Easter Rising

Fellas, let’s talk about death. Everyone reading this blog post will die someday. This is a source of great sadness for us, no doubt; it has been a source of great sadness for all men since Adam. Your whole family, your friends, your coworkers; all of them will face death, whether it comes in the next hour or in a hundred years. The ancients knew this sorrow well; one need only read of Achilles’ anguish at how brief his life shall be in the Iliad, or Gilgamesh’s desperate sorrow at the loss of his only friend Enkidu, to see that this shadow has haunted our race since we were driven from the garden. Only with great wealth do men truly convince themselves that their generation shall be the one that escapes death; the aristocratic alchemists’ search for the Elixir of Life and the modern tech industry’s obsession with uploading brains to computers are two branches of the same luxurious stem. Death comes for all; the mightiest conqueror, the wisest sage, the most clever mechanist. We live in this life, and we may find success for failure or a little of both, but ultimately we arrive at our own tomb. So it was for Hammurabi, so it is for you.

Death is coming for all of us…but death is not the end. What Hammurabi did not know but what you do know is that after the great flood which consumes the whole world, there shall be new life, a beautiful new home for those who know the Way to reach it. This home shall not be like the one we know now, for where here joy is fleeting, here it shall reign eternally. There shall be no death, there shall be no sorrow, there shall be no loneliness or disappointment. How do you know this? Because Jesus Christ is risen, and He has prepared the Way for you- indeed He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

In the Crucifixion, God shows us what the life of a Christian must be in this world, in this life. We must not presume that we shall escape suffering; indeed there must be times when it will be necessary that we embrace it whole-heartedly, so that a greater good might come about. We must not be afraid to die, figuratively or literally, for God or for our neighbor. We must be willing to accept what looks to the world like defeat and shame. Let us not pretend that this cannot feel very hard at times; but if the God who created us and to whom we owe everything commands it of us, who are we to deny Him? We ought to accept our own cross with gratitude, happy to show in some small way our thanks for what He does for us.

We could end the story here, we could say “ah, God wants us to suffer and die, and that is good and fine, because He is God!” And it would be true…but it would not be the whole truth. For after the Crucifixion comes the Resurrection. Not only did God show us how to live in this life, He showed us the life he prepares us in the world to come. If you think the cross is hard my brothers, I encourage you to look upon the empty tomb! A man who was tortured to death stands up, and rolls away the stone which sealed His body in the earth, and strides about the world, unconquered. His wounds remain, and yet where before they were marks of pain, now to look upon them is to know that He has triumphed over death! What more can the enemies of God do to Him? They can do nothing; He is unstoppable. He meets with His friends, He gives them comfort and encouragement, He forgives them, He eats with them, He continues to astound them with new wisdom which rushes forth from His infinite self upon them. He is not a ghost, He is not a happy wisp of thought sitting on a cloud; He is the King of Glory walking upon the ground, which could not hold Him.

He has gone forth ahead of us! He has prepared the way. If we trust Him and follow Him through the waters, though it seems we proceed to certain doom, He shall lead us through them. We need only cling to the wood of the Cross, as Noah clung to the wood of the ark, and it shall carry us through the flood. Brothers, I pray that the Lord will grant each of you the strength to so cling; I pray that He will ignite your heart with the fire of His own love for you, so that you might shine like a beacon through the dusk of this life and the dark night of death. Please pray for me and for yourselves, that we shall truly desire Heaven and so find it. And do not be bogged down with the fear of death. It is still Easter; our King has triumphed over man’s oldest foe, and nothing can stop His victory. Remember this.  mary-magdaleneResurrection

Advertisements

Bring It In, Guys

Fellas, let’s talk about touch. It is perhaps the most skeptical of the senses; we might even say it is the most human. We rely upon it as the final test of whether something is real- we might see or hear or smell or even taste something and be fooled, but we often reason that what we can reach out and touch must surely be real, must actually be there. “Pinch me,” we say when we are so astonished by an experience that we believe it might be a fantasy, because we trust the truth of a sharp touch of pain more than what our eyes and ears can observe.

 

Touch is important for more than verifying the truth of being; it is also important for verifying the truth of love. Some of us are less comfortable being touched than others, it is true, but the embrace of a loved one can often be a great comfort. Surely none of us spurned our mother’s arms when we were too small to stand on our own, and when we are old we hope that there will be those who will bear us to our place of rest. A human embrace, when given with earnest love, tells us “I will hold you when you cannot bear yourself”, something which all of us, mortals prone to material corruption that we are, long to hear, to be reassured of.

 

Our Lord knows this of us. He knows that we are tactile creatures, easily frightened and afraid of our own weakness, and that we need to know that someone is there for us. And so, though He is beyond all flesh and needs nothing for Himself, He has taken on a body so that He might come amongst us. Through the Incarnation, the Lord of Heaven came to hold us. He could have reassured us of His love via some other means, but He has chosen this way because He knows what sort of creatures we are; He has lowered Himself to meet our needs.

 

Indeed, we can see in St. Thomas’s incredulity our own hesitation. I will not believe until I can put my fingers in His wounds, until I can touch Him and see that He is not some hallucination! What a thing to demand of the God whose substance is Being itself! And yet Our Lord did not deny this to Thomas, because He loved Him. In fact He sought Thomas out, and invited Him directly, granting Him explicit permission to prod the Wounds by which our salvation was wrought. And Thomas knew at last that this was truly God, and fell down in fear and reverence of the Lord who stood before him.

 

And this was surely not the only time that God, who had become man, reassured His followers by His touch. He became a man, which meant that He had hands with which to pat shoulders, and arms to wrap around them. He had a brow to press against theirs, and a voice to laugh and let them know that there was no need to worry. How blessed were those who walked with Christ, that the King of Heaven and Earth, the One who had created all things, lived amongst them as their brother! How blessed they were, to touch the Body of Christ and know that He was with them and that He loved them.

 

How blessed we are, my brothers, for we too feel the reassuring touch of the Body of Christ. It is not without cause that we call the Church by this name, for whenever any of us reaches out to another, we reach out on behalf of the One who has given us that hand, and who, if we lose it in service to Him, shall be pleased to give us one anew in the life to come. In Christ, we have all become brothers with Him (for He has given us His Glorious Father and His Holy Mother as our own) and with one another, and so by embracing our brothers in love we embrace Him. Do you know what I mean? Let me show you a picture:

RarePio

The man pictured reading is St. Pio of Pietrelcina, often referred to fondly as “Padre Pio”. He is wearing fingerless gloves because he bears the stigmata. He was a man of truly miraculous holiness, who received tremendous visions and worked great miracles, and whose life shocked the world, because the 20th century certainly did not think itself the time for a saint like Padre Pio.

 

And yet to the men gathered around him, he was also their brother friar. They stand shoulder to shoulder with him. They smile at him, and at the joy of being in a group photo with their brother. One friar even rests his head upon him, as John rested His head upon Christ. These men were not born brothers in the flesh, but they were united through Baptism in brotherhood with Padre Pio, with one another, and with Our Lord Jesus Christ. As am I, and as are you.

 

Perhaps you do not know any stigmatics; few of us in any age do. But you have me, and I have you, and we have those with us when we go to Mass or whenever we gather in Christian fellowship. When we embrace our brothers, we embrace the Brother we share. And as if that were not enough (we are such needy creatures, Oh Lord!) when we receive the Eucharist at Easter (or indeed throughout the year) God Himself comes down to us from Heaven yet again, and touches us with His Divine Body. He is here, and He is real, and He loves us even beyond death. Remember this.

Under God’s Thumb

Fellas, let’s talk about bad days. Sometimes things just do not seem to be working out. We say our prayers, we do our work, we try to show charity towards our neighbor; but wouldn’t you know it, our neighbor does not show charity back to us. Our work erupts in some kind of colossal failure or enormous roadblock. Our prayer grants us no consolation and we wonder if we are simply going through the motions meaninglessly.

 

Even worse, we can aggravate these upsetting situations with our own sins, responding to them in ways that fall short of our calling to live in Christian perfection. If we are trying to live in holiness, we will doubtless not notice these failures, which we know could have been avoided if only we were better people. This realization of our weakness might threaten to make us feel even worse! Our life is so hard, we think; if only we were not such bad people and in such a difficult situation, we could become saints. Instead, it feels as though we are slowly being crushed beneath the thumb of God.

 

In these times, my brothers, we must remember that it is indeed God’s thumb which is pinning us right where we are. Yet this is the God who loved us unto humiliation, unto death on the Cross. Why then would He permit us to be afflicted so? Why would He let us be pressed down in such a miserable place? Perhaps the answer is that amidst all this affliction, we are exactly where we need to be for Him to reveal His love for us.

 

This seems like a pretty uncomforting reassurance, we might reason! Surely our sinful selves deserve whatever affliction befalls us in this life and more besides- we understand that intellectually, but it really sucks to actually taste it. Yet in such times we must make a special effort to take stock of the all the good we do have. First of all, we have that intellectual awareness that we are receiving less than we deserve- this is more than can be said for many! There are certainly wicked men who go about their lives and see the suffering which comes upon them from time to time not as a reminder of their imperfection but as an unfair imposition upon their righteous persons. We should thank the Lord if we are spared the temptation to such thoughts, and thank Him further for the grace to understand our own unworthiness.

 

Second, while we feel as though we are being crushed, we have yet to actually be crushed- this can be an important thing of which to remind ourselves! St. Teresa of Calcutta once said “The Lord never gives you anything you cannot handle- I only wish he didn’t trust me so much!” Like the tribe of Israel in the Babylonian captivity, we are tested, but not destroyed. Once we realize this we can begin to take stock of the realities of our situation, and perhaps even surprise ourselves with what we can bear. God, after all, knows us better than we know ourselves- not just our weaknesses, but also our potential for strength.

MotherTeresa

 

Third, we may often find that our suffering is an opportunity to learn and grow. Virtues require habituation to develop; though it is extremely contrary to true courage to seek unnecessary danger, we can never perfect our courage if we have no opportunity to practice it, and so too with the other virtues. Perhaps the difficult person in our life is an opportunity to practice fortitude; perhaps the hostile environment in which we find ourselves is an opportunity to practice prudence. Indeed, we should accept whatever such opportunities the Lord gives us, no matter how unglamorous or unimpressive they may seem, with the same gusto that our ancient brothers accepted the hardships of the desert where they sought to grow in faith.
Last of all, we should rejoice at the opportunity to suffer with Christ (as I’ve discussed previously). Just as Our Lord’s unprotected flesh suffered the sting of the whip at His scourging, so too must we from time to time endure blows from which we cannot defend ourselves. Yet God never abandons us in such moments, and even if we fall short, we can take comfort in knowing that He endured all that we suffer and more on our behalf, and yet still stands ready to forgive us. If God is pinning you down with His thumb, then that means you are exactly where you need to be for Him to reveal His love to you. Remember this.

Building Straw Houses

Fellas, let’s talk about our incredible brainpower. If you don’t think you have incredible brainpower, please stick around for the rest of this post anyway, because I think you should hear what I am going to tell the guys who think they do.

Now, let’s say you do think you’re pretty smart, as I tend to think of myself. You probably get/got pretty good grades in school, yeah? Maybe you’ve got some expertise in something that few of the people around you know very much about, like mathematics, or programming, or political theory, or esoteric internet culture. Maybe you can impress friends and family by reciting information they’re not aware of. Maybe people flat-out tell you that you are one of the smartest people they know.

If this sounds like you, I have something to tell you, that you regularly need to tell yourself: you are not very smart in absolute terms. Your intellect, bound to grasp at the principles of reality through sensory input, is nothing before even the least angelic intellect, which has no need of learning, being instilled from its creation with direct knowledge of the nature of Creation. That goes without saying…but you are also not very smart compared to peak humanity. Have you ever read any of St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings? If you have not (and I do not just mean Wikipedia articles summarizing his writings) don’t go out and buy a boxed set, but try a little exercise: start with his commentary on Job, which I mentioned last week. First, read the text of the first chapter of the book of Job itself, see what you understand of the meaning of the text. Then, look at the meaning St. Thomas is able to extract from the same lines. Consider the depth he is able to perceive- and remember St. Thomas does not even bother here with the mystical reading, citing St. Gregory’s commentary as definitive. Have you read St. Gregory on Job? I have not, but it was well enough known to St. Thomas and his assumed reader that he does not even bother glossing it.

YungStThomas

After you have read a bit, consider that this text is only one of many commentaries written by St. Thomas; he also wrote on many other books of Scripture, on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (as most scholastics did for their master’s work), and on much of the corpus of Aristotle, engaging with and responding to other Christian scholars as well as the writing of Islamic and Jewish commentators. He also wrote original works: to see what these are like, check out the first few questions of the Summa Theologiae. You will see that he begins by first examining the question of whether the subject he is writing about can be said to meaningfully/usefully exist, and whether men can study it fruitfully. Can you make such an argument for any of the subjects you have studied in school? It can be a good intellectual exercise to try, however good an answer you can muster.

St. Thomas is arguably one of the greatest thinkers of all time, and chances are, unless you have had a very unusual education, you have not only never read anything that he has written, but have also been primarily or exclusively taught by people who have never read anything he has ever written. All this is not to say our teachers are bad or that what we have learned is worthless, or that you need to become a Thomistic scholar, but merely to note how little of the world you or I actually understand or even know about. Indeed, knowing our own ignorance, we should rejoice with great relief that we do not believe, with the world, that only those who are especially intelligent are worthy of dignity and love. The Lord does not call us to become learned (although learning is good) but to become holy.

And if you are one of those blessed few who has read a great deal of Aquinas and other great thinkers, remember that the saint himself remarked that all he had written in life was “as straw” compared to the greatness of a true understanding of God and His creation. Indeed, he once said that He learned more from prayer than he ever had from all his studies (which for a man who had memorized as many texts as St. Thomas, was certainly saying something). As the book of Wisdom says: “And who shall know thy thought, except thou give wisdom, and send thy Holy Spirit from above…” (9:17) Whatever little knowledge we have has been given to us by God. Remember this.

A Little Yeast

Fellas, let’s talk about what we are feeding our souls. Most importantly, of course, we must nourish them through the sacraments, but there is another kind of food that they also need, and that is good and holy thoughts and words to ponder. Just as the health of your body is affected by what you eat, so the health of your soul can be affected by what you read. We have to be careful to consume what is good and avoid what is bad, lest we make ourselves sick.

Now, not all of us are quite as sensitive about such things (though all stand to be enriched by good and holy reading). Some have resolute temperaments that are hardly affected by the words and actions of others. This does not necessarily make such brethren better or worse; at times enduring much awfulness can be a great strength, and at times being unmoved by something of significance can be a great weakness. They have different needs; here I intend to concentrate chiefly on those of us who are deeply and easily moved by what we read or otherwise witness.

If you are like me, then you do not simply pass through what you read. You gnaw upon it, you digest it, you mull over it at great length. You can, if you are not careful, be completely carried away by even a little bit of it. Reading the news is an emotional assault. Comment boxes are utterly devastating and infuriating. An acquaintance posting something you strongly disagree with can threaten to ruin your day. Going online can be very dangerous, as we are confronted with a great deal of poison that we can hardly help but swallow in great gulps.

Our interests also tend to consume us. We can obsess over minor details of whatever it is we have an interest in –a book, a show, a game, a sport- scrutinizing it with a fervor that others find impressive but perhaps also somewhat excessive. We can become frustrated when such a thing fails to hold up to our examination, such that we wonder whether we actually enjoy the things that we profess to love, given how painfully aware we are of their imperfections.

Since so much of our world is deeply flawed, it is easy for us to become quite sickened, either by the failings of enjoyable things (which others who are not so inclined to over-scrutinize find perfectly agreeable) or the preponderance of loathsome things (which others who are not so sensitive quickly dismiss from their minds). We can begin to become overwhelmed by the mediocrity and wickedness of this world, and it can make us miserable. We must beware: the devil loves it when we are miserable, because it makes us far more susceptible to his assaults.

This is why we must take great care with what we “eat” in our reading. First, we must limit our consumption of what is bad; we, more than anyone else, should consider it a matter of our spiritual health to avoid reading comments, to remove people or accounts whose words or deeds are regularly upsetting from our feeds, to avoid following the news more than is absolutely required for our duties. We must, in a sense, cut out what is unhealthy for our cognitive diet, and create for ourselves a sort of spiritual monastery within our environment where we can take shelter from the world.

This alone is not enough, however. If we merely reduce what is bad, we shall still need something to occupy our minds. Hence, we must also consume that which is nourishing and wholesome, and allow ourselves to chew upon it. I do not here mean merely that which we personally enjoy and find pleasant, for as I said we will often find that all too wanting. We must turn our attention each day to that which is infinitely good, which withstands and excels all our pondering and scrutiny, to the only thing which can truly satisfy our hungry minds: the infinity and infinite perfection of God.

st-dominic-with-scripture

St. Dominic, who as a young canon was known to retreat regularly to study whenever he was free of other duties.

 How can we do this? Our minds wander easily, and they pick up whatever they encounter like a hungry dog. Thus we must each day read text which is wholesome and religious in nature, even for just a short while, keeping in mind our temporal duties. We must insist upon doing this even when we feel bad or when we feel good. Like any diet, we must hold to it whether it feels necessary or effective or not.

There are several ways to do this, but reciting at least part of an office is an excellent way to begin. In particular, I recommend starting with Lauds of either the Liturgy of Hours or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Read it when you first get up so that you can return to it in your thoughts throughout the day. If, during the day you find your spirits turning downward, recall to mind your morning office, and reflect upon it.

It is also good to assign to yourself some regular reading from the writings of a saint, if not every day then at least for an hour on Sunday. The letters of St. Catherine of Siena (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7403 , do note that the translator here is a 19th century Episcopalian woman) and St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on the Book of Job (http://dhspriory.org/thomas/SSJob.htm ) are both beautiful and easily accessed online, but it might also be wise to consult with your spiritual director for readings appropriate to your own situation. Again, even if you do not always feel it is necessary, you must make this reading a priority for your health. What you read becomes what you think. What you think becomes what you do. What you do becomes who you are. Remember this.

The Importance of Praying For Ordinary Things

Fellas, let’s talk about what we’re praying for. You do ask for things when you pray, right? St. Louis de Montfort says that asking for nothing is a great pitfall to avoid when praying one’s rosary. This is usually pretty easy to do, also, if we remember to do it: simply tell God that the prayers we are offering are for some specific intention, if it please Him to grant it. If your mind begins to drift in prayer, this can even help you to remain focused, by calling to mind that you have asked God for this favor from Him and so the least you can do is pay attention in the act of asking. Indeed, Christ assures us that if we ask our Father for an egg, He shall not hand us a scorpion. This is mostly a metaphor but hey, if you really need an egg, you could do far worse than asking the Lord who has formed every bird that flies beneath Heaven.

de montfort

St. Louis de Montfort

 

What should you pray for? Probably whatever you need most at this moment, for starters. Everything you have and are has come to you from God, so it’s not like it would be a change of pace for Him to give you something. Your mind is incapable of imagining most of reality (only a little bit of which is material) so it’s not like you are capable of making a request God does not understand. You can ask for a safe drive home for yourself or your loved ones. You can ask for a job. You can even just ask for the strength to somehow get through to the end of an awful day you are having, if you should be so afflicted. St. Louis suggests that you ask in particular for whatever virtues you find yourself struggling with.

What if God does not give you what you ask for? First you must keep in mind that God always hears your prayers: there is nothing in the impossibly brief instance that is your earthly life that is hidden from the Divine Sight. Hopefully you are asking Him for something which is truly a good, even if it is a fairly low order one (if you are asking Him for something you know is evil you need to stop and go to Confession). You might even be asking Him for something which is pretty huge, and this is indeed fine to ask of the Lord who has measured the heavens in a span: St. Teresa of Avila says “you pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” But God is not a vending machine: if you ask Him for what you think you need, and in doing so place your trust in Him that He will give you what you need, then He in His love will give you what you actually need, whether you realize that immediately, or a year from now, or on the Day of Judgment when all things that have happened in Heaven and on earth are laid bare to all. Whenever you do realize, be sure to thank Him.

Do not make the mistake of thinking there are things that you can do “on your own” and that you should only trouble God with requests to miraculously heal chronic diseases. You can accomplish nothing worth accomplishing without His help, whether or not you realize you are receiving it. God is perfectly deliberate; every breath that you draw has been prepared to you since before time by His will. Every moment you continue to exist is at His forbearance. Every good thing that comes to you has been granted to you because He loves you.

hannahprayingforason

Hannah, who asked God for a son.

He knows everything you need before you ask, it is true; but this also does not mean you should not ask Him for things. The beasts and plants receive all that they need from Him as well, but He has raised you above them by giving you the chance to contemplate Him, as the angels do. He waits for you to pray to Him so that in asking for lesser things you might be helped in raising your mind to the best thing, His infinite Self. It was the Lord of Heaven made flesh who told you “Ask, and you shall receive.” Remember this.

Man’s Paining

Fellas, let’s talk about suffering. Obviously there is a great deal of it in the world- you are on the internet, you can see plenty of it. People commit horrible atrocities against one another or very petty ones. People do terrible things to themselves. People suffer calamities which befall them seemingly at random. The world seems full of darkness and misery; it seems, as the words of the Salve Regina describe it, to be a “vale of tears.”

And in many ways, it is, even for those of us who embrace the true faith and attempt to follow Our Lord’s commands for how to live our lives. Of course, we were never promised an absence of suffering in this life. In fact, we were promised the exact opposite: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Where do you think we are following Him to, brothers? To Heaven, yes; but the path to Heaven runs through Golgotha. St. Faustina Kowalska says that if angels could envy men (which they cannot), they would envy them for Eucharist and for suffering, because in suffering, offered to the Father, we are united to the glory of the Cross.

Now it must be said that the Lord forbids us from seeking out suffering on our own; He does not permit us to destroy ourselves, in whole (by suicide) or in part. Indeed, every good we receive is a gift from the Lord, and we should not deprive ourselves of them except in favor of higher goods: this is why fasting and celibacy are permitted (and indeed praiseworthy), while starving ourselves to death or castrating ourselves are not. Sometimes it can be difficult to judge whether we are truly working towards a higher good or merely acting out of pride, which is why particularly severe austerities ought only to be undertaken as we wield what St. Benedict calls “the weapons of obedience” against the Enemy; that is to say, we must submit to the supervision of a trustworthy and competent spiritual director.

But what about that suffering that has already found you, as you scroll through your timeline and your heart aches and you feel sad about who you are and what you do? Sure, you’re not dying of thirst (buddy if you are, hydration break rn) or being tortured creatively by Roman soldiers, but not all suffering is so dramatic. Sometimes it just feels like we simply cannot go sit to dinner with the family members that do not understand us, or figure out how we are going to get through all the work we have done this week, or like we simply cannot stand to live another day with that feel when no gf.

But my brothers, you are not alone in that time. The Lord is close to you, chained up alongside you in your moment of torment. He has been through this all before, and if you only reach out to Him and ask, He will lay His hand upon you to steady you through it. He will never leave you no matter how bad it gets or how viciously you betray Him. Remember, before He permits the devil to torment Job, God says “Have you seen my servant Job? There is no man like him among those who walk upon the earth!” He only permits Job to suffer so because He loves and prizes Job, and because He knows that Job will not fail.

St Job the Longsuffering

Cry out, as Christ did, to the Father He has given you to share, and Your Father will hear you. Literally if you must, whisper or shout “Father!” Your Father, who hears all and knows all and has foreseen all, will not allow His child to suffer in vain. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15)

You are the Body of Christ. It is by the wounds which pierce that Body that God’s saving work is completed. Remember this.