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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fulfillment in Relationships

"My soul finds rest in God alone..." Psalm 62

In this Associated Content article, I delve into the danger of seeking fulfillment in another person. In an effort to remain religiously neutral (thus planting seeds in the minds of a wider audience, rather than immediately deterring those who will not indulge any religiously-based writing), I did not fully acknowledge the role that God plays in our ultimate fulfillment.

Here is the text I would add to an audience of Christians:

Our ultimate destiny and fulfillment is God. We should be seeking that union with Him first, before we can be in a relationship with another person. Why? Because each of us has a “missing piece,” as Shel Silverstein alluded. We were designed that way. God made Himself our “missing piece” in order that we might seek what will truly make us happy – eternal life with Him in Heaven. Every time we try to fill that gaping hole with something else – food, alcohol, mindless entertainment, work, or especially a relationship – we will still find ourselves strangely and confusingly unfulfilled. It is only when we turn to God and realize that the ache we feel inside of us – the hunger, loneliness, emptiness– will only be satisfied in Heaven, that we then can give ourselves as a gift to another person in a relationship, without having to place all of our needs for fulfillment onto that person.

Christopher West, Catholic theologian who explains the late John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” in layman’s terms, wrote in his book Theology of the Body for Beginners, “…every human longing, every desire of the heart for love and union, will be fulfilled beyond our wildest dreams [in heaven]. That deep 'ache' of solitude will finally be completely and eternally satisfied.

“Experience attests that even the most wonderful marriage doesn't fully satisfy our hunger for love and union. We still yearn for 'something more’… Do not hang your hat on a hook that cannot bear the weight! If we look to another person as our ultimate fulfillment, we will crush that person. Only the eternal, ecstatic, 'marriage' of heaven - so far superior to anything proper to earthly life that we can't begin to fathom it - can satisfy the human 'ache' of solitude." (Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West, pp. 58)

Perhaps Christopher West and Shel Silverstein are sending the same message. Each of these two books by Shel Silverstein describes the ache we feel for a relationship, the difficulty we experience finding that relationship, and the tendency to lose ourselves when inside that relationship. Does the “Big O” in some ways represent God, telling the missing piece that it does not need another person in order to “roll”? Eventually, the piece finds its “PEACE” with the “Big O.” We, too, are destined to find that peace with God.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing that we should never get into a relationship at all! On the contrary, romantic relationships built on authentic love are a beautiful way to imitate God’s love for one another and give each other a foreshadowing of that ultimate fulfillment – Heaven – on earth. But as you are looking for your next relationship, remember this: Whatever person you find will not be perfect. He or she will not be able to fulfill you entirely. Look for that “missing piece” in God first, and the rest will fall into place!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Being the Mouthpiece of God

" strength is made perfect in weakness." (Eph. 12:9)

Last night, I had the honor of dining with Sr. Constance. She is the former adviser of the women's household at the university parish where I am employed, and she invited all 7 household members and me (as the current adviser) for dinner at her residence last night.

Sister asked us to reflect upon how God has shown His glory to us over the course of our time at our university parish. She wondered how God has manifested Himself to us as He manifested Himself to Moses in the burning bush. 

God certainly manifests Himself in many ways - not so much in as visual and evident ways as He did with Moses (much to the dismay of some people), but in ways that speak to the quiet of our hearts where He lives in Spirit.

For me, He has manifested Himself primarily through people. I am astounded when I hear God's voice spoken through the mouths of His children - through the kind word of encouragement when I need it most, the perspective offered when I am seeing things through a haze, and the loving phrase whispered in my ear by my fiance when I am finding myself unlovable. It is in these moments that I feel I am closest to God, and they usually happen when I am looking for Him the least.

We truly have the opportunity to be the mouthpiece, the feet, the hands, and the loving arms of God for those He places in our lives, and we will never know how even the simplest gesture of love can make a monumental difference.

Sister provided us with this beautiful reflection, which indicates how we are called to live our lives as children of God:

Only God creates
But we are called to enhance that creation
Only God gives life
But we are called to cherish life
Only God makes to grow
But we are called to nurture that growth
Only God gives faith
But we are called to be signs of God for each other
Only God gives love
But we are called to care for each other
Only God gives hope
But we are called to give each other reason to hope
Only God gives power
But we are called to get things going
Only God can bring peace
But we are called to build bridges
Only God brings happiness
But we are called to be joyful
Only God is the way
But we are called to show others the way
Only God is the light
But we are called to make that light shine in the world
Only God makes miracles happen
But we must offer our loaves and fishes
Only God can do the impossible
But it is up to us to do what is possible.  

I think it's important to remember that God is perfect, and we never will be while on earth - but we are still made in His image and likeness. This means we are meant to imitate Him, to bring His love in every tiny way we can to all of His beloved children, to strive for perfection, no matter how far off it may seem.

Little by little, we can build the Kingdom of God on earth by doing the very best we can with our imperfect selves. After all, as the Lord told St. Paul, "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

God's Perspective

"You are precious in my eyes, and glorious, and I love you." -God (Isaiah 43:4)

Yesterday, I prayed a very simple prayer. "God, how can I be better?"

The answer came as one word: "Perspective."

I thought, "Yes. This is an excellent answer. I need perspective. Perspective that will help me not stress about the little things. Perspective that will remind me what is truly important."

It wasn't until today during Adoration that I grasped the full meaning of what God was saying to me. He wasn't encouraging me to gain perspective, in general. He was encouraging me to see the world from His perspective.

What does the perspective of God look like?

I imagine it looks like radiant love covering every ounce of the earth, reaching every precious and beloved soul, connecting all Creation and history together, and drawing it all to Himself.

Looking at the world through the eyes of God would change everything. I would be in love with each person I met. I would see the higher meaning and purpose in everything. I would choose to  be led by the Spirit at every turn. Nothing would matter but participating in a union of love with God and neighbor.

If I succeeded in doing this for just one day, I am convinced my life would be unalterably transformed.

Of course, I would probably fail. After all, it is God's perspective. 

But perhaps I am being called to try.

Monday, April 19, 2010

5 Things that are Special about Being Catholic

"Peter, you are Rock, and upon you I will build My Church." Matthew 16:18

This weekend, I facilitated a retreat for our 8th grade Confirmation class. They all arrived thinking the day was going to be a necessary evil - boring, dragging on, and uninformative. By the end of the day, they were exclaiming, "Today went fast! This was fun! We should do this again!" In their reflections, one wrote, "I love being Catholic!"

What was it that got them so excited? The very essence of what we were called there to study: Our Catholic Church.

My goal for the day was to help them realize what's special about being Catholic - why they should be excited that they are choosing to confirm their Catholic faith rather than any other faith in the world. We made a poster with 5 main reasons it is "special" to be Catholic:

1. Universality
We are "one, holy, catholic, apostolic church." The kids were amazed that what we do here in Bowling Green, Ohio, is the same as is done in Italy or, as our presenter put it, "an underground church in China that's Catholic." We believe the same things. We practice the same things. We are led by the same Holy Father. We are one, just as Jesus prayed we would be. And we have been doing this for 2,000 years - since Christ Himself implemented the Church before his death.

2. Mary
We have a reverence for the Holy Mother of God. This does not mean we worship her or hold her equal to God - but we see her as a role model, a very powerful intercessor, and a mother who can lead us closer to her Divine Son. The kids learned that Mary, once assumed into Heaven, has been making appearances throughout history to encourage people to believe in God and to pray.

3. Service
Our Church places emphasis on loving our neighbor through service. Jesus told us that whatever we do to the least of his people, we do to Him. The spirit of the Gospel is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The point of being human is to live up to our likeness to God - and His essence is to give of Himself in love until He has no more to give (which will never happen, because He is infinite). As St. Francis of Assisi said, "It is in giving of ourselves that we receive." What do we receive? Fulfillment of our divine purpose, and, God willing, eternal life with Him.

4. Confession
Though an often scorned aspect of the Catholic faith, I see the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the most beautiful. I could go into reasons why we need the Sacrament in cases of mortal sin, but instead, I will discuss why it is a gift. God, having created us, knows and understands our desire for the tangible. Yes, when I commit a small sin, I can turn to God, acknowledge my wrong, and ask for His forgiveness in prayer, and He will grant it. But when I can go into the confessional, knowing that Jesus is working through the priest, and speak the words aloud, hear the absolution, and feel the forgiving touch of the priest upon my head, there is something much more substantial and transformative about that experience. Confession is a gift, and the graces that flow from it are immeasurable.

5. The Eucharist
Without a doubt the greatest thing that is "special" about being Catholic - and special being a drastic understatement - is the Eucharist. Our Lord and God, the sovereign Creator of the universe, lover of my soul, savior of my life, embodies Himself in lowly bread and wine, coming to His people in order that they may be substantially united with Him. This is the ultimate union, a foreshadowing of Heaven, fulfillment of our destiny - to be one with our Lord. This tiny paragraph does this unimaginable miracle no justice. I only wish that I could learn not to take it for granted any time I receive this precious gift.

Nolan, Hanna, Abby, Gabbie, Jessica, and Katie will be confirmed on May 8th. They are 13, but the future of our Church is in their hands. I pray that they will learn the faith they are inheriting, teach it well, enjoy the countless blessings it brings, and, in the true spirit of John 10:10, live it to the full.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not Abstinence-Only, but Waiting by Choice

"For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Genesis 2:24

Biological, social, and personal reasons to save the beauty of sex for the lifelong commitment of marriage:

Not Abstinence-Only, but Waiting by Choice

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Trusting God: Lost & Real Life

"What is the point in being afraid?" -Desmond, "Lost"

I am a big fan of the epic TV show, Lost. This is the last season, and a lot of the main plot is being revealed as a classic battle between good and evil, faith and fear, the greater meaning of life as love in contrast to selfishness. It is really quite fascinating and beautiful, as we see the characters we have grown to know and love grappling with the timeless issues of humanity.

Last night, one of the main characters, Desmond, was interacting with the representative "Devil" character (i.e., the "Smoke Monster," presently embodied as John Locke). John Locke brought Desmond to a deep well and told him that people used to dig far into the earth to try to find answers about the island. According to "John Locke," these people never found what they were looking for.

What is it that we are all looking for when we dig our own wells? We are, without realizing it, looking for God. Nothing can satisfy us but God, but instead of acknowledging and living within that reality, we dig wells in search of false satisfaction - wells of lust, greed, hunger, distraction. We try to satisfy an infinite void with finite things, all the while ignoring the source of true satisfaction that is but a prayer away. 

I couldn't help but be reminded of the story of the woman at the well in chapter 4 of John's Gospel. Jesus approaches this woman and tells her that He is the source of living water, and if she drinks of His water, she will never thirst again, and will indeed inherit eternal life. She begs for this water that she may not have to keep returning to her own well, only to thirst again.

Perhaps Desmond is learning to drink of the living water. His character travels between two alternate universes: one in which he is living a life of greed and selfishness, and the other in which he is married and in love with his wife and son. When "John Locke" asks him why he is not afraid that he is alone in the woods standing in front of a well, Desmond answers, "What is the point in being afraid?"

It was funny that he made this reflection, because I had the same thoughts that morning as I waited to be put under for my wisdom tooth extraction. I could hear my heart beating quickly on the monitor, knowing that I was afraid of a negative response to the anesthesia or complications with the surgery. However, my heart calmed as I prayed for the intercession of our Blessed Mother, and I wondered, "Why be afraid? Whatever is the worst thing I could imagine happening, it doesn't matter. I can trust God to pull me through, to lead me where He desires me to go." This kind of mentality helps to put life into perspective.

When we are living a life with God, what is the point of being afraid? We can trust that no matter what happens, He will be with us. We can trust that no matter what life brings us, He will make good out of it. We can trust that if we but follow Him, we will inherit eternal life through the Living Water, Jesus Christ. 

At the end of last night's episode, "John Locke" pushed Desmond down into the well. We are often pushed by the devil into our own wells, aren't we? Getting stranded within these voids can make us feel scared, hopeless, and unfulfilled. But I trust that Desmond's faith will lead him out of this despairing situation, just as I have faith that in our own lives, if we climb from our own well and plunge into that of eternal life, we will live the most fulfilling lives possible - both in this life and the next.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Clergy Abuse Scandals

 "In the world you will have trouble, but fear not for I have conquered the world." John 16:33

Here are my thoughts about the recent clergy abuse scandals in the Church. What are yours?

Catholic Marriage: A One-Flesh Union

"...and the two shall become one flesh." Genesis 2:24

I went to a wedding of two friends yesterday. It's a beautiful thing to see two devout Catholics get married, because I know they understand the true meaning of what they are doing. It is not simply the next step in a relationship, the socially correct thing, or an "as long as it's good" commitment. It truly is a lifelong commitment in which two people freely choose to love the other - to become partners through good times and bad in order to get one another to Heaven

God is so wonderful about giving us tangible representations of invisible spiritual changes. One of these spiritual changes is within a marriage. Two people who have been existing separately now come together and form one flesh. From there on out, they are one. Everything that one does, says, desires, or feels affects the other.

Obviously one tangible representation of this spiritual change is that of the sexual union, but the couple whose wedding I attended yesterday did an amazing job of representing it another way within the wedding ceremony. They started out on opposite sides of the aisle - the bride sitting with her family and bridesmaids, the groom sitting with his family and groomsmen. They remained this way until after the vows, at which time the groom took his bride over to his side, and they remained together for the rest of the ceremony. We could see that they were then married! What a beautiful image!

May we always remember the true nature of marriage, and never take for granted its unmatched significance in our journey to Heaven!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The "God Button": Allowing the Holy Spirit to Guide Decisions

"Give a little whistle..." -Jiminy Cricket

As I was preparing to teach my 8th grade Confirmation class this weekend, I was studying up on the idea of conscience, and (sure enough) the beloved Jiminy Cricket popped into my head.

After he is appointed Pinocchio's official conscience, he sings the well-known song:

When you get in trouble
and you don't know right from wrong
give a little whistle, give a little whistle

When you meet temptation
and the urge is very strong
give a little whistle, give a little whistle...

Take the straight and narrow path
and if you start to slide
give a little whistle, give a little whistle
and always let your conscience be your guide

This got me wondering, what is a conscience and how in the world do we listen to it? Who are we supposed to whistle to when we meet temptation or start to slide?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, "Moral conscience, present at the heart of the person, enjoins him at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil. It also judges particular choices, approving those that are good and denouncing those that are evil" (1777).

This, of course, is drawn from one of Jeremiah's beautifully loving prophecies, spoken from the mouth of God: 
"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
       after that time," declares the LORD.
       "I will put my law in their minds
       and write it on their hearts.
       I will be their God,
       and they will be my people." Jeremiah 31:33
The covenant of which God speaks has since been made. With Christ's death and resurrection, the old prescriptive law has been fulfilled. This means that we no longer need to look outside ourselves or consult a stone tablet to understand right from wrong. God has hardwired us to instinctively understand His law.

This sounds easy enough... but how exactly do we decode this inner wiring? If we did not have all the external stimuli the world presents, or our own inclinations to sin, it would be a lot easier - that much is certain. However, I can offer a few tips:

1. Pay attention to the "God Button." It was only a few years ago that I began to identify the beeping of the "God Button" inside my soul. It has one particular signal for good and right, and one particular signal for bad and wrong. The signal I get when something is right could be described as peaceful, joyful, or excited. I can tangibly explain the feeling as warm and euphoric. The signal I get when something is wrong could be described as anxious, worried, and guilty. I can tangibly explain that feeling as tight, empty, and sinking. My "God Button" goes off all the time, and I know this is my conscience - my inner law of God - trying to guide me toward one decision or the other.

2. Consult Scripture. Scripture is the very Word of God. If you are trying to make a decision, recall a favorite Bible passage, run a Google search of Scripture verses on that topic, or perhaps even randomly flip open a page. (You would be surprised how often this works!) I was once contemplating the topic of premarital intimacy and a verse from "Song of Songs" that I had heard perhaps once before kept entering my head: "Do not stir up, do not awaken love before its time" (Song of Solomon 3:5). That single verse spoke volumes to me in that moment.

3. Consult Trusted Others. It's so important to have confidantes in your life who are spiritually mature enough to consult when you are unsure about something. When I was first starting my journey, I always turned to my friend Kelly, and she was able to answer my questions or point me in the right direction. Over time, I have actually become that person for some people. But I still have sources I can rely on when I need extra guidance, and especially when my own judgment becomes cloudy for some reason or other.

4. Pray. Jesus sent us our own "Jiminy Cricket" - the Holy Spirit. He promised to send us another Advocate and said, "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:25). If we just lift our hearts to God in humble prayer, the Spirit will guide us to make the right decision.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:36-40

5. Draw from Love. Contrary to popular belief, God's law is not at all complicated or convluted. It consists of the 10 Commandments, but much more than that, at its very core, it is drawn from one single entity - love. Love is the simple cipher needed to decode the law of God. When in doubt, evaluate the level to which love of God and of neighbor is demonstrated in your decision. When you choose the decision that demonstrates the greatest pure, unadulterated, sacrificial love, you can never go wrong.

"With great power comes great responsibility..."

Even with all of this information, though, the responsibility lies with us. We can always consult our conscience to make the right decision... and quite honestly, I think it is usually rather easy to know God's will when confronted with moral dilemmas. The more difficult thing is to choose right from wrong, rather than simply to know it. The more difficult thing is to set aside our own agendas, to shut out the other voices in the world, and, even more than that, to trust God.

As for me, I acknowledged this "God Button" for the first time at the age of 22 when I noticed I was very unhappy in a serious romantic relationship. Few things outwardly told me I should end the relationship, but something on the inside led me to believe that was the right thing, and ultimately what God wanted me to do. It was the first time I had ever really consulted God in a decision, let alone listened to His advice, but it ended up being the best thing I have ever done. It led me away from sin and closer to Christ in a way I had never imagined possible.

In the end, God has given us free will. We are in charge of our decisions and in control of our own futures, but, mercifully, He has not left us to wander aimlessly alone. He is available to help us make those decisions, and when we factor Him into the equation, we will end up choosing paths, however unlikely, that bring us the most joy and fulfillment. Just remember, when you find yourself in a moment of temptation or the middle of a difficult decision, to "give a little whistle," and you will be surprised how quickly your conscience - and more particularly, your Heavenly Father - will be your guide.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Living Out Easter

"Catholics like to party." -Fr. Mike Dandurand

Living the Liturgical Year
The priest at the university parish where I work once made this eloquent statement to describe Catholics, and contrary to popular belief, it's true! The Catholic Church operates within a "liturgical calendar," which takes us through the life of Christ throughout the year, that we may unite ourselves to His life while we're living our own. As defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the liturgical year is, "The celebration throughout the year of the mysteries of the Lord's birth, life, death, and Resurrection in such a way that the entire year becomes a 'year of the Lord's grace.' Thus the cycle of the liturgical year and the great feasts constitute the basic rhythm of the Christian's life of prayer, with its focal point at Easter" (§1168). This cycle often prescribes periods of penance, suffering, and anticipation... but there are also times when it prescribes great rejoicing.

And what were Jesus and His apostles doing after He conquered death and rose from the dead? They were rejoicing! 

"After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord." John 20:20

Jesus was celebrating the new life given Him by God, His Father, and the life that flows to us from that sacrifice. The apostles were celebrating the return of their Savior who they thought was dead forever. Jesus had taken all of their sins upon Him, and they had, in a sense, died along with Him. Now, it was time to rise out of the ashes and allow the new life within them to catch on fire... a fire that was meant to spread to the whole world. And it did.

Catholic Celebration of the Easter Season
In the Catholic Church, we don't just celebrate Easter Sunday and move on with our lives. The Church celebrates what is called the "Easter Octave," a continual celebration of Easter that lasts for eight days. At Daily Mass during this time, we pray the same Easter prayers, meditate on light and hopeful readings, sing "Alleluia!" as often as the music minister's heart desires. In our lives, we are called to be joyful, to feast, and to meditate on the Resurrection. Then, we go on to celebrate an entire season of Easter - made up of the days that Jesus walked the earth in His resurrected body before returning to Heaven. This season ends with Pentecost on the 50th day of Easter, when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the promised "Advocate," who guides us in the world.

The Paschal Mystery in Our Lives
And once the Easter season is over, do you think that means we need to stop celebrating Easter? No! We should live the "Paschal Mystery" - Jesus' death and resurrection - as often as the natural course of our life calls for. We all have our moments of weakness, our shortcomings, our trials and tribulations. It is in those moments that we must die a spiritual death, as Christ died a physical death. But it never ends there, just as Christ's life did not end on Good Friday. We are then called to turn to Jesus - whether in Confession or simply lifting our hearts to Him in prayer - and allow Him to restore within us a new life. Then, we are called to take that new life out into the world, spread our love and joy to others, and, in the words of Fr. Mike, to party!

He is Risen! Alleluia!