The Birth of Gratitude

I know. It’s been two full months since I’ve posted. 

Up until a few days ago, I had all but decided to quit writing on this stupid thing. Life got really busy, and as much as I love to write, this is a pretty easy thing to drop to the bottom of the priority list. 

And, let’s be honest, the Internet hasn’t exactly broken from requests for more posts.

What really happened is that I ran out of motivation and inspiration for this “Seven Deadly Sins” quest. I said I would post on each of them, got three in, and ran out of things to say. Actually, to be clear, I ran out of interesting things to say. 

I’ve known for weeks the next post should be about gratitude. That is, after all, the answer to envy: open your eyes to the good around you and give thanks. 

Thing is, I didn’t know how to elaborate on that in any clever ways, which is all I ever really do on this thing. Find a simple idea from someone else, glitz it up a bit, and roll it out. But I couldn’t figure out how for gratitude.

So I won’t. 

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Start thanking God and others for what they do and you will likely be safe from envy because you will quickly realize how much you’re blessed with and how little you have to do with it. It can free you from the addiction of thinking about what other people have.

I’ll go first.

God, thanks for making it clear to me that you want me to keep writing this blog, and for reminding me that this has always been better for me than it is for the few readers, so I should just write when I can and when I’m called and be okay with that.

FYI, God made it obvious to me when, the day after I said “screw it” to writing about gratitude and the blog in general, my monk-friend called and asked me to write an article on gratitude for the magazine Kansas Monks (I’ll post it here after it’s published).

Roger that, Holy Spirit. 

Then two people told me they liked my blog just a few days after that. Again, thanks God. That’s two more than the last six months combined. 

So I’m back at it, probably very spottily going forward, but the only people reading this are my mom and Mr. Twellman, and they said my blog is special just the way it is. Thanks, guys.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Death of Envy

Right now I’m praying through Mark’s Gospel, and the passage I read last night was from Chapter 15:

Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. The man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. The crowd went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he was aware that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Answering again, Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify Him!” 14 But Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him!” 15 Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

Perhaps it’s just because of this series of posts, but I was struck that the sin most proximately responsible for Christ’s death is envy. Not the centurions’ wrath. Not Pilate’s pride. Not Judas’ greed.

The chief priest’s envy.

Envy is a powerful and ugly sin, and there are two edges to its blade. Envy is shown when you are sad that someone else possesses or has done something good, and it is also manifest when you are happy that someone else has failed or has lost something good.

Pretty sick stuff when you think about it.

When I look in my heart and in my life, I think the second form of envy is the most dangerous one for me.

It’s easy for me to dismiss both, because the first is one I’m not tempted much by and the second is most apparent in the form of gossip, which is also not something I tend towards.

But when I read about public scandals or stupid things celebrities do, part of me likes it. I puff up with righteousness. I feel affirmed in my virtue. I feel like my suspicions of the world are all confirmed and I thank God that I am saved from such a fate.

Then I go and commit mortal sins privately where no one can see them.

It is a calloused heart that rejoices in the sins of others. It is a sad man who thinks himself great simply because he is blessed to have his sins remain out of the public eye. And it is pathetic how easily I fall into this.

If we’re all brothers and sisters, then we should feel each other’s sins like family. We should take it personally, a besmirching of our common family name, and be saddened. But of course, that presumes that we get sad by our actual immediate family’s sins, or our closest friends or co-workers or any of the people we see on a daily basis.

I fear to look into my heart to see what I really do when those I’m closest to sin. Those people that I know and see: do I have the humanity to still be saddened by their sins, the humility to acknowledge their virtues, the empathy to admit their diminished culpability?

I’d like to think yes. I’d like to think that, other than celebrities or others that I can abstract and, in a way, dehumanize, I’m able to see the person, not the fault or struggle or sin. But, as with all things, that’s probably not always true. Especially when it comes to the sins I struggle most in.

Sometimes it’s comforting when others struggle with the same sins, especially if it’s someone you admire. That comfort can be healthy in the sense that you can feel bonded in a common struggle or mission, a common enemy to be vanquished together.

But it can also be a sickening sort of envious sloth where we rejoice in their brokenness because it lets us off the hook. We can tell ourselves “Everyone’s got their skeletons” or even think of ways how their situation is actually far worse than our own and actually ours isn’t the same at all, now that we think about it.

Truly, it’s dangerous. I’ve been tempted to it. I’ve probably indulged in it.

But I am saved, as always, by the love of Jesus, by the sheer indefatigability of His humility, how He deigns it appropriate to unite himself to us despite the infinite chasm of worthiness between us and Him, how He refuses to look at the tar caked on the heart he gifted me and instead sees what it once was and what He could make it again, how He is so saddened by my sin and so desperate to save me from it so that I can be with Him that He will become bread for me to feed on just so He can get His Divine Life inside of me.

Any contact with Jesus, any real encounter with His person, demands an eternal dispatching of envy from the heart. It’s absurdity becomes apparent in the light of His mercy. It becomes unthinkable.

You cannot admit the truth of His love and the universality of our fallenness without preparing yourself to set envy aside forever.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I Interrupt my thoughts on the Seven Deadly Sins…

To share with you this idea that struck me a few days after the US pulled a Mizzou against Portugal (and by the way, “pulling a Mizzou” is when you raise your fans hopes higher than they should rationally be and then pull the rug out from under them in the most heart-shattering way possible. To complete the Mizzou, the US would have to lose 15-0 to Germany so that their fans are not only heartbroken, but also embarrassed to be irreparably associated with the team. But back to the idea I had…).

b1521c26c78a40f291faa0675abe7015-e9b797bc1c074a408562b32bdd1c2853-1

Christiano Ronaldo is like the devil. Just when you think he’s done bothering you or can’t hurt you anymore, that’s when he’s most likely to strike. Don’t let your guard down for a second.

Geoff Cameron, are you listening?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Birth of Control

So as I mentioned in my last post, the sin of sloth is not one I often struggle with, except as a result of my gluttony (or the other two or three of my favorite Deadly Sins, which I’ll get to later). But whether you’re like me in that regard or whether sloth is the biggest challenge to your spiritual life, there’s always hope. And, as promised, we will look to this guy to find it.

thomasa2

I was reading recently about some of the things St. Thomas Aquinas said about virtue, and I became painfully aware of just how much I have to learn from that man. I tried to find the source text for the idea I’m about to use (and, coincidentally, couldn’t), but instead found myself eyeballs deep in thoughts on “infused virtues”, ignoring my hungry children and angry wife so I could read more about the virtues I was failing at that very moment to practice.

Anyway, and even though I couldn’t find this idea I read about in Aquinas’ own words (maybe one of you could direct me?), I wanted to talk about it anyway.

The idea was that when developing virtue, it’s not only necessary to have the self-control needed to do the virtuous acts, but it’s often just as necessary to stir up your emotions towards the act as well.

Now, this caught my attention right away, because it seems to fly in the face of something I’ve always believed (and still do, as I will explain): we don’t need to apologize for how we feel.

The one time my wife got mad at me, she didn’t have to be sorry for that. It’s just how she felt. When I feel sad, I don’t have to feel guilty; that’s just the way it is.

Now, if in her anger my wife pulls a knife on me, an apology might be necessary. Or if I decide to just go to bed when I’m supposed to be watching the kids because I’m feeling down, there is some definite culpability at hand.

But we don’t have to say sorry for how we feel.

So when I read about Aquinas, I had to wonder, if we can “stir up” our feelings, does that mean we choose how we feel?

To answer this question thoroughly would probably take a thousand page treatise on the effects of the Fall and the interplay of the different powers of the soul, and quite frankly I’m not the most qualified to do that.

But I think it’s important to acknowledge that we can be inspired. What do we mean when we say we were inspired by a speaker or a song or a video? I think we mean that we feel differently than we did before, that even though we weren’t disposed to do something or care about something before, now we are.

And I think Aquinas is telling us we don’t have to wait for our favorite motivational speaker to come to town. It’s possible to do this for ourselves.

If I’m feeling particularly slothy (not a word) one day, I don’t have to apologize for my apathy; but I don’t need to be controlled by it either. The feeling doesn’t even need to stay for long if I don’t want to.

I can think about the spiritual battle at hand and the consequences of failure. I can think about the man I want to be someday and the path necessary to get there. I can think about what Jesus did for me on the cross, or what my mom did for me growing up, or the moments of courageous commitment to prayer I’ve seen in others, and suddenly my spiritual apathy, my sloth, might start to dissipate.

And so we find that our feelings don’t always have to come first. Most often for me, they should be last. If our soul can know, choose, and feel (intellect, will, and passions), then maybe I should think about the good and choose it before worrying about how I feel about it.

While we can’t always control how we feel, we don’t need to let our feelings be in control.

Again, returning to the idea of being addicted to our sins, alcoholics and other addicts talk about this phenomenon often: they don’t feel like walking away from their drug or getting themselves out of a tough situation or saying no for the thousandth time, but they remind themselves of the importance of their sobriety, stir up the courage to fight, and then after the moment has passed, good feelings sweep in and replace the angst and temptation and agony from before.

This can work for our more easily-hidden addictions as well.

And when we can’t, when this just won’t work for us, we go back to the engine that powers the 12 Steps: surrender. If we can’t seem to stir up the feelings on our own, we give up…and ask God to do it. That’s the Holy Spirit’s whole job, for goodness’ sake! To be Spirit is to be wind and breath, to be “breathed-into” (in-spiritus in the Latin); that’s Who the Holy Spirit is!

And so, the alcoholics get it right again. The key is to ask God to take over, to admit that He is in control, because our feelings are out of control and in danger of taking control.

That’s hard to do when you struggle with sloth because it’s sloth that makes us not want to pray in the first place, but the simplest prayer can be the most effective. The saints are full of phrases to be uttered in moments of temptation, so I won’t offer any here. But even quoting Carrie Underwood can work.

Jesus, take the wheel. 

Or if quoting a pop star seems out of place in your prayer, just tell Jesus you want Him to be in control. He won’t let you down.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Death of Sloth

I thought about writing about lust second in this series on the Seven Deadly Sins because St. Josemaria Escriva says, “Gluttony is the forerunner of impurity”, and I have found that to be true at times in my experience. But there’s another Deadly Sin more intimately connected to gluttony in my spiritual life.

images

Sloth loves chunk indeed.

Some of my college buddies might be reminiscing to the time I did a shirtless “Truffle-Shuffle” in our dorm room. Everyone else is undoubtedly shouting, “Heeeey yoooouuuu guuuuys!” or “Baby Ruth?” at their computer screens. If you’re not, you need to stop reading this and Netflix The Goonies right now.

But sloth (or, as Fr. Robert Barron pronounces it, “Sl- ‘long O’ -th) isn’t just the friendly Fratelli brother, and it’s not these cute little guys either:

images (1)

It’s a Deadly Sin.

I can’t tell you how many times my overindulgence of pizza has made me too tired to pray. I can’t tell you how often I’ve chosen to scarf a bowl of vanilla ice cream with both chocolate and strawberry syrup on it rather than do some spiritual reading. My gluttony has often gotten in the way of spiritual activities.

But that’s not even the truest relationship between the two. The Deadly Sins are more like the Seven Sin-Diseases: they are sicknesses of the soul, not so much things-we-do as ways-we-are or types-of-people-we-become. And sloth is that terrifying sickness that makes you not care about your soul at all.

Imagine if there was a virus (maybe there is) that makes you not care about eating. You could eat, you could not eat, doesn’t matter, no big deal. If someone makes you do it, you will, but left to your own devices eating seems like more of a hassle than it’s worth.

You would get very sick. You would wither. You would die.

But you can almost see how someone could ignore the fact that such a disease was a problem for a long time. As a matter of fact, if I caught this appetite killing virus, I would probably look a lot healthier in the short term. I’d drop weight, fit my pants better, look sleek and trim and athletic. Especially because I’ve got people around me who would make me eat on occasion, or there would be some situations where it would be more of a pain not to eat than to eat so I would just for ease’s sake.

But over time, I’d get gaunt and my skin would get grey and sallow and my eyes would sink. And then I’d die.

Apply this to the soul and we see how dangerous sloth is.

I’ve been blessed to not have to struggle much with sloth. I used to think it was the same as laziness, and if that were the case then there was a long period of time where I’d have been guilty of this sin for sure, but I’ve learned that sloth is more of this apathy towards the health of the soul, towards relationship with God, and one of the graces He’s given me is that I’ve always had an interest in my faith (as I’ll talk about later, it’s no lack of humility to admit the graces we’ve received from God).

But I get tastes (pun intended) of sloth when I indulge my gluttony. When I sate my body to the point of excess, I cannot muster the physical or spiritual energy to tend to my soul at all. And so the one sin leads to the other, breaking down as it were the immune system of my spiritual life so that even diseases I’m not naturally prone to are able to take root and get me sicker.

Sloth is not funny. It is perhaps the great modern sin, ravaging our populations as the unintended consequence of the imperialistic exploits of the “dictatorship of relativism”, the smallpox of the soul that might well lead to a spiritual genocide that its perpetrators never wanted, the disease of the “explorers” who thought the “natives” were in desperate need of their empire.

But, as always, there is hope. And (next time) we’ll look to St. Thomas Aquinas to find it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Birth of Fighting Trim

So gluttony can, to summarize Lewis, turn the inner part of yourself bit by bit away from God each time you choose to indulge it. And this can have serious effects on the state of your soul.

The proper response to this moral deficiency is developing the virtue of temperance.

While I don’t deny this, I must admit that I hate the word temperance. When I think of temperance, I get the picture in my head of the nerd at the bar with his buddies saying, “No, no, I really shouldn’t, thanks though guys,” as he cleans his glasses and wipes his nose with his handkerchief. I get that picture because I’ve been that guy. I’ve also (perhaps more often) been the guy shouting at that guy to shut the hell up and pound a car bomb for crying out loud.

Neither one proved satisfying.

I know the problem is not with the word temperance but with the connotation it holds for me. I think temperance is meant to be less about the sheepish loser who doesn’t know a good time when it’s in the glass in front of him and more about preparation.

It’s about getting into fighting trim.

How different if when I had said no to those beers I had been doing it because I was in training, in boot camp for the spiritual battles that lay ahead, the battles to overcome lust and pride and sloth and all the little inconveniences of family life that threaten to distract me from its beauty? And how different if I had seen my brothers in that light when I was telling them to belly up to the bar, if I could see that it wasn’t just a matter of them needing to loosen up but a matter of keeping oneself lean and strong for the front lines waiting in the dark night? Perhaps this millstone around my neck might be a few pounds lighter.

My heart desires this temperance deeply

Nothing inside of me wants to be “well-behaved” or “presentable” or “a moral example”, not really. But I do want to win the battle for my soul.

I know I must fight and scratch and kick at the demons clawing at the edges of my heart, waiting for the slightest of openings, whether it be a mortal sin or an extra bite of cheesecake. It does not matter to them. All they care about is getting in.

And all I care about is keeping them at bay.

But how to do it when I’m so weak, when I’ve failed so often already? Well, to return to the idea of addiction, I must admit I am truly powerless over my sins. The only way to win the battle is to let Christ fight it for me. And if this is the case, at the end of the day the only thing I have to fight for is prayer.

I have to fight my fatigue and my boredom and my busyness, my laziness and my attachment to playoff hockey and everything else that tempts me to skip prayer just this one night. And I have to give up all the little local anesthetics I apply to my emotions during the day and instead acknowledge them as they enter my soul, assess their malignancy and ask my Physician to heal me every time I need it.

This is how we win. This is how we get virtue.

This is how we get into fighting trim. This is how we become a part of the Body of Christ, the Church Militant marching to the beat of the Spirit into the heart of our Father-land.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Death of Gluttony

The Catholic school I work at is very…Catholic.

A lady once told me we think we’re more Catholic than the Pope. Not sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound good. Regardless, this place is about as orthodox as it gets.

That’s why it caught me so off guard when we got back from Christmas break this year and our staff readily joked about committing a deadly sin.

When asked, “Describe your Christmas break in one word,” multiple people answered, “Gluttonous,” to the amusement of the group.

I could have answered the same. Only it wasn’t very funny for me. I ate cookies like they were ballpark peanuts; one after the other, no regard for amount, discarding the shells of my self-respect to be crunched underfoot. The meme below sums it up beautifully:

26870669

True dat.

I start with gluttony because it’s the deadly sin most widely ignored by Catholics. Me too, to be honest. But it’s DEADLY. It will kill our souls! Why is it a joke?

When I was taught about gluttony in high school, I was told about knights who would gorge themselves at feasts, go out to the courtyard and make themselves vomit, and then return to gorge some more. That was my picture of gluttony. That seemed completely removed from the realm of possibility for me. After all, I’m not a knight.

But gluttony for me is a very real thing. It’s the third bowl of cereal. It’s the second handful of Teddy Grahams. It’s the one last piece of pizza I sneak before I put it away.

It can be deadly. Not just in the blood-pressure and cholesterol sense, but in the soul sense. And here’s why:

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I can feel that central part of me turning with each of these bites. And even though one might not be that big of a deal, when they’re all put together, they take a toll on my body and my spiritual life.

The virtue of temperance is one I do not have. At all. I tend to be an all-or-nothing guy. When I wanted to be more well-read, I bought ten books, not one, and most of them were by Russians. When I wanted to get in shape, I signed up for a marathon instead of just going to the gym. When I wanted to spruce up our master bath, I didn’t just paint it; I did the floor and cabinets and trim as well.

It’s the same with eating. When I diet, I’m all in. I’m cooking tilapia and veggies, I’m eating almonds for a snack, I’m drinking nothing but water and coffee, etc.

But when I’m not on a diet, I’m crushing a Red Baron pizza by myself or sneaking handfuls of Cheez-its anytime the wife’s not around, eating second breakfast like a hobbit and three-course midnight meals instead of snacks.

It’s bad.

But the good news is, temperance is attainable. It’s possible. And while it’s better to be a teetotaler than a drunk, the best of all is to be able to enjoy the pleasure without it controlling you. Now, you can reach the point of no return where temperance in a certain area is no longer within reach and abstinence, even lifelong abstinence, is necessary. But we are destined for fulfillment, not emptiness, and even if you must choose to be empty in one area because of addiction, God fills you with something else.

All I need to do is start with the next choice. There are donuts in the back office at work right now. I don’t need them. The virtue can start there. I don’t need a full-on diet to win. At least, I don’t have to start there. I just need to win the next skirmish.

And while the idea of temperance sounds like a fancy word for sucky-life, the idea of skirmish and battle speaks to something inside me…

Til next time…

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments