Little Way of the Family


Happy Fingernail Appreciation Day!
August 27, 2013, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Children, Sin, Theology of the Body | Tags: , , , ,

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Fingernails are one of the lesser-appreciated parts of the human body. We tend to treat them more like a tool than a body part. But we depend on our fingernails, and so our family decided to celebrate Fingernail Appreciation Day.

Our fingernails are not just for scratching an itch, but if you have ever had an itch you cannot scratch, you know that function is no minor matter. Our fingernails first and foremost protect our fingers. Without them, we would cut and scratch and bruise those fingertips on a regular basis. They also increase our dexterity, providing firm support when we pick up large objects, and acting as tweezers when we pick up small ones. And in our primitive stage, our fingernails acted as rudimentary utensils: tearing, cutting, and scraping our food as necessary.

When misused and abused, however, our fingernails can become a source of pain and suffering. If we chew them in nervousness, they become ragged and the fingers sore. If we fail to trim them, they can break and tear, and we can bleed. Bleeding or sore fingertips can keep us from doing what we need to do and can make even simple tasks painful. Finally, if we don’t keep them clean, they can harbor bugs and diseases.

Fingernails are like every other part of the human body. God designed them for a purpose, and when we abuse our bodies or use them in ways other than how God intended, we can and will suffer.

So Happy Fingernail Appreciation Day! Let’s take care of them and use them wisely.



Superhero Movies
August 25, 2013, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Children, Culture, Family Time, Sin | Tags: , , , , ,

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With the announcement of Ben Affleck as the new Batman came a hubbub of debate in a Yammer group at my work over the pros and cons, along with much angst and passion. As Batman was my childhood favorite superhero (I still remember when in college I eagerly awaited the first Batman movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson), I of course had my opinions. My biggest regret, however, was not the choice of the new Batman. My biggest regret was that there was a very strong likelihood I would not be able to share this upcoming movie with my children. In that case, I won’t see it at all.

We went through similar issues when the Amazing Spiderman movie came out awhile back. My youngest son, a big Spiderman fan, saw the commercials (no matter how little TV you let them watch, it seems like the commercials always filter in), and he badly wanted to see it. Dutifully, his mother and I looked the movie up on Parent Previews and quickly found that the movie was deemed even more violent than the previous incarnations of Spiderman, and included a man’s arm being ripped from his body. We decided to pass.

It doesn’t make me feel good to say “no” to allowing my children to see these movies. I want them to be entertained, and I very much enjoy being able to share the characters who I enoyed as a youth with them. I’ll even go further and say that the “simplistic” story of Good vs. Evil as portrayed in the comics has, historically, been a good and enriching thing for kids, just as those kinds of heroic tales have often been a good thing.

Two things have happened to spoil that. First, in attempting to aspire to a higher level of art, the comics have become morally ambiguous. Second, and maybe this is the same underlying problem, the comics have geared themselves to adults, and to that end have incorporated violence, sexuality, and immorality to such an extent that they are no longer appropriate viewing for kids. That is a big problem and irresponsible behavior by the movie-makers.

I believe in the free market. In this case, however, we have people who are marketing movies that children want to see, but making them for adults. Remember, these are comic book characters. Kids have every reason to believe that they should be able to see a movie about a comic book hero. “Adultifying” (I love making up words) a kids movie to such a degree that kids really shouldn’t be watching it is irresponsible. It corrupts children. You can’t just say that parents are responsible for what their kids watch, so I can do what I want. Sure, parents are responsible, but some parents won’t be. Parents are responsible for keeping their kids from playing in the street, but that doesn’t give you the right ot drive down a residential street at 100mph.

I’ll let my kids watch some of these movies, as long as I am right there to cover their eyes at the scary parts. Some, like the recent Avengers movie, are basic stories of good vs evil. The bad guys are scary but caricatured, and the good guys are flawed but unambiguous. The Dark Knight, however, (the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker) was pathological. The bad guy was a scary man who revelled in doing horrible things and was only defeated by a Batman who was willing to do bad things himself. This is the kind of movie that could scar a kid. I’ll let them watch Lord of the Rings, because the bad guys, while scary, are eventually defeated by purity, by self-sacrifice, and destroyed by their own evil. These are good messages.

Why can’t we have movies like the Michael Keaton Batman, or the Christopher Reeves Superman? Movies that are intelligent enough for adults but still watchable by children? I’m tired of seeing movies that I would have longed to see as a child only to find out that there is no way my kids should see them. It’s cruel of movie studios to put out movies like that, lures to children but inappropriate for those same children. The question of why they do it is an interesting one, but that’s a different post.



The Four Last Things

This article is part of my attempt to write down those aspects of the faith I most want my daughter to understand before her upcoming Confirmation. She has, I know, learned much of this at her Catholic school, but hearing my way of describing it will, at the least, make it a little more personal.

The Four Last Things
The Four Last Things represent what happens next. They are the answer to the puzzle of why we live this life and what comes next.

If you are taking a class with a final exam, it would be smart to put some thought into that final exam. What will be on it? How hard will it be graded? What is the grade curve? When will it be and how long will it take? What do I need to study to ensure I do well?

The Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell – are the final exam for life. Nothing, really, is more important. That is why we are encouraged to meditate on them regularly, even daily. Not in a fatalistic sort of way, and not in a morbid way, but with seriousness and with hope, putting our trust in Christ Jesus.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the four last things in paragraphs 1006 to 1041. You can read those sections here.

Death

“It is in regard to death that man’s condition is most shrouded in doubt.” In a sense bodily death is natural, but for faith it is in fact “the wages of sin.” For those who die in Christ’s grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share his Resurrection. (CCC 1006)

There are three key things to know about death:

1. Death came into the world because of sin. Before the sin of Adam, there was no death for men in God’s plan.
2. Christ conquered death. This means that he transformed death so that now, when we die, we share in Christ’s death and therefore earn the opportunity to share in His Resurrection. Christ has turned death into a blessing.
3. In accepting Christ and in choosing to die to self, we have already begun the process of dying. Physical death only completes that process. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI said in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week that those who believe in Jesus have already entered into eternal life, that death is just a part of that eternal life.

Judgement
Judgement is complicated because there are two judgements, the particular judgement, which comes to us at the moment of our death,

Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation. (CCC 1022)

and the general judgement, which is that judgement that occurs at the end of time, after the resurrection of the dead.

In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life. (CCC 1039)

It is hard to understand why there is a general judgement when we have already received the particular judgement. There are three things to keep in mind to try to understand the difference:

1. The particular judgement is before the resurrection. The general is after, and so we go through the general judgement in our resurrected bodies.
2. Time after death is not the same as time on earth. God exists outside of time. It is not clear what our relationship with time will be in the next life, but the distinction as to which judgement came first may not be important.
3. We are alone during the particular judgement. The general judgement is in front of everyone, and we can see the effects of our sins on those other people.

One useful analogy is this: Imagine your senior year at high school or college. When you get your final grade, you know whether or not you have graduated and if you have received any honors. Weeks later, however, you still go through the formal graduation ceremony, where you are publicly recognized.

Heaven
Heaven is kind of the point of all this. The only real reason to practice religion is because you love God. And if you love God you want to be with God. To be with God after death means you will be in Heaven.

This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity —this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary,the angels and all the blessed —is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings,the state of supreme, definitive happiness. (CCC 1024)

But there is a catch. Nothing impure can be in the presence of God. The Old Testament is very clear on this, and it appeals to common sense. If God is perfect goodness, how could He tolerate any non-goodness in his presence? Put another way, Heaven wouldn’t be a perfect place if anything imperfect were there. If I retain some selfish traits, then sooner or later in Heaven I am going to act out on those traits, and someone else will be hurt. But if a person can be hurt, then it can’t be Heaven.

So, the natural consequence is that most of us – those of us where aren’t living saints – are going to need purification before we can enter God’s presence.

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified,are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC 1030)

This purification, we call Purgatory. Purgatory is a process, rather than a place. St. Paul describes it as a burning away of the wood and the chaff, the imperfections, leaving behind only the gold. We don’t really know what it is like, though some mystics have seen glimpses of souls in purgatory.

Once we have been purified, we are in Heaven, in total intimate communion with God. Again, we have no idea what it is like – “Eye has not seen. Ear has not heard…” but we do know it will be the essence of joy.

Hell
Hell is real. Christ repeated that over and over. And many will go there. We don’t know who is in Hell. We don’t even know if Hitler is there. (He may have repented at the last moment.

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (CCC 1033)

So if we die in mortal sin without repentence, we will go to hell. We will be separated from God. Again, it makes sense. If I intentionally separate myself from God in this life, what makes me think I won’t do so on entering the next? My main job must then be to learn to love God as much as possible to avoid that eventuality.



A Lenten Penance for Anger
February 18, 2013, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Lent, Sin | Tags: , ,

One good piece of advice I have received regarding lenten penances (“giving something up”) is to construct your penance around your most troublesome fault. For instance, I have a problem with gluttony. Put a box of gluten-free (a sad necessity for me) cookies in front of me, and I won’t realize how much I have eaten until the box is gone. To try to help control that, I have given up cookies, cakes and candies for Lent.

A person I know wants to get a better handle on his anger. He feels he is sometimes unjust because of his strong emotional reactions. His idea was to keep a journal and note each person he gets angry with. He then writes down either something to admire and appreciate about that person, something he can do for them, or a prayer for them.

I thought that was a nice and creative approach for Lent that very neatly encompasses the true purpose of the liturgical season. If you have some equally creative practices, I would love to hear about them.



Lessons in Spiritual Warfare from a Broken Garage Door
September 2, 2011, 9:05 pm
Filed under: Daily Life, Sin, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , ,

I spent time recently repairing my garage door. On Saturday, one of the pulley cables snapped. Simple, I thought. I purchased a new cable and made the repair. The door worked for about a day and then jammed. A hinge had broken. I repaired the hinge, but still no go. The door would not close all the way. I finally determined that a pulley had lost a bearing and would not turn.

Of course, this was not some grand coincidence or case of really bad luck. The cable, hinge, and pulley were all related. One of them, probably the pulley, had begun to fail first. This put additional stress on the other parts. The cable turned out to be the first to fail completely. The other parts quickly followed suit. In engineering, we call this a cascading failure. It is a feature of any interconnected system.

Our spiritual lives can be like that. When we neglect part of our spiritual life – for instance when we sin – we can quickly find the rest of our life falling apart in short order, and soon we wonder why we feel so empty inside. One sin predisposes us to another and then another, until sinful behavior has become a habit and we start justifying ourselves, saying that such-and-such a sin really isn’t so bad. Sin becomes a part of every aspect of our life.

Now that my garage door is working again, I notice that it is remarkably quiet. I hadn’t even realized it was getting noisy. The pulley must have been getting a little noisier every day, the noise increasing so slightly that, like the frog in the boiling water, I was oblivious to the relentless creeping change.

Again, sin is like that. It can start with such seeming innocence that we barely realize we are sinning. It might start out as too much TV watching. Then watching shows that are morally questionable, that titillate and excite. Then turning to programs not just questionable but objectionable. This is how men get sucked into pornography, bit by bit. When we open the door to sin, it can grow throughout our lives without our even realizing it. And then it comes, cascading failure.

The sin has permeated us. We drift away from our loved ones. We drift away from the faith. Our lives become chaotic. We obsess about appearance, status, money, possessions. Eventually, we don’t even know who God is.

How do we prevent this? When designing a complex system, we first design to avoid cascading failures. We choose parts less likely to fail. We design in backups. We minimize dependencies between parts. And we do preventive maintenance, to catch small failures before they have a chance to cascade. This is why the mechanic, when he changes the oil in your car, always checks the air filter.

In our spiritual life we do the same thing. We design our life to avoid the failures. We call this avoiding the near occasion of sin. In our family, we don’t subscribe to cable TV. In business I have a personal rule not to have lunch or even coffee alone with a woman, no matter how innocent.

We also do preventive maintenance. We pray the morning offering and the rosary. We do a daily examination of conscience. We read the scriptures and frequent the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.

In short, we can prevent the kind of breakdown suffered by my garage door, but it takes diligence and planning.



Lent: A Spiritual Spring Cleaning
March 10, 2011, 6:13 pm
Filed under: Culture, Feasts, Memorials, and Solemnities, Lent, Sin | Tags:

Open the windows of your soul, that the fresh air of God’s grace may enter.

Wash your sheets in the Blood of the Lamb.

Throw out the old food of sin and worldly ways, and hunger and thirst for Christ, who is true food and true drink.

Confess your sins, do penance, pray, fast, and give alms.

For the Kingdom of God is at hand.



Just Rewards and Due Punishments
January 11, 2011, 5:02 pm
Filed under: Culture, Sin, The Bible

The below reading from Ecclesiasticus was from today’s Office of Readings. It reminds us that our reward for following Christ does not come in this world, but the next, and that the sinner’s reward as well does not come in this world but the next. It is an important fact to remember and is put beautifully in this reading. Our world today is markedly unfair. The rich who created this recession were bailed out, while the rest of us are indebted as a result. The unborn are denied life and their killers are enriched with our tax dollars. It is good to remember that a gift of wealth might not be a gift at all, but a curse.
Ecclesiasticus 11:12-30
Put your trust in God alone
Another man is a poor creature begging for assistance,
badly off for support, but rich in poverty,
and the Lord turns a favourable eye on him,
sets him on his feet out of his abject condition,
and enables him to hold his head high,
to the utter amazement of many.
Good and bad, life and death,
poverty and wealth, all come from the Lord.
The Lord’s gift remains constant to the devout
and his goodwill means a good journey for ever.
A man grows rich by his sharpness and grabbing,
and here is the reward he receives for it:
he says, ‘I have found rest,
and now I can enjoy my goods’;
but he does not know how long this will last;
he will have to leave his goods for others and die.
Persevere at your duty, take pleasure in doing it,
and grow old at your work.
Do not be astonished at the sinner’s achievements;
trust the Lord and keep to your duty;
since it is a trifle in the eyes of the Lord,
in a moment, suddenly to make a poor man rich.
The devout man receives the Lord’s blessing as his reward,
in a moment God brings his blessing to flower.
Do not say, ‘What are my needs,
what will be my profits in future?’
And do not say, ‘I am self-supporting,
what losses can I suffer in future?’
In a time of profit, losses are forgotten,
and in a time of loss, no one remembers profits.
Yet it is a trifle for the Lord on the day a man dies
to repay him as his conduct deserves.
A moment’s adversity, and pleasures are forgotten;
in a man’s last hour his deeds will stand revealed.
Call no man fortunate before his death;
it is by his end that a man will be known.