Divorce, Remarriage, Communion, and False Charity

Or if what will prevail instead will be the sentiment of mercy that is now found for the most part in public opinion but also among the hierarchy: that of a reckless go-ahead for individual initiative, with "ad libitum" access to communion and with the conscience of the individual being the only one to lay down he law.

If history has taught us one thing it's that conflicts in society have their mirror in the Church. One thing is certain, the Church will not adopt a worldly interpretation of marriage no matter how large or loud the temper tantrum.

Measuring History

But the lesson for us moderns is, I hope, clear: phrases plucked from ancient documents, phrases such as “second marriage”, do not necessarily carry the same connotations today that they enjoyed in times past. Caution in reading them, and in reaching conclusions of law based on them, is therefore strongly advised.

Apart from the topic of this article there is a greater lesson here. Before we commit to a controversial position we should follow the old advice of carpenters everywhere, viz., measure twice, cut once.

I'll try to remember this lesson myself.

No Need To Be A Poser

You would think that the one community I’d be okay with joining would be a community of outsiders like me: weird first because we’re Christian, weirder because we’re gay, and weirdest of all, maybe, because we’re those things and also celibate.

But as usual I’m hesitant and scared. As usual, there are some pretty good reasons; and as usual, those reasons aren’t a good excuse for standing on the outside.

I think we all feel this way at times regardless of our particular struggles.

The Gift of Monasticism

Today the need is as great as ever for religious orders and their houses of study to stand as both a refuge of spiritual purity and of intellectual insight as to how best to support the truth of the Catholic faith in an era of secular positivism. There is a great need to return to the foundational understanding of philosophy in particular and classical learning in general in support of theology and the dogmatic truths of the faith while addressing the issues of a technologically advanced age. As in the past, monasteries offer great hope in providing havens of spiritual and scholarly retreat where the Catholic Renaissance of tomorrow could be launched to address the need for advancing orthodox theological explanation and guidance at a time of what fairly may be termed considerable moral and intellectual confusion.

This article reminds me that John Senior is correct. The restoration of Christian Culture will only happen through the restoration of monastic life.

All That's Left Is Sex

There are tons of causes for the loss of hope in contemporary culture. Maybe I'll hazard to dive into that messy soup some time to show how many contemporary spiritualities contribute to the loss of hope. For now, however, I'll simply state the case. We are a people who have lost hope. For years I've told people that the saddest spiritual disaster among the people I meet is not that they've ceased believing in hell, the devil, and sin. No. Sadly, the real tragedy is that people have lost their belief in heaven.

An old philosophy professor of mine made an astute observation in class one day. He declared to the class that most contemporary people in western society were atheists. He said that's if you include all those Christians who live as if they were atheists, even the devout. I was stunned by his assertion. Experience has taught me that he was right on the money.

If there's no God, there's no heaven. If you live as if there's no God, then you live as if there's no heaven. The net result is the same. Either way is a life doomed to be bereft of hope for the future glory promised to those who repent and believe in the Gospel. One without this hope is bound to seek happiness only in transitory goods. In other words, one is relegated to live a life seeking those things which delight only the senses. Man's spirit is neglected; it atrophies and dies.

At least in ye olde days the vast majority of people lived in a world filled with mystery. The trees had sprites. An elf was around every corner. The gods reigned on Mt. Olympus and the Valkyrie welcomed the noble souls into Valhallah. The rationalism of our time has murdered mystery with the microscope and the pocket calculator. It seems, that on a practical level, Christianity has been similarly wounded. Christ was just one more boogie man to fall victim to the focused analysis of myopic empiricists.

Sadly, believers haven't helped the situation. There has been too much anti-rationalism among believers. Faith has been set in opposition to reason in spite of the heroic efforts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The result is that these two valid sources of truth have been set as odds against each other. Everybody, as a result, suffers from this intellectual civil war. Hope, it seems, has been one of the conspicuous casualties.

A simulacrum of hope has become a weak replacement in the lives of so many people. Since there is nothing to look forward to after this life, or if we live as if there is nothing to look forward to after this life, then we end up simply seeking those goods we find laying about us. The great good of fulfillment has been replaced by the limited goods of satiety and pleasure. The great good of immortality has been replaced by propagation. The communion of persons has been replaced by casual encounters. In short, heavenly bliss has been replaced by sexual promiscuity.

This isn't simply a case of falling prey to our baser human inclinations. No, the pagans did paganism with far more panache than we could ever muster. We've fallen into a far worse state than our former pagan ways. We've reordered the heavenly and the infinite to the earthly and the finite. We've aborted our hope. We've placed our salvation in our sexuality.

Words Words Everywhere, And Not a Thought to Think

The word redefine didn't enter into English usage until the 1840s. Today, however, it's use is ubiquitous. There seems to be a common sentiment that everything must be redefined, not simply reformulated or resourced. If you think about it, the idea of redefining something is very odd. This is because we naturally understand the definition of a thing to be something we discover, not something we constitute. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, uses at least two definitions for a person – an individual substance of a rational nature, and a master of one's self. Both definitions are equally valid descriptive of different aspects of personhood. However, neither of these definitions negate or conflict with the other; they're simply precise descriptions of an object considered from different angles for the sake of analysis. This is radically different than today's trend of redefinition.

Oddly, the current business trend of rebranding is closer to the traditional method of defining than the contemporary method of redefining. When done well, rebranding capitalizes on the actual things that a business does and excels at. When done poorly, it tries to capture what a business would like to do well. The difference is subtle, but it's one that can lead to real world successes and failures. The former describes a reality, the latter describes a fantasy.

This gets at the heart of the problem with redefining words. Words, i.e., definitions, are supposed to accurately describe things the way they actually exist regardless of how we might want them to be. Redefinition tends to describe things the way we wish them to be regardless of how they actually exist. Essentially it's the difference between accepting or rejecting the objective reality of a thing. What's worse is that when we redefine something we expect it to bend to our new definition. It's like defining light as darkness, ice cream, or cowboy boots.

The great danger with this is that it's at least a tacit denial of the intelligibility of reality. As we continue to redefine things according to our subjective whims we do violence to the ground upon which human knowledge stands. Words lose their meaning because they no longer signify real things. If this trend continues each one of us will eventually end up with our own private language game. We are already seeing the practical implications of this trend in the widening polarity of contemporary politics. Debates have devolved into shouting matches where opponents are frequently talking past one another. Political opponents often lack a common language, so to speak. The contemporary marriage debate is a perfect examples of how the meaning of words have lost any ground in a commonly held notion of reality. And, this is, in fact, what is at stake. In the end, the question is about the nature of reality. Is it something we must accept as given, or something we constitute.

The assault on language is one of the most troubling aspects of modernism. It's an attack on the reality of the world, and hence on the intelligibility of the world. Really, take some time to reflect upon the very serious ramifications of this phenomenon.

They are all around us. And, they aren't pleasant.

The Wrong Question

The words we use betray us. They betray what’s on our mind and what’s in our heart. Listen closely to the words a person uses, the phrases he employs, and you’ll learn more about the speaker than he intends. This listening skill is essential for those of us who participate in the ministry of the “care of souls”. It’s not just the words that matter. It’s what’s lurking behind the words that’s often far more important. The words people choose often hint at a more fundamental disposition. It sounds cliche but it’s almost always true.

This is simply a preamble to what I really want to talk about. I feel this preamble is necessary because what I want to say touches on a core issue of the human spirit. I want to talk about the perceived relationship that we, as individuals, have with God. I say “perceived” on purpose. Sometimes we can think our relationship with God is strong when the reality is actually the opposite. A friend of mine asked me a question one time that illustrates the problem. He said, “when I’m praying, sometimes I wonder if I am actually talking to God or just talking to myself.”

Now that’s one heckuva statement!

He wasn’t questioning the existence of God. No, he was questioning himself. He was questioning whether he, in fact, had the sort of relationship with God that he believed he had. Essentially, my friend was wondering if he was actually a spiritual narcissist. This is a great question to ask ourselves regularly. Just being able to ask this question is evidence of spiritual maturity. Becoming spiritually mature often requires this sort of a shake up. Essentially, my friend wasn’t satisfied with simply relying on his own judgment about the things he discerned in prayer. He wanted external confirmation. He needed something tangible, something objective. He needed something to keep him grounded in reality so he didn’t fall into the trap of creating God in his own image. And, man, is it an easy trap to fall into. Parenthetically, this is exactly why Christ established his Church. She is the guardian and storehouse of the Deposit of Faith. She is a sure guide for living a good and holy life. This is why Blessed Pope John XXIII named the Church both Mother and Teacher.1

This memory popped into my mind because something keeps popping up in my conversations. I hear it online and offline. It’s almost a catch phrase at this point. When I’m having a conversation with someone about some moral failing (no matter what that failing may be) at some point my conversation partner will say: “I know that God loves me just the way I am.” At this point you’re probably scratching your head wondering, “What's the problem, Br. Gabriel?” Well, let me tell you. I mean, it’s usually a wonderful thing for someone to realize that they’re embraced by the all-encompassing love of God. Not everyone realizes this. The problem is that it’s the right answer to the wrong question.

I’m always surprised when this phrase is used. I shouldn’t be, but I am. It shows just how far our culture has fallen away from a basic understanding of God. Whenever I hear it I have an urge to grab the person by the shoulders and shake some sense into him saying, “Look, yes, you’re right! But that’s not the question. Of course God loves you. That’s a given!” What, then, is the question? The question we ask ourselves needs to be, “Do I love God?” But, see, this is the harder question. This is the question that many people don’t want to ask. They don’t want to ask it because they don’t like the consequences that follow from the answer.

If the answer to this question is “no,” the consequences are pretty terrifying. But, if the answer to the question is “yes,” the consequences are still pretty terrifying. The former is terrifying for, hopefully, obvious reasons. The latter is terrifying because it requires change. And, change, serious change, is always scary.

The moment I profess love for God I’m beholden to the words of Christ in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” I call this Christ’s Eliza Doolittle moment. Christ is effectively saying, “if you love me, show me!” So we can’t just say, “God loves me” and then be satisfied with the manner of our life. On the contrary, once we know that God’s love is both intimate and personal we have an obligation to repent of the imperfections, faults, and sins in our life and believe in the transformative power of the Gospel.

This isn’t the “health and wellness” gospel. This is the true gospel message. This is the message that requires courage to follow. Christianity isn’t the easy path that some make it out to be. It’s a daily struggle to live up to the name ‘Christian.’

So, does your love for God make you want to be a better person? Does your love for God make you want to please him above everyone else? Does your love for God make you want to follow his commandments with diligence regardless of how you feel about those commands? I hope so. If not, it might be time to reflect on the nature of your relationship with God. Do you really and truly love God with your whole mind, your whole heart, and your whole soul? Or, are you holding something back?

This is simply a choice that we get to make. Love is, after all, a choice. So, if we choose to love God, then we need to live out that love with intensity and reckless abandon. Don’t be satisfied with simply knowing that God loves you. That’s lazy. Root out of your life those things that displease God. I know, it isn’t easy. We have a tendency to rut and wallow in our sins. We hold onto them like a miser griping his last coin. But, if we love someone we generally desire to please that person. And, we generally don’t get to decide the terms and conditions for pleasing that person. We have to please them on their own terms. God is no different. But, if we’re spiritual narcissists we’ll never discover how beautiful an authentic love relationship with God can actually be. We will always be dictating our terms to God like petulant children.

Don’t fool yourself.

Don’t be afraid to conform yourself to his will.

It’s hard work, but, there’s true happiness, joy, and peace waiting for those who truly love him.

  1. Everyone should read his Encyclical Mater et Magistra.  ↩

Death Comes for Google Reader

If you use RSS for anything then you probably know that Google terminated Google Reader yesterday. They tend to do this to services they no longer value (regardless of how much we value them). Google Reader dominated the RSS reader services for a number of years. Their service was so good that they crushed the competition. Heck, it's the only Google service that still use. But, the demise of Google Reader seems like it's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because it will allow for competition in this technology space. It's bad because all of us who were dependent on it for gathering news from around the internet must make some decisions. We either abandon the use of RSS altogether (which I'm sure some people will do), or we find an alternative. I've been looking for an alternative.

The reason why I'm not willing to abandon a good RSS service is because of what Google Reader provided me. I'm not keen on allowing any medium or technology consume too much of my time. I've seen the result and I don't like it. Forms of media like newspapers, radio, and television already consume too much time as it is. If you add the internet to your daily routine then it's easy to simply become a consumer of information with no time for actual meaningful work or contemplation. You can easily become a drain drinking in raw data that spirals down into the emptiness of a cluttered soul. Google Reader has always helped me avoid this relationship damaging phenomenon. Instead of spending time seeking out information on the web the information from sites I find important are served to me as they are posted. I can then enjoy them according to my own time schedule. I have a simple workflow to help manage the information I receive:

  1. I subscribe to a site's RSS feed thought Google Reader.
  2. Google Reader syncs these feeds to all my devices.
  3. I curate these feeds using Reeder passing interesting items to Instapaper.
  4. I then read them at a convenient time in Instapaper or with ReadQuick.

This simple workflow has allowed me to consume a lot of important information without spending a lot of time online. Instead of going out to the internet, I make the internet come to me. This method of consuming information from online sources has been very efficient. It allows me to spend very little time scanning websites. There's no getting lost down dark rabbit holes constructed of hyperlinks. In real world terms, I spend less time consuming information with this workflow than the average newspaper reader and the information I'm able to consume is broader and more up to date. This allows me more time for study, prayer, and actual human relationships. In fact, this manner of consuming information contributes to the richness of each of these more primary human activities. I can contemplate current events, bring them and the needs of those involved before God in prayers, and share this information and its significance with others. Not having this process would actually impoverish my contemplative life at this point.

However, the foundation of this process has been Google Reader.

I've spent the last month investigating alternatives to Google Reader's service. Fortunately, an acquaintance of mine, Josh Centers has written an exhaustive article at TidBITS on the different options currently available. If you've been wondering what to do now that Google Reader is dead this article is a great place to start.

The alternative to Google Reader that I've chose to use is Feed Wrangler. I think that it will best serve my purposes in the long run. I'm currently unsatisfied with the iOS applications. However, I know that they are in their infancy. Also, if they don't get better my favorite RSS reader Reeder has promised to soon add it as a supported service.

This transition from one RSS syncing service to another has caused me to think a lot about my own use of technology and the internet. I continue to be convinced that the life of holiness can be attained in the midst of technological immersion. However, it is essential that we take the time to discover applications and workflows that allow us to govern the internet instead of being governed by it. It's so easy to let this happen! Yet, through trail and error I feel that I've found a good balance in my online life.

Now, if there was only an app or workflow to get my offline life in order ...