A Love Fully Human and Fully Divine

I always have trouble when Christians say, “Jesus had to die on the cross in order to save us.”  It makes me think: I suspect God could have saved us however He liked.

But He did it this way, so here we are.

Humans are thick about the nature of God.  You’ve just been created out of dust and given domain over the earth, and yet you’re unclear on God meaning what He said when He told you not to eat that one fruit.  Never mind ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army — did God really say . . .?

The Godliness of God is hard for us to grasp.

Even harder, judging from the pagan pantheons and our own understandable tendency to despair in the face of so much evil, is believing that God is good.  The gods of myth are fickle and self-serving; they come to our aid when it suits their own cause, not ours.

Thus the Incarnation.  Here comes God in the form of a man, which the mythical gods have done in their way, but this one is different.  This one loves the way that men love when they are very, very good men.

Mostly we humans like to push off thinking too carefully about love, because what we want is for the satisfaction of the present moment’s desire to be counted as “good enough.” But we do know real live goodness when we see it.  We honor the sacrifices of those who have given of themselves for others.  We know deep in our hearts that the very best people, the ones who embody Goodness itself, are those who care entirely about others and don’t consider what it might cost to give, they just give.

We know that.

And we’re not very bright about what God is like, so it is helpful for us to see that when God is a man, He loves the way that the very best men love.

***

There were good men living in the time of Jesus, just like there are good men living now.  Men who were heroic in their willingness to do what others needed them to do, in the mission of love and justice and mercy.  The Samaritan.  St. Joseph.  St. John the Baptist.  No doubt others as well.

Pontius Pilate was given the chance to be a heroic man.  His wife had been warned in a dream concerning Jesus, and passed on that message to her husband: Don’t mess with this guy.  Let him go.  Gentleman, recall that you chose your wife for this purpose. You elected her to be the one person whose advice you value most, so don’t squirm when she gives it.

He could have been a heroic man, sacrificing himself for the sake of love, justice, and mercy.  He knew very well that Jesus was innocent — he said so himself.

Instead he chose to be the coward of cowards.  What is the suffering of one innocent man compared to the danger I face?  And it was danger.  He was facing the end of everything, and so he pushed away the plain truth and talked himself into the crucifixion.

***

I do this all the time.  I push away what I know to be the right thing to do, because I do not want to lose some good I’ve convinced myself is more urgent.

***

The difference between God and us is that He’s God and we aren’t.  He’s all-powerful, our powers are limited.

We are capable of being fully human.  We are capable of being entirely the persons God created each of us to be.  We are capable of choosing heroic sacrifice rather than cowardice.  But we would still only be men.  Limited.

God-made-Man remained fully God even as He took on the fullness of humanity as well.   As man, he could be fully the best sort of man, giving of himself entirely.  But He was still God, and thus His powers were not limited.

***

Think of the best people you know.  Perhaps you have moments when you would gladly sacrifice yourself for someone else.  Perhaps you are a parent who would do anything to take on the suffering of your child so that your child can be spared.  Perhaps you see someone in grave danger, and know that if you could, you would give over even your very life to rescue that person.

Sometimes we get the chance to act on that impulse, but usually we don’t.  No matter how fully your heart is filled with generosity and a willingness to sacrifice, your powers are limited.  You would joyfully give your life to save that starving orphan in the war-torn country, but you can’t. You are limited by distance and other obstacles.   Maybe you can’t even give your life adopting some local orphan, because your means or the local bureaucracy or the other people who already require your help prevent you from being able to rescue that other one.

You and I can give everything we have, but we can’t give it to everyone.

***

We also can’t cause our sacrifices to do exactly what we want done.  My abilities are limited.  I can save some people in some situations, but other problems are beyond my powers.  I lack the mechanism to make the rescue happen.

***

Fully Man, Jesus was the best of men.  He was willing to sacrifice everything for the good of others.

Fully God, the power of His sacrifice is not limited.

He can save everyone, everywhere, everyhow.

He can breathe into dirt and cause humans to live on earth.  He can hang on a cross and cause humans to live in eternity.

He has the willingness and also the ability.

File:Caravaggio flagellation.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

FYI we have a family custom of unplugging for the Triduum.  Some of us will still be on the machine doing things like taxes and homework, but if you’re looking for me, I finally have a legitimate excuse for being gone.  Happy Easter!

Lent Day 43: Not Doing It

Wednesdays are traditionally the glorious mysteries.  I finally got back to praying the Rosary today after a gaping hiatus caused by a succession illness (it is a physical act, and thus requires one or another physical abilities), chaos, and inertia.

What was on my mind as I prayed was my inability to accomplish certain tasks before me, and thus my reliance on God to take care of them.  This is a good problem, because relying on me is not the wisest course, and in any case the tasks are God’s.

Here is a miracle, to give you an idea of the scope of the whole thing: I made a craft.  Not just any craft; one that required both bright colors and straight lines.  Also, I had to do it with supplies that I didn’t have spares of, which meant everything had to be done exactly right the first time.  No sane person assigns me a job like this.  Just never.

So anyway, I get around to the fourth glorious mystery, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Do you know what our Lady did during that mystery?

Nothing.

Just laid there.  Didn’t lift a finger.

God did it.

This seems to be the way it works.  Want me to conceive the Messiah? I can’t do that Lord, but however you want to handle this go ahead.  Out of wine?  Son, could you take care of this please?  So you’re saying the plan is that you’re going to die on that cross–? I’m just gonna stand here, and you figure out what the system is.

It’s not that Mary does nothing.  It’s that she does only the part she can do, and lets God worry about the rest.

 

***

Request: If you have a charism for bringing empty jars to the attention of our Lord, please consider joining the newly-formed Catholic Evangelization and Discipleship Intercessory Prayer Team group on Facebook.  It’s a closed group, but any member can add new members.  If you are in the work of discipleship or evangelization and would like people to pray for your mission, please join and post your requests.  (Also: Introduce yourself and I’ll add you to the pinned post of who’s who at the top.) Thank you!

 

File:Albert Cornelis - Assumption of the Virgin - ES BRHM BPV 009 12.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

 

Lent Days 31 – 42: Enough Already

There are a few spares in the “forty” days of Lent, which makes up for some of the ones you might have skipped.  Most years Lent doesn’t begin on the first of the month, so it’s not as obvious.

I was aware already of the way that attempting a Lenten penance can show you your weakness when you keep slipping up.  You try to carry out some small laudable act of prayer, fasting, or almsgiving, and even that is too much.  You are smaller than you thought.

More stark: When you stick to the penance but flail miserably at ordinary life.  Not because the penance sunk you — quite the contrary.  Rather, because you just aren’t ever all that good at carrying out ordinary life.

***

Outside of Lent, little lapses hide more easily.  Big lapses are robbed of their sting, clothed in busyness and festivities.   When all your actions are played against the bare purple curtain, the holiness-failures are radically more obvious.

Things I’ve learned:

  • If I have to push, push, push through a bunch of logistical challenges — not problems, mind you, just the challenging side of carrying out some good and desired goal — it wears me down.  I run out of willpower.
  • What I think of as my “ordinary prayer life” requires my ordinary life.  It requires pockets of silence and privacy and extra energy that I normally schedule into a typical day.  Even if the way I “schedule” is to shove a rosary in my pocket and pray it during the silent half of never-the-same kid-errands, the space is there.  When the space isn’t there, I’m sunk.
  • Being more tired than usual means I can’t do as much as I could when I’m less-tired.  You’d think by now I’d know this, but I’m a slow learner.

And the killer: My sins run in packs.  Circumstance A leads to Pressure B which leads to Reaction C which transmorgifies into Capital Sin C which, don’t let the name fool you, engenders I-can’t-believe-I-did-that-and-I-don’t-want-to-quit-either sins D, E, and F.

One of the St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechisms for children reminds us that “venial sin is worse than the measles.”  Oh yeah.  This is worse than the measles for sure, and the measles are bad.

It’s like I can’t save myself.

 

File: Crucifixion of Jesus, Russian icon by Dionisius, 1500.jpg

Icon of the Crucifixion courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

The Unbearable Sameness of “Cool”

When you study buzzwords or fad words from each generation, very few stand the test of time. “Groovy”? “Hep”? “Tight”? “Gnarly”? (Really?) Nope. All of them – gone from our lexicon. However, one has stood strong for at least 3 generations. That is “cool”.

I don’t know why this specific word has lasted for so long, but I think I understand why what the word represents has endured. The idea is that you not only fit in, but that you fit in very nicely. Cool is comfortable. It fills that 3rd level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It means we are accepted and maybe even respected by the tribe.

Long ago, ‘cool’ meant being different in some sort of interesting way. The ‘differentness’ is what made the person (or the action) ‘cool’. However, ‘cool’ wasn’t usually associated with virtue or engaging in something ‘good’ or particularly healthy or virtuous. And that’s the downside – the dark side – of ‘cool’. It was never about becoming fully alive. It was never about growing as a person or being the best version of oneself. It was typically about wearing masks and aspiring to something that wasn’t worth the effort.

That differentness imbued with a general lack of goodness or virtue has become sameness. When you look around these days, ‘cool’ is about blending and conformity. Challenging traditional values was once considered ‘cool’. Now, if you don’t challenge them and conform to the ‘new normal’, you’re likely to be marginalized with visceral enthusiasm. Wearing underwear on the outside of one’s clothing (or in place of outer garments) used to be reserved for Superman. (Probably not the impression he was trying to give, though.) Now, if you leave anything to others’ imagination, you’re prudish. Getting a tattoo was once a unique thing to do. Now, it’s not a matter of getting a tattoo to express individuality – it’s that you’re kind of strange if you don’t get one. (This is not a judgment on tattoos, by the way – just saying that they hold no inherent ‘goodness’ or value.)

This new definition of ‘cool’ doesn’t just lack virtue, though – it’s not even cool. It’s now about fitting the beautiful diversity of what every single person brings to the table into a very small box – and a boring box of sameness, to boot.

But perhaps herein lies opportunity to rekindle ‘cool’ in a whole new way – a way that makes goodness and virtue desirable as something ‘different’. Recall those words from 1 Corinthians 12 where St. Paul says, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.’”

There is a reason each of us is different. We all have unique talents which aren’t always appreciated by others, but that shouldn’t stop us from fully developing them for the good of mankind and for the glory of God. We’re meant to strive for goodness and virtue. Becoming more virtuous means becoming more like God. Anything else is disordered and a waste of our efforts. It’s just not ‘cool’ (in this new sense, of course).

Dare to be different. Dare to be the best you imaginable. Dare to let others see God through your actions. How cool would that be?

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

Blog News You’d Hate To Miss

As Lent winds up, I’d like to let you know about some changes coming to the blog.

Those of you who’ve been reading me since the very beginning know that I’ve gone through a series of transitions as a writer.  I started out as an anonymous homeschool-blogger, just trying to share my experiences and get some practice writing for an audience.  Over the years I’ve been a contributor to other Catholic blogs, magazines, and books, as well as spearheading some projects of my own.

Variety and change are the name of the game.

With that in mind, and having had a week to reflect after the refreshing and fruitful retreat I took last weekend, now seems like the perfect day to share the changes you may see here.  What to look for in the future:

More Hands-On Experience.  Maybe it’s the coloring book rubbing off on me, maybe it’s all the art I post, but something’s having an effect.  From here on out, this is going to be primarily a craft blog.  I envision the bulk of the projects involving hot glue and day-glo pom poms.

Pom-Pom photo by Mvolz (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  This is roughly what we’re going for, only with colors that are a little more searing.  These, glued to things.  Everything.

More Pop Culture.  Reader, you know how important evangelization is to me.  And every writer (myself excepted) seems to feel that the secret to evangelization is immersing oneself in the interests of the persons being evangelized.  I’m ready to take that advice.  For religious purposes, therefore, from now on when I’m not crafting, I’ll be keeping you updated on celebrity news, the NFL, and How The Gamecocks are Doing This Season.

We’ll continue talking about the weather, too, but that’s not a big change.

Less Depressing Arguing Stuff.   It took a lot of memes to get this through my head, but listen guys: Opinions on weighty matters are out of here like last year.  Giving a reason for your hope?  Some reasons are more equal than others, you know.  We’re going to focus on inspiring quotes from Anonymous. Where possible, I’ll provide an attribution to St. Francis of Assisi.  He probably said something like that anyway.

Same Great Sacred Art, Updated.  You already know I’m not much of a traditionalist — if it’s true, beautiful, good, and approved by the Church, I can work with it, new or old.  With that in mind, I’ll be sharing a lot more music videos.  Trap Masses, primarily.

As for Caravaggio?  Of course I’d never let that go.  But from now on, it’ll be all the great works of antiquity forward, but re-interpreted in the style of “Family Circus.”

You’re gonna love it.

Look for these great new blog experiences as often as once a year!

I’m Sorry if this Blog Post Offends You

If you found the title of this post a bit off-putting, then there’s a very good chance this post will resonate with you. (If you didn’t find a problem with it, you probably either decided not to read any further, or are looking for something provocative or titillating. I will gratuitously play along, and we’ll see if you find that which you seek.)

Apologies are hard. They strike at our pride and spotlight our need to grow further in virtue. That’s painful. Sometimes, it’s too much to bear. First, let me make a distinction. In our personal relationships, we should be liberal and sincere with our apologies. If I have an argument with my wife, and I’m even 1% at fault (though it’s usually well over 50% – okay, well over 90%), then I should apologize. I should do so quickly, sincerely, and without reservation or qualification. (We’ll look at examples in a few moments.)

As a management instructor, though, I’ve seen an abuse of apologies in the business world that render them wholly ineffective, sometimes even creating an unnecessary liability. For example, if a business engages in a well-thought-out decision to make a change in policy or process or product, then they should stand by it and offer the ‘why’ to the customer. Help the customer understand why this is a good thing and point out “what’s in it for you” to the customer. If a business just briefly mentions the change and ends with, “We apologize for any inconvenience,” they’re implying they did something wrong, and that it was not their best move. If it was a sound business decision, stand by it. If there is regret, either don’t do it or fully own up to it and make it right with the customer. To do anything ‘in between’ simply frustrates the customer and leaves the employees embarrassed about having to meekly address complaints. In some cases, a ‘feel-good’ apology in business could even be used against the company in court, as evidence of admitting fault or negligence.

On the other hand, in personal relationships (and when a public apology is necessary), there’s a right way and a wrong way to apologize. After the famous “wardrobe malfunction” during his and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime show a few years ago, this is what Justin Timberlake came up with: “What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.” Sound familiar? Sadly, millions seem to be under the impression that this qualifies as an ‘apology’. It doesn’t (and I’m sorry if you’re offended by that). The underlying message here is, “Something went wrong, I take no ownership of it, but I am obligated to say SOMETHING, so if you’re offended by this then really it’s YOU who has the problem.” Classy. You make a mistake and blame others who noticed. “Apology” isn’t the right word here. “Cowardice” or “arrogance” would be far more suitable.

Instead, such unfortunate events could be seen as opportunities for developing virtue. If I play any role in something I regret (like saying some things I wished I hadn’t, which I’ve been known to do a time or a thousand), I can take complete ownership of it and grow in humility in the process. (That’s a good thing, by the way. It is the antidote for selfish pride. ‘Cause, you know, it goeth before a fall…and stuff.) “I said some deeply hurtful things to you (about such and such) and I’m ashamed of myself. You deserve better from me. Can you please forgive me?” A sincere apology doesn’t always have to follow these criteria, but it helps:

1) Identify the offense
2) Take ownership
3) Acknowledge the dignity of the other person
4) Ask for forgiveness
5) Offer no qualifiers or expectations of a reciprocal apology

That 4th item – asking for forgiveness – is often forgotten in apologies, but it’s important. And, when someone asks for forgiveness, give them that. Say out loud (and sincerely – harboring that grudge or ill will harms you, not them), “I forgive you.” (A hug might be a good touch then, depending on the relationship.) And that last item is the hardest. You’ll be a better, more mature person every time you successfully make an apology with that in mind, though, and you’ll strengthen your relationship with the other person.

Maybe there’s something you’ve done a long time ago for which you still have regret? Maybe there’s a relationship that is in need of repair? Perfect timing. It’s still Lent, after all. So, what are you waiting for?

Vintage photo of a juggler in top hat and partial clown-face walking past commuters on a streetcar traveling in the opposite direction.

Photo: Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons.

Lent Day 30: What Makes Me Happy

Do you know what makes me happy? Getting good writers matched up with venues worthy of their work.

More to follow.

(What doesn’t make me happy? Rain so heavy that when a truck splashes by you can no longer see the road.  At all.  I don’t care for that.)

File:S-Bahn at Hauptbahnhof Berlin.JPG

I just like this picture.  Photo by Martin Falbisoner (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Lent Days 24 & 26-29: The Size of Solidarity

The highlight of the week for L. and I was doing laundry.  We visited and helped out at one of those places where homeless people can come and take a shower and get their clothes washed.

“We aren’t the only game in town,” the director told me.  There were charts taped to the wall with a catalog of services offered in the area — other shower places, where to find clothes, meals, shelters, everything.

It was good we were not the only ones at this, because the place was small: Two showers, three washers, three dryers.  One small combination waiting-and-laundry area, then the private bathrooms in the back, a storage closet, and that’s about it.  In the space of a morning, perhaps a dozen people came through.

By the end of the morning I was convinced we were exactly the right size.   There were enough people that if you wanted to mind your own business you could, but few enough people that there was time and closeness for conversation if you wanted that.

A lady told me the story about when she was five years old and she wanted to run away, because she was mad at her father for not letting her join the Brownies.  She asked her mother to come along, since she’d need someone to cook.  Her mother agreed. They slipped off early on a Saturday morning, but then out in the yard her mother remembered she had a phone call to make before they left.

“Don’t go back in there! Daddy will be up!  He’ll see us!”

“No, I’m sorry. This is an important phone call.  I have to go back in.”

“Who do you have to call who’s so important it can’t wait?”

“Santa Claus.”

“What?! Santa Claus?”

“That’s right.  I have to tell him not to stop at our house anymore, since you won’t be there.”

“Oh.”

“And the Easter Bunny.  I need to call the Easter Bunny, too.”

Having considered the repercussions, the little girl decided maybe they should stay for now.

If we had more space and more showers and more rooms, it would turn into an assembly line.  There’d be separated stations for each step of the process.  The waiting area would be larger, and washing and drying would be in another room.  Maybe folding in yet another room.  You’d barely get to know anyone.

It’s easy to be friends with a hundred or even five hundred people, but it’s impossible to make friends except one at a time.  You would miss that story.

File:Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander December 15 1937 (7960424470).jpg

 By State Library of Queensland, Australia [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Lent Day 25: Suscipe

The Annunciation should be a bigger feast than it is.

The chocolate chip cookies at lunch were especially good, but I assure you I say this for theological reasons.  I mean seriously, kids: It’s the Annunciation!  It’s the re-beginning of EVERYTHING.  Sheesh.  Festivate!

Also: St. Ignatius is the man.

More also: We’ve got some mighty good priests in this country.

And that’s all for now, back to the feast.  Have a good one!

 

File:Caravaggio - The Annunciation.JPG

Of course I picked the Caravaggio.  I couldn’t be expected to do anything other, once I learned it existed.  View the image detail, the better to feast upon.  [Public Domain, via Wikimedia.]

Wikipedia, by the way, has a nice article on the word suscipe.

Lent Day 23: Bored and Annoyed Just Right

I knew I hit my penance just right this year when I found myself thinking, “I’m not really liking this. But other than that, it’s not a problem.”

What I’m noticing this year is how important it is not to be afraid of the penance you’ve chosen.  If you fear you are harming yourself, you are going to give up.  If you are confident that what you are doing is not harmful, you have a better chance of talking yourself off the ledge.  It can be helpful, in that regard, to try the thing outside of Lent before you commit to a whole season of it.

For some more thoughts on hitting the sweet spot: What Makes a Good Penance? Three Tips for Mid-Lent Adjustments.

***

Meanwhile, a glimpse at my spiritual life, Lent Edition:

8:00 pm: I am so bored at the prospect of carrying out any of the choice of chores in front of me that what I long to do is go off to a quiet place for some contemplative prayer.

8:10: Well, that was a great two minutes of prayer, but now it appears I’m just thinking about random stuff. Not actually praying.  Try to get mind back to praying.  Praying is great!  Love God!  Talk to God! Listen to God! Be with God!

8:15: Okay, actually I’m falling asleep.  

At which point I turned on a bright light and pulled out the review copy of the extremely wonderfully very good book you can hear about soon.  It’s by Julie Davis and as good as her last book, but in a completely different direction.

File:Jeremias-de-Decker-Jacob-Aertsz-Colom-J-de-Deckers-Gedichten MGG 0570.tif

Artwork: Christ in the Garden, Jeremias de Decker, 1656.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

The disciples’ inability to stay awake is the evidence that they had no  idea what was about to  happen.  When you are expecting trouble, you stay awake.  You sleep when you think everything is fine for now.