Calluses and dusty prayer

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A truly humble person ought to be ashamed to resent whatever is said or done against him; for it is the greatest shame in the world to see that our Creator bears so many insults from His creatures, and that we resent even a little word that is contradictory. – St. Teresa of Avila

My spiritual director back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was the most important mentor I have had in my life. He walked me through the “valley of the shadow of death,” and helped me discover hope. And he was a saintly priest who exemplified charity and humility in the most amazing ways.

He was a parish priest whose first love was being a pastor. Part of his priestly ministry in the latter years of his life was to take into his rectory priests who had grown bitter or burned out, and love them back to life. * Every morning, when I would stay overnight at his rectory, I would see him already praying in the tiny rectory chapel at 5:00 a.m. Often he would be holding the parish directory, which he kept next to his Breviary to pray for his parishioners by name. * It was his personal philosophy to not own a car that was better than those owned by his poorest parishioners. * I was with him once when he got pulled over by a cop for speeding. The officer offered to waive his traffic violation ticket when he noticed he was a priest. He said, “No, I’m a priest not a prince. Why should I get any perks my people do not?” I think the cop got choked up. He followed through with that philosophy through on everything. * He would wander around the neighborhoods of his parish territory several mornings a week and enter bars, clothing stores, restaurants, car repair shops — the haunts of his people — and speak with them, joke with them, bless them, hear their confessions on the spot or gently ask them why they have not been at church recently. Long before Catholics Come Home, he was already in the streets seeking the strays. * Once he said to me about his own prayer life, devoid of sweetness, “Tom, I have eaten dust in my prayer for 20 years. But [he said with a wry smile] it’s my own fault. I pray each day that God give me the grace ‘to give and not to count the cost,’ and He answered my prayer. Be ready when you ask for a grace to receive it.”

Though his prayer may have been bitter, the fruits born in his life and ministry were sweeter than honey. What a marvelous and mysterious exchange love effects! Long before Pope Francis, he was a missionary of mercy. It was all a wonder to see.

I would write down his aphorisms in my journal to pray on later. So many! Each was like open heart surgery. Let me share four today that were on humility.

Remember Tom that once you think you’re humble, you’ve lost it. Humility forgets it’s even there.

The best litmus test of humility is how you take criticism. Yes, you’re so humble, Tom, when everyone praises you, likes you, affirms you. Yes, you deflect those things. But if you are honest, you know you secretly feed on them. But the moment someone criticizes you, disapproves of your behavior or opinion, you throw up walls, protests. You’ll know you’re humble when praise and blame are both equally welcome. In the mean time, make your lack of humility a cause for humility!

When I came to my parish here, the secretary, who had been here for over 20 years, gave me this advice: “Father, let the people know no job is to low for you and you’ll have their trust. Let them see you clean toilets now and again.” There’s a terrible clerical saying — “These hands were made for chalices not calluses.” But Jesus, His hands would have been hard and worn.

Whenever anyone compliments you on any one of your gifts or talents, say to yourself: “How much God must love them to give me these gifts.” Because it’s not about you, Tom.

The Law of Love

love-01

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I remember the day when I first heard love defined. I always imagined it was one of those fuzzy things that evaded definition.

It happened in my moral theology class. The professor, as I recalled in my journal, was responding to this question from a student: “In what sense can morality be said to be the science and art of love? The moral law seems too cold for love.” He replied by making a number of points about love:

Love means to consistently will and otherwise choose the true good of another, and morality specifies what the good is and how best to bring it about. Aquinas says it this way, “An act of love always tends toward two things: to the good that one wills, and to the person for whom one wills it; since to love a person is to wish that person good.” Law, which is the concrete expression of the demands of justice, grounds and guards love, and points the way “beyond” for love to go, since love always goes beyond justice, though never against it … To “love your neighbor as yourself” means you see their flourishing as your own. So St. Paul’s commands us in Romans 12, “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” and then tells us in 1 Corinthians 12, “If one member of Christ’s Body suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” And the Jews have a saying, “If you save one life you save the whole world” — because everyone’s salvation demands the salvation of all … But fulfilling the command to love God is somewhat different. It cannot mean willing and choosing His fulfillment, as He is purely actualized fulfillment. He always is everything He can be. Rather, to love God can only mean loving what God loves, willing what He wills. Which is, of course, the fulfillment of our neighbor, which brings us back full circle to the two commandments Jesus tells us are two halves of a whole.

I was absolutely ecstatic to have such conceptual clarity, and so much seemed to suddenly make sense. The connection between love and the moral law, love of neighbor and self, and love of God — all part of a symphonic unity. Christians must reclaim the word love so it does not remain simply an empty cipher susceptible to any meaning given it, and they must put it into action in their lives to show just how beautiful it is.

He went on to add an additional insight on love. He said, “The Second Vatican Council, under the influence of Karol Wojtyła, further enriched our understanding of love. He said that love is not simply the detached willing another’s good, external to ourselves, but the offering of the very gift of self to another.” Then he quoted Gaudium et Spes #24, adding that Wojtyła likely was a major inspiration behind its language:

For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: “If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself…. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.

Then he quoted 1 Thess. 2:8: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves [tas heautōn psychas], because you had become very dear to us.” That’s the essential meaning of communion and covenant: an exchange of selves offered in love sealed by a promise of trusting fidelity. It’s why marriage — as I often say — is the foundation of all social and ecclesial life, and the primordial icon of neighbor love in extremis, “in its most extreme form.” Society and the Church flourish only when marriage, and the family life built on it, flourishes.

Back in January a friend came to visit us from out of town for a few days and she showed us this 9 minute movie that knocked our socks off. It captures in such a moving way the heart of what Aquinas and Wojtyła convey with such abstract precision. I posted it the other day, but just in case you did not watch it before, I encourage you to watch it now. Again, it’s about 9 minutes long:

The Duty to Smile

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Repost 2014

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” — Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

Here’s some advice I got many years ago from my grandfather, purveyor of wisdom and writer of handwritten letters to his young grandson:

…One of the most important things you will do every day of your life is leave the world a better place than you found it. If you can say at the end of each day you lightened someone’s burden, you can say more than most. Our world has come to worship the Ego, the unholy trinity of me, my and mine. “I” is the new Tower of Babel. But you have to be better, Tommy. Take the road less traveled … You’ll always have reasons to complain or be bitter. Save those for God or a trusted friend. Don’t poison the air. Be known as “that man who lifts you up” and not as “that man who brings you down.” … Cynics take pleasure in dashing others’ hope to medicate their own misery and despair, for misery does love company. But the wise man takes pleasure in helping others exit the Cave of shadows to find hope … To make the world better you don’t have to feel like making it better. Just do better. You’ll get it back a hundredfold … Helping others find their way you possess a wealth far surpassing self-esteem. You possess self-respect …

When I recently read this article on the Jewish Talmud by Dennis Prager, I found the resonance remarkable…

As the Talmud tells us, “It is not the thought that counts, but the deed.”

This is truly a Jewish idea. I first realized this many years ago when a non-Jewish middle-aged caller to my radio show sorrowfully related to me that he thought he was a terrible son. He explained that for the previous 10 years he had been the sole financial and emotional support of his ailing mother — and sometimes, he confided to me, the burden was so heavy that he wished she would finally succumb to her illnesses.

When I told him that I thought he was one of the most wonderful sons I had ever had the honor of speaking to, he thought I was mocking him. He couldn’t believe that I was serious. But I was. I explained to him that it is completely irrelevant what he sometimes feels or wishes. What matters is how beautifully he has acted toward his mother all these years.

This should be the guiding principle of our views on virtually every subject.

The self-esteem movement has largely been a moral and emotional disaster. It was produced by people who, among other mistaken ideas, believed that feelings were more important than actions. Thus, no matter how little children may accomplish, they are still to be rewarded with medals, trophies, lavish praise, etc. The result is that they deem how they feel about themselves as being of greater importance than how they act.

In a math competition with students from other industrialized democracies, American students came in last. But they came in first in self-esteem about their knowledge of math. And the prominent criminologist and professor of psychology, Roy Baumeister, has often noted that no group has higher self-esteem than violent criminals.

The Torah commands us to tithe our income. Neither the Torah nor later Judaism ever cared whether our heart is in it. We are commanded to give whether or not we feel like giving. Tzedakah — which is translated as “charity,” but it is in fact the feminine form of “justice” — helps the needy. And people who are in need prefer to receive $100 from one who feels religiously obligated to give, rather than than $5 from one whose heart prompts him to give $5.

In decades of lecturing, writing and broadcasting on the subject of happiness, my two central premises have come from this Jewish teaching that behavior is what matters most. The first premise is that if we act happy, we are far more likely to feel happy. The second is that we all owe everyone in our lives not to inflict our unhappy feelings on them. With few exceptions, no matter how we feel, we have a moral obligation to act with a happy disposition.

For whatever reason, this is the song that comes to mind now — below the video are the lyrics:

Here under heaven’s eyes
Down under paradise
Sometimes it seems like we’re so small
Here on the shores that reach into infinity

How could we matter much at all?
Would it be enough
If each of us would give our love?

Like sand on a mountain
Rain on a fountain
Shade on a shadow
A breeze in this tornado

Just do what you can
Clap with one hand
And shine all your light in the sun
We live to learn to love

Oh, mercy from above
Amazing grace, like rain comes falling down
We sing our hearts to you
Our song of gratitude

The voice of every soul
How sweet the sound
We can only trust
All our prayers will all add up

Like sand on a mountain
Rain on a fountain
Shade on a shadow
A breeze in this tornado

Just do what you can
Clap with one hand
And shine all your light in the sun
Would it be enough

If each of us would give our love?
Like sand on a mountain
Rain on a fountain
Shade on a shadow
A breeze in this tornado

Just do what you can
Clap with one hand
And shine all your light in the sun

Affair of the Mind

I am re-posting this 2013 piece because in the last two weeks I caught news of three different men who are porn addicts, each of whom are connected to people I know. One lost his wife and children because of it and is still addicted. Another is married and hides it from his wife. The third is a single man who lives in a cycle of shame and dependency.

Taken from townnews.com

Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials. — CCC #2354

I spoke with a woman recently whose husband had indulged in pornography for several years of their marriage. She gave me permission to share the general lines of her story.

It was crushing to listen to the pain she suffered.

What stood out most to me as she recounted its disastrous effects on their marriage was this point she made:

What suffered in me most was my sense of personal worth and dignity. I felt demeaned and betrayed … The greatest harm was the near total erosion of trust and the terrible feeling of always being insecure and worthless. I was clearly not enough for him … Having accidentally happened on some of the filth he’d been viewing on his laptop gave me a shocking awareness of just how vile and repulsive the images and sounds were. So then I knew this was what was in his mind every time he looked at me. Once I discovered it, his every gesture toward physical intimacy with me made me physically nauseous. Once I vomited. When you expose your body to your husband, it’s an act of trust. You believe it will be received and looked at with love.

Eventually her husband got help in a 12-step sex-addict program. She forgave him. He has worked mightily, she said, to rebuilt trust and their marriage has been renewed. She said they practiced abstinence after his recovery for many months before she felt ready for any physical imtimacy, and his willingess to wait and still be affectionate and gentle proved to her he again loved her with the honor due.

I could not stop thinking about it over the next several days. I collected various thoughts in my journal. Here are some:

In a Christian culture men are gentlemen, careful to honor the dignity of each woman and promote her feminine genius. JP2 says that every man is called to be a new St. Joseph, “to be a protector of every woman’s honor and dignity.” Men must honor every woman because their dignity is inalienable, infinite, and every woman is held in supreme honor in the mind and heart of God.

The statistics show that a staggaring percentage of men, and growing percentage of women, consume pornography regularly. By 2017, a quarter of a billion people are expected to be accessing mobile adult content from their phones or tablets, an increase of more than 30% from 2013. Porn use breeds isolation and self-absorbtion, trivializes and degrades the sexual act, crushing underfoot its beauty as a covenant sign. It rewires the brain with an addict’s neuro-grid and enslaves the imagination. As theologian David Hart says well:

The damage that pornography can do — to minds or cultures — is not by any means negligible. Especially in our modern age of passive entertainment, saturated as we are by an unending storm of noises and images and barren prattle, portrayals of violence or of sexual degradation possess a remarkable power to permeate, shape, and deprave the imagination; and the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character. Anyone who would claim that constant or even regular exposure to pornography does not affect a person at the profoundest level of consciousness is either singularly stupid or singularly degenerate.

I once wrote an email to an acquaintance, a Catholic married man who struggled with porn addiction. I remember agonizing over how to respond to his honest and tortured confession. Among other things, I wrote:

God loved your wife before you ever did, and He loves from all eternity each and every one of those women who are exploited in porn. High price for a cheap thrill. God loves them far more than you or I ever could, and will judge us one day on how we handled these pearls of great price, i.e. His daughters.

Along with links to resources for overcoming addiction, I included in the email Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of Adam. Under the picture, I wrote:

Note who’s held tight under the arm of God as he creates Adam. It’s the woman, Eve, whom God has not yet drawn from Adam’s side and entrusted to Him as His gift and image. She is still God’s dream awaiting creation … Pope John Paul II has a powerful comment in a letter he wrote on the dignity of women (Mulieris dignitatem) to this effect: “The dignity and the vocation of women find their eternal source in the heart of God. Consequently each man must look within himself to see whether she who was entrusted to him as a sister in humanity has not become in his heart an object of adultery; to see whether she who, in different ways, is the co-subject of his existence in the world, has not become for him an ‘object’ — an object of pleasure, of exploitation. Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.” In invite you, my friend, to join the protest.

Sub specie aeternitatis — under the light of eternity — one sees everything differently.

Porn culture calls for the evangelization of imagination, which means the purification of imagination — not merely by a renunciation of pornography’s graven images, but by an encounter with icons that uncover the true dignity and beauty of the human body that was created to glorify God.

Christian gentlemen stand on the front lines of the New Evangelization. Let God’s chivalrous revolution, once conceived in the eternity of a Father’s heart, begin in time. Now. In you.

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Forget about me, I love you.

“Resurrection,” Piero della Francesca (1422-1492). historyofpainters.com

Easter Monday. Second day of the Octave, i.e. the eight days of the Eighth Day. The day God laughed, as my wife loves to say. Bright Monday, as they call it in the East.

I want to offer a simple insight today, which encapsulates the entire purpose of God’s saving economy that crescendos in the Resurrection of Christ: to restore the human family to a community of love. The family is the privileged locus where humanity learns the contours of a civilization built on love. In the words of St. John Paul II:

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.

To make this point with a touch of oomph, let me share with you the second video I made of Fr. Stan Fortuna, CFR back in Lent. I asked him to offer a message for my children, and this is what he came up with. Short and sweet ( note the family acronym, and my bumbling enthusiasm):

A linguistic Lent

I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. – Matthew 12:36-37

My spiritual director once advised me to attend to my use of words during Lent. I was to reflect at the end of each day how I had used my words either to reveal or conceal God. I was also to pray each morning asking God to use my words to good effect throughout the day. He cited Pythagoras’ famous saying: “Be silent, or say something better than silence,” saying this was a good rule to live by. He gave me four pithy Scriptural texts for evaluating my speech:

Matthew 5:37: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Ephesians 4:29: “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”

James 3:1: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.”

Luke 12:2-3: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”

The first quote was to remind me to avoid deception and duplicity, and practice truthful sincerity. The second counseled me to use my words for building others up and conveying grace. The third placed in stark relief my high calling as a teacher who will have to give an account on the Day of Judgment for how I used my influence and walked my talk. The fourth is about the radically public nature of all words and deeds. Sirach 23:18-19 makes a similar point:

The man who dishonors his marriage bed
says to himself, “Who can see me?
Darkness surrounds me, walls hide me,
no one sees me. Who can stop me from sinning?”
He is not mindful of the Most High,
fearing only human eyes.
He does not realize that the eyes of the Lord,
ten thousand times brighter than the sun,
observe every step taken
and peer into hidden corners.

When I spent time on that last quote from St. Luke’s Gospel throughout Lent, it gave me a radically new vantage on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Here’s what I wrote:

When I reveal my secret sins to another human being, one who mystically represents Christ, I anticipate right now the all-disclosing nature of the Final Judgment in the world to come when all will be known to all. Orthodox theologian Fr. Tom Hopko said it this way: “Confession is a Sacrament of the Age to Come, when even the secrets of the heart will be revealed to the whole of creation. Which is why it demands brutal honesty. I say to those who confess: get it all out now and expose it to the mercy of God, who will swallow up all your perverse words and deeds in forgetfulness.” Over the years, I have become increasingly aware that every word I speak echoes on into eternity. I often think that each and every one of my words will become a song in His presence: either a hymn of blessing or a dirge of cursing.

Scripture scholar N.T. Wright says that humanity, made in the divine image, is given the vocation of making audible and visible God’s “countenance” toward the world. All living and non-living creatures are meant to encounter in us God’s provident oikonomia, i.e. the manner in which He tends to this vast cosmic garden He has established. Human beings alone of all creatures are made to be priests, mediators between creatures and the Creator; and by the Incarnation, Christ has brought that vocation to perfection. We have been gifted with the singular power of giving voice to God’s Word of blessing toward creation and, in turn, the power to bless, praise and thank the Creator on behalf of all creation. This is why Jesus says, “on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” Being made in the image of a Speaking God means no word is a throwaway word.

So let’s get to it. By our words, at every moment, let’s become the eloquence of God.

Co-hosting “In the Heartland”

Arinze

Bishop Pates, Cardinal Arinze and myself after the show. Photo by Lisa Bourne

Nick

Nicholas and Dad in 2009. Photo by Lisa Bourne

When I lived in Iowa, I served for three years as a co-host on a weekly radio show with Bishop Richard Pates which was aptly called, “In the Heartland with Bishop Pates.” The show was a real growing experience for me. I had zero interest in being a co-host when the Bishop asked me, but was grateful for the opportunity.

There were some embarrasing moments and some euphoric moments. Among the high points were interviews with the late Francis Cardinal George, Francis Cardinal Arinze, JP2’s close friend Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, and the day when my son Nicholas came to co-host with me at the Iowa State Fair while Bishop was away. My most embarrasing moment was on our fourth show, when Bishop Pates spontaneously asked me to explain my doctoral dissertation to listeners. I was thrilled as I had defended only a few weeks before. As I began to describe the dissertation thesis, the Bishop began to make frantic hand gestures toward me. Later I would discover that he was attempting to tell me I was speaking too loudly. Because his animated gestures continued throughout my whole explanation, anyone listening would have wondered how I got a PhD.

One of my favorite shows was a 2012 interview we did with a friend of mine, Dr. Damon Cudihy, Ob/Gyn. His personal story is a stark witness to the real costs associated with accepting and carrying out his call to holiness as a Catholic layman striving for moral and professional excellence. He’s a personal hero of mine. And he’s got an amazing family.

I include here the first 15-minute segment of the show. Pray for him and his family. Here’s his private practice in Louisiana. Listen here: