Catholic Exchange: Turning the Other Cheek in a Digital Age

The Internet and mainstream media have been set ablaze with the latest outrage that seems to be manufactured every five minutes. Each side rushes to judgment and paints the other group as the villain. Meanwhile supporters canonize the person or persons they agree with and the vitriol reaches an intensity that should startle every person of goodwill. Round-and-round it goes, this cycle of anger in our culture and even within the Church.

This piece is not specifically about the Covington Catholic controversy. Nor will I make any judgments about what transpired. The aim of this piece is to offer an alternative tactic that goes back to Our Lord Himself, but that is applicable in an age when any one of us could become the topic of a social media frenzy should a video be taken of us that could provide an ambiguous depiction of us that can easily be taken out of context or manipulated to appease the angry masses.

Our careers could be ruined, our families and friends threatened, and we could become the target of the social media mob if we are not careful. If you think I’m overreacting, keep in mind that I happen to pray regularly at the Planned Parenthood where a teenager was assaulted during a 40 Days for Life campaign that made national news. A town of 90,000 people. That video became viral in a matter of minutes and people were ready to draw and quarter those involved depending on what political side they happened to be on. This is what it is like to live an an age of never-ending digital consumption and intentionally manufactured outrage. Someone is always watching, even when we don’t think that is the case.

There are some situations during which we can’t avoid confrontation. However, while I was at the March for Life, I witnessed and exercised an approach that will help us to avoid becoming social media fodder in the future. It’s how Our Lord responded to similar situations that arose during His ministry and Passion. It is one we seldom want to use because we all desire tangible justice.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Way of Love

In the Mass readings right now we are working our way through my favorite epistle, the First Letter of St. John. It will play a key role in aspects of the book I’m working on. If there is one word that describes this letter it is love. The Beloved Disciple whose deep spiritual friendship with Our Lord is clearly seen in his writings and the one who took Our Lady into his home is clearly well versed in the school of love. He is the one Apostle who understands the full requirements of charity, which is why he stood fast at the foot of the Cross when everyone else fled.

We live in a culture that lives an understanding of love that is largely opposed to the example we find in St. John as he calls us to follow Christ. Love has been reduced to an emotion or a utilitarian pursuit of happiness. This means that once people have expended their use in our lives or those good feelings pass, we can promptly discard them. Our culture tells us love is about me and my desires. How does the person make me feel? Love is when we feel good about someone. Love necessarily dissipates through hardships or struggles in the relationship. If I’m not being completely fulfilled by you, then I will get rid of you.

This is not only true of romantic relationships, but all relationships in our culture. It is true of our friendships and our family bonds. We maintain what in reality are superficial connections to the people around us. They serve their use or give us some pleasure, but there is not depth or true sacrifice on our part. If the relationship becomes burdensome or difficult then we simply cast that person off and move on. The sad reality is that we all do it. The true understanding of love in all of its forms has been lost to us because of the philosophies of utility and will to power that undergird our society, as well as the innate existential fear we experience because of the Fall.

The message of Jesus Christ as explained to us through St. John’s First Letter is an antidote to this understanding of relationships. First, he explains the nature of God as the one who is love itself. God does not simply love and give love, His very existence is love. This is most exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in order to bring about our redemption. Love is by its nature sacrificial. Deeds are required of us to love. It requires everything from us, which is precisely why we tend to flee from the demands of charity. We realize that love will hurt at some point. We will in fact have to watch our spouse, parents, friends, and people we love die one day.

We also come to understand through St. John that we are called to love one another fully. Christ Himself tells us this in the Great Commandments that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John’s First Letter is a deep meditation on these words. Christ does not tell us that we are to only love our spouses, families, and chosen friends. No, He goes so far as to tell us that we are to even love our enemies.

Now, to our culture, this is sheer madness. We are supposed to love people as long as it feels good and then move on. How are we supposed to love everyone including our enemies? We are supposed to hate and despise our enemies. In our Fallen state this feels much easier. Anger allows us to remain distant from the people who hurt us or who question our worldview. While righteous anger can be a great unifier, most of us battle to keep this unruly passion in check. If we examine our anger towards someone we often will see that it is predicated on vengeance more than justice. It’s a struggle because we are made for love and we want to be loved by the people we love, but often we aren’t, so we respond in anger through our hurt.

The radicality of Christ’s call to love our neighbor means that we will have to suffer in love. While loving the people who hurt, reject, betray, or persecute us does not make sense from our human perspective, there are often deeper spiritual realities at work. It is often the very people who reject us or who seek to hurt us who need our love the most. It may be that our love is given to them through prayer as is the case in those Christian witnesses who have prayed for their concentration camp guards who torture them the most or the saints who were persecuted by their own brothers and sisters, but pray ardently for them. The example par excellence of this is when Christ utters his cry of “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” There is so much we fail to see when we choose to hurt others.

A failure to love one another as we ought to is tied to a wide variety of factors in our lives, some outside of our control, and others a part of our Fallen nature. Many of us struggle to accept the love that is extended to us. We think we are unworthy of it or we do not know how to step out into vulnerability because of the inevitable pain that love will bring. Sin can hinder or make us incapable of authentic love, especially if we objectify people through that sin. And far too many people have fallen for the lie that love is simply about my happiness, feelings, desires, and wants. They have never been shown or taught what love truly means. It is to focus on the happiness of another, to will their good, and it is in emptying ourselves where we find our own ultimate joy.

The counterfeit versions of love that we see in our culture are an understandable diversion from the fear we all must confront in order to love fully. Fortitude is a requirement of love. For the Christian, we know that love is the Cross. This means God will require us to lay down our own lives for others each day as we learn to die to self. This is a painful process and one we flee from repeatedly. The constant mortification of our own ego is difficult. The Fall has made us believe that we are the center of the universe, but through grace we are made into a new creation and that requires purification and suffering. It is through this process that love is perfected and all fear is cast out. We come to find ourselves rightly ordered to God and others, which brings about our freedom. The perfecting love of God turns us into the fully alive human being we are made to be.

The ultimate irony for our culture–and for ourselves–is that as we flee from authentic love and accept empty shells of love, we find ourselves unhappy and lonely. Our culture is extremely lonely. For all of the instant communication at our fingertips, people are more lonely than ever. That is because love requires us to set our own wants and desires aside in order to give. We must become self-gift. A danger of social media is that it breeds narcissism. While it is good to keep up with people, it does not fully create the deep connections and friendship God is calling us to in our lives. We see teenagers sitting at tables with flesh and blood people while all staring at their phones. It’s much easier to placate the ego through attention and likes than it is to seek relationships with the people in front of us who will inevitably hurt us.

Everyone we love is going to hurt us. They are Fallen human beings just like we are, which means that their failings will cause us pain. We can’t avoid pain forever and it is in pain that we learn to love more deeply through the power of forgiveness. Like love, forgiveness is a choice we may repeatedly when others have hurt us. We often want things to be quick and easy and one-time choices. Both love and forgiveness require a repeated act of the will to continue to do what is good for someone and to forgive them when the pain they’ve caused us comes to mind. This includes those people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. Or even harder, those people who are still in our lives, but serious damage has been done. Forgiveness is a part of dying to self in love.

Our example, as St. John reminds us, is Christ Himself who shows us the way of suffering in love and the power of forgiveness. His sacrifice for us is truly radical. It is through sacrifice that we are transformed and conformed to Him. Growth in love requires suffering from us. In fact, even though we fear suffering, it is our experiences of pain in our relationships with people that lead love to deepen. Forgiveness deepens our love for others and it mortifies the ego. It is why Christ gave up His life for us and came back to offer forgiveness. He’s showing us the way of love.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

Knowing Ourselves and the Battle for Objectivity

One of the greatest battles we face in the spiritual life is knowing and understanding ourselves. “Know thyself” appeared on the temple at Delphi in Ancient Greece. It’s influenced philosophy for centuries and it is an essential aspect of the spiritual life, as long as it is properly ordered to God and a life of holiness. This is not packaging for self-help. It is a very real struggle we all face as we enter more deeply into the life of God and progress on the path He has set out for us.

We often pride ourselves in being objective in our understanding of things, but in reality, more-often-than-not we are not nearly as objective as we believe ourselves to be. Human beings are complex. We deal with a whole host of competing factors from biology to environment to family background to personality traits to our own spiritual temperament and path to intense suffering. We are masters of self-deception. We often think we know ourselves better than we actually do, and worse, we often think we know more about other people than we do. This is something the saints have understood, which is why the vast majority of them had spiritual directors or regular confessors they relied on for objectivity and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

As our battle intensifies in order to grow in holiness and trials increase, we very quickly realize that things are not necessarily what we thought they are or they turn out in ways we didn’t expect. Christ works to shed light into the deepest darkest places within us and we find things we never consciously were aware of, hid, or never thought we’d confront. It is easy to look out at the world around us and point to that evil, but it is another thing to look to the evil within ourselves. That is the painful part. We’d rather look out there, but Christ is calling us to first purify our own hearts, so that we can love and serve Him and others.

The rise of social media and instant communication–for all of its goods, which vary–has given us a false sense of pride. A great many of us think we know more than we actually do and we go out of our way to tell other people when they are wrong. I was rather insufferable for years using social media. I still have days when I am not nearly as charitable as I am supposed to be, but I can look back on some of the years when I too lorded over people and truly regret doing so. Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on us and He has worked quite a bit in me during recent years.

A lot of the emails or comments I receive on my writing points to our lack of objectivity. I don’t expect people to agree with me all of the time. I certainly don’t agree with everything I read. I have blind-spots, make poor arguments, lack clarity, or there are times I’m sure that I am wrong. The problem is, the vast majority of the long ranting emails I receive are because a person has completely missed the point of my piece. The issue is always the same: They cannot be objective about the topic for some reason, but they can’t see it. The emails are always of a condescending tone. Some have called me a heretic others claim to be giving loving, but firm correction, as if we can possibly do that for someone we don’t know in person. The Holy Spirit is not calling any of us to be lord of the Internet. Fraternal correction is rarely successful on the Internet and for good reason. There is a difference between lively debate and ranting. Unfortunately, the difference is not as widely understood as it used to be.

If we have an emotional response to something, we are immediately compromised. It is very difficult once emotions take hold to form reasoned judgments. We have to wait for the emotions to subside. If they don’t, then we know we are not currently in the position to respond to something objectively. We all have areas of our lives, especially related to pain and suffering, when we cannot respond through a clear use of reason. Emotions play a very important part of our experience as human beings, but they are a poor indicator of what is going on in reality. They often cause us to become blind and to make or project assumptions onto other people. We all do this, but it is largely ineffective and can be destructive.

I struggle a great deal with rejection for a variety of reasons that I don’t want to go into here. I realized in recent months how much that hinders my ability to make objective judgements about situations at times. My Confessor even at one point told me that I have to stop projecting my feelings and emotions onto other people. He’s absolutely right. It’s unjust to do so, because it doesn’t allow me to see people as they are and only makes me see them through my own brokenness.

It also taught me an essential aspect of growing in holiness. In order to progress, we must be willing to truly confront every aspect of our souls, even the painful and dark places. We all have these places and Christ wishes to heal us and make us into the saints He desires us to be so that we can live in the love and communion of the Most Holy Trinity. We can’t enter into that communion fully and freely if we are hindered in any way. The path to holiness is the school of love. It’s where we learn to confront ourselves through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our relationship with Christ. If we refuse to confront ourselves and allow Christ to heal our brokenness, then we will not be able to learn to love as He loves.

The last two years of my life have been intense from a spiritual perspective. Something shifted for me when I made the decision to help a woman avoid an abortion while I was grieving a miscarriage. The Enemy took notice and the barrage he has sent my way has led me through battles I couldn’t ever have foreseen. It also means that I am at a point when I need a regular spiritual director. God made that plain to me. I need someone who can objectively help me work out the inner workings of my soul because I am a master of self-deception. It is difficult for me to understand a lot of things that are going on in my soul and in my relationships with others. I know this, which is why I constantly pray for clarity and I call out to Our Lord seeking His aid and asking Him to preserve me from self-deception.

We forget that we not only face the Fallen state of the flesh, we also struggle against the world, and spiritual attacks from the Enemy. It’s hard to tell what is what as we move up the holy mountain. That’s where spiritual direction and/or a regular Confessor (I’ve chosen both) becomes indispensable in the spiritual life. It’s why I tend to go to Confession with the same priest over-and-over again. It’s why I prayed for a spiritual director and God finally answered me recently with a first candidate. If we are serious about the spiritual life, then we have to be willing to go places we don’t want to go. Those places lie within our own hearts.

We should try to remember that everyone around us is waging a great battle. This is harder to see in the virtual world of the Internet, but we don’t know people as well as we think we do online. We cannot possibly know an author from one 1500 word essay and often we have blind-spots we aren’t willing to confront that keep us from understanding what they are trying to say. I experience the same thing when I read something that frustrates me or makes me feel uncomfortable. Far too often, I read things through my own limited understanding, which means that I am not objective. It’s why I rarely comment or email authors anymore unless it’s work related. I’ve commented once or twice on glaring theological errors because authors really should do their due diligence and study Church teaching before they hit publish. Souls are on the line.

I don’t mind so much when people rant at me. I laugh when people call me a heretic, because nothing could be further from the truth. I know that some people send me long emails because they are hurting and need to vent. I pray for all of them, especially the most vitriolic. I’ve gotten some nasty ones. I’d only remind people that before we hit send on anything in the virtual world or before we make a judgement about someone we see or know in our community, we should keep in mind that our feelings, thoughts, or understanding may in fact be erroneous. Our own pain or understanding often blinds us to reality.

This is why we need good spiritual guides, whether spiritual directors, spiritual friends, or trusted holy friends who can help us along the way. More than anything, we need the courage to ask Christ to show us who we are and who we are meant to be. The two will be different at this point in time. He will show us how things are supposed to be, but we must wage the battle to get there. Objectivity is a part of that battle and it is something that seems to come with wisdom, but even then we can never truly be sure we are correct in our assessments of other people or our own motives. The spiritual life is a life-long path that teaches us how to rely totally on Christ and to realize that our own understanding is often the wrong one and we must fall on prayer and guidance to begin to see reality as it truly is both in relation to ourselves and to others. This also provides all of us with a much needed lesson on humility.

**I just came across an essay over at Dominicana on the need to control our emotions in the spiritual life, especially as we grow in faith and union with God. Our feelings are not God. Our faith in God cannot be contingent upon the tumultuous roller coaster of emotions, nor can our understanding of reality. It’s a great battle we all have to wage. It’s not easy by any stretch and I’m no exception. It’s a great read! You can find it here.

Leading People to Christ Rarely Begins with Teaching Sexual Ethics

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Image taken from Wiki Commons.

As I scroll through my social media feed looking at the day’s news, I am struck by the sheer commonality of the sin of presumption on display. It appears that far too many of us–myself included at times–do not understand Our Lord’s admonition that we are not to judge other people. I don’t mean this as a form of secular tolerance, which is a form of relativism. I mean that we make actual assumptions and judgments about whole people–not behavior–constantly. This is one of the main reasons that dialogue and discourse devolves so quickly into ad hominem attacks online.

First, we cannot presume that we know someone or what they are going to do who we have only “met” online. Online communication only provides a glimpse into the complex lives of human beings. As I have written recently, authentic friendship requires something that social media cannot provide: presence. There is no way to fully come to know a person without spending time together in person at some point. The Internet provides the illusion of full connectivity, but really is only a shadow of communion.

In reality, we seldom know the deepest and most complex aspects of the people who are in our lives. Spouses, no matter how close, still largely remain a mystery to one another since they are still unique individuals–body and soul–who are united in the one-flesh union. God still works differently in each soul and that means by default that we are shrouded in mystery and depth, even though we assume that we know or understand another person completely. Even in the deepest of relationships both familial and fraternal, there are aspects of each human being that are only known by God.

This is something that should humble us when we encounter each person throughout our day. We are meeting another person made in the image and likeness of God who is capable of the greatest love and the most extreme wickedness. We all come from different backgrounds and life experiences. Our bodies with all of their marvels are also fraught with imbalance, weakness, and decay. Our souls must learn to strive to bring our bodies into right order and to put the spiritual goods above the bodily. We are both body and soul after all. We forget all of the factors at play in each individual’s life and in our own folly, we think we can fully know and understand another person.

This is the type of pride that leads to presumption. I’m not speaking of presumption of heaven here. I’m talking about presuming, or assuming, that we know what another person will do, think, say, or who they are as a person. I have been a part of so many online discussions and situations in person where I have assumed I knew what someone was going to do or that this person or that will always choose this way or that way. This type of thinking is extremely destructive in relationships.

More-often-than-not, our assumptions about other people are our own projections, prejudices, weaknesses, or judgments because we don’t agree with the other person. Disagreement is fine and good, judging a whole person and discarding them based on pre-conceived notions is wrong. Even if someone commits grave evil, we still have an obligation to learn to forgive and love them as ourselves. This doesn’t mean they will necessarily be a close friend or family member, but it does mean that we discard any judgment we harbor that belongs to God. We can say objectively that a behavior is sinful, but we don’t discard people simply because of sinful behavior. By God’s grace, anyone can undergo conversion of heart. We also don’t assume that people will always choose evil, or will always make the same mistakes, or that they are a lost cause. This is to give up hope, which is the sin of despair.

I was reading a thread this morning talking about the friendship between Robert George and Fr. James Martin, which got me thinking about both presumption and how much preaching sexual ethics primarily is a misguided form of evangelization. I largely disagree with the ambiguity in Fr. Martin’s teaching. I think lack of clarity is dangerous and that charity demands that we clearly and proudly proclaim the truth Christ has revealed to us. Even so, my disagreement with Fr. Martin is about his ideas and his teaching. I do not discard him as a person and pass judgment upon him. I have no idea what he will do or say in the future.

As I read this thread, people were complaining that Dr. George’s befriending Fr. Martin was a waste of time. ‘He clearly ignores Church teaching and George will be made to look a fool when Martin comes out openly supporting “same sex marriage.” To be fair to Fr. Martin, his ambiguity has kept him from outright heterodoxy. He makes the typical mistake in a misguided approach to accompaniment in thinking that compassion equates to confirming identity politics and that telling people outright the truth is hurtful. Christ wouldn’t agree with him. Any cursory reading of the Gospels makes this clear.

It is fine to disagree with Fr. Martin–I do–it is another to presume that he will become an outride heretic in the future, which is what I read this morning. He is already being judged by the court of social media. Our Faith should teach us something very important about this life. Our conversion and the conversion of everyone else on this planet is always a work in progress. Saul persecuted Christians and then had a radical encounter with Christ and became St. Paul. St. Augustine lived the live of debauchery and sexual immorality and became a Doctor of the Church. Sexual immorality doesn’t preclude conversion. Just because our sins are not the same as our neighbor’s does not mean that conversion is impossible for them.

I suspect Fr. Martin is making the same evangelical mistake that those who oppose him on the right make in trying to convert the culture. That is, assuming that talking about sex is going to lead to conversion. Nobody reads the Bible and thinks “I get it. I need to temper my sex life!” to borrow from the thinking of Bishop Robert Barron, whose understanding of evangelization is similar to my own. You don’t lead with sexual ethics. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work and there’s a reason why it doesn’t work.

Christianity is not primarily a system of ethics. It is about an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who has given the world a Church, the Catholic Church. This encounter with Christ draws people into the life of the Church, which requires each person to completely upend their lives. Becoming a Christian is deeply demanding and enters into every single aspect of our lives. Conversion starts with an encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, once we are in love with Him and desire to give our lives to Him, we can begin to see where we need to change our lives to be conformed and in communion with Him.

Without this encounter and deep friendship with God, our faith becomes stale, oppressive, and heavy. Our love of God will show us how to live sexual morality and to do it in self-emptying love, even though it can be difficult. Without this encounter Christianity becomes a list of rules to check off, which often is an empty shell. Faith is dynamic. It dramatically changes our lives for the better, but we can’t convince people of this truth unless they come to know Christ first and sexual ethics in light of the love they have for Christ.

Everyone who obsesses about Fr. Martin and who presumes to be able to read his soul–which is a rather large sin–gets pulled into this same mistake. Reaching people who are struggling with all forms of sexual sin–homosexuality is not somehow worse morally than other sexual sins such as adultery or heterosexual fornication–is never going to happen if we aren’t leading with Christ. He is the only one who can help us conquer the darkness and weakness within each one of us. Falling in love with Him is what gives us the strength and grace we need to move past our sins. It’s a life-long process, but if we never introduce people to the saving message of the Gospel, then they can’t see a way out and it seems impossible to overcome something that appears at first glance to be so tied to our identity.

Christ is risen! We have been saved by the power of the Paschal Mystery and we are spiritually fed in the Holy Eucharist, which is Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity. When we fall–which we will do repeatedly–we can go to the Sacrament of Confession to be forgiven, to learn more about ourselves, and to be made new. Everyone can in fact be a saint by God’s grace. That is the universal call for each and every single person and that desires is enkindled by coming to love God and to accept the infinite love that He pours out on each one of us day-in-and-day-out.

Sometimes our sins seem impossible and the battles we wage spiritually and bodily are so intense that we think we cannot get back up ever again, or we have convinced ourselves that we are incapable of change or progress, and that God made us a certain way and that’s the way it is. These are the lies of the Enemy and the lies we tell ourselves. He is the radiant Truth in the face of these lies. Christ is the answer. He is the answer to the deepest longings of our hearts. He is the One who leads us through the storms of life and who strengthens us in the battles we must wage.

This life is the Cross, but it is lived in the hope and joy found in Him. In the immense joy and peace He offers. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, hurt, have dry spells or dark nights, be greatly tempted, sin and fall, but it does mean we will persevere and that one day we will enter into the communion of the Most Holy Trinity. It means that we will become who He made us to be. Our weaknesses, sins, temptations, proclivities, etc. have been washed in His blood and in the end we will be as pure as snow if we follow Him. That’s the hope we offer to a dying world. Teaching sexual morality is essential for helping people to learn how to live as a Catholic, but we need to lead people to Christ first. Nobody died a martyr purely for sexual ethics. They died for love of Jesus Christ, so why aren’t we lifting Him up and drawing people to Him?

Confronting Hard Truths About Facebook and Myself

Anyone who has been reading my blog over the last couple of years knows that I battle being addicted to Facebook. Yes, addicted. I think a lot of people are addicted, but we don’t like to admit it, myself included. Social media is a part of the post-modern experience. At face value it is indeed a good. It allows us to connect worldwide in real-time and to reconnect with people from our past. It is a blessing to see how people we knew decades before are doing at this point in their lives. All of this is good, but I think we  need to be honest with ourselves about a few things.

We live in a lonely culture.

We are able to connect in real-time, and yet, we are more lonely now than ever before. We can spend hours engaged in discussions, arguments, or reading news feeds, but feel completely and utterly disconnected. A computer screen does not provide the needed interaction of authentic relationship with a person who is present to us fully. We can get a million “Likes” to something and it will not put a dent in that loneliness or sense of isolation. In reality, deep down, we realize that our Facebook friends are more of a type of acquaintance than true friendship. Our Facebook friends may offer us prayers and kind thoughts during difficult times, but only a few of them will walk into the darkness with us. This is, of course, human  nature. We avoid suffering at all costs. As painful as it is, we have to acknowledge that we are in a sort of shadow relationship with our Facebook friends. We are social beings by nature. We need community, but authentic community in which we interact with people in person and engage in relationships with those people.

We have stopped listening to one another.

Listening is something we all struggle to do in our interactions. In our pride, we want to have an immediate response at the ready before considering all of the information being presented. We already have our ideas, preconceived notions, and biases at the ready. We also desire to protect ourselves from any perceived attack, even if it is meant merely as a charitable reminder or correction. We all seem to do this in both social media and in our daily relationships.

The problem with this lack of listening in social media is that it is dividing us even more with each passing day. When we begin a discussion with someone–whether a friend or a stranger–we do not meet on even ground. There is no mutual understanding or defining of terms. I have discovered that discussions go much more smoothly if they are entered into with an understanding of mutual respect and a clear defining of terms to be used. If we enter into a conversation in social media with someone without these two principles in place, the conversation will devolve very quickly. It then turns into a group of people ganging up on one person or one person ranting and raving at the others or a whole host of other problematic situations will occur. Ad hominems, presumptions, misunderstandings, and irrationality inevitably take over the whole conversation.

Facebook and the like allow us to talk, and talk, and talk. We have a platform and we use it. It is hard to admit to ourselves that in reality, nobody cares, or if they do, it is not that much. A passing “Like”, emoji, or thumbs up does not equate to genuine concern or interest. Typically we “Like” and move on to “Like” a dozen more things before shutting off social media for a few minutes and then reaching for our phone again or laptop.

We do not appeal to prudence.

The Queen of the Virtues is prudence. She is the most important of the cardinal virtues for all of the other cardinal virtues flow from her. Prudence means truly discerning how to respond in a situation. Think of prudence in relation to wisdom. For a Catholic, this includes considering God’s will or proper responses in a given situation. We cannot be just if we are not prudent. True justice is founded on prudence and charity. We cannot be truly courageous if we are not prudent, because we may get ourselves killed in the process. We cannot be temperate if we do not first understand prudent choices, because the Passions would like nothing more than to have free run of our lives. Prudence is the crucial habit that needs to be learned in virtuous living and in going deeper into the spiritual life.

Social media is almost the anti-thesis of prudence. We say whatever comes to mind without any appeal to prudence. Yes, we are all works in progress, including myself. We are all sinners, but that is not a get out of jail free card or an excuse. We know better, so we acknowledge our weakness, but we don’t justify it. I often lack prudence and it always gets me into trouble. As Catholics, we do not have a right to do and say whatever we want. We are obliged–through the gift of the supernatural virtues–to learn the habit of prudence. Not every comment on Facebook we disagree with needs to be responded to. I am talking to myself here too. I am a work in progress, so please keep in mind this is not some kind of morally superior lecture. I am right there in the gutters with everyone else. These are merely insights I have gained from my own broken, and at times, sinful use of social media. Not every thought that comes to our heads needs to go out into cyberspace. We do have an obligation to consider how our thoughts and actions will impact the people around us.

Does social media help me on the path to holiness?

All of these insights come down to the main question that I must ask myself as someone who is clearly addicted to Facebook. This is the same question we must all ask ourselves in every moment of the day. Will this X, Y, or Z help me attain holiness? Some people are masters of properly ordering social media and they are able to use it for God’s purposes. I know that I am not one of those people. God has made it plain to me, and yet, in my shame and weakness I persist. Internet usage is a constant in my regular Confessions. Unequivocally Facebook does not help me on the path to holiness. It is a hindrance. It makes me think too much about myself and my own thoughts, which are not nearly as exciting as they seem in my head or in black letters glowing on my computer screen. Nobody cares! I am going to tell myself this again: NOBODY CARES! There I said it. What a relief!

I think that far too many Catholics do not understand that our mission is holiness. The meaning of our lives is to become a saint. That is not a goal reserved for a lofty few. It is the end for which all of us are created. If we approach our daily living from this standpoint we would begin, by God’s grace, to order our lives to that purpose. I know this truth, but there are times I fall into habits that take me away from that mission. Facebook takes me away from my vocation and the mission. I have asked God to make me a saint and that means relinquishing my will to His will. He has asked me to cease and desist Facebook. I will not progress, and I may back slip, if I do not take heed.

Facebook can become a near occasion of sin.

Facebook is a near occasion of sin for me because of the incessant outrage. The constant need to be angry or upset about something, anything. The onslaught of news and division can be downright overwhelming. This is a distraction aimed at keeping us from focusing on Christ and the mission of bringing the world to Him. The world has been a horrifying, bloodthirsty, and violent place since the Fall. The Bible and human history are filled with humanity’s evil, stupidity, arrogance, blindness, and depravity. We have been wounded by the Fall and we live in a world that struggles with sin. We still wait for the Second Coming of Our Lord at any moment. That is one of the main purposes of Advent. To remind us to wake up! Christ will come again and we do not know the hour, so be alert!

Spending hours upon hours dwelling on the Fallen world is not good for me and I would argue it is not good for anyone. I worry about some of my Facebook friends. I see their loneliness. I know their loneliness. I see their pain and struggles. They may not realize that I see them.We reach out for human interaction for someone to “see” us and our pain, but Facebook does not provide the needed compassion and charity. My Facebook friends cannot truly see my grief and pain. The tears I shed on a nearly daily basis as I grieve my lost babies and struggle to accept my infertility do not appear in my newsfeed. A crying emoji wouldn’t quite do justice to my struggles. They do not sense the ache I feel at all of their children and pregnancy announcements. Not because I am envious, although I have my moments, but because I am a mother who wants to love more children.

I know deep down most–not all–of my Facebook friends do not truly see me, understand me, or love me as a friend is meant to love. I think this is something we all need to acknowledge and accept. This is understandable. We are no longer in the same place in our lives or geographically. Facebook allows for facades and the pretense of everything is dandy and fine. Nobody wants a “downer” to share what it is really like in periods of intense grief. It is an illusion and that is precisely why so many people are lonely and feel empty in a world of immediate connection.

I struggle like a lot of people to use Facebook properly. I have not mastered prudence enough to be temperate in my Facebook usage. Another sign that I am stumbling up the path with everyone else. Have you considered your own social media interactions and usage? Is it a hindrance or a good for you on the path to deeper communion with Christ? I think we all need to pray for God to help us develop the habit of considering every element in our lives through our eschatological purpose, which is to be a saint, so that we can enter into full communion with the Blessed Trinity at the end of our lives.

Holiness: What Really Helped Me Leave Facebook, Again

I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.

To My Dear Facebook Friends,
 
I just had one of those jaw dropping (to me) moments of clear prodding from God. They don’t happen often, so He’s clearly trying to get my attention. During Mass I was contemplating all of the distractions in my life and how I had allowed Facebook to really distract me again. I was thinking about the things I need to do to help Michaela, my husband, and me on the path to holiness, especially in light of this Sunday’s Gospel reading which focuses on eschatology. I then thought about how I wanted to do prayers and read to Michaela this evening (yes my mind wandered a bit…I am a work in progress. 😉 when we got home. The book that came to mind is a children’s book called The Weight of One Mass. I bought it at a Catholic bookstore in MT when I was visiting this past summer. I really enjoy it, but it is not one Michaela usually picks. We haven’t read it in months and I chose it every time we’ve read it. We got home and after dinner I told her to go pick a book for us to read together. I kid you not, she walked out with The Weight of One Mass. Okay, Lord. I hear you. It’s time to pull the plug on Facebook and other distractions in order to focus on holiness.
 
There’s a lot of turmoil and anger in social media right now. The world is Fallen and full of suffering. It has always been this way and will continue to be so until the Parousia (Second Coming). The only way we transform the temporal order and fulfill our ontological and eschatological end is holiness. We can argue, battle it out, demonize one another, scream, rant, rave, plot our vengeance, and stomp our feet, but it accomplishes nothing. People are so charged, angry, and blinded right now that reasoned pleas for civil discussion are ignored and vilified. People have quite literally lost their minds.
 
Evangelization in the post-modern era poses unique difficulties. As I pointed out earlier today, we are no longer evangelizing peoples who worship gods outside of themselves, such as elements of nature. Today’s gods are ourselves. We are in a battle against billions of people who think they themselves are god. That truth is set by the individual; dependent entirely on their feelings and emotions, not reason and rational thinking. This leaves us to the whims of our neighbors beholden to their desire to be worshiped no matter what they do. This is dangerous and destructive. Remember this years from now when this thinking fails in tremendous and tragic ways. This is the dictatorship of relativism and the impacts of nihilism on our culture. We are seeing it on full display now.
 
How do we reach people who worship themselves? Something Christians all need to ponder very seriously. The mission is the same no matter who is in power or what happens in the future. We are called to be saints, even if our family, friends, neighbors, etc. give us over to be fed to the lions. We live our faith in truth, charity, and hope. Holiness is infectious. If we fulfill our mission and work to become holy saints, then others will be attracted to the joy, peace, and love of God within us. Once we encounter the Living God, truly encounter Him, the moral issues fall into place because we see as God sees rather than how *we* want to see. It makes little sense to many now, but the Cross is hope. Sacrifice is freedom. I had to walk in tremendous darkness before I could fully see it and I am still only beginning to get the paradox. In reality we can only grasp in faith at paradox, but we still have a deep understanding through the eyes of faith.
 
I write about holiness and the call to sainthood a lot, even though I fail daily. But our parish priest’s Homily was exactly on this topic tonight. Too many “coincidences” not to be the Holy Spirit prodding me to relinquish my grip on my distractions. I need to focus on personal holiness and my family. I will check in again at some point, but sparingly. I will continue to pray for all of you. Good-bye for the present. Take good care of yourselves. Pax Christi.
 
Love,
Constance

Things to Remember in Reading Commentary on Amoris Laetitia

Once again, as happens with every document Pope Francis writes and promulgates, there is a mad rush to make commentary on Amoris Laetitia. I won’t comment on my thoughts on prudence and taking time to prayerfully read a document first before unleashing fury all over the Internet. I myself have not had time to read the document, but I have read the last two, and the responses in social media have all been the same. Some people panic, others misread, misuse, and turn them into ideological weapons, some provide insightful thoughts, and many don’t even realize the Pope wrote a document in the first place.

AL is the wrap up document of the contentious Synod on the Family. As happens with Synods, the Pope writes an Apostolic Exhortation or other papal document as a type of summation and wrapping up of what was gleaned from a particular Synod. This is not encyclical, motu proprio, or bull. There are no juridicial changes, doctrinal changes, or amendments to Canon Law within its pages. So from that knowledge alone people should put their pitchforks down and take a step back on all “sides”.

There is an obsession with this Pope that I have not observed in my short 35 years on this earth. It betrays a complete lack of understanding by the media and a lot of Catholics as to the role of the Supreme Pontiff. Hanging on his every word seems to be creating a disordered obsession with him in which people are turning to sinful anger or sinful license. I will address this issue at a later date. My only point now is there is a major need for balance. Here are a few suggestions in reading commentary on AL.

  1. The Church has always been divided by factions, sin, division, heresies, and calls to conform to the world. The Mystical Body is given life by the Holy Spirit, but it is lived through sinful men and women, including those who have fallen into relativism (no this is not pointed towards Pope Francis, so don’t read into it in that manner).
  2. Most of the great theologians of the Church have in fact not been Popes. Think St. Paul, St. John, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Athanasius, etc. The last few decades the Church has had a springtime of Popes who excel in philosophy and theology. This isn’t the norm throughout the ages. The Church is filled with individuals with different gifts. That means not every bishop or cardinal is a great theologian. You cannot compare the intellects of Francis and Benedict XVI, for instance. They differ in approach, understanding, and gifts from God. Do not read Francis’ documents in the same manner as B16’s. Francis is not a systematic writer, like his two predecessors. Yes, this poses challenges during this age of social media.
  3. Ignore secular media coverage. The secular world reporting on Catholic affairs is like asking a person who only speaks English to translate Chinese without ever having studied the language.
  4. There are ideologically driven Catholic writers all over the place. Keep that in mind when reading commentary. There will be those who say divorced and re-married can all take Holy Communion now (this is false) or those who say this Pope is the worst in our history the world is coming to an end (also false). Be leery of those sowing seeds of division. Division is a sign of sin and ideology.  Caution is fine, division and sinful anger are not.
  5. Prayerfully read the document for yourself. If there is something that seems unclear or confusing, pull out your Catechism or read other Church documents, Familiaris Consortio for instance, to help clarify things for you. St. John Paul II really is a go to source for understanding marriage and family life in a theological and philosophical manner. Yes, his phenomenological approach can be difficult, but many orthodox sources have made Theology of the Body more accessible for the Church.
  6. Yes, modernism is a heresy within the Church today. It will take decades, if not centuries, to root it out. Study Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Arianism if you want to better understand the longevity and virulence of certain heresies. It is clear that individuals within the hierarchy and the laity have fallen prey to the Siren calls of modernism and relativism. What I mean by modernism is the idea that the Church must conform to the world, mainly Western culture. The constant battle for the Church is to avoid turning a small truth into the whole truth. For instance, human sexuality and marriage are gifts and we are sinful human beings, but this is not the entirety of our faith. The Faith rests in the glorified Christ in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is the life of the Trinity that is our end, every other aspect of the Faith must be seen in light of the Triune communion.
  7. The Church survives and continues on while we sinful creatures do our best to destroy her with our sins, including institutional sin. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and the mission of holiness. Do not allow commentary rob you of joy and peace.
  8. Take a break from social media if you feel sinful anger coming on. There is no sense falling into sin by reading comboxes and commentary that is not meant to lead others to truth and the Faith. What we think is righteous anger very often is, or becomes sinful the more we allow it to consume us. The Passions are difficult to control, so walk away.
  9. Yes, ambiguity in language is frustrating. There has been ambiguity in this papacy. It’s okay to acknowledge the frustration, but it’s not acceptable to turn to sinful anger. Pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the world. Pray that the light of the Holy Spirit may bring souls into the Church and true conversions.
  10. Keep living the mission. Our mission, sealed in our baptism is to live the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ in order to bring the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity. That is theological speak for living holy lives, loving and serving one another, and fixing our eyes on Heaven. You and I have very little control over what happens in Rome or how things are received by the world in media. All we can do is live the mission God has given us. Each us has a unique mission for the Kingdom. For most of us it is to live our Faith within our sphere of influence, wherever that may be. For some it is a pulpit or social media platform that reaches millions, for most of us, it is simply to lead our children to God and our neighbors. Let’s all keep things in perspective and live our mission.
  11. Be prudent in discussing these matters with others. Don’t advise others in a manner that could lead them to sin or you to sin. Most of us are not experts and even with a graduate level education in progress in Theology, I realize daily just how little I know or understand about it all. Prudence is the least sought after virtue, and yet, the  most important. I struggle with it too. A LOT!
  12. Look for the good, beautiful, and true in the document and incorporate it into your life. Any ambiguity can be answered in light of Tradition, so breathe. Yes, it is disconcerting to see the Faith disfigured and distorted by those who turn AL into ideology, all we can do is share the truth, pray, and fast.

May Our Lord bless you and give you the peace that surpasses all understanding throughout this Easter season. Pax Christi.