Free Love And Other Redundant Phrases

 

We’ve all had that “ah-ha” moment, right, men?  The one where you’re baking a meringue, blaring J-Lo, and you suddenly ask yourself, “Does love really not cost a thing?”.  Or, ladies, when you’re working out to The Beatles and, right as you reach your personal chin-up record, it hits you that indeed, money CAN’T buy you love.  Alright, so maybe those specific moments are unique to me, but I’m sure we’ve all had instances that came out of the blue and caused us to spend some time at our own Roxbury, asking the deep, eternal question: “What is love?”  (On a complete side-note, I once walked into a gym full of weight lifters and the radio was blaring “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee-Gees, and it was one of the most surreal moments in my entire life)

Anyway, with a large majority of media being centered on using (and mis-using) the word “love”, it would do us all a world of good to pause for a moment and take stock of how we, as followers and friends of the God Who IS love, define and use it.  I’m not referring to things like “I LOVE corduroy” or “I absolutely LOVE Fabio’s performance in Zoolander“; I’m speaking more along the lines of how we use it in relationships and sexuality. (Though, I HAVE met a few extreme types with an unnatural devotion to noisy, grooved trousers.)  Considering that Enrique Iglesias’ hit “Tonight (I’m loving you)” is only the edited title (swap “loving” for “f*@#ing”), and the same goes for Akon’s “I’m gonna love you” (swap “love” for….), it seems that we need to find a way to wade through the mire of contradictions and euphemisms and arrive at solid ground.  Fortunately, we have just such a path.

In his encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), Pope Paul VI gives us what I call a litmus test for finding authentic love, a test comprised of 4 characteristics, generally referred to as the “Four Marks of God’s Love”.  These four marks, or signs, are: Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful. (Yes, it drives me insane that the “T” ruins the alliteration).  This post is the first of four in which I’ll take a stab at giving a brief, cursory explanation of God’s love–and therefore, perfect love–as defined by Humanae Vitae.

Because the very essence of real love is the act of giving (which is why “actions speak louder”), for love to be authentic it must entail a true gift of self on the part of the one who is professing love.  However, though our intention might be to love, there are myriad ways in which our struggle with weakness, selfishness, and sin can taint our attempts and chip away at these four marks.  As today’s title makes clear, we are first going to address the need for true freedom in love.

We’re all familiar with phrases like “After all I’ve done for you…” or “The least you could do in return is…” or “You owe me this…”.  Statements such as these get right to the heart of one enemy of freedom in love, namely that of expectation.  Whenever we put on the guise of giving, yet hold within us the expectation of ANY form of reciprocation, then we are not truly giving and, therefore, not truly loving, either.  If we clean the house expecting accolades and/or a foot massage, not only do we almost invariably set ourselves up for disappointment, but we also remove true giving from the equation, since the “recipient” is now expected to give something in return.  Whenever someone says, “I work all day long to put food on the table, and all I ask is…..”, then all others involved are no longer free to simply receive the gift of food, since there is now, apparently, a contract of sorts in play.

This is even more poignant and relevant in regard to relationships and sex.  How many women have felt obligated to “put out” as a result of some guy purchasing dinner and movie tickets?  How many marriages are soured by the unwavering, incessant expectation of one spouse exacted upon the other?  Conversely, though, I’ll wager we can all remember a moment in our lives when someone simply GAVE to us, and we could clearly tell that nothing was expected in return, be it a parent, a partner, or even a postman. (Ahhh, alliteration)(Plus, my postman has NEVER asked for anything in return for delivering my mail…)

The other primary enemy of freedom in love can be summed up by saying, “If you can’t say no, your yes means nothing.”  Whether you’re being pressured into something or you “just can’t say no” to your hormones in the moment, if you feel (or are) unable to say no in any given circumstance, then freedom is lacking and, therefore, so is true love.  Regardless of how much someone professes their undying love for you, if you don’t feel free to say no, then they don’t love you, at least not completely; likewise, if you can’t say no to your sexual urges, called “the launch sequence” by Ray Romano, then what you’re feeling towards the other person is not love, it is the force of chemicals, instinct, and attraction.  As powerful as desire can feel, if you can’t say no to it, it is merely a powerful slavery.  Saying you’re free simply because you give in to desire is like saying a nation is free simply because its citizens don’t resist invading powers; in actuality, behavior of that nature signifies defeat.

So, in the muddle of whims, urges, misconceptions, lies, and pain that we see around us, possibly in our own lives, how in the world are we supposed to find good examples of this free love?  Well, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, our perfect example of free love lies in God’s love for us. (4 marks of God’s love)  In God’s love for us we see complete freedom.  We were created simply because He loves.  Each of us was made “for our own sake”, as John Paul II put it.  God made you with NO strings attached.  He never says, “After all I’ve done for you….”  You actually owe Him nothing.  His love has already been 100% freely given, whether you accept it or not.  Though He longs for intimacy with you, He is in no way disappointed in you, nor is His love diminished, when you don’t feel the same.

Likewise, when He became man in order to suffer and die for us, He showed us what true, free love looks like.  Starting from His fervently human prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (“let this cup pass”) to His miraculously divine prayers on Golgotha (“Father, forgive them”), he showed us what freedom looks like by saying no to the urge to run, the desire to flee.  He was so free to love you that He could embrace every suffering necessary to gain intimacy with you.  His only goal was redemption, not reciprocation.

So, brothers and sisters, let us begin to love freely, without expectation, pressure, or shackles.  Let us feed people because they’re hungry, not because they do what we think is right.  Let us give our time, treasure, and talent simply to be loving, because everyone is always worth it.  Let us crush the bondage of passions we are told to give in to.  Let us scrub, clean, and organize our houses simply for the glory of the Lover of our souls.  Let us love freely.  However, first, let us open our hearts wide to the free, unconditional, expectation-less  love of God, for it is only by continually receiving His free gift of love that we learn how to truly and free love anyone else.  (Though, you CAN start by making a Bee-Gees mix disc for the postman…)

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“I know those eyes…”

Someone recently said told me that I “make statements as though they are facts, without dialogue”, to which I immediately replied, “Well, you’re wrong and I’m done talking about it!”  (I think I proved my point, yes?)  The comment got me thinking, though, because it was in response to a post on my blog regarding 9 things that I–having grown up Protestant–never knew regarding Scripture and early Church. In writing the article, I felt that I’d very simply and succinctly stated things are not as much a matter of opinion as they are historical fact, such as “There is an easily discernible, unbroken line of apostolic succession leading from Peter to Pope Benedict XVI“.

To me, that statement seems to be relatively benign in its tone and non-accusing in nature.  Upon further reflection, though, I think I figured out where my accuser was coming from, and it is showcased in the preceding sentence.  I began by saying “To me…”.  There it is.  In a very real sense, whatever comes next is solid to me and suspect to everyone else.  Even if the rest of the sentence is crammed full of undeniable fact, it is still perceived as coming from “Nic’s Opinion Land” and arriving in “I Doubt It-ville”.  The root of the problem is that we are never just dealing with facts; we are persons–with unique personalities and backgrounds–carrying these facts around and trying to show them to each other; and that is where it gets sticky: we need to see the other person.

In Luke 12:48, Jesus says “to whom much is given, much is expected”.  As Catholic Christians, we are claiming to possess the fullness of the truth, and if that is really the case, than with that amazing gift comes a weighty responsibility.  IF we have the deepest expression of the deepest truths of God, then not only do we have the duty to share it with the world, we also have the duty to share it in the manner Christ did, with understanding, patience, empathy, prudence, and, above all, love.  Jesus never compromised for even an instant, yet He was constantly surrounded by people with longing hearts who might have even disagreed with where they thought He was coming from.  Christ not only knew the truth, He WAS the Truth (He made that very clear numerous times), but time and again we see the dishonest flocking to be with Him.

He was able to put up with constant disagreements from religious leaders, clambering for more fish and loaves by the masses, and utter stupidity on the part of his closest followers because He never stopped truly seeing the hearts of those around Him and knowing where they were coming from.  That’s why he could say “love your enemies”, “judge not, lest ye be judged”, and “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

In his poem “ A Hymne to Christ, at the Authors last going into Germany”, John Donne says that, in whatever way he leaves this earth, he trusts Christ, because he knows “those eyes”.  We need to be as firm as possible in our faith.  We need to trust that Jesus meant it when He said we would be one as He and His Father were one.  We should rest in the knowledge that 100% truth wasn’t lost at the Ascension, but has been miraculously preserved for 2,000 years. We need to “know those eyes”, and never back down from complete trust in them.

However, we equally need to learn to approach each and every human being with the knowledge that they are just as desperately seaching for Him as we are, regardless of their awareness of it.  It makes no difference if we are talking to a fellow Catholic, a Protestant brother or sister in Christ, a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, or an atheist.  It doesn’t matter if we have done years of research and are certain that we know the facts.  It doesn’t matter how closed-minded or belligerent the other person may be.  We MUST be lovingly welcoming and make the conscious act of treating them as Christ would.

The National Directory for Catechesis says that “those who proclaim the Christian message must know and love the culture and the people to whom they bring the message in order for it to be able to transform the culture and the people and make them new in Christ.”  Friends, let us be aware of the wonderful gift we’ve been given as bearers of the good news.  Let us never forget that with every step we take as Christians, we are, as Hubert van Zeller says, “handling glory”.  Let us, like Christ, draw a line in the sand and hold our ground, always professing “Go and sin no more”; but let us also beckon from that line in mercy, with open arms, always professing, “Neither do I condemn you.”

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Dying To Be Blessed

“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  Spoken by the Patriarch Jacob, these words sum up the attitude with which we should seek God’s blessings: “I will not let you go”.  However, in today’s Christian culture, it is common to focus on the last part of the verse: “…unless you bless me.”  A web search for “God’s Blessings” displays pages of “accessing the blessings of God” or “4 Steps to God’s Blessin’s”.  Though it is natural and good to want the best of what God has for us, the problem lies in that we’ve generally lost sight of what real blessings are and how to receive them.  God deeply desires to bless us, but those blessings come when we approach and meet Him in the way He has designed: through gift of self.  In Man and woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body, Blessed John Paul II states that when a person gives of themself, he or she “fulfills the very meaning of…being and existence.”

Because God’s love is ever giving, ever pouring out, from Creation to Cross to Communion, we can only truly experience the blessings of God when we mirror His love by giving ourselves back to Him and pouring ourselves out to others.  Christ summed it up a few weeks ago in the Gospel reading: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much fruit” (John 12:24).  Christ is using a familiar farming analogy to point out that even God’s created universe participates in this economy.  In Minnesota, we could just as easily say, “Unless a student hits the rink 8 days a week, he remains benched; but if he casts aside all things non-hockey, he shall skate” or “If you don’t shovel the snow, you remain at home; but if you break out the snow pusher, you shall attend the Memorial Day Parade.”  Basically, only sacrifice brings blessing.

In fact, name ONE thing of lasting value that did not in some way result from sacrifice and suffering on someone’s part.  This principle is all around us, from marriage to childbirth to national freedom.  For instance, if you hadn’t given up the time to read this article, you could never have been astounded by the blessing of my overwhelming intellect.  The point is that we are created to experience the endless, staggering blessings of God’s love, but we’re not ready to fully receive them until we empty our hands of all that we’re holding in order to cling to Him, never letting go.

A few weeks ago, a 20-person team came from St. John’s to do a week of service on the island of Dominica (dah-mih-KNEE-kuh), where I am currently working as a missionary.  The group prayed every week for four months prior to coming, gave up time, treasure, and talent, sweated, lost sleep, and ran themselves ragged; and when they came home, all they could say was that they felt like they had received far more than they gave.  Beautifully, my leaders down here said they felt the same in return!  The reason for this mutual blessing is simple: when you give yourself to God, He gives Himself back to you, and He will not be outdone. (Think about your sacrifice of walking up to the altar on Sunday vs. the Eucharist you receive in return)

If you want to receive blessings, let go of what you’re holding on to so tightly, and GIVE yourself to Christ.  Live a life that blesses others, regardless of reciprocation.  Just give.  Pay no attention to whether or not they care.  Quit looking for repayment.  Just give like He does, to the last breath and to the last drop of blood.  If you do, when you finally give up your ghost, you will find His breath in your lungs and His blood in your veins, and you will know, fully and eternally, what it truly means to be blessed.

Tagged , , , , ,

Peter’s Appetite and the Bread of Life

Gospel

Luke 9:11b-17

Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God,…

As the day was drawing to a close,

the Twelve approached him and said,

“Dismiss the crowd

so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms

and find lodging and provisions;

for we are in a deserted place here.”

He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.”

They replied, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have,

unless we ourselves go and buy food for all these people.”

Now the men there numbered about five thousand.

Then he said to his disciples,

“Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.”

They did so and made them all sit down.

Then taking the five loaves and the two fish,

and looking up to heaven,

he said the blessing over them, broke them,

and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.

They all ate and were satisfied.

And when the leftover fragments were picked up,

they filled twelve wicker baskets.

“Dismiss the crowd so that they can…find lodging and provisions…”

As always, the disciples are thinking so practically, so pragmatically.  They realize that Christ is, indeed, worth following, worth listening to, and, quite possibly, the Messiah; but people have to eat.  It is one thing to listen to good teaching, even teaching from THE Messiah, but, as my Baptist youth minister friend says, “The brain can only handle as much as the rear can.”  If it was me in that setting, and it has been many times, I’d be thinking, “Alright.  Good teaching.  Great sermon.  I’m hungry.”  The disciples seem like the sort of people I’d get along with.  When I’m tired and hungry, I, too, would be willing to walk up to the Son of God, interrupt, and…um… “strongly suggest” that we adjourn for a while and get some Arby’s, or at least a McDouble from the dollar menu (we disciples are a cheap lot).

“Give them some food yourselves”

He’s not clueless.  He knows they don’t have any food, right?  Just in case, let’s tally it up and give him the rundown.  “Okay, here’s the deal, Jesus.  5 loaves, 2 fish.  You pick the 5 people that’ll feed.  No, Peter, you can’t have it.”  On a complete side note, I have always loved that, though there were 5,000 men present and 12 disciples of the Messiah, the ONLY person to have thought to bring extra food was a little boy.  I’d say he’s a prime biblical proof of the existence of an ancient clan of the Boy Scouts of America.

It is at this point that I see a scene in my head.  It’s speculation,  I know.  But I see it go down this way: a staredown for like thirty seconds, as Jesus thinks about how exactly to get his point across in the best way, the disciples think about finding a knife sharp enough to cut the 5 and 2 into 5,000 pieces, and Peter thinks about how good the it will all taste when he sneaks off with it in like 35 seconds.

Staring……………………..blink……………………………

staring……………………..blink……………………………

a sandal shuffles………… someone coughs……………..

blink……………………………………………………………..

Peter quietly sidles towards the Fishloavesnack© ……..

blink ………………………………. and then ………………….

“….have them sit down…”

I personally like that His first step is to get them all comfy.  Don’t leave them shifting and sweating; get ‘em in a receptive, relaxed situation.

“Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish,

and looking up to heaven,

he said the blessing over them, broken them,

and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.”

I see him wink at Peter as He steps between the man and his “precious”.  But, then, all the joking is set aside.  Christ is about to cut through the hunger, the wilderness, the confusion, the ambiguity as to what’s going on.  There, before their eyes, a minimum of 5,013 people watched as a boy’s lunch became their feast.  In a moment, the small became great.  Through Christ, aching hunger is satiated.

We don’t get the scientific narrative of how things multiplied.  We don’t get to know if baskets and hands simply began overflowing.  We don’t read how the atoms and electrons and quarks of each loaf and fish replicated.  What we DO see, un-arguably, is that normal matter (Fishloavesnack©) is played upon by a force greater than itself.

We are witnessing Christ saying, “I am not daunted by your empty bellies and thin faith.  I am not here to feed only your mortal flesh.  What I am doing here, I do to prepare you for what happens in just a few verses.  When I explain the Bread of Heaven, though you are confused, you WILL remember what I can and have done with normal bread.”

So often, it is easy for us (me) to doubt that the Eucharist is what the Church says it is.  We (I) have trouble believing that the silver dollar-sized wafer and the mild wine are, in actuality, transubstantiated.  The “source and summit” can all-too-often look stale and simple.  But the entire history of the Christian Church beckons us (me) to trust otherwise.  The gospel of Luke exhorts us to set aside what measly resources we have and trust our Savior.  His Word urges us to remember the heights and depths of the supernatural that He’s already accomplished by His suffering, death, and resurrection.  Our Lord calmly asks us, right now, wherever we are, to sit down, taste, and see that the Lord is good.

Tagged , , , , ,

Things I Didn’t Know

Until the nineteenth century, all Christians agreed that the Church being “caught up” –the rapture, though it was not called that at the time—would occur immediately before the Second Coming, at the close of the period of persecution, and that there are NO Christian writings of ANY kind that fully and blatantly support the concept of “The Rapture” as taught by modern Evangelical Protestantism.  I had no clue.

-When Christ is speaking specifically, and in the singular tense, to Peter in Matthew 16, he is quoting almost word-for-word from Isaiah 22, where the king is leaving his kingdom in the hands of one man, who will possess the keys to the kingdom and be able to bind and loose with the king’s authority.

-There is an easily discernable, unbroken line of apostolic succession leading from Peter to Pope Benedict XVI.

– The 7 books of the Old Testament that Protestants removed were included in the original canon of Scripture AND in the ol’ King James Bible.  There are, at a minimum 75 references to these 7 in the New Testament, whereas Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Obadiah, Nahum and Zephaniah are NEVER quoted.

– I Peter 3:21 explicitly states that, just as Noah was saved through water, “so now baptism saves you”.

– The Word of God as we know it was compiled by a bunch of priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes in a legalized Church that was supposedly invented by Constantine.

-One of the first things Jesus says to His disciples after He rises from the dead is: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven”(John 20:23)

-Not only are the Greek words in the New Testament all very, very literal WHENEVER they reference the Eucharist (John 6, especially), but the earliest Christian writings are very, very clear on what they believed regarding communion. (And they aren’t “Evangelical-friendly”)

– The words “faith” and “alone” never appear together in Scripture, except in James when he says, “It is not by faith alone”.  Martin Luther knew this, but still added the word “alone” after “faith” in Romans 3:28 in his translation of the Scriptures.

– Every, single issue that I used to have with the Catholic Church was 100% accepted by every, single generation of Christians, from Golgotha to today.  Who knew?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Stuck in a moment

As leaders/teachers/preachers, we can’t get fixated on where we are in our spiritual walk, to the detriment of those we are leading/teaching/preaching to.  For instance, let’s say I’m currently experiencing the power of the resurrection in my personal life.  Each day is a new level deeper into His resurrection power and it is amazing, mind-boggling, and eye-opening. As a result, when I teach, that is what I focus on.  I feel frustrated at those who seem not to know the empty tomb.  Soon, in an attempt to bring balance to those who may not know this resurrection power, I am no longer talking about the redeeming power of the cross.  Eventually, I become cold and closed any time someone mentions the cross or suffering.  I am myopic in my scope.  Basically, I’ve taken the good place that I’M at in life and made it the ONLY place people should be.

That is one of the reasons the lectionary is beautiful.  You are unable to hover around verses that you like.  You are forced to face verses that make you uncomfortable.  You may love thinking about “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), but loathe contemplating “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23), and in your personal devotional life, you may be able to avoid the tougher verses all your life.  However, with the lectionary (the Church’s set, sturdy 3-year Scripture readings), both the congregation and the priest are forced to face ALL aspects of Sacred Scripture.  The wisdom of the cyclical, revolving nature is that, instead of digging in our heels and insisting on getting what WE want out of Scripture, we are encouraged (hehe, or forced) to let go of our reservations and trust, to embrace the entirety of His loving Word to us, not just the parts that naturally hit us right.

Tagged , , ,

TOB and Me

At the prompting of my friend Richard, I am posting an teensy article I wrote regarding my initial experiences with Theology of the Body.  I’ll probably post more regarding it later, as long as links to audio from times I’ve gotten to speak on it. Thanks! And here…..we…….go:

How TOB Improved My Piano Playing

In late spring of 2007, on a nearly complete whim, Jacelyn (my wife) and I visited the third night in a four-night series on something called “Theology of the Body” (TOB). We arrived 15 minutes late to the 1-hour session and left having begun a life-changing process. In just 45 minutes, this priest, Fr. Mike Schmitz, had effectively changed my whole perspective of my wife in particular and women in general. I left thinking, “Crap! I can’t be the way I was anymore! If I’ve truly been using her, it’s gotta stop.”

Granted, that’s not the most articulate summary of Theology of the Body (see Christopher West or Fr. Mike for that), but it is what I was thinking. For the next year, Jacelyn and I began casually studying TOB. We attended a Christopher West weekend in St. Paul, MN, read Theology of the Body for Beginners, The Good News About Sex & Marriage, The Love That Satisfies, and listened to the 10-disc Naked Without Shame series.  I’ll be honest, after only a year, I’d idiotically gotten to the point that I actually thought to myself, “I think I’ve figured this whole TOB thing out.” (Silly Nic. When will you learn?)

In May of 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the five-day Head and Heart Immersion Course taught by Mr. West just. I arrived thinking I was just there to get a workbook and re-learn what I’d already read and heard throughout the prior year. Again: silly Nic.

How can I sum up those days? I spent all of Monday realizing I knew nothing about TOB. I spent all of Tuesday weeping—yes, literally all and yes, literally, weeping—in the back row next to Jim from California. I spent all of Wednesday disbelieving that what JPII said could actually be true in my life. I spent all of Thursday literally giddy due to the fact that I’d realized that it could. (…and because I got to sing my favorite U2 song with Christopher West.) And I spent Friday reeling from a combination of the friendships made and the Truth received.

That was my story up until the course.  However, it has been the “afterward” that has been the most intriguing. I was greatly changed by what I learned. Mr. West compared living the theology of the body to playing the piano. Now, I am experiencing the difference that exists between the thrill of finding out that you can one day be a concert pianist and actually beginning the practices, drills, repetition, and mistakes.  Though the last year has been frustrating and very, very difficult, I think I’m beginning to feel a bit of the actual, deeper thrill you feel the first time you play through a difficult piece of music and it actually sounds reminiscent of Beethoven’s 9th and not the usual Purgatory: The Soundtrack.

I’m learning the difference between concept and content.  Initially, I was excited by the concept of Theology of the Body, but it has been the beautiful challenge of transforming that concept into content that has made all the difference.  I’m learning to breathe TOB throughout my life, instead of gasping occasionally for air.  Slowly, I’m recognizing the hundreds of moments in my day when I can choose to look at others as subjects instead of objects.  Make no mistake, I’ve fallen countless times since the course, but now I have a clear, spectacular and holy prize in my sights.  For the first time in my life, I know my path—not simply for my career and the like, but for my humanity and my marriage.  I know the beginnings of who I am. (And, apparently, I’m an amazing person, if extremely gangly and nasal.)

    All joking aside, the Theology of the Body is more than simply the antidote to our society. It is more than the answer to our current trends.  It speaks to the eternal in us, not the wayward, fickle or “trendy”; and that is the undeterable nature of what JPII is saying.  TOB goes deeper than any wound that could be inflicted in any day or age or culture and, consequently, those factors cannot stop it. TOB shines the transforming light of redemption into our souls, exposing the fundamental good that had never left. It reaches beyond the dark stains of sin and reveals the inestimable grandeur that cannot and will never cease to breathe underneath. In a very real sense, it sidesteps the usual debates and chastisements about behavior and morality.  Instead, it gives amplification to the Song of Songs that has been playing unceasingly in our hearts and that the entirety of humanity’s sin has not been able to silence. JPII put it best when he said it is an “adequate anthropology,” a fully sufficient explanation of why we are here.

In closing, I could try to say something very witty or deep, but it’d be better to leave you with the words of “the man” himself: John Paul II.

“Those who seek the fulfillment of their own human and Christian vocation in marriage are called first of all to make…this “theology of the body”…the content of their lives and behavior” (TOB 23:5).

My Special Relationship With Osama bin Laden

I have often said that if I hadn’t been married when 9/11 happened (only 39 days earlier, actually), then I would’ve made it my life’s goal to gain 30 seconds with Osama Bin Laden to tell him that God genuinely loved him, after which he could kill me or whatever.  I started saying that because on the day the world trade towers fell, the mass reaction was always something to the effect of, “Find him and kill him!”.  Christians all around me seemed intent on being the tools of “God’s vengeance”.  It seemed that all anyone could think about was their anger and pain.

The conviction grew in me that I’d like to be at least one person in the mix who was simply wanting to live God’s forgiveness and acceptance for Bin Laden.  If everyone else could yell and kick and fight, then couldn’t I cry and pray and pray?  I started pointing out that we might make a whole lot more difference in the grand scheme of things if we’d just starting praying for the guy and using our “screen time” (tv, internet, movies) to get the message out that God didn’t hate Osama.  I thought it’d be much more avaunt guarde (and, it turns out, ancient) to remind all the haters that if this whole Jesus bit is true, then that means that “while WE were yet sinners, Christ died for US.”(Romans 5:8)

So, on 9/11/2001, I began earnestly praying for Osama Bin Laden to somehow experience God’s infinite love and mercy before we all got to him.  A few years ago, I became Catholic and the “source and summit” of the faith is Communion, the Eucharist.  The belief is that, when you receive Communion, you receive God’s infinite grace and you participate in the mystical life of the body of Christ.  One of the teachings is that you can, in a real sense, offer up the graces you would gain by receiving Communion for anyone, anywhere.  Well, since the first day I began receiving Communion, I have been offering all of those graces to my wife and Osama Bin Laden. (Odd mix, I know).  My prayer for the last three years has been that any grace, any strength, any mercy I would’ve received during that time would be given to them.  Down to my core,  I desired that they be drawn deeper and deeper  into the love and mercy that my life has been given.

Essentially, ten years of my life have been poured into the hope that this man would find Christ.  Ten years of praying that somehow, in the middle of whatever cave (or compound) he was in, he would discover mercy.  Ten years of burning for him to find an imminent love that would knife through the zeal and fervor and hate and anger and misunderstanding. Three years of countless graces offered into his life.

Now he’s dead.  He’s finally gone.  Bullets found their mark.  What has the reaction been?  “We found him and we killed him!”  “I praise God that he’s dead.”  The problem is that God, himself, is never happy when someone dies.  Death was never the intent.  For any of us.  “God is not willing that ANY should perish.” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis mine)  It is NOT a good thing that he’s dead.  It is not worthy of rejoicing.  It is not a happy day when anyone dies.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think we should’ve handed him an Easter basket and told him to run along and never do it again.  I am fine with removing a threat to humanity.  I support necessary punishment for ANY sin committed, mine included.  I might even go as far as to allow that the death penalty might be allowable in rare cases.  Where I make my stand is that we can’t be happy about any of it.  We can NEVER take joy in ending something as dignified and in “his image and likeness” as a human life, no matter who’s it is.  It is good that he can no longer hurt others; it is wretched that he is dead.

Please take a few moments and seek the love of God in your life and in the lives of those you struggle to love.  Strive to be his illogical, unfathomable mercy in the midst of the staggering pain this world can cause.  We do not know what light God can bring out of any darkness.  You don’t know if that person of whom you desire judgment is an Osama or a Saul.  You simply don’t know.  I’d say you’d do best to treat him as the latter, since God did.  We are entrusted with the gift of our life and we must never be flippant with our days, or anyone else’s, for that matter.

I will never get those 30 seconds.  It is decided.  I don’t know his state of existence now, and neither do you.  Let’s not pretend to.  What I do know is that there is no shortage of souls in this world that our Father is anxiously waiting for us to love in return for hate.  Jesus summed it up by saying: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)  and “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).  How has He loved you?

“If You say so.”

Luke 5:1-11

“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing.  But at your word I will let down the nets.”

This was Simon’s forte.  He fished.  He knew what he was doing.  He knew that there should be no fish now after trying all night.  This was his everyday event.  He knew the ropes.  He’d done it a million times.  One more attempt should make no difference.  However, he’d never been told to do it by Him.

I may do something every day of my life, in the same way each time.  It is right for me to do it, in fact.  I have no idea what is in store, but for this moment, I tend my nets.  I cannot multiply fish in a lake.  I cannot make my task miraculously productive.  I need not, either.  All I need do, all that is on my shoulders, is to tend my nets as I know how until the day I am approached and asked to do it again, this time by my “Master.”

My crux lies at that moment.  All the weight and gravity rests there.  Jesus did not ask Simon to do a new thing.  He did not require a unique, controversial move.  He did not ask him to be the Pope (yet).  He simply asked Simon to do the same thing he’d done a million times, something he knew how to do in his own power, but which seemed futile given the circumstances.  Something with an outcome which Simon could not affect, in his own power.

This seems to be the progression of the call.  Simon was simply a hard worker, tending to his business.  Then he was “simply” asked to carry out a normal task one more time, even in apparent futility.  Then, when that job was finished, “when they had brought their boats to land”(vs.11), the new level, the greater phase, began.  “…they left everything and followed him”(vs.11) with the quickly deepening conviction that their next task, “catching men”(vs. 10), would be just as successful as dropping their empty nets one more time.

(Bear in mind, this was all done by Simon, not Peter; a regular Joe, not the Rock.  It begs the question whether he would have ever done the great things he did as Peter, the first Pope, had he not merely dropped his net one last time as Simon)

“…on which everything depends…” -Benedict XVI

A desire of mine is to write out and clarify to myself the confusing pile of wonderful experiences and dawnings I’ve had since discovering Catholicism; however, another desire is to methodically and succinctly chart the step-by-step that brought me and Jacelyn to the Church.  Unfortunately, those two are quite different in format.  The former is meandering and often clueless; whereas the latter should be easily palatable and understandable.  I also would love “open dialogue” with people on both “sides” of the Easter Vigil Fence.  I think my biggest dilemma is that of not wanting to offend or push away all of my Protestant brothers and sisters with any of my vernacular, but, at the same time, wanting to show how fundamentally and powerfully Catholic I really am.  I want to show “Group A” that I never forsook or “left” anything of my Pentecostal heritage behind (Truly, truly) AND that I am definitively and forever a member of “Group B”.

The quote in the title is from the opening foreword of Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth.  The subject he is referring to “on which everything depends” is, in his words, “…intimate friendship with Jesus.”  Reading those words was one of the beginning concrete moments in my life when I began to realize that I had a soaring mountain of prejudice and misconception towards the Catholic Church.  I’d always thought that Christ was probably “somewhere hidden in the depths of Catholicism” and that a few lucky folks probably coincidentally discovered Him in the dark once in a while.  It was reading the words of “their” leader–a man who could be the anti-Christ, head of the “whore of Babylon”–that caused a determining crumble in that thick wall of error my upbringing and experiences had built.

In the time I spend writing here, I hope to navigate through all of this and show both “sides” the common ground of 85% similarity that we have, to quote Peter Kreeft, and, hopefully, to shed a bit of light for myself and others on the nearly 15% merely different emphasis we also share.

Sheesh.