Tag Archives: God

“Adopting a Better Attitude” or “Embassy Sweets”

I love being let down.  I’ve started relishing the realization that I have to relinquish what I thought a given outcome would look and feel like and embrace what it really is.  After years of “casting visions” and soft-lighting all things future, and the subsequent deflation when nothing measured up to my expectations, I began to notice that, if I got past my disappointment, the reality of the situation was actually better and far deeper than what I’d originally planned.

For instance, for as long as I can remember, I’ve talked about martyrdom.  Jim Elliot was my hero.  I loved being the guy preaching about the virtue of self-sacrifice.  In my mind, it had a gloss to it, a fine veneer that made it appealing.  The idea of being a “mini martyr” in your everyday life sounded ultra-spiritual, magical, and deep.  Oh, the hubris of the young.  “When I was a child, I spoke as a child…”  It turns out that suffering and self-sacrifice really end up taking a lot out of you–everything, actually!  Who knew, right?  I guess that’s why the rest of the quote goes, “…but when I became a man, I put away childish things”.

No matter how inspirational I thought it would be to die to self, when it really came down to it, I don’t think I had truly considered that that meant I actually had to die, and death is never pretty or comfy.  Initially, when I was suddenly faced with putting someone else’s needs over my own desires, actually “willing the good of the other”, the photoshop was stripped away and I’d find myself thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this.”  But, as life played out, and I realized that on the other side of the pain was purity, after the Cross was the empty tomb, life took on a much more exciting tone.

Whether it was finding that marriage really is “where bad people go to die” (Fr. Mike Schmitz) or discovering that I was a first-class heretic, the underlying truth and reality was always a worthwhile trade-off.  The false, self-centered view of the fulfillment that marriage would bring me was piffle compared to the actuality of what it means to place my all, my hopes, dreams, and body in the custody of my wife and give myself up for her.  And, in my opinion, the tempest of autonomy that Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide bring about are on par with an 18-month-old taking the wheel of an 18-wheeler, when compared to the joy of coming home to the permanence and security of the Church.

Get it?

Which brings me to the title and purpose of this article.  Even before we married, my wife and I knew we would adopt siblings internationally.  We’ve always been vocal about our desires to adopt older siblings, specifically because they were of the least adopted demographic.  “Leave the infants to the others,” we said, “We’ll take the ‘least of these'”.  For the first ten years of our marriage, that was the extent of it for us–talk.  It never seemed like the right time, regardless of whether we were at home or abroad.

Then, we moved to the Caribbean island of Dominica (pronounced da-mi-KNEE-ka) so that my wife could attend medical school. Prior to moving, we had zero inclination that we would adopt; however, about two months after we arrived, we both began to feel like we should at least look into the process here on Dominica.  As we followed the tug on our hearts to investigate adoption, we felt that familiar surge of excitement, the one that says you’re about to do something adventurous and inspiring.  In my mind, the wide camera shot had slowly zoomed in on my wife and me as we spent moments in fervent prayer, our hearts alive with expectation of children who would twirl into our arms with abandon, their mouths filled with well-articulated gratitude.  “When I was a child…”

Not that there hasn’t been quite a bit of that so far, but we are quickly discovering the beautiful and exhausting fact that there is no gloss to real life.  Nor should there be.  On the other side of the supposedly-inspiring “Guess what Nic and Jacelyn are doing???” is sleep deprivation, needless trips to the capital city, personality conflicts, paperwork hang-ups, unforeseen delays, sleep deprivation, thousands of dollars, hours of phone calls, stonewalling by embassies, and lack of sleep.  What sounds spiritual and refreshing turns out to be physically depleting.  What you’d hoped would be a corny made-for-T.V. movie (or at least an after-school special) turns out to be more like a 5-hour jr. high production of War and Peace, starring no one you know.

The gorgeous and illuminating part about it, though, is that I would honestly have it no other way.  Not only is it a nice way to try to enter into the perseverance and pain of childbearing and childbirth (with the man getting to bear a some of the load in this case), but it is also a great way to strip away the misconceptions and delusions we’d had about what adoption actually is.

This is where it all hits home.  Paragraph 1129 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.”  It is an unfathomable, humbling, and precious fact that, as Christians, we were adopted into the actual family of God and that nothing can “separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:39).  However, lest we be tempted to gloss that fact over with a sheen of ease and comfort, paragraph 1129 reminds us that it is the “sacramental life” that brings about participation in the divine nature, and the sacraments exist because of our sin and His suffering on the cross.

Essentially, the need for adoption exists because we’d first sinned and left the divine life, and the option of adoption was made possible once again by Jesus’ willingness to say, “Still, not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42)  Since being adopted into God’s family, I’ve caused many sleepless nights, many unforeseen delays, and done my share of stonewalling on the road to purity and completion, but my Family has not failed or deserted me.  My brothers and sisters have not disowned me.  My Father and Brother have continued saving me.

I love being let down.  I enjoy finding out where I’ve been wrong.  By being open to my own errors, I’ve found a depth and peace in marriage that I never imagined was possible, an anchor in the Catholic Church, and a deeper understanding of my adoption into God’s family.  May all the saints and angels pray that we be open to smudges in the veneer, because, as far as I can tell, when we allow ourselves to be let down and humbled, we find out about true exaltation. (Lk 14:11)

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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…)

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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.

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