Awkward Grace

So I had an awkward moment today, not that that’s especially rare for me. After dinner I finished helping my grandma with something and she commented, “you’re very nice.” Her smile was so genuinely sincere that I felt awkward because I’m really not.

I know that sounds bad like I’m fishing for a compliment or have low self esteem but in truth I’m really not a nice person. I had a moment a few years ago that was a profound turning point for me where I saw who I was without God’s grace. And it was ugly. It came at the end of a series of lows both personally and professionally that had taxed me to my absolute limit and that’s what I saw before my eyes that day: limits. I saw a proud young woman who had rejected God thinking she would do things her way and didn’t need the suffering He was giving. And at the end of that ill-fated rebellion came the realization that every gift I had ever been given came directly from God and on my own I had nothing. All the accomplishments I had attributed to my various talents, even the personal things I liked about myself like being kind and having a sense of humor, were beautiful gifts that came as a result of the love that had flowed so freely from God to me and I felt the absence of it, the absence of that union with God the life of love and grace I had been living without realizing it, down to the absolute depths of my soul.

I was tempted to complete despair in my misery and wretchedness and the pride that had been so blind to it, but I was blessed by two wonderful things that saved me by completely turning it around. The first was a consecration to the Blessed Mother who gently guided me like a mother back into life. The second was the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the wellspring of merciful love I found within it which made that life worth living.

I’ve heard it said, regrettably I forget by whom, that “mercy is where love meets misery.” I’ve experienced that to be true and never before had I known a love so selfless and so completely forgiving, but what astounded me the most was how completely unchangeable it was. Jesus loved me as much at my best as He did when I was at my worst and I understood for the first time a little more of what real love was.

So now as you can judge for yourself I’m really not very nice. I’m genuinely nothing at all. But God loves me. And from that love I have life, the abundant life God promised in Scripture. And that life is what my grandma noticed when she told me that “I’m very nice.” I am very nice because God’s grace is stronger than my many many weaknesses and has been so transformative that I feel like a living miracle. I am very nice because the faithful love of God gives me great joy which circumstances cannot take away. I am very nice because the fountain of mercy from the pierced side of Christ on His cross has saved me and I look forward to eternal life in Heaven. I am nice not because of anything I am on my own but because God’s love is so perfect that it’s making me into His image which is not just “nice”, it’s perfect holiness which is an immersion in the perfect Love of the Trinity.

As a result of all this, what I am not good at anymore is accepting compliments because I always feel like the compliment belongs to God and to the love which He reveals by turning sinners into saints.

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The Trouble with Most of Us 

I have been doing a lot of spiritual reading lately for groups I’m part of and I keep seeing the phrase “most of us.”

Usually, when someone uses the phrase “most of us” in spiritual reading it is not because they are about to give most of us a compliment.

“Most of us” are not holy like the saints were.

“Most of us” do not pray enough.

“Most of us” don’t understand the beauty of the Mass.

“Most of us” don’t take the hard road.

I live in the world just like you. I meet and interact with the very souls intended in the phrase “most of us.” However, I do not see the same phenomenon described by the spiritual authors. I often find that as much as I respect some of these authors and even benefit from their teaching I cannot share the attitude they take toward the nameless masses. Because I know for a fact that to God there are no nameless masses or generalized groups of ordinary people- God calls each of us by name. He knows every hair on our head. He loves us each profoundly, sincerely and uniquely as the work of His own Hands. When God looks at the world He doesn’t see trends or demographics, He does not gaze at “most of us” but into the heart and soul of each and every man. He knows us perfectly and loves us perfectly not in spite of our weaknesses but in the midst of them. And I am convinced that the revelation of His love for each of us will be infinite and without limit, all the more so if we have been seeking Him too.

When I think about my faith I do not think of most of us, the other masses who are not as good and may never be anything of consequence to earth (as if there was a correlation to heavenly glory). I tend to think of all of us and our universal call to be holy. I think of all of us in our searching for a purpose of life that I believe can only be found if you accept the invitation to know God, love God, and serve God as well as your neighbor.

I do not think that holiness is something that will or ought to elude most of us. I think it is something intended for all of us that requires nothing from us but our “yes” to the transformative love that God seeks to give us. We are called to seek, the success of our efforts to grow in holiness is a product of God’s abundant grace, either the graces needed to overcome our own natures or the grace to keep going when we don’t.

Perhaps most of us will be intimidated when we first start to think of this. Most of us will feel like running and hiding. Most of us will fail many times at loving God, self, and neighbor. Most of us will have moments of doubt and temptation, where we feel like quitting the whole endeavor…

But I believe each of us can become the person God calls us to be because He loves us, He will give us every grace we need in His perfect timing (and not a moment before!) but perhaps most especially because He gives us each other.

My walk with God received a unique twist around 2014, I had an interior conversion within my practicing of the Catholic faith and that twist was a burning desire not just to get to Heaven myself but to take absolutely everyone with me. Because I realized that as much as real love can frighten people at the outset by its demands of selflessness, sacrifice, and suffering,  to view love as sheer suffering and misery is to see only half the picture. While it is true that in love another’s suffering can become your own suffering, in love their joy also becomes your joy.

So not only will I be “happy” when I get to Heaven by the mercy of God (I use quotations because any word expressing happiness I know will be an inadequate  understatement) but when you get there and experience this “happiness” for yourself I will feel it as profoundly as I did my own because I love you and pray for you constantly. Each and every one of you.

Spiders Don’t Eat Steak

Recently I’ve heard from a lot from people up in arms about ending the “stigma” of various things.

The latest “stigma” that activist millennials and oddly presumptuous older “intellectuals” want to end seems to be the “stigma of pornography.” The particular article I read is so bad I considered not providing the link as I respect my readers enough to not want to waste their time and worried half of them would read it ironically and mistakenly think the author was joking. Unfortunately, however, his opinions are fairly common and I’ve heard many of them before so I wanted to address it.

There are essentially 2 parts to the argument:

  1. The Church views sex in an unhealthy/repressive way.
  2. It is healthy and natural for men to want to have sex, and viewing pornographic material is a natural offshoot of that natural desire.

We are going to address the second part of the argument first because I am so exhausted of hearing this fallacy.

Spiders may or may not have the capacity to eat a steak, but regardless they never do and they never will because they are truly slaves to their natures. They spend their lives spinning webs, eating insects, and in some cases frightening humans, but they do not dream like a human does. They never stop and think that there is a whole host of options beyond insects to consume. They never dream about having a family or what career is the best fit for their personality. They are never tempted to give up spinning webs. They exist on a natural level of instinct and nature, never deviating from either. To claim that we are slaves to our desires like an animal is a false comparison because animals have no desire. Desire stems from will and animals do not have the capacity to choose or will for themselves anything beyond what their nature demands for survival. Therefore they are not able to be tempted because all temptation involves choice. In other words, not only will the spider never eat the steak, he will not even be tempted to eat the steak in the first place so there is no virtue in him never eating it at all.

What separates man from animals, and why it is not a sin to kill an animal like it is to kill a man, is twofold. First, that man is created in the image and likeness of God. Second, that man has free will. This means that man has a choice in what to eat, how to act, where to live, and in what to dream.

As usual, G.K. Chesterton says it best:

“Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.”

The freedom of choice is a term that is thrown around all the time and to promote the power of choice when supporting abortion while denying the existence of choice when one chooses to view pornography is a grave hypocrisy at best. It is weak to say that one simply has no choice in choosing to view pornography because his nature points him in the direction of wanting to have sex. This is hinged on the idea that only way a man will appease that temptation is if he gives into it in some capacity. That argument for sin is like the argument of the blackmailer who claims that the way to get beyond the problem is to pay once and get it over with. However, time and time again nature proves this line of thinking to be the opposite of what is true, when the payment to get it over with becomes prolonged and the blackmailed or the sinner gets drawn in deeper.

The reason people often don’t understand the Church’s teaching on temptation, sexual purity and a call to avoid pornography is because they often prefer to view nature as a singularly positive, organic, and “natural” thing. It adopts an overly simplistic view of nature, equating the complex human experience to a mere animal subsistence in order to diminish the significance of free will and choice. This is a problematic view to hold because reducing everything in our world to something explainable as part of a purely mechanical material reality ignores the spark of divine present in every human being. If man is a mere animal who is a slave to nature and lives in a purely natural world then how do we explain the most definitive characteristic of man, his thirst for the infinite?

Moreover, this limitation makes anything associated with nature (the “good”) seem inevitable while ignoring or refusing to explain the problem of evil, the choice and temptation to do things that are bad and that have the potential to harm oneself, others or one’s relationship with God. (In my mind to deny the existence of evil is like denying the existence of water, a bold and futile endeavor when the evidence of both can be found everywhere on earth.) In spite of what modern psychology would have you believe evil is inextricably linked to choice and free will as evidenced by the fact that evil remains a problem only among humans and not at all among animals who, as we established above, have no freedom of choice and can do nothing good or evil. 

Consequently, I reject the conclusion that porn is an inevitable desire that stems from a natural desire for sex because I do not view pornography as the result of a natural sexual desire. Instead, I view it as the result of a desire for pleasure, which would explain its prevalence in a society like ours dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure and the primacy of the self. Sex can be healthy and natural when it serves the purpose it was intended to serve, but that purpose is not mere pleasure (as many would have you believe). Pleasure strikes me as the root of pornography because the justifications that rise in defense of pornography are a rationalization of a behavior which I believe would not be necessary if there was no guilt associated with the act. For example, I can give you a lot of compelling reasons as to why I eat peanut butter m&ms but I have never once justified my choice to eat a zucchini because regardless of what I say I know in my soul which one is better for me and which one is truly natural.

If you’ve managed to agree with me thus far you might find yourself thinking okay so pornography might be rooted in pleasure which isn’t part of the natural order per say but which is part of the universal human experience and shouldn’t we have the right to seek pleasure at our pleasure? Does it really do any harm to eat peanut butter m&ms and/or view pornography? Are you really so Catholic that you regard eating peanut butter m&ms as a sin on par with pornography, as in one that could send you to HELL? Wouldn’t you really be better off “freeing” yourself from your oppressive religion which seeks to do nothing but ruin your pleasure and leave you wracked with guilt?

All of the above are excellent questions and kudos to you for your inquiring mind because asking good questions sets you on the path to wisdom.

However, since this blog post is already quite lengthy I am going to address all of those questions in my post next week.

Link will be posted here once the next article is published.