Because Being a Parent is a Vocation

I came across this little quote from one of the Doctors of the Church, St. John Crysostom today:

“The primary goal in the education of children is to teach and give the example of a virtuous life.”

How often do the pressures of everyday life lead me away from the truth of this statement? And how often are my eyes taken away from the primary goal and, instead, focused on secondary and tertiary goals? More often than I care to admit.

I was reading Webster’s post today on his lovely relationship with his RCIA sponsor whom he has dubbed Joan of Beverly. How enjoyable it must be, I thought, to be able to walk over to my sponsor’s home for a visit like that. To inquire about their health, both physical and spiritual. To be able to sit and listen to words of wisdom like those Joan gives out, take them in, and reflect upon them. Talk of our walk of faith together and sit in rapt stillness listening to her for thirty minutes as she unwinds a personal tale with a deeper meaning knitted together with her words.

And then reality hit me like a ton of bricks! This ain’t in the cards for you, ole boy. Not yet, and not by a long shot! You have three children (aged 14, 10, and 8) and they need their daddy (and your wife needs her husband!), to stay focused on the mission of bringing them up and preparing them for their eventual place in the world. And that mission is time-consuming. It can be exhausting and at Casa del Weathers, there is seemingly never a dull moment. I know many of our readers are in the same boat with me so I’m not alone on this one. Am I?

Putting on my Anu Garg costume, let’s break down the word vocation, shall we?

Pronunciation:

vo-ca-tion {voh-key-shun} — noun

Meaning:
1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.
3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
4. a function or station in life to which one is called by God: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

Etymology:
1400–50; late ME vocacio(u)n
Synonyms:1. employment, pursuit.

Usage:
“Raising children can be quite an onerous task and I believe that it’s almost impossible to succeed in our vocation as Catholic parents without the support and help of the wider community.”—Maria Bryne, “It’s Not Always Easy Being A Parent,” The Irish Catholic, On-Line Edition, v1.0

You see, Anu? I can do this too! And with out any weird, defeatist, introductions. Absent also is the smugness of the know-it-all parent, who is really smart and blessed with perfect children too. I’m just a regular guy, with the three kids and a wife, trying to keep his sanity while keeping his eye on the target.

And I’m grateful that the Catholic Church stresses that raising children is a vocation in the sense of all of the definitions above, and especially numbers 3 and 4. Which is why the Church calls the family the Domestic Church and provides us instruction to complement what is said about parenting in the Holy Scriptures in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Here are a few examples:

The duties of parents

2221 The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. “The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.” The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.

2222 Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Showing themselves obedient to the will of the Father in heaven, they educate their children to fulfill God’s law.

2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”

Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

“He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

2224 The home is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities. Parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies.

2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.

2226 Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.

2227 Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents. Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it.

2228 Parents’ respect and affection are expressed by the care and attention they devote to bringing up their young children and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. As the children grow up, the same respect and devotion lead parents to educate them in the right use of their reason and freedom.

2229 As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise.

2232 Family ties are important but not absolute. Just as the child grows to maturity and human and spiritual autonomy, so his unique vocation which comes from God asserts itself more clearly and forcefully. Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Wow, I wish I would have had this handy manual earlier in my calling to be a parent! What a game-changer! Of course, the manuals (the Bible and the CCC) were there all along and available to me always, but I was too stubborn to bother looking at them until after I became a Catholic. Before I was a Catholic, I would have scoffed at the idea that a bunch of celibate, religious brothers and sisters could have any insight to give me on what it means to be a parent.

Given the state of the world today, my wife and I need all the help we can get to fulfill our vocation as parents. Our parish communities and our Church’s teachings and traditions are useful and effective tools, a comforting tool kit to help us face this Herculean task.

So for those of you in the YIM Catholic community who are parents of school-age children and who get wistful and envious of Webster’s (seemingly) halcyon existence as the very model of a modern, genteel Catholic man and husband, remember me, Joe Six-Pack, The Dad, USMC. I have got your back! Send me your tired, your poor, your frustrated, your hair-on-fire parenting war stories. I want to read them and I need your support too!

Because We Are A Bible-Believing Church

Back on New Year’s Day, as we were making our way through the crowds on the streets of Pasadena, California, trying to get to the vantage point we had staked out for the Tournament of Roses Parade, I was handed several pamphlets and a small booklet by Christians holding such signs as “God Loves You” and “God Will Punish Sinners.”

The pamphlet contained select sayings of Our Lord with pictures. For example, Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Jesus Before Pilate. The small booklet contained the Gospel according to John as well as some commentary. I gladly accepted the materials and warmly thanked the person who gave them to me. I wasn’t going to read them right then, but I figured I would look them over after the parade and the merrymaking subsided.

When we were back in our lodgings and the kids were put to bed, I took out the tract and the booklet and knew right then that I would need to write this post. You see, at the end of the pamphlet and the booklet, I was advised that by simply reading either the pamphlet or John’s Gospel, and saying a prayer to our Lord promising that I believed in Him, I was now saved. In addition I was also exhorted to do the following:

Read the Bible every day and join a Bible believing church.

Keeping in mind my erstwhile fencing partner’s remarks yesterday, let me say that a spirit of competitiveness is not what I intend to convey by this post. Instead, I am writing this post in the spirit of a command given by our first Pope, St. Peter:

Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

I’m all for handing out tracts and pamphlets to people on the Christian faith at parades and concerts. Because, as Webster states in his post this morning, you never know how long it will take a seed to germinate once it’s planted. As such, I’m all for sending people to a “Bible believing” church, especially when we’re talking about the original Bible-believing Church. The Church that believed in the Bible so much that it carefully and methodically compiled the Canon of scriptures that all Christian denominations use to this day. Yes, I mean the Roman Catholic Church.

That Church is a Gospel-believing Church too, and was so long before there was a New Testament written down anywhere. That’s because there was no definitive New Testament to be read until 405 AD. Surprised? Surely you realize that when Our Lord said “believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:34) he wasn’t exhorting us to run to the nearest Barnes & Nobles to pick up a copy of His latest book. Our Lord never left any written word behind because he was too busy saving the world on a tight time schedule.

It turns out that there was a lot of discussion and debate about which books would be included in the Canon of the New Testament, just as there was with the Old Testament. And of course, in the case of the New Testament, the books had to be written. So what were all these early Christians doing when they were believing in the Gospel? Looks like they were repenting, being baptized, and holding “fast to traditions” as St. Paul instructed us to do (2Thessalonians 2:15).

After reading the pamplets, I read my Bible (the LOTH and the Daily Readings) and went to Mass at the nearest Catholic Church I could find. I invite you to do the same.

Semper Fidelis.

Thanks to Anu Garg . . . Not

Posted by Frank
One of the earliest posts I did upon coming aboard the good ship YIM Catholic was entitled Because of Half-Baked Thoughts Like This. I had a little fun unraveling the phrase amour propre and crossing wits with Anu Garg of A Word A Day renown. Yesterday (1/11/2010) the word of the day was sacerdotal, which means of or relating to priests or priestly duties. But the funny thing is the introduction to the word. Anu says, and I quote:

The word religion derives from Latin ligare (to tie or to bind, as in “ligament”), but it best serves as a tool to divide people. My religion is better than yours. My god true, yours false. What, we have the same religion? No problem, my sect is better than yours.

Gee, Anu, how do you really feel? For a second there, I thought you were going to provide us with the etymology of the word religion, you know like you usually do. Instead, you got on your soap-box and slipped in a little sermon on the “problems” of religion! And there wasn’t one, single, redeeming (pun intended) quality of religion you could think of? Golly, I hoped you were more open-minded than that.

Re-reading Anu’s little 35-word sermon, it appears that the problem isn’t religion, in my humble opinion anyway, but fallen human nature instead. Maybe Anu is grumbling about people competing amongst each other to the point of silliness. You know, my dog is better than your dog. My car, house, job, etc., is better than your car, house, job. You get the picture, right Anu?

Fresh off his sermon on the evils of religion, he then hands all of his adoring fans a book selection to consider—a “thought provoking” book, he swoons, entitled 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God by Guy Harrison, and a link to same. I’m actually surprised they gave the deity a capital G in the title. Thank God for good editors!

But I will have to decline the invitation because, like Webster’s, my bed stand is getting loaded down with really good stuff to read already, and there is no room on it for the musings of a seeker (dodger?) named Guy. That’s also because we still have one chapter left on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and one heck of a horse race going on between Hellaire Belloc and C.S. Lewis (see sidebar), who are competing (sorry Anu!) for votes to win the prize as the YIM Catholic Book Club’s next reading selection.

You may want to check up on Anu over at A.Word.A.Day this week. Because this week’s theme is religious words, you just might have as much fun as I am with his selections. Sheeeeeesh!

Because of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

I wrote earlier of my thanks for practical instruction on living the Christian life from a lecture I came across in the Liturgy of the Hours written by St. Augustine. I have always been enamored of “how-to” books that cut through the gloss and get straight to the point. For example, the theory on how internal combustion engines work is interesting, but the hands-on stuff you learn from actually tearing apart a motor (and putting it back together again) is invaluable. As I realized from my encounters with Blaise Pascal, and with Thomas à Kempis, and by reflecting on my own life as well, I needed help in this department. Especially regarding my prayer life.

So somewhere along my path to the Catholic Church, I discovered the Desert Fathers. I learned that about the time the Romans stopped killing Christians, some people up and sold all they had and headed for the desert in Upper Egypt to live as hermits for Christ. Some had fled persecution from the Romans too, but after Constantine the Great converted in 313 AD, persecution was no longer the reason to flee.

Leave the world they did. According to the Wikipedia citation, “These individuals believed that the desert life (modeled on the lifestyle of John the Baptist and Our Lord’s forty days in the desert) would teach them to eschew the things of this world and allow them to follow God’s call in a more deliberate and individual way.”

Pictured here is the cover of a delightful book of sayings from some of these hermits, translated and illustrated by by Yushi Nomura. At the time I found it in my local public library, I didn’t know Henri Nouwen from Adam, but he wrote a pretty good introduction explaining the history of this phenomenon and how the roots of Christian monasticism formed in the deserts of Egypt. Find it and enjoy it if you can. My daughter really loves reading it and looking at the illustrations.

Note: I keep writing Christian instead of Catholic because, by this time in my research, I understood that all Christians were Catholic until the Protestant Reformation. Christians who were not Catholic were heretics and, boy howdy, there is a rogues gallery of those! Heck, I’m still learning about them too: Arianism, Albegensianism, Docetism, Manichaeism, and more.

The sayings of the Desert Fathers are very practical and not heretical. And man, they can knock you right off your high horse in a way that makes you say “Thank you sir! May I have another?” Like this:

A monk once posed this question to an elder: There are two brothers, one of whom remains praying in his cell, fasting six days at a time and doing a great deal of penance. The other one takes care of the sick. Which one’s work is more pleasing to God? The elder replied: If that brother who fasts six days were to hang himself up by the nose, he could not equal the one who takes care of the sick.

Did I mention they had a sense of humor? Like here:

In the desert of Skete, a brother went to see Abba Moses for a word. And the old man said, Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.

I’m not sure that is what the brother had in mind. Or this one:

If you see a young monk by his own will climbing up into heaven, take him by the foot and pull him back down to earth, because what he’s doing is no good for him.

Amen to that! Replace monk with relative, co-worker, friend, or that fellow in the mirror, and who hasn’t seen that person before?!

The Desert Fathers and Mothers include the following saints: St. Anthony the Great, St. Macarius the Great, St. Arsenius, St. Paul the Hermit, St. John the Dwarf, St. Mary of Egypt, and many others.

Ever been told that you are working too hard at being a good Catholic Christian? See these words and think again:

The reason why we don’t get anywhere is because we don’t know our limits and we’re not patient in carrying on the work we’ve begun. We want to arrive at virtue without any labor at all.

I’ll wrap this post up by letting St. Anthony the Great have the floor,

Once the famous St. Anthony was conversing with some brethren when a hunter who was after game in the wilderness happened by. He saw Abbot Anthony and the brothers enjoying themselves and clucked his tongue in disapproval. Abbot Anthony told him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” He did so. “Now shoot another,” said the abbot. “And another . . . and another.” The hunter complained, “If I bend my bow all the time, it will break.” Abbot Anthony smiled gently as his point stuck home. “It’s that way, too, with the work of God. If we keep pushing ourselves too hard, the brothers will soon collapse.”

This is a marathon, people, not a sprint!

 

Comments of the Week – Avast there, Skipper!

Posted by Frank

No, it is not mutinous to correct your superior officer when they make a mistake. We consider this counseling our superior officer. You see, Webster pulled the plug early yesterday to head up to Vermont for a semi-long weekend. Trying to beat all the traffic streaming out of Boston, I suspect. So when he posted the Comments of the Week earlier today, he failed to notice that my post on my buddy Blaise Pascal garnered more comments than the Brother Sun, Sister Moon post from earlier this week.
Now, Blaise is a master of probability theory (duh!), and my post on his letter faced long-odds in catching up to BSSM in so short a time, so Webster is excused from missing this development. But let me be Frank (pun intended!) for a second and yell, belay that command, because Blaise and I pulled way ahead of your post Skipper. The YIMC reader base (we few, we happy few) actually, sorry to to say, skunked your post with 34 comments (now 35 thanks to Anthony “Tony” Layne) versus 22 for BSSM. Can you hear the Beach Boys tune Shut Down playing in the background? Forgive me Webster!

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Chalk it up to the subject matter of the posts, which are as different as night is from day. The subject of Blaise’s letter being death. And more specifically death from the Catholic perspective. Admittedly, it is a delicate subject and one for which none of us have all the answers. We are blessed though in that our little community offered up differing perspectives of the mystery of our lives and our eventual deaths.

Reader, and guest poster, EPG writes:

I admit I have my doubts about “the decree of providence” argument, at least to the extent that it applies to the particular circumstances of every death, in time, place and manner. For example, here in Florida, we recently had a notorious case in which a young girl was abducted from her home, raped, and then buried alive by a sexual predator who lived near her. It’s hard to see “the decree of providence” in that.

Perhaps it is better to think that God holds the handlebars of the universe lightly, and that, in creating a universe which included the possibility of free will, he allowed for all sorts of disasters, including room for individuals to commit evil, which may have consequences for those who happen to be near them.

(But then, theodicy (editor: the attempt to justify the behavior of God)is a thorny problem, and I don’t expect any of us to resolve that.)

Perhaps a better response is simply to acknowledge, at least in the case of premature death, that there is no answer except the cross and the empty tomb. Christians have the ability to say at least, “Look, we don’t understand the mystery of suffering and death, but we know that God shared in it on the Cross, and that the empty tomb tells us that death, however painful, does not have the last word.”

An anonymous reader gave us this news to contend with:

Hi, I love your columns and want to know what you would say to a mother whose 4 month old died of SIDS. She does not like to hear “God is in charge. He knew what he was doing when he took your son, or God needed another angel in heaven, or be glad because he has reached his goal with no sin on his soul…these are only driving her away from God.

Whereupon several of you responded in, what I hope, are helpful ways to this tragic, personal, and very particular circumstance. Jan from the blog Runs with Angels offered up these words of advice:

To anon – there is nothing you can say to someone who loses a child, especially unexpectedly. The only effective thing I’ve found is to listen very carefully to what the grieving say and take your cues from that. Always be ready to listen and gently guide through each episode, if you will. The only thing you can truly say is “I’m so very sorry.” Even if that is all you say, over and over, that is really all there is.

And an Anonymous reader offered this:

I understand your pain on losing a baby. If you look at the archives for this blog for Dec 16th, you’ll find a reference to the Youtube clip for “99 baloons” in the comments. Very Inspirational! (even 24 years later) for me. I lost a baby at two days of age – and I realize that losing a child at 4 months is a whole other experience. And I know this because my sister lost a nineteen year old! Please accept my prayers as you fold this tragedy into the tapestry of your life.

Helping one another bear the burdens of the Cross is why we are called to be members of Christ’s body through the Church. Reader “pinksy82″ shared a piece from Anne Dillard while “Athos” sent this link to a helpful little book on the matter which he authored.

The “comment of the week” award goes to Warren Jewell, our own Doctor Mellifluous who, now that I taught him how to cut and paste comments, is really letting us all benefit from his experience of walking along the narrow path of Catholic Christian faith. Warren, take it away:

Father Benedict Groeschel, after nearly dying in an auto-pedestrian accident, wrote that “There Are No Accidents’ – it IS all in God’s hands.

But, if circumstances – the dead child, most movingly – seem harsh, we become tentative to have God the Prime Mover of all, that God would permit, even cause such tragedy. That is an odd kind of arrogant reluctance, coming from souls who still very willingly put up the sins that put the very Son of God, humiliated, beaten and tortured, on His Cross.

And, yet, if in our weak and timid spirits God’s hand cannot seem to directly bring even death, He permits all that comes into motion that yields death, even of His most beloved innocents. Thus, the tortured child then buried alive began a few generations ago in the murderer’s family’s lessening moral strictures on such actions. God was there – He knew where it would lead and He let sinful human free will take its awful course. Then again, without God’s complicity in building me, I would have died before birth, short of say, lungs. It is decidedly a mixed bag, here, time-side, now that we have all sinned and come short of God’s direct Eden-like Presence and loving glory.

I am reminded of our crucified Savior’s words at Luke 13:2-5: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus?
I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

To Christ, there was this aspect to such a judgmental assessment: “Just who the Hades are YOU, to question God’s will with you, you sinners! Get out of His face, and repent or forever die, and leave His infinite will to Him, His eternal choices to Him. You have eyes – SEE – You have ears – LISTEN – and accept whatever the Father gives you that He may save you.”

And, thus does every prayer have its humble completion and move toward sublime perfection in the clause “. . . and Thy will be done.”

Amen! Keep these comments coming as Webster and I keep answering the question Why I Am Catholic to the best of our ability.

While pondering the mysteries of life and death after writing this post and reading these comments, a friend, former comrade-at-arms, and YIM Catholic Face Book fan posted this video of The Verve performing their song Bittersweet Symphony on his Facebook page. Somehow, it seems very fitting that I include it here for your enjoyment and as a conclusion to this homage to our dear readers. May God bless us all, each one of us!

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Because of Blaise Pascal’s Letter upon the Death of his Father

Webster has been serving at funerals lately, one in early December and one just a few days ago. And in a prediction that is all too likely to come to fruition, he believes he will attend the funeral of at least one dear friend this year. Reading these posts, I reflect on the fragility of human life and the sudden impact on our loved ones lives when we depart this mortal coil.

A sudden death, an accidental death, the unexpected death is always a shocker. Others are blessed with an illness—or maybe it’s not a blessing, to see the train enter the station that will inevitably bear them away. There is pain, and suffering in the long drawn-out route to eternity. [Read more...]

Because the Church Needs a Few Good Men (and Women)

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, as I writing Part 6 in the series on my conversion, I re-read something that Thomas à Kempis wrote that motivated me to become a Catholic Christian. In chapter 25 of The Imitation of Christ he writes:

There is one thing that keeps many from zealously improving their lives, that is, dread of the difficulty, the toil of battle.

I read or hear words like this and the theme music of Onward Christian Soldiers starts playing in my head; and I think to myself, “Where do I go to sign up?!” Thomas continues on with this,

Certainly they who try bravely to overcome the most difficult and unpleasant obstacles far outstrip others in the pursuit of virtue. A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and mortifies his will. True, each one has his own difficulties to meet and conquer, but a diligent and sincere man will make greater progress even though he have more passions than one who is more even-tempered but less concerned about virtue.

These don’t sound like the words of some namby-pamby cloistered monk, now, do they? His last sentence seems to be a call to arms for guys like me! Monsignor Charles Pope has a piece up over at the Archdiocese of Washington website today entitled “The Priest is a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”. As I wrote once before here, those called to Holy Orders , to my mind anyway, are the Officer Corps of the Church. And as Webster wrote just yesterday, without priests, there is no ball game.

Monsignor Pope says the priests are the soldiers, and I say he’s right, because St. Peter said so too. But we lay Catholics are all called to “the royal priesthood,” as well. Shown here is one of my favorite recruiting posters from the pre–WW II era Marine Corps. The same motto could be used for Catholic Christians and those who are feeling the call to the faith as well. Want Action? Join the Catholic Church!

Not to disrespect any of our female readers (whom we dearly love!), but gentlemen—the Church Militant needs you! Now! You want action, don’t you? Well, what army is worth anything without the grizzled non-commissioned officers, the First Sergeants, the Chief Petty Officers, the very backbone of the organization playing a major role? That army is calling guys like Mike and Ferde, and now Webster and me. I would think that without us, it is something less than it can and should be. Have Catholic men been asleep at our posts?

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he exhorts all Christians to—

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.

What’s that you say? You hadn’t noticed we’re at war?

Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

See your parish recruiting office today!

To Be Frank, Part 6, “The Imitation of Christ” II

I left off last time with the first chapter of The Imitation of Christ from my personal library and the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books and a photograph of a rough-hewn and de-carpeted staircase. In that condition, the staircase served the function of getting from the downstairs to the upstairs, but nothing more than that. Maybe there is a metaphor in that rough-hewn and merely functional staircase.

At the time, though, I wasn’t concerned about metaphors. I knew only that I had waited long enough. I had gathered all the materials, and now it was time to get to work making this a functional and (hopefully) beautiful staircase. One that would be pleasing to my wife (and thus “good enough” for me). Maybe there is a metaphor in this after all!

Reading through these devotions by à Kempis were having an effect on me. And pretty quickly, I stopped fighting this because nothing I was reading raised any warning flags whatsoever. If this is what Catholicism has to offer, what’s the matter? And as I ripped up the old treads on the staircase and started replacing them with new, freshly cut treads, the staircase rehabilitation as metaphor for my own rehabilitation started playing out through the work of my hands and through the work of my heart.And trust me, I get a lump in my throat writing this because guys aren’t supposed to have feelings like this. Not about religion. Least of all coming from some hard-charging Marine! I didn’t think so at the time, anyway, and thankfully, I think differently now. But I had survived a life-changing event that had left me wondering “what now Lord?”

Which really meant “what’s in store for me now Lord?”or more accurately, “What’s in it (life) for me Lord?” And as I worked as a rookie carpenter, I turned to the Bible, Blaise’s Pensées, The Imitation of Christ and prayer. Prayer for direction in my life, prayer for guidance and understanding of why I was spared (when several of my comrades weren’t.) Prayer like what the character Lt. Dan, in the movie Forrest Gump says as he is crying on the floor with no legs: “What am I gonna do now? I had a destiny!”

And then I read the following from the last chapter of the first section of The Imitation. The chapter is entitled Zeal in Amending Our Lives and though Thomas (we’re on a first name basis now) is writing about those who have recently been cloistered, it applied to me just the same:

Be watchful and diligent in God’s service and often think of why you left the world (California)and came here. Was it not that you might live for God and become a spiritual man? Strive earnestly for perfection, then, because in a short time you will receive the reward for your labor, and neither fear nor sorrow shall come upon you at the hour of death.”

Perhaps it was that, too. I had thought it was for better public schools and cheaper housing and all the temporal concerns that go along with that etc., etc. But maybe this was the real reason. Thomas continued,

Labor a little now, and soon you will find great rest, in truth, eternal joy; for if you continue faithful and diligent in doing, God will undoubtedly be faithful and generous in rewarding. Continue to have reasonable hope of salvation, but do not act as though you are certain of it lest you grow indolent and proud.

Next, Thomas segues into a story that might as well have been from “Thoughts from the mind of Frank”:

One day when a certain man who wavered often and anxiously between hope and fear was struck with sadness, he knelt in humble prayer before the altar of a church. While meditating on these things, he said:”Oh if I but knew if I should persevere until the end!” Instantly he heard within the divine answer: “If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then and you will be quite secure.”

Keep it simple, stupid. And for good measure, Thomas adds,

Remember the purpose you have taken and keep in mind the image of the Crucified. Even though you may have walked many years on the pathway to God, you may well be ashamed if, with the image of Christ before you, you do not try to make yourself still more like Him…Always remember your end and do not forget that lost time never returns.

I had been baptized since I was ten, and my mother had been a great example to me growing up in a Christian household. But what about after I left the nest? “Lost time never returns” really struck a chord with me.

How much time had I lost due to arrogance, spiritual pride and stiff-necked resistance to the Church? Well, I married a nice Catholic girl in 1989 and seeing how it was 2007 when I read this passage, I had basically been spinning my wheels spiritually for at least eighteen (18!) years. Add on eight (8!) more from the time I left “the nest” before I got married and now we’re talking twenty-six (26!) luke-warm years altogether. The accident that took the lives of two of my comrades, and killed my “destiny” of becoming a Marine Officer (and almost killed me too) took place in 2001, so six (6!) of those years of wheel spinning, post-accident, is near incomprehensible!

One of my favorite quotes by a heroic military figure is one attributed to Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson during the heyday of the Royal Navy:

Time is everything; five minutes makes the difference between victory and defeat.

I can’t help thinking of that after the quote above and again as Thomas puts the finishing touch on this chapter with these words:

If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide. Watch over yourself, arouse yourself, warn yourself, and regardless of what becomes of others, do not neglect yourself. The more violence you do to yourself, the more progress you will make.

At this point, as I was putting the finishing touches on my staircase, a voice inside my head, (my voice?), said “haven’t you waited long enough? Waste not one second more!”

Next time: The prodding of both Blaise and Thomas lead me to a modern Cistercian named Father Louis, and to look for a job.

Because of Practical Instruction Like This

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, Webster posted this note about the close friendship of Saints Basil and Gregory. Back in the middle of December 2009, Webster penned this note with the title Because of “Such a Friend” where the subject of male friendships surfaced as a topic for discussion. I bring this up because I posted the following comment to that discussion:

They (the Disciples) junked the “think only of myself” model and exchanged it for the “two greatest commandments” model. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Say this to yourself as a mantra and I guarantee your decision making matrix will change.

From the Office of Readings in the LOTH this morning, I was surprised to see St. Augustine flesh out what I had thought was an original idea (Qoheleth is laughing now) over 1600 years before I could possibly have even thought it! Relieved, then, is probably a more accurate description of how I felt. In one of his tractates (lectures) on the Gospel of John he writes:

The Lord himself came, the Teacher of love, full of love, “shortening the word upon the earth”, as it was foretold he would do. He showed that from the two precepts of love depend the whole of the Law and the prophets.

Yes, I remember the passage he is alluding to where Our Lord and a scholar of the law have this discussion in the Gospel of Matthew (22:36-40). Augustine continues on as follows,

What are these two commandments? Join me, my brethren, in recollecting them. They ought to be thoroughly familiar to you and not just come to your mind when we recite them: they ought never to be blotted out from your hearts. Always and everywhere, bear in mind that you must love God and your neighbor, “love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”

We must always ponder these words, meditate them, hold them in our minds, practice them, and bring them to fruition.

Which is what I suggested in my comment above. A take on the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing” from his letter to the Thessalonians. He continues,

As far as teaching is concerned, the love of God comes first; but as far as doing is concerned, the love of your neighbor comes first.

Yes! As James “the slave of Christ” exhorts in his letter, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” (James 1:22)

Whoever sets out to teach you these two commandments of love must not commend your neighbor to you first and then God, but God first and then your neighbor.

Put first things first!

You, on the other hand, do not yet see God, but loving your neighbor will bring you that sight. By loving your neighbor, you purify your eyes so that they are ready to see God as John clearly says: “If you do not love your brother, whom you see, how can you love God, whom you don’t see?”

I have much work to do on this front, believe me! Who doesn’t? But again I am grateful for the Communion of the Saints and the practical, day-to-day examples and simple instruction they give me to living a Christian life in this world.

P.S. St. Augustine wrote 124 lectures on the 21 chapters Gospel of John. You can find them here.

Because of the Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Posted by Frank
I am sitting in a friend’s house in Southern California surrounded by books one minute into New Year’s Day. My friends are devout Catholics and have many volumes that are of interest to me. Everything from The Curé d’Ars, St. Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney to a pamphlet entitled Confession: A Little Book for the Reluctant.

There are books here, and in my public library at home, covering the whole spectrum of Catholic Christianity. I could spend weeks, months, a lifetime reading through these selections. And I intend to do so. This quote by Horace Walpole sums up my experience since I started this journey in 2006:

The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.

Which brings me to the title of this post, taken from a book in the library here written by the physicist Richard P. Feynman. I’m not really interested in Feynman’s book, but his title is apt for my purposes: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. With the Bible and the Liturgy of the Hours in one hand, and volume after volume of great works that illuminate them both in the other, I find myself a happy Catholic ready to celebrate a Happy New Year.

St. Augustine’s Confessions? Barely got past the dust cover, so that is on my “bucket list” of Catholic books to read. Aquinas? Looking forward to it. I’ve read de Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet, and that is outstanding. Webster likes the Catholic fiction like Kristin Lavrinsdatter, while I really enjoy the nonfiction works of the Early Church Fathers.

I’ll probably read this one this year as well: The Grunt Padre, the biography of Lt. Vincent Capadonno, USNR, a Roman Catholic Chaplain who was awarded the Medal of Honor serving with the 5th Marines in Vietnam.

Learning about our Faith is a real joy. What is on your Catholic-book bucket list for this year? Now, to bed and up early for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!


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