Not a State But a Process

Not a State But a Process
— Read on thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/04/05/not-a-state-but-a-process/

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Not a State But a Process

3 Ways the Epistle of James Will Help You Succeed in Daily Life

In the age of the Internet, iPhones, social media, and other technological amenities of the 21st century, is learning from the pages of centuries old writing even relevant anymore? Have we not progressed as a society where psychologists, depression medicine, and other self-help tactics are a dime a dozen?

While I do believe there our current social-historical environment enjoys some of the greatest advancements and quality of life in the history of the human race, there still is wisdom to be gleaned from ancient texts. I came across such writing recently in both a familiar yet fresh place—the Epistle of James from the New Testament.

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Build your house on the living cornerstone instead of out of straw

One of my favorite children’s short stories is The Story of the Three Little Pigs. Along with being able to tell that tale to my children now, I enjoy the practical and simple message that the story contains. Preparation is key and having a solid foundation is vital not only to having a secure home, but also leading a stable and joyful life. Martin Luther, the champion of the Protestant Reformation, once called the Letter of James an “epistle of straw”. He jettisoned this work from his New Testament. As a result, the Protestant canon does not officially contain the Epistle of James.

Simply by reading the writing by St. James, his work is definitely not built on straw. Rather, this is truly an inspired text. I find practical applications of its message in my daily life. James 1:2 provides healing during stressful times in my life. Chapter 1 verse 2 states, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials.” This advice is much tougher than it sounds to incorporate, but I have noticed when I take time to discover joy in my suffering that weight becomes more bearable! Let Christ me a cornerstone for your life.

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Tame the tongue

James 3 focuses on the dangers and evils associated with ill words. The New Testament writer uses such eloquent speech and examples. Because I do not want to downplay the inspired epistle I will cite James’ text before I provide the lessons I learned. St. James authoritatively states,

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, 2for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.

Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.b 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. 11Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh.c (James 3:1-12).

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Practical wisdom and spiritual guidance  from this passage

· Words guide actions

· Men may tame the natural world, but only the Holy Spirit may tame mankind

· Failure to control our speech will have dangerous consequences in daily life

· Complaining and cursing lead to destruction of a person’s entire character

Actions speak louder than words

Music provided a refuge from my depression in high school. During my junior and senior years, I was a part of nearly every musical group the school had to offer: All-state choir, chamber choir, musical, caroling, and show choir. There was a particular song I remember the varsity show choir sang during my freshman year—Louder than Words from the musical Tick, Tick…BOOM. I occasionally find myself singing the refrain randomly over the years. Below is an excerpt from the more famous part of the song and the section that I most remember.

Why do we play with fire?

Why do we run our finger through the flame?

Why do we leave our hand on the stove-

Although we know we’re in for some pain?

Oh, why do we refuse to hang a light

When the streets are dangerous?

Why does it take an accident

Before the truth gets through to us?

Cages or wings?

Which do you prefer?

Ask the birds.

Fear or love, baby?

Don’t say the answer

Actions speak louder than words.

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Talk is Cheap

I am not sure what the original intention the songwriter’s had in composing the lyrics, but the juxtaposition between cages or wings is a simple and relatable image that I reflect on constantly during my battles against depression. I often toe the line between freedom and entrapment. What this song does a good job doing is reminding myself that deeds define a person. Words are cheap. Verbal promises are created easily. Where it gets difficult if when we our actions need to be consistent with our words—especially in times of trial! How often do we select cages over the freedom of wings? Do we allow sloth and our pride to prevent us from seeking new opportunities to act, to serve others, and engage in things that bring us true and lasting freedom? Do we choose fear or love?

The epistle of James provides us an answer to these questions. James states, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?j 17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17). It is not sufficient to say that you love God, or that you love your neighbor. True faith is demonstrable. It dons the cloak of charity in feeding the hungry, comforting the depressed, or helping the disenfranchised.

Call to Action

Will you make your house out of straw? Why is refraining from sins of the tongue a good thing? Do you prefer cages or wings? The Epistle of James provided me practical answers to these questions. His writing leads me to have the possibility for daily success!

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2 Effective Weapons to Defeat the Sin of Pride

Thomas Merton Pride Humility QuoteAmerican author Thomas Merton wrote, “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” As the root of all evil, pride has existed for all of human history. Adam and Eve had the perfect situation—created flawless without disease or material care. Their prideful attitude reduced them and the rest of humanity to less authentic versions of ourselves. Humanity was created to be in complete communion and love with God and others. The sinister nature of pride severs our connection with Love.

Pride—the great weapon of the Enemy

Pride

The Enemy’s primary weapon in the battle over our souls is pride—the ego, the self! Saint Anselm, bishop and Doctor of the Church, boldly proclaimed, “It is impossible to save one’s soul without devotion to Mary and without her protection.” No other human, save for Christ himself, shows more selflessness than the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because of her excellence in virtue, she stands as a primary adversary to the egotistical Enemy (cf. Genesis 3:15).

While I have written a lot on the subject of pride, the depths of evil this sin perpetuates is a good enough reason to continue to speak against the Enemy’s attack. There will never be enough content on how to disable, defeat, and annihilate pride on this side of eternity! This post will examine two primary spiritual weapons (a sword and a shield) to fight the deadly sin. We will also examine how we can properly maintain our weaponry against pride to ensure the best chance in the War on Sin.

Humility—a sword to slay pride

Humility beats pride

The 19th century art critic John Ruskin wrote, “I believe the first test of a truly great man is in his humility.” Along with being the first test, an initial step in any battle is preparing yourself—and your weapons. The virtue of humility, being the exact opposite of pride, is the best weapon to kill pride! Whenever a sword gets dull it needs sharpening. I have noticed the same is true for virtues. Whenever I get complacent in my spiritual life, the virtue of humility gets dull as well. Slowly the weeds of pride begin to grow back into my life. Focusing on gratitude, reading the Scriptures, and learning from the saints helps me re-sharpen my “sword of humility”.

Gratitude—a shield to guard against pride

Power of Gratitude

While not considered a weapon in the traditional sense, unless you are a fan of Captain America, shields still are considered a piece of armament in warfare. Humility chops away at the roots of pride. Gratitude acts as a deterrent, or shield, against the ego. I have discovered the days I am more thankful tend to be times where I am less effected by pride. The Enemy never takes a day off! Thankfulness definitely protects against the sin of pride. Acting as a coat of armor, gratitude keeps arrogance at bay. Thinking about the various blessings in my life keeps my mind focused on the good instead of greed—a gateway sin toward pride.

Catholic Church— the forge to strengthen these weapons

Possessing the weapons of humility and thanksgiving will go far in turning the tide in your battle against the Devil. However, the battle is persistent and as time goes on these weapons will be blunted. They will need to be strengthened and re-sharpened to ensure the final victory! The best place to refine your arms is the Catholic Church.

Officially the Catechism of the Catholic Church houses clear and objective content to equip yourself for the battle in sin.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of doctrine in the catechism. Whenever this happens the other place I look to forge my weaponry is through the writings of the saints. Arguably no other saints describes daily living as plainly as St. Josemaria Esciva. According to the Spanish priest in The Forge, “Pride dulls the edge of charity. Ask Our Lord each day for the virtue of humility, for you and for everyone. Because as the years go by, pride increases if it is not corrected in time” (no. 596).  Josemaria advises later in The Forge, “Be convinced that if you do not learn to obey you will never be effective” (no. 626). Obedience to God and His Church helps us try strong against the Enemy.

Defense against spiritual attack

Because God created humanity to live in communion, the sin of pride isolates individuals from others. Relationships strain, fracture, and eventually die if pride is left unchecked. Humility and gratitude attack and defend effectively against this sinister sin. When your weapons need repairing seek out the help of the Catholic Church and implore the aid of the Holy Spirit.


 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”Philippians 4:13  

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Analysis of JPII’s The Splendor of Truth

Pope John Paul II

“Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord,” proclaimed the late Polish pope, John Paul II in his encyclical letter The Splendor of Truth. Promulgated over twenty years ago, this writing can still act as a guidepost for every Christian, both clergy and laity alike, for moral living. Now more than ever, modern man, in a world where moral relativism and ignorance of objective truths abound, needs the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit channeled through the Catholic Church. The Splendor of Truth delineates the Church’s rich moral teaching and sheds light on the underlying assumptions of those dissenting from the Magisterium’s authority.

I will examine three points− one from each chapter. The moral duty charged to all Christians will be looked at first, followed by a survey of the Church’s stance on conscience. And finally, the need for modern-day martyrs in the face of moral relativism will be addressed.

Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?

Rich Young Man Asks Jesus

The initial chapter of The Splendor of Truth centers on the content from the interaction of a rich young man and Jesus in Matthew 19. Here the young man begins his conversation with Jesus with a query: “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”[1] At face value this question seemed sincere for it concerned one of the utmost important issues a person must contemplate. As the late pope tersely put it, “It is an essential and unavoidable question for the life of every man, for it is about the moral good which must be done, and about eternal life.[2] To ascertain the difference between good and evil people need to turn toward Christ who provides the answer. Too many times in the modern world humans seek answers to life’s hardest questions in fleeting, temporal sources such as political systems or New-Age philosophies rather than turning to God.

God is the Greatest Good

To truly live out the moral life, one must understand that an objective good does in fact exist− God. Responding to the young rich man, Jesus proclaims, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”[3] Since the ultimate good exists as God himself, it logically follows that only He can provide answers to the question about what is good in life. Not leaving man in the dark, God sheds light on moral matters by granting humans the ability to find out through reason alone the natural law. Article 12 of The Splendor of Truth mentions that God by creating man, ordered him to the good and have an innate desire for wisdom.

Due to original sin, God had to act in history to initiate his saving plan for humanity. Citing again from the encyclical, the Polish pope states, “The gift of the Decalogue was a promise and a sign of the New Covenant, in which the law would be written in a new and definitive way upon the human heart (cf Jer 31:31-34), replacing the law of sin which had disfigured that heart (cf Jer 17:1).”[4] In other words, a strong connection is made between morality and adherence to the commandments. However, the Church, and ultimately God, does not call for a sterile, drone-like obedience, but rather a total commitment to the law through faith in Christ.

Role of the Conscience

Conscience

Along with being aware of God as the supreme good and knowing that the Decalogue serves as the parameters for the moral life, a proper understanding of conscience and its connection to objective truths will enhance the Christian’s need to adhere to the Church Magisterium regarding faith and morals.

John Paul II begins his section on Conscience and Truth by saying, “The relationship between man’s freedom and God’s law is most deeply lived out in the ‘heart’ of the person, in his moral conscience.”[5] According to Church Tradition, conscience and natural law are not in tension with one another. Instead, conscience communicates moral responsibility in light of the natural law. Simply put, conscience aids man in following the natural law− for it is the “witness of God himself”.[6]

Necessity for Proper Formation of the Conscience

Nevertheless, conscience as a human function trying to pick up God’s voice and will is not exempt from error in judgment. The Second Vatican Council succinctly states, “not infrequently conscience can be mistaken as result of invincible [inculpable] ignorance.” In fact forming a proper conscience and developing virtuous habits takes time. This requires constant conversion. The pope declares that the Church and Her Magisterium greatly aid Christians in the formation of their conscience. Not an arbitrary authority, John Paul II speaks of the Church as “putting herself always and only at the service of conscience, helping it to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit.”[7]

If every Catholic-Christian took the pope’s message to heart on the Magisterium’s role pertaining to faith and morals laity confusion and dissent on hot-buttons issues like abortion and gay marriage, particularly during election years, would decline. Only through obedience to Christ’s authority in the Church via the conscience does man attain true freedom.

Call to Marytrdom

Deny Oneself

 

The best way to combat moral relativism pervading modern society today is not through polemical rhetoric or violence but for Christians to step up as martyrs for the truth. In the third chapter of The Splendor of Truth, the Roman Pontiff calls martyrdom, “the exaltation of the inviolable holiness of God’s law.”[8] He then maps out several examples of people in the Old and New Testament who testified to God’s power through their witness. John the Baptist and Stephen, the first Christian to die for his faith, both laid down their lives in testifying to the Messiah’s teaching. And they also suffered immensely unjust and painful deaths similar to Christ’s death on the Cross.

John Paul II finally points out that the first generation Church, which experienced intense persecutions from Roman emperors, also flourished in holiness due to the witness of saint-martyrs. This leads to his main point, that such witness is a remarkable sign of the holiness of the Church.[9]

The witness of martyrs provides a beacon of light to help illuminate others moral compasses especially in a world with a muddled-up perception of what is truly good and just. “This witness makes an extraordinarily valuable contribution to warding off, in civil society and within the ecclesial communities themselves, a headlong plunge into the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil,” declares John Paul II.[10] Oftentimes, people can be turned off by an exclusively scare-tactical, fire and brimstone approach to morality. Instilling fear and prodding them with a stick may work short-term, but many people tend to revert back to their old ways without sincere conversion. The witness of martyrs offers a better panacea for moral ambiguity.

An Ugly Term Today?

Modern man likes to shy away from the term “martyr” in part due to the moral duty and responsibility charged to those people who stand as a “sign of contradiction” to the 21st century way of life. The late pope clearly states that, “Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice.”[11] Now in being a witness for the faith necessarily involves sacrifice on some level, albeit not always to the point of a physical and tortuous demise.

Nevertheless, daily sacrifice will lead to a kind of death− a death to sin. Summing up his section on the Christian’s response to morality, the Polish pope explicitly says, “The voice of conscience has always clearly recalled that there are truths and moral values for which one must be prepared to give up one’s life.”[12]

Role of the Church in the 21st Century

To conclude, written over twenty years ago, the encyclical The Splendor of Truth still sheds a ray of light on the moral life of the Church. This document provide an answer to the confusion of the modern world—the teaching of Jesus Christ, safeguarded by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church!

Jesus and Modern Society

Just like the rich young man in Matthew’s gospel who questioned Jesus about how he can attain salvation the human race, in a society pervaded by moral laxity and ambiguity,  must turn to God in order to ascertain what is truly morally good and just. The second point discussed from this moral treatise regarding conscience is important because a proper understanding of it will lead laity to a better appreciation of the Magisterium’s role in helping to form their conscience. John Paul II also mentioned that a properly formed Christian conscience will be able to determine how to act morally in line with natural law. And finally, the high point of the moral life consists of when a person is willing to die for the faith as a martyr. Restating the bishop of Rome, “Martyrdom is an outstanding sign of the holiness of the Church.”[13]

A careful and meditative reading of The Splendor of Truth will hopefully enhance a Christian’s love for the Church and a better following of Christ’s law.


Footnotes

[1] Matt 19:16.

[2] Splendor of Truth, 8.

[3] Matt 19:17.

[4] ST 12.

[5] ST 54.

[6] ST 58.

[7] ST 64.

[8] ST 90.

[9] Ibid., 92.

[10] Ibid., 115.

[11] ST 93.

[12] ST 94.

[13] St 93.

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