Sunday, August 31, 2014

Technical Difficulties and Some Housekeeping

When I write an entry here, I try to touch upon something deep, profound, insightful, or meaningful in some way.  I try to tap into something that will help the reader in some way, even if it's only to show those of you who walk a similar path "You're not alone."   I don't know how well I succeed, but it's my hope with each entry to have written something thought provoking or affirming.

This is not one of those entries.

This, folks, is a plain ol' practical entry.  Why?  Because I had to do some spring cleaning (in the late summer!) of the blog.  I wanted to enable my readers to follow me on Google+, but that brought about other technical difficulties, and to make a long story short I ended up staying up way too late (that's why this entry's gonna show a time stamp at a ridiculous hour) in order to replace every single entry on the blog, so far, with an identical entry, with an identical time-stamp, and an identical link.

It may look like the old entry, it may be written like the old entry,
It may even have an identical link to the old entry, but really its...

There are a couple of things this means:  One, for those of you who follow me by e-mail, I have no clue if your e-mail accounts just went wild saying that I've been publishing new entries like a madman, when in fact they're the same old entries (except-they're-actually-identical-doppleganger-entries-come-to-snatch-your-soul!) that you've already read.  For that waste of your time, I apologize.

Second, some of you had written some awesome comments on the old entries, and those have been totally lost to cyberspace now.  I extend a special apology to you, and I hope you'll contribute comments in the future, which I will do my best to avoid clumsily losing.  

All that said, a bland practical entry like this one is the perfect time to point your attention to some of the features of this blog.  As I said above, it's now possible to follow me by clicking "Follow" below my name in the "About Me" section.  That might be a little more direct a method to follow my posts than the e-mail option.  

Also, just to highlight the fact, I do have a Facebook page set up for the blog at  If you're on Facebook, be a pal, won't you, and "like" the page if you already haven't?  Besides being a really awesome thing to do, it'll make it easier for you to get the word out to your friends, by sharing the posts directly from the Facebook page.

Okay, that's all from me on this oh-so-exciting topic of technical difficulties and shameless advertising.  But there is one more thing...

Thanks to you, dear readers, I am very close to reaching the "1000 pageviews" mark before my blog has been active even a month.  That may not be much compared to some of the giants in the blogosphere, but to me it's huge.  I want to thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.  Without readers, a blog is just a glorified journal, but when the readers are actively following, a blog suddenly becomes one more way to feel like I'm making a contribution to a bigger world, however small an accomplishment a few words in cyberspace may be.  You guys  make it worth it.  For that, we should celebrate!  Bring cake!

I have officially made you want cake.  And now you hate me.

Blessings and prayers, and keep your eyes peeled for the next entry!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Confessions of a Once-Disgruntled Father

In less than two weeks, we're going to be celebrating the birth of our son.  It's set, actually, because we have a scheduled C-Section.  So it's certainly not going to happen later than we think.  We're both excited, and scared to death about this.

We have a sixteen-month old daughter, so our son isn't our first child.  But the experience of our daughter's birth was a hard and traumatic experience for both my wife and myself, and the memories are quite fresh.  The question looming in our minds is:  "Will this time be the same?"

You see, before our daughter was born, neither of us, who had lived as the only children in our households (I have brothers, but none of them ever lived with me), had been experienced with babies.  I'd held babies, but like my wife I'd not had to endure the real meat of the challenge that comes with actually living with a baby, and having a share in the real responsibilities that come with it.  I had spent time consoling my wife throughout the pregnancy, assuring her that things would be okay, because people have babies all the time, and raise them, and this is the way we were created and designed.

I knew that babies were demanding, and woke up at night, and required hours of energy and investment every single day.  But surely, things would fall into place.  We would adjust, just as naturally and surely as any other creature adjusts to rearing young, often without signs of complaint or undue distress.

There was only one problem with my high hopes:  I assumed that biology made some sort of rational sense.

Oh you poor, poor ignorant man.

You see, then our daughter was actually born, and I quickly discovered that biology made no sense at all.  I did NOT adjust to losing so much sleep at night.  I did NOT adjust to the baby's constant need of attention or care.  My brain did NOT flip on some sort of "instinct" that made these things come more naturally to me.  Rather, it seemed like the baby's biology, in every possible way, conflicted with adult biology, and there was no change, whatsoever, to the latter to make up for the demand.

I should preface the rest of this post by saying that I have since been diagnosed with clinical depression, and at that time in particular I was probably hit with the male equivalent of postpartum depression.  Be that as it may, I can't possibly exaggerate what a shock it all was to me.  I'm not kidding when I say it actually shook my religious faith, because I could see how blind evolution might make such a stupid mistake as to have the biology of the human parent be largely incompatible with the biology of the baby, but under no circumstances could I envision that such a thing would be true by intelligent design.  Frankly, there didn't seem, to me, to be anything "intelligent" about having such an important task as baby care be something that directly conflicted with the parent's instincts and needs.  The parental need for sleep does not magically subside when the baby is born.  I never experienced a "shift" that made it seem more natural, more bearable, to wake up every hour and a half to assist with breastfeeding and diaper changes.  It seemed to remain as forced, mentally unhealthy, and unnatural as it had ever been.  It's neither hyperbole nor a joke when I say I had doubts as to whether or not there was any intelligent design behind human biology after all.

The first couple of weeks after my daughter's birth, I will not say that I ever formally considered suicide as I did in the incident cited in this post, but it crossed my mind and lingered there very often, perhaps at least once an hour at the worst moments.  "I can't do this," I thought to myself, and I felt like a terrible father for it.  I actually hated the thought of "the rest of my life."  What sort of parent was I?  That this made things harder for my wife, also, only added to the feeling that I was no good to anyone and that no one would really lose anything if I were dead.  I was inwardly hostile, miserable, and saw no brightness left in life.  After all, I had wanted children since I was a thirteen year old boy, and if this beautiful thing to which I had aspired for more than half my life, was now so horrible to me, how would I ever be happy?

How uplifting; he speaks pure poetry!!

These are some of the fears both my wife and I have had about this upcoming birth.  Will it be the same as last time?  Will my depression get worse all over again as we are beset with the intense demands that come with the newborn phase?

I do have hope that this time will be different.  This hope is based in a number of things, and I'll list a few of them here.

1.  I wasn't diagnosed with depression yet, back then.  I now have both medication and counseling for the depression.  As I stated in my blog on suicide, there have been incidents which would have probably seen me dead, by my own hand, before the depression treatment, which have instead found me uncharacteristically resilient because, thank God, they have happened since I've found treatment.  I have hope that it'll be the same with the birth of our boy.

2.  I have a better grasp of baby care as redemptive suffering.  Any parent can tell you that baby's are hard work.  There's a lot of sacrifice.  Losing sleep and putting in energy you don't have does not, by some biological magic, cease to be suffering when you have a baby.  Unlike many other biologically imperative tasks, baby care doesn't come "naturally" for most of us, there is no "autopilot."  But that only means that our design is "unintelligent" if we think we are supposed to be "well oiled machines," working smoothly.  I've said before that in Christianity, and especially Catholicism, there is the belief that suffering is redemptive.  Suffering draws us out of ourselves, via sacrifice (whether bearing the suffering for God's sake or for others), so that we may be better people.  Seen through that lens, the way things work with babies seems less like evidence of blind, unintelligent evolution, and more like a sign of an utterly brilliant design.

3.  We're far better prepared for it.  I don't only mean that we've braced ourselves better, mentally and emotionally.  We have a lot of practical things in place, such as tangible support for the first few weeks postpartum, so that we can both relax a little better without bearing the burdens all alone.  As some childcare experts now agree, child care was never ever intended, especially at the newborn phase, to be a two person job.  Earlier generations had the aid of extended family, to such an extent that it's realistic to say that having to spend an entire twenty-four hour period during which the mother and father were exclusively responsible for the baby's needs was much rarer then.  We're taking even more measures now to see to it that we have that support.  We also know, due to actual medical opinions from my doctors regarding my depression, that I genuinely do significantly more poorly with little sleep than many others might, so in getting more outside help we're keeping my sleep needs in mind, rather than treating it as though I'm just "lazy" or something as I feared the first time.  This alone makes those first few weeks a lot less scary than the first time, when I felt like I was literally stretched beyond what I could give, yet I felt I could only "shut up and take it" because I feared I was just exaggerating and that everyone else--including my wife--would think so too.

4.  We can look forward to the fact that it gets easier.  Caring for our daughter is not nearly the same taxing beast of a workload as it was when she was a newborn.  Not even close.  But back in those early days, we were only able to look forward to this day based on pure faith.  We had never experienced it for ourselves.  It seemed to us, on a gut level, as if the difficulties of caring for a newborn would last forever.  Now we know, in a concrete way, that it gets better.  That in mere months, babies do tend to require less, significantly so, than they do at first.  Knowing that there's a light at the end of the tunnel is a major comfort for the both of us.

This too shall pass, son.  But first, it'll last for an eternity and
make you wish you were never born.

So I'm looking forward to the birth of my son.  I'm going at it with open eyes and a good deal more planning, using what we've learned from the first birth.  I have a more realistic expectation of how hard it's going to be.  This time, in spite of the hardship, I have hope that both my wife and I can find more of the joy in what's going on as we're going through it.  It may be a dry joy, a joy not unburdened by hardship and suffering.  But God willing it will be a joy that we can detect.  I'll never say that joy wasn't there with our daughter's birth, on some level, nor even that we were never for a moment aware of it back then.  But it often felt as though it was "choked by the cares of the world" so to speak.  This time, here's hoping that things are different, and that we can be more deeply aware of the joy even amid the struggle, and enjoy being parents to our newborn son the way we much better enjoy being the parents of our toddler daughter now.

But I'm not naive enough to miss this opportunity to ask for your prayers, dear readers, that this hope of mine will become a reality.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Matter of Perspective: Rewards in Heaven

As I mentioned in my post on scrupulosity, one of the bizarre things that I've often fretted and worried about, spiritually, is the thought that in Heaven I'll end up with a lesser reward than I could have achieved and, since this reward is locked in for eternity, I will have suffered an eternal loss.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but I feel--for the benefit of non-Catholic readers--that I should again explain this Catholic teaching, this time in more detail than I have before.  The Catholic Church teaches that in Heaven (and in hell for that matter) not everyone experiences it the same way.  Where some other faith traditions teach that everyone who goes to Heaven will have the same experience regardless, Catholicism holds that based upon how faithfully one cooperated with God's Grace in this life to produce good fruit, one's reward, which is to behold God clearly and face to Face, may be experienced to a fuller or lesser degree in Heaven.   In the Council of Florence the Church teaches that souls in Heaven "clearly behold the triune God as he is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits."

This is because for us, Grace--although it is a gift which we do not earn or purchase--is not a gift in the way that a whatnot or a picture frame is a gift.  In other words, it's not just given and then our job is merely to "have" it.  It's an active gift, a gift of utility, one that you don't just "get" and then sit on your laurels.  Yes, we rely totally on the Grace being given to us without our earning it, and any good deeds we do flow from that Grace, and not our own power, but if we're spiritually and morally lazy, the transforming effect of that Grace in our lives will not be as great.

This doesn't mean that Christ's victory is less great, but rather it means that--just as with believing in the first place--God will not force us to reach the greatest heights of transformation against our will.  If He were willing to do that, common sense says every baptized Christian would instantly be living the fullest, most faith-filled, heroic life of virtue possible, because God would have forced this transformation.  We'd just be programmed to do whatever a "great Christian" should do from the moment we received Grace.

Meet Christian!!!  He comes pre-programmed with 2,341,313 perfectly devout behaviors;
if you're an omnipotent Deity in need of predictable devotion that never gets it wrong,
Christian is sure to please!
But if we are in some sense responsible for how well we cooperate with God's Grace, it is reasonable to assume that we will experience our heavenly reward differently according to that same response.  Even the scriptures point to this.  In that parable of the Ten Coins that I've mentioned no less than twice in this blog (Luke 19:11-27), Jesus tells the story of a a nobleman who left ten servants with one gold coin each.  When he returns, he finds that the servants have earned different numbers of coins, although they were each given the same.  And what does he do?  He says to the servant who has earned ten more coins, "take charge of ten cities."  He says to the servant who has earned five more coins "take charge of five cities."

Notice something.  The nobleman, obviously representing God, does not say to the two different servants, "Well done, but your different levels of work make no difference to me, so you will all have the same exact reward."  In the similar parable of the man who gave his servants "talents" (Matthew 25:14-30), it's true that the man rewards all the good servants equally despite their different earnings, but there's a significant difference there:  Each servant was given a different number of "talents" in the first place.  The one who earned ten talents had started out with five, and the one who earned four had started out with two.  So both have done the same amount of work with what he had:   Namely, each doubled it.  That's why no difference is made between them, and this is indeed a comforting reminder that God does not hold us responsible for doing the great deeds of another if we were not given as much to work with as the other.

Not so in the parable of the ten coins.  The servants each started out with the same means, so it's clear that the one who earned more had done more.  And so, the number of cities entrusted to these servants matches how many coins they have earned, with each servant being given one city for each coin he had added to his master's fortune.

So one of these... one of these?
Man, inflation's ruined EVERYTHING since those days!

For my non-Catholic readers, I'm not trying to convince you, just showing that there's a case to be made for this, and that thinking this way isn't just something a random Pope made up to make life hard on scrupulous folks like myself.

With all that out of the way, as you know, I am scrupulous, and these thoughts have made my life hard at times.  Now that's no excuse for dumping the belief or saying it's bad.  The belief in morality makes one's life hard at times when one wants to do something wrong, yet I don't think any rational person ("rational" is a key word) would suggest we should go about eradicating morality of any kind on account of those "poor souls" who are troubled by it.  Still, I've often been anxious about the thought that I'll get to Heaven and find that I "should have done more" on Earth (by God's Grace, of course) so that I would have a fuller reward in eternity.

Some may say:  "How foolish!  If you get to Heaven at all, that should be good enough!  Why care about rewards?"  But remember that the reward in Heaven is not something like gold or possessions, something that's "nice to have, but it's just extra."  The reward is to directly experience presence, love, and glory of God.  The difference in one person's reward and another's, then, is not a matter of numbers, but of how fully they each experience God in Heaven.  I've heard it said, for example, that a person who cooperated with God's Grace more in this life increases the size of his spiritual heart, so that it can hold more, and broadens his spiritual mind so that it can contain more, so that a great saint would be capable of holding more of God's love and comprehending more of His glory in Heaven than someone who barely loved and served God well enough to just get his foot in the door.

Now, both of the hypothetical souls I just mentioned would be equally happy, because they would each be receiving all that they could possibly comprehend and contain, meaning from his own perspective, each soul is receiving all that it's possible to receive.  Somehow, though, that bit of consolation has failed to do its job with me.  The knowledge that, for all eternity, my capacity to contain God's love and to comprehend His glory might be more limited than is humanly possible has caused me a great deal of grief and loss.  I want to know God, in eternity, as intimately and as fully as it any human being could ever wish, so that there's nothing at all I could be said to be missing.  

Oh, is that all?  For a minute there,
 I thought you were gonna make lofty, cosmic demands.
But a couple of years ago, I began to envision a hope.  I still have no idea if it's a realistic hope, and I have no authority whatsoever to proclaim it as if it were a fact.  That said, if you're like me and you want to join me in entertaining this hope, or even if you're just curious, read on.

I got to thinking of some of the very things I posted about recently, namely the post about the unity of all souls with God and with one another in Heaven.  If it's true that in Heaven we will be so profoundly one with one another that, despite keeping our distinct identities and personalities, we might also know what it is to be (and experience reality as) each of our brethren in Heaven, then doesn't this say something about the way we will experience the Heavenly rewards?  If I get to Heaven and I am so very much at one with Brother Don from the monastery down the street (note:  No such monastery exists, and I'm sure I'm losing Heavenly merit by making up such a terrible lie) that I can "see Heaven through his eyes," as it were, does this mean that I will experience God through his capacity and comprehension (that is, his reward)?  And vice versa?

We're all one body, and according to Saint Paul, that's just how it works.  In 1 Corinthians 12:26, he writes:  "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share in its joy."  To experience extreme suffering in one part of a body is enough to bring pain cancelling out whatever joys the rest of the body may feel.  To experience, on the other hand, extreme pleasure or joy in one part of the body is enough to send good feeling throughout the entire body.  I have hope that it's the same with the faithful in Heaven, then.  That whatever joy there will be for the greatest of saints will be experienced, to the full, by the least.  When Mother Teresa experiences great depths of God's presence, mystery, and love for her compassion and kindness on Earth, little plain old Joshua will feel her joy, will share in her experience, not in the detached sense that he's merely happy for her, but the same way that a great massage, though located in one part of the body, radiates real pleasure to the rest, so that the shoulders are not merely "happy for" the neck when it is massaged, they're experiencing that pleasure for themselves.

Does this sound unfair?  Why, after all should Saint Holy's-Her-Face, with her impressive barrage of good deeds and a heart that was, in life, positively bursting with love and compassion, have her same reward experienced--through unity with her--by Saint Mediocre's-His-Name, who let fear and anxiety keep him from doing all he could for God's glory in this life?  Won't the saints be like the workers in the parable of the vineyard, grumbling and complaining that average, mediocre folk should get to experience their rewards?!  I think not.

Sainthood has always been about two things:  First, the love of God, but secondly the love of neighbor.  You don't become a saint by putting your own happiness as the highest good.  Otherwise Ayn Rand would have been canonized by now.

Note how full the chairs are of people waiting for THAT announcement.

Saints, instead, delight and rejoice whenever, by their labors, they might bring happiness to others.  I think, as Catholics (or at least among the scrupulous) we sometimes get the idea that in Heaven the greatest saints will suddenly be content to rest easy, fat on some reward that is exclusively their own, while the "little people" in Heaven must make make due with lesser things.  Preposterous!  Do you remember that incident where Pope John Paul II tried to give Mother Teresa a car, but she raffled it off for money to help the unfortunate?  That same spirit will thrive among the saints in Heaven:  If God were to give them a reward and say "Now this is for YOU!  Don't share it with those who haven't earned it!" the reward would become a heavy chain around the necks of these holy men and women, whose chief delight has always been to share with others, especially the greatest treasure they had:  God Himself.

Even the aforementioned parable of the ten coins subtly hints at this:  The reward given to the servants is the responsibility over cities.  A holy servant in charge of a city doesn't have this reward simply for his own benefit and prestige, but to serve the citizens, to make the city as happy and prosperous a place, for all, as it is within his power to do.  Doesn't that sound like what the saints would also do with their heavenly reward?   If so, I would think the great saints will, in return, experience our reward, and experience God through our capacity for Him too.  Let's not think too little of that, either:  St. Therese mentioned how the smallest flowers in the field bring just as much glory to God as the larger, so it makes sense that the larger flowers would be just as honored to share in the glory of the smaller as the smaller would be to share in the glory of the larger.

So that is the hope I have held for some time now, that has helped me to go through life without scrupulously obsessing over this issue at every moment; the hope that, with as flawed and average as I am, I will not "miss the boat" of experiencing God as only some greater saint than I might experience Him, with no hope for a "do-over."  Instead, I might find that, while it's true that I will not, on my own, experience God in the same way that St. Joan of Arc or St. Francis of Assisi might experience Him, I will share their same experience because of my unity with them.  And in that way, I won't be missing a thing.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Blood of the Just: Of violent persecution against Christians.

I can't overstate my pain and anguish at the deaths of the Christians who are being brutally persecuted throughout the world for their faith.  The latest news of persecution against Christians by the terrorist group calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is only one such terrible trend, but it's a good representation of the worst of the worst.  We in the modern West think of persecution--by-force--committed against Christians as being a thing of the past, a relic from the days of Pagan Rome when Christians were hunted down and given the death penalty.  However, in other parts of the world, Christians are still very much persecuted, asked to renounce their faith under pain of imprisonment or death.

Now, let me say that I'm not the sort of person to undersell the difficulties we Christians face in the West.  I'm not one of those, at all, who will insist that because we're not being imprisoned or killed just for claiming Christianity as our religion that this means there isn't a more subtle--and spiritually quite deadly--persecution against us.  No, if anything I'm the opposite:  I emphasize that the Western spite for Christianity is in some ways more poisonous to Christians than outright violence because, to modify a phrase my grandmother always said, "You catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar."  In the modern West, Christians are lured from their faith with the "honey" of prestige and media glorification, while scared from being fully Christian (that is, by espousing values deemed "backward" by the modern culture) with the "vinegar" of insult, spite, and legal sanctions.  Satan is quite crafty, and knows that the sword of mockery and the arrows of scorn can scare or entice as many Christians, if not more, into abandoning their faith than literal knives and guns.  And Christians in the modern West do not leave their faith shivering and regretful, but are often coaxed into leaving it proudly, never even realizing the spiritual doom to which they are now marching.

And let's make no mistake, Christians here are increasingly threatened with severe financial and legal repercussions if we refuse to compromise our values, even if we're allowed to technically profess our Christian faith (so long as we divorce ourselves from our morals and do as we're told in the public and business sphere, of course).  So as you can tell, I'm as far as you can imagine from the "Christians in the West have no right to think they're mistreated!" crowd.

But my recognition of the often-undersold threats Christianity faces in the western world by no means diminishes my sense or appreciation of the blatant horror faced by Christians in lands where Satan, for whatever reason, has chosen to be less crafty and more bold.  In these lands, the evil committed against us is obvious, cruel, and unambiguously evil.  It's true that when the enemy is coming after you with knives and guns, it's easy to know they are the bad guys at least, but that is a cold comfort when faced with the grim prospect of torture and death, or the even worse prospect of these things against your loved ones.  Unlike in the West, a Christian who abandons his faith under, say, the threat of Islamic jihadists might at least inwardly realize he's only doing a desperate act in order to escape a grizzly fate; but that does not diminish his pain or his guilty conscience.  If he evades the physical suffering, he is burdened with a fate worse than that of Saint Peter, who denied Christ, for unlike Saint Peter he will never hear--until his death--the comforting words of Jesus Christ in His obvious personal form to console him despite his moment of weakness.  He may spend the rest of his days feeling that he was a coward, if in fact he picks his shaken faith up again at all.

There can be no doubt:  The persecution levied against Christians in the more barbaric nations of the world is torture no matter what the Christian chooses.  If he does not abandon his faith, he is either imprisoned or he is tormented and killed.  If he does abandon his faith, then if he has any true faith at all he will live with mental and spiritual torment for the rest of his days over his decision, and wonder forever "Would I make the same decision if I had it to do over again?"  For a Christian, such uncertainty is also torture.  So he cannot escape torture no matter what he does or where he turns.  His third option, of course, is to permanently abandon his faith and never look back in regret, but with that option he loses his very soul, which is an even worse fate.  Cruel indeed is his list of available options.

I can only find solace in knowing that God holds the fates of those who are faithful--even those who only renew their faith after initially falling away in terror--in His hands.  He never fails to reward the suffering of His just ones.  Some great minds have said that even the smallest inconvenience, if suffered for God, will reap great treasure in Heaven; how much more then the profound suffering of our persecuted brethren!  Martyrdom and misery are the seeds of glory, for we serve a God to whom the blood of the Just--and I do dare to say "Just", for Christ justifies His flock--cries out for satisfaction.  That satisfaction shall come not in the form of petty vengeance (although, as Pope Francis himself has hinted, the use of force to STOP this violence has its legitimate place), but in a heavenly prize that far outstrips the horrors faced by the persecuted soul on the earth.

Let us pray for peace, and let us pray for both the victims and, perhaps even more so, the survivors of the barbaric and inexcusable deeds taking place even as you read this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Other-Centered Heart: Becoming "One" Through Empathy and Understanding

just posted about the perfect union I believe we will all know with one another in Heaven.  Early in the post, I mentioned how my desire for this unity may have manifested itself as my strong desire to have an identical twin brother.  I said that the desire to have someone who practically had the same body as me, who was so identical as to almost seem to share my thoughts, would be the closest thing besides marriage to sharing "one flesh" and otherwise being "one."

Thinking more about this, I believe that there is another way.  It's true, having someone be so profoundly identical to you might be an easy way to feel like the two of you are "one," but "easy" is not the same as "only."  This other way is difficult.  It's time consuming, and at times may seem infuriating.  But it's also a very Christian response to the problem.  Christianity often asks of us that we pull up our sleeves and put in a little elbow grease.

But do be a dear and keep it away from the sheets and linens.

This alternative is empathy and compassion.  It's that simple.  I said, in my last entry, that I believe that in Heaven we will each know what it is to "be" each other person, not because we are not distinct persons from each other, but because our distinctions will not constitute division.  This would be a unity not because of uniformity, but in spite of how different and unique we will each be from one another.  The union of Heaven will "bridge the gap" between the differences that make us special, so that even out of variety complete unity will exist.  Well, if that's the case, it makes sense that we can have something similar here "on Earth, as it is in Heaven."

How do I bridge the gap between myself and a brother in Christ who is "not like me?"  When the body through which another experiences the world is so vastly different from mine, when the opinions and thoughts of another seem at odds with my own way of thinking, how do I close the the distance?  I think it's by making a genuine effort to understand my brother.  I have to try to see the world as he sees it, to comprehend what it must feel like and be like to see with his eyes and "live in his skin."  Figuratively, of course.

Okay, I think I just lost my appetite.
(Then you'd better keep FAR from those sheets and linens!!)

Maybe there's some opinion or taste in whatever that a brother has that I can't buy for a second.  I may think he's infuriatingly wrong, or "off."  Okay.  It's fine that I have strong opinions that conflict with his, and I am under no obligation to change them for the sake of being closer with him.  Instead, can I see that it's also fine that he has strong opinions that conflict with mine?  Can I at least try to wrap my mind around how and why he is the way he is?  This will obviously never be perfect.  If I truly understood why someone was different from me, I myself  might be different.

To be sure, this requires that I fortify myself in my own identity, beliefs, tastes, or else I will risk losing myself.  A journey that starts out for mere understanding could become a journey instead of discarding who I am and putting on the identity of another.  Rather than bearing any similarity to the oneness in Heaven, it would be more like self-annihilation; I have not, in that case, become one with the other, I have destroyed myself so that the other is the only one who remains, which is a counterfeit oneness.  So by all means, be strong, be sure of who you are and what you stand for before you try this.  But once you do have that strength and that certainty, a little empathy can go a long way.

So the key to unity is not (always) uniformity, but understanding.  Whoever you understand and comprehend, you are to some extent "one" with him.  You can almost grasp what it is to be him.  And if that grasp is strong enough, you might even find your heart spontaneously moved for him even over things that wouldn't personally matter to you.  That's when you know that the magic of unity is really happening.  When in some strange way, the pains and joys of another are truly your own.  In some way, when you've reached that point, you'll have a foretaste of being one with your brothers and sisters just as it will be in Heaven.

Monday, August 18, 2014

That They May All be One

Ever since I was a child, I had a deep longing for something that it seemed I could never have.  The object of this longing was an identical twin brother.  But not just any twin, one of those twins who is so close to his brother that they can almost read each other's thoughts.  You know the kind; you've probably seen those documentaries or news reports where the two twins are so very close that they almost seem to have a psychic link.  That's because when two people are that profoundly identical, in a way they are one flesh, where normally only spouses can have that sort of union.  Two twins like that--and it's probably rare even among identical twins--experience the world through what is essentially the same exact body and, in the more extreme cases, even their brains and thoughts are similar.

That's what I wanted.  I wanted to know what it was like to be "one flesh" with a brother.  I wouldn't be surprised if this longing is part of what has been channeled into my same-sex attractions, in a misguided attempt to become one with another man the way that I would have been, by birth, one with a twin brother.  Of course I couldn't really achieve that with a man through sex; I believe sexual activity between two men only ultimately pushes them farther apart, rather than binding them together.  But the point is that I think it's that sort of unity with a man that I've been seeking.  Just as with twins, it isn't the same kind of union as with a spouse, and therefore it's not in competition with the spousal relationship (nothing and no one could compete with the beautiful union I have with my wife, and I would never want to replace that), but it's a oneness that would be parallel to that sort of union.  

Of course, I can't have a twin.  Alas, when I was but a wee fertilized egg, I didn't split, and that's that.  No second chances.

Like this, but we wouldn't be "fried" together.  Say no to drugs, and all that. 

Is there a way to have this sort of union on this Earth, despite not having such a twin?  Is there a way to have it with some man I know and love, be he literal brother or a close friend?  I don't know.  I know I love my brothers and my best friends enough for it.  But can we ever be "as one?"  Because, contrary to what some may think, that's what this is about.  It's not about having a "clone" of myself because I'm so great and want someone who's just like me.  It's about wanting to be "as one" with people.  I have a deep desire for unity beyond imagining.  Sometimes I even feel this toward strangers.  I have an aching desire to unite, to be one with my brethren.

The good news is, whether or not we can have this on Earth, we will have it one day.  See, around 2000 years ago, a certain God-Man named Jesus (perhaps you've heard of Him) prayed that all of His followers may be one.  In John 18: 21, He prayed, "so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us."  In just one sentence, this gives us a beautiful glimpse at what Heaven will be like.  Unity.  Perfect, unimaginable unity.  I believe that, in Heaven we will all of us, in some mysterious way, be "one flesh" and have a profound unity of spirit.  After all, the unity between the Father and the Son is so real that some early Christians mistakenly thought there was no distinction between them!  So if we are to be "one" in a way approaching the oneness of the Son and the Father, then this unity is going to be profound and real.  It's not just symbolic.

It seems to me that, in Heaven, we'll all have the sort of connection with each other that on Earth most readily exists between spouses or the sorts of twins I mentioned.  We will share in each other's experiences.  We'll know "what it's like" to be each other.  And this unity is actually going to be much richer than even the most profound unions on this side of eternity.  Because rather than having to be born out of similarities or (in the case of spouses) compatibility, it will transcend differences.  We will each continue to have our own personalities in Heaven, and there will be differences and variety there, but at the same time we will be so much "as one" that I think each soul will know what it is to be every other soul, and vice versa.  

Warning, paradox coming up!  Hurry, look at this infinitely more sensible abstract picture!

I was once asked, by someone who craved unity as much as I do, "Is there a place where two souls can exist in the same space?"  And I answered him "Yes, in Heaven."  Because that's the place where somehow space will not be an insurmountable wall, where despite having distinct bodies (after the Resurrection) and distinct souls we will find that there are no  more barriers, no more boundaries, that separate us from one another.  Our oneness will be similar to the oneness of the Holy Trinity:  Just as God is "One God in Three Persons" so too will we all be "One humanity in a multitude of persons."  Just as with God, the persons will be distinct.  But just as with God, the oneness will be real.  

And I, for one, look forward to it.  I will not cease to seek greater unity with my brethren on Earth where it can be found, but I will seek assurance in the hope that, whether I succeed or fail, one day I'll live the dream that even Jesus dreamed.  Alleluia!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

From the Heart of Despair: Reflections on Suicide

With the passing of Robin Williams, the topic of suicide seems to be on the hearts and minds of a lot of people.  It's also been a source of controversy as two opposite reactions to the tragedy have emerged.  On the one hand, we have a professional blogger Matt Walsh who has taken Williams' suicide as a chance to speak out on how suicide is a choice, that the suicide victim is not a "victim" in the same way as a cancer victim or someone who dies of some other disease.  There were some good points made, and I especially liked that he pointed out that depression has a spiritual component as well as physical.  Especially given his follow up post, I believe the message he intended to convey was a positive and compassionate one, and the vitriol and hatred he has received is uncalled for.  Yet his delivery could have used some work at certain points; that's only natural, as it's an emotionally charged topic and when a man writes from the heart not everything he says is going to be polished.  Still, the post came across (if incorrectly) even to some civil and level-headed readers as at the very least a bit harsh toward Robin Williams himself, even if compassionate to those contemplating suicide.

On the opposite end, there are those who are posting the already-viral meme, a screenshot from Disney's hit animated film "Aladdin," with the caption:  "Genie, you're free."  This well-meaning approach, perhaps unintentionally, paints the passing of Robin Williams as no different than an accident or natural causes.  It portrays his fate as something almost serene, the welcome release at the end of a long and terrible battle.  This can easily make the option of suicide appear dangerously poetic in the eyes of those actually contemplating suicide.  Having hope that those who die from suicide have found peace, by God's merciful grace,  is one thing.  But attempted assurance of it makes suicide a more seductive choice for anyone suffering depression.  After all, if suicide almost certainly leads to freedom, then there's little to stay the hand of a soul burdened by misery at every turn.  This is the sort of thing that Matt Walsh rightly wanted to discourage, even if some of his wording in the post distracted many readers from that message.

We need a balance that consoles the grieving,
but resists romanticizing this choice so that still more will have to grieve.

It's a good time to say this:  I have been suicidal before.  I've often vaguely thought of suicide, and even more often have I wanted to die by God's hand.  And at other times, the thoughts of suicide were very intense, but still without any concrete plans.  But on at least two occasions, one more severe than the other, I have gone beyond "vague" thoughts and into the danger zone.  The first time was brief and ended up resolving itself as quickly as it came:  I was to the point merely of planning out the suicide note.  The second time, I was actually resigned to the deed.  I knew how I was going to do it, and I knew when I was going to do it.  I didn't want to tell anyone about it, because I didn't want anyone to try to talk me out of it.  If not for a small twist of fate, which I truly believe was God-led, I feel that, as hard as it is to believe looking back on it, I really would have gone through with it.

So while I can't speak to what the experiences are of any other person, I can speak out on what was true for me.

Suicide for me wasn't about "killing all men," as much as I admire G.K. Chesterton, who said that the man who kills himself does just that.  Because, for as desperate as I was, I really did still believe in a next life.  To me, all men would not be obliterated, then, because I would still continue to exist.  And my Catholic beliefs were still intact, meaning that, if by some slim chance I made it to Heaven, I would still be able to watch people here below, and help them, which is far from wiping them all out.  Make no mistake, I was hoping against hope that God would have mercy on me.  In my particular case, my suicidal episode did not displace or disregard my Christian ethics.  I knew suicide would be wrong.  My morality had not "checked out."  But I was holding out some desperate hope that God would forgive me, because I simply saw no other way out.

I should explain that in my case I knew that my death would cause pain to those that I loved, but I'd also found myself in a situation where I'd exaggerated a small transgression (something that was, in hindsight, more unwise than outright wrong) into an enormous one; it played on my already depressive tendencies to bring me to the point of desperation and despair that led to my plan of action, and it also made me feel certain that my wife and others who know and love me would probably feel more disgust with me than love.  So I thought that, whether dead or alive I would be bringing pain to others.  This was not a decision born of not caring what sort of pain I brought others, it was a choice springing from a place where I thought causing such pain was inevitable.

When living feels like a burden to others and ourselves,
suicide can look far too much like a sound choice...

So I really don't think we can say, as a blanket statement, that those who commit suicide are selfish, at least not in the sense that they don't care about the pain they bring upon others.  We just can't judge that.  It's fully possible that some really don't.  But it's just as possible that, in that desperate, miserable, illogical state of mind, any given suicide victim might honestly have thought that, at the very least, his dying wasn't going to cause more pain than his life might already cause to his loved ones.

On the other hand, I don't want to sterilize the harsh reality of my suicidal episode for even a second:  In hindsight, if I had committed suicide, I don't know--even given my state of mind at the time--that I would have been "free."  I hoped that God would forgive me, and the Church certainly emphasizes that there is hope for suicide victims, but at least for me personally, I'm not sure what would have become of me.

Now, I am in no way saying that this gives me any grounds to judge someone else, especially in light of the Church's current policy of always entertaining hope; I'm just saying that even knowing where I myself was at that point, I am not prepared to say that "God would have understood," and that I would have achieved a "happy ending."  I just don't know that.  That's one reason, among so many, that I'm glad I didn't commit suicide that day.  And it's one reason that, if you are a depressed  person of faith and you still have any sense of reason whatsoever--even if it's slipping, due to your despair--I hope you will have the presence of mind to realize that suicide is not a safe option of escape.

Always give others who succumb to this terrible tragedy the benefit of the doubt but, if you have any capacity to do so, hold yourself to a higher standard, the old approach of "better safe than sorry."  I believe it was that faintly held conviction that saved my life, because somewhere inside of me it prompted just enough fear and uncertainty that I forced myself to tell my wife about my plans, which broke the spell.  Incidentally, she'd volunteered to come along with me on an errand, because "something told her to do so."  It was during that errand that she suggested a fun little outing, and something in me reawakened to the possibility for joy in life.  Then I opened up to her.  If not for that, even the faint fear I felt might not have been enough to stop me, because up until then I'd been desperate enough to risk it.  But without the fear, I don't think I'd have spoken up and broken the spell regardless.  Because in that state of mind, if I'd seen nothing to fear from suicide, I'd have seen nothing to lose.

One small token of kindness or companionship might literally save a life.
It saved mine.

Finally, I want to say that there are far more reasons than fear and uncertainty that I'm glad I'm alive today, even if none of these occurred to me then.  There has been so much beauty in my life, since then, that I would never have witnessed.  My daughter has grown so much in the year since, and now I have a son who could be born any day now.  I have experienced love and forgiveness and friendship beyond that which I ever imagined possible at the time.  I've found out that even worse mistakes (far worse) than the one "straw that had broken the camel's back" have failed to make my wife or others closest to me lose even one bit of love or respect for me.  They really would rather have me alive.  There are hopes and dreams on my horizon that I would never have even seen from afar if my life had ended that day.  I'm glad I'm here to see it.

And if you're facing the darkness and hopelessness that has brought you to the brink, I want you to be here to see better things for yourself too.  Life is always a cycle.  Please know that.  Joys are sometimes fleeting, but they are there.  I promise that, no matter how brief or small, you will know some sort of joy again.  But you have to give it a chance.  Hang in there.  Pray.  Don't give up.  Because you're too dear to give up on.  If you weren't, you wouldn't already be here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Benefits of Faith

So in my last last post I talked about scrupulosity, and the way that such a heavy burden can make religion a source of fear and anxiety.  I felt it was only fair to follow up on that with something positive.  I realize that someone might read that last post and ask:  "Why in the world would you want to be part of a religion, if you feel such anxiety about it?"  It's a valid question, actually.

Some of my fellow Christians may be tempted to dismiss the question with the answer that Christianity is true, and therefore we believe in it because anything else would be wrong.  While I agree that Christianity is true, and would be true no matter what I decided to believe for my own comfort, I can't say that's the only reason I stick with it.  Christianity does ring truest to me, out of all other worldviews, be they alternate religions or atheism.  Christianity does make the most sense of the reality, evidence, and reason I perceive when I observe the world.  Yes, there are sometimes difficulties and causes for doubt, things that I can't quite figure out, at least for a while, but compared with the "plot holes" of other world views, Christianity's mysteries are the easiest for me to swallow.

However, Christianity still requires faith.  There's still room, as in any world view, for the proverbial shadow of a reasonable doubt.  Notice I admit that this shadow of doubt can be reasonable.  I find the case for Christianity in general (and Catholicism in particular) to be a compelling one, but I also don't think a person has to be an irrational nutcase to not believe it.

Hey!  I resent that remark!

What this means is that, if I was unhappy and miserable being Catholic, I could find reasons to walk away from it.  Yes, I would be uneasy and scared at first, but given enough time I could shake that fear and things would settle down into a new normal, and I could become confident that my decision was right; I think anyone's capable of that, regardless of worldview.  So why don't I take advantage of this, and adopt a worldview that didn't lend itself to my scrupulosity so much?

You probably know the answer I'm going to say.  But I'm going to talk about it anyway:  It's because the reasons to stay far outweigh the anxiety and fear my scrupulosity can bring me.  

1.  Christianity makes the most sense out of God.

The question of whether some kind of Creator exists is one that I think, based on philosophical reasons beyond the scope of this post, can be answered with a confident "Yes."  But that's only the beginning.  It makes sense that this Creator is personal in some way, to have created such personal beings as we are.  There stands a good chance, then, that such a Creator wants something to do with us.  In light of that, I highly doubt that this Creator stands at a distance, leaving us to find Him for ourselves.  No, it seems to me that such a Creator would have revealed Himself to us.  In other words, it makes sense that some existing religion in the world would be true.  

And it so happens that, of the existing, ancient and established religions in this world, I think Christianity is the most historically based, the one whose miraculous claims and signs of authenticity are the most in touch with actual real-world context.  So many other religions either find their chief claims buried in some ancient mythological age lost to mankind, or they're based around charismatic historical figures who made claims which, even at the time, couldn't be tested:  "I have seen this, God has spoken to me," etc.  But with Christianity, the greatest vindication of its claims is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And at the time, one of Christianity's foremost preachers, St. Paul, readily wrote that there were five hundred witnesses who had seen Jesus of Nazareth alive after His death.  Anyone could have easily tested this claim.  It was not limited to one man who had been specially informed by God.

It's a similar story with most things surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Skeptics scoff at them today, because yes it's true that today we don't have the ability to go back and investigate most of the claims firsthand or seek out eyewitness testimony.  But back at the time when Christianity took off, these claims were neither lost in some distant past nor limited to one charismatic leader:  They were fresh, public, and there was plenty of opportunity to ask and investigate around to prove them false.  Yet even the enemies of Christianity never turned up any such proof, although they had a better chance to cut it off at the root than anyone else ever would.  A fraud with such bold claims as Christianity's were at the time, boasting of eyewitnesses and the amazing events in the life of a man who walked the earth practically yesterday, wouldn't be that hard to debunk.   In an empire where pretty much everybody hated it, and would have been dying to see it stamped out of existence.

Even besides all that, the fact that Christianity teaches that God is a Trinity is amazing.  It's the best way possible to explain how there can be only one God, but that this God was always Love even before He had created anything else to love.  That's all I'll say on that, here, because this section's getting pretty long compared to what the other sections will be.  Maybe I'll say more about this in the future.

So to recap on this point, it makes sense to me that there is a God, and that this God would reveal Himself to humanity.  That sounds like religion, to me, and of all the religions in the world, I think Christianity has the best case going for it.  

Hmm.  It's a dense wall of text, so it must be a valid argument.
2.  Christianity portrays the highest kind of love.

But even besides the sense my religion makes to me, it's not as if I'm a a poor timid soul, believing in Christianity because it makes the most sense but wishing that something else did instead so that I could be less scrupulous.  The truth is, Christianity brings me a great deal of joy and peace that are deeper than the fear and anxiety I get from my scrupulous obsessions.

Christianity presents me with a God Who cares so much that He dared to step into Creation, to become Man, and to suffer and die specifically because He loved humanity.  This is a God Who was not content to see our suffering from on high and shrug it off as "the human lot" like some sort of spoiled Greek god; He decided, out of His own free will, to suffer with us.  And even though He didn't owe us anything, He was willing to practice what He preached.  The same God who asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son (even if God Himself prevented Abraham from carrying it out) was willing to turn around and say:  "And see, I'm willing to do the same for you."  "Greater love has no man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends."  In Christianity, the very Creator of the universe, not merely a god but the God, did exactly that.

That's an amazing love.  Because the truth is, an all-powerful Creator deity could "get away" with never lifting one finger to do what God did in the Person of Jesus Christ.  I feel so incredibly valued and cherished by such a God as Who would.

3.  Christianity gives real meaning to every instance of suffering.

What's more, Christianity, and especially Catholicism in particular, makes the most sense out of a world with suffering and sorrow.  As I said before, it makes sense to me to believe in a benevolent and personal God, but in most religions we still have to wonder why such a God allows suffering.  Yes, mankind might have "brought it on themselves" in some way (such as, in the case of Christianity, Original Sin), but people can still rightly ask why God created a world where it was possible not only for mankind to fall, but for some ancestral generation to ruin things for everybody else.

But the Church teaches that part of the way God glorifies not only Himself, but His servants, is through suffering.  A case in point would be Job:  Job was innocent, and by all accounts didn't deserve any of the misfortune to come his way.  But it was only through his suffering that he demonstrates his faithfulness.  Satan was right:  Without suffering, his faithfulness was "easy" and didn't show anything special about him.  But since he was willing to be faithful even through his pain, his faithfulness and light shine.

There is a really good payoff for suffering that could never have existed in a world where God had made it impossible.  Just as God the Son suffered despite not deserving it at all, so too does God transform us through our own suffering in a world that originally fell because of our ancestors--Adam and Eve--and through no personal fault of our own.  And the Church teaches that this is true of all suffering.  Every pain, from the greatest tragedy to the smallest inconvenience, will be proportionately rewarded in Heaven, which is one reason that Catholicism, as opposed to most Protestant denominations, teaches there are different rewards in Heaven.  Remember that parable of the Ten Coins, from Luke, that I referenced in my last post?  That provides one basis for this belief.

This teaching means that every bit of suffering adds to the reward in Heaven, so that rather than having a Heaven that would have been exactly the same no matter what--which would mean suffering was just unnecessary "fluff"--the rewards in Heaven really will be affected and enriched by the suffering that goes on in this life.  Now admittedly, as I said in my previous post, this is also one of the things I get scrupulous about--worrying that I'll get to Heaven and find I wish I had suffered more to gain more reward, but I have a theory that this worry of mine is silly, which I intend to write about in a future post.  For now, let's move along.

4.  Christianity gives me the comfort of knowing what God expects of me.

If I believe that there's a God Who wants a real relationship with me, then I believe that this relationship has ground rules and expectations like any other relationship.  It'd be torture knowing that, but not ever knowing what those expectations are.  So with Christianity I find comfort, rather than slavery, in having a sense of objective, absolute morality.  I may fall short of it, and there may be times I want to do things that go against that morality, but I'm glad to have it.  It's the same way I want to know, outright, what brings my wife joy in our marriage instead of my having to shoot in the dark and do what "feels right."  I mean, if you have a spouse, is it ever fun when you want to know what he/she wants, yet instead you just receive a glare and a response of "You should just know!"  Perhaps even worse than that is if the love of your life shrugs and says "Do whatever you want," when you have the creeping suspicion that your spouse (and very soon afterward, you) will be more than a little upset if "whatever you want" ends up being the wrong thing.

Don't worry, I'm sure she really means it when she says it's fine.

Yet that's exactly what our relationship with God would be like if He'd made no effort to tell us what He expects of us.  Either that, or we expect Him to be a cosmic pushover who doesn't care what we do, sorta like a spouse who couldn't care less if you went sleeping around, only to lie on the sofa all day when you could be working on your actual marriage.  So either you've got yourself a brooding god waiting to smite you for breaking boundaries He never even set, or you've got a passive and weak god.  Neither sounds like a relationship worth having.

In Christianity, we have the Scriptures to guide us.  Catholicism in particular goes even farther:  In those areas where scripture is often interpreted in very different ways (and on some pretty big questions like, for example, "Do we have to be baptized in order to be a practicing Christian?" "What are we supposed to believe about the Holy Trinity?" "Is Communion symbolic or is it really the body and blood of Christ?" among others), we have the Church to tell us what's what.  I think Catholicism goes absolutely the farthest, as Christianity goes, in making it clear exactly what God expects of me, and how to have a proper relationship with Him.

That doesn't mean the Church micromanages every detail, and there are still some gray areas, but over the course of 2000 years God has worked through the Church to give us answers on most of the big questions that--were we left to scripture alone--would leave us divided or just "agreeing to disagree."  And even in the areas that are still gray, the Church explicitly teaches us that it's okay to come to different conclusions, so there is an added comfort and assurance amid the gray.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, it's like a playground built near a cliff:  Having strong walls lets the children know that they can play anywhere within those walls without any danger.  Without such clear boundaries, however, the children can never be sure how close is too close to the danger zone.

There are a lot more reasons I could give for why I'm not only convinced my religion is the best place to be, but why it's the place where I am also the happiest.  I can't get into them all here.  This entry has already begun to run too long, and I'm running out of ideas for relevant pictures and captions to make my rambling bearable.

This picture is relevant't judge me!!

The point is that yes, I admit that there is the possibility of unhealthy fear and anxiety for the Christian, but there is also room and cause for joy, confidence, and comfort here.  The fear, when it becomes unhealthy, is a distortion of a certain healthy fear.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and just as in any relationship, respect implies having a healthy fear of damaging the relationship or hurting the other person.  But the scrupulosity and anxiety I mention in my last post are perversions of that healthy fear, just as it would be if I spent my marriage quaking in terror that I had somehow displeased my wife; actually, I do get in moods where I torment myself about whether or not my wife or a good friend is angry with me.

On the other hand, the joys and the good things Christianity offers me are not distortions, but are part and parcel to what Christianity claims to offer.  So it is by those things that I judge how good Christianity is for me, and what a positive force it has been, and continues to be, in my life.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Here a sin, there a sin, everywhere a sin, sin!

Try to imagine, for a moment, that you lived with the constant fear that everything you did was an offense to God.  Think of what it would feel like to fret that merely by living your life--a life that seemed, at first glance, to be perfectly in line with your religious convictions and the teachings of your scriptures and Church--you were somehow disappointing God.  Picture a scenario where these fears snowballed into the ultimate fear:  That you would one day reach those proverbial pearly gates, only to be told:  "Depart from me, you worker of iniquity!" and then off you would go into eternal Hell fire.

Surely no one feels that way!  Surely this is only a caricature of Christians made up by atheists, who want to paint us all as timid, brainwashed cowards, trembling in fear of a vengeful deity so that we never have a moment's peace, in spite of all our insistence that Christ brings us joy.

J-Jesus loves me, this I kn-know!

I wish that were true.  I wish that no genuine Christian lived under the shadow of such fear!  I wish that it only ever happened in cults, or in anti-Christian political cartoons or the like.  The reality, however, is that many legitimate Christians do deal with these fears, on a greater or lesser scale.  And, at least sometimes, I'm one of them.

You see, there's a condition called "Scrupulosity."  It's sort of like having a type of spiritual OCD, specifically the OCD where you think everything is filled with deadly germs.  Only instead of germs it's sin, and instead of disease it's hell.  At its worst, scrupulosity makes you see sin everywhere you turn.  I'll give a personal example:  There have been times when I thought that, just by having material possessions beyond the bare minimum needed to survive, I might be sinning.  And in the  most extreme moments of scrupulosity, I have feared that this would land me not even in Purgatory, but in Hell itself.  That's right:  For the heinous, unthinkable sin of having a nice home and several luxuries that most Americans (even those in poverty!) have, I feared I would roast for all eternity.  That sort of thing is the power that scrupulosity can have, at its worst.

It's not always that bad.  Most of the time, even when I suffer from scrupulosity, I'm able to keep the fear of hell on the back burner, but I still have the irrational fear that, even if I make it to Heaven, there will be some everlasting consequence I'll face for not eradicating some (quite probably imagined) sin out of my life.  Even if it's only that, in Heaven, I'll be like one of those servants from the parable of the ten coins in Luke 19, who was not given charge over as many cities because he didn't earn as many coins as his fellow servants.  And somehow, despite knowing that in Heaven everyone is happy, despite that in the parable itself these are all  portrayed as happy outcomes except for the servant who literally did nothing with his original coin, I still worry that I'll be in distress over not having tried for "more cities" while I was here below.

It's like a Cosmic board game!
(But no rematch and the results are pressure)

The main thing is that, when scrupulosity asserts itself, I second guess myself at every turn.  Something I thought I'd finally reasoned was morally acceptable suddenly seems not so much.  I begin to distrust my motives.  Those arguments that once offered me freedom from thinking some minor thing is sinful start to look like transparent attempts at self-justification.  Going to confession over anything but obvious mortal sin becomes far too much a hassle, because I'll begin to make a sin out of anything and everything, and then grow scrupulous about even confessing things (like owning material luxuries) that I obviously don't firmly intend to "amend."

So that's a glance at scrupulosity, for those of you who do not experience it yourselves.  For those of you who do experience it, I don't have any enlightening answers.  I hear that getting a wise spiritual director and obeying him in everything is a huge help for scrupulosity.  I still have to do that, as of my writing this entry.  I do know that Jesus, and by extension the Catholic Church, does not want us to be so petrified.  This is not the "easy yoke and light burden" Jesus promised.  So whatever else can be said, our scrupulosity is not just "part of being religious."  Other than that, I have no advice.  Just know that you're not the only one who is plagued by such fears, fears that you know must look ridiculous, but that you just can't seem to shake.  I feel, and know, your pain.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chasing the Magic

I was never much for the mundane.  Even as a small child, my heart was always seeking out whatever was wondrous, whatever was larger than life, that which transcended the material world.  I wasn't satisfied with the ordinary world, with its practical concerns and cares.  I wanted magic and mysticism.

There is both good and bad in this longing of mine.  From the beginning, this desire for "more" gave me a profound interest in religion that I would later learn did not come easily to everyone.  Because God is transcendent, His love and miracles represented the "magic" by which I could rise above the mundane.  So as I aged and many others around me seemed content in material pursuits, I spent a lot of time thinking of spiritual things; I daydreamed about miracles, Heaven, and God.

But there's a dark side.  I am the type of person who can spend so much time longing for this "magic" that I have a hard time finding the magic that is in the mundane.  God made this "ordinary world," and it doesn't honor Him if I find it boring and bland.

Hmm...needs more salt...

Besides, some of the greatest ways to serve God are not to be found in mystical visions or sweeping feats of adventure, but in performing the humdrum tasks of daily life.  That's what life is all about, for most of us.  These small tasks keep the world going, and a guy like me can easily miss the beauty of that.

"Do little things with great love."  St. Therese of Lisieux said those wise words.  That means finding the miraculous in the natural, the adventurous in the ordinary, the spirit in the material, and God right here in our midst.  Jesus said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is in your midst!"  Right here, right now, all the  "magic" I ever sought is all around me, hidden just beneath the surface of the everyday.

I pray that everyday I might open my eyes a little more to this reality, until I finally see that, in Christ, nothing is merely mundane.

Monday, August 4, 2014

To The People Who Assumed...

One day, I may be more open about my same sex attractions.  I'm not saying that it'll be the start of every conversation, but one day I hope to have it be something I don't hide.

There are a number of things that give me pause, though.  And I'm sure that, over the course of blogging, I'll mention a number of them.  There's one particular thing, however, that has made me recoil from the thought of ever admitting to my struggle openly.  This one thing has so much power that for years it sent me into denial harder than I can say; I spent years unwilling to even admit to myself that I really had same sex attractions.  

And what is this one thing that I have let control my destiny for years?

Simple:  All the people who would say "I knew it all along."  

You see, from puberty onward, I had people assume that I was gay.  In fact, I didn't experience a genuine sexual attraction to other men until my mid-teens, and even before that, people still called me gay.  I was called all the slurs, all the ugly words that to this day I hate.  It hurt.  But it wasn't just the language they used.  It was the fact that they had assumed at all.  Because they didn't assume that about just anyone.  Why me?  Was there something wrong with me?

We're sorry, but your condition defies diagnosis.

Even when I began to experience attractions to other men, those old assumptions never stopped hurting.  It might seem like realizing "they were right" would cause me to be less offended by the thought of people pegging me as "gay."  After all, when most people say "gay" they don't necessarily mean that you live a gay lifestyle.  They just mean that you find people of the same gender sexually attractive.  By that definition, I am gay.  Then why did I go through all the effort of changing my mannerisms, of painstakingly changing the way I speak, of becoming more "straight acting?"  Why do I worry that I'm still not "straight acting" enough, despite all the progress I know I've made?  Why does it cut me so deeply to think that when someone meets me, the first impression might be to think I might be gay?

It's because when the gossips and bullies made those assumptions, they were implying so much more than just the attraction to other men.  They were reducing me to a label.  By taking traits and mannerisms that are inherently meaningless--and if you don't believe me, all you have to do is consider that countless "gay" men don't act a particular way, and many "straight" men have qualities often considered gay--and concluding that I must be gay, they were telling me that I was only a two dimensional joke.

When you say that a man must be gay because of the way he talks, you disregard his voice as being a tool for communication, for song, for loving, for connecting, and you reduce it down to nothing more than an indicator for whose pants you think he'd like to get into.  When you say that the way a man walks means he is gay, or that his physical mannerisms are a good sign, you disregard his entire body, his whole way of moving; you reduce it from a complex, beautiful creation of God or the sum total of all his life experiences and environment (all of which can affect those things), to being nothing  more than a signal of his sexual desires.  You cheapen him.  He's no longer a man.  He's a shallow stereotype.  

Saint Joan of Arc:
Saved France, inspired countless soldiers, heard the voice of God...
....wore short hair?
Pft.  Gay.  Move along, folks, nothing more to see.

That's why it still hurts.  Yes, I'm attracted to men, but I'm so much more than that.  I talked and acted the way I did when I was young because the most constant person in my life was my grandmother, with no man who was ever in my life as much as she was.  I emulated her.  I looked up to women, because a woman was my biggest hero in life.  As much as I loved and respected the man who would become a father to me, for reasons beyond his control, such as only coming into my life after I'd already started forming memories, I was incapable of really looking up to him as "what I should be" until it was far too late and the damage was done.  But even then, I never thought of myself as "feminine."  I wasn't trying to be a girl.  I wasn't trying to reject my gender.  I even had crushes on girls, and wanted to grow up and have a family with a wife someday.

So all those mannerisms by which I was judged were not about sexuality.  There was a deeper story behind it all.  There was a real human being behind them, with depth and aspirations and dreams, many of those dreams explicitly "straight" in nature.  But the people who assumed things about me were not looking any deeper than the surface.  They looked at a few shallow aspects of me and decided on the spot that they "knew" what I was.  It wasn't right.  Even if I had grown up to be flamboyantly gay, leading the gay pride parade, it would never have justified those assumptions.  

So if one day I'm more open about this struggle, and some of you who confidently assumed I was gay come across this blog, I have something to tell you:  You didn't "know it all along."  You assumed it.  And it just so happened that I did ultimately come to find other men attractive.  But you could have easily been wrong.  You were wrong.  Because all the "signs" that you used to judge me had nothing to do with who I am, or who I'm attracted to.  I'm more than that. I was always more than that.  And I can guarantee you that, if you applied your logic to many other men in my shoes, you've been wrong at least once even about the man's attractions, even if it's only a man you passively judged on the street one day:  Somewhere out there, there are men who have no attraction at all to other men, and yet who face unjust, shallow judgments because people have chosen, like you have, to make quick conclusions on shallow evidence.  It's not right.  You don't "know" what you think you do. 

So if I could ask one thing of you, something that can redeem all those assumptions you made about me, it's this:  Pray for me instead of taking satisfaction in being "right."  Realize that there was always so much more to me.  And in the future, when you meet a man who reminds you of me, who has similar mannerisms or behaviors to those that made you judge me, don't jump to conclusions.  He may not be attracted to men.  And even if he is, he's more than that, just like I am; he deserves to be looked at as a complex human being, he deserves for people to get to know him and find out the facts before they make such sweeping assumptions about him.  

And if you can give him that, then you'll be pointing to your own depth, beauty, and humanity too.