Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Confusing the Fast

The concept of fasting was brought to my attention a number of years ago. I do not mean, by that, the "fact" of fasting, but exactly as I wrote: "the concept". I had already come across the fact of it a long time before. The concept itself, however, was an entirely different thing. The "concept" is the idea of giving up something that we want, for the sake of building up our personal resistance to sin. Now, most of us understand this concept, so it is not very new to the majority of you who are reading this. It was made clear to me, however, when I heard about a homeless man who had died of starvation. His was not a willing fast, but rather one forced on him by the circumstances. This made me realize that the same act of being hungry (both in starving by consequence of your circumstances, and intentionally choosing to fast) are different because the latter is done by choice. When we choose to fast, we are choosing to give up something that is good for us (more on the "good for us" part below).

This also made me take notice of the fact that just as easily as we choose to fast, we can choose not to fast. Therefore, if we can choose whether or not to fast, then we can also choose to fast only outwardly and not inwardly. In other words, we can fast by eating less food, but not actually have any clear spiritual benefit from it. Why does the Church tell us to fast? Well, because Jesus said to, right? Yes, but that is not the whole story. Fasting is a discipline that has numerous spiritual (and physical!) benefits, which we often do not think about. When we neglect the spiritual dimension of fasting, it becomes merely an empty action that does us little (if any) good.

There is another dimension (at least in America and other affluent countries) that makes our practice of fasting often fall short. When we become accustomed to "getting what we want", then fasting seems even more of a hardship than it really is. For those who were raised by permissive parents, and have been deprived of the grace of self-control, then fasting appears to us to be more than just a challenge, it appears to be something that is wrong. I recall being in a restaurant, and watching a 3 year old throw a temper tantrum once when she was told that the item she wanted for dinner was not available on the menu. "No you may not" is not a bad thing to say to a child once in a while (if for nothing else, than to teach them that life does not always give us everything we want!).

I have come across a new "twist" for the Lenten practice of additional fasting lately. Some have said "instead of fasting from good things, fast from bad things". One said he was going to fast from "cursing", and another said she would fast from "being rude". While I hope they do avoid cursing and being rude, that is not the idea of a fast. You are supposed to "repent" from bad behaviors (remember that word, "repent"? people do not like it much today) all the time; but when we fast, it is supposed to be from good things. This is because fasting from something good is a self-sacrifice that is done for the glory of God and the strengthening of our spirits. You are always supposed to avoid bad behavior (not just "give it up for lent"!).

What further concerns me is that it seems that people (especially in my home country of America) want desperately to find ways to avoid giving up the good things that they so enjoy. Let me make it clear that I do not know what their actual motives are (that is between God and them), but the way that some of them have described this "twist" on fasting, I think that at least some of this is motivated by less than holy desires. It appears that they do not want to go through the discipline of sacrificing their morning cup of coffee, or that tv show they like so much, and so they have sought for a way to be holy while avoiding the historic practice of the Church. So rather than "hunker down" and struggle through the challenge of giving up what they enjoy, it appears that many of them seek an artificial piety by saying "I'm going to fast from bad stuff".

In Mass recently (Friday after Ash Wednesday) the first reading was from Isaiah 58 where the Lord warns the people that they "seek [their] own pleasure". In other words, they were not fasting in the self-sacrificial manner that God required of them. He also shows them that godly fasting is more than from food; we are also supposed to give up other things that we enjoy (which can apply to everyone, including those who are not of the age determined by the conference of Bishops when fasting from mere food). We are also supposed to give up our personal time, and our possessions (either by giving them to someone in need, or by simply abstaining from them). The Lord tells us that this "is the fast that [He] choose[s]" for us to follow.

So this lent, fast. Fast as the Church requires of you, but also fast from other things as well, for the penitence involved in such behavior is pleasing to our Lord, as well as beneficial to each of us. Just imagine with me what it would be like this coming Easter if everyone around you had taken advantage of the spiritual benefits of fasting, and had become more holy in their personal lives? What amazingly faithful parishes we would have. That would truly bring more people to Christ, and thus more glory to God.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Do Manfully (7)

I wrote a while back about the modern emasculation of men. Another thought came to my mind about this recently. I was thinking about we have become a society of sissies. We are easily offended at the slightest things today (and many even seem to enjoy being offended). The problem here is that there are things that we are supposed to be offended by, yet those often get forgotten. Instead we are usually offended by the most pitiful and petty things; things that should not even bother us--thus, we are sissies.

So when considering men, what makes a real man take offense? Should he be offended when someone insults his shoes or his favorite song? Should he be offended when he reads of the numbers of unborn children murdered in America every year? These are important questions to ask, because a weak man will be easily insulted and fall into foolish anger. A strong man, however, will aim at the godly virtue of self-control (and he will know when he needs to express offense, while still maintaining self-control).

Here are a few comparisons that might help us make things more clear.
1) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their favorite beer, than when you insult the Eucharist. How does a godly and faithful man respond when someone makes a direct insult of the Holy Sacrament? He will not lash out in anger, but he will not also merely sit back and say "to each his own". He will consider whether he can do something to help the offense end, and whether he can aid the offender in repentance. When it comes to his favorite beer, however, he will not really care (even if they go so far as to insult a Guinness).
2) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their sports team, than when you insult their parish. Even the Catechism warns us about idolizing the abilities of sports figures (which is exactly as I said "idolizing" and verges on idolatry [remember that sin? it is still a mortal one!]). Which does a godly man have more affection for? If he loves his "team" more than his parish, something is seriously wrong spiritually. A godly man will promote his parish (and the people in it) more than his "team" and the players in it. A godly man will joyfully associate with his fellow parishioners more strongly than with someone who likes the same "team".
3) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their politician, than when you insult their bishop. How strongly do you defend your bishop--really? I hear people speak against bishops quite often today. In principle it does not matter if he has made a mistake (all of us do!), he is still your bishop, and you should treat him as being in the line of succession of the Apostles (since he is!). A godly man will put more time and effort into supporting his bishop than he will some politician (regardless of who the politician is). After all, a bishop has more impact on this nation than any politician (believe it or not!).
4) Emasculated men are more offended when you insult their favorite tv show, than when you insult the Bible. Men, do you love the Scriptures? Or does entertainment push the very words of God to the wayside? Which do you see as more important? Godliness will lead a man to be bold when it comes to speaking about, and protecting, God's words. When it comes to tv shows, though (which are done mostly by godless people who are only trying to line their own pockets), where is the eternal significance in them? Which would God have you defend?
These are merely some considerations. Things to consider when we are looking to grow in holiness and be the men that God has called us to be. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but it should get the conversation going in such a direction that we all start thinking about our priorities and our commitments. One more thing that I need to remind everyone about: seek to spend more time in prayer that God will help those who are men, and those who are future men, so to they may each accept the calling they have been given, and stand firm in the truth of God. As I said before, do manfully!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Real Problem

"Men can always be blind to a thing so long as it is big enough." G. K. Chesterton.
I have been thinking about this for a long time now. All right; here goes. I am going to go ahead and say it, even though I suspect that I am going to make a few new enemies. The "school shootings problem" is not about gun laws; it is not about tighter security; it is not about making mental health care available. It is not about any of these things. And the more that I read people screaming about problems that are "out there" the less convincing they are in what they are saying. People always scream about "out there" problems when the do not want to accept responsibility. The problem is not "out there". The problem is the schools themselves, and you do not heal a disease by protecting it. My grandmother used to say "if your recipe tastes like dirt, you don't make it the same way the next time" (only she did not use the word "dirt"). 

The "problem" that has led to students bringing guns to school and killing other students and staff is caused by the culture of the schools. Only when that culture is changed will the shootings stop. What, you may ask, is "that culture"? It is the culture of nihilistic abandonment. Nihilism teaches that there are no absolutes, there are no objective moral standards, and there is no point in anything. The result of this perspective being taught (whether intentionally or unintentionally) in public schools for the last 50 years (or more) can be nothing other than violent and immoral behavior. This leads, almost unavoidably, to children showing less and less concern for the well being of others. Once you teach them to hate God (which is what you are doing when you try to teach subjects from an atheist perspective [school subjects without God are, by nature, atheist subjects]), then the necessary consequence is that they will hate mankind.

When you tell each student, "you can be whatever you want to be" you set them up for failure and the resulting depression that goes with the realization of reality. When you tell each student that God is not a significant subject for knowledge, you destroy all moral objectives and stab at the heart of any faith that they may have had. When you tell each student that personal pleasure and individual fulfillment is all that matters, you create spiritual evil in their hearts (often, mistakenly, referred to as "mental health issues"). I attended public schools from elementary through my first two years of college, and I was (even back then) taught nihilism. It has only gotten worse today. People talk about bringing prayer back to schools, but prayer will not matter if you are also teaching children that God does not matter.

As the quote from Chesterton that I cited above shows, modern American society is blind to this problem because it is too obvious; it is staring everyone in the face. When there was a surge in postal workers being violent (and "going postal") the US postal service saw a need to change how they treated their employees; and many other corporations followed suit. Yet, today, when children are "going postal" the solution is not to fix the schools (oh no, don't touch the schools, it cannot be their fault!), the solution is always "out there". This is just a further denial of responsibility, because they do not want to give up nihilism. This is what nihilism has done to our children (and many of the teachers who were taught by it as well), but most refuse to admit it. Better security and tighter gun laws are not going to solve anything because they have nothing to do with the actual disease (and kids will just find another method to be violent).

I am crushed at seeing the violence. I sobbed in tears on Ash Wednesday as I watched events unfold in Florida. I thought many times "children should not be in a place where that can so easily happen". I laud those who want to "do something" about it, but most of what people are talking about doing is like giving a Motrin to a cancer patient; it only delays the inevitable, and it will not stop the real problem. I pray that America will see what the real problem is, and stop putting so much effort into swatting a fly while there is an angry bear in the house.