Missing Pieces or Finding Peace—How the Puzzling Brokenness of Human Nature Leads to God

Saint Augustine’s simple and ageless maxim, “Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him” resonates with mankind regardless of history and time. No amount of material possessions, health, or control over finances will provide lasting and authentic happiness and peace. Humanity is naturally a broken species—greed, pride, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, envy abound. This truth is evident simply by noticing daily interaction with yourself and others. Perfectibility in the human race—eugenics—was tried and failed many times, arguably most notoriously during the Nazi regime in the mid-20th century. True perfection does not occur through purely human willpower and scientific advancement. Rather authentic perfection—or holiness is achieved through cooperating with the Divine Will.

Possessing all the catechetical knowledge in the world will not ensure that a person has the puzzle of life solved. A relationship with Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to fill that “God-shaped” hole in my soul/complete the puzzle of life. As a perfectionist, I struggle mightily with falling into the heresy of Pelagianism. St. Augustine, himself, battled the false teaching of the monk Pelagius. Heresies rise and fall. Pope Francis warned of the dangers of this heresy in his encyclical letter Gaudete Et Exsultate. He declared,

Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style”.[46] When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. (no. 49).

Awill lacking humility cannot fix the human condition no matter one’s tenacity and intellectual prowess. As I mentioned before I struggle with relying on my willpower over cooperation with my Creator’s gift of grace He bestowed on me. After a frustrating situation at work, I expressed concerns to my manager, “I did everything right. I provided accurate information, willingness, to help, and empathy to customer situations. Normally, I am able to control/steer nearly all my customer interactions to a positive outcome. I wish I could have this influence for all situations.”

Listening intently to my concerns, my manager acknowledged my frustrations yet added this profoundly simple, but very applicable analogy—that of a jigsaw puzzle. “Imagine you are working on a 500 or 1000 piece puzzle and you completed everything perfectly. When you get to the end you discover there is a piece missing. No matter how perfectly you worked with that piece missing the puzzle is still incomplete. Some customer conversations are like that. You may do everything perfect on your end, but still a piece is missing to prevent your perfect result.”

Now I am not aware of my manager’s theological leanings. His analogy originally meant to be for a practical workplace example, after further reflection I learned that this example of a puzzle missing a piece applies to my faith life as well. Willing myself toward perfection and completion cannot happen because a piece of missing in the puzzle of my life—a God-shaped hole!

C.S. Lewis stated “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.” Humanity cannot evolve out of the original brokenness of human nature ushered in through the Fall of Adam and Eve. Time and time again my hubris leads to the danger relying solely on my will. However, God’s merciful gift of confession allows me to exercise my free will to cooperate with Divine grace to complete the puzzle of my life and overcome my inclinations for self-centeredness. True peace only happens when we have a relationship with God.


Trying to fill the God-sized hole in our hearts with things other than God is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles. —Peter Kreeft

Sufferings of a Simple Catholic

To be honest, I did not think I have the strength to even write about anything today. I thought exerting any real mental exercises and strain today would lead to my incapacitation. What am I talking about? Am I being overly dramatic? Perhaps, I probably am not in a good frame of mind at this point of the week. Let me at least try to explain my situation and I can let you be the judge of that.

Over the course of the past week I’ve experienced the funeral of my grandfather and persistent fevers and severe flu-like symptoms from everyone in my family including: my three young children.  I’m nearly exhausted the amount of PTO I’m able to utilize for this month–and possibly the next month. Both my wife and I are sleep deprived. I’m definitely past the point of exhaustion and almost crossed the line of delirium.

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I’ve really struggled in my spiritual life the last week. Frankly, my relationship with God has been fractured and virtually nonexistent. Sure I could point to several valid (but are they truly!) reasons for why I have not relied on God during my time of turmoil. Some of you may be quick to forgive me—others maybe not. Ultimately, I need to ask Our Father in Heaven for forgiveness.

Doubt, despair, hopelessness, destitution, weakness in faith, and spiritual sloth have been the fruits of my suffering. Jesus Christ clearly teaches in Luke 6:43-45,

43“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.44For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles.45A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

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My reactions to the suffering I encountered this week are an indictment on my spiritual resolve. The one benefit to my failings in my spiritual life is that one thing is clear – I’m at a crossroads. I can either choose the path of sanctity through redemptive suffering or I let wallowing in self-pity dominate my attitude and view suffering as purposeless.

The central event of human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His redemptive suffering ties together the fabric of reality. Every person is given a choice: to accept the cross gracefully or flee from it. Sometimes people choose the cross during a significant watershed moment in their life – like Saint Paul’s conversion. Most people have to choose the cross of Jesus Christ daily. This choice is the most important choice in our life. This choice determines whether we are a saint, a child of God, or sycophant of the world.

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St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Suffering will come, trouble will come – that’s part of life; a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.” I need to be continually reminded that suffering is part and parcel of living. Only by joyfully taking up my struggles and uniting them to the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ suffering, death, and Resurrection will I truly find moments of peace during the storms of life!

 

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Dear Lord,
Help me [us all] to remember in these troubled times
The cross you carried for my sake,
So that I may better carry mine
And to help others do the same,
As I offer up (my sufferings) to you
For the conversion of sinners
For the forgiveness of sins
In reparation for sins
And for the salvation of souls. Amen

 

A Plea to the Lord in Time of Need

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Lord I hate sin and death. I loath injustice in the world. I despise my inequities, my feelings of doubt nearly every day of my life. I want this depression to leave me. I am weary from the fight against myself, my fears, and the constant barrage of assaults against the devil. Death seems to surround us at all times. Wars, natural disasters, political strife dominate the news climate. Darkness lurks over me in recent times. My grandfather is nearing the completion of his earthly life and  there is a great chasm in my soul left by the wound remaining from the loss of my unborn daughter Lucia.
The only suitable response in the face of this suffering and overwhelming despair is to petition you Lord God the Almighty to send me strength and consolation in my moments of weakness. I plea for the support of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with her Holy cache of saints to protect me from the prowess and threats of the Evil One.

Amen.

Who am I to Judge?—the Death of Charles Manson

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I normally do not write on current events or celebrity/infamous figures, however, this week I will make an exception. The notorious serial killer Charles Manson died at the age of 83. I read a few threads on social media speculating the state of his soul. One conversation on Facebook had a poll question had the following choices for viewers to vote on the status of his soul:

a. who am I to judge?

b. yes, he is in hell, not sure, but there is a high probability he is in hell

c. he is in purgatory

d.  Miscellaneous options

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According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, I opt for the first answer—who am I to judge? Honestly, I cannot definitively know the status of his soul in the afterlife.  Now, this stance is likely to be unpopular, especially from those impacted by his evil actions. I am not condoning Manson’s actions. Murder is against the 5th Commandment. All life has dignity.  To end it is grave and serious! However, at the end of the day, I am not the judge and jury of the eternal state of a human’s soul once they pass from this world. Anyone who dons the role of judge, jury, and executioner of another human being toes a dangerous and prideful line.

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  1. Hell– Population Unknown: A theological census on the residents in hell does not exist–at least for humans. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility” (Is Hell Crowded or Empty? A Catholic Perspective, 2011). However, hell is populated with spiritual beings like the fallen angels and Satan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 391 and 393 tells us,

Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.267 The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing…It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.

While Charles Manson’s horrific actions were severe and constituted justice to be served, we do not know whether or not he asked God for mercy during his four decades in prison. God is ultimately a merciful judge. He provides multiple opportunities for individuals to ask for forgiveness and to amend their sinful life. I will again look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for guidance.  Paragraph 1037 states, “God predestines no one to go to hell; 620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”

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2. Death Penalty: Genesis 4 describes the first murder—Cain’s fratricide of Abel. As a cradle Catholic I heard stories from the bible so many times that sometimes I overlook the details of the account. The story of Cain and Abel is definitely a passage that I need to be reminded of, especially, when anger, jealousy, and pride creep up on me.

Cain and Abel present offerings to God. Genesis 4 tells us that God is pleased with Abel’s gift because he sacrifices the best of his flock, whereas Cain’s sacrifice is mediocre. Jealousy grows inside of Cain and instead of striving to be better with his offering next time he kills his brother in hopes to eliminate his perceived competition. God eventually interrogates Cain. Cain tries to make up an excuse, but he is found guilty. Here is where the story takes a turn, instead of killing Cain God spares him. In fact, he even pledges to protect Cain. Listen to Genesis 4:11-15,

Now you are banned from the ground* that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.d12If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth.13Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.14Look; you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”15Not so! the LORD said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the LORD put a mark* on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight.

People can debate whether the Cain and Abel story is meant to be taken literally or figuratively. Nonetheless, the key message of the passage is the reality of God’s mercy. God does not seek vengeance as a first act, instead he allows for the consequences of sinful actions to occur and then he provides time for humans to seek forgiveness.

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In terms of the whether the capital punishment is morally permissible or not, Genesis 4 provides a precedent for the avoidance of using the death penalty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267,

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.68

Through the increase in rehabilitation programs for criminals to participate in and improvement of prisons to section them off from the rest of the populace, the need for the death penalty in civilized nations is not as common as it was in the past. I want to make sure I am quite clear: Charles Manson’ heinous actions as a cult leader and murderer are deplorable. As a Catholic I am often challenged to demonstrate love individuals who committed such atrocities. If any of my loved ones ever suffered from the hands of someone similar in evil I would greatly struggle to forgive—but God calls us to a difficult task.

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The death of Charles Manson reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I am not the judge, jury, and executioner of humanity. Thank goodness! If that would be the case we might all fall short of the glory of God.