Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My Desire for Marriage

(Note: I've made some major revisions to this piece, mostly attempting to add clarity to my message and fixing up some diction. ~M, 3/15/2014)

As I approach ordination to the Diaconate after 12 years in the seminary it's easy to think about the many “what ifs” in my life. Things such as career, money, jobs, a wife, children, and even a permanent home are things I've given up in pursuit of this call. A call, however, is both something desirable and undesirable. When it comes to vocations I call to mind that “when you were young, you fastened your own belt and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten your belt for you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). Any walk of life requires sacrifice and any vocation, in my view, goes against the grain of our desires.

While the Apostle Matthew was called, “rose and followed him” (Mt 9:9), this is not true of all followers. Calls demand a response, not necessarily a wholehearted desire for the content of that call. Peter himself said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). Isaiah lamented, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lip in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Is 6:5a). Jeremiah complained, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth!” (Jer 1:6). All types of people are represented in Scripture. The overwhelming majority are those who aren't too keen to do what God has asked of them—it's not bad to see ourselves in them.
As Matthew's expression illustrates, "How could you choose me?"

The Lord responds to our response. “Do not be afraid” (Lk 5:10). “Whom shall I send?” (Is 6:8). “To all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you to speak I shall speak” (Jer 1:7). The formula of God's call is uniform: He reassures us and says, “Do I send whom I have not chosen?” (cf., Is 42:1). This is true because “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16). Then he tells us rather bluntly, “You will do as I command” (cf., Dt 12:32). We must confront the reality that life is not what I want but what God wants in His time and in His way. Prayer sharpens our hearing, but it is time, grace, and the Church that makes us desire His will as if it were our own.

The call is, for some, a process of constant humiliation, disappointment, frustration, and difficulties. Yet, “Await God's patience, cling to him to do not depart, that you may be wise in all your ways. Accept whatever is brought upon you, and endure it in sorrow; in changes that humble you be patient. For gold and silver are tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation” (Sir 2:3-5).

I know what awaits me from others moving forward: disrespect, hatred, dismissive attitudes, and many other things. I know that in my own heart there is a fear of timidness, complacency, and apathy. Yet God has cared for me with those who love me. He has cared for my heart by giving me peace, courage, faith, and hope. I've come to find that all things in me are good but not fulfilled. No one can fulfill himself and love is never fulfilled except from outside of myself. This is His gift to me: the love of God and neighbor is my own fulfillment.

Having given up everything to follow Him I approach a new chapter in my life: sacrificing personal desire for the sake of those sheep whom Christ said to feed and shepherd. I will soon experience this call and experience it with the people of God, and there are many trials and many blessings herein.

As I prayed about these things in my heart I called to mind the couples that I will marry. I called to mind that they too are called and respond as all men do to God's call. I thought of my friends with children and the unique opportunity that having children offers in your life, but I also considered the many trials they will experience. In a life that is, by necessity, “focused on the things of this world” (cf. 1 Cor 7:33-34). What hope is there for a married couple and, I thought, what could I say to them to take the concrete experiences of their life and see God?

This, then, is my desire for marriage: that couples reflect on the fact that their relationship truly reflects the Divine Life and to keep this close to their heart throughout their own trials.

Only parents can experience God as a parent. Reflect that God calls us sons and daughters, too. A child comes forth in pain, crying, but it is met with love. The child is needy, depriving sleep from one's eyes and peace from one's mind, yet it is loved because it is life and the “fruit of my body” (cf., Dt 28:4). Throughout his or her life, their suffering is your suffering, their anxieties are your anxieties, and their joy is your joy. When they are sick you heal them. When they are scared they run to you. When they are arrogant they turn from you. When they are bad they anger you. When they are away they sadden you. Through it all these emotions are intensified because of the love with which you first loved them.

Your spouse, the one whom you love, was a co-creator and cooperator in your own love. You share life and you share hardships, even if each one bears it unevenly. Your love changes you and it is completed by being received and then returned. This too is the life of grace. This is a life of faith in as concrete a manner as one can experience it. This is the God of the Old Testament and New in as intimate, reasonable, and accessible way as one can approach it.

Any child becomes a sign of God's covenant with His people. Know that your feelings for your child are merely a fraction of what God feels for you. Yet despite your child's suffering that result from his wickedness, from misfortune, or persecution your love for him remains undaunted. If a mother or father's love can endure evil and even death, how much more does God's love endure through our sins and the sins of of the world!

Jesus promises that “his burden is easy” and his yoke light (Mt 11:30). Life has shown us that it is not easy. “Much labor was created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam” (Sir 40:1). Christ said this, however, because not only is this life of imitating God possible, it is peace for the soul. For “when a woman is in labor, she has pain because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (Jn 16:21). This is love God shows to those who return to Him, love and peace we all have access to.

Life for both of us, ordained or married, is a unique call from the others. It is indeed a life of responsibility unlike any other. This is a gift given to us, even if it doesn't always seem good or desirable. All life is a gift, no matter the type, since we are all pilgrims on one path—may our feet not stray! We have all been called.

His response is simple: Be not afraid, follow me.
Let it happen to me according to your word.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Holocaust Reflection : Reflection on Us

Visiting the Holocaust Museum is a difficult subject, especially in Israel. Unlike many museums which are houses of a people's history and triumph, this museum is a walk through a people's history and suffering. The Holocaust stands as a mark of identity for modern-day Jews just as World War II stands as a mark of identity for most Westerners of the past three generations (born 1910-1995).

We are now moving into the third and fourth generations past the Holocaust and WWII, where things such as “Nazi” and “Communist” and people such as Hitler and Stalin have become more of a byword than a warning for future generations. Many people are all too likely to associate government actions with the Nazi party and many people are just as ready to roll their eyes.

When visiting Yad Vashem (the site of the Museum) I entered with a reverent and somber silence, in my mind befitting such a chapter of our human history. I found it odd, then, to find teenagers in there laughing, boyfriend and girlfriend attempting to have an intimate moment in the shadow of child torture, or as some friends cited, a teenager goosestepping out of the museum.

This is our humanity: how quickly we forget, how quickly we stop caring.

As we all grow older and as time marches forward we find how chilling and correct these words are: “For of the wise man as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten” (Ecc 2:16a).
Part of the ministry of Yad Vashem is to give some sort of remembrance to the names and people who were lost.

It's easy to blame these kids, but such is the time, era, and maturity we all came from. Some grow up to recognize immaturity, others grow into immaturity.

One important lesson I took from the Holocaust and the museum is prefaced by the following statements:

1) Ordinary men and women did horrible things out of fear, vice, coercion, and sometimes all three.

2)Both religion and science were used as tools to carry out this exercise; any blame of one or the other would be dishonest and folly.

The important lesson to take from such a chapter of our history is to see ourselves in that history. This is not to see you or I caused the Holocaust, but to see how, in the human condition, vice and sin caused it, as it causes the greatest tragedies.

Fear keeps us from doing good, but vice helps us to spread evil. Many will say, “I haven't killed anyone, I haven't stolen anything. I'm a good person!” History seems to say, “Just give yourself a chance.”

How easy it is to call ourselves enlightened, intelligent, and wise in the face of such things. It would be unwise to see the little evils we allow in our own lives as “good” just because they aren't “really bad.” The road to great evils begins with tolerating small evils. In my mind the easiest source of determining evil begins with the dignity of the human person.

In any era and in any place the first people to suffer, in good times or bad, are the ones who are despised and defenseless. This can be the unborn, the abused, the poor, addicts, or the mentally disabled. Furthermore they can be, in the right circumstances, those imprisoned, homosexuals, religious, or even a-religious.

Many evils are carried out for greater goods or ideologies that don't need wrinkles—and while it's easy to blame religion alone in this sphere, anything secular or otherwise would subscribe to folly if they thought it was true.

Even more evils are carried out because we lack the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness. An open wound festers, but a bound wound has a chance to heal. I find that this is the hardest thing to learn: forgiveness and self-forgiveness.

Humanity likes to see itself in great triumphs and accomplishments, but it's much harder to look in the mirror when it's something disfigured and horrible. But in looking upon it there is also healing. In accepting the evil we do and converting from it there is progress.

We rightly pray this Lent for mercy because we need it, and we know we do. “My sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit, a humbled and contrite heart you will not spurn” (Ps 51:17).

This Lent say a special prayer for the many families and lives ruined or lost by war and evil.