Chapter 1: Fantasy World

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Most people grow up believing in the myths, fantasies, and fairy tales that their time period presents them. Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Superman may be harmless in their own right, but our desire for fairy tales does not seem to go away easy. And there is a kind of fairy tale that many adults ascribe to that is not harmless. In fact, this fantasy world has plagued human happiness for all of recorded past. Now we stand in a special time in history where, for most of secular culture, it not only goes unrestrained in practice, but also in theory. Most notably in more recent times, the sexual revolution of the 1960s has polluted our way of thinking and given us all kinds of rhetoric that positions itself on the shifty sands of deception.

For example, things such as “someone can do whatever they want with their own body” or “I can look, but I just can’t touch” lose any kind of credence when we simply stop to think of the implications of these claims. Ask yourself honestly, “Do you mean I can seriously use my body to do anything I want?” or “So you’re fine if I just keep looking at you like this?” Okay, so you throw the caveat that you can’t hurt anyone in there. But guess what? A lot of consenting adults have been hurt because of the idea “I can do whatever I want with my body.” Not even consent is enough to protect us from being hurt when men and women attempt to make their sexual fantasies into realities.  The concept of “I can look, but I just can’t touch” creates a fiery furnace that leads us down the dark road of dependence. This fiery passion is only fueled more and more by the moral standards of various media outlets today. From movies, television, internet, and even the books people read – all cater to a fantasy world that does not find any true reflection in reality. Therein is the difference between a good fantasy and bad fantasy: good fantasy may draw us away from reality to give us perspective on the truth whereas bad fantasy draws us completely outside of reality and has nothing to do with truth.

Since the beginning of history, the number one cause of immoral acts is immoral thoughts. It is extremely rare that someone actively engages in immorality without previous deliberation. In fact, according to Jesus, entertaining a lustful thought is a form of immorality in itself (cf. Matt 5:27-30). Why would he say this? Because living in a mental fantasy of a sexual sort that has nothing to do with our reality in life pulls us away from truth and reason. It simply leads us to use someone – a person who has no idea we are using them and who quite probably has no desire for us to use them – for something that impersonates real and true love. Though it is within the realm of possibility to have these fantasies, it is not our design. Just because something gives us pleasure, doesn’t mean it is the clearest path to happiness.

 

A Brief Psychology of Bad Fantasy

While the world reels from many traditional explanations of our psyche, there are many ways in which Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas have provided a perspective that touches reality more simply and deeply than the likes of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, or any of their followers. To explain the ancient psychology plainly, our sense perception leads to thinking and our thinking leads to choosing and acting.[1] This seems so apparent that it is a position that hardly needs an argument. The Freudian position, for example, requires a lot of imaginative power, accepting assumptions about lingering childhood inclinations, and tends to take large tomes to sort out. The Aristo-Thomist view of human psychology is much simpler and resounds with human experience. And ultimately means that – as has already been stated by Jesus – bad fantasies are irrational in themselves and cannot lead to good actions.  Let’s take a closer look.

To start off with some examples, can we say it is wrong for a married man to have lucid sexual thoughts about someone who is not his wife? First of all, ask his wife. Or is it wrong for an unmarried man to have such thoughts about someone who is not his wife? At some point he will realize he’s not married to her and have fodder for despair that would be completely unnecessary if he would have simply controlled his thoughts. Sometimes, unfortunately, a married person will let himself entertain these thoughts such that he despairs and wishes that he is married to the person who is the source of his fantasies instead of the person to whom he has actually vowed his life. Nonetheless, these fantastic thoughts may lead to using our bodies to hurt other people, physically or emotionally, or to creating an unrealistic desire in ourselves that will never be satiated. Either way, in sexual fantasies, happiness is ultimately exchanged for something that will hurt us, someone else, or both.

The psychology of sexual fantasy has its beginning when we feel, see, hear, in a word, sense something overtly or covertly related to sexual acts. At this point our brains begin to process it according to our imaginative powers and log it in our memory. After this – and it may not take long – it moves to our intellect. We become aware of what we are thinking about. Then we are able to identify the goodness (or lack of goodness) in the thing about which we’re thinking. Now we are left to choose. As fantasy, there are many scenarios that often get entertained that do not correspond with the reality of our lives.  When entertained, these fantasies invariably lead to either a form of despair or infidelity, as stated previously, sometimes both.

So, at the level of perception, there will be sights, sensations, sounds that can be related to sexual activity.[2] This is a fact of human life. We will tend at times to use these perceptions for some kind of immediate, though unrealistic, pleasure. This is a result of Original Sin.[3] There is something disordered in us that draws us to desire people sexually that will not ultimately lead to happiness. Often in our fallen nature, our instincts like to latch on to these memories and we become tempted to envision others as a sort of physical or emotional thrill. This temptation leads to bad fantasy if whatever we’re thinking about doesn’t attach us to anything real about the world. It is just fantasy pure and simple. When we have the power to continue to entertain the thought or stop entertaining the thought, it has moved from merely the realm of a perception in the mind to the realm of our intellect and will. At this point, we can choose to entertain the bad fantasy and continue in the thrill of the thought or to discontinue the bad fantasy and return to the realm of reality.

The disunity between the way people think and reality leads to the classic definition of insanity: we keep doing the same thing but expect different results. It’s almost as if we think that if we keep meditating on these thoughts that it’s going to actually bring us some kind of lasting joy or happiness.  Again and again, however, it keeps us pining for more until we need these images, thoughts, fantasies to be more vivid and more frequent. They will either grow in their imaginative capacity or grow in number, until we consciously decide that they lack authentic power to fulfill us. It is at this point that sanity may take root and we can return to reality rather than perpetuating more bad fantasies.

 

Pretending and Depending

One of the most basic truths of human life is that we are creatures of habit. This truth is as ancient as it is self-evident. Aristotle grounded his entire moral system of virtue and vice on the concept of habit. This is as proper to our internal actions such as thinking, desiring, lusting as it is for our external actions of stealing, lying, generosity, or honesty. In fact, our external habits are formed by our internal habits. So, it is very important to form rightly ordered internal habits (and it is also the reason why freedom from lust must begin with our way of thinking). But many of us suffer from just the opposite. Our internal habits can so easily lead us to lust in a thousand ways. But physiologically something happens to us when we do this. Lustful thoughts activate some very powerful things in our brains: Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and the newly connected vasopressin.

It all starts with dopamine. Dopamine is the neurochemical that results in the exhilarating pleasure of immediate gratification. When we indulge in an image or lustful thought, dopamine is activated in the hypothalamus and we get excited about the prospect of the image in our minds. When unchecked, we begin to entertain these thoughts more often in order to return to the exhilaration the initial image gave us. At this point, a habit is forming within us. After the exhilaration of dopamine, the role of serotonin kicks in, reminding us of the exhilaration and bringing the images to mind when we are separated. Serotonin has been discovered to be found in the similar amounts in people who are newly in love as it is in people with OCD. Just like it keeps us hooked on those we love and are away from, serotonin also keeps us hooked on images that have given us a sense of pleasure.

Later, as we become more accustomed to lustful thoughts, we become attached to them by oxytocin from the pituitary gland. The signal is sent to the hypothalamus and, when it arrives, the pleasure center receives the oxytocin. Oxytocin is the classic bonding chemical that gives us a deeper, longer lasting sense of satisfaction. It is designed to increase trust, decrease stress, and give us a sense of security around a person; it is biological proof that humans are designed for monogamous relationships and the reason why break-ups can cause extreme psychological damage. Oxytocin and newly linked vasopressin are usually initiated by some kind of physical contact like a hug, holding hands, a kiss, and most intensely, during sex, most especially at orgasm. They can, however, be activated by our fantasies as well, especially if the fantasy is also accompanied by some kind of masturbation or some kind of physical comfort or gratification. All of this is to demonstrate the depth and power of human habits. Even when it comes to our thoughts, we can become deeply physiologically attached to our bad fantasies.

Simply bringing images, sounds, and scents to mind will activate our pleasure center and help us feel like that is where we need to be. The amount of dopamine and oxytocin that we experience in fantasy, however, is a bit of a tease. We were actually made to experience much larger quantities of it when our sexual appetites are awakened. In the very way we are built – to reiterate the point – from the stand point of science, we are creatures of habit. And so even if we do not allow ourselves to “go all the way,” our brains will crave the comfort of these fantasies and find solace in them. Needing fantasies, whether simply mental or pornographic, is never a comfortable thing to bring into a marriage. People have told horror stories about needing to imagine other people while having sex with their spouse or needing to use porn to get aroused. When we reach statuses as ugly as these, we are living in the fantasy and have started rejecting our own reality in life.

If you asked Tiger Woods, whose infidelity was made so public, whether he wanted a divorce from Elin Nordegren, I think it was clear at the time of the divorce that he still wanted to be with her. The problem is that Tiger couldn’t escape the fantasies that he created for himself. And he had the status to make his fantasies into realities, or at least attempt to. The problem, as with all things in the world of sexual fantasy, is that they didn’t fulfill him the way he imagined they would. So after his escapade, he would want to go back to his wife but simultaneously couldn’t stop his nasty little habit.  His story is bad enough, but it is a microcosm, a case study of the general culture of sex today. Whether people have the ability to act on their fantasies, the fantasies are the driving force for both infidelity and disappointment. I’ve heard people rejoice when they’ve lost their phone or deleted themselves from Facebook because it gave them a sense of great freedom. This is because we have hopes that these things will bring us a satisfaction that they rarely obtain. Imagine if you didn’t have thoughts that incessantly cause you to desire more than you have at the present moment. Imagine if you were genuinely satisfied just being who you are right now. Freedom from having our minds controlled by fantasy will lead us to a contentment and satisfaction that no lustful thought ever could. Unfortunately, we already have all these bad habits of lustful thinking, and habits die so terribly hard.

 

Reality and Sexuality

Skeptics and liberals in the area of sex may know that they already disagree with the following claims and not even give them a chance. But this once again proves that their open-mindedness only goes as far as their agendas. Though often suppressed and misrepresented in popular culture, the Catholic Church actually puts forward a beautiful and holistic view of human sexuality. This is demonstrated by considering our natural way of existing, loving, and ultimately, propagating the species. That sex should only occur in the context of a life-long relationship that has the possibility of procreation is written into our design. This relationship should be the result of an unshakeable commitment made before God and others. This commitment and relationships links us to another person physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Such a strong link is naturally the best environment for raising children. Unfortunately, there are many circumstances where this reality was not held in view – either from the outset or at some point after – and people engage in sexual activities and thoughts driven by our broken nature rather than the clear design. This is why we have so many cases, which used to be viewed as marginal but now are so common, where a couple must separate and sometimes the children must suffer the intuitive pain from the result of a broken union that was meant to last till death.

The design of procreation and rearing of all of humanity finds its source in the really special unity of man and woman. It’s not primarily special because of the feelings of love shared the couple, but because of the powers essential to the unity. Man has what is necessary to fulfill the clear design of woman and vice versa. Out of this compatibility, new life emerges naturally into a context of life-long love. How is this not beautiful and simultaneously not true? It is beautiful and simply true.  The reality of our sexuality is not that the joy and fulfillment end when the sex ends. The reality is that the enjoyment of sex is meant to lead to the deeper, longer-lasting enjoyment of love in our family life. Children who share the same genome as their parents will be more readily understood, in their skills and in their flaws.  This is not to say that children in families who do not share the same genes cannot be loved just as much. In fact, when that is the case, it is the result of extraordinary love on the part of both the parents and the children.

In any event, the reality of sex bonds two individuals and establishes the basis for family to spring up naturally in an environment of self-giving, life-long love. When we attach ourselves to premonitions and fantasies that do not reflect this image of our sexual design, we cheapen the deep bond of love as self-giving to something we can use for a more immediate albeit fleeting pleasure. The idea behind love is to take the joy that you have in your life and give it to another, that your whole life would be a gift to another’s life. This is the Church’s understanding of sexuality. The Church is not the bad cop simply trying to get into the bedroom and control us, as the rhetoric would suggest. Rather, the key to understanding sexuality is to understanding the simple truth: You are a gift. And this gift is to be selflessly given to benefit the lives of others, especially in our immediate families. The Church is calling us to something beautiful! She wants us to clear our minds of bad fantasy and open our hearts to being a life-long gift and to bring up a new generation that knows deep, committed, and selfless love. Love is meant to be a life-long gift that is expressed through our bodies, not only our thoughts and fantasies. The Church wants us to help us slow down and realize that we are made for more than jumping from one pleasure to the next. Once we slow down, rid ourselves of sexual fantasies and fleeting pleasures, only then will we hear that the entire universe never ceases to confidently whisper to us, “You are a special gift.”

[1] This is following Thomas Aquinas’ enumeration of external perception (the five physical senses), internal perception (phantasy, memory, estimation, and imagination), and the rational qualities of the soul (intellection and volition).

[2] We take in information through our senses and form them into something called phantasms, which are things that can be logged in our memory and recalled later. Imagine your favorite childhood toy, hiding place, tree, or the smell of the tree or the smell of your childhood home that no longer exists. When you do this, you are recalling the phantasm of the toy, tree, or smell. As you just did, you can recall these images whenever you like to. The same goes for any perceptions that relate to sexual activity.

[3] As Tolkien said in a letter to his son Christopher, “Every story is about original sin.” G.K. Chersterton said, “The most self-evident claim of Christianity is original sin.” Our world has lost touch with the concept of sin because it’s inconvenient. But just look at the world in every generation: war, corruption, violence, lying, stealing, and cheating, in a word, human failure. Original Sin is the only and best explanation of this state of things in every generation of human existence. Getting rid of Original Sin has also conveniently downplayed the culture’s acceptance of a Savior.

Don’t Be Lame: 3 Saints Who Knew How to Adventure

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To be a saint doesn’t mean you have to be lame, rigid, and secluded all of the time – even though there are times when a serious reverence is appropriate. Ultimately, to be a saint means you fully dive into the adventure that God has placed in your life. In the life of most every saint, even in one as sweet and gentle as Therese of Lisieux, there has been a holy recklessness, a sense of adventure, and a great cosmic mission. The saints are the ones that teach us about the adventure the Church has for us. Today, I’d like to point to some adventures God might have for us if we decide to follow Him more recklessly. We can find a great deal of adventure in the examples from these three saints: Gabriel Possenti, Francis Xavier, and Therese of Lisieux.


 

Gabriel Possenti

St. Gabriel Possenti was a marksman that loved hunting and gambling. In his youth, he got sick three times and Mary appeared to him each time telling him to become a priest. The first two times he got distracted with petty things and went back to hunting and playing cards. The third time Mary told him to become a priest or his illness will kill him. This time he listened. He joined the Passionist order in Italy and began studying to become one of their priests.

One day marauders came through town. The monks were praying in the chapel when Gabriel heard a woman scream. This is not something he would allow. So he went to the rescue of the lady taking guns directly from the holsters of two marauders. He showed off his ability to shoot by blasting off the head of a lizard 50 yards away. He then held the two at gunpoint and ushered every single marauder out of the city and forced them to return everything they had stolen. No one was hurt but St. Gabriel chased a bunch of thugs of a town. That’s a bit of an adventure, right?! See what I’m saying? If Gabriel Possenti doesn’t respond to the call that God has for him, that adventure never happens and that town would not have been saved from all the evil that the marauders would have done. For more on Gabriel Possenti click here.


 

Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier was born into a noble family in the kingdom of Navarre (a part of modern-day Spain and France). The king of Aragon invaded Navarre when Francis was six years old and the fighting continued for the next 18 years. Francis’ family was much embroiled in the fighting, but to get away from it, Francis enrolled in the University of Paris. He became well-known for his athleticism, excelling at the high jump. Being away from his family, the party scene was commonplace for Francis and he had many aspirations to gain worldly success. But there he also met Ignatius of Loyola.

Castle of the Xavier Family now under the care of the Jesuits

Ignatius worked on Francis for years to get him to become more religious. Eventually, after Francis’ roommate had left to study for the priesthood, he found Ignatius as one of his only companions. On August 15th, 1534, Ignatius, Francis, and six others met in the crypt of a church just outside of Paris and made vows of poverty, chastity, obedience to the pope, and to missionary work in the Holy Land and other places around the world.

When it comes to missions around the world, it is impossible to overestimate the credit which Francis Xavier deserves. With the possible exception of St. Paul, the Church has not seen a missionary like him. His first task: bring the Gospel to the newly established territories in India. This was not an easy assignment because the “Christian” settlers in India were causing scandal for the message of Gospel because of their immoral actions with the locals. Francis Xavier also was pigeon-holed by the caste system in India. The Brahmin class tried to keep him from interacting with his heart’s true the desire, the poorest of the poor. Francis Xavier followed his heart and spent most of his time learning the culture and language of the people, tending to the poor, and teaching them the Christian message, often times lambasting the actions of the Portuguese settlers. Because of Francis’ adventurous efforts, however, Catholicism has a strong presence in India still to this day.

To see the real adventure in Francis’ life, we must look at his work in Japan in particular. Francis eventually made his way through many island territories, China, and found his way to the people of Japan. There Francis established missions and over the course of two years gained a number of Japanese to the Catholic faith and the Jesuit order. After establishing Catholicism in Japan, he left to go back to India leaving behind others to run the communities of Japan. In 1620, less than one hundred years after Francis established Christianity there, the Empire banned Catholicism and killed all the priests and attempted to stamp out what Francis has built. Communication was lost with all the Catholics in Japan until 1865. In that year, it was discovered that a small group of Japanese had continued ritual baptism, belief in clerical celibacy, the primacy of the pope, and devotion to the Blessed Mother. For nearly 250 years, because of “the adventures of St. Francis Xavier” and the way he built the community there, Japan had retained a Catholic presence in secret, unknown both to the Japanese government and to the rest of the Church.

 


 

Therese of Lisieux

God is not calling people to be a flock of sissies. In some ways, we are to be more like lions than sheep. Speaking of that contrast, St. Therese of Lisieux is an example of a saint who seems very gentle but actually had the heart of a lion. While it’s true it hard to see a lot of adventure in the Therese’s active life, there are many quotes from her Story of a Soul that demonstrate her adventurous attitude. To start, in discovering her vocation, Therese finds what her adventure within the Church is, and in a real way it is every human being’s adventure. She says, “Then, overcome by joy, I cried, ‘Jesus, my love. At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and then I will be all things.” For Therese, the great adventure of this life is learning how to love in all the little ways. We see this clearly in this famous line that was often referenced by Mother Teresa when she says, “You know well that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions,nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”

Therese sees this life not as a destination, but a journey of learning how to love. One day, she desires to be with Love forever, when the adventure is over. Referring to this life she says, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” For Therese, the journey of this life is holiness, which is found in the perfection of love. To perfect love, one must be well aware of God’s desire for his or her life. “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be,” says Therese. In her longing for God’s will, we see one of the most adventurous things that she has to offer us and her reckless desire for nothing shy of everything God wants of her. Even despite the ways others annoy and distract her, she endeavors to love in all things. When the trials are heavy, she reminds herself and all of us that “when one loves, one does not calculate.” If that isn’t the idea of adventure that burns in your heart, you are very much different from Therese and myself. What greater adventure is there than reckless abandon for the highest cause? Tolkien, Lewis, even Twain, Melville, and DeFoe made their careers based on the same movement of the heart: to abandon yourself to life’s greatest endeavors.

For Therese the adventure is to sail the ship of this world in a way that it leads to heaven. The way to stay on course is to always be solid in prayer, even if it is challenging. She says, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Therese was adventurous even in her approach to prayer, seeing that the process brings trial and joy which occur simultaneously.

Finally, Therese always tied her life’s adventure to the adventure of the cross. “To dedicate oneself as a Victim of Love is not to be dedicated to sweetness and consolations; it is to offer oneself to all that is painful and bitter, because Love lives only by sacrifice and the more we would surrender ourselves to Love, the more we must surrender ourselves to suffering,” she says. She understood the great battle within her and around her. A battle all of us are called to engage in still today. She says, “Each time that my enemy would provoke me to combat, I behave as a gallant soldier.” Even in the heart of sweet Therese there was the presence of a fierce and unruly desire to follow Christ in his Church. If only more of us would find the same adventure in our lives as sweet, small, gentle, and simple Therese found in hers!


Conclusion

There are so many other saints that have lived lives of adventure from St. John the Baptist, St. Paul the Apostle to St. John Paul II, the mountain loving, soccer playing, skier pope that changed the face of Catholicism and instigated the fall of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The point is, to be a Catholic saint means to be totally awesome. Jesus’ awesome adventure was the cross. And as Hebrews 12 states, it was because of the joy that was set in front of him that he endured the cross. The joy for Jesus was that one day he gets to be with you forever. He went on a great and reckless adventure and gave his entire life just so he could be with you someday. He has now asked us to follow his model of recklessness. To live an adventure. The Church needs great and adventurous saints to set the stage for the third millennium. It can and should be us. In our own unique way, we can live the adventure of following Jesus and being a great saint.

The Culture of Indifference vs. the Culture of Adventure

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Kyle Sellnow on the “The World’s Culture of Indifference and the Catholic Culture of Adventure.” This talk was originally given Youth Group at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, KS.

Spreading the Gospel: Tips from Acts 4

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As a part of the Love InSight program I’ve written a few Bible studies for parishes and parish life. One of them is based on the first seven chapters of the book Acts of the Apostles. The main question at the heart of this study is: what can we learn from the first Christians today? In this study, Acts 4 makes for our liveliest discussion. Today, I want to share with the rest of the world some of the fruits of that discussion. Note: I cannot recap the whole lesson; I am simply pointing out some major takeaways.

 

Summary of Acts 4

In Acts 3 Peter and John heal a lame man and give credit to the name of Jesus for this power. In Acts 4 the Sanhedrin has them arrested (presumably for going against Jewish teachings, which they were in fact doing). Peter defends himself by preaching that Jesus is the Messiah, basically saying, “you had him put to death, but now by him, this man is healed.” The major help in his argument was that the man who had been healed was seen crippled everyday at the Temple for over 40 years and was now standing right by Peter and John.

Given the evidence, the Sanhedrin cannot convict them and they simply say, “Do not go around using the name of Jesus.” Peter basically replies, “Sorry, but we can’t do that. Adios.” After persuading new converts (it says 5,000) they go back and pray together as a community. They don’t pray for deliverance from persecution, like you might expect. Rather, they pray for boldness in their mission. They don’t simply pray individually, as I said, they pray together, for their mission of spreading the news about Jesus. Finally, at the end of chapter 4, we see the famous passage where all the believers in Jerusalem put their possessions together, lay them at the feet of the Apostles, and hold all things in common and distributing according to each person’s needs.

So what can we learn from all of this? Here are 4 takeaways for spreading the Gospel from Acts chapter 4:

 

1) Establish credibility with the people you are evangelizing

Peter and John had the benefit of healing someone and that person became the testimony of their credibility. I’d say not enough Christians today believe that God will do powerful things through them and so powerful things like this are rare today. I credit a lack of faith, not a lack of God for this deficit. Yet, there are other ways to establish credibility other than working miracles. The primary way: becoming friends. If you’re only friends with perfectly good Christians (if those even exist), you’re probably not doing a lot for the work of evangelization (which all of us are actually supposed be doing). The key to this step of becoming friends: have some conversations that matter. Once someone trusts you in conversations that matter, you have at least some degree of credibility with them.

There are other ways to establish credibility that can affect many people at once. Think of the life of Mother Teresa or St. Padre Pio or many, many other great saints that by their holiness and model of selfless love were able to impact the lives of thousands of people (sometimes even at once). Whether you use miracles, friendship, fame, or best of all, selfless love, establishing credibility is the first step.

 

2) A noticeable proclamation of the Gospel

Immediately after Peter and John healed the cripple (established credibility), they stood in front of many people in the Temple and preached. The word in Greek for preaching or proclaiming is kerygma. Notice, they didn’t start with teaching or catechesis (didache in Greek), they started with preaching. What did they preach? The truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection so that people could become Jesus’ disciples. Before we go promoting the Church’s teaching on this issue or that issue, people should be invited to become disciples of Jesus (to get to know him and follow him). In the friendship model above, there is a subtle change. Instead of having conversations that matter in general, at some point we can begin to have conversations that matter about Jesus. So, when we say “proclaim” or “preach,” what we mean is: invite people, in whatever way is appropriate to your relationship, to become a disciple of Jesus.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were able to use more boldness since they just publicly healed a man. Mother Teresa spoke powerfully to world leaders at times because the whole world knew she epitomized sincere, self-giving love.  Regardless, in the endeavor to evangelize, at some point after credibility is established, some kind of conversation about following Jesus is paramount. There are probably many people in our own parishes that still need this kind of invitation. Parishes can even start programs that have this conversation for you. If you go this route, all you have to do for steps one and two is be friends with someone and invite them to come with you to the program at your parish.

 

3) Having an environment of prayer

Whether or not you bring the person with whom you had the conversation about Jesus with you, the first Church had space and a place where believers prayed together. I say “space” in reference to time. Sometimes we get so busy with our school or jobs or at home that we don’t even have a space for community prayer in our lives. The first Christians made space and they met together in one place. In this place, they didn’t just pray rote prayers, though they were often based on the on the psalms, which would have been routine for Jews in the 1st century. Instead of simply praying from memory, however, they added a certain spontaneity to their prayer by praying for boldness and that their mission would be effective. Notice: they didn’t pray that persecutions would cease. Instead they prayed that the Gospel would be spread. Is this the kind of thing we pray for in our communities, in our parishes, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Where two or more are gathered, Jesus is there with us. And if you pray for things you know God wants, he will answer your prayers. Jesus commissioned his disciples to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth. If you pray with others to be a part of that commission, he will give you the grace to do it. If parishes want to be centers of conversion today, it should by the power of the Holy Spirit, not just our own effort. In Acts 4:29-31 we see the house where they were praying shook as a sign that the Holy Spirit came in power. Thus, in coming together and praying for their mission, the deep burning desire to spread the Gospel that they had at Pentecost is renewed for them. Today, let’s also pray together more often so that we may continue in our desire for and grace to spread the Gospel.

 

4) A community that promotes selflessness

After the proclamation of the Gospel and praying together, the last part of chapter 4 shows the believers bring all of their stuff to the feet of the apostles to be distributed according to their need. Though we might get tagged as a cult if we did this today, there’s at least a very strong metaphor in the idea of selflessly bringing all of our stuff to the feet of the apostles. We all have gifts and abilities and, at the very least, we have the ability to love others. The first Christians did this selflessly, not thinking about their own needs, but submitting to the oversight of the apostles. Though it’s a good start, parishes should not only be a conglomeration of friends who enjoy each other’s company. I believe wholeheartedly that parish life would greatly improve if we began to use our gifts and talents to embody a true selflessness for each other and the message of the Gospel. When new believers are brought into an environment like this, they will want to stay. They will know that they will always be loved, accepted, forgiven, cared for, and have a mission in life no matter what challenges come their way.

 

Conclusion

God has a unique and unrepeatable plan for your life. As a disciple of Jesus, you have a unique mission for spreading the Gospel. Likewise, each of our parishes has a unique mission for spreading the Gospel (sometimes to members of our own parishes). We should start finding people who want to see the message of discipleship brought to the ends of the earth. We should unite our efforts with them and begin to make a difference with our lives that will last for eternity.

To close, here once again are the takeaways from Acts 4: 1) Establish credibility with someone; 2) before catechesis, invite them to follow Jesus (proclaim the Gospel to them); 3) pray together to live out our mission in the world; 4) live a selfless life of community amongst brothers and sisters on mission with you. If we do all these things, it does not mean we will have 100% success. It does mean, however, that we are doing what God has asked us to do, namely, to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). In the end, these takeaways lead us to a simple truth about the Christian life: Be a disciple, live alongside other disciples, and invite others to become disciples.

 

This is an important subject to me. I do not claim know everything about it. I’d like for you to kindly contact me or comment with additional thoughts, if you have any.

We Want Barabbas: An Easter Reflection

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This year, during the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, I was singularly drawn to the words “We want Barabbas!” I began to think about why the people might want a guy like Barabbas over a guy like Jesus. Freeing Barabbas did not make sense on a number of levels and two inconsistencies are particularly glaring.

First, and most obvious, Barabbas was locked up for harming people. Apparently, harming people is not a big deal. Jesus, on the other hand, was locked up for being too good of guy and for using his unique powers to do good for others. He was making claims and doing things to confirm the truth of those claims, but the Jewish leaders at the time happened to not like it. (Note: Good guys always seem to have a hard time, but good guys should learn from Jesus that doing the right thing is ultimately the most thrilling and worthy way to live.)

Secondly, more than simply the quality of character between Jesus and Barabbas, the Jews were even more inconsistent in their arguments. While the Jews would declare they “have no king but Caesar,” they also asked Pilate to free a political radical whose goal was to drive the Romans and Caesar out of Judea. How does that make any sense?

The dichotomy of Barabbas and Jesus even has a deeper meaning when we think about the kind of liberator each of them represented. Barabbas was also a kind of messianic figure. He was more like what most Jews expected from a messiah. He was a political figure that would free Jews from Roman rule and establish a perfect, peaceful, and happy kingdom found in this world. Jesus was a messianic figure that professed that his “kingdom is not of this world.” In a way, the Gospels display a sort of messianic face-off. People have a choice: do I want a paradise of this world or do I want a paradise found in the world that Jesus preaches about?

 


 

Ultimately this reflection led me to think of myself. There so many Barabbai in my life. Why am I drawn to poor character qualities in myself and in others? Why am I so inconsistent in my thinking and acting? Why do I choose things that are obviously not good for me or for others, while I leave what is truly good to be left for dead? Why do I want Barabbas? Why do I yearn and long for complete and utter happiness in this life and in this world?

Barabbas personifies the lure of the world. Jesus personifies a more refined love. This love is sometimes hard to recognize especially with the more attached to the world we become. I easily become blinded because I get used to the way the world pleases me. I don’t want to be afraid or sad or lonely or broke or hopeless. The world has all kinds of promises of money, sex, attention, and success that will lead to some kind of ecstatic, unending joy. But ultimately, when pursuing the ways of Barabbas and trying to establish a worldly paradise, I only get filled for time and then emptiness ensues. When I continue to seek happiness in this world, I embark on a perpetual search to consume more.

Jesus wants us to pursue a more fulfilling reality. Experiencing this fulfillment actually requires detachment from some of the empty promises of this world. Sometimes I just want to be free from all sorts of shallow questions: How do I look? What do I own? Does anyone like me? Who do I talk to? Who do I not talk to? How well am I known? How much money do I have? How should I dress? Am I funny enough? Am I smart enough? Am I strong enough? Am I personable enough? Do people respect me? Does anyone love me? All of these questions and more come from a worldly perspective and, if I want happiness, I need to reject these Barrabai and choose a more detached, heavenly way that Jesus demonstrated. With that in mind, here are three brief and simple things to help us become more detached:

 

1) Focus on the goal of heaven everyday, starting in prayer and extending into the rest of the day

God wants to fill us with Himself. Practicing His presence and getting to know how much He wants to give us, will change our lives. The problem with my life is not that I desire too many things. Rather, I don’t desire enough. My desires fall short and my eyes land on worldly things. If I desired more, I’d desire God’s love more purely. Finite things can only fill me so much, I need to stop searching for them to fill my infinite desire for love that only He can fill. No car, bar, house, or spouse can completely make me happy in the way I desire, only God can. Ultimately this means I need to focus more on heaven, where God will completely and perfectly fill all of my desires.

 

2) Having true friendships based on authentic concern for the well-being of others

Sometimes we have friends that listen to us because they just really care about our happiness and salvation. Sometimes these friends are not people we would naturally be connected to unless it was an intentional decision to befriend the person. This is healthy. If we’re only friends with people that we are attracted to, we will find a harder time practicing love in our friendships. Rather, we are only exercising friendship based on our needs and selfishness actually forms the heart of the friendship. We also need some intentional friendships based on higher concerns of helping each other get to heaven. and given time, they will become deeper and more fulfilling.

 

3) Commit to being a servant of others

Instead of saying, ‘what can I get out of life?’ I need to learn the attitude of giving life to others. This is a more fulfilling way. How can I improve the life of others? How can I care for their physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs? Learning to care for other people is a huge step in learning to live a fulfilled life. One sign that shows that we’re attached to the world is when we wake up and start thinking about only ourselves. Learning to bring to mind the concerns of others as one of the first things we think about in the morning will give us a mentality of service. We can learn to look at people with eyes of love, no matter what their level of need, everyone in the world is yearning to be loved, respected, and cared for. Even if it begins with just one good deed a day, becoming a servant of others will give us deep satisfaction and happiness.

 

Conclusion

In the end, Easter brings to the fore the conversation between choosing Barabbas or Jesus, this world or the next world. Barabbas was known for harming people, and Jesus was known for healing them. Sometimes we get short-sighted and forget that Jesus’ victory was so much greater than Barabbas’! We choose Barrabai in our lives, when we choose to listen to worldly desires more powerfully than our desire for God.

Harrowing Hell: Eternal Inferno?

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Today is Holy Saturday. Today our world waits in stillness. For a great reflection, read the second reading from the office of readings also found here. In this stillness, there is a world that has been set in a fit of rage, namely, the world of those cut off from God and His love. This world is what Dante called the Inferno. Today, I want to take a look at Holy Saturday as it is found in Dante’s Inferno.

It should be first noted that Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (which is a poetic telling of the reality of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise) is remarkably short on references to Christ. I do not think this is because he believes Christ to be inconsequential to the afterlife. Rather, I think Dante wanted to reserve a certain reverence for Jesus. In fact, though they are few, he is also poetic in his references to Jesus, avoiding the use of his name (Jesus) or his title (Christ).

Near the beginning of the Inferno in Canto IV, while they are in the first circle of Hell, Dante asks Virgil if anyone has ever left Hell. Dante says:

‘Tell me, my Teacher…did anyone ever leave here, through his merit or with another’s help, and go to bliss?’ And he, who understood my hidden question, answered: ‘I was a novice in this place when I saw a mighty lord descend to us who wore the sign of victory as his crown.

He took from us the shade of our first parents, of Abel, his good son, of Noah, too, and of obedient Moses, who made the laws; Abram, the Patriarch, David the King, Israel with his father and his children, with Rachel, whom he worked so hard to win; and many more he chose for blessedness; and you should know, before these souls were taken, no human soul had ever reached salvation.

Virgil informs Dante that indeed people have left Hell and that this was done by a Lord who descended with a crown of victory. This was the first time any human soul was saved.

Later, in Canto XII, Virgil draws Dante’s attention to ruins of rocks in the lower parts of hell. These ruins were not there when Virgil entered the Inferno. He then describes the events that led to the rocks being ruined. Virgil says:

‘Now let me tell you that the other time I came down to the lower part of Hell, this rock had not fallen into ruins; but certainly, if I remember well, it was just before the coming of the One who took from Hell’s first circle the great spoil,

That this abyss of stench, from top to bottom began to shake, so I thought the universe felt love–whereby, some have maintained, the world has more than once renewed itself in chaos. That was the moment when this ancient rock was split this way–here, and in other places.’

Here we see Virgil describing the fit of rage that Hell broke into when Christ descended to free the captives. It is interesting to note that Virgil describes all of Hell, from top to bottom, shaking; yet, he does not ascribe this to a frightful thing, but rather he ascribes it to love. When Christ descends to free the elect who are enslaved by sin, Hell is thrown into an uproar. This is not because of hatred, anger, or malice on the part of the One (Jesus), but because of love. Hell is where there is no love. Hell cannot hold love. Hell is endless unlove. Hell is a place many people in our world probably should work much harder to avoid. If we only truly knew the reality of it!

The opposite of love is selfishness. In the case of hell, selfishness gets mixed with utter sadness and loss. That combination creates an existence of self-loathing which will never end. Yesterday, we commemorated the salvific act of the perfectly righteous man who paid the penalty for sin (the wages of sin is death; cf. Genesis 3). Today, we see that Jesus shakes the foundations of Hell with his love. Instead of being like those who are perishing, let us fall in love with Jesus who has perfect love for us and has saved us from our selfishness. When we fall in love with someone, we begin to live more like our beloved. When we fall in love with him, we will begin to live more like he did, selflessly and for the true good and salvation of others.

God bless you and have a joy-filled Easter!

 

In case you were wondering:

Dante did not invent the idea of Jesus’ descent into Hell. Here are some bible passages demonstrating Jesus’ descent into Hell was something his first followers knew about:

1 Peter 3:18-20: “Being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey.” 

Ephesians 4:9-10: “In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” 

Note:  The phrase “Lower parts of the earth” refers to what would have been understood as the first of four parts of Hell common in that time.

Acts 2:24: Peter says, “But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of hell, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

Dear Singles, Put Flirting in its Place!

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Isn’t it kind of nice to hold someone’s attention, to laugh a little at petty things, and make brief but suggestive eye contact that draws the other to you for a while? Yes, I mean to say, isn’t it nice to flirt a bit? Wait a minute, isn’t flirting harmful to you and the other person? Isn’t flirting wrong or misleading and selfish? Wait a minute, what’s so harmful about flirting? What could be wrong with just a little innocent fun? No one intends anything more than just a good time! Okay, now I’m confused (and I’m writing this!).

Is flirting wrong or not a big deal? Why do people flirt? Is there a point to it? Even the commonly used sources of quick information in our media today hold differing insights on this topic. Dictionary.com says flirting is “to court triflingly or act amorously without serious intentions; play at love.” While Wikipedia says that flirting involves “verbal or written communication as well as body language by one person to another, suggesting an interest in a deeper relationship with the other person.” In other words, our culture knows what flirting looks like, but like most people’s experience of it, we don’t know what it’s for or why it happens. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of flirting, check out this BuzzFeed video that shows some of the internal confusion that can come with flirting:

Often times Catholics are strong, rigid, and certain about what they profess. This is a trait that should never be disposed of because of the certain truths that our Church possesses. It can lead us, however, to believe that some things should never ever (ever!) be done when in fact they simply need to be ordered to their proper end. Flirting is one of these things. Flirting seems to be selfish and therefore it will impact other areas of our lives. In other words, if you let yourself be selfish in one area, you are sure to become selfish in other ways. For those of us familiar with human nature, we know this is certainly true. And selfishness is one of the more destructive and difficult vices to overcome when you let it root itself deeply in your life. So, for the hardliners out there, there’s a really good case for not flirting at all: flirting makes you become a more selfish person. And no one wants to be around a selfish person for years and years!



To me, however, this is probably a generalization that needs to be refined. Flirting is not okay if it’s purely for fun. I will stand with the hardliners on that. First, you’re making yourself a more selfish person, as mentioned above. When you become a selfish person, it’s generally not too noticeable to your acquaintances, but when people get close to a selfish person, the selfishness becomes a huge burden. Plus, flirting is a habit that is hard to break, even after you enter a relationship. In short, don’t flirt just for fun because it will become incredibly destructive to the deep relationships you desire to have in the future. Secondly, you’re probably leading someone or many people to believe that you are interested in them, even when you’re not. This is not okay. Who knows how many people’s hearts have been broken in silence thanks to “harmless flirting.” We’ll never know. But don’t be someone who does that to people! Being a good person means aligning your actions with reality. If you’re not interested in more than just being friends, don’t flirtatiously communicate to a person (verbally or non-verbally) just to get their attention for a while. If you don’t know what communicating like just friends looks likes, hang out with just your girlfriends or, if you’re a guy, just your bro’s for awhile and learn to have deep, self-giving friendships with people.



Okay, so now for the point of departure from the hardliners: Flirting is okay when it’s open to a deeper relationship with the other person (see the Wikipedia definition above). Go ahead and laugh at petty things, make somewhat extended eye contact, tell silly jokes (but only if you’re funny), poke fun at each other, say cute little compliments, and so on. Don’t make a habit of being selfish, but let yourself go a bit around someone you are potentially interested in. If more people did only this kind of flirting, think about the boost it would have on the dating scene. You could say, “Wow! It seems like so-and-so is interested in me!” or “Uh-oh! It seems like so-and-so is interested in me.” or “Yikes! So-and-so is not interested in me; I better back off.” and finally, “Yay! So-and-so is interested in me and it’s very mutual!” This would open the door to a Utopia of Dating of sorts. Unfortunately, in the current state of flirtation, things are not so easy to evaluate, and we will rarely be able to confidently say “I know that it’s mutual.”



But why not get there? I know that it would mean changing some of my habits. But I want to. I want to get there. I want my actions to align with reality. I want to be a good person, not someone who is selfish and misleading. So here is my challenge for all of us single people out there: flirt on purpose, not just for fun. Don’t confuse people that you’re not interested in, and make it clear to people that you are. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to a woman who is interested in having someone ask her out is to unleash all of signals. In other words, FLIRT and hold nothing back. Guys, if there’s a girl you’re interested in that is doing this, ask her out NOW! In the end, this is more than simply about being lovey dovey (though that’s really nice). This is about men and women entering their vocations and fulfilling God’s will for our lives. If we never flirt, we will probably miss someone that would have been a great spouse for us. If we always flirt, see above about selfishness and, worst of all, people that know us won’t be able to tell when we’re actually interested. If we flirt with purpose, we will be more open to moving into our vocation and therein God’s plan for our happiness, holiness and, most importantly, salvation.

So, let’s go! Let’s take back flirting and put it in its place!

Infallibility, Seriously?

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One of the biggest stumbling blocks to non-Catholic Christians in our time, and throughout the centuries, is the Church’s claim of papal primacy and infallibility. For whatever reason, infallibility is a topic even many Catholics avoid. It is such a huge claim. Yet it is so vital to our faith. Today, I would like to demonstrate a way to answer questions about infallibility. To do this, we will look at three of the objections mounted by our non-Catholic brothers and sisters of other Christian communities.

 

Objection #1: The Church is made of humans and all humans are fallible, including the pope

This is a really good objection to papal infallibility. Because of how good it is, it has taken the #1 spot on my list! The counter argument to Christians who deny infallibility begins like this: The Bible is infallible, and it was written down by humans. If you believe that the men who wrote the Bible were not completely and utterly infallible in their lives, you believe that God can still work through them in an infallible manner at times. When it came to the passing on and expounding of the revelation of God, they were inspired and guarded by God to write down and pass on inerrant truths.

The Apostles and their followers who wrote the Bible, were humans that infallibly passed down truths. This is due to nothing less than the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is not because of the learning, knowledge, or talent of a specific human person. It is because of God himself. So, if we believe the Bible is inerrant, we then believe that God can guide certain humans infallibly in matters that are important to the salvation of the human race.

Objection #2: The Bible is the only infallible guide that is necessary

This too is a very strong objection. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, the revelation of God’s saving work to redeem humanity. The writing of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Apostles certainly needed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. But what about when my interpretation of a certain passage or theological concept found in the Bible differs from that of yours? In many ways, the problem of private interpretation is why we continue to see the splintering of Protestantism. In 2006 there were 217 Protestant groups willing to acknowledge themselves as denominations in America and Canada, and there were even more Protestant groups that do not acknowledge the term “denomination” (see for yourself here). Today, I bet there are even a few more. So, did God only grant us infallible instruction on how to be saved, but then leave us with no way to infallibly understand those instructions except private interpretation?

St. Paul writes to Timothy reminding him where truth is found. He says in 1 Tim. 3:15, “The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.” The truth is found in the Church. St. Paul doesn’t say the Bible is the pillar and foundation of truth, though it is inerrant when properly understood. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church actually compiled the Bible. Jesus didn’t leave us the Bible. He left us the Church and the Church put together and approved the books of the Bible. The first book of the New Testament was not written until the late 40s AD, while the Church existed starting at Pentecost in approximately 30 AD. By the Holy Spirit, the Church–in Her infallibility–produced the Bible. In this, the apostles did a much greater work than what we claim for the Church and the papacy today. Today we claim that, through infallibility, God protects and expounds the truths that were first put forth by the Apostles in both Scripture and the Tradition they passed down (2 Thess. 2:15). It is a kind of passive infallibility, whereas the Bible was written by an active infallibility. With that, we can see that it is most reasonable of God to put in place some way to infallibly understand the infallible teachings that were put forth by the Apostles.

Objection #3: The pope does not have primacy or infallibility on matters of faith and morals

It would probably take me a series of posts to adequately answer this question. On another level, the answer is simple: Catholics are united because we can have the guidance of the Holy Spirit in a concrete, visible person. Generally matters of the faith are discussed and decided upon by the college of bishops in union with the pope. When there is disagreement among the bishops, all good Catholics know where to look. When confusion arises, it is not the quarreling cacophony of opinions that has authority. It is the clear, direct, and visible voice of one. The pope can speak this way because of his special task to be shepherd of the whole Church. Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my lambs.” The lambs that Peter (and his successors) feeds are not his own, but they are Christ’s. Anyone belonging to Christ, then, is fed by Peter. The earliest Church saw Rome as the primary station of Peter and his successors. The likes of early writers, such as Irenaeus, kept close track of the men who followed Peter in his role as Bishop of Rome from the very beginning.


 

 


 

It should be noted, infallibility does not mean the pope is perfect in holiness, though hopefully he’s closer to it than I am! It does not mean the pope is all-knowing. Again, it is not because of his intelligence, learning, or skill that he is considered infallible. He is not infallible in private matters. He is not infallible in everything he says publicly. The claim is that he is infallible when declaring a matter of faith or morals that must be accepted by the whole Church. In other words, if necessary, the pope has the ability to speak infallibly to clarify a matter confusion to protect something that is necessary for salvation. This does not happen very often, but to say it cannot happen is to discredit God’s desire that we know the truth and the truth will make us free. God wants us to know the truth. There are many claims on truth out there. Only God knows them perfectly. God has given us the Church and, in particular, the papacy so that we may have a concrete and visible place to look with certainty. This is because of God, not because of man.

Conclusion

In the end, the reason for infallibility is nothing other than love. More than keeping us safe in the playground of ideas, infallibility secures the truth.  Once you have the truth, you then have a rich soil into which love may be planted. Truth precedes love; love perfects truth and makes it beautiful. It is only in truth that we can truly and authentically learn love. Falsehoods leave us standing on a vanishing foundation. God wants the whole Church to know his truth so that we can become more perfect in love. Infallibility is not about “the Church is right and everyone else is wrong.” Infallibility is about God giving us what is needed to secure a life of love in every age. To make it applicable to this entire project: Infallibility is about giving the insights to keep love in sight in every new generation of earthly existence. So, if you take nothing else away from this article, next time you hear the word infallibility do not think first of power or simply being right, think of love. Think first of the love God has for us–that he would not abandon us to our own devices.  Next, think of the ways God wants you to bring that love to those around you.

Free Yourself: 4 Areas of Growth While You’re Single

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Being single (and ready to mingle) in this day and age can sometimes seem overwhelming and hopeless. Society in general is growing evermore non-committal, while at the same time there is a lot of pressure to find the right one, the perfect one for you. That makes the situation altogether very narrow and constricted. In fact, if we follow the trends of the time, there are so many things we could possibly worry about: Am I attracted to this person or just desperate? Are they funny enough? Are they fun? How will I know when it’s the right one? How come I only know when it’s not the right one? What do I even mean when I say “right one”? Is there just one? Is it mainly based on how I feel? Does it matter that I have or don’t have that “special” feeling right away? Is it not based on feelings at all? Should it just simply be a decision based on pure logic? The divorce rate is so high, is trying to find a spouse seriously even worth it?

There are so many questions, and to be honest, if we go about dating directed by these questions, we may become so burdened with our lack of answers that we are bound up in our own heads and never free. Free yourself today. Learn not to overwhelm yourself with what might be or how to tell what is right. Find freedom in becoming what you’re supposed to be right now. We can’t live in the future. We have to live in the present. For you that might be in the state of worry-free single-hood. To free your mind, aim to grow in these following four areas:

 

1. Self-worth

Our worth is ultimately found in something beyond the sum of the things we’re capable of doing (or not doing). I am capable of doing a lot of things, but I’m not the best at anything. This can be a downer for me. Why would a woman like me when they could have that guy who is so much better at so many things?! The very concept of “self-worth,” however, means that other people’s opinions and abilities are taken out of the picture. Sometimes the most destructive thing is when we begin to put a lot of weight to what other people are saying about us (and this includes positive things too actually). Fundamentally, it’s not our talents and abilities that make us worth so much.

In the history of the universe, there has never been someone like you and there never will be again. You are the only person exactly like you that will ever exist. There’s no price to that, and you can’t measure it. More than that, you are made in the image and likeness of God. You continue to exist as the person you are because that is what God wants. He sustains our existence by his love for us. We don’t have to do anything to prove ourselves. All there is for us to do is to accept that we have immeasurable value or reject it. If you struggle with self-worth, know that God made to you to be the best you that you can be. Seek friends who confirm this in you and grow daily in knowing that you are in fact one of a kind, made in the extraordinary image of the Creator of the universe, and you continue to exist as you because he wants you to.

 

2. Use Being Single for Good

When we are single, we generally have some free time. When we are not dating anyone, our schedule isn’t packed with work, family, friends, and finding time to give to a significant other. A lot of times, when we’re single, we can get complacent and it just makes the worrying we do so much worse. Here’s a short, albeit corny, principle that can be a helpful guide in finding things to do with our free time: When we don’t have a significant other, do other things that are significant.

Here’s a list of helpful thoughts to get you started on good things to do: Get involved in your church. Help people with special needs, especially kids. Serve the poor. (Good Christians have been doing that for millennia.) Volunteer for something you’re passionate about that brings some good to the world. Become a missionary. Are you a writer? Start a blog or write a book (or write for this blog!). Commit to being a better a friend. Spend time with people that influence you. Spend time with people that you can influence. Spend time with people that make you happy. Spend time with people that challenge you. Learn a new hobby. Don’t worry about your life and do some good in the meantime!

In the end, it’s not primarily about taking our mind off the situation that makes us free. We are not free simply because we are available. We are most free when we exercise our ability to pursue something good in life. Be free and use your singleness to pursue something good and make an impact on the world.

 

3. Gain Virtues That Will Make Your Marriage Amazing

We do not simply find someone and magically turn into the person we have always envisioned ourselves being. As a teacher, when I have to reprimand a student, sometimes they tell me they are really a good person, but they act out sometimes. My response to this is that we don’t become good simply by saying we’re a good person. We become good by the choices we make on a daily basis.

For some reason we have been trained that it’s more attractive to be fun than virtuous. A lot of times people break up because the fun wears out and that’s all the relationship was ever built on. But let’s be honest, when temptation comes to your future spouse (and it likely will), do you really want them to be a person who is fun but not virtuous? What about you? Are you more fun than you are virtuous? What kind of spouse will you be when things get difficult and temptation rears its ugly head?

This is really an extension of the previous point about doing good things, but we can aim to do good such that we build habits for important areas in marriage. For example: Learning to speak in kindness, even if you might be irritated. Learning to be generous with your time, even when you are busy. Learning to listen when you’re preoccupied (that’s mainly for us guys!). Grow in the habit of practical responsibilities. Pay your bills on time. Do your dishes. Take out the trash. Clean your home. Manage your finances well. In the end, I do not a have a comprehensive list, but the goal for freedom is to become a man/woman for others. I can only imagine that in 5 years of marriage being fun, sexy, or rich is going to be merely sideline noise compared to the strength of being a real man or woman of integrity and habitual service to others. When we fix our gaze on becoming the man or woman that makes for an amazing marriage, our minds will be free from the restless worry our singleness.



4. Grow Closer to God

This is really the simplest yet hardest point. Make God everything. You’re heart was made for more than any one human can completely fill. Times of singleness can really open us to the reality that we will always long for God’s love. Being single is a great time to learn trust in him, something you will also need in marriage and family life. We are single because he wants what’s best for us and not for us to settle with something less just because we’re impatient or lonely. Again, God wants what’s best for us, but if we’re far from him, that’s hard to see. So, get close to God in your singleness. Will you say that his love is not enough? In the end, strive to learn that only his love is enough. You will bring that into your marriage and it will be beautiful.

Be free today. Become the most you can be for God and others while you’re single and leave the rest up to him.

Love: The True Purpose of Community

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Over four and a half years ago I moved to Kansas City  from St. Paul, MN. In St. Paul I had the best friends I could have ever imagined. It was really hard to move away knowing that I wasn’t going to be easily and instantly surrounded by “my people” – people who knew me and really “got” me. And, worst of all, if you’re like me and have a propensity to tell really lame jokes, a new environment comes with many uncertainties. In St. Paul I had relationships that mattered to me: relationships where I could simultaneously just be myself and work on the more selfish and stubborn parts of my life. When I got to Kansas City, I didn’t know exactly what to expect and I spent the first few months just going to work and not really getting to know anyone else. After that, my life changed again when I started meeting in a small group with some guys and started getting really close to some of them. Now, once again, there were people who knew me, accepted me, but also challenged me to improve and wanted me to be the person I was created to be.

I bonded with these guys and eventually some really great girl friends and I started to experience the kind of community I left in St. Paul. Both the St. Paul community and the community in KC changed me. I encountered people – when I was vulnerable enough to have real conversations – that gave me new experiences and insight that I had never had before. Now in KC a lot of the friends I made at first have gotten married or our lives have taken us in different directions. But they still impacted and changed me nonetheless because I was vulnerable and accountable to real friends that truly knew and cared for my growth as a person and disciple of Christ. Over the past year, I’ve been getting to know a new set of friends that have become a new community for me. Every year continues to be the best year of my life because every year there are people in my life who know me, accept me (and my lame jokes), and want me to be better than I am currently. All of this is because over and over God blesses us with the people we need to have authentic community by giving us relationships that truly matter.

With relationships that truly matter comes a series of experiences we thought we could never have. We enjoy a new type of happiness that is ultimately satisfying a natural inclination found deep in the way we are wired. I’m not talking about the short-term pleasure-kind of happiness, but a deep and lasting sense of “this is who I am and where I belong.” In these kinds of relationships there is a peace that says “all is right with the world when I’m with these people.” Now, it is absolutely certain that – in this life – no one will ever experience that type of contentment all of the time. But, if we don’t have it some of the time, we may need to reevaluate the depth and significance of our relationships.

Without a deeper type of community, we are left to conversations with people who are simply a kind of fleeting pleasure in themselves. If you’re like me, it’s fun to enjoy a conversation that doesn’t really matter – that doesn’t actually influence my life or their life in any significant way. There are conversations to be had that are pleasant, but not important. Pleasant conversations are fine most of the time, and I am certainly not advocating for every conversation to be super deep. But if we only have pleasant conversations, soon enough we will realize that the true purpose of community is not being realized in our lives.


 

 


 

Like the two greatest commandments, there are two places this deep and satisfying community is found: God and others. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are burdened and I will give you rest.” What gives us rest? Going to Jesus and having communion with him. If we go to Jesus with our burdens, he wants to be our community. He wants to be the place we go to say that all is right with the world. At some of the hardest times in my life, I found this to be especially true about adoration. We were made for God’s love. Without Jesus as our first and most important relationship, we will always strive and struggle to find some finite thing to fill the void in us that longs for an infinite kind of community. In terms of others, we find that the deepest kind of community participates in and reflects our relationship with God. We get to know people that we share our lives with. People that, practically speaking, know everything about us because we become vulnerable with and accountable to them. People whose presence we enjoy and people who truly want what is best for us.

So what is the true goal of authentic community? In the course of our lives, community is important for many reasons. It’s a place where we find understanding, belonging, joy, kindness, compassion but also honesty, candor, and challenges from people that come from a genuine concern for our well-being. But ultimately, the most important reason for community is love. It is a place we receive love, where we give love, and the primary school of formation for a life of love lived for God and others. In the context of our relationships, love – the true purpose of community – has a chance to be cultivated.

Because love is choosing the good of others even at the risk of our own detriment, we cannot grow in love without others. And ultimately this is important for our salvation because true holiness and sainthood is found in the perfection of love, first for God then for others. So how does community teach us love? It’s easy to see in the day-to-day course of life that our friendships give a chance to enjoy others’ sense of humor, abilities, talents, different ways of thinking, different unique purposes, etc. But what they should really give us is that place of belonging. But not simply in helping us be comfortable though. (Insert dramatic music in your mind here.) The universe needs each and every one of us to become who we were created to be. You are the only you in the world. You are the only you that has ever existed and will ever exist. There’s is something you bring to the universe that no one else ever has, ever will, or ever can. We do this by learning how to love with every fiber of our being. When we know ourselves: our gifts, strengths, our deepest desires we begin to learn our personal mission in the world, but no matter who you are the goal is to be truly you while learning to love to the best of your ability.


 

 


 

Since we all have shortcomings and failures and we all need to strive to improve, community is so important because it is our school of formation for the most important adventure of our lives. What adventure am I talking about? The key adventure of life: Learning to love. We all struggle to love God as well as we should and we all struggle to love others as well as we should. In community we have role models of love, we are challenged and encouraged to love better, but also we have relationships with the very people we are called to love.

In the end, there’s a difference between knowing that the point of community is love and actually choosing to live it. For me, the gap is often wider than I recognize. And I have a lot of work to do. Nonetheless, nothing less than heaven is our goal and, when we have true love in our hearts, we will want to bring as many people with us as we can. With love, we strive to become what God has created us to be, first for him and then for others. We often struggle seeing ourselves without biased, but you can bet your friends – the ones that truly know you – know some of your shortcomings even better than you. In my life, from St. Paul to Kansas City, I’ve had friends who see parts of me clearer than I do. The ones that truly love me challenge me to become better, and one day maybe even a saint. Looking around me, however, I see people all over who are deprived of true community that teaches men and women how to truly love. When you find yourself in this situation, take aim to find friends with which you can be vulnerable and accountable, friends that truly challenge you to better yourself become who you were created to be: a man or woman who loves well in every circumstance.

**The first edition of this article was published by this author on the Catholic Beer Club Times found here.**