The Family That Falls Together

“As the family goes, so goes the nation,
and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

-Pope St. John Paul II

When we come into this world, we enter crying and naked. We enter crying as we become separated from the safe and comfortable warmth of our mother’s protection. We were once nuzzled in the warmth of that womb, where we are so utterly protected. We are naked, for we come into the world with nothing – no knowledge, no possessions, nothing. During our nine months in the womb and the several years afterward, we receive everything from our parents. All food, clothing, shelter, knowledge, values – everything comes from them. We are born into this world with a natural desire for these things. Our bodies need nourishment and protection, and our minds desire the same.

Traditionally, parents would serve an active role in this process. They would teach their children about whatever faith they professed and about the world. They instilled values and remained an active presence in the lives of their children. Today, we cannot expect for this to be the case. Families are broken. Parents are absent – if not physically, than at least emotionally. Parents have replaced interactive parenting methods with technology. When a child wants attention or to interact with parents or siblings, the immediate reaction has become to give them a phone or a tablet with games to play or videos to watch. Rather than children playing games with other people, they become closed in on themselves.

While it might initially seem to have little impact, as these children grow older, we can see some of these longterm effects. We see children and adolescents glued to their phones. They struggle to go a few minutes without a visual confirmation that the phone is indeed in their possession. They must look at their phones for the time, because they cannot seem to read the clock. Even more than these: adolescents do not have a proper understanding of authority. Because there is an absence of discipline in the home, they grow up seeing adults as just older peers. While previous generations of adolescents have had a disdain for authority, this current generation does not even recognize authority.

Because they have no notion of discipline from their parents, they have developed no form of discipline for themselves in their studies. They have lost all sense of a desire for knowledge and a sense of wonder. When students see a challenge before them, rather than pushing themselves to work through it, they stomp their feet and complain about how it’s too hard. They have an overwhelming sense of entitlement, which paralyzes them whenever they encounter something that does not come with immense ease. Students reject books for the sake of technology. School libraries remain ghost towns filled with the unencountered spirits of ages past trapped in the pages of unopened books. What is left to happen with these libraries but to throw out the books. The culture and knowledge of ages past has thus been rejected for the sake of the new and entertaining pages of websites that lead to new pages, which lead to new pages, which leads to the infinite nothingness of the ignorance of the uneducated Lords of the Interweb Realm.

I am scared for the future that lies ahead, with these students turning into responsible adults. These adolescents have been raised with no sense of responsibility or perseverance. What will happen when they have jobs that challenge them? How will businesses succeed with entitled 20-somethings, 30-somethings children. I look out at my students on a daily basis and wonder what the future holds for us. While some of these students are strong-willed and intelligent, many of them lack the strength to persevere in hardship. Many of these problems are surely based in the frailty of the family. The family is the fundamental building block of society. When the family falls, so does society. We must seek to strengthen the family once again, in order that all might persevere in strength, intelligence, and responsibility. This world that we desire must start with us. We cannot alter the hearts and minds of others. However, we can seek to inspire others by how we choose to live our own lives.

“If this country is ever demoralized,
it will come from trying to live without work.”

-Abraham Lincoln

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Duc In Altum

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About Getting Your Ash in Church

“Some people think that having ash on your forehead is ridiculous.
But I am neither ashamed nor afraid because
the ashes remind me that I have to someday pass away
and reunite with my creator.”

-Walter Buns

[The following is (more or less) a reflection I gave to a group of high school students today for an Ash Wednesday prayer service.]

Sacrifice. Sacrifice is that big word that we must face at the beginning of this Lent. But when we think of sacrifice, it is important to understand what we mean. When we hear ‘sacrifice,’ some people might think of parents sacrificing for their children, or sports players sacrificing for their teams, or soldiers for their country, or even Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. Whatever image we prefer, we can all recognize the common factors of each of these different scenarios. We can all see that these are sacrifices. (If you cannot, feel free to comment, and I shall explain.)

But when we look at these sacrifices that people make or that we make, if we truly wish to dive into the topic, we ask the question: Why? Why would we sacrifice? Why do these people make these sacrifices? And if you take the time to think about it, you will discover that these sacrifices are made out of love. Love moves us to sacrifice. Love moves us to put the needs of others before our own. We see the needs of another, and we seek those above our own.

At the beginning of Lent, a common conversation is, “What are you giving up?” Most people know of the concept of giving up something for Lent. When we give up something, we must recognize that this is indeed a sacrifice. And if it is a sacrifice, then it is done out of love. We are making a sacrifice for a greater good, beyond merely ourselves and our own good. We are looking beyond the closed-mindedness of our daily routine for something beyond us. Thus, in being called to make sacrifices for Lent, the question will inevitably arise: For what purpose? What love or purpose is driving us to seek to sacrifice something? The answer is a deeper relationship with God. We are sacrificing these things, whether big or little, for the sake of growing into a deeper relationship with our loving God above.

During these 40 days of Lent, we place ourselves in the desert with Christ Himself. Just as Christ fasted in the desert for 40 days, so too are we called to fast and sacrifice during the season of Lent. christ-in-the-desertWe fast and we sacrifice in order to grow closer to God. But how does this happen? How does giving up candy help me to grow closer to God? Well, some things really won’t help us grow closer to God, which is why we want to seek to answer these questions at the outset of the season. By ridding ourselves of unnecessary attachments, we allow ourselves more opportunities and more time to be put to better use. For example, I watch a lot of TV shows. Thus, in order to detach myself from this unhealthy attachment, I am sacrificing my time watching TV shows; I am giving up TV shows for Lent. Thus, I will have more time and opportunities to spend in seeking out a deepening of my relationship with God. Once again, some things bring us closer to God, while other things keep us from doing so. During this Season of Lent, we are called to seek to strip ourselves of those things that drag us down for the sake of those things that pick us up, bringing us closer to God.

During this time of Lent, we have three main pillars, so-to-speak: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. During the Season, we are called to seek our these three things, in order to deepen our relationship with God. We fast, and we sacrifice certain things, in order that we might grow closer to God. Because of these sacrifices, we have more time to re-focus ourselves toward God and serving Him, and seeking His will in our lives. We have more time for prayer, for actively seeking out that deeper relationship. We also have more time, and maybe more money to give alms, whether it entails sacrificing our time, our talent, or our treasure for those less fortunate than us. While not all people have the monetary means to give money to the poor, all of us are blessed with plenty of time and talent, which we can give for the sake of others.

 

Throughout this whole season, we are called to focus on Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. Christ made the ultimate sacrificecrucifixion for each and every one of us on the Cross. If we stop to think about it, we can truly be blown away by the love that motivated that sacrifice. If it were only you, Christ would have endured all of His suffering for the sake of just that one, for you. He had you in mind when He made the ultimate sacrifice. So, while our own sacrifices will pale in comparison to Christ’s, we are still called to follow His example. On the night before He died, Christ prayed to the Father, “Let this cup pass from me if it is possible. But not my will, but yours be done.” Sacrifice was even difficult and painful for Christ Himself. Sacrifice is going to be hard; it’s not meant to be easy. But by following Christ’s example, we rid ourselves of those unnecessary things that occupy our lives. Whether we strip away activities or habits, we answer this call to cleanse ourselves of all those things that drag us down. When we remove the unnecessary, what we have left is the necessary – our lives, in service to God and His will in our daily lives.

At the beginning of this Lenten season, we celebrate Ash Wednesday. We receive ashes on our foreheads, ashesin order to remind us of our utter dependence on God and our mortality. In the Book of Genesis, we hear God to say to us, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are indeed lowly creatures, who were created from nothing by a loving God. If we focus too much on the wrong part of this, we can get trapped in a feeling of a meaningless existence. Thus, though we are lowly, our Creator is truly loving! This loving God desires to be in a relationship with each and every one of us. While we often distract ourselves from Him, falling away, God always seeks us out; He wants that relationship. I challenge you to seek to enter into this Lenten season. I call you to seek out a deeper relationship with God.

What is it that is keeping you from a loving relationship with God?

What can you sacrifice for the greater good of your relationship with God?

In what ways can you persist in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving?

We leave this world just as we came into it: with nothing. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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Duc In Altum

 

The Eye and the Star

“There [Sauron] took up again his great Ring in Barad-dur,
and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise,
an image of malice and hatred made visible;
and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien tells the story of the Dark Lord Sauron, who creates the One Ring to rule them all. In the eyeofsauronbattle to overthrow this darkness, Sauron loses his physical form, coming to remain as a spiritual presence, awaiting the time when he can regain his body, in order that he might once again rule over Middle-Earth. Sauron is said to have a quasi-omnipotence, which is described metaphorically as the Eye of Sauron, for all people could feel his presence, remaining fearful of the lengthy sight of this Dark Lord. In his film adaptations, Peter Jackson decided to present this presence as a literal eye, gigantic and flaming. All people who experience his presence are overcome with this fear, as they are always watched by this all-perceiving eye.

In contrast, there is the light that comes from the Star oearendil-starf Eärendil. This light of this star is said to have come from a Silmaril, which represents the might and beauty of the Valar in Middle-Earth. The Silmarils came from the Two Trees of Valinor, from which came all light at one time. This star is what led the ancestors of the Númenóreans to their lands. The Star of Eärendil is a guiding light of the heavens. It is the light of Eärendil that guarded Frodo on his journey to Mordor. The people of Middle-Earth can ponder of this guiding light, as a reminder from the great ancestors of Middle-Earth, leading them to follow the ways of the Valar, just as Eärendil.

As I ponder these two images, I cannot help but notice a stark contrast. In the Eye of Sauron, a dark fear comes upon an individual, feeling as though they have been violated by all that is evil and fallen. However, at the same time, Sauron’s Eye might seem like a comfort, for they can be seen as they are before this eye. Why try to battle it? Why try to move against this great Power? The Eye becomes a symbol of the futility of fighting. That is how Sauron gains his sympathizers: through fear and false consolation.

On the other side, there is a bright light in the heavens. This light does not impose itself on the beholder, but it does shine so brightly in the sky, so as to prevent the light from any other star. The light bids the viewer to seek its guidance, though does not violate. Although the star’s light is brighter than any other, finding its source in might and beauty, there is no softer yet more beautiful light to behold. We can all look to this great light in the sky, guided just as the Valar lead all to the might and beauty of Ilúvatar – of God.

These two images are not completely unrelated. Morgoth and his greatest servant, Sauron, truly love to take that which is good and corrupt it for their own perverted purposes. They take the good, the true, and the beautiful, turning them into the evil, the lie, and the ugly. This ugliness is more than just a simple physical unattractiveness, however. Sauron takes this beauty, forming an ugliness that penetrates to its very being. Thus, Sauron has taken this unimposing, beautiful guiding light of Eärendil’s Star and imposes his all-seeing presence as an Eye. This Eye penetrates all it sees, piercing to the very center of their being, violating all it sees. People submit to this power because they feel powerless in its sight, even though this power is a mere Shadow. Sauron’s power is commonly referred to as a Shadow, revealing that it possesses no true presence or power that can overcome our beings, without its permission.

Though seemingly distant in the land of Middle-Earth, we should not be completely unfamiliar with these images. (I discuss the following with the recognition that the images are not perfect, due to Tolkien’s aversion to allegory.) Being a good Catholic, Tolkien was quite familiar with the beauty of the Blessed Sacrament, especially as perceived in the monstrance:

monstrance


“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated,

I put before you the one great thing to love on earth:
the Blessed Sacrament …
There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity,
and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”

We look to this soft, unimposing light as the source of all beauty. The angels worship before this light, for all might and beauty come from this light. We look to this light for guidance, but it does not penetrate us without our permission. If we allow it in, we can always count on it to guide us in the right direction. This light and beauty comes from God above, and so we can know that we are led by the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

On the opposite side, we see the imposing light that is the culture of death. In some ways, we see this as the culture that praises abortion or euthanasia. In reality, our entire culture is one of death. They put to death anyone with differing opinions. They put to death any kind of systems of morality, relying completely on what ‘feels’ right. This culture burns among us, imposing itself on all people. It penetrates our beings, feeling as though we can do nothing in response to defend ourselves. Resistance seems futile. Thus, many people give up, for they feel entirely violated, unable to do anything but give in to the darkness, throwing away all that they once held dear. However, we know that this apparent light is merely a Shadow, being a corruption of that which is good. It penetrates us, but we feel we have no other choice. We can seek out the Blessed Sacrament, and allow it to peer into us and to purify us – something beyond the capabilities of this Culture. While this Culture imposes itself upon us, ‘monstrance’ comes from the word meaning ‘to show.’ We are shown True Light and Beauty and given the choice to peer upon it, rather than being violated by this dark culture.

We look to the Culture to save us, but nothing can save us but God alone. May we look the Star of Eärendil, known in this world as the Blessed Sacrament. May we always look to this guiding light to save and protect us from this passing Shadow. May we rely on the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, which comes from the True Light of the Blessed Sacrament, and not the Shadowy Culture of Death.

“When we adore, we plug into infinite dynamism and power.
Adoration is more powerful for construction
than nuclear bombs are for destruction.”

-Peter Kreeft

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Duc In Altum

The Propaganda of the Two-Party System

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends,
they are likely in the course of time and things,
to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men
will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves
the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines
which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

-George Washington

I know that it’s been a while since I have posted anything, and I know that I have yet to really touch too much on politics, but I find it my duty, during this election season, to write about it. As Eärendil’s Star, I have taken it upon myself to be that light in the darkness. The world is so dark, and it needs a light to stand firm and not be blown out. In my life, I have not seen an election as dark as this one, and so I determined that I could not sit by and let my thoughts not be heard on this topic.

I hope the title stood out to you, because it was meant to do so. However, while some people shutterstock_194883113might think it hyperbole, I did not intend it as such. I said what I meant, and I meant what I said. In past elections, the two-party system has been apparent. You would always find most people fitting into their Republican or Democrat categories, voting for the candidates because they are Republican or Democrat. Why does that make sense? Oh, I have a lot of the same beliefs of the Republican party. Or, the Democrats overall sympathize with the same issues that I do. While that is true to an extent, I’m sure, I cannot say that I have ever really encountered someone who completely fits into the Platonic Republican or Democrat categories.

However, in past elections, the candidates were usually the average Republicans and Democrats (neglecting the third-party candidates).0412trumpclintonmissouri And so, previously, people were able to simply fall into the idea that they basically know that they are more likely to align with the candidate from their claimed party than the opposing party. Anyone with a pulse would realize that this election is different than any other election in U.S. history. One candidate is a crude misogynist, who remains incoherent at all times. The other has been under investigation by the F.B.I. and has been a recorded liar in numerous instances. These candidates make everyone fear for the future of this country and this world. It makes people look back to 2012 longingly, wishing that the end of the world had come then, rather than potentially on November 8, 2016.

However, we can be happy that these two are not the only candidates. Many citizens have come to point out, “Hey. These aren’t the only candidates. Maybe we can look at these third-party candidates. Just about anyone would be better than these two.” No. The third-party candidates are not the best candidates either. However, I shudder to think of the country in the hands of either of those two in the above picture. We can thank God that we have other options beyond these two.

“HOLD UP!” people have been saying. “You can’t vote third-party, because that’s a vote for [insert Republican or Democratic candidate’s name here].” In this election, we have been getting legitimate propaganda like what you see below.maxresdefaultctdhmhdxyaayqmo Propaganda is defined as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” In images and information like these, we find propaganda, 14713524_720061278163018_5835064742684317579_ntrying to convince you to vote for x candidate, in order to prevent candidate, just as long as you don’t vote for n, m, or candidates. I don’t know who made these, or if the quote from our President is real, but I will say one thing – these sorts of ideas are spread all over by all kinds of people. And you know what? Something just seems off. How can my vote for Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson, or whomever, be a vote for both Trump and Clinton at the same time? It doesn’t work like that. These tactics try to scare you into voting for a particular candidate. How many times have we heard, “Well so-and-so is the lesser of two evils“? This propaganda is saying that, while you might want to vote third-party, what you really want is to keep that candidate out of office, and so you should vote for this candidate.

I am here to tell you that maybe the decision shouldn’t be that simple (or difficult). Maybe one of the candidates IS the lesser of two evils when only looking at the two of them. However, by listening to this propaganda, we are perpetuating numerous lies:
1) The lie that there are only two candidates between whom to choose. We can look at the third-party candidates. We need to realize that they are viable options. We do not need to only see who the ‘lesser of two evils’ is between Republican and Democrat.choosing-the-lesser-of-two-evils-is-still-choosing-evil
2) The lie that choosing the lesser of two evils is not choosing an evil. We neglect to think about the fact that, by saying that we are voting for the ‘lesser of two evils,’ we are voting for an evil. In this picture, whom would you choose? Who is the lesser of two evils?
3) The lie that the majority vote matters more than our consciences when we go to vote. We are given consciences. It is our responsibility to educate our consciences, in order that we might make informed decisions on right and wrong. By perpetuating this faulty two-party system, we are allowing this majority vote to take higher priority than our own consciences. Shouldn’t we be voting in line with our consciences, rather than in line with what other people simply tell us we should do?

I will admit that this is one of my more ranting posts. However, it continues to annoy me how much society has fallen into the lie of the two-party system. The above quote by George Washington expresses a foundational understanding of the two-party system to American politics. Our country was never intended to be a two-party system as it is today. As you approach this election, I want you to truly think about your decision. Think about why you’re voting for the candidate for whom you are voting. Is it out of fear? Are you being convinced by this propaganda? Are you voting for ‘the lesser of two evils’? Or are you choosing this candidate because your conscience compels you to do so?

Just keep these above thoughts in mind. I say to ‘duc in altum,’ to put out into the deep, at the end of each blog post. In the time of this election, I do not think there is more apt advice for me to give. I call each of you to put out into the deep. Make the unpopular decision. Swim upstream. Go out into the depths of the ocean, in the midst of the storm, standing strong in your beliefs, and holding true to your consciences. I hope that I will get to see you on the other side of this year’s election.

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Duc In Altum

Sow the Seeds

“We must sow the seed,
not hoard it.”

-St. Dominic

I have spent the last four years studying to be a catechist. I have felt called to be a catechist for even longer. It wasn’t until my college years that I really grasped the significance of the calling of the catechist. While I grew in my understanding of the role of the catechist, I grew in my love and passion for that calling. Jesus Christ calls us to make disciples of all nations. We canNOT neglect any people as we seek to bring the Good News of Christ to others. All people have a right to the truth. When we have come to know the truth, we have the right, the responsibility, and the obligation to share that truth with others.

St. Paul proclaims, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). When one has encountered truth and been enraptured by its beauty, they cannot help but to preach the Gospel. Imagine finding out the best news you’ve ever heard. Would not want to tell everyone with whom you come in contact?? That is ultimately the role of the catechist. We are called to bring that truth to others. We are to guide others to these truths, which have impacted our lives so drastically. Whatever our calling, we can share these truths. Our different callings can determine the way in which we share it, but we are all called to share it. And why would we not want to??

I am currently preparing to go out into the field and to take up my role as a catechist. This vocation is a daunting call. Paul himself says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). Well dag-nabbit! Jesus had said a couple decades previously, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Well that is absolutely terrifying. The souls of many little ones are entrusted to our care. It should be my mission to get them to Heaven. Thus, if something that I do makes it difficult for them to get to Heaven, I will be judged harshly because of it.

Additionally, we are called to sow the seeds of the Kingdom amongst those of the world. Catechists are called specifically to sow these seeds to their students. It can be tempting to see students who do not seem to care, and think that they are not worth the effort, that they would be wasted effort. However, if we recall from the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), the sower sows the seeds indiscriminately. Despite the rocky ground, or the thorns, or what-have-you, the sower sowed the seed. We are called to do the same. As the quote at the beginning says, “we must sow the seed, not hoard it.” It is not our responsibility to decide who is worthy of it. All of them have a right to the truth. Thus, we must seek to SOW the seeds to ALL, constantly praying for their conversion toward the Lord. We cannot neglect this calling.

I am preparing, as I said, to go out into the world. Some would say that I have spent the last years in a bubble. In a certain sense, that is true. But I will be honest, and say that I needed that bubble. The world can be a harsh place. Now that I have grown in my own relationship with the Lord and my knowledge of Him, I have been prepared to put out into the deep. At the end of every blog post, I put Duc In Altum. With all of the words I write, there is some sort of message that I hope people will take away from it. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect people to try to be like me. (I don’t want more of me in the world.) Rather, in my years of study and observation, there are some things that I’ve learned that I hope to pass on. I hope that you can take that and bring it into your own life. Thus, I hope that you, along with me, can Duc In Altumput out into the deep of the world. The world is harsh, but we are called to live out in the world, but not live of the world. Thus, I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to go out into the deep of the world, seeking to bring God’s love to all. Sometimes we’ll fall. Often we’ll fall. But we need to learn to pick ourselves up.

“Life is not about how hard you hit;
it’s about how hard you can get it
and keep moving forward.”

-Rocky

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Duc In Altum

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