Friday, May 30, 2014

The Signs of True Contrition

[...] Self-knowledge develops with the knowledge of God. It is united with humility and, whether it explores the structure of the soul, or reveals to man his smallness before the infinitude of divine grandeurs, or his sinful misery, it aspires only to make light reign and to make truth triumph. When self-knowledge arouses in a soul sorrowful contrition at the same time as ardent love, profound adoration and the most elevated aspirations, the feeling of its own powerlessness along with most generous resolutions, one can declare it authentic: it bears the divine mark of its origin, which is peace, spiritual balance, freedom, and fecundity.

---

Source: Fr. Marie-Eugène, I Want to See God, trans. by M. Verda Clare (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1953), 48.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dignity is Not an Appendage

We do not build up dignity by our environments, by how we feel, or by our present or possible physical, emotional, or spiritual conditions. Certainly there's something related to dignity when these are present or absent (for example, we say that it would be undignified for someone of high office to act and dress like anyone else), but our dignity must be intrinsic to our very being as humans, as this kind of concrete manifestation and arrangement of being.

To allow for abortion until the day when a child will be born to a loving mother, a good environment, a hopeful future, etc., is to consign most of humanity to death (on the first condition alone, for many mothers seem to be hardly loving). This utopia will never happen. It reveals the inadequacy of such an argument. The argument implies that the intrinsic worth of a being is determined by the external circumstances in which it shall grow. Our dignity inheres and remains in spite of trials and tribulations. Tribulation is the rich soil for heroism and greatness of soul (magnanimity), which all admit is the shining pinnacle of human dignity. But tribulation is also the potential pit of despair, and this result often occurs because of a lack of heroism among those who are already in tribulation as well as a lack of love, which always requires a certain degree of heroism.

Distinction: Looking At and Looking Into

Relevant to modesty, there are two kinds of looking. First is looking at and second is looking into.

We look at a body when a body draws attention to itself in order to arouse desire. Of course, bodies cannot do anything by themselves but are controlled by people. It would be more accurate to say that a person draws attention to his or her own body in order to arouse desire. Lust is looking at bodies with such a desire and to arouse further such desire.

The desire in turn creates a fantasy in which the desire can be ultimately satiated although this satiation sometimes can even take the form of endlessly building up desire rather than releasing it. The fantasy focuses on the body, but its underlying mechanism and energy is found in desire.

The basic reason for creating this desire through the body is narcissism, and the root of narcissism is a lack of love. Love (as a noun) is a state of wholeness and integrity by which a person can live harmoniously according to the nature of his own being as a person—a substance who gives and receives of itself in relation to other beings. In order to reach this state, a person must first be loved (as a verb), and in the process of receiving love, the person is filled with love and can give it to others. When this love is lacking, the person lives on the verge of death, creating fear and despair.

Unable to withstand the pain of this proximity to death, the person seeks to create desire in the hopes that someone may love him. But the fatal mistake is made by drawing attention not to the deficient and suffering person, but to the body. The body, which becomes a vehicle of attention, the hook with a worm to drawn in fish, suddenly and paradoxically becomes its own end. Everything goes wrong. Instead of desiring the person, an attracted person desires only the body of the person that is doing the attracting. And the attracting person, forgetting or not knowing that he is seeking love and not merely the attention of another, mistakes that attention for love itself and thus finds ways to bolster the attraction of the body. Love is confused for attention, which is only the first step on the way to giving love (for we can love only what we actively attend to).

As for those who look at the body, because they remain fixated on the body and the fantasy—the image—, they cannot descend deeper into their soul and hence they either have no interior life other than the imagination or whatever interiority is present is quickly stifled. This is why the Desert Fathers noted that lust or sins of the flesh in general were one of the quickest ways of totally destroying the spiritual life and leading to what they called a distaste for prayer.

I would also note that looking at may also apply not only to bodies but to other creatures and things. Any-thing that is physical or at least can be visualized in some way and made the object of a fantasy can become an object looked at. Reading, watching movies, and all sorts of activities. Here, however, we shift from merely looking at and remaining on the surface to a slightly different but related notion of where one's attention is placed. When attention is not placed on the interior life, then the interior life is stifled. Hence attention has always been a necessary condition for effective prayer according to the formula that God does not listen to those who do not listen to themselves while praying.

But, on the other hand, we look into a soul and through the body when we exercise purity of heart. Purity of heart is the constant realization of and clinging to what is true and what is false in matters of true love. By doing so, the attention can never remain on the body because it sees the futility of doing so. Rather the person looks through the body to the soul and sees the truth. What truth is seen? Ultimately, purity sees the truth that most people defile purity, even by those who claim to uphold it.

Immodest dress always reveals an impure soul. A pure soul is not fooled by narcissism and thus would never dress narcissistically. Even if the immodest person is unaware of the mechanisms of immodesty and narcissism at work, that doesn't mean that those mechanisms are not in fact at play.

A person who draws attention specifically to the body cannot have an interior life beyond the imaginative realm for the very reason that the attention remains on the physical surface in order to produce a fantasy. Even those who focus intemperately on a certain spiritual faculty, such as the intellect or imagination, by being over-studious, for example, typically give little attention to the body and hence draw little attention. Although body and soul are not opposed in goodness, for both by being manifestations of being are intrinsically good, immodesty draws attention to the body to the neglect of the interior soul as well as the distraction of the will and desires away from the interior, where God is, to the exterior, where the fantasy thrives. Hence anyone who encourages this psychological-spiritual activity, whether consciously or not, is revealing a lack of interiority. If the activity is unconscious, as in many cases it seems to be, then the reason may firstly be due to ignorance and a lack of self-reflection, which would quickly reveal the emotional traps that a person has been going through, say in abusive relationships.

Just as grace can overflow to the body and have sanctifying effects on it—for this reason do we venerate the relics of Saints because in doing so, we can "touch" God in a way distantly similar to how we receive Christ in the Eucharist [1]—so too sin can have vicious effects on the body. There are some who are so depraved that one can see the emptiness of sin in their faces and eyes.

Nevertheless, modest dress does not necessarily reveal a pure soul. Attention to the externals of dress may be due not because of intrinsic purity but because of adherence to rules, a sense of duty, or the fear of punishment (and many other circumstances around the decision to dress modestly). A person can still obey the law even if they do not desire or appreciate the law or its deepest spirit and sentiments. Thus the law of purity demands modest dress, but the reason for this demand may be completely unapparent to a modestly-dressed person.

But what about those who know that and why the law of purity demands modesty and nevertheless are still impure? The only remaining possibilities are either weakness or malice in their character. And sometimes weakness can give way to malice and vice versa.

---

Footnotes:

1. Fr. Marie-Eugène, I Want To See God, trans. by M. Verda Clare (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1953), 30: "The transforming union extends its influence too over the sense powers and even radiates out to the body.... The body itself is sanctified by the radiation of grace; it is by virtue of this that it is honored in the case of the saints, and that God Himself sometimes glorifies it even here below."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

God's Love and "Anything Goes"

Yes, God loves us but not in the way that He therefore accepts everything we do or fail to do. God's love is not a passive acceptance of "who we are," whatever that phrase is twisted around to mean. His love for us extends to our being insofar as we have being, but God cannot love disorder (for disorder is the lack or twisting of being from what it properly should be), and anything disorderly present in our being therefore cannot be the object of God's love. God loves us precisely by showing us what sin is in all of its ugliness (our disorder), calling us out of it, and giving us an abundance of means to do so. God loves us by helping us to take responsibility for our lives.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"In the winds that would blow then"

In a powerful scene from A Man For All Seasons, Thomas More rebukes William Roper for his blind eagerness to cut down all law in order to stop the devil. Roper does not see that in doing so, he would be doing the very work of the devil himself in causing social and moral chaos. Further, Roper doesn't realize his own weakness; he believes that he possesses the internal strength to face the devil directly. More questions:
Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
Consider that there are other winds and other things that we use to protect ourselves from those winds. Consider, for example, the winds of our own weakness, the weakness that Roper was blind to. What have we planted thick with in order to keep ourselves from feeling those winds? Perhaps we're afraid to face them when we know that we should. Perhaps, knowing that we could not stand up to those winds, we fear them and hide behind distractions. What would we do if those distractions were gone? Like the Joker from The Dark Knight, who says, "I'm a dog chasing cars... I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it! I just do things." We wouldn't know what to do with ourselves either if we had to face the truth of sin directly. So we distract ourselves.

Now, realize that someday all of those distractions will end permanently. You will have none of them whether you like it or not. And what winds will be blowing then?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

At What Cost?

Perhaps some of us have difficulty in committing to the spiritual life because we have little sense of responsibility. A sense of responsibility follows an awareness of some pressing and important task to be completed, the failure or neglect of which would result in something unfavorable. The greater the task, the greater the potential failure, but also the greater the potential success—and hence, the greater the sense of responsibility. This sense of responsibility, which follows from a true perception not only obligation but its consequences, is different than the resentment of workaholics, who work to hide within the busyness of their work from what they must actually take responsibility for—their brokenness.

It's easy to put off the responsibility of cooperating with God's grace in becoming transformed to our fullest potential in God for His glory and the salvation of souls because we do not see and hence do not believe that there are any serious consequences to neglecting our interior life. Hence what Christ said to the Samaritan woman, He says to us all: "If you but knew the gift of God!" (Jn 4:10). If we knew what was offered to us and Whom was offering it to us, we would have asked Him, and He would have given us living water. But because we do not know, we do not ask. The paradox, of course, is that we must ask to know and know to ask.

Perhaps many of us believe that if we put off praying today or persevering in being more charitable, more self-giving, more noble and generous, everything will be all right since we have tomorrow. There is always time, we think, because our lives are relatively stable and predictable. And in the trap of predictability, we become stagnant, like J. Alfred Prufrock, and perhaps even end up like Richard Cory.

But everything is affected. St. John of the Cross warned us: imperfection leads us imperceptibly but surely to venial sin, which disposes us bit by bit for mortal sin. A trickle adds up over time, the same time that we think we have to change. Not only do we reject God's infinitely wise and noble plan for us, but we spurn those that we could have helped if only we had cooperated with God. How many more souls could we have touched; how many more prayers and sacrifices could we have offered—if only we were generous and realized that the time we have now is the time that affects everything, everywhere. The smallest prayer said now, in good faith, only in heaven shall we see its effects. Dr. Peter Kreeft said that he believes if we saw the effect of one such a small prayer throughout the entire world, we would fall to our knees and never rise for the rest of our lives, deep in intense prayer and rapt admiration for how God uses such seemingly-insignificant means to effect great change in the world.

When we come closer to God through this little sacrifice or that little act of virtue, the angels rejoice, devils fly, and the entire Mystical Body of Christ is strengthened, like medicine being administered through its veins because the mouth opened to receive the pill, the hand accepted the medicine, the throat swallowed, the heart pumped blood, the lungs breathed to aid the heart, etc. Everything works together. And when we become holy, we change the entire fabric of the universe by aiding it in its goal of transformation to become a symphony to God's glory.

For this reason did Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, the renowned spiritual theologian of the early 20th century, recommend that someone beginning to read the works of St. John of the Cross begin with his Spiritual Canticle or the Living Flame of Love because these books show us the glorious end that holiness attains to. With the end in mind, we might persevere because we see how precarious the situation is, how much danger we truly are in, how much progress there is to be made, how close the devils are to us but as well as the angels, how intense the struggle is over each and every soul.

But stuck in the day-to-day monotony and gray of work and technology, it's easy to forget that anything is really happening. It's easy to disbelieve that monotony has been sanctified by Christ's Resurrection. It's easy to forget that gray, like all the other colors, glorifies God. Some of us want yellow and blue and green and red all the time, thinking that these colors matter more somehow. But Christ spent thirty years with the grey—or the brown wood, if you prefer—to show us that each has its proper place—the red for the Passion and the gold and white for the Resurrection.

And so Christ also told us, surely knowing how easily we are prone to forget, since He knew how easily the Israelites forgot the covenant they had with God, "For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?" (Mt 16:26; Mk 8:36; Lk 9:25). Remember: "If thou didst know the gift of God, and who he is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water."

video
"Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?"

Tolerance is Imposition

There cannot be a "non-imposing" worldview. A person may in fact or in the concrete circumstances of his life not bother anyone else with what they do, but this fact may be due simply because of a lack of opportunity to stand up for anything. To demand tolerance is to make an imposition as vigorous as the Christian demand for repentance and conversion. Of course, repentance and conversion cannot be forced but only urged. Christian dogmas imply an ethical standard that has political effects, touching upon issues within medicine, science, and human relations (e.g. marriage). To tell another person that they cannot force their views on others is itself a forcing of a view, namely, the view that we shouldn't force our ideas on others. Thus the internal logic of tolerance is incoherent and self-destructive.

Every worldview implies an ethical standard because every worldview says something about what it means to be a human living on earth. Not every worldview, therefore, is congruent with or complementary to every other worldview. Some are diametrically opposed.

Some may attempt to solve the antithesis between two worldviews through a higher synthesis, but such a synthesis implies the particularity of each worldview, i.e. that each worldview that has been synthesized contained enough elements of particulars and not enough metaphysical principles that gave intellectual coherence to the particulars.

If someone tells you not to shove your ideas on others, you can simply ask and point out, "By telling me not to shove my ideas on others, what are you doing to me now? Shoving your idea on me that others shouldn't shove their ideas on others."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Boredom and the Spiritual Life

To the worldly, the Christian life is a boring life. The reason is because the Christian is perfectly content with any state in life, any job, any task—so long as these are not sinful—because all things and activities have been sanctified by Christ. Thus even monotony and grey take on the splendor of Christ's Resurrection. All things reflect God's will and infinitely wise and loving design—therefore, why should the Christian be discontent? Of course, knowledge of God's providence doesn't mean that the Christian is immune to pain and loss; no, God's providence often makes use of these means to fill the Christian with deeper love and patience and heroic virtue.

But the worldly see none of this. Monotony and death have no meaning. Life has no meaning besides what I make of it, and that is all relatively boring.

The idea of setting aside trifles and entertainments to take up the task of daily prayer and worship, of growth in virtue, of self denial and love of neighbor, of refusing to indulge in those little vices—angry thoughts, fleeting fantasies, revenge, idle talk and gossip, lustful glances, attachment to material things like clothing and cars, etc.—the idea itself is perhaps a bit intimidating. It all builds up.

The worldly can't stand this task. It should be a very good measure in us of where we are by how reluctant we are to follow Christ's dictum: 1) deny yourself; 2) take up your Cross; and 3) follow Him.

Boredom, therefore, is nothing but a sign of a need for deeper conversion. It isn't a reason to despair; far from it. Rather boredom recognized for what it is should make us rejoice because with that recognition means that God is providing the grace for us to see our faults and the path that we must take to grow towards union with Him.

Yes, the Christian life is entering into that repetitious, monotonous pattern of daily prayer and work, silence and, when necessary, tempered leisure. We do this over and over again, searching over our faults, praying for strength, speaking and walking with God, taking time to be recollected rather than dissipating our energies on frivolities and "guilty pleasures." It's all very simple, very quiet, very plain.

Perhaps here, Christians suffer from a twofold danger when reading the lives of the Saints: 1) the extraordinary graces that the Saints personally received, such as visions, locutions, levitation, etc.; 2) the extraordinary events of their lives—the dramatic turns, the miracles, the strong personalities, the conflicts and stakes of history. (A third possible danger is that we believe the Saints were born holy since most hagiography completely neglects the actual process of conversion in many of the Saints; hence we don't really get to see "how" the Saints actually became Saints! A potential consequence is that we believe our process of conversion will be just as mysteriously simple and quick; this assumption can lead to despair, self-deception, or impatience.) We believe that because the Saints were involved in these great circumstances that therefore we too shall be involved in them. We expect our lives to be enthralling and romantic.

Here is the paradoxical turn: we become involved in the great and romantic things only after we have completely surrendered any desire for them. And only once we have become holy do we realize that the great and romantic thing is loving God above everything else, and the vast majority of Saints never had miracles, experienced extraordinary phenomena, or were involved in huge historical situations. These Saints actually didn't care for the "greatness" of the situation but only to love God, no matter what situation God placed them in. Most lived quiet, humble lives that shall be known only in the glory of heaven. Most of these Saints are completely unknown to us, perhaps as inconspicuous as a grave we pass by at the cemetery.

The only great thing is to give everything to God in complete humility and simplicity. It is a quiet thing to external eyes, but to the internal soul, there is nothing more exciting. Thus there is an inverse relation: as a person becomes more worldly, holy things become duller, but as a person becomes holier, worldly things lose their appeal.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fr. Antonio Royo Marin on Applause and Preaching

I really like this quotation from one of my favorite theologians:

“Employing tactics to procure applause from the pulpit is a sacrilege. I have always dreaded this.” - Fr. Antonio Royo Marin, O.P.

Unlimited Interpretation and the Meaning of Marriage

The human capacity for understanding the action of signs (semiosis) also entails an infinite possibility of interpretation. Take any socially-established sign, such as a road sign or a word, and one would say that it signifies x, y, or z by social convention. But one can take that same sign and begin to read into it other possible meanings, either by shifting the context or removing the context or by taking the sign to mean something literally when it is supposed to be taken otherwise, etc. This process is the basis of deconstruction.

But this capacity to deconstruct a sign and reinterpret it has infinite possibilities. We stop only because of convenience. But we engage this process in the dreaded never-ending argument. In fact, this very process of going deeper and deeper into the sign is why an argument may never end. One sign leads to another, to another, to another, ad infinitum.

Where are the boundaries of a sign? Who establishes them, and how are they established? Is there ever a "final say"?

This process, the source of our uniqueness among the animal kingdom as rational animals, is supposed to be guided by "truth," by some sort of correspondence between the sign, our mind, and reality, by a relation. How do we know when the relation has actualized? Who is to say? We cannot appeal to God on this side of life because God is silent and leaves us to ourselves. Of course, in certain matters, God have not been silent—public revelation, and revelation has implications for rational discussion and hence all aspects of human life.

Nevertheless, dogma doesn't cover every particular, so in many matters we are seemingly left to ourselves. And in fact, reason enlightened by living faith has as its object a body of signs that has been given a protector of boundaries: the Church, who defines the proper meaning of a sign of revelation. The Magisterium of course does not mean that rational discussion is ended, but that it may have an end in certain respects. But what about rational discourse that isn't properly the object of faith?

This capacity of unlimited interpretation is why, for example, the marriage discussion (if there is a discussion) is so difficult. When people re-define what marriage means, then they are effectively stating, "We reject the boundaries established for this sign, and we establish our own." In this way, such advocates become like Protestants, and from thence shall begin the infinite fragmenting and splintering as human semiosis winds down its infinitely-complex trail. Marriage can now mean anything.

Of course, that doesn't mean that we abandon upholding traditional marriage, but I suppose it ought to guide us in our efforts. How do we discourse with people who are very eager and free to toy with the very rules and fabric of discourse itself? It's like trying to play a game with someone who is perfectly fine with cheating. And hence: can there be an actually-rational discussion with such a person?

But what about upholding traditional marriage through political movements? Well, although it may work temporarily, the situation can flip as soon as someone on the other side of the "discussion" takes political power. Hence "upholding" becomes "fighting" for power. And in fighting, we forget about living marriage itself as it ought to be lived, in purity and charity.

It should also be pointed out that anyone who is willing to break the boundaries of rational discourse itself through a free interpretation of marriage cannot be appealed to by means of reason. Should this situation be where force is used? Of course, a democratic society could never allow that. Is the problem then with democratic society?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Repost: "Break Out of the Box: Technology and Prayer"

A very neat article on technology and how it shapes our lives. Definitely a lot of considerations for further reflection here.

---


Smash the TV! John Senior provides this bold directive in his book, The Restoration of Christian Culture. “Smash the television set. The Catholic Church is not opposed to violence; only to unjust violence; so smash the television set” (22). I’ve taught this text numerous times to students and most immediately recoil and claim that this advice is too harsh and over the top. Even if some should smash their TV, Senior’s statement is at least a call to question the control that technology has over our lives. Do you need to smash media’s dominance?

In particular, Senior argues that TV has
two principal defects . . . its radical passivity, physical and imaginative, and its distortion of reality. Watching it, we fail to exercise the eye, selecting and focusing on detail—what poets call “noticing” things; neither do we exercise imagination as must in reading metaphor where you actively leap to the “third thing” in juxtaposed images, picking out similarities and differences, a skill which Aristotle says is a chief sing of intelligence. . . . There is nothing on the television which is not filtered through the secular establishment.
Senior’s answer is to sit around the fire as a family, singing good music and reading good literature. Rather than experiencing reality through an isolate filter, he wants us to experience it directly, especially within the context of the home. TV intrudes on family life and fundamentally changes it.

The main thrust of Senior’s argument is that technology is not neutral, but its use shapes and molds us. This same claim has been presented by Neil Postman, in his book Technopolgy, where he argues that “the uses made of any technology are largely determined by the structure of the technology itself—that is, that its functions follow from its form.” We have surrounded ourselves with a host of media technology—not only TV, but mobile phones, constant music, and especially the internet—to the point of saturation: “When the supply of information is no longer controllable, a general breakdown in psychic tranquility and social purpose occurs. Without defenses, people have no way of finding meaning in their experiences, lose their capacity to remember, and have difficulty imagining reasonable futures” (72).

Postman was writing before the heyday of the internet, but Nicholas Carr picks up where he left off in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Carr convincingly argues that the internet is literally changing the way our brains work. It overwhelms us with images and short bits of text, which makes it harder for us to concentrate and to think deeply. He makes the point that “we become, neurologically, what we think” (33). In terms of the internet, “when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” (116). The internet is changing us!

I’m actually amazed at how many people tell me that technology is neutral. The argument is that nothing has to be used a certain way; it’s only the use that is not neutral. And yet, when we look all around we see clearly that technology has not been neutral it has shaped us and formed to live, act, and think a certain way.

The closest to the teaching of the Church on this matter that I have found is from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (under the direction of then Cardinal Ratzinger) document “Donum Vitae,” which states: “It would . . . be illusory to claim that scientific research and its applications are morally neutral.” This, of course, is speaking about reproductive technology, but the underlying thought is the same: when we introduce a new technology, it will shape and alter us, which in itself is not neutral.

However, I think the real problem with technology concerns time, specifically how we order and shape it. St. Paul says that we need to redeem or sanctify the hours (Eph 5:16). If we allow technology to dominate our schedule than we are not sanctifying the time, but allowing it to be dominated by an outside force. This technological force influences the way we think and act, and also concretely shapes our day.

We need to respond to the dominance of technology, by ordering and shaping our lives through prayer. This means that we need to intentionally unplug every day and enter into a period of silence, and more importantly a time of conversation with God. If TV breaks up the life of the family in the home, then the barrage of media breaks up the peaceful relationship we are meant to have throughout the day with God.

When we think of what media is doing to our brains, we can make the connection that making our minds more shallow directly impacts our ability to pray. If media technology gives us a short attention span and makes it difficult to contemplate deeply in a sustained fashion, then it strikes right at the heart of what is needed for Christian meditation. When it is time for prayer, we will quickly get bored and out thoughts will jump from topic to topic?

Turning back to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (once again under Ratzinger), its document “On Some Aspects of Christian Meditation” recognizes this challenge: Many Christians today have a keen desire to learn how to experience a deeper and authentic prayer life despite the not inconsiderable difficulties which modern culture places in the way of the need for silence, recollection and meditation. . . . The spiritual restlessness arising from a life subjected to the driving pace of a technologically advanced society also brings a certain number of Christians to seek in these methods of prayer a path to interior peace and psychic balance” (1; 2).

The CDF specifically acknowledges lectio divina as a form of prayer that comes from God’s revelation, drawing upon God’s own words and entering into a conversation with Him: “This is why the Church recommends the reading of the Word of God as a source of Christian prayer, and at the same time exhorts all to discover the deep meaning of Sacred Scripture through prayer ‘so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For, “we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles”’ (Dei Verbum, 25)” (6).

We may not want to take up John Senior’s advice to smash the TV, but we at least need to question the role of technology in our life. We need to make sure that prayer, more than technology, shapes and orders our time. We need to make room for silence and meditation. If we don’t smash the box, then in order to enable our mind’s to be free for prayer, let us at least break out of the box!

---

Source: R. Jared Staudt, "Break Out of the Box: Technology and Prayer," Catholic Exchange, May 5, 2014, accessed May 7, 2014, http://catholicexchange.com/break-box-technology-prayer.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Preoccupation with Trifles and the Meaning of Human Life

Our mass preoccupation with distractions indicates a spiritual illness. How so? Humans are not made to be bored, to have our energies dissipated, unfocused. We have within us incredible stores of energy and desire but nowhere to focus these powers. Grace has nothing to latch onto because nature itself has become ambivalent and apathetic as to its very purpose.

What are we collectively stating about what it means to be human when, say, nearly everyone waiting in a line must occupy themselves by looking at their smart phones, usually texting, checking email, or watching some media? Few people can endure even a silent car ride. The proliferation of social media and websites that capitalize on uploading and sharing such media reveals a deep desire to entertain ourselves, to occupy ourselves... with something, anything.

Again, this desire to be occupied, to focus our desire simply indicates that we have huge stores of energy, untapped and ready to be used. But the fact that we invest it all in trifles indicates that we have no sense of what to do with ourselves, of whom we are, of what our purpose is. If we would make great strides in virtue, we must put away these trifles, not because they are intrinsically evil but because they are the modern day's, everyman temptation to forget about God and forget about ourselves. We forget God because our mind can be focused on only one thing at a time. And we forget about ourselves because by continually occupying our attention on something exterior, we have no psychological space for self-reflection, no way to realize our sinfulness, our brokenness, our desperation.

Silence and solitude are the only way for a person to face themselves squarely, and it is also, not coincidentally, only in the silence that we find God as the Scriptures tell us (1 Kg. 19:11-13).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Catholic Social Teaching - Not Enlightened Self-Interest

When I taught a variation of this course [on Catholic social teaching] back in 2007, I was much more cautious than I am today, and took a much more “apologetic” route, trying to help everyone see that, really, when the Church says you should be ecologically sensitive, or against war, you can accept either position without reference to the theology and without disrupting your life much. If you don’t believe in God, you should still reuse your plastic bags or buy more efficient light bulbs because both acts are ultimately about saving you money, and who doesn’t want more money? I was, in other words, trying to help people see that Christian social teaching is really a form of enlightened bourgeois self-interest.

In the last few years, however, I’ve come to realize more and more that there is no escaping the fact that real Christianity, when lived out fully, makes you look like a weirdo, a misfit, and a loser in the eyes of many. At the same time, I’ve come to see more deeply than I had previously just how much of Christianity in North America is held hostage by bourgeois categories and expectations which hide from us the strange, appalling, and radical demands of the gospel.

---