anyone can ever imagine. I also have a very loving family. I have great mentors, and bosses, and other examples of holiness in my life. All-in-all I am a very blessed man. But of all these great and wonderful people, none of them *really* know me. Many of them know a lot *about* me, and several of them know me fairly well (my parents and my best friends,) but none of them know me like the Lord knows me. He knows me better than I know myself! and He loves me more than I love myself (which is no small feat at times...) and this is what I long for.

This life seems like a passing dream of which I will some day wake up and find myself gazing into the face of my beloved, and experiencing a love so full that this life will seem like a dim old shadow of a memory where my love was weak and tainted. Oh, how I long for that day! May I have the patience to live out my life here faithfully.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Roots of cultural problems

It always amazes me how the devil can take something good and twist it into something diabolical. Last night I was watching the NFL Conference Playoff games and a commercial came on that made me sick. I was actually in the kitchen, so I have no idea what was on the TV screen, but a little jingle was playing as the theme behind the commercial, conveying an unmistakable message, "I want it all, I want it all, I want it now..." This epitomizes our current American culture does it not? This commercial is one of the most honest commercials I have heard in a while. At least they are straight forward about their message, unlike many others. It is a common marketing strategy to tell people they are lacking something (happiness is a common target - because it is often true) and if you simply buy their product, you will finally fill this "lack" (they show images of people being happy and fulfilled). If people only knew the *truth* about this stuff.

Anyway, the topic at hand is selfishness. I recently heard a great talk by a very wise man, and he touched on this subject. What he said surprised me because I had never heard much history or info surrounding the topic, I usually hear, "Don't be selfish, be generous!" Well, that sheds very little light on the subject. This man said that, consciously, our self is the first thing we are truly aware of. This is not a bad thing, it is simply how we are made. (Descartes' "I think, therefore I am.")
Since this is part of how we are made, we never lose this self awareness throughout our life. However, as we grow and mature, we are expected to go beyond this "self-first" mentality and move towards the "other-first" mentality. In God's great design, getting married moves this process along quite speedily. And then having children moves it to a whole new level. So God built this into his design of man. He knows us very well.

Well, as I hinted at in the beginning of this blog, the enemy has taken this good design and twisted it into something bad. He has planted a few lies that have become like doctrine for the secular world. One of these doctrines is that "younger is better," or what I call the Doctrine of Youth. More qualified, late-teens to late-twenties are the "golden-years" to be sought after and preserved as long as possible and at almost any cost. So we have kids trying to act like teens and fifty year olds trying to dress and act like twenty year olds. But besides the vanity aspect of this doctrine, there is the idea that if people never reach maturity, they can be held in a spiritual stasis.
It is not a surprise to any parent that kids are all about "me, me, me!" (or "mine, mine, mine!")
Kids are very aware of their needs and wants (often indistinguishable to them), and in the childs eyes, it is the role of the parent to fulfill their needs. The enemy has unfortunately done very well with perpetuating this doctrine and it has resulted in a world where a lot of people are focused primarily on themselves, often at the expense of others. It has resulted in a world where people have failed to mature to the next level - even marriage has become self-focused! Just look at all the prenuptial agreements, and the high divorce rates. Even having children has become infected - both parents work and send their child to be raised by others (others who have no particular love for their child). Why? Because of the evil doctrine of youth: "Keep them young and naive. Keep them focused on themselves about all else." Ultimately, "Keep them away from God."

So we now have commercials with the chant of a child, "I want it all, I want it all, I want it now!" Sometimes I wonder if there is any hope at all.

There IS Hope! Chirst has promised us victory. But until that day, we must do our part to dispel these myths and help people grow in maturity and in a relationship with Christ. One day at a time, one person at a time. As Mother Therese said, "God calls us to be faithful, not successful."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Accountability & Obedience

This last weekend I was having a great conversation with some friends over coffee and the topic of obedience, which has been on my heart for a couple years or so, came into discussion. This is a topic which is not addressed enough (in my opinion) in our current culture and church.

While reflecting on the topic, I tried to come up with how someone outside the church and steeped in American culture would define obedience and its role in modern society. Here is my [skewed] reasoning from that perspective: Obedience is something that you have to give to your parents (as long as you live under their roof!) as well as something that has to be given to "the authorities" including your boss (or bosses). It is often given reluctantly because it treads on personal freedom. Often personal desires or goals come into conflict with the rules and laws set down by "the authorities," so we occasionally (or often in some cases) disregard the rules and laws in order to pursue our personal happiness. Sometimes we get caught breaking the rules/laws which can result in paying a fine, or in the case of work, getting a reprimand or perhaps a pink slip or worst case, being fired. All-in-all obedience is "flexible" and not required at all times, pretty much only when the authorities are physically present ("no cop, no stop"). Obedience is generally seen as "oppressive."

In this model, personal happiness trumps obedience to rules/laws. Sometimes they happen to coincide, most of the time they don't. It is based on the assumption they we know what is best for ourselves (we know better than some outside authority anyway). It is also based on the assumption that we have to look out for our own best interests/good because no one else will. This is the classic "fend for yourself", "last one standing wins" philosophy. This is the life philosophy of many people, secular and religious alike.

From what I understand of the Catholic Church, their take on obedience is quite different. First of all, it is based on the assumption that we are fallen sinful creatures who often do not know what is best for ourselves. It is also based on the assumption that true happiness is being in heaven in adoration and praise of God for eternity. The Church views this earthly life as a pilgrimage on our way to our heavenly homeland, and we are but sojourners in a strange land, who are often blind of the way we must walk. So the role of the Church is to help guide us pilgrims on the narrow path to eternal communion with our Creator.
Given the fact that our current fallen sinful state of being is due to The Original Disobedience of Adam and Eve, and the fact the our Restoration is due the The New Obedience of Christ and Mary, obedience is of paramount importance. The pride of man, thinking he can be god, leads to disobedience, whereas the utter humility of our creatureliness leads to obedience. The Catholic Church teaches that obedience is VERY important, not out of some vain, prideful, power hungry, obsessive way, but because obedience leads us to that true eternal happiness.

Based on all of this, I hope that I have made it clear that we should be striving for humility and obedience at all times, as Christ did ("Let Your will, not mine be done.") There is an associated topic of culpability, which has to do with who is responsible to God for decisions/rules/laws. In brief, we are all called to obedience of the rules/laws set before us (unless what is being asked of us goes against basic human dignity or against God Himself). If we disagree with a law, we should bring our disagreement to the lawmakers, all the while being obedient to the law in question.

When the end comes and we stand before God, we will be held accountable for our obedience, as well as our use of any authority he gave us while on Earth. Keep that in mind when making decisions that affect the people you are responsible for and when you are tempted to break church or civil rules/laws. Be respectful and obedient to authorities, and be a responsible authority yourself; then you will be just and upright before God when your day comes. Remember, he knows what is best for us, and we often don't.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My four kinds of prayer

The Catholic Church teaches that there are three forms of prayer: vocal, meditation, and contemplative. I joke with my friends by saying that I use four types of prayer, not just the three defined by the Church; I add “avoidance” prayer to the list. Avoidance prayer is the usage of any other kind of prayer in order to avoid listening to what God has to say to me. Really though, this is a joke and there is no “avoidance prayer.” I find that I can go through the motions of everything but contemplative prayer and not actually listen to God. I have learned that I can praise Him without feeling like it, I can read scriptures and other devotionals without really feeling anything, I can partake in liturgies and not really open my heart, and I can even spend time “listening” to God without actually listening to Him (because I listen only for those things that I want to hear.) All-in-all I am pretty good at this “avoidance prayer.”

It is not true that when we talk we cannot truly listen? So when I go before the Lord and talk, talk, talk, I often feel better (having gotten all that stuff of my chest,) and I am then tempted to end my prayer “feeling better” and thinking that the feeling comes from God. But how would you like it if you have a friend that said, “Let’s spend time together everyday,” and then when the time came they talked, talked, and talked, and then said, “Wow I feel much better now. You’re a great friend. Talk to you later! Bye!,” and then left. What kind of a relationship is that? A very one-sided relationship I would say. Well, I will admit that I am often that talkative friend of God’s. Not because I am wholly rude and inconsiderate, but because I know that if I let Him get a word in, He might ask me to change; to do something that I don’t want to do (because of my fallen, sinful tendencies.) So I avoid listening to Him by talking and then leaving.

I am far from a being perfect man, and thus I have much that needs to change. I often lack the desire to change and I pray to God that He might give me such a desire. However, until I “feel” like changing, I often use avoidance prayer to pretend I have an o.k. relationship with Him, when in fact I do not. If I am not truly listening to the Lord and open in my heart to change, then I am not truly in a good relationship with Him. I know this in my head, but hopefully someday it will take root deeper in my heart.

I can relate to Saint Augustine when he once prayed, “Lord change me, but not yet.” Oh how I feel like that so often! I pray that the Lord gives me the desire to want to change every aspect of my life that is not fully united to Him. I pray this prayer for everyone.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Silence of God

When I was a child I was fed with milk and honey, but now that I am an adult, I am fed with bread and wine.

It will be 10 years ago this Easter since I came into the Catholic Church; since I came home, since I began my journey. Three years prior to receiving communion as a Catholic I began my journey with the Lord, and the Lord met me where I was at and took the little I gave Him. I sometimes joke that if you give the Lord an inch, He will take a mile. Indeed this is what happened to me, but I would have it no other way. When the Lord takes more of me, it is I who win (and the Lord as well).

The first year of my "real" life began almost ten years ago, and in the beginning it was filled with milk and honey. I was full of joy and peace. I could not imagine life as ever being miserable or difficult because of the joy I experienced. The scriptures came alive to me and I saw the hand of God everywhere. The Lord spoke to my heart often, but not always perfectly clear. I knew the general direction that I should go and that Lord made it easy for me to go there. It was a special season in my life with the Lord.

After a year, the Lord brought me a bit closer to reality. I began to experience the suffering of the Lord. I began to see my sins and shortcomings a little clearer day by day. Slowly the Lord led me to a deeper relationship with Himself. Then things got really hard. After some time I experienced a desert of faith. My prayer life went dry, and my experience of the Lord was less often and less clear. I was often confused and lost. It was not until I was in studying and living in Rome at the death and funeral for Pope John Paul II that the desert phase passed in my spiritual life. For 8 years I walked in my faith desert, often off track and backwards, but always moving. It was a time of great growth; I learned more about myself in those eight years than I could have ever imagined. I learned some my strengths, fault lines, weaknesses, blessings, sorrows. But not all of them, only what the Lord knew I could handle - for I was still yet a child in my faith.

Praise be to Him, that season ended and I was brought to a new depth, but it was merely a respite - a little consolation from the lover of my soul. During this break the Lord gave me the gift of looking back and seeing His plan for my life up to that point. He showed me His glory, His greatness, His generosity, His love for me. I was, and still am, overwhelmed by all this. When it comes to love and mercy, the Lord knows no bounds. I am humbled and ashamed by my lack of response.

One of the greatest gifts of this time has been a wisdom and understanding of "why," the question that always seems to evade me. Why the silence? Here is what He so generously revealed to me... (refer to my previous post about not being able to properly communicate the fullness of this experience)

Children need milk and honey because they learn through cause and effect and trial and error. The Lord gave me rewards when I was younger in my faith in order to encourage me to move forward. He made it easy for me to choose the good, to choose Him. There were emotional and spiritual rewards for doing what was right. But when a child gets older he needs to learn to choose the good for the sake of the good, not because there are rewards. My time in the desert was not a curse or anything else of that sort. The Lord was calling me from adolescence to adulthood. He was giving me the opportunity to choose Him without rewards. I failed as many times as I succeeded, but after a time (8 years) the Lord knew it was time for the next phase. So I have had my rest and now I have entered a new stage of my relationship with Him. I am not quite an adult yet in the faith, but I have emerged from childhood to my young adult years. I hope soon that I can act as an adult in faith, but just like in this world, an adult is made by responsibility and perseverance. Adults know that sometimes you have to do things that you would not choose, things that do not come easy, things that require sacrifice and death to self, things that require giving and not receiving. Hard choices between multiple good things, hard choices between things we want and things we need.

If the Lord is silent, will I stop and cry our for help like a child, or will I choose to move toward the light without knowing where the next step will bring me? Do I need Him to hold my hand like a child who can easily get lost, or can I walk of my own accord trusting in the wisdom and knowledge the Lord has given me? I admit, I am blind when it comes to the path I must walk, but I can hear His voice in the stillness. He speaks in depths of my heart and I need to trust that I am not being led astray. Can I trust Him that much? He apparently thinks so, or I would not be where I am today. I should be, and I am, honored to know that the Lord believes in me enough to trust me with acting like an adult in my faith. The Lord is finally treating me like an adult! No more hand holding for me! Each day of my life is a grand adventure, full of surprises and opportunities. How will I respond?

To whom much has been given, much is expected. The Lord has given me much and I do not want to disappoint Him. I must press on day by day following the Voice that speaks in the silence.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

Buon Anno tutti! (Happy New Year everyone!)

With the octave of Christmas finished and a new year beginning I hope that everyone has a year filled with God's blessings.

Today I was thinking (pondering) a few dichotomies in my life:

1) My desire to be with God in heaven RIGHT NOW vs. my desire to live here and have a family RIGHT NOW
2) My desire to be alone with God all the time vs. my desire to be with people all the time
3) My desire to choose for God vs. my desire to choose for myself
4) My desire to effectively communicate vs. the shortcoming of languages and my lack of ability to use it to effectively.

1) WHERE? I have recently been experiencing frustration with my life here on earth (Not that I'm thinking of doing anything bad about it). I am frustrated that I experience God in a very limited fashion. Granted, most of the limitations are of my own construction... but nonetheless, I am tired of seeing God "dimly as in a mirror." I have a HUGE desire in my heart to be united with God in such a way that transcends comprehension and explanation. Why do I have to wait? Why can't I be taken to my heavenly home and finally be united to my Creator and Savior? I look forward with eager longing to the day the Lord takes me by the hand and leads me home. I wish it were right now. My heart is yearning for the Lord, like a dry and weary land without water.
On the other hand, I strongly desire to have a family. This is such a strong desire that my heart aches to be married and have children. I want to love and serve, to hold and protect, to grow and become one with another. Why can't I be married right now? What do I have to wait? I have great affection stored up that yearns to be released. I need to love and be loved. God wishes to love me and be loved by me, but while I am here on earth, I believe that the Lord wishes to accomplish this through people, and more specifically through a spouse.
How can I want these two seemingly contradictory things? God's plan. All things will come in time; I must be patient and go where the Lord is leading me at this moment. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

2)WHO? When I am at Mass or adoration, I have this great desire to never leave. The Lord comes and touches me and I experience His great love. I want the moment to go on forever. I wish I could live in the sanctuary and adoration chapel in constant adoration and presence of the Lord. Oh how my heart longs...
But when I am with my friends, I want to remain with them in fellowship and communion loving and serving them as Christ in my life. I love my friends so much that I want to be with them always as companions on the journey. I cannot stand being alone, unless I am in the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I get very lonely very quickly.
If I am in adoration always, I will never experience the joys of people. Yet I cannot get so caught up with people that I never take time alone with the Lord.

3)FOR? I desire to please the Lord, so I want to make choices that will bring me closer to Him. I want to be Christ to everyone I encounter; I want to serve Christ in all I meet. I want to be an example of gentleness and humility for others; I want to love them as Christ loves them. Yet I have other desires and wants. Human desires that I do not want to wait for the Lord to fulfill. I want to be happy (like everyone) so I make choices and do things that I think will bring me immediate happiness. They do bring immediate happiness - but it lasts only a few moments and than fades leaving me emptier than before. You would think I would learn; but no, I continue to choose for myself instead of the Lord. I sin each and every day (but hopefully less as time goes on!)

4)HOW? Oh, how I have experienced the shortcomings of human language. I can never totally express what is in my heart. The love, the longing, the desires, the lack of understanding, the frustrations, the joys, the sorrows. I long to share these things, yet I fall short in expressing the fullness of the reality of who I am. The world according to Christopher gets lost in translation from the heart to words. I find that sometimes non-verbal communication like a hug or a kiss communicates so much more than words can.

All in all my life is filled with these different things seemingly pulling me in different directions, but in the big picture they are all tools that the Lord uses to pull me closer to Himself. Oh how blessed am I to know and see these things. I ponder them in my heart like Mary pondered all that Jesus said and did.

God bless and happy new year,