Sunday, September 19, 2010

And another thing about "divine blackmail"

The analogy doesn't fit. [Sorry if this is a bit jumbled. My computer crashed after writing this the first time, so I had to piece it back together.]

Blackmail is when someone is coerced into making a payment or doing something under threat of physical punishment. (Okay, so far it seems to fit.) But what is usually understood with blackmail is that the required payment or action is unnatural to the blackmailed party; such action or payment would generally be considered against their will or at least against their best interests. And this is where the analogy falls apart.

As God is perfect in His goodness and only wills that which is good, when we act against the will of God we are choosing an action that is at most, less than the highest good, and quite possibly, disastrous and destructive. We do not follow God merely to placate a sadistic tyrant, like sinners in the hands of an angry God. No, we follow a God who knows us intimately and desires our love.

Look, a car runs well on good gasoline, frequent oil changes, and well-made parts. Adding ethanol to the gas lowers performance; cheap gas dirties the engine; adding sugar to the gas ruins the car. Just so with us. We are created for love and responsibility. When we act not out of love but selfishness, when we shirk our responsibilities, we dirty the engine, so to speak. When we follow both the positive commands, "Thou shalt love with all thy heart, mind, soul, and strength" as well as avoid the objects of the negative commands, "Thou shalt not..." we live in accord with God's design for us. We live better. I dare say, we become happier.

Yes, the world and sin offer satisfaction and gratification, but such satisfaction is fleeting, shallow, short-lived. The happiness we find in Christ's love is the happiness we were created to seek out. God created a desire in our hearts for peace, happiness, fulfillment. Yet all those desires will find their final satisfaction in God. As St. Augustine says,

Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

and in Matthew 11: 25-30

25 At that time Jesus declared, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes;
26 yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
27 All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

God is not a henchman. More like it, he is like the ox pulling the cart with our broken body back from battle. He carries the yoke on his shoulder to rescue us. He gives us only a sliver to carry in return.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

She says she isn't Superwoman...

...but I'm not so sure! In addition to homeschooling the three boys, cooking obscene amounts of food for freezer storage, keeping our home, keeping me on track, and oh yeah, preparing to give birth to our fifth child, she also blogs. And a few weeks back, Wifey posted a transcript from a fantastic yard sale treasure called Our Faith and Belief (c. 1917 Murphy and McCarthy, New York, NY) discussing why the Church uses Latin in the liturgy.

[Please note, I'm not trying to stoke up any Novus Ordo vs. Extraordinary Form rivalries here.]

In full disclosure, I've only ever been to one Mass in EF, and honestly, I was clueless at the time. But this article, written decades before Vatican II and the subsequent hijacking of the liturgy, while in purpose, was to justify and explain the use of Latin, sheds a deeper meaning on the celebration of the Mass, regardless the form.

Striking to me is to remember that the priest is not addressing us, even though he faces us. He is addressing God the Father. He is not so much talking as doing; he is offering; he is sacrificing. And no matter how loudly we sing or in which key (please, pick one, people!) our action is to offer along with the priest, our own sacrifices, gifts, prayers, and petitions to God.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Divine blackmail? An evangelization dilemma

Someone I know is having trouble with the problem of evil, suffering, and Divine Judgment. More particularly, this person thinks it unjust that God 1. doesn't correct what is wrong with the world and 2. might possibly send people that this person knows, respects and loves to Hell, akin to Divine blackmail that people should do as God says or He will send them to burn for all eternity because they weren't convinced to be a follower of Christ.

I ask prayers to the Holy Spirit in formulating a response. I am keenly aware that answering in the wrong attitude could turn this person away (see this blog site's header). Our conversation has so far been pretty intellectual, covering the Trinity, time/eternity, ecclesiology, sacraments, purgatory, free will and responsibility.

I think that ultimately, though, what this person needs to know, is that as Catholics, while we understand the importance of doctrine to shape our faith life, we don't follow a set of rules as much as we follow a person, er, a Person. And this Person is not unfamiliar with our suffering. He willingly chose suffering as a means to purchase us back from death (Hell). God doesn't send us to Hell, it is we who insist upon it for our rejection of God. Jesus Christ offers us the opportunity at every moment of every day to receive His love, and to be filled with the grace to repent of our sins, to draw close to him in holiness.

But the following of Christ is not that we should perfectly follow the doctrines with paranoid scrupulosity, and I fear that maybe I gave that impression. The following of Christ is that we should live by His example. He chose to endure His suffering, not for suffering's sake, but as an act of love to make us whole. The suffering that we endure ought, then, in turn, be offered up as a sacrifice to God for the sake of the salvation of all mankind, including those who do not know Christ. In this act of offering up our sacrifices, we draw closer to the heart of Jesus Christ. Simply put, we fall more in love.

We can think that it is our responsibility to follow to the letter every bit of the commandments, the directives, the suggested devotions, etc. and to avoid every possible transgression. Well, no we should not take it lightly to sin, but to focus only on avoiding sin can become academic, sterile and barren. Our responsibility is to love, to give, to serve, to witness to the truth. We love Him who is truth. (Right, Pilate?)

Coming back to the original hangups this person has, I can't help but think about that passage from Job when Job puts God on the spot for all of his own sufferings, how God could allow such a thing. And for over two chapters, God expounds upon the basic point: "Where were you, Job, when I created the world? Do you command the waters and the skies and they obey you? Who are you to understand all that I am? Who are you to judge the Almighty?"

And while that's not the tone I'd like to take with this person, essentially that is what is going on, judging God for His ways. But God's ways are perfect, though they are far past our understanding.

When I entered the seminary, the vocation director for my diocese had a long talk with me about submission to God's will. He cited Our Lord's choice of the twelve apostles. No man on earth would choose such a disparate, lowly, uneducated, unruly bunch of men to become leaders. Yet God's ways are so superior to our own, and His wisdom exceeds ours like the heavens are above the earth, that we cannot see before us what He is doing. There comes a point that we must let go and trust Him. We must submit to His will and rather than judge His actions, we ought to then ask, "What part can I do? How may I help, Lord?"

I suppose this person ought to pray for those who may be lost. Pray hard, and give witness by example. Show love through action, and when that loves sparks curiosity, explain the source of our hope. Explain about the love of Jesus Christ.

But before we can ever be sent out on the mission, we must know Him.

John, chapter 10: verses

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,
15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.
18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father."

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;
28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mother Teresa on holiness

I mentioned in my other post about my clandestine trip to the Knights of Columbus Museum last week coinciding with the exhibit on Mother Teresa. My new favorite quote: "Holiness is not the luxury of the few, but a simple duty for you and me."

In other words, don't sit on your hams and think you're doing alright because you're Basically A Good Person. Don't think it's for us to live "in the real world" and leave the holy business to the professionals, aren't they quaint!

And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. -Mt. 10:38

I can't just do my eight and skate on this one.

Taking care of business

I work managing production for a small printing company here in CT. We produce both traditional offset printing as well as digital printing for numerous companies and organizations in our area. We produce business stationery, brochures, business cards, marketing materials, books and booklets, newsletters, and as numerous other paper-printed items. Maybe once or twice a year, we'll get a customer who wants a self-inking rubber stamp, the kind you might use to endorse the back of a company check. They make us no money, but we offer them as a courtesy to the customers who make it a point to request them, since we'd rather not see them go elsewhere.

I bring this up to make an analogy. We market ourselves as a printing company. We sell print, we seek out print customers, we hand out print samples. We don't market ourselves as a self-inking rubber stamp company. When asked about the diversity of products we offer, self-inking rubber stamps are almost never mentioned. This correlates to our sales figures, which show that 99.9% of our gross income comes from print or print-related services, while .1% of our gross income derives from self-inking rubber stamps and the like.

With this background in mind, please take a look at this graph and ask yourself, "Is Planned Parenthood in the business of encouraging good parenthood? Or are they in business to make their money some other way?"

H/T Thomas Peters

Express, again.

Back in March, I posted a copy of the letter to the Director of Marketing at Express, asking that my then-5-year-old be removed from their soft porn catalog mailing list. I got a standard ho-hum response--"we're sorry for the inconvenience, we'll take care of it, though you may receive a few mailings over the next couple of weeks," blah, blah, blah. I didn't bother posting it here, but below is my latest letter to them.

Oh, and last week, when I was waiting for a job from a vendor, I had some time to kill and perused the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven. To coincide with the Mother Teresa of Calcutta's 100 birthday and the release of her U.S. postage stamp, they had a wonderful exhibit chronicling her life and the history of the Missionaries of Charity, which she founded. There were many of her personal items, which someday may become second-class relics. To honor her legacy and imitate her habit, every visitor to the exhibit receives a blessed Miraculous Medal and novena prayer book. Guess what's on its way to Express?

Director of Marketing
Express, Inc
Online Customer Service
3939 W. Ridge Rd.
Suite D1
Erie, PA 16506

Dear Sir or Madam,

In March of this year, I wrote to you asking that you please take my five-year old son’s name off your mailing list. I was sent a written response saying that corrective action would be taken, though we may still receive mailings for up to six weeks. Six MONTHS later, your catalog peddling soft pornography continues to find its way to my mailbox.

Men and women are unique, special individuals, and the marketing of men and women as sexual objects diminishes the dignity of the human person, leads men and women into disastrous shallow relationships, strips young people of their innocence, and belies a lack of self-respect.

I wish this matter to be closed. Please make sure that we receive no more of your mailings to sully my home.

To defend the dignity of the human person, it is necessary to see one’s worth intrinsically, and not solely as a sexual commodity. Therefore, the practice of chastity and modesty should at all times be among our goals. I’ve attached in this mailing a short reflection on these virtues. I hope that you will find the time to read it and reflect on the work that you and your company do.

I’ve also included your catalog with the mailing label so that my son can be removed from your mailing list.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Birthday!

To the Queen of Heaven...

...and to the queen of my home!

(and you can wish her a happy birthday here.)