This Thanksgiving: Indiffernce Might be Ingratitude (Even For Material Objects)

1950sph1bIt’s Thanksgiving! That one day a year when we publicly focus on gratitude.

We gather with family and express our thankfulness for food and relationships and the places where we live and the opportunities we have had.

For years, I have styled my self-image as a not very materialistic person, so my car and my house weren’t that important to me; they didn’t define me. (You may have read some of my posts or articles about putting spiritual things first)

Well, my car and my house still do not define me, but I’ve realized that my indifference for them was not non-materialism; it was ingratitude.

I viewed taking care of my car and house as a enormous chores–it was such a pain in the backside to go in for oil changes or call a dishwasher repairman or rake the leaves in the yard.

But this grumbling attitude was actually a form of ingratitude; I expected to have these things (transportation and shelter) so much that I felt like they were owed to me and like I shouldn’t have to bother to care for them.

The reality is that I am immensely lucky to have a decent home and vehicle, and that caring for these things is a way to show that I appreciate them and do not take them for granted.

Caring for these basic goods is different from fawning over my expensive new counter tops or shiny paint job (things I do not have, btw) and becoming obsessed with the appearance and presentation of my material possessions. That would be vanity.

But gratefully maintaining the goods my family has is not vanity; and I was wrong to confuse those two before.

So this year, I will not (try not to) throw a fit about re-caulking the bathroom or vacuuming the van’s interior. This house and this van are an abundance of gifts for my family, and not everyone is so lucky as to have these chores to perform.

St. Paul teaches in Corinthians that we have received all from God: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1. Corinthians 4:7). No one owes me folded laundry and neither does God, so the attitude most in accord with reality is simply gratitude for each day, for life and for the path he has given me.

Of course, I am also very grateful for my husband and children and freedom to worship God and write and to be safe, and probably a million things I haven’t even thought of. But at least there is somewhere to start.

What are you thankful for this year? Are there any new realizations of things to include this time around?

 

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The Metaphysical Good of Children

girl-199x300From the Truth and Charity Forum: The Metaphysical Good of Children

“Too often we think children have value based on how the parents feel about them. Melissa Harris-Perry, host on MSNBC said in 2013, “When does life begin? I submit the answer depends an awful lot on the feeling of the parents. A powerful feeling – but not science.” That answer is trouble because it ignores actual reality in favor of feelings, granting to some humans’ feelings the status of ontological truth while simultaneously and incoherently denying value to other humans and their feelings. Feelings do matter, but they do not determine reality.

“Harris-Perry added that “An unwanted pregnancy can be biologically the same as a wanted one. But the experience can be entirely different.” This statement is true in itself. However, the reality of the child’s life and goodness is determined by the biology, not the experience of the parents. Granted, we ought to be very sensitive to the feelings of such women and seek to provide as much non-judgmental support as possible. However, the requirement of support stems precisely from the reality and goodness of the child who is already in existence and growing to maturity.

“I take this view from the classical metaphysics. Metaphysically speaking, everything that exists is good in the sense that it is willed and loved by God and expresses a perfection of being. Martin Vaske, S.J. explains in his Introduction to Metaphysics, “Unity, truth, and goodness are called transcendental properties because they are true of every being as being” (179). That means that everything that exists is good in so far as it exists, and this goodness, this desirability or lovableness is intrinsic to the being itself and not dependent on the perceptions of humans. He continues, “Beings have metaphysical, or ontological, truth independently of human knowledge; so also beings have metaphysical goodness independently of our willing them” (192).”

***

“It is, of course, true that there are real difficulties of raising children, such as sleep deprivation and potential financial strain. But these are simply part of the reality of life. If we can accept that, instead of viewing this as a massive injustice, we can start to enjoy the goodness that is before our eyes instead of looking around it to view only our inconvenience. Our happiness is served when we embrace reality and work with it, instead of trying to fight against it.”

Full article here.

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/children-are-good-regardless-of-our-feelings/

My essay in America Magazine: A Gospel for the Middle Class?

My first printed article in a pretty big publication was this essay about poverty, having money and being Christian. It sprang from my own ponderings over Christ’s words in the Gospels about giving up material possessions and the conflict I felt with my own middle class life. The full article is available online here.

I’m still not sure I am doing it right, but we are trying. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Gospel is indeed a message of liberation from earthly suffering aimed at all people, especially those who suffer the most. This naturally comes as welcome news for men and women living with the hardships of poverty. In contrast, for those in the middle class this present life may be so good that they see little need to hope for something beyond what this world has to offer. A “good life” can easily become centered on accumulating more goods, which can distract from eternal realities.

“Still, Jesus’ message is for everyone, and everyone includes homeowners and wage earners. As St. John Paul II put it in his encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life, which is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than ‘being’” (No. 36). To put it another way, having a full refrigerator and dresser is not itself problematic. What ails the Christian life is instead an avaricious desire that places ultimate value in possessions, status and acquiring. Ultimate value stems from God alone.

“Christ teaches us about the proper ordering of values later in the Sermon on the Mount. Directly following the exhortation “Do not worry,” Jesus says: “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:32-34). The key here is in that last sentence. God must come first in our lives, but he knows we need worldly goods, so he provides them as well. Regarding this passage, St. Augustine says in his “Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount” (2.16.53):

When he said that the one is to be sought first, Jesus clearly intimates that the other is to be sought later—not that it is to be sought at a later time but that it is to be sought as a thing of secondary importance.

“Jesus is not saying that we ought not to work to supply our human needs of food, clothing and shelter. That would be irresponsible if we have the means to provide for ourselves and others. What it means is that our efforts to meet our physical needs must be subordinated to our highest good, which, Christ tells us, is to seek God’s kingdom. When that is our primary motivation and ordering principle, everything else will fall into its rightful place.”

-Full article printed in America Magazine, Nov. 9, 2015

Available online here.

Book Review: The Gospel of Happiness by Christopher Kaczor

At times, an unnecessary tension exists between psychological research and Christian faith, but Dr. Christopher Kaczor has now written a helpful book to clear a path through that forest of tension. In “The Gospel of Happiness,” he highlights the many ways that positive psychological research agrees with practices of the faith, yet he manages to keep his distance and not blur any important distinctions, such as to claim that any of this research “proves” Christian doctrine, or make any unkeepable promises such as that becoming or being a Christian will make your life easier or happier. Who among us is perfect at this whole life thing, after all?

Kaczor acknowledges that “Freud’s atheistic materialism, and reduction of theism to a childish desire for a father figure as a savior from helplessness, exemplifies this conflict” (181). Yet this is not the end of the story. He continues: “the full history of psychology and Christian belief is more complicated and interesting” (181).

Overall, the book is worth reading, and it doing some of the exercises in the book did help me appreciate the people and things in my life more. One key is that it can only work if you are willing to let it, as in to actually try it. If you approach it cynically and assume it’s all a load of baloney, it would be hard to appreciate new things.

Without further ado, here are some of the most interesting and useful parts of the book.

For one thing, he gives a fully fleshed out definition of what happiness actually is: and surprise, it goes beyond feelings and possessions. The acronym PERMA sums it up. Yes, P is for positive emotions (joy, gratitude, etc). E is for engagement, actually participating in communities and activities that are inherently rewarding, and having experiences of flow and total engagement. R is for relationships, loving, self-giving relationships. (Love one another as I have loved you -Christ Jesus). M is for meaning, having a purpose, a connection to something higher.

And finally, A is for accomplishments. This one is interesting. It isn’t about social comparison, Continue reading

First Things Lecture: Yuval Levin’s The Perils of Religious Liberty

I had the pleasure of attending First Things’ lecture last night in Washington DC. Yuval Levin gave the address entitled: The Perils of Religious Liberty

A few big points I took away:

-Conservatives call for toleration based on freedom of religion, but the English tradition this harkens back to is more a personal freedom of worship, a freedom to believe as one wills, not actually a freedom to live in accord with those values. The latter requires a broader defense.

-However, the complicity required in supporting contraception or a wedding vendor serving a marriage he or she objects to is less like simple civic duty, and more like compulsion to cooperate with a belief system (if not a full fledged religion) that he or she does not agree with. It is therefore almost like the official establishment of a non-religion that is forced on all people

-The response then should be a defense and offense of the goodness of living our own values in communities, in groups and institutions that mediate between the individual and the state such as families, churches, clubs, etc.

-A defense of the freedom to live a traditional way of life will also include a proposal of the goodness of values, of virtues, of striving to live for a certain type of good. In this way, we can offer an alternative narrative and show a different way of life designed to attract, not to compel others.

-At stake is an important conception of the good. Goodness is not simply freedom from all constraints, as all societies put limits on behavior. Goodness and freedom is more importantly the freedom for formation, for moral and character development to become good, flourishing humans. This older notion of freedom is hard to defend because we lack the vocabulary in modern discourse, but it matters. I like that this provided an alternative to a completely relativist libertarianism that eschews all mention to values in order to avoid any coercion

-Traditionalism is repeating old truths in modern parlance. (I loved this; this is what I am about).

-It’s also not about being perfect or telling everyone else how wrong they are; it is about the ardent struggle to live well in accord with truth. No more and no less.

I am very grateful that First Things has taken the initiative to start hosting events like this that bring people together. It is the start of an alternative ordering of intellectual life outside of the universities. That could end up being a strong service to society.

Would you go to a event like this? Did you watch the talk? Do you have thoughts about the relationship between the individual, the state and mediating communities?

Hypocritical Christians Messing with Your Faith? 3 Reasons to Stay Calm

[This post appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum as part of my Faith Objections series]

“Fortunately, the Westboro Baptist Church, famous for the “God hates fags” signs, really are outliers. But generally yes, this criticism of the Church is resoundingly true; there are hypocrites among us. Even in smaller settings, I myself and my friends have run into petty bureaucracy and slights in the offices of our own local churches.

So, how can I continue to believe when the lived examples of believers so often fall short? When I myself fall short as well?

….

What are we to do then with this beleaguered institution full of fallible people, especially the Catholic Church which claims infallibility?

Three reasons that undergird my continued Faith are these 1) Jesus came to heal sinners. 2) The Church has both divine and human elements, and we human elements err frequently, but are still guided by the divine. 3) At a basic level, at least we are hypocrites; we fall short, but we have an ideal to aspire to.

Jesus Came For Sinners

When the Pharisees take offense at Christ eating meals with tax-collectors, prostitutes and other sinners, He answers them: “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world precisely because we humans had screwed up; Christ is the remedy for the Fall of the human race in Adam and Eve. He came because we do sin, or perform misdeeds or hurtful actions, to use a more modern-friendly term, quite a bit. The entire role of Christ in the Incarnation is to draw us back to God because we can’t do it ourselves, though we do cooperate with our free will.

Hypocritical conduct is scandalous, and it turns people away from the Church, which is a true tragedy. Somehow though, Christ himself knew that sinners would be part of the Church. He taught, that there was a farmer, God, who sowed grain (the Church) in a field, Continue reading

“Thin Places” and the Rest and Understanding in Heaven, from the First Things Blog

This is a version of my cover shot, taken on our honeymoon on our visit to Skellig Michael in Ireland. I loved the imagery of the stairway on the fierce landscape leading up, as if straight to heaven.

This is a version of my cover shot, taken on our honeymoon on our visit to Skellig Michael in Ireland. I loved the imagery of the stairway on the fierce landscape leading up, as if straight to heaven.

I loved this post from Timothy George on the First Things blog, not only because it described Skillig Michael, the Irish island in the cover photo of my blog, so well, a place my husband and I visited on our honeymoon, but because it also included this poem an description of the saints:

      We know not half they sing
Or half they do,
But this we know
They rest and understand.

In this life we have little time for rest. Many, many times we do not understand. But in that place God is preparing for all those who know and love him, there will be rest and there will be understanding.

That is a message that I needed to hear. Far from a land of white clouds and unoffensive harp music, there will be true rest and a fullness of understanding.

And here about Skellig Michael

Five hundred years after the birth of Christ, Celtic monks came to live and worship on this island. Buffeted by howling winds and rough seas, enveloped in fog and rain and mist, they huddled together in the little beehive huts they had constructed out of stone. (These sanctuaries of solitude are weathered but still intact today.) They prayed. They copied the Scriptures and lifted their voices in praise to God, morning, noon, and night. Earlier, St. Antony had retreated to the African desert to preserve a Christianity that was being contaminated by secularized Roman society. Irish monks of the sixth century did not have a desert to flee to, but they did have an ocean. Skellig Michael was the most obscure and distant island of the known world. Shrouded in darkness, it became a lighthouse to the world. From places like Skellig Michael, the Gospel was carried forth by Celtic monks and missionaries

Whole piece here.

Have you ever visited a “thin place” as George refers to it, a place where the truth of heaven seemed to come down and seem almost tangible?

Three Pieces on Understanding Traditional Marriage with Respect for All Persons

I have written a lot on this in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage. The first essay was part of my Faith Objections Series which I hope will go some of the way to explaining the Catholic position in an understandable, respectful way. The second two essays are responses to a scholarly paper from 2001 that sought to defend same-sex marriage from within the Catholic tradition. Part I is about how marriage is not a prerequisite for living a happy life. Part II is about the importance of the biological activity involved in understanding the morality of an action. All of these appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum of Human Life International.

Faith Objections: Why I Still Believe the Church’s Teachings on Sexuality

“All people, regardless of the desires they experience, are called to chastity, which is the integration of a person’s desires with his or her vocation. “Under charity’s influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness” (2346). All persons are called to develop friendship especially and the control over oneself that comes from ruling our own desires reasonably. Some hear the word “chastity” and think that married people get a “free-pass” for anything sex-related. But those of us who are married know well the call to embrace life-giving sexual relations, and that to space children, frequent abstinence is required. Chastity is a struggle for every individual.

“Yes, then, to someone who feels same-sex attraction, chastity requires celibacy. Indeed, the practice of celibacy has always been held in great esteem in the Catholic Church; it is the way of priests, nuns, and monks. Pope Emeritus Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, said in 1997’s “Salt of the Earth” interview and book, that:

“The renunication of marriage and family is thus to be understood in terms of this vision [of the value of children]; I renounce what, humanly speaking, is not only the most normal but also the most important thing. I forego bringing forth further life on the tree of life, and I live in the faith that my land is really God….In this sense, celibacy has a christological and apostolic meaning at the same time….The point is really an existence that stakes everything on God and leaves out precisely the one thing that normally makes a human existence fulfilled with a promising future” (emphasis added, Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth 195).”

Whole article here.

Answer to McDonough Part I: Marriage is not a Prerequisite for Happiness

“He may be right about Stoic friendship, but the Catechism does not mention “stoicism” nor “indifference,” and McDonough presents no further evidence that Catholicism teaches such indifference for homosexual persons. In contrast, I find it far more likely that the friendship referenced in the catechism is that precisely detached, therefore unconditional, love that MacIntyre describes. Such a friendship could forego sexual expression despite its the strength of desire precisely because it is not self-seeking and because it realizes that such sex is not a gift at all and achieves no natural end. This is the view that many self-titled gay Catholics have taken up, the call to radical friendship.

“Further, a life partner is no guarantee of happiness, as McDonough presents the matter. No human being, not even a spouse, can fulfill all the needs of the human heart, and when we look to spouses for that much support, we err. We hurt ourselves and our spouses. Only by looking to God for fulfillment can we actually grow closer together. This second way, of looking to God, is completely available to homosexual persons, as it is to all persons. And it is a path equally open to those in married or celibate vocations. In short, looking to God for fulfillment is Christian life, and it is open to all.

“We can best explain Catholic teachings by recalling that happiness is not limited to marriage, nor is it taught that marriage is better than celibacy or virginity. In fact, the opposite is true.”

Whole article here.

Answer to McDonough Part II: Biology Matters

“It is true that some married couples do not naturally beget children, but their relationship is still defined by the conjugal act. It is unacceptable to intentionally exclude the fruitful type of act from sexual expression simply for the sake of desire. This is why contraception and homosexual acts are opposite sides of the same coin. Sexuality, in a very common sense, biological way, is ordered to procreation. To phrase it simply: babies, who are necessary for the continuance of human society, only get made through one type of human action….

“Overall, McDonough wants to take up MacIntyre’s theories in Dependent Rational Animals in order to create a framework of love and marriage that could include same-sex couples. But in applying this framework of peacefulness and receptiveness, McDonough avoids the question of the physical actions committed and their acceptability. Using “love” too-loosely, without concrete application to reality has been all-too-common in the gay-marriage debate and McDonough does this too. Without reference to actual reality, there is no grounding for truth or goodness whatsoever. So if we are going to take truth or goodness or any ethic seriously, we must have recourse to biology and the natural law proceeding from it. That does not mean that we ignore or reject the subjective experience of individuals. The Catholic tradition embraces all individuals but always clings to the truth that ultimate fulfillment and peace come from God alone.”

Whole article here.

Whelp, there you have it. I hope the reader isn’t too offended and that we can at least always agree on mutual respect if not mutual understanding.

Thoughts: Did you ever change your mind on the question of same-sex marriage? What was the deciding factor? Has this helped demonstrate that opposition needn’t be based in hatred? What matters in determining social policy or truth? What is needed to have a sincere conversation?

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome!

Thought of the Day: The Self-Mastery Required to Care for Children

To remain calm with children for an extended period of time demands great self-mastery.

Any mom or preschool teacher will tell you: all the pulling, whining, spills, bickering etc is enough to drive almost every human being into high-stress mode. Child are also wonderful, of course, with their enormous grins, gleeful dances and purity of heart and emotion. But they are just like us grown-ups: they have bad moods and tantrums and accidents, so when you are with children long enough, eventually you encounter this. And to remain calm during a meltdown, especially with added stressful events such as car breakdowns, injuries, or just a dumped-out bin of legos, requires the utmost of inner-serenity and mastery. A person who does this well, and I have seen a few of them, is often very wise and spiritually advanced to have acquired this level of self-possession.

It is odd and troubling that our economy does not value this at all. Stay-at-home parents, daycare workers and teachers are really not well-respected or high-paying positions in our economy. But they are incredibly important and noble. A good parent or teacher can build up a child; a bad one can tear a child to pieces. And this matters because each of the little children grow up, formed by their life experiences, into adults who must function or attempt to function in the world, who will later determine the shape of the social world. That doesn’t mean adults should take personal responsibility for the outcomes of children, but our actions and behavior toward them really do make an impact, a formative impact. So at the very least, we should accept responsibility for our actions toward children and strive to make them as balanced, calm and caring as possible.

This is just one key example where money does not measure value.