(What I Believe to Be) The Hardest Commandment

A lot of people reject Catholicism or even all of Christianity because they believe it to be too hard.  Most people think the church’s teachings on chastity are too strict, or its position on wealth isn’t fair.  I first off don’t think its too hard to the point of being impossible.  We have examples of humans, sinners like us, who became perfect in heaven after following the church’s teachings, even the hard ones.  But I also don’t think chastity or whatever rule it is are the hardest things we as Christians are called to obey.  CS Lewis, one of my favorite authors ever, agrees with me.  I am by no means saying chastity or whatever virtue isn’t insanely hard, but its not the most difficult thing we are called to do.  CS Lewis in his great book explaining what Christians believe, Mere Christianity, says that is loving our neighbor, and even our enemy, as God loves us.

I’m sure you all know that you’re supposed to love your friends and enemies alike, but boy, its easier said than done.  I struggle with this a lot, as many of my friends may be quick to tell you.  It may be that I’ve been to New Jersey once to many times so that it rubbed off on me or something, but I can hold a grudge for a long time.  But normally, its with very anti-Catholic or militantly pro-abortion people that I get angry with, and stay angry with.  My anger could be justified, as they are supporting murder of children or whatever it is.  But the thing is, anger can never be justified against a Child of God.  Not the initial emotion that all humans feel, even Jesus shows righteous anger in the Temple when He flipped the tax collectors’ tables.  Not the emotion, but the genuine hatred and disunity that may follow.  Disunity if Satan’s goal.  What does he fear most?  All humanity united in the Body of Christ against him in perfect harmony and love.  What does he want most?  Every single human being isolated from the others in their own pride.  In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the lowest part of Hell is reserved for Satan alone.  He sits there in the ice by himself, isolated from everybody.

On Sunday one of the Franciscan brothers was giving a homily.  He was talking about disunity.  He said that when they do a holy hour, they pray the psalms for 15 minutes, and then its silence for 45 minutes.  Its all good, for the first 30 seconds, until someone sniffs, or sneezes, or coughs.  He said that he just wants to shout “SHUT UP!  GET OUT OF MY CHAPEL!!!”.  Over time he really starts to dislike some of these people.  We all know people we dislike.  That kind of person that makes you grumble when they sit next to you at lunch.  You don’t want to accept that person.  You could care less if they sat by themselves every day.  But here’s what the friar said ,”This is satanic”.  I was shocked by his use of words.  Sure, thats what the devil wants, but satanic?  That gives the impression that you are serving satan.  That’s a seriously disturbing thought.

In JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, it begins with Eru Illuvatar, God.  He creates many beautiful and powerful angels, the greatest of which is Melkor.  He instructs them, and they play music like that which would never be heard again.  Melkor started playing to his own desires, and others followed him.  Soon there were two bands, competing for dominance. Eventually Melkor, now Morgoth is thrown from the heavens, but he has achieved much of his goal at that point.  He has created disunity.  This I think is a spectacular metaphor for the fall of Lucifer.  Down on earth, Morgoth continues to divide the free people who oppose him, and create distrust and enmity between the various races.  Only millenniums later when these races unite under one banner to march on the Dark Lord is he finally defeated.  The call to love your neighbor as yourself is the remedy to disunity, harmony against chaos, charity against hate.

One of the things the Pharisees hated most about Jesus was that he hung out with sinners. We’re blessed with so many examples of charity like Mother Teresa and Pope Francis that this line is not such of a surprise as it was intended.  Jesus Christ, omnipotent Lord and Master of the Universe, hanging out with a couple of tax collectors.  One of the best stories in the entire Bible is the conversion of Matthew, the tax collector.  Tax collectors were scum.  They were Jews who collected taxes for the oppressive Roman government ruling their people, and most cheated and stole while they did it.  This is like the equivalent of a gangster today.  Jesus is out chillin with his bros, when He points to Matthew, a tax collector, a gangster, and tells him to come, and follow Him.  Matthew gets up and follows him.  What do they do next?  They throw a party with a bunch of other tax collectors.  Not only does Jesus loves sinners, He likes them.  For us speaking English at least, the word “like” can be much stronger than the word “love”.  Sure you love your brother but do you like him?  Do you enjoy hanging out with him and spending time with him?  Jesus likes sinners.  He hangs out with them and in the process draws them into himself.  Its comforting to know that Jesus likes you, and everything you are.  But its also important to know that you are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps, and spend time with the sinner, instruct the ignorant, and bear wrongs patiently.

I find it interesting that they threw a party.  If I was a tax collector, and this all-righteous Jesus guy invited me to follow Him, I would probably be thinking that He’s got the wrong guy.  I’m not the kind of person saints invite to their birthday parties.  But then this Matthew, one of the tax collectors, like me, goes and hangs out with Jesus and His buds.  I’d be thinking, wow, maybe I can follow Him.  Maybe God is calling me.  Remember what I said earlier, about the Body of Christ?  Well, its not like its just half Jesus and half you.  The entire Church is part of it.  And if you love your neighbor, and if you follow Christ, others will follow your example.  Others just like you who would’ve thought that there is no way that God’s mercy could ever possibly reach them, until they saw it reach you.  Whatever you do good radiates the world, and whatever wrong you do darkens it.

Today’s reading fits into this very well.  Its the whole thing where Jesus separates the saints from the sinners in Heaven, and tells the sinners that what you did unto the least of my brethren, you did unto me.  Well, its easy to pity a hungry child and help them. Its not hard to visit an innocent man in prison.  The least of my brethren.  imagine someone you hate, and would love to see fail.  And that person does fail, and loses all he has.  He comes to you for help, for shelter, for the love of Christ?  Well I could tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I would probably smash the door on his face and never regret it.  The least of my brethren is not the worst off, but the person you see as scum.  Its the person who you make to be the worst off.  Forgive me, but another movie metaphor is imminent.  In Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast, the story begins with a rich prince, who has all that he has.  An old beggar comes to his door and offers to give the young prince a rose in return for shelter from the cold rain.  It says the prince is “repulsed by her haggard appearance”.  We kind of get the vibe that he’s stating to hate her already, and he refuses.  Well it turns out that old lady was a super powerful enchantress and he gets turned into the beast and the movie begins.

You see, we’re not only called to love complete strangers, but even our most hated rivals and enemies.  Imagine the person you hate the most in the whole world.  That one guy whose nose just annoys the heck out of you, that one boss that is super mean and blames everything on you, that one girl at school who just likes to make fun of you in front of everybody.  That is Christ, challenging you to live like God lives.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  Seems pretty easy.  That super cool guy who lives next door to you that brought you dinner when your family had a baby.  Sure, you would love to return the favor.  Your called to love, even like those who you hate, the people you utterly despise.  This is totally contrary to where our emotions would take us, where logic would even take us.  Someone hurts you, you hurt em back, right?  Jesus calls us to love them instead.  The single most radical thing Christ calls us to do.  No religion in the history of mankind had yet taught this, even Moses said to fight your enemy.  And of course, its also probably the hardest thing He calls us to as well.

You may be thinking that this is relatively easy, that you do it all the time.  I know people like this who are just naturally nice and pleasant to everyone.  This comes easy to them.  But to those who much is given, much will be expected.  For those of you like me, who struggle with this, who would like nothing more than to just clock that one guy, God knows its hard.  He’s not oblivious to things like this.  God is all-just and all-merciful.  He won’t expect the same niceness from you as someone who is just naturally kind.  But that’s no excuse not to try as hard as you can.  All He calls us to do is to give it all you got, and you will be rewarded.  Just do your best, and God will take care of the rest.  Hey, that rhymes.  Maybe it will help you remember.

One thing CS Lewis recommends is to act nice, to pretend you like some person, and eventually, you’ll start liking this person more and more.  If you are mean, you’ll find yourself hating and hating even more.  For lent, I’ve decided to tackle this particular vice.  Whenever I get annoyed or angry with someone, I say a Hail Mary with the intention that they have a great day.  Its super hard to genuinely wish them the best, but when I do, I find me self being kinder and kinder.  So I recommend trying that and see how it works out for you.  Maybe even pray for their parents or family.  You have to deal with this person for maybe a couple of hours, they’ve been dealing with them their entire lives.

“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
-Mother Teresa

 

In Christ, Catholic2theMax

Love and Forgiveness

We live in a world of feelings.  People do whatever they feel is right, and condemn whatever they feel is wrong or offensive.  Nowadays, love means a good feeling you have for someone or something.  It means letting someone do whatever they want because anything else would be hateful.  What a radical turn from the love Jesus expressed during His ministry.

250617_158293930987024_1619207592_nThe Gospel says that “God is Love”.  Since God is perfect, He can never be imperfect, or un-loving.  So if we look at the life of Jesus, we’ll only see examples of love.  We can see obvious examples that anyone would recognize.  He multiplied the loaves and fish to feed His starving followers.  He cured the sick and raised the dead.  And of course, His ultimate sacrifice on the cross, the ultimate act of love.  But then there are times when Jesus seems to not be so loving.  Remember when Jesus went to the temple and flipped all of the tables and fashioned a whip out of cords and drove the traders out?  That doesn’t seem like love in the way our culture usually sees it.  But I hold on to the fact that Jesus can only love, since God is love, or more accurately, love is God.

What do all of these examples have in common?  Not all of them are associated with just good feelings.  None of them involve letting someone do whatever the heck they want.  But they all happen because Jesus genuinely wishes the good for each and every person on Earth.  He would only do corporal works of mercy because He wishes that person to live a good life, and He died on the cross because He wants everyone to have a shot at Eternal Salvation.  He drove the money-changers out because they were making the temple, the most holy place in the world to the Jews, a market.  That would be like someone trying to set up a Taco Bell in your church.  Of course your going to get upset about it!  Not only are they making worship impossible for people trying to get to Mass, but they are also getting this idea that the House of God isn’t important enough to not have a trading market.  They need to be shown that it is indeed extremely important, and that is what Jesus did.  Jesus showed us that Love is not just a feeling, it is genuinely wishing the good for that person.  With that in mind, I can honestly say that I love each and every one of you reading this.

And of course, there is Paul’s famous First Corinthians 13: Love is patient, love is kind, etc.  I think we should also study this passage to better understand love.

Love is patient.  Sometimes, my siblings will turn into 7 little Jack-Jacks from the Incredibles movie.  You’ll have to watch it, I can’t really describe it.  But love wouldn’t freak out and start throwing pillows at them (which I may or may not do from time to time).  Love would not lose its temper, and calm things down.  Also, sometimes the thing someone needs the most is for you to listen to them.  That takes patience too.  I remember an elderly man I used to visit with my local Legion of Mary.  He was the coolest guy I’ve ever met.  But sometimes, all he would do is sit and tell us stories for like an hour.  You should have seen how happy he was that he had someone to talk to.  Sometimes it took patience, but that is all in the business of love.

Love is kind.  Love goes out of its way to help someone.  Love volunteers to do corporal works of mercy.  Love cleans its room without be told to.  I have to admit, I’m not so advanced in this category.  Jesus was though.  He would eat dinner with sinners, heal the sick, and talk to tax collectors (If you’ve never seen the Bible Series on History channel, watch the clip of Matthew’s conversion).  Today, go out of your way to be nice to someone.

Love is not Jealous.  Love isn’t jealous of what someone else has.  Since I do not own a phone, sometimes I’m jealous that everyone, literally everyone except me has one.  Love would be glad for them, and rejoice that they have been blessed with a comfortable lifestyle.

Love is not Boastful or Arrogant.  Love doesn’t brag about how good they are compared to someone else.  It doesn’t think that its better or worth more than anyone else.  Love is humble.  Love is like an angel: It can fly because it takes itself lightly.  Love is like GK Chesterton when he responded to the question “What is wrong in the world?”.  His response was the shortest out of all the famous authors that answered.  He simply said ” Dear sirs, I am.”  So, be humble, just like love.

Love is not Rude.  Don’t you hate it when you’re talking about religion, and there is always that one person who insults you and your faith?  Love is not like that.  Love is respectful to everyone, regardless of their beliefs or opinions.  That, however, does not mean to let them believe whatever they want.

Love does not insist on its own way.  Don’t take this the wrong way.  This does NOT mean that you can let someone do or believe whatever they want.  It means that if someone wants to go to blah blah blah for lunch, and you want to go to this and that instead, you don’t insist on going where you want to go.  I hate it when me and one of my parents are going to get something to eat, and they won’t say where they want to go!  That’s probably because they are being like love.

Love is not Irritable.  Love doesn’t get angry or annoyed at someone.  Love is too kind and patient for that.  I know its hard, but you have to try your best.  Your not perfect, but aim for perfection, and you’ll get excellence.  Aim for good enough, and you’ll get, well, not good enough.  So try your best.

Love is not Resentful.  Love doesn’t carry grudges.  It forgives and forgets, just like God when you go to confession.  There is this one kid at my high school that was in my Middle School English class.  He was the meanest boy I ever knew, and he would pick on me all the time.  Eventually I put a stop to it myself, but I still am trying to work to get rid of that grudge he gave me.  Love wouldn’t do that.  Love forgives.

Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Like I said earlier, our culture has a very distorted idea of what love does.  Apparently, nowadays, it is love to celebrate SCOTUS’s decision.  Apparently, its love to allow women to have abortions.  Apparently, its love to reject the truth.  That’s not love.  Love rejoices in the truth, not evil.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.  ‘Nuff said.

Now that we have established what exactly love is, let’s look at today’s Gospel.  Jesus is once more visiting his hometown, Nazareth.  And once more, they reject him.  But it isn’t as bad as what they did earlier:11064011_10203835795915839_610930802_o

If you haven’t already figured it out, they tried to throw him off a cliff.  Pretty bad welcome home party.  But he still comes back and preaches to them.  Again, culture would say that what He just did in today’s Gospel isn’t love, it’s hate.  They don’t want him to preach, so He shouldn’t preach.  Again, whatever the people feel is right, is somehow right.  Jesus loved those people so much, that He risked being thrown off a cliff just so He could talk to them about the truth.  Not only that, He forgave them for almost killing Him, just like He forgives you when you go to Confession.

Love fuels forgiveness, and forgiveness in turn is a manufacturing plant for love.  It’s like Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration, they fuel each other.  If you want the strength to forgive, love.  If you want the strength to love, forgive.  Jesus said that we must forgive each other, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.  I remember when I was little, my little brother punched me.  My mom told me to forgive him.  I asked why.  She said because Jesus tells us to forgive our brothers 70 x 7 times.  I told her that I think I’ve past that number a long time ago, so I shouldn’t have to this time.  But really, forgive endlessly. That’s what Jesus does.

In Christ, Catholic2theMax

PS, before we left Mass this morning.  My dad told me to sign a piece of paper.  I asked what it was and he told me to just sign it.  I have a plethora of different signatures, so I chose one of my favorites:  My name (Batman).  My dad laughed and told me it was going to our bishop!  I hope he has a good sense of humor.

PPS,

Elusive Peace

I apologize for not having written in a while.  I’ve just been so busy, and as the title implies, have had only fleeting experiences of peace.  My little brother was born on the 2nd, the 8th child in my family.  As you can imagine, trying to maintain a calm household with my parents gone can be a very challenging task.  Anyway, since peace is extremely valuable and precious, I believe it would be good to learn more about it.

The Catholic Bible Dictionary defines peace as ” The harmony between persons and especially between God and man.”  Not to be confused with concordance (agreement).  Two evil men can be in agreement about the murder plot, but it is anything but peaceful.  As already stated, peace is especially harmony with God and man.  This generally means that your will lines up with that of God’s will.  So, unity brings about peace, which makes a lot of sense.  As Ol’ Abe said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.  It seems that it can’t be very peaceful in its not-standingness either.  It seems to me that concordance is not peace, but the beginning of peace.  Since peace is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit, it can only really be achieved as an effect of the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life.  That’s most likely why retreats are so peaceful, they’re quiet and you’re surrounded by the Holy Spirit.

So, we have begun to establish the meaning of peace.  Now, how to come about it.  After all, “elusive peace” is extremely sought after in society, and rightly so.  In modern times, all of us are constantly busy.  We have to get here by x time, and then from there have to meet up with so and so and this place.  Even when we have time to ourselves it seems that something has to be going on.  So, if you’re going to build something, you have to lay down the foundation first.  In life, your foundation is much like trust.  It keeps you rooted in reality.  Imagine a life where you couldn’t trust anything, not even this blog.  You would always be afraid of everything, and would never let yourself be around others.  The exact opposite of peace.  Since the majority of us don’t live like that, we all trust something.  If you’re around someone you don’t trust, you at least trust the probability of that person not killing you.   If you’re smart, you’ll place your trust somewhere that you can rely on, no matter what, like a family member or a close friend.  If you’re even smarter, you’ll put your trust in God.

I heard a really good story when I was on an Opus Dei retreat.  There was a passenger plane that was going through a storm.  At one point they hit extremely rough turbulence.  Every passenger on the plane was petrified.  They were silent and barely dared to breathe.  Well, almost everyone.  There was a little boy, around 6-ish years old, who continued playing with his action figures.  Still making those cute little noises of battle while his two toys fought each other.  A woman sitting across from him was astonished, not to mentioned annoyed.  She said to him, “Kid, why are you still playing?  Don’t you know the plane could go down?  Aren’t you scared?”.  The boy continued playing and replied, “Nope”.  The woman was even more annoyed and asked him why.  The boy replied, “The pilot is my dad.”

I think we could all use some of that boy’s trust.  Remember how Jesus said that we must become like little children?  I would be willing to bet that includes child-like trust.  If my dad told my 3-year-old brother that we were having pizza for dinner, it would never cross his little toddler mind that my dad was lying.  I’m not saying you need to be naïve, but have a rational trust in a reliable source.  The most reliable of which is of course God.  Did you notice how scared and agitated the people on the plane were compared to the serenity of the boy?  They didn’t trust the plane or the pilot, but guess who did?  That’s right, the little kid.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

We can’t put some of our trust in God, and some of it in the world, because you won’t end up with God, but the world.  Remember when Abraham was told to leave his homeland and go somewhere else, leaving everything behind?  But Abe didn’t fully trust God yet, so he brought some insurance, his nephew Lot.  Eventually Lot ended up in a very bad place, and so did Abraham.  It doesn’t make sense.  Here you have a all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God, Lord and Creator of the Universe, and He wants to protect and guide you, and you only give him  part of your trust.  You definitely should still trust people, but rely solely upon the Lord.  As humans, we will always get messed up, especially when it comes to trust.  But try to do your best, and God will reward you for it.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

We have covered peace with God (which will usually get you that good feeling of peacefulness), but peace with man (along the lines of world peace) is a little different.  It still begins with putting your trust in God, but it requires a little more to achieve, since one party isn’t God.  I think the easiest way to explain it is Pope Paul IV’s famous dictum, “If you want peace, work for justice”.

Now, with both kinds of peace, you have enemies that try to stop the process.  Peace with God will be opposed by the devil, who wants you as far away from God as possible.  Don’t be afraid, God only allows temptations into your life that you can overcome.  If you trust God, this shouldn’t be a problem.  Now, peace with man will also be opposed by the devil, but it is more common for your enemy to be other men.  You can’t necessarily make the sign of the cross  with holy water to make them go away usually unlike the devil, but they can be beaten.  First Step, defend the weak and innocent.  To defeat something, you first must protect what they try to destroy.  In The Dark Knight, Batman didn’t relentlessly go after the Joker, his first priority was the safety of the Joker’s hostages and targets.  And eventually, in doing so, he captured the Joker.  He did kind of change his tactics in the next movie, but that doesn’t matter.

The military can have a great impact on peace, for good or bad.  In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, it says this:

The requirements of legitimate defense justify the existence in States of armed forces, the activity of which should be at the service of peace. Those who defend the security and freedom of a country, in such a spirit, make an authentic contribution to peace . . . The right to use force for purposes of legitimate defense is associated with the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression. (502ff.)

One of the things I love about Captain America is his shield.  For starters, it’s indestructible and is red, white, and blue.  But my favorite is the fact that it is a shield.  A shield is used in defense, which is what the military should be used for.

So, “elusive peace” isn’t so untouchable as we think it is.  It’s hard yes, but with God, all things are possible.  Stay peaceful my friends, just like this chicken:

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