You Want Me to Do What?

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

~Isaiah 55:8-9~

I am learning the truth of this the hard way.  Lately God has been asking me to follow him into the dark – to do things that seem to make no sense.

I’m slowly making my way through C.S. Lewis‘s abundant collection of brilliant writings.  Right now I’m conquering his Space Trilogy, which consists of Out of a Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength.  They are an interesting mix of science fiction, theology and philosophy.

I was already thinking about how God asks us to do things that we don’t understand sometimes when I came across this passage in That Hideous Strength:

“There you go again! You grumble about being given nothing to do, and as soon as I suggest a bit of real work you expect to have the whole plan of campaign told you before you do it.  It doesn’t make sense… The great thing is to do what you’re told…”

Now the character speaking here is working for an evil company and does not have the sincerest intentions in keeping Mark Studdock(one of the main characters) in the dark, but the idea can be applied to how God works as well.

I like knowing things.  I like knowing why things happen.  I like knowing the future.  All of these tendencies are not conducive to building a trusting relationship with God.  Often when I ask God to reveal his will to me, it is not what I was expecting or what I wanted.  And then I complain.  Sound familiar?  We don’t just want our prayers answered, we want them answered in the way we want.  We ask God to give us a purpose, and then complain when that purpose is different from our own plans.

God is asking me to do something unexpected for reasons that are beyond my understanding.  The only thing I know right now is that he is begging me to trust him.

As you may know, for the next year I will be participating in Chi Rho Service Corps.  I’ve been slowly getting prepared and transitioning to where I’ll be living.  This has been a huge test of trust.  A couple of weeks ago I found out my placement and it was one of those moments when you wonder if God really knows what he’s doing.  I’ll be working at a Catholic elementary school, assisting in a kindergarten classroom and helping with the after school program.  I walked out of my meeting with the principal in a confused daze, with the need to know threatening to take away my sense of peace.  My fellow volunteers are working in soup kitchens, Catholic Charities and a family services center – all places perfectly suited for a social worker.  So why is God asking me to do this?

My need to “figure it out” quickly took over.  Am I supposed to be a teacher after all?(made worse when I was asked to teach a ccd class).  Is this even what I’m supposed to be doing?(squashed by very clear signs).  This is simply what God is asking me to do for the next year.  I’m not supposed to know the whole “campaign,” but trust him with each new day.

“The sooner you drop all that talk about what you came here to do, the better you’ll get on.” – That Hideous Strength

 

We are Gathered Here to Celebrate…

Today(August 15th) is a very special day.  It is the day of my little(only in age at this point) brother’s birth.  Every year we celebrate this special day by going to Mass(sheesh he always gets special treatment).  Wait a second…

I know what you’re thinking readers and yes I do know that my brother shares this day with the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Just trying to keep you on your toes.  So this website called Busted Halo, which is geared towards Catholic young adults, is great at making fun informational videos.  Here’s one about the Assumption:

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

I went on a retreat this past weekend.  It was one of those super secret ones, so I can’t say much about the goings on(it was an ACTS retreat – go if you have a chance!), but I had some revelations throughout the experience that I wanted to share with you.  This was one of those retreats where everyone bares their heart and soul, resulting in many tears.  I don’t think my eyes were dry for most of the weekend.

A theme that I noticed was a general dissatisfaction with the things of the world.  Because we humans are stubborn we usually try to attain our own happiness and satisfaction through worldly things and activities.  All the speakers fell into this trap but at some point during their journey, they finally realized that God is the only person who can truly satisfy us.

And then there is the lie that we are not good enough.  When we think that about ourselves, who/what do we think we’re not good enough for?  Often our standards are the problem.  In a way our standards are not high enough.  Our standard should be heaven.  I believe it was Jackie Francois that said, “Stop lowering to earth and start rising to heaven.”

The only person you should be comparing yourself to is the person that God wants you to be.  The truth is that this world is not good enough for us.  We were made for more.  We were made for eternity.  Temporary things will never satisfy our desires, will never bring us complete happiness.

We can fall into this trap in terms of good things as well, which makes recognizing the problem a little harder.  For example you could be married to the most wonderful person, who is a perfect Catholic and always provides for your every need.  Yet, that person still cannot satisfy you completely, although that may be hard to recognize.  I’ve heard of couples who tell each other once in a while, “I love you honey, but you just don’t satisfy me.”

Fulton Sheen said, “”The human heart is not wrong in wanting love; it is wrong only in thinking that a human can completely supply it.”

In looking for a community to join, I had to be very careful not to lose sight of this important lesson.  It is easy to start talking about finding a place that feels like “home” and then get frustrated when that place seems impossible to find.  That’s because heaven is our true home.  When I went on the first vocations retreat with the TOR Sisters, during adoration, I heard in my heart, “everything you desire, great and small, you will find here.”  I made the mistake of thinking that God meant in Toronto, OH, at that particular monastery.  No, he meant in the small white host in front of me.  He meant in his Son.

You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Lately, the word freedom has been thrown around an awful lot.  As  is often the case with overuse of words, the meaning of this word has been twisted until we have lost sight of its true meaning.  As I’ve written in the last few posts, freedom is about being your true self.  As much as I’ve pondered this idea and written about it, I still can’t quite grasp why that is.  How does this seeming contradiction of Christianity work?  How is it that surrendering ourselves entirely unto the will of God and obeying him, leads to true freedom?   Well I came across this video in which Fr. Robert Barron and Dr. Scott Hahn, theological geniuses and Catholic superstars, discuss the answer to this question.

 

Fr. Barron and Dr. Scott Hahn discuss God and human freedom

Of course the other word which is utterly and hopelessly marred beyond recognition is tolerance.  In regards to that, I’ll just share this lovely meme that has been circulating the web:

 

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

 

At the risk of being just another voice among the din that is discussion about homosexuality, I am feeling compelled to address an important distinction in Christian belief.  It has occurred to me that my last post leads to some interesting conclusions and the chance to share a song from my favorite band! The fact that we are not defined by what we do has important implications when we are talking about sin.  This is especially important in terms of homosexuality.  In the wake of the Chick-Fil-A controversy, a popular opinion has been rearing its ugly head: because some Christians believe homosexual acts are sinful, people think that we hate all gay people.

And therefore, using our free speech and freedom of religion to express these beliefs is apparently a horrendous act of bigotry.  Granted, there are those Christians who missed the “love everyone” boat.  But true Christian love says that we have innate human dignity, simply through being a child of God.  We believe that our sinful actions do not define us, do not lessen that dignity.  Therefore when talking about sinful actions, we should be sure not to attack the person him or herself.  When we talk of disordered sexuality, it is not a comment on the person himself, but is viewed as any other disorder.

This gem from the Catechism is an example of something that might be interpreted as bigotry:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same-sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

This entire passage is about “homosexual acts,” which, like other sins, only lead to pain and emptiness.  Nowhere does it comment on the people performing these acts.  When the Catechism does speak of people with homosexual tendencies it says: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.” (2358)

The Holy Spirit, who is so good to me, just led me to this perfect article in which the author discusses why he doesn’t label himself as gay.   He also has a blog, which you should check out because he has a lot more to say on this subject, and is speaking from personal experience.  The article has a great quote from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger(now the Pope!) on being defined by sexual orientation:

The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.

 

Defying Labels in Favor of Our True Selves

Being a writer, I pay attention to words a lot and I think how we say things is important.  One area I’ve especially been sensitive to is that of labeling ourselves and talking about who we are.  A few years ago my Dad pointed out that we are human beings, not human doings.  This has always seemed an important distinction to me and is a lesson that has been repeated by many wise people: who we are is more important than what we do.

A very strange phenomenon has taken over our present age: we are defined by what we do or uncontrollable conditions, rather than who we are.  As far as I can tell, this problem is perpetuated by the inadequacies of the English language.

This was brought to my attention when we talked about person first language in one of my social work classes.  We tend to label people, such as, he is handicapped, she is blind, etc.  My teacher pointed out that it is much more respectful to say something like, a person with a disability.  You might roll your eyes and chalk this up to political correctness, but stay with me for a little longer.  Really think about what I’m saying.  We say someone is handicapped, we are saying that handicap is what defines that person.  We are people, first, with equal natural dignity based solely on that fact.  So in this case, the problem is that people are defined by an uncontrollable condition.  I’d like to connect this with how we think of people with homosexual tendencies (see what I did there?)

We are in the habit of saying he/she is gay.  Speaking this way defines a person completely based on which gender he/she is sexually attracted to.  As soon as we label people as “gay” we make all kinds of assumptions about them.  It works the opposite way too – we label people with certain characteristics as “gay.”  This seems like a major problem to me and undermines the human dignity inherent in all people.  C’mon people, aren’t we hip youngsters supposed to defy labels?? (Secretly we can’t survive without them).

Another area that I think this problem comes into play is the discussion of men’s and women’s roles.  When people advocate for equality between the sexes, they often discuss the fact that women should be able to do the same things as men.  They don’t realize that the problem is deeper than this and the solution lies at the root of who we are.  We need to ensure that the human dignity and freedom of all people is equally respected.  As I have discussed before, true freedom is found in being who you are, not in the things you do.  Although people don’t want to hear it, we really need to be discussing how to help men and women be true to their natures, not what each sex should or should not be doing.

I’m continually trying to recenter my focus on who I am, not what I do.  For example, I’ll ask God who he wants me to become, not what he wants me to do.  And in everything I do, I discern how it is helping me become the person God is calling me to be.

When God is asked who he is his answer is simply “I AM.”  In tomorrow’s gospel reading from John, the crowd asks Jesus to perform a miracle; instead he tells them who he is: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Love Stories Suck – We Demand the Real Thing

One of the greatest things about college was the supportive Catholic community.  Since graduating and returning home I’ve been thirsting to have that kind of community again.  In his perfect timing he has more than answered my prayers, by sending some great people my way.  I recently met one of my fellow Chi Rho volunteers and future housemate, through whom I am now becoming connected to the young adult community in my area.

On Tuesday we went to an event in SoHo run by the Archdiocese of New York, which is part of a discussion series on love and responsiblity using the book Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility by Edward Sri.  You can read about the series here and check out the facebook page for more details.

In a world thirsting for authentic love these discussions provide insight into what that looks like.

When we arrived in the courtyard where the discussion was being held, we noticed that someone had graffitied “love stories suck” on a door which the audience was facing.  The irony was lost on no one.  My reaction was to be sad at the loss of faith in true love, but my friend pointed out that there was some truth to that statement.  The “love stories” that person was probably referring to – the ones fed to us by Hollywood and the music industry – do suck.   Movies, music and the real life failed relationships of celebrities give us unrealistic versions of what love and romance should be.

We were reminded of the recently popular song “Payphone” by Maroon 5, which includes lines like:  “All those fairy tales are full of it.  One more stupid love song, I’ll be sick.”

I can’t help but wonder if this sort of attitude might actually lead to something good.  People are starting realizing that what we are doing isn’t working and what the media is telling us should make us happy, isn’t.  Maybe this realization will lead some to look for a better way.  Our vision of what a loving relationship looks like has to come from God and must be a reflection of the self-giving love of the trinity.  Generally we are told to look after our own pleasure, but true love is continually concerned with the good of the beloved.  Our relationships must be grounded in Love Himself.

So Maroon 5 is right, those fairy tales are full of it, but there’s hope!  Happy ever after does exist, we just need to look to God to show us what that looks like, not Disney.

Here’s a great video expanding on these ideas.  Normally I’m wary about Jefferson Bethke’s ideas, but this one is spot on: