Water in the Desert 

Recently I have been reading some great articles written in response to the “Benedict option” one from Bishop Baron and another from R.R. Reno over at First Things.

In summary, the “Benedict Option” is the idea that Christian communities should withdrawal from mainstream culture and focus on strengthening both individual and faith community relationships with Jesus Christ. I am incredibly oversimplifying the matter for the purposes of this article because the links provided above do a nice job detailing more what it is and how it’s written in response to recent cultural trends if you’re curious.

On a personal and entertainingly ironic level, I have been reading “Evangelizing Catholics” for my young adult group where author Dr. Scott Hahn outlines a response of engaging with the culture through the New Evangelization by witnessing the gospel first in families (the “domestic Church”) and then throughout the world. 

Both call for a similar growth in faith and spirituality lived out through a relationship with Christ in prayer and sacraments, and also in the Christian community. Dr. Hahn particularly mentions the important (and countercultural)  witness of Christian hope and I couldn’t agree more heartily.

However, in reading Christian responses to cultural things I think there may be some confusion to the idea of what constitutes Christian hope. 

If you were to peruse articles discussing the grounds of Christian hope from outside of the faith, you might mistakenly glean that Christian hope is based on winning the cultural war, attracting more converts than other religions, or attaining influence in political and social spheres. You might think this because so many of these articles addressing Christian cultural relevance, evangelization, and public policy express a sense of foreboding and no-holds-barred panic as they sit over statistics and wring their hands about the future.

That’s more or less to be expected, people being people, but what gets under my skin are the dry rebuttals offered by the Christians who address this panic head on. Those authors who list isolated statistics in support of their point (like a decline in some measure of immoral behavior) or argue against demoralizing statistics that counter their point (polls that show millennial church membership is lower than ever).

This strikes me as a colossal waste of valuable time because I would argue, as I’m about to, that Christian hope has not ever nor should it ever be remotely based on anything temporal or related to temporal affairs.

This is because the Christian life is not based on the temporal sands of time with it’s ever changing socio-political structures, it is based on our firm belief of our eternal soul being saved by Jesus Christ who died for our sins and our anticipation of a life of union with the Trinitarian God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) in Heaven.

St. Peter states this succinctly and eloquently in his first epistle:

Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to living hope throught the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith… Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your soul. (1 Pet 3-9)

The ultimate goal of the Christian life is the salvation of your soul. This is something that cannot be taken away by losing the culture war, by a decline in religious affiliation (millennial or other demographic), by unfavorable public policy or by persecution of any kind.

Do these things deserve attention? Sure, but to focus on these second things at the expense of the first thing (eternal salvation) would be a tragedy.  Conversely, by focusing on salvation as your goal you gain not only the satisfaction of every desire (eternal union with God) but you might knock out a few of those worrisome second things by your witness to and pursuit of the perfect love you experience in God beginning in time and lasting down through eternity.

Now, there may be those who find themselves wondering how on earth this belief sustains me. In this culture of instant gratification, how can I stand to detach from things that are good in the here and now (whether that good be an indulgence like chocolate or a greater good like political support for a worthy cause) for the promise of eternal life that “may or may not” make me happy one day in a very distant future after I’m dead?

The answer to that question could probably be an article of its own, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll say it is because for me there is no uncertainty surrounding the idea of eternal life with God. I am fully convinced from a combination of Catholic Church teaching and my own life experience that God is the only person who can fully satisfy the desires of my heart. There is absolutely no temporal thing that could fill the void in my soul that was intentionally made to receive the love of God. I know this to be true quite profoundly because in a very foolish pride I once tried to go out on my own and fill that void with temporal things rather than have a relationship with God which, as I’m sure my wiser readers can imagine, aside from being a bad idea in general made said void so much worse.

Yes, much like St. Augustine my heart was very restless until it rested in God but learning how to rest in God was a journey in and of itself (a journey that was aided by/if not entirely the result of Marian consecration via book #9 of my “Top Ten Life Changing Reads“). It was from this weakness and from this seeking that I stumbled onto the merciful love of God and from being absolutely immersed in that love I knew with perfect clarity that the love I had spent so long searching for could be found only in God and nowhere else. Much like a thirsty person traveling through the desert, once I stumbled upon the water of life everything else hailed by the world as so material and so satisfying felt like a mirage because I had experienced the true oasis. After that, it was easier to say no to the world because I knew it’s (once very convincing) promise of satisfaction to be an empty promise, a promise that had instead been perfectly satisfied in God and I felt like I was home at last.

Needless to say, this flies in the face of the prevalent cultural and moral relativism which (falsely) states that there is no truth, no one thing is better or worse than the other, and that the only things we humans can do is pursue what makes us individually happy with occasional consensus over things that are seen as “bad” but which are predictably inconsistent and constantly changing. In this view, our mirage from the previous metaphor would be presented as equally satisfying as the oasis and what you wanted to choose was up to you and was really none of my business. If I like the water I drink the water, if you like the mirage you sit comfortably in the mirage. No one way is hailed as right, no one way is hailed as wrong.

It doesn’t sound problematic at first and perhaps even comes across as open minded. The issue only arises is if you truly believe in your heart that one way is better than the other. That one way leads to life in Christ and the other to spiritual death. That one way leads to joy the other only to a pain and emptiness. In other words, the water of life is the only thing that can truly satisfy whereas the mirage leads to death. The truth in this instance is not relative but inescapable, that each and every person needs water to live and every mirage inevitably comes to end leaving you with nothing but a barren desert. This holds true for the spiritual life as well.

My Christian hope is my hope of eternal salvation won for me by Christ Jesus, the fruits of which flower even now while I’m still an earthly pilgrim. However, to ignore the eternal salvation of my neighbor, to transform the monastic idea of St. Benedict into a “Benedict option” that says in effect “let the heathens perish in their desert” while Christians shift their focus to strengthing their own oasis feels not only uncharitable but a grossly irresponsible response to the truth and the love which God has so charitably shared with an insignificant sinner like me as well as my fellow Christians.

You are not obligated to agree with anything I ever write on this blog or be moved by any of the corny metaphors I employ to illustrate my point better. You have a free will that is a gift of God, inseparable from the human existence, and which I would in no way violate through coercion or fear tactics. However I cannot sit comfortably in my own little oasis, be content with just my own relationship with God, because love by its nature is meant to be shared and I have been blessed with such a profound experience of the ever faithful and merciful love of God that I will not cease to invite you to share in it and experience it for yourself for as long as I live because not only do I hope to live forever with God in heaven, I’d like to see you there too.

The Secret to Success

There really isn’t one.

But blogs who claim to have it get hundreds of thousands of views and shares. (which is just a touch more than I get, lol)

But fear not, I have a very different definition of success than most people and I’m very content with this blog and very flattered that even one person takes the time to read it, much less a few thousand- so thank you!

Because I think in our globally connected society we think just a little too big. You’re not a success unless you influence millions. You’re not wealthy unless you live like a Kardashian. Your political movement didn’t work unless it abolished everything you disagreed with by the next day and ended poverty to boot.

You may think I’m exaggerating, and maybe I was a little, but it was done to make a point.  The point that this train of thought breeds apathy and ingratitude. It hardens the heart to the world around us and the plight of others. It makes us think that unless we can do everything we shouldn’t do anything. And that’s just foolish because I can’t think of a better way to suck the joy out of living.

Instead, I would echo something closer to the theme of Schindler’s list, that “he who saves one man saves the world.”  Because while we’re so busy being big we forget to enjoy being small, and full of wonder like a child. We forget to smile at the stranger sitting next to us or be happy at the smallest act of kindness that someone does for us or that we do for someone else. We forget that sometimes life has a little bit of magic in it, and it sits in plain sight if we would only just remember to look for it.

And that’s why I really don’t care whether this blog gets a hundred views or a hundred thousand views in a day, because when I was little if the person next to me agreed to read one of my stories I would sit breathless with anticipation, not because I was looking to change the world, but because I was simply hoping that when they read it they would see the magic too.

Martin Luther King Jr. 

I really like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
I know we’re taught to like him all throughout public school, but he’s one of those people who I imagine I’d still like even if the curriculum didn’t overflow with praise.

And I get weirdly nostalgic around his holiday because the world is so full of people who try to imitate him instead of realizing that his greatness relied chiefly upon him imitating Christ. To explain, for most of my life I’ve been a student of history and I believe that too often we study acts that make a character in isolation from what forms that character in the first place. For example, Martin Luther King was a minister which means he was familiar with ideas of heaven and the Christian teaching of loving thy neighbor because all are equal in the eyes of God. He was also a Baptist, which I know means he read his Bible. And in the Bible Jesus literally overcomes the world not by dominating it as he could have done, but by choosing heaven over it every single moment of His life even unto death.

I bring this up not because I have some overarching narrative agenda that I’m trying to brainwash you with, but because so many movements that attempt to imitate Martin Luther King Jr. come up woefully short and I would argue that the main reason for that is the misunderstanding of Dr. King himself. Because I would also argue that Dr. King didn’t set out to simply win political rights from a government or garner the adulation of the world. I truly think that he believed that when he died and went to heaven and saw a white person standing next to him he would not be looking not at his superior but at his brother. I believe he recognized this mysterious Divine reality and held on to this truth in his heart throughout his life, and that it was this vision that motivated him.

And I think Dr. King was so determined because he knew that the only thing that can truly overcome the world is the only thing that can truly overcome the nature of man, love. Perfect love. Love in the face of hatred. Love in the face of adversity. Love that provides dignity in scenes that are undignified and makes all mankind brothers and sisters.  And it was Dr. King’s witness to that love that is at the heart of the true Civil Rights Movement, and all civil rights movements throughout history. Because the world does not grant civil rights. The world deals in power, wealth, domination, and servitude. It is love that grants peace, freedom, and the universal brotherhood that comes from being not just citizens of earth, but citizens of heaven. And it is the world’s recognition of that immutable reality that truly changes it for the better, because it is in that act of concession that the world becomes a little more like the heavens, and when we see that happen we remember who we are.

And modern protestors, if they even deserve that title, want the glory without the guts. They take the shell of what is good, while missing the center. They self-importantly champion those the world loves and oppress those whom the world hates. They champion feelings over reason, relativism over absolute truth, and spirituality over religion. They champion not universal love and brotherhood, but a sterile equality, simplifying Dr. King’s message that God creates us equal and His love renders us brothers and sisters to instead say just that Dr. King had a dream that all people should have equal rights under the law, and this does the man a gross disservice. It maximizes a part of his mission at the expense of the whole and turns him from a champion of the heavens to a champion of the times, from a victor who overcame the power of the world to a victim who successfully managed to get a little power back from the system.

And I think he deserves to be remembered not for what he gained, but for the inspiring example of love that he so freely and equally gave away.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.