Our Most Common Struggle: Proverbs and Perseverance

 Is perseverance our most common struggle? To test that out, let’s look at our most common proverbs. It’s like looking at a nation’s laws to get a handle on what its most common crimes are. In the US, laws against stealing, violence, and hazardous driving abound. That’s because we are prone to steal, get violent, or drive hazardously. Laws against, for example, sword fighting or pistol duels are rare, because there’s no longer much need for them.

Impulsiveness must be a common issue, gauged by the number of proverbs dealing with it. “Look before you leap.” “Don’t test the water with both feet.” “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.” “A fool and his money are soon parted.” “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

But perseverance in the midst of disappointment and trials may be our most common struggle. I looked up a list of 150 common proverbs (the link is here: https://lemongrad.com/proverbs-with-meanings-and-examples/). Twenty-five of the proverbs (1 out of 6) dealt with perseverance. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.” “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” “A thing begun is half done.” “No pain, no gain.” “Slow and steady wins the race.” “All’s well that ends well.” “Practice makes perfect.” “The show must go on.” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

At first glance, living in our current Western culture wouldn’t seem to require much perseverance. We are used to instant gratification in virtually every area. Not so, for most of the world. For example, according to a 2017 National Geographic article (the link is herehttps://www.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/guatemala-cook-stoves/), 3 billion people in the world cook over open fires. In Guatemala, a family may spend 20 hours a week gathering firewood. Talk about perseverance!

But here in the U.S., most of us are living relatively comfortable lifestyles. The way to grow in perseverance is to persevere, of course. “Adversity builds character” – as it happens, a proverb. But our culture doesn’t present the obvious challenges to persevere that past cultures or today’s developing nations do.

Nevertheless, proverbs about perseverance are still popular. Why is that? What are the unique ways our culture calls for perseverance? What makes it uniquely difficult?

First, when people are part of a group in crisis, the value of perseverance is obvious. In crisis, people tend to help each other out. They encourage each other to persevere. My parents hated the Depression. But the common struggle to get by did foster a sense of community and mutual responsibility. Jobless men would stop by my maternal grandmother’s house, and she routinely gave them something to eat. The recent floods in Nebraska this summer led to thousands of volunteers opening up their homes, wallets, and time to people who were previously strangers. Hurricane Katrina, a decade ago, led to similar outpourings of support. People stepped up and did what they needed to do, because it so obviously needed doing. There being no quick fix, they had to go with the long haul. And they did.

But unlike many areas of the world, such crises or disasters are uncommon in the US.  We tend to be inside watching TV, and the suffering we see on the news is rarely close to home.Those who are suffering chronically – the elderly, physically or mentally disabled, or those dealing with cancer or other serious illnesses – are often sequestered in nursing homes, hospitals, or even the isolation of their own homes. In our transient culture, family may live far away. So if we suffer, it can seem that we suffer alone. Everyone else seems to have such happy, productive lives. To persevere seems lonely and overwhelming.

Second, more than any previous culture or age, we lack the support of a sense of meaning in our suffering. In his masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning, psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl recounts how those who survived the concentration camp were often those who were able to find meaning in their suffering. They persevered because they saw a reason to do so. Those who lost their sense of meaning, or never had one, were more likely to perish.

A sense of meaning most often comes from religious belief or a personal philosophy that honors the existence of absolutes. To persevere requires the sense of a higher good, a something more. Our culture increasingly lacks both. More and more, the highest good seems to be self-fulfillment. We have nothing beyond ourselves to strive for or appeal to. In such a void of meaning, suffering leads us into “lives of quiet desperation”, the antithesis of perseverance. The void leads to such “symptoms” as a growing acceptance of assisted suicide and euthanasia as “rights”, a dramatic increase in teen suicide and the abortion of the “genetically unfit”, and escalating rates of opioid abuse, depression, anxiety, random shootings, and other ills. If suffering is meaningless, why persevere in caring for those too disabled or ill or old to care for themselves? Why persevere through my own difficulties, if all I can look forward to is death and dissolution?

Third, secular and pop psychology have persistently fostered the myth that suffering is something to be fixed. The normal state of life on this planet should be more-or-less unruffled pleasantness. If I’m suffering, I must be doing something wrong. There must be a way out. The right therapy or medication or recreational diversion should take care of it. Even Christians frequently buy into this myth, especially with regard to divorce. “God couldn’t possibly want me to suffer like this. He wants me to be happy.” Christians and seculars alike try to credit card their way out of privation or sacrifice, leading to a culture of chronic, crippling debt.

In contemporary Western culture, growing in perseverance is a lot like recovering from addictive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. In the late 1980s, Anne Wilson Schaef applied the template of addiction to US culture in her book, When Society Becomes an Addict. Her background is in the Twelve Steps, first used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but now extended to a host of recovery programs.

As those who have experienced it know, recovery from addiction requires steadfastness in the midst of suffering. So it’s no surprise that AA has a number of pithy slogans about perseverance. These include “One day at a time”, “Easy does it”, and “Progress, not perfection”. Although AA membership does not require Christian belief, it identifies itself as “a spiritual program”. That is, it does invoke a system of meaning. Surrendering to a Higher Power (“God as we understood Him”) is its cornerstone.

Of course, the Bible itself has a host of passages applying to perseverance. Perseverance is not just today’s most common struggle. It has been our most common struggle through all ages and nations, including Israel in the Old Testament, and the Church in the New. (A link to scriptures about perseverance is here: https://www.openbible.info/topics/perseverance.)

I’ll close with my favorite passage on perseverance, Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We have a goal. We have a vision. We have but to persevere in the race, following our Pioneer, to attain it.

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To Have a Child and Other Transformations: Falling in Love

Several years ago, a Wall Street Journal article (the link is here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/is-it-possible-to-reason-about-having-a-child-1378507807) explained how it’s impossible to make a rational decision about whether to have a child. Allison Gopnik, a mother herself, contrasted the decision to have a child with the decision to eat a peach. With the latter, I remain the same person before and after eating the peach. I can describe the experience to someone else in a way he or she would probably understand. Or, the listener can eat a peach and have that experience.

But when I become a parent, I can’t just try it out and return the child if I don’t like it. If I do decide to have a child, I become a different person. My heart and my mind change in ways that I could not have anticipated. Before she became a mom, the author had found statements like, “I never knew how much I could love until I became a parent”, or “If it came to a decision between my life and my child’s, my child would win, hands down” trite or overstated. But now she entirely gets that. In my experience, most parents do.

When we had Michael, I was completely unprepared for the transformation. Whole new rooms and corridors opened up in my heart. I had fallen in love. The love was almost fierce – like a hunger. I couldn’t get enough of him. I had to protect him. Before, I hadn’t grasped the verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son” (Jn 3:16). I’d thought, “If he loved us so much, why didn’t he give himself?” After Michael, I grasped how great the Father’s sacrifice was.

(As many dads can relate to, becoming a father also got me in touch with my Inner Goof. Michael brought out my playful side. How delightful – for me, not him – to be able to say to teenaged Michael, as we waited to cross a street, “Do you realize that, right now, I could start flapping my arms and clucking like a chicken and not feel the slightest embarrassment? Yet you would be humiliated.” “Dad, don’t.” I wouldn’t – the squirm was my payoff.)

People who are not parents simply cannot grasp the change. It’s not because they’re emotionally barren or unintelligent. They just haven’t had the experience. As a recent NPR article (The link is hereIs Having A Child A Rational Decision?) points out, it gets even more complicated. As one child differs from another, so does parenting that child. And parenting many children differs from parenting one child. And parenting a disabled child is  yet another experience.

For example, Mary and I miscarried many children after having Michael. So we don’t know what it’s like to raise a daughter or to raise siblings. Parents who have raised many children have told me, “When you have your first, you think that your heart couldn’t possibly be big enough to love another child just as much. But it is!” I believe it, but I don’t know it in my insides.

Our son and daughter-in-law’s first child, a son, is due next month. Every grandparent tells us, “You’ll love it! There’s nothing like being a grandparent!” They describe it as yet another level of loving. I believe them. My wife and I can’t wait to experience that transformation.

As noted in my previous post,  From Neurotic to Transformative Suffering: Getting Off of the Rollercoaster, deeply negative experiences can be transformative as well. But falling in love is often our first positive transformative experience. No need to go into detail: you’ve almost certainly experienced it yourself.

But it is worth noting that every positive transformational experience shares the qualities of falling in love: 1) The only way to know what it’s like is to experience it; 2) It calls forth and reveals qualities in you that you had no idea were there; 3) Your experiences and your perceptions of your relationships and of life in general dramatically change; and 4) It requires a “falling” – a leap.

Unless I’m leaping to grab it from a tree, to eat a peach involves no leap. But when I fall in love, there’s a point where I have to let go and let it happen. To have a child involves another kind of leap, as does the decision for each baby after that. One could say that to have a grandbaby is included in those previous leaps.

The leap of faith involved in surrendering to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has all of the qualities of falling in love. It’s not like buying a house, where you can roam the rooms and check out the closets before deciding. You have to leap. You buy the house sight unseen, because others have told you it’s a GREAT house. It’s the treasure in the field – you joyfully sell all that you have to buy that field (Mt 13:44).

As with deciding to have a child, you take the leap, and then you fall in love. But in this case, you fall in love with Jesus, the one you’ve surrendered to. You become transformed. You experience a supernatural, psychologically inexplicable change of heart, effected by the Holy Spirit, like putting on new glasses or getting a conscience transplant. “I was blind before; now I can see (Jn 9:25).”

It’s no accident that it’s called being “born again”. Your heart opens to others in a new depth. Life becomes filled with meaning. You can describe the experience to others, but until they take the leap themselves, your experience will remain foreign to them.

Parents can relate in a unique way to other parents, even those in very different circumstances. Similarly, we who’ve leapt into Jesus’ arms share a uniquely life-changing experience. We’ve all leapt into the same arms. We’ve all fallen in love with the same Lord. We experience the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We are brothers and sisters in the family of God. As with the decision to have a child, we did not arrive at this place rationally. But it is the best decision we have ever made or ever will make.

 

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No Pit So Deep: Jesus’ Descent into Our Pain

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper.” These are the words of Corrie ten Boom’s sister, Betsie, in the former’s autobiography, The Hiding Place. Betsie is dying from the horrible conditions of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, where 60,000 inmates died.

The ten Boom sisters had been imprisoned for hiding Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland. They had already witnessed horrifying evil and gone through unimaginable suffering. But they discovered that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper. Raised by a saintly father, they experienced the wisdom of the lessons he taught them. They found that God gives no burdens that we can’t bear; that He gives us strength just when we need it, not a moment before; that when the mystery of suffering and evil overwhelms us, “cast all your anxieties upon him, because he cares about you” (1 Pt 5:7).

The power of The Hiding Place springs from the contrast between Corrie and Betsie’s harrowing experiences and the radiant faith and forgiveness that permeate the narrative. Toward the end of the book, Corrie describes the post-war ministry she organized. It was for the hated Dutch citizens who had collaborated with the Nazis. These were the people who had betrayed Corrie and her family. They ultimately were responsible for the deaths of her father and sister. But shunned by the rest of the Dutch after the war, they were in need of food, clothing, shelter, and – above all – kindness. Gently, slowly, Corrie persuaded others to join in providing these.

Corrie is no Pollyanna coaxing us to put on her rose-colored view of the world. She has seen the worst that life has to offer. Yet she still bears with, hopes, and trusts (cf. 1 Cor 13:7). Betsie had prophesied that Corrie would survive the camp and have the opportunity to tell her story to many. “They will believe you, because you have been here.”

Many of the clients I work with have similarly gone through crushing pain. They haven’t known the horrors of Ravensbruck or Auschwitz. But they have endured a sadistic parent, a sexually abusive brother, the suicides of loved ones, or the horrors of fighting ISIS in Iraq. They have suffered loved ones being murdered or unjustly imprisoned. They have battled the hate-filled voices or terrifying images of auditory and visual hallucinations. They have experienced the financial chaos and ruined relationships that bipolar mania or depression can bring. They have borne the often hidden burden of unwanted same-sex attraction.

If they are believers, these clients have also had to wrestle with how a loving, all-powerful God could allow such suffering. At least a Corrie ten Boom could say, “I may not have gone through exactly what you have, but I do know dreadful, prolonged suffering from the inside.” But God couldn’t say that…could He?

Several years ago I went on a retreat which led to my asking Jesus that question as forcefully as you can imagine. Although I had visited and revisited the issue often over the years, the retreat had brought me once again face to face with the thousand ways in which my Dad had failed to father me. The consequences of his deep (and admitted) inability to be a father were far-reaching.

I raged at Jesus: “How can YOU say that You know what I’ve gone through and what I feel? YOU had a perfect Father! You knew at every moment that you were perfectly and completed loved! ”

“And while we’re at it: my suffering is NOTHING compared to people being tortured, children and women being raped, and others suffering from horrible, lifelong physical or mental pain. Sure, You went through a day or so of horrible physical and emotional suffering, but not years. What do YOU know of how people suffer who are disabled, deformed, quadriplegic, blind, bullied lifelong, horribly burned, undergoing chemo or ALS, going through parental divorce, witnessing the massacre of family members, or a billion other pains?”

I was furious.

And then He responded, in my heart. His response was twofold. First, I had an image of a funnel placed on top of Jesus’ head during His Passion. Into the funnel was poured all of the suffering anyone ever did suffer or would suffer throughout all of time. As a human being, Jesus couldn’t possibly take in that enormity of pain. But as God, He could. THAT was the true suffering that racked Him during His Passion and death. The torture, the mockery, the abandonment, and the hatred were the lightest part of his burden. Through them, one could see the depth of His love. But the real suffering was to bear every consequence of every sin that ever was or ever would be. Every suffering.

It had to be. We MUST be able to say to Jesus, “You know. You’ve been there. You know my pain from the inside.” Somehow, mystically, He has to have undergone the ravages of cancer, the helplessness of wars and murder and suicide and bloodshed. He has to know in his bones the terrors of psychosis, the humiliation and pain of being raped, abused, hated by a father or mother. He has to have lived through the grinding years of being a POW, the injustice of sexism, racism, genocide or religious persecution.

In His Passion and death, Jesus made the descent into our individual hells. He loved us that much. He wanted, He needed to be able to say, “There is no pit so deep that I have not gone deeper.” At my next meeting with my retreat director, I checked this out, in tears. “Is it true? Is that what we believe as Christians?” “Absolutely!” he confirmed.

To my “YOU had a perfect Father!”, He gently responded, “So do you. I died so that you could have him as your Father, too.” “But You had the perfect Mother, too!” Again, “So do you. I died so that you could have her as your mother.” I almost said, “But what about St. Joseph – your practically-perfect foster-father?”, but I already knew His answer. And as for siblings, having every saint who ever lived or ever will live for family…not so bad.

There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper. There is no pit so deep of suffering that He has not plumbed its depths. And there is no love deeper, broader, wider, or higher than His for us.

“O marvelous exchange!” sings the Church on the octave of Christmas. Jesus experienced the pit of suffering in order to win for us the heights of Heaven. He suffered fatherlessness and abandonment so that we can be Fathered and loved. He underwent the rupture of all relationships so that we can know the fellowship of the saints. He

suffered the worst that humanity can suffer so that we can know – through union with Him – the glory of divinity.

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From Neurotic to Transformative Suffering: Getting Off of the Rollercoaster

Freud’s brilliant but troubled disciple, Carl Jung, discussed the journey from neurotic to transformative suffering. (Just a caution: Jung’s elaborate psychological system is riddled with problems from a Christian point of view. For example, he insisted that Satan and evil were aspects of God. So one has to pick one’s way through the landmines. Nevertheless, he has some excellent insights.)

Neurotic suffering is, truly, suffering. It feels bad, and it only feels worse as it continues. However, it’s suffering that goes nowhere. In a crucial way, it’s a chosen suffering. It’s like getting on a rollercoaster. I choose to get on. There’s that sinking feeling of, “Oh boy, here we go again!” The rollercoaster has ups and downs, twists and turns. It can be exciting and help me feel alive, in a way. But it’s predictable, because it’s familiar. I know each rise and fall and curve and loop-the-loop only too well. I’ve taken this ride a hundred times before. And I end up pretty much where I’ve started, only a bit worse. Because with each ride, I get more tired, discouraged, hopeless, and stuck. And my choice of neurotic over transformative suffering causes others to suffer.

Alcoholism is one example of neurotic suffering. It follows a predictable, cyclical pattern. The cycle begins with the alcoholic experiencing a negative emotional state. This can be craving, anxiety, restlessness, anger, sadness, hopelessness, hurt, or something else. In order to medicate the emotion, the alcoholic decides to drink. His/her emotional state quickly changes from tense to relaxed, or from angry to philosophical, or from sad to happy. S/he feels better, or at least less bad. So the alcoholic drinks more, to feel even better. So far, so good.

However, as the addiction progresses, avoiding negative emotions by drinking starts to have negative consequences. Tolerance builds up, requiring more alcohol to achieve the desired effect. Relationships suffer. Health suffers. Eventually, academics or work may suffer. The alcoholic knows s/he is avoiding dealing with problems and is behaving destructively. S/he feels bad about that.

Remorse and shame are negative emotions. In order to medicate the emotions, the alcoholic drinks. And we’re back at the beginning of another cycle.

Other types of neurotic suffering include getting entangled in hopeless or toxic relationships. For example, I try for years to get the approval of a family member or friend who steadfastly refuses to give it. Or I join an addict on his rollercoaster, because I’m going to fix him. Or I keep myself overwhelmed by refusing to say “no” to others’ endless, unreasonable demands on my time and energy.

Neurotic suffering has so many negative qualities. Yet, often, we choose it instead of transformative suffering. Mainly, we opt for neurotic suffering because transformative suffering scares us. Sure, neurotic suffering gets us nowhere and keeps us stuck. But at least we can control it, to some extent. And we know pretty well how bad the pain will get, and how long it will last. We prefer the familiar to the unknown.

“Nobody changes until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change [attributed to a number of different authors]”. But at some point, the rollercoaster may get so tiresome and hopeless and painful that we decide to face the transformative suffering we’ve been avoiding.

Transformative suffering differs from neurotic suffering in the following ways. It is like an unfamiliar road, not a rollercoaster. It is linear, not cyclical: it has a beginning, middle, and end. It is not predictable. It is not under my control. When transformative suffering starts, I don’t know how bad it’s going to get, or when the suffering will ease, or what I’ll go through in the middle. I’ve never been down this road before. So I don’t know its ups and downs and twists and turns.

Unlike the rollercoaster of neurotic suffering, I will be at a different place at the end of the journey of transformative suffering. I will be a different person. If I have responded to the grace God has given me, I will be a better, more compassionate, more emotionally and relationally rich person. If not, I may be a more bitter, numb, cynical, or disconnected person.

Grief when a loved one dies can be an example of transformative suffering. (That is, unless I choose to avoid the grief by going into neurotic suffering.) To begin with, the loss itself is not my choice. I had no control over the loved one’s death. And even if I’ve lost other people I loved, I’ve never lost this person before. I don’t know how bad the grief is going to get, or how long it’s going to last. It will have unexpected twists and turns, ups and downs. There will be some days where the sorrow hits me out of nowhere. Other days, I may feel unexpectedly at peace. People I thought would be there for me may fail to come through, while people I didn’t know cared that much show up to help.

I discover that the only way past the grief is through it. But if I allow myself to feel the feelings, they eventually begin to resolve. Others who have walked a similar road can help. They can reassure me that the suffering will lessen in time. They can confirm that my bewildering and conflicting emotions are just part of the normal course.

Although I’ll always miss the person, I will eventually arrive at a sense of peace. Better, I will find that I’ve become more alive. I am more aware of others’ suffering, and I am better equipped to respond to it. My vision is clearer, and my heart is softer. I’m more aware of the things that really matter. I am grateful for the kindness of others in my loss, and so it’s easier for me to reach out to others. With St. Paul (2 Cor 1:3-4), we experience the truth,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Other examples of transformative suffering include recovering from addictions, disentangling from toxic relationships, or dealing with a terminal or chronic illness. I don’t medicate my emotional pain through addictive behavior. Rather, I endure it while connecting with others and with God to help me through it. I don’t bury my hurt in the emotional chaos of hopeless relationships. Instead, I deal with the initial loneliness and even terror of not having a wounded puppy to center my life around. I don’t give in to becoming bitter or self-absorbed over the illness: I seek out where God is in the midst of it and honestly express my mixed and difficult emotions to trusted others.

Although choosing transformative over neurotic suffering is always the best choice, it is in no way an easy one. It’s human nature to prefer immediate over delayed gratification. Neurotic suffering offers immediate relief, with the painful consequences following only gradually and down the road. Transformative suffering requires hope, perseverance, and often the vulnerability to accept or reach out for others’ support. The benefits come, but only later.

So the rollercoaster is really tempting. In fact, most of us have several of them. The key is recognizing those habits that are, in fact, rollercoasters. Next is getting off of the rollercoaster as soon as we do recognize it.

The delightful poem, “An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” captures the trials and errors of the journey from neurotic to transformative suffering.

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

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Doublethink: Am I a Grandpa or Not?, and Other Questions

Doublethink is on the rise, as the Western world collapses into rampant individualism, thought control under the guise of tolerance, and soft totalitarianism. “Doublethink” is a term coined by George Orwell in his dystopian masterpiece, 1984. In his bleak vision of a totalitarian future, Orwell defines doublethink as the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind without any sense of tension between the two. Doublethink formed a crucial component of the  totalitarian regime that 1984 envisions.

In Western culture, nowhere is doublethink more evident than in the area of sexuality. This is no surprise. The sex drive is (news flash!) quite powerful. On the one hand, if we want to be clear and consistent in our beliefs, we need to exercise restraint in our sexual activity. Even apart from religious considerations, there is a truckload of evidence that contraception, abortion, cohabitation, and all of the other trappings of unlimited sexual freedom have fed the disastrous collapse of marriage and the family in the Western world. But given the choice between exercising restraint below the waist or being fuzzy above the neck, human nature will go with the cognitive fuzziness. This inevitably leads to greater and greater logical contradictions. So if I want to have no limits on my sexual behavior, I must become skilled in doublethink .

In this line of thinking, that sex has something to do with making babies is unfortunate. So I need not only to break that link, through contraception and, if that fails, abortion. I need to deny that the link even exists.

Hollywood has so propagandized us in this area that we hardly notice it. When the hero and heroine inevitably have sex, that she could get pregnant doesn’t even cross our minds. Sex is purely recreational, until we want it to be reproductive. Just as I have the right to have sex when I want to, without consequences, I have the right to have a baby when I want to. There’s a whole fertility industry to address that right. It’s a hotter industry than ever, because delaying pregnancy to later and later ages has led to more difficulty conceiving, once one is “ready” to. The high hormonal levels in the Pill that linger for months after discontinuing it also hinder conception.

If contraception fails, as is fairly common, I still need to deny the link between sex and making babies. So, what’s in the woman’s womb cannot be a baby. It is a “product of conception”. It is a hostile or inconvenient presence. Nobody knows how it got there. She got pregnant the way one “gets” a cold or the flu. She needs to have the complete freedom to get rid of it. It is her fundamental reproductive right.

But if she wants to be pregnant, then “it” becomes a baby. She lavishes care on her unborn baby. She has baby showers, gets the right car seat, lovingly decorates the nursery, eats properly, gets the best prenatal care, and plans for the baby’s college education. I remember a Child Psychology textbook from a course I was a teaching assistant for. The author celebrated how very child-centered Western culture is. We treat our children so well. Yes – those we don’t abort. (Yes – those we don’t put through divorce. Yes – those we don’t leave as orphans to their electronic devices. The list goes on. Sigh.)

Not that all women who have abortions do so freely. Part of the abortion industry mythology is that all or most women who abort are exercising their right to choose. They abort as part of their freedom to be who they want to be. Planned Parenthood doesn’t mention the boyfriends or parents or grandparents who don’t want to be inconvenienced. They don’t mention the threats of being disowned or beaten. They don’t mention the doctors who pressure to abort because no woman would want a child with Down Syndrome or some other birth defect.

I have had some of those women as clients. They mourn their lost baby or babies. They wrestle with remorse. They see past the “product of conception” lie. Unfortunately, mental health providers as a group are overwhelmingly secular and in favor of “abortion rights”. So, such victimized women have precious few therapists who will validate their grief. Hardly any will offer them the opportunity to heal: to receive forgiveness from God and from their aborted children.

SO – what triggered this post is – I am delighted to report – that my son and daughter-in-law are expecting. The baby is due at the end of September. They very much want this baby. So do the prospective grandparents. I realize that people  don’t normally call themselves grandparents before the baby is born. But the baby is there, in my daughter-in-law’s womb. He’s a boy. They have his name picked out. If she miscarried, Heaven forbid, she would be losing their son and our grandson. So, I am a grandpa.

But not in our doublethink culture. If a mother changes her mind and decides she doesn’t want the baby, the baby ceases to be a he or a she. What’s in her womb reverts to being an “it”. What would be murder becomes pregnancy termination. The father or father-in-law is not even a prospective grandpa. He is the father or father-in-law of someone who decided not to go forward with the pregnancy. He cannot grieve or be angry, because his grandchild has ceased to exist – never did exist – because babies in the womb are babies only if their mothers want them.

Can history be rewritten like that? One of many chilling scenes in 1984 has the protagonist, Winston, on the verge of incinerating a slip of paper. It is part of his propaganda job at the Ministry of Truth. The slip is the only remaining evidence that a person that the government has eliminated has ever existed. Once pushed through the incinerator slot, there will be no trace left to verify that the person ever was. Winston wonders, as he inserts the slip: does eliminating all traces affect the fact of the person’s existence?

Can a baby become a baby, then an “it”, and then maybe a baby again? Can I love you one moment, then kill you the next? Or vice versa? Does reality change according to what I decide it should be?

In The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare has Petruchio test his wife’s complete submission to his will. If she will not, he threatens to cancel their journey to her sister’s wedding. The following dialogue takes place:

PETRUCHIO
Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!

KATHARINA
The moon! the sun: it is not moonlight now.

PETRUCHIO
I say it is the moon that shines so bright.

KATHARINA
I know it is the sun that shines so bright.

PETRUCHIO
Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or ere I journey to your father’s house.
Go on, and fetch our horses back again.
Evermore cross’d and cross’d; nothing but cross’d!

HORTENSIO
Say as he says, or we shall never go.

KATHARINA
Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please:
An if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

PETRUCHIO
I say it is the moon.

KATHARINA
I know it is the moon.

PETRUCHIO
Nay, then you lie: it is the blessed sun.

KATHARINA
Then, God be bless’d, it is the blessed sun:
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it named, even that it is;
And so it shall be so for Katharina.

Back to the 21st century. On the NPR program “Fresh Air”, the host is interviewing an actress she greatly admires. The actress’s daughter is pregnant. The host expresses congratulations. The actress makes sure to note that the decision to have the baby is her daughter’s. If her daughter had decided to abort, the actress would have completely supported her decision. But the daughter is going to have the baby. So the actress will love that baby. The host gushes admiration. The actress is so supportive of her daughter’s freedom to choose.

I can’t join the lovefest. I am revolted. I imagine the following conversation, sometime in the future, between the actress and her grandchild. Actress: “Hey, honey, you know how much I love you. But I just need you to know that if your mother had wanted to abort you, I would have driven her to the clinic in a heartbeat.” Child: “Thanks, Grandma! I love you, too!”

Although the focus of this blog is the inherent contradictions in abortion rights ideology, doublethink extends to sex and gender issues in general. Transgender ideology is the most glaring example. Our increasingly totalitarian culture requires the same absolute submission to the mind-blowing contradictions of gender-as-social-construct. Petruchio vs. Katharina pales by comparison.

In this regard, Canada is currently more extreme. But the U.S. will be there very soon. There,  a case involved a father whose 13-year-old daughter is taking hormones, against his will, to transition to male. The father was charged with family violence for refusing to use male pronouns when speaking to or about his daughter. The judge issued a gag order, forbidding the father to speak to his daughter or anyone else about the fact that she is a girl. The link is herehttps://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/bc-judge-gags-thought-criminal-dad/ In another Canadian court case, a man who considers himself female is suing a homebased waxing salon for refusing to wax his testicles. He is charging the salon with transgender discrimination. If it loses the case, the salon must submit, or lose its license. The link is herehttps://www.theamericanconservative.com/…/jessica-yaniv-transgender-from-bake-my…

How to conclude? Stop the world, I want to get off? Yet God’s plan includes just this time in history. We were born for just such a time as this. We need to speak the truth, in love. If we don’t, who will? The West’s current course cannot be sustained indefinitely. It must fizzle, or correct, or self-destruct. We can pray and fast and keep vigil to minimize the collateral damage and to call the lost to sanity.

And in the meantime – I am a grandpa. All prayers for the little one, his mom and dad, and all concerned, are most welcome.

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David’s Magnificat: The Warrior’s Song of Praise

I have come to think of Psalm 18 as David’s Magnificat. Like Mary’s Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), Psalm 18 praises God’s wonderful deeds. But in both “Magnificats”, the singer glorifies how God has made the singer great. They are splendid examples of true humility.

St. Therese of Lisieux gives a memorable image of true humility in her masterpiece, The Story of a Soul. She is about to tell the story of her life.  She is going to tell how God has stooped low to make her great. Lest the reader take that as prideful, she reflects that if a flower were able to speak, it wouldn’t pretend that it had no beauty or fragrance. It would say, “I am beautiful. I am fragrant. But it is God who has made me thus.” Humility isn’t “Oh, shucks, I ain’t got nothing.” It’s “I am fearfully, wonderfully made. And I thank the Lord that He has made me so.”

Psalm 18 begins with a veritable barrage of praise for the Lord:

I love thee, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

David tumbles over himself in expressing who God is for him. The Lord is his strength, fortress, deliverer, God, rock, refuge, shield, horn, and stronghold. God is his everything. Words can’t capture the strength of his love.

Then he proclaims what God, because of who He is, has done for him. David wrote this psalm in thanksgiving for the Lord’s rescuing him from the hands of Saul and all of his other enemies (Ps 18:1). He uses the image of crying out to the Lord for help. The Lord rushes down from heaven. He is wrapped in storm clouds, breathing smoke and fire. He pours down hail, flashes out lightning, terrorizes David’s enemies, and stirs the sea to its depths. Then,

16He reached from on high, he took me,
    he drew me out of many waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy,
    and from those who hated me;
    for they were too mighty for me.

“I was low. You raised me high. I was nothing. You made me something.” The rest of the psalm elaborates on this theme.

David – the adulterer and murderer of his mistress’s husband – then goes on to say,

20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

David was lost in sin. But God cleansed him so completely that he can now boast of his righteousness. That’s how unshakably sure David is of God’s mercy and forgiveness. He knows that when God forgives, He forgives. Part of the bliss of Heaven will be an utter freedom from regret. If it were even possible, there, to say to the Lord, “Oh, Lord, I’m so sorry for…,” His astonished response could only be, “What are you talking about?”

More, David’s blameless life now is God’s gift. He keeps God’s laws because the Lord gives him the grace to do so.

The rest of Psalm 18 (31-50) hammers on all that God has done for David. First, David unapologetically proclaims his own prowess. He crushes troops and leaps walls. His feet are like deer’s feet so he can ascend the heights. His hands are trained for war. He can bend a bow of brass. He is strong for battle. His assailants sink under him. He destroyed his enemies and beat them like fine dust before the wind. He has become the head of nations. Foreigners cringe before him. He is The Man. He is the Warrior King. He out-Waynes John Wayne. He out-Diesels Vin Diesel.

But it is God who has made him great. God gave him the power to leap walls, crush troops, ascend the heights. God trained his hands for war and enabled him to bend a bow of iron. As David declares in Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory,for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness!” David’s strength is the gift and reflection of God’s strength. His courage hints at God’s courage. He is awesome and breathtaking and the ideal King of Israel because God is all of those things, exponentially. 

Mary, too, in her Magnificat, celebrates the wonder of who she is (Lk 1). Like David, she gives God all of the credit. She is a masterpiece, yes. But she is God’s masterpiece.

48 For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

Unlike David, though, Mary quickly shifts from what God has done for her. The rest of her hymn of praise celebrates what the Lord has done for all people, and especially for His chosen people, Israel. He doesn’t just raise Mary up. He always and everywhere brings down the powerful and raises up the weak.

50 And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”

Both Magnificats revolve around the theme of God stooping low to raise people high. Both resoundingly give credit to the One to whom all credit is due. But, borrowing from John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, I see Psalm 18 as the masculine side of a coin of which Mary’s Magnificat is the feminine.

Per Eldredge, “every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” But in every woman’s heart, God has placed the desire “to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty” (Captivating, p. 10, John and Stasi Eldridge).

In Psalm 18, David’s Magnificat, David delights in fighting the battle and living the adventure.  The focus switches from God to David and back. God radiates His warrior identity through David. David sings the praise of the God who has made him great. God has done great things through David. David has done great things through God.

In Mary’s Magnificat, the focus is complementary but different. Mary celebrates that she has been chosen to play an irreplaceable role in the greatest adventure in history. She is to be the mother of Jesus, coming to Earth to conquer the Evil One in mortal combat and deliver God’s people. The focus is briefly on her role, but then the searchlight beam swings to and remains on the Lord’s mighty works. He is the Adventurer, the Warrior, and she is blessed to play a part in the adventure. Her littleness celebrates His greatness. She magnifies the Lord.

That’s not to say that Mary is not a Warrior Queen. Her “yes” required stupendous courage and a lifetime of sacrifice. No one shared more closely in her Son’s final battle, His bitter Passion. And David was no stiff-upper-lipped emotionless killing machine. His psalms vibrate with emotion. He danced before the Ark of the Lord with abandon as it journeyed to its final resting place on Mount Zion. He wept over his bosom friend Jonathan and his difficult son Absalom.

Mary is a woman’s woman because her humility and courage are refracted through her grounded, holy femininity. David is a man’s man because his humility and courage are refracted through his grounded, holy masculinity. Her glory is a feminine glory, his masculine. There is no blurring or watering down in their complementarity. In an era of great and toxic confusion, we need their clear, glorious revelation of how good a man and a woman can be – of how good it is to be male and to be female. Each of their Magnificats, in its own way, bring this home.

 

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The Catholic Sex Scandal: Scarred, Broken, and Chosen

A deeply troubling trend has arisen in the wake of the new wave of Catholic Church sex scandal revelations. Deeply committed Catholics, some lifelong, have begun to leave the Church. These are people deeply committed to the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. The sacraments and Catholic devotion have been their lifeblood. They viewed the papacy and the Catholic hierarchy as divinely instituted structures. They couldn’t have imagined leaving the Church. But they have.

Certainly, righteous rage against hypocrisy has its place. We feel angry and abandoned when those we looked up to and relied on betray us. Why stay in an institution led by those who have trampled on what we most love?

For those who have left, their reasons run like this: “I could take the first wave of scandals, back in the 90s. The bishops stepped up to the plate, addressed the issue, and put policies into place to protect the vulnerable. Admittedly, that should have happened years before. But at least it happened.”

“But the McCarrick situation and the slow, tepid, obstructionist Vatican response are the last straw. I can’t take the ‘rabbit hole’ dismissals of the depth of the problem. I will no longer tolerate the politically correct narrative of “it’s clericalism, stupid!” No, the sexual abuse is the fruit of a widespread homosexual subculture that sees itself as invulnerable. It is an abuse of power by a perverse, immune, arrogant, godless hierarchy – not ‘clericalism’. And I will no longer excuse the Pope’s seeming determination to surround himself with corrupt bishop-politicians. I can’t accept his refusal to call the problem what it is. I can no longer belong to a Church led by deceitful men who seem far more interested in protecting themselves and their cronies than in justice for their victims.”

“I’m at the point where I don’t trust any priest, any bishop. The whole structure is rotten, top to bottom. I should be able to let my kids be around my Church’s clergy. But I can’t. So, I’m gone. Give me the Orthodox Church, where I can receive valid sacraments without the addition of lies and corruption. Or give me a faithful non-sacramental church. At least I won’t have to explain the unexplainable to myself, my kids, my relatives, and my friends.”

Truly, I get their narrative. I get stirred up myself as I write it. I’ve had to reduce my consumption of news about the issue. Each sickening development in the seemingly endless stream of scandals raises my sense of powerlessness, anxiety, and wrath. So I have to responsibly detach as needed.

Yet I don’t leave. I never will. It’s not an option.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” (Jn 6:68) The Church is Christ’s Body on Earth – disfigured, scarred, broken, bloody at times. The Catholic Church, particularly, is the fullness of the revelation of Christ to the world. Believing this with all of my heart, to leave Her is to leave Christ. But how can the Church be Christ, when sin ravages its ranks from top to bottom? How can this be, when it simply seems to lurch from one scandal to another?

The earliest Christians could easily have looked at the history of Israel and said the same thing. How could the hope of the world come from Israel, of all nations? Israel’s autobiography (the Old Testament) just shows one failure after another. God saves them through their forefather, Abraham. And within two generations, Abraham’s grandson Jacob deceives his father, runs away from his brother, cheats his boss, sets his wives against one another, plays favorites with his sons Joseph and Benjamin, and in general rears a family that puts the “fun” back into dysfunctional (cf. Gen 25-50).

Then, God raises up Moses. Moses saves Israel from Egyptian slavery through astounding signs and wonders. Israel pays God back through repeated grumbling and rebellion. Briefly faithful once they reach the Promised Land, the rest of Israel’s history up to the time of Christ is of rebellion and grievous sin interspersed with brief periods of faithfulness. Bad king follows bad king, sacrificing their children by fire to pagan gods and hosting prostitutes in the Temple. Their best king, David, only cleans up his act after adultery and murder. God tirelessly sends his servants the prophets to call Israel to repentance. Israel murders the prophets for their trouble.

Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus’s Jewish ancestry. A microcosm of the history of Israel, Jesus’s family tree is riddled with scandal and sin. There’s incest, prostitution, adultery, murder, idolatrous kings, faithful kings (very few), exiles, and nobodies.

Justly, one could ask, “Of all nations, why would God choose this family and nation to be the family and nation of His Son? Couldn’t He find anything better? Why didn’t He abandon them and start over with more promising material?”

Yet God did not. He chose Israel. Israel responded sometimes wholeheartedly, more often poorly or not at all to God’s choice. But somehow, through the ups and downs, Israel never abandoned the faith completely. Amidst a world of idolatry and barbaric practices, at least a remnant stayed faithful to the one true God. An even smaller remnant believed in Him when He came in the flesh. Had they not, I wouldn’t be writing this post. That mustard seed of the faithful few has now spread to every corner of the Earth.

St. Paul writes, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The rest of Romans 11 prophesies that the Jews will return to the Lord when the number of Gentile believers is full. God has not abandoned Israel, even now. And God has not, cannot, will not abandon the Catholic Church, either. He worked in and through Israel’s mess, and He can work through ours. Israel’s most heinous sins could not cancel out the truth of its beliefs. Neither can the sins and corruption that so plague the hierarchy of the Church in the West cancel out the truth of Catholic teaching, the power of the sacraments, and the divinely appointed nature of the hierarchy.

Like Israel, we, too, have a remnant. The scandal and the corruption in the West naturally get all of the headlines. Like Israel, we forget the Lord in our prosperity. Like Israel, it may take difficult times indeed to make us remember Him. Free to worship as we please, we abuse and neglect that freedom. Meanwhile, Catholic brothers and sisters all over the world (as well as countless other Christians) are daily giving their lives for the truth of Christianity. As the single most persecuted group in the world for years running (see this article: Report: Christianity Most Persecuted Religion Worldwide …), they are filling Earth with their heroic sacrifices, and they fill Heaven as they ascend to blessedness.

Yes, much of the Catholic Church is racked by sexual scandal. We are scarred. We are broken. Corruption has rotted into the highest levels. So it was with Israel. Yet God never withdrew His choice of it. So it is with the Catholic Church. Yet it is still His Church. There is no other.

 

 

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A New Novena to the Holy Spirit: Unleashing the Power

We recently celebrated the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down as a mighty wind and appeared as tongues of fire over the heads of the first disciples. Forty-two years ago, I experienced my own Pentecost, referred to as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in charismatic circles. I’d always been a committed Catholic, enjoyed the Bible, and loved reading the lives of the saints. But my life changed radically on March 17, 1977. The Bible came alive to me in a completely new way. I fell passionately in love with Jesus Christ. I came to know the Person I had previously loved from afar. I began to experience the miraculous on a regular basis. Most treasured of all, I was filled with a sense of the Lord’s love and presence that has never left me since that day of anointing.

I love, love, LOVE the Holy Spirit. I know that He alone makes the Christian life possible, and – even more – passionate. The last few years, I’ve prayed a novena (a nine-day series of recited prayers) to the Holy Spirit, starting on the feast of the Ascension and ending on the eve of Pentecost. My desire is that He renew and empower the Church, the world, me, and all those with whom I’m connected. Unfortunately, the only novena to the Holy Spirit that I’ve been able to find is pretty disappointing.

It was apparently composed by the Spiritan Fathers in 1912. On the plus side, it’s orthodox and scriptural. On the minus side – ironically, since on the day of Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit multiplied the original 120 disciples to three thousand – it’s excessively individualistic. It’s about the Lord giving me the gifts of counsel, wisdom, fortitude, and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit cited in Isaiah 11:2-3a. The language is pious, somewhat vague, and blandly intellectual. Here’s a snippet:

Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal, the Spirit of Understanding to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth, the Spirit of Counsel that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven…

All great things, to be sure. But incredibly, there’s nothing about how the Holy Spirit swept like a tsunami through the Roman Empire in the wake of Pentecost. There’s nothing about mighty miracles, fiery preaching, radical transformation, or more-than-atomic-blast power. It’s that which transformed a group of disciples huddled in fear in the Upper Room. With that blast of wind, they became fearless soon-to-be-martyrs who preached Jesus Risen with burning words and amazed the pagans by their love for one another.

The last thing the world needs is to experience the Holy Spirit as weak and dull. He’s not a damp dud of a firecracker. He is DYNAMITE.  Read Louis de Wohl’s breathtaking novelized biography of St. Catherine of Siena, Lay Siege to Heaven, if you want to see what happens when someone lets the Holy Spirit work through her with no impediment whatsoever. Watch the stunning video, “Who Is the Holy Spirit?” from the Alpha course  – the link is herehttps://vimeo.com/216413959 – to witness how His fire saves souls from destruction and sweeps like a hurricane through history.

So here’s a stab at a new Novena to the Holy Spirit. Thank God, I won’t need to start from scratch. The Church has a 12th century chant (called the Golden Sequence because of its rich imagery) that has formed part of the Pentecost liturgy for centuries. A verse for each day is featured in the existing novena, but the proposed new Novena would have it recited in full on each day. Some of the imagery I will use is derived from it.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Golden Sequence (to be recited each day of the novena)

Holy Spirit, Lord divine/Come, from heights of heav’n and on us shine/Come with blessed radiance bright

Come, O Father of the poor/Come, whose treasured gifts endure/Come, our heart’s unfailing light

Of consolers, wisest, best/And our soul’s most welcome guest/Sweet refreshment, sweet repose

In our labour rest most sweet/Pleasant coolness in the heat/Consolation in our woes

Light most blessed, shine with grace/In our heart’s most secret place/Fill your faithful through and through

Left without your presence here/Life itself would disappear/Nothing thrives apart from you

Cleanse our soiled hearts of sin/Arid souls refresh within/Wounded lives to health restore.

Bend the stubborn heart and will/Melt the frozen, warm the chill/Guide the wayward home once more

On the faithful who are true/And profess their faith in you/In your sev’nfold gift descend

Give us virtue’s sure reward/Give us your salvation, Lord/Give us joys that never end. Amen.

A NEW NOVENA TO THE HOLY SPIRIT

Day 1: Come, Holy Spirit, Light and Radiance of the Father and the Son!

Transform us from glory to glory as we gaze on the face of Jesus Risen and Glorified. Cleanse your Church from the viciousness of error and falsehood. Come, Spirit of Truth! Lead us into all truth. Make us lovers of the truth that you bring. Make us zealous in speaking and living that truth, in love.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 2:  Come, Holy Spirit, Fire of Love! Come, Love that flows between the Father and the Son!

Fill us with mercy and compassion. Blaze out our selfishness. Overflow in us so that we burn with the sacrificial love-unto-death with which You filled the Hearts of Jesus, Mary, and all the saints. Fill us with zeal for prayer and readiness to forgive all wrongs. Make us ministers of reconciliation. Kindle in us a love for Your Word. Set us afire so that we might set the world on fire.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 3:  Come, Holy Spirit, Mighty Wind!

Rush upon us, as you did on Your holy servant, David. Let Your hurricane love sweep our souls’ foundations of all that is not Jesus. Let only love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness; faithful, gentleness, and self-control remain. Wake us up, sweep us off of our feet, fill the sails of our desires so that we journey with and in and through You and so at last reach safe harbor.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 4:  Come, Holy Spirit, Water of Life, Love, and Consolation!

Come, flood us with refreshment. Be a tsunami that drowns our sin and selfishness and raises us to a life lived for God. O Marvelous Stream that flowed from the side of the Temple of Jesus’ Body, water our desert souls. Cleanse our stagnant, tepid hearts. Well up in us with a joy that no one can take away, and let us drink in that peace that passes understanding.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 5:  Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of Power!

Unleash in us the might of every sacrament we have received. Give us a new Pentecost. Strengthen us with holy boldness. Enlarge our hearts to bursting with holy desires. Drive us to step out in faith in mighty works, ablaze with confidence that the same power is at work in us that raised Jesus from the dead, filled Peter on Pentecost and Paul in his mission to the nations, and has shone forth in the glorious lives of the saints, recognized or hidden, throughout the ages.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 6:  Come, Holy Spirit, Consoler and Advocate!

Heal the brokenhearted, rescue the prisoner, father the poor.  Break our chains, enlighten our minds, and unbind our spirits. So fill our hearts that we may console others with the same consolation with which we have been consoled. Make us lights in the darkness, encouragement to the despondent, and hope for the downtrodden. Let our faces be radiant with joy and our hearts filled with gratitude.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 7:  Come, Holy Spirit, Counselor and Teacher!

Help us to hear Your still, small voice. Help us to discern clearly Your leading and obey it always. Let us walk, or run, or leap as You lead. Guide us in great things and in little. Pour out on us Your wisdom, so that we know when to speak or be silent, to act or to wait. Let our speech be filled with confidence and power, as You, the Spirit of our Father, give us what to say.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 8:  Come, Holy Spirit, Guardian and Savior!

Save us from everlasting death. Fill the Church with a zeal for souls, so that we might dare to speak out and turn others from error and sin. Fill us with the courage to freely share the good news of salvation that has been freely shared with us. Become a fire imprisoned in our bones that we can’t keep in, so that we speak of Jesus in our going out and coming in, our rising and our lying down, in the home and in the marketplace.

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

Day 9:  Come, Holy Spirit, Giver of every good and perfect gift!

In Your sevenfold gifts descend. Fill us with wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Blessed Mother, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, pray for us! Pray that by His power, the Holy Spirit may form us into Jesus, just as He formed Jesus in you. Come, Holy Spirit! Restore the splendor of the Church, that she might be found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish. Come, Lord Jesus! Hasten the day when every knee shall bend and every tongue proclaim that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!

(Here, present any particular petition for which you are offering the novena.)

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Pray the Golden Sequence.)

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Finding Your Kingdom: Why God Made You

I just listened to a podcast by Christian therapist Adam Young on finding your kingdom. It was vastly encouraging and inspiring. I’ve been recommending it to all who will listen. The link is herehttps://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/34-your-kingdom-the-purpose-of-counseling/id1373926216?i=1000429621913

Young begins by citing Luke 12:32. Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Young explains that Jesus’s kingdom is His sphere of influence, namely, the entire universe. Your kingdom is that subsection of the universe where you are called to influence and redeem the world. He cites three clues to find your kingdom:

Regarding “What do I hate?”, Young notes that he hates cancer – who doesn’t? But his wife hates cancer. So she is an oncology PA, devoting time, study, and passion to fighting it. Young – himself traumatized by sexual abuse as a child – hates how trauma hurts and binds up people. This fuels his practice as a trauma therapist.

Moving on to “What do I love?” as a clue to your kingdom, Young talks about Miles Davis, the renowned jazz trumpeter. Davis gave the performance of his life playing a piece called “Love Supreme”. When he’d finished, those in the front row of the concert heard him say, “Nunc dimittis.” It is the Latin for, “Now You may dismiss [Your servant]”. Davis was quoting Luke 2:29, when the prophet Simeon, having awaited the Messiah for a lifetime, finally held the infant Jesus in his arms. It means, “This is what I was born for. I can die happy now. I have been able to sing my heart’s song.”

Young’s own nunc dimittis occurs when he’s had a particularly fruitful session, an experience I can relate to. It includes a tremendous sense of grace and privilege. “Thank You, Lord, for blessing me with exactly what this person/situation needs. Thank You that my firing on all cylinders can be a vehicle of  healing for another.”

“Where has the Evil One most attacked me?” The Kingdom of Darkness attempts “to steal, slaughter, and destroy” (Jn 10:10) you precisely where God made you to give him glory and find fullness of life: your kingdom. But by God’s grace, our crosses can become our crown. The stories that move us the most are often about how people triumph in the very area of their deepest wounds and difficulties.

For example, Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place,  survived concentration camp for sheltering Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. She became a catalyst for reconciliation between the Dutch Nazi collaborators who’d betrayed her family to their deaths and the Dutch resistors whose families had suffered as Corrie had. My friend Jim’s brother struggled through school. That led him to become a high school principal who could connect with the worst students, not just the star pupils. Some early experiences of not fitting in and being bullied have particularly enabled me to recognize and include the excluded and overlooked. In a sense, my homelessness enabled my hospitality.

Young concludes that finding your kingdom is the ultimate goal of counseling. Certainly, healing is good. Freedom is good. But healing and freedom for their own sake lead nowhere. Counseling fulfills its end when it heals the wounds, unbinds the chains, and clears away the debris that prevent us from finding our kingdom.

When we do find our kingdom, we experience the fullness of life that Jesus promises us. Who we are and what we do become seamless. We weigh our commitments and apportion our energies in service to the kingdom. If it serves our kingdom, we go for it. If not, why bother? Young acknowledges that there are many, of course, who struggle for physical survival or under severe oppression. They do not have the same freedom to choose as many of us in the First World. But, he argues, if we do have that freedom, why not use it?

I would add that for some of us, our kingdom is to fight for others to enjoy the freedom to find their kingdom. So many of the saints – Francis of Assisi, Peter Claver, Damien of Molokai, John Bosco, Teresa of Calcutta – did so through fostering human dignity. Others – Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, Therese of Lisieux – did so through demonstrating how holiness of life is for everyone, lay and clerical. “For freedom Christ set us free” (Gal 5:1). May the Lord grant you the freedom to find your kingdom, and the freedom to help others find theirs.

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True Images

The use of imagery in therapy is common. We can use imagination to calm ourselves down or take a mental break. A popular guided meditation goes something like, “Imagine you’re sitting on the beach, the sun on your face, hearing the ocean waves lapping, feeling the warm sand between your toes.” Most people enter into it easily and find it pleasant. Whether it’s sunning on sandy beaches, dangling one’s toes in a forest brook, or snuggling into Grandma’s down comforter, all are comforting images. But they’re not “true images”.

An anxious client can use such images to slow down racing thoughts and a pounding heart. But they know that they’re not on a sandy beach, or by a forest stream, or in Grandma’s cozy home. They’re sitting in my office – or, if practicing the imagery at home, in their living room or bedroom.

When therapy incorporates true images, it can be more than comforting. It’s powerful. Christian therapy can use the power of imagination as a tool to recognize reality, not take a break from it. True images draw from the treasury of Christian belief to make invisible realities more vividly present. Protestants, with their strong emphasis on the Word, are not as likely to use Christian imagery as Catholics do. Nevertheless, my Protestant clients have tended to be open to the use of true images. Although sometimes unfamiliar, it’s usually welcome.

True images can address a variety of issues or wounds. For example, clients with trauma issues may never feel completely safe. I can encourage them to climb into the wound in Jesus’ side and rest in his heart. They can experience total safety there. When I speak about this image, I often cite a vision of St. Julian of Norwich, a 14th century mystic who had a series of dramatic and consoling images of Jesus on the Cross. She was speaking with him about his suffering.

Then with a glad cheer our Lord looked unto His Side and beheld, rejoicing. With His sweet looking He led forth the understanding of His creature by the same wound into His Side within. And then he shewed a fair, delectable place, and large enough for all mankind that shall be saved to rest in peace and in love. (Showings, Chapter 24).

I have used this image myself in prayer. I imagine being inside Jesus’s heart. I picture it as a huge, warm, golden-red furnace. I rest against the glowing inner wall. I am perfectly safe. I am completely loved.

It is a true image. Believers – and in some mysterious way, all people – are in the heart of Jesus, always. His heart must differ, in reality, from our images of it. But when we imagine being in his heart, we are not creating a castle in the air. We are simply recognizing an always-present reality. We are tapping into truth.

Many clients have issues with one or both parents. They can experience immense healing by imagining sitting in God the Father’s lap, or of letting him hold them to his chest. Catholic clients who are working through father images may at first find God the Father intimidating. It is helpful – and valid – to imagine St. Joseph instead. Just as St. Joseph was the flesh-and-blood image of the Father’s love for Jesus, so he fathers all believers. Clients with cold, critical, absent or abusive mothers can climb into the arms of the Blessed Mother, or hide in her womb, or rest in her heart. As with the heart of Jesus, we truly are in God the Father’s lap. He holds us unceasingly. So does St. Joseph. So does Mary. These are true images.

True images can be useful for the therapist, not just the client. For example, a therapist friend had clients with horrendous personal and family issues. Many cut themselves to ease their emotional pain. They attempted suicide and got psychiatrically hospitalized with alarming frequency. The therapist frequently felt overwhelmed by the sheer burden of his clients’ distress.

The therapist was open to God, although not a Christian. I encouraged him to imagine God’s hand as a filter between him and his clients’ pain. God could allow the therapist to empathize with his clients’ suffering without being overwhelmed by it. The therapist used this strategy frequently from that point on.

True images are meant for all believers in all circumstances, not just for clients and therapists. Not surprisingly, true images based on Scripture have particular power. How many distressed people have found comfort in Psalm 23? A friend of mine who was barely on the threshold of Christian belief came from a severely alcoholic family background. But he found himself reciting the phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd” over and over again, after reading the comfort which that psalm had given a Civil War soldier. Like the soldier, my friend found it deeply consoling.

We know that Jesus isn’t literally a shepherd. Nevertheless, it is a true image. He truly is that close. He truly leads us. He truly calls his people by name, nourishes them, and comforts them. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, and we need fear no evil.

I once had to testify at a rather intimidating hearing. In my anxiety, I remembered a passage from 2 Timothy (4:16-17). St. Paul was writing about his trial before a Roman court. At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!  But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” At the hearing, I could picture Jesus standing right beside me. He was. It was a great comfort. 

Some images are true on a mystical level. That is, they are beyond the power of words to express. How does one delineate how Jesus really does give the living water that satisfies all thirst? How can I describe the hunger for which he truly is the bread of life? In some sense, the Holy Spirit is wind, water, and fire. He gently speaks, like the wind. He washes and refreshes, like water. He burns in my bones and my body, my heart and my mind, like holy fire. These, too, are true images.

God heals and strengthens us through his Word. He also heals and strengthens us through true images. Jesus’s words are spirit and life (Jn 6:63). But he himself is the truest of true images – “the image of the invisible God…full of grace and truth” (Col 1:15; Jn 1:14).

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