My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gratitude List #3...21-30

Today has just been a beautiful day.

#21. The day started  with SPRED (religious education for children with special needs) at my friend Leksi was in a good mood today and even said a few words I understood!

#22. Then a bike ride to the library to pick up...finally!...Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.

#23. The aforementioned book, which I'm looking forward to reading.

#24 After a quick bite of lunch, it was time to take another bike ride to confession.  None of the anxiety that usually builds as I stand in line and shift from foot to foot.  Just peace.  And the forgiveness of sins.

#25. Reminders of the approaching most solemn days of the Church Year.

Hosanna to the Son of David!
(I know I'm a day early, but these palms were already up in our Adoration Chapel)

#26. Pictures of Spring!

This isn't a rose, but...

  I see His blood upon the rose
              And in the stars the glory of His eyes,
              His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

    I see His face in every flower;
                  The thunder and the singing of the birds
                           Are but His voice—and carven by his power
   Rocks are his written words.
            All pathways by His feet are worn,
                       His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
                               His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.     
Joseph Mary Plunkett, "I See His Blood upon the Rose"

Mary Most Holy, pray for us! 

#27. The time that I had; no rush to get home, just time to bike and look at spring.

#28. The time to bike into the cemetery, to pray for the souls of the faithful departed.

#29 The deer I saw. In the middle of the cemetery.  In the middle of a busy city.

He didn't move.  I was able to move until there was no fence between me and him.

He just stood there and looked at me.
And I looked at him, and marveled, and thanked God for this.

#30. Evening Prayer 1 for Palm Sunday...
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee: because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world!

God Love y'all!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Gratitude List #2...#'s 12-20

Today's list is going to be a little bit harder to find...the stress roared in from nowhere again. I was in such a good mood as I biked to my part-time job, and then, at work, the good mood evaporated. And I started over-thinking things, and panicking, and feeling generally grumpy.

However, I'm going to plow through that and write the gratitude list:

#12. Good books...I just (finally!) started reading Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, by John and Stasi Eldgredge. So far, so good...maybe I'll write a book review in a few weeks.

#13. Employment...the fact that I have a part-time job, and some income.

#14. The roof over my head, a place to sleep, food in the fridge, and money in the bank account.

#15. My first attempt at braiding my own hair...I have resolved that I will learn to braid my own hair by the time I'm 25. A month and a half to learn.

#16. The music of Jason Crabb, Steven Curtis Chapman, and others.  Songs that lift my spirits.

Jason Crabb, "Let Mercy Hold You"

Steven Curtis Chapman, "Fingerprints of God"

#17. A cup of warm black tea.

#18. That afternoon's been a very long week!

#19. Tomorrow's SPRED session...working with those kids always cheers me up...and then the chance to go to confession in the afternoon, to prepare for Holy Week!

#20. The ability to write this gratitude list, even though stress and worry are weighing me down again.

God Love Y'All!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gratitude List #1...#'s 1-11

I've been really stressed lately, both financially (taxes are evil) and personally.

But today I'm tired of being stressed. It's time to start counting my blessings, time to cheer myself up, time to get out of these doldrums.

So I'm tearing a page out of the books of two bloggers, both of whom have inspired me so much in recent days: Mary over at Passionate Perseverance, and Ann over at A Holy Experience.

Today, I am grateful for....

#1. A bike ride in this beautiful Spring weather.


Cherry trees!  Proof that SPRING is here! 

#3. The elderly gentleman who, as I whistled while biking, said, "We can hear you coming. Thank you." (To seem, that might seem sarcastic; but I think maybe he hadn't seen me coming, and was genuinely grateful that I was whistling so he could hear me coming.)  Made.  My.  Day.

#4. The ability to go to the Adoration Chapel.

#5. Looking up that passage in Matthew 6:
Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink. . . . Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? . . . If God so clothes the grass of the field...will He not much more provide for you, O ye of little faith? So do not worry and say "What are we to eat?" or "What are we to drink?" or "What are we to wear?"
#6. The ability to go to Mass today.

#7. The reminder, in the General Intercessions, to trust "that God watches over us and provides for our needs."

#8. The 3-year-old who shook my hand at the Sign of Peace.

#9. The bank teller who asked if I needed water for my throat (still recovering from last week's bout of bronchitis)

#10. Baby Brussels Sprouts.  I opened the package expecting the big ones, which I like, and found it was full of very small, cute little Sprouts.  :-)

#11. The professor's family (my adopted family...they would adopt me legally if it didn't cost so much money) ;-) who called to check up on me today.

God Love Y'All!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Embracing the Cross or Leaning on a Crutch?

From the time of Karl Marx, who famously said that religion "is the opium of the people," to our own days when modern secularists think that religion is a crutch for the weak, atheists and those who scoff at religion view it as some form of escape from the problems of daily life. Some of these views include the following:
1. Religion is a drug, not unlike opium, which those who "have religion" use to numb themselves to the hardships of life. It's something that lifts their spirits, maybe even makes them a little "high." They're happy all the time, and that's just not natural.
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan /
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan /
2. Religion is a crutch on which religious people lean because they are too weak to "stand on their own two feet," too insecure to practice the modern virtues of independence and self-reliance.
3. Religion is something that might help in times of suffering, but isn't really necessary when the suffering is over. It's okay if those religious people turn to it to ease their pain, but as soon as they've stopped hurting, they can--and indeed should--throw it away. After all, no one uses a crutch once his broken foot has healed.
These, however, are wrong views of religion.
Religion is not a drug that blinds us to the hardships of life. Rather, it strengthens us to face the hardships of life without staggering under their sometimes impossibly heavy burden. Even if we have faith--some might say, because we have faith--we are still going to experience hardship. And our faith might not make it hurt less. It can help. Sometimes it eases the pain, but sometimes it doesn't touch the pain, and we have to carry that pain.
There are a lot of people out there who have faith, who indeed are very strong in their faith, and they still hurt. Look at the saints. They suffered; some even died for their faith. Did they mess up somewhere along the line? Did their God abandon them? No. He was there through all of it. He gave them the strength they needed to bear the pain, to not fall under the burden.
In the second place, religion is not a crutch on which we lean in order to escape responsibility, or to comfort us when we are suffering. A crutch, by its very nature, is a temporary aid for walking. If we view religion as something we lean on "while it hurts," then discard, then our religion is not true religion.
True religion lasts throughout our life, in both our sufferings and our joys. It is also more laborious to walk with a crutch than to walk just with "our own two feet." Religion does not make our lives more laborious; it gives us strength to carry our difficulties.
If we throw the crutch away and try to "stand on our own two feet," we'll fall. As fallen human beings, we need grace; we need God. However, we cannot use religion as an excuse for avoiding our duties and shirking responsibility. In the words of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen:
The other day a husband who admitted he could not be faithful to his wife, upbraided her for turning to God, saying that she was using religion as a crutch. The assumption behind such a statement is that one ought to live on his moral fat and be dependent on nothing outside oneself. The rotten luxury of living on and for one's own ego is here exalted to a point where the eye is called a crutch because it leans on the birds and flowers for seeing; the ear is called a crutch because it leans on the song of the birds and the sigh of the waterfall for hearing; the stomach is labelled a crutch, but it craves food.
Nothing in nature is complete within itself; everything looks to something outside and beyond self except the egotist. The glory of the clouds is to die in showers, spending themselves on others. But the egotist, living only for self must eventually fall into despair and unhappiness when he discovers his own bankruptcy. Once all the honeyed treasure of his body is spent, with no new life to show, then he discovers the lonesomeness of being alone.
Finally, "religion" that only lasts as long as suffering lasts is not real. It's like asking your mother for a Band-Aid because you cut your finger, then never talking to her again because she took care of that one need.
If religion is not a drug to numb our pain or a crutch to support our weakness or a temporary Band-Aid for our wounds, then what is it?
Fulton Sheen again reminds us that religion is not something the weak lean on; rather, it is something we carry:
Religion is actually not a crutch; it is a cross. It is not an escape, it is a burden; not a flight, but a response. We speak here of a religion with teeth in it, the wind that demands self-sacrifice and surrender. One leans on a crutch, but a cross rests on us. It takes a hero to embrace a cross. (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Way to Happy Living.)
"Wait a minute," you're saying. "If religion isn't going to numb me to the hardships of life, and is instead going to burden me, weigh me down with a heavy cross...why do I need it?"
Religion is not going to weigh us down. It is something we carry--Sheen is right when he calls it a cross, a burden--but it is a "yoke [that] is sweet" and a "burden [that is] light" (cf. Mt. 11:30). As the Crux Fidelis sings so beautifully, "sweet the wood and sweet the nails, laden with so sweet a Load."
If we throw it away under the delusion that we're self-sufficient and can "stand on our own two feet," we will quickly realize that our burdens are ten times heavier without the support of that cross. That sweet Load is actually the weight of our Savior, Who helps us to "carry" the suffering as He invites us to carry our crosses in union with His.
This is something to ponder during Lent, as we focus on taking up our Cross and following our Crucified Savior.  Are we using our Faith as an excuse, as medicine only when it hurts and then discarding it like we discard the crutch after our broken leg heals? Or are we shouldering that light Cross and carrying it after our Crucified Lord?
Do we accept the burden of our Faith?
Do we embrace the Cross, or do we lean on it as on a crutch?
"My yoke is sweet and my burden light" (Mt. 11:30).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Five Quick Facts...

...about Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, also known as

Five Misconceptions about Venerable Sheen, refuted
  1. Fulton J. Sheen is the same person as Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
  2. Fulton J. Sheen was born in El Paso, Texas.
  3. Fulton J. Sheen was a shallow TV personality.
  4. Fulton J. Sheen watered down Catholicism.
  5. Fulton J. Sheen is irrelevant to the 21st century.
Thank you kindly, dear readers, for allowing me to vent. I ran into a woman at church today when I was checking out Sheen books for Lent, and the woman asked if he was the one (I think she meant "bishop") from Chicago who had been falsely--she emphasized the "falsely" part--accused of abuse. I fear there was smoke coming from my ears...ignorance infuriates me. This woman was old enough to have watched Sheen's television program...I was born 10 years after Sheen died, and only discovered him another 14 years later.

Respondeo #1: The bishop from the Chicago area who was falsely accused of abuse was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who died in 1996.  Sheen (who died in 1979) was not from Chicago. He only spent the first 20-odd years of his life in Illinois, after which he taught at the Catholic University of America for 25 years, and spent the last 39 years of his life in the Diocese of New York.

Respondeo #2: There is an El Paso, Illinois, an El Paso, Texas, a Peoria, Illinois, and a Peoria, Texas. So I can see why books--for example, the 2006 Encyclopedia of Catholicism; the Historical Dictionary of the 1950'sIrish Heroes and Heroines--have been published asserting that Sheen was born in El Paso, Texas.
Respondeo #3: For the purposes of this argument, I will define "shallow TV personality" as "a celebrity who is only concerned about the fame and the glory that he gains from his TV shows." With that definition in mind, I grant that Sheen did struggle with his natural human tendency to bask in the fame and the glory. He admits in his autobiography:
When I was a priest I thrilled at being called "Father." I found the title "Monsignor" mellifluous, but was I a victim? I enjoyed the prestige of being a university professor, and of appearing on radio and television not only at home, but abroad; I was popular, I was sought after, I was loudly applauded after lectures and banquet talks, I was a friend of both royalty and the masses, my features became so recognizable that I would be identified by a passerby in a revolving door, my face appeared in millions of homes. I made the right kind of enemies, namely, the Communists. . . . I loved creature comforts. I dressed well and I excused myself for this, saying that the ambassador of Christ should always present himself as a gentleman to the people and one of whom they could be proud. But this can be over-rationalized. (Treasure in Clay, 335, 337)
Immediately, however, Sheen says:
But . . . but . . . how close was I to the Cross? I was the priest; was I the victim? I offered the Eucharist, saying: "This is My Body; This is My Blood" indicating the Body and Blood of Christ. But was I saying of myself: "This is my body; this is my blood"? While many young priests sought ways to imitate the way I preached, was I inspiring anyone to imitate Christ in the daily carrying of His Cross? I knew it was not right. I knew I should be giving away more than I gave. I should have resembled more closely Christ, Who had nowhere to lay His head. I should have fled from some applauding mobs as the Lord fled from the enthusiasm at Capharnaum after the multiplication of bread; maybe I was like Peter, who at one point "followed the Lord far off." (Treasure in Clay, 335-337)
As he looks back on in his life in his autobiography, he does so with a sense of failure...he hasn't done enough. He served Christ, but sometimes he let the fame "go to his head." He gave away the income from his TV programs to the missions, but he knew that he "should be giving away more." However, despite these failures, he still taught the Truth that is Christ.

Respondeo #4: Once he was on television, and addressing a national audience, many of whom were not Catholic, Sheen had to adjust his preaching to his audience. This does not mean that he "watered down" the truths of the Catholic Faith. One does not teach a first-grader "watered-down" religion if one gives him the Baltimore Catechism rather than Aquinas' Summa. Sheen was not "watering down" Catholicism by finding a common denominator from which to preach about angels instead of giving his audience a lecture on the metaphysical properties of separated substances. In Sheen's own words:
When I began television nationally and on a commercial basis, the approach had to be different.  I was no longer talking in the name of the Church and under the sponsorship of the bishops.  The new method had to be more ecumenical and directed to Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and all men of good will.  It was no longer a direct presentation of Christian doctrine but rather a reasoned approach to it beginning with something that was common to the audience.  Hence, during those television years, the subjects ranged from communism, to art, to science, to humor, aviation, war, etc. Starting with something that was common to the audience and to me, I would gradually proceed from the known to the unknown or to the moral and Christian philosophy.  It was the same method Our Blessed Lord used when He met a prostitute at the well.  What was there in common between Divine Purity and this woman who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband?  The only common denominator was a love of cold water.  Starting with that He led her to the subject of the waters of everlasting life. (Treasure in Clay, 72)
Sheen might have been using modern methods, but he used the media of his day to preach Truth. Not the relative, changing "truth" of our modern world, but the eternal, living Truth Who is Christ.

Respondeo #5: read my post VENERABLE Fulton Sheen: Theologian? Timeless?, some parts of which were quoted in this post.

God Love y'all!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What Are You "Exchanging" for Lent?

As Lent approaches, everyone is asking their kids, and deciding for themselves, “What are you going to ‘give up’ for Lent?”

Why am I putting “give up” in quotation marks?

“Give up” is in quotation marks because it is not the most appropriate term for the action that we perform during Lent.  Instead, as Venerable Fulton J. Sheen said, we are exchanging one good for another (higher) good:
It is quite a wrong thing, therefore, to say that you “give up” something during Lent. Our Lord never asked us to give up anything; He asked us to exchange: “What exchange shall a man give for his soul?” When someone is in love with God, he finds that there are somethings (sic) he can get along without (his own pleasure), and something else he cannot get along without, namely, the peace of soul that comes from obeying God’s Will. So he exchanges the one for the other, surrenders the lesser good to gain a Kingdom. He makes such a series of profitable exchanges every day he lives.  (Peace of Soul)
 So, as we choose our Lenten penance, instead of asking ourselves, “What will I give up for Lent?” let’s ask ourselves, “What will I exchange for Lent?’

Instead of “giving up” chocolate, let’s “exchange” chocolate for money that we can put in the Poor Box.

Instead of “giving up” time on Facebook, let’s “exchange” that time for time spent with the Word of God, or praying the Liturgy of the Hours.

Instead of “giving up” popular music, let’s “exchange” it for Christian music, or Gregorian chant.

Because, ultimately, what is the reason we “exchange” chocolate for money that we can put in the Poor Box, or that we “exchange” that favorite TV show for quality time with the Word of God?

We make these “exchanges” because “nothing in all the world is worth a soul” (Sheen, Life of Christ).

That’s why we observe Lent. That’s why Our Lord spent forty days in the desert. That’s why He endured the Agony in the Garden, and the Scourging; the Crowning with Thorns, and the Carrying of the Cross. That’s why He died on that Cross for us.

Because the salvation of our souls was worth it.

Because we’re worth it.

God Love y’all!

Monday, February 17, 2014

On Grief, and on Moving On

Right now, there are no words.

Tuesday night, a fellow Christendom alumnus (class of 2013) died. He was 23. He had been engaged for less than 3 months.

Twenty-three-year-olds aren't supposed to die.

Why, incidentally, are we afraid to say that someone "died"? Why do we try to soften the reality with such terms as "passed away," or the more humorous "bit the bullet"? What are we afraid of?

We're afraid of death. We're afraid of the very fact of death. When someone close to us dies, we miss them...but the death of a friend is also a stark reminder of our own mortality.

And so we grieve. We mourn. We grieve for the could-have-been's, the would-have-been's, the life that could have been lived. We mourn together with the friends and the family.

We grieve, yes...what is the shortest verse in the Gospels? "And Jesus wept"...but we can't wallow in the grief. Wallowing keeps us from living our regular lives, and yet we have to move on.  While God Incarnate Himself wept for His friend, He did not wallow in His grief; and wallowing is not what God wants. He wants us to move on.

We cannot let the grief consume us such that we suspend our lives; those who have gone before us do not want us to suspend our lives.

We have grieved; we have buried Charlie; and now it is time to move on. Not forgetting the loved one, the friend, we have lost; but moving on in hope.

For our God is the Resurrection and the Life.

"Jesus saith to her: Thy brother shall rise again.
"Martha saith to Him: I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day.
"Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, although he be dead, shall live: and every one that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever. Believeth thou this?
"She saith to Him: Yea, Lord, I have believed that Thou art Christ the Son of the living God, Who art come into this world"--Jn. 11:23-27

Rest in peace, Charlie.