Monthly Archives: October 2011

Everything Happens For a Reason: Forgiveness and the Nature of Man

Last night, I was leading a discussion on St. Augustine. As most of you know, St. Augustine was a person who experimented with sex and alcohol before eventually repenting, becoming part of the Church, and becoming one of the most prominent priests and later bishop that we have ever seen. The main point that I want to discuss tonight is a very basic one, though an often forgotten one.

Our Sins will always be forgiven by God, so long as we are truly sorry.

What does it mean to be sorry? The 2006 movie Just Friends (aside from being the story of my life) presents the character of Samantha James, a cross between Britney Spears and any other crazy, whacked out (possibly cracked out) superstar of the late 90s and early 2000s. Now, Samantha James and her character have absolutely nothing to do with my post (but everything at the same time…HA!), but she did say something in her completely ridiculous song, “Forgiveness,” whose Youtube video is attached here (I hope… I’m only a few steps above an Amish farmer when it comes to computers and electronics.) Anyway, one line really stands out from the song… “Forgiveness is more than saying sorry.”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TRULY BE SORRY ABOUT SOMETHING?
Being truly sorry about something you have done is a relationship solely between you and God. Only God will know whether or not you are truly sorry; you might not even know it if you are. However, the ever-present God who has placed us on this Earth with a purpose that we must discover over time knows us inside and outside. He knows when we do something wrong, why we do something wrong, and whether or not we are truly sorry. Think about it… how many times have you said sorry to someone only to save face. “I’m sorry I called your girlfriend a slut, it was wrong and I didn’t mean it.” Meanwhile, inside your mind, you’re saying “I’m really sorry that you’re still dating that slut.”

When (not if) you do something wrong, repenting involves reflecting. Think about these simple questions (adapted from my own philosophy on Elementary Classroom Management… but it applies here):

  • What is the action that was wrong?
  • Why did I do this?
  • How is this action wrong?
  • When I am faced with a similar situation, why won’t I repeat this action?

The following is a question that one of my students posed to me last night. I thought it was really mature, and I am interested in your thoughts. In our discussion about sin and forgiveness of sin, twists were taken that I honestly didn’t think would be. When someone wrongs us, we are often told that “everything happens for a reason,” that some friends are not the person you thought they were, and that you’ll be a stronger person because of it. During the discussions, the following questions were asked, and I’m going to allow opportunity for you, the reader, to reflect on these questions and provide responses

  • They say that “everything happens for a reason.” Well, is that really an excuse for the actions that someone takes?
  • What about “free will?” If God created us to all be good people, and “everything happens for a reason,” what is the role of “free will?” If everything happens for a reason, are we really free?

 

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Snow and the fall of winter

Outside of my window snow has been falling for the past two hours. As autumn’s colors slowly shift from auburn to gray and white, I find myself curious to understand snow’s appeal. Sure, after a lifetime of living in the northeastern United States snow is already nothing new, but I haven’t really asked why a certain anticipation haunts just behind the clouds.

Snow is an excellent hider. Beneath even the slushiest mixes, snow quickly obscures the death that autumn brings. The fall leaves, once golden and crisp, fall to the ground as winds blow in colder weather and darker days. Once the leaves have settled into their new location nature dries them out, sapping the last of their vitality. Now the leaves are truly dead, as if they were not already. As the early snowfalls cover the dead leaves with a stunningly reflective coat of white, snow begins its quiet work. The dead leaves break down beneath the snow and reenter the earth. This disintegration happens away from our view, but we know that new life will arrive once the spring sunshine returns.

Thus it is fitting that in our part of the world Christmas falls in the winter, amidst the snows. Not just at its outset, but a few days after the winter solstice, the longest day of the year, God sent his son, our savior, into the world during this period of slumber and death. As the winter’s cold snaps and warmth returns, the melting snow returns to the earth and brings new life out of the dead leaves. We hope, as Christians, that God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, can set our spirits afire with his love.

Why It’s Great to be a Young Catholic

“I have the answer to this boring, legalistic, and otherwise unsatisfactory modern existence; her name is Catholicism.”

This is the assertion young blogger and college student Marc Barnes.  Check out his article Why It’s Great to be a Young Catholic!

I’ve had a particularly heavy workload lately, and lost most of my free time this weekend to go be with my family, as my grandmother passed away Friday.  Her name is Angela, and any prayers you can spare would be much appreciated.  I’ll be back with a real post as soon as the dust settles!

Peace,

Cherie

Forthcoming post (soon)

Dear Readers,

My apologies if I have been quiet over the past week or so. But expect a follow-up to my initial piece on prayer in the next couple of days.

Since we know that prayer can take many forms, the next step is getting comfortable being pray-ers (those who pray!).

Warmly,

Tom

PS – Feel free to comment and guide us toward new topics. We welcome responses from our readers!

Apparently I’m not the only one…

Apparently I’m not the only one mixing morality with Dr. Who!  Interesting piece from Rev. Richard Umbers on Daleks and Utilitarians.

Shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves

That’s what Jesus told the apostles to be as they set out to spread the Gospel throughout Israel (Matthew 10:16).  I’ve always found that quote a little strange, considering the bad rap serpents get elsewhere in the Good Book.  Besides, how wise is it to give your shirt to the man who takes your coat? And is it really “shrewd” not to worry about tomorrow because it will take care of itself?  As a practiced procrastinator, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like the smart choice when suddenly, tomorrow has become today, and you’re waking up at 5am on two hours of sleep to finish your paper that’s due at 8:00.  Recently, I’ve begun half-jokingly admitting to friends that my haphazard work ethic is a “lifestyle choice.”  When I’m procrastinating to cruise Mark Shea’s blog (thank you so much for the shout-out, Mark!) or stare at NASA’s pictures of the day, it could be argued that my work should come first.  But I’ve let myself continue on this way and learned to live on espresso and adrenaline, racing the clock to get my various projects done on time.  I’m not sure that’s exactly what the Lord had in mind when he gave instructed his apostles not to worry, but I do think it keeps me from getting too absorbed by the “serious business” of life.  Throughout college, my friends knew I was the person to call for a middle-of-the-night life crisis conversation, because I always knew my work could wait.  When everyone was stressed to the breaking point for December finals, my procrastinating meant I was one of the very few to wander outside and enjoy the first snowfall of the season.  At times like these, my scatterbrained style made me vulnerable to the subtle tug of Providence.  A head in the clouds is perhaps more accessible to heaven.

Now that I’m moving beyond the college world, I’m trying to balance that trusting, carefree outlook with the command to be “shrewd as serpents” as well.  There are so many times in life when it seems there’s a dichotomy between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing.  Of course, when those are the only two options, we do what’s right and suffer the consequences.  That’s what Jesus did.  But in this quote, I see a reminder to always check for the third way, the crafty approach that manages a happy ending for all involved.  It’s easy to get bogged down in serious deliberations over which is the morally superior choice in a situation, but it’s not always necessary.

A prime example can be found in one of my favorite Gospel stories.  A group of friends included a paralyzed man who wanted Jesus to heal him, but they couldn’t get him into the house where Jesus was because of the massive crowd blocking the door.  Should they abandon the paralytic’s side to go try to get Jesus to come with them, or stay with him and miss the chance to meet Jesus?  Rather than choose either option, they lowered the man on his mat right through the open roof and landed him at Jesus’ feet.  I always pictured them laughing as they did it- and Jesus laughing at the sight as well.  Maybe he laughed, maybe not; but he did heal the man and everybody won that day.  Being innocent as doves is a tough calling in this cynical world; using our serpentine shrewdness can make the Christian life a bit sweeter.

Sometimes, the only weapon we can morally use is our wit.  And maybe this is a huge stretch, but I think that lesson can be learned from the hero of BBC’s Doctor Who, a pacifist who manages to kick more ass than you’d think possible whilst wearing a bowtie.

To Love Another Person Is To See The Face of God

One of the major perks of the way I live my life, with four hours in transit between home and my job daily, is that I listen to a lot of music. So today, I listened to one of my all time favorite Broadway musicals, Les Miserables.

Obviously, the novel on which the musical is based by Victor Hugo, like most French things, is hugely influenced by Catholicism. France is a culturally Catholic country, so their entire culture is skewed in that direction. But Les Mis goes beyond the surface of Catholic culture.

Les Mis is a deep examination of sin, redemption, forgiveness and God’s Love for the individual. That is the story Hugo wanted to tell, and Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg, who wrote the musical, enhanced that feeling by writing intensely spiritual lyrics and ethereal angelic melodies. They are also French. This is fully embodied in the main protagonist, Jean Valjean.

Valjean begins the tale as an embittered convict, just on parole and has had his first encounter with the implacable Javert. In a moment of desperation, he is taken in by a kindly bishop, who he takes advantage of and robs, taking the bishop’s silver place settings. When he is caught, the bishop covers for him, stating that the silver was a gift, and gives Valjean a set of candlesticks for good measure. But it is not a simple trade, as the bishop explains,

“Now remember this my brother. See in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, b the passion and the blood, God has raised you out of darkness. I have bought your soul for God.”

Valjean is thrown by this action. This is the first time in over twenty years that he has experienced any kindness.

“Take an eye for an eye. Turn your heart into stone. This is all I have lived for. This is all I have known.”

But the new path is made clear by the bishop’s actions, by the bargain for Valjean’s soul.

“He told me that I have a soul. How does he know? What spirit comes to move my life? Is there another way to go?”

Valjean takes the redemption, and begins to live his penance. He sells the place setting, but keeps the candlesticks, and invests. He winds up in Mont-sur-Meil, owns a factory and becomes the mayor, all under an assumed name. While there, he takes a young, ill prostitute Fantine under his wing, to prevent her arrest by Javert. Fantine is forced to desperation because when she was young she gave birth to a daughter. The girl lives in an inn, and Fantine struggles to send bits of money to support her.

In a conversation with Javert, the disguised Valjean learns that the Inspector has “caught” a false Valjean. The real thing must then decide whether to reveal himself of let an innocent man pay for his crimes. It is his faith that convinces him to step forward.

“My soul belongs to God I know. I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone. He gave me strength to journey on…”

Before Javert can arrest him, Valjean goes to the dying Fantine’s bedside. She gives Valjean her daughter, confident that he will take care of the girl and that her sins are now now forgiven.

“For God’s sake, please stay til I am sleeping. And tell Cosette I love her and I’ll see her when I wake.”

Javert comes and Valjean pleads for mercy, simply a few days to settle accounts with Cosette, Fantine’s daughter. Her Javert reveals his spiritual side.

Dare you talk to me of crime and the price you have to pay? Every man is born in sin. Every man must choose his way.”

If Valjean is representing repentance and contrition, Javert is absolutism. There is right and there is wrong, and there is a choice. Valjean made his choices and must live with the consequences, regardless of how he feels.

The B plot comes into play now. All that stuff about the student revolution and Cosette falling in love with one of the students, and look, it’s a 3000 page epic turned into 3 hour long musical, a lot of stuff happens. But while living in Paris with Cosette,  Javert and Valjean cross paths again, and again Javert is unflinching.

“He knows his way in the dark, but mine is the way of the Lord. Those who follow the path of the righteous shall have their reward. And if they fall as Lucifer fell, the flame, the sword…and so it has been for so it is written, on the doorways to paradise, that those who falter and those who fall must pay the price.”

On the eve of the revolutionary battle, Valjean and Cosette are preparing to flee and the whole chorus joins Valjean in a prayer for the next day.

“Tomorrow we’ll be far away, tomorrow is the judgement day. Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in heaven has in store. One more dawn, one more day. One day more!”

Rather than leave, Valjean goes to the battle to protect Cosette’s lover Marius and encounters Javert there, who has been spying on the revolutionaries. In exchange for an act of heroism, Valjean is given Javert as a prisoner. He releases his old adversary and promises to turn himself in if he survives the battle. Javert flees, and the revolutionaries say their own prayer, though theirs is less religious, and more humanist.

“At the shrine of friendship never say die. Let the wine of friendship never run dry.”

While the others sleep, Valjean offers his own prayer for Marius especially, asking God to spare the man his Cosette loves even bargaining his own life for it.

“You can take, you can give. Let him rest, heaven blessed. If I die, let me die. Let him live. Bring him home.”

Both Valjean and Marius survive, though none of the others do. Valjean carries the young man home, and meets Javert again. Javert, tempered by the mercy Valjean showed him during the battle allows him to leave. This throws him into disarray and chaos. Javert’s absolutism fails him and he commits suicide.

“And my thoughts fly apart. Can this man be believed? Shall his sins be be forgiven? Will his crimes be reprieved? And must I know begin to doubt, who never doubt all those years. My heart is stone and still it trembles. The world I have known is lost in shadow.”

Marius and Cosette get married, and Valjean confesses the truth to Marius and goes into hiding. After discovering that Valjean was the one who saved his life, he and Cosette rush to his side. While alone, Valjean prays for them and as he realizes he’s dying, he writes Cosette a letter, while Fantine’s spirit joins him, assuring him salvation.

Fantine: Monsieur I bless your name. Monsieur lay down your burdens. You raised my child in love and soon you’ll be with God…come with me where chains will never bind you. All your grief at last at last behind you. Lord in heaven look down on him in mercy.

Valjean: Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory.

Fantine and Eponine (I can’t believe I made it this far without talking about Eponine, but she’s a street urchin who was in love with Marius and died at the barricade in his arms and look, really? Do you not know who Eponine is?): Take my hand and lead me to salvation. Take my love for love is ever lasting. And remember, the truth that once was spoken. To love another person is to see the face of God.

As Valjean fades into the background the spirits of the dead revolutionaries step forward and sing of paradise.

“Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night? It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light. For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”

Then come my favorite verse in the entire show.

“They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord. They will walk behind the plowshare. They will put away the sword. The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.”

I love that lyric. To me it sums it all up. This is a story about the overwhelming power of Grace in the lives of individuals. I use the music that stirs my heart to meditate and pray, and few pieces make me feel as close to God as Les Mis does.

Maturity and the Sacramental Life

Note: You’ll notice the source of a lot of my entries is my eighth grade Confirmation class. The true test of any educator is not what you can teach your students…but it’s realizing that you can learn a lot from them as well. A lot of my experience as a confident Catholic comes from teaching that class, and you’ll be able to tell!

Tonight, I’m heading off to teach my eighth grade Confirmation class again. This class is wonderful for me; it’s a chance for me to talk religion with a bunch of kids, who are just waiting for someone to come along and work with them, not talk at them, for ninety minutes. It’s tough with these kids, who really don’t want to be bothered with anything Catholic.

On my first night of class, I asked the kids… “why are you here?” Of course , 40 out of 50 say “because my parents dropped me off.” So I decided to make them write. I told them that nobody – not even I – will see their writings because I want them to be personal. And after they wrote, I discovered that many of them were there for reasons far beyond the simple drop-off by the parents (praying, for ninety minutes, that their parents will call early so they can go home.) Some of them were there for very deep reasons, which they chose to share with me and the class after writing.

So now we consider that again tonight. Tonight, I’m having them examine themselves. Well, Mr. T, what does that mean… it almost sounds creepy!? No, I’m having them examine their subconscious, making a personal determination regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation. AM I MATURE? AM I EVER MATURE? WILL I EVER BE MATURE? And that’s what this post is going to examine: “Maturity and a Sacramental Life: T-Man Style”

Are any of us really mature? I mean, face it, we all go around acting like a five year old every now and again. I know I do it a lot…and my fellow bloggers can attest to this. (Right, cherie, zoey, reenie…?) But what does it mean to be a mature person, specifically at age 13 or 14? That is what I want my students to figure out tonight… Maturity, to me, involves doing the right thing, especially when it is so easy to do the wrong thing. For instance, college. It’s a Friday night, freshman year. Your entire hall is getting ready to go to a house party. You don’t want to go, you know that drinking underage is against the law, and that (despite the low likelihood) if you get in legal trouble, it could come back to haunt you later on (like, say, when you apply for teaching certification or medical school). However, you don’t want to be the outcast in your hall… the loser. So you’re faced with a decision… go out, or don’t go out?

As Catholics, particularly young Catholics, I feel as though we are faced with those decisions day in and day out. It’s not the “cool” thing to be religious. Or is it? See, we in this blog believe that it is. We believe, as the name suggests, that we should be confidently Catholic. However, in most parishes, look around and see the ratio of older folks to twenty-somethings in your service. Many of the “twenty-somethings” are not mature enough to realize that Catholicism is cool… they’re too busy recovering from the Saturday night hangover to be caught dead in Church. The truly mature person, the one who is really “in tune” with his/her faith, is the person that won’t let this stop them.

So, what does this all mean to us? So long as we are mature about our actions, more are bound to follow and realize that there is nothing wrong with doing the simple things, like going to Church, or being active in your faith. Don’t be the follower and go out to that house party, be original and, I don’t know, start a travelling Taboo party yourself. The friends you meet at your private gatherings will end up being the closest friends you have… and the same is true with confident Catholics. You’ll become close with so many wonderful people.

Like any good teacher, I’m going to give you all a homework assignment. As you go about your week, I want you to think about maturity and reflect on the following questions. (I’m having the kids do this tonight…let’s see how that goes!)

1) What about you makes you a mature person? Try to come up with a few things. No matter how imperfect you are, you’re mature!

2) Reflect on one or two of those above characteristics, and think about exactly how that characteristic/trait brings out the best in you. How does it make you mature? How can you use that to help others?

3) What about you makes you an immature person? Again, try to come up with a few things. No matter how perfect you think (key word THINK) you are, you’re immature in some ways!

4) Reflect on one or two of those above characteristics, and think about exactly how you can change that imperfection, or immaturity. Or, is it really an imperfection?

Enjoy, and God bless! And send your prayers this way… this week really could be the beginning of the rest of my life, and I need all the help I can get!

~Troutie

He is with you

Last Sunday, as I was sitting in church, I was praying the Lord’s Prayer and began to think about it.  When I was young, my youth minister tried to get us through a prayer line by line, examining the significance of every word.  Since then, I find myself doing this pretty often while saying prayers.  Usually it is with the Hail Mary, but this week it was parts of the Our Father that were sticking out to me.  Recite this prayer carefully to let it’s powerful meaning sink in:

Our Father, Who art in Heaven

Hallowed be Thy Name;

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done,

On Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us

And lead us not into temptation

But deliver us from evil.  Amen.

It has been a pretty confusing time for me lately, and so I began to think about what we are really asking God for in this prayer.  The last line “…and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” really struck me.  I have felt very strong temptations as of late and I recently had the experience of coming too close to the edge of temptation and evil. Just as I was nearing the edge, it was as though God’s hand reached out to pull me back to Him. I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to fight it and it filled me with relief and thankfulness that He was with me. Suddenly it became so clear that there is a much larger plan set in place for me.  I only need to wait patiently and assist it by being open, honest, and loving. This, of course, takes more than I’ve got, so it’s a good thing God is with me 🙂

While it may seem like you have hit an area of your life that is filled with negativity and difficulties, you need only to think of God and realize that He is with you.  It takes a simple prayer to get right back on the right track and I am so thankful for the events in my life that continuously bring me back to Him.  One thing that I’ve learned is that if you have faith and patience, God will work miracles through you.  He may lead you through a difficult part of life, but it is only because He knows that you can handle it—not on your own, but with Him.  He wants you to reach out at that point and run into His arms so that He can provide you with any assistance.  As the poem “Footprints in the Sand” concludes, the Lord said “my precious, precious child, I Love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

Also, listen to Mandisa’s Stronger and really pay attention to the lyrics, she does a great job of communicating God’s true intentions when it comes to hardships and sufferings in life –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emgv-VRtMEU

(If you really like her, check out her webpage:  http://mandisaofficial.com/home/)

God Bless,  Zoey

There’s No Going Backwards

I’ve been driving around town in a borrowed baby blue minivan since last Thursday.  I’m actually kind of enjoying it, but that’s beside the point.  The reason I’m driving the minivan, and not my small Japanese sedan, is that mine is having its transmission rebuilt for the second time since July.  The first time I brought the car to the transmission shop, the manager practically laughed at me.  Apparently, this lovely Japanese transmission “never” breaks, especially not at the age and mileage of mine.  Of course, mine was actually quite broken, and a few thousand dollars later it was good as new.  Hey, everybody gets unlucky sometimes.

Last week, it started acting up again.  I discovered the problem just as I had last time- I was trying to pull out of a parking space when, suddenly, I couldn’t get the car to move in reverse.  I slipped and bucked my way out of the space, found the drive gear working normally, and drove home knowing that the transmission shop was about to get another call.  One freak transmission problem in an unbreakable car is a coincidence; but the second one? I began to wonder why I was cursed.

As I ran errands and drove to work the next day, I had to meticulously plan each move so that I could maneuver into a parking space and get out of it again by only moving forward.  Watching me circle the block looking for the perfect parallel parking spot would have been comical (it was moreso frustrating to me).  I never realized how much I counted on being able to back out. And maybe that was the lesson in all this.

In life, we don’t get to back out of the tight spaces.  I’ve had to start over a lot of times in my life, but it only worked when I decided to focus on doing something else, not undoing what I’d already done.  When I switched into a difficult science major my junior year of college, I had to take freshman-level courses to get up to speed.  I couldn’t believe I had to work my way through a major all over again, and wondered if I’d be able to graduate without some hugely expensive extra semesters.  But as the semester began, I realized that freshman coursework didn’t mean I had to go back to being a freshman myself.  I couldn’t get back those two years I spent in other programs, so I took the best lessons in how to study, how to work the course registration system, and how to view professors as real humans instead of automatons that I’d learned in those years and applied them to my new major.  I was able to graduate on time, thanks to those skills and to my friends who kept me sane (ahem-Tom-ahem).

Nowadays, I am an educator as well as a student, and the same principle is cropping up again.  Giving one instruction in a confusing way, or forgetting to emphasize strongly enough that something is a quiet, individual activity, can cause a class to devolve into chaos.  You can’t get back from that, or at least, I am too new to teaching to know how.  So I learn from my mistakes and give clearer instructions or stricter rules the next time.  I’m embarrassed to think of some of the mistakes I’ve made, but they’re just part of the process.  Every veteran teacher has told me that’s how you learn.  Being perfect doesn’t get you very far (assuming you aren’t Mary or Jesus).

In the spiritual realm, you can’t go backwards any more than you can in everyday life, or in my broken car.  I still remember the shame of being caught in a lie over a stuffed animal when I was six or seven years old.  I got in a lot of trouble, and I felt terrible, and I just knew that now I had done something really bad and I would never be the same again. (Only with a child’s limited memory and simplistic understanding of sin could I have imagined that this was the first real sin I’d committed.)  I was right.  But not too long after that, in preparation for our first communion, my classmates and I got our first experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Then and now, the confessional is that place where I can get through what I can’t undo. Last week, as I made my way carefully to the transmission shop without any chance to back up, I realized the beauty of that opportunity to move on from the situations we get stuck in sometimes.  So on Sunday, I clambered into the borrowed minivan and drove to church early for the opportunity to make a full confession for the first time in months.  I finished my penance, the liturgy began, and I was finally moving forward again.