Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Jesus, Saints, Scripture

Because the Saints Said So: Manifesting the Truth (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Speaking the truth is not the same as living truthfully. They ought to go hand in hand, without a doubt, but they are not one single matter. Why is this matter on my mind today? Because of this weighty declaration by St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds in the history of Christianity:

“As a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”

When I hear “manifest,” I think of something being revealed and made known in a way that the recipient has not experienced before. It is a tangible illustration. And when I hear “the truth,” my mind goes straight to Jesus. Surely though, the truth refers to every facet of God’s revelation though – from Natural Law to the words of Sacred Scripture to the daily applications of Christian morality.

We have a duty of honor to manifest the truth to others! By words, actions, proclamations, stories, lifestyles, choices, reactions, attitudes – the list can go on and on. Because there are so many ways to manifest the truth, perhaps we could consider that doing it well is an essential part of that duty.

It is natural, when you are certain of a truth and that truth has done something remarkable for you, to desire to share it with others. It is natural and it is good. Sometimes, in our eagerness or confidence though, we can be unfortunately misguided in our methods. Great intentions but terrible form. I’d wager we have all experienced this, both as the truth teller and as the recipient.

Do not hesitate to manifest the truth, my friends, but be sure to tailor your approach to the circumstances. Consider the audience. Consider your relationship with them. Consider their situation. What in their life could make them receptive to what you are sharing, or make them resistant? What do they know of you that would cause them to trust what you are illustrating? St. Francis Xavier wisely noted, “The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but when you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.” If what you are sharing contradicts what they have previously believed or how they have behaved, are you standing on fertile ground that is ready to welcome the seed of truth you are offering? Or are you coming at them with your proverbial finger pointed and a glint of pride in your eye?

One of the most important precursors to sharing the truth, whatever bit of truth it might be, is a humble recognition of your own need for that truth. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).” If I say I am better than another person because I possess the truth, I am wrong. If I say I am better than the person I was before knowing that truth, I am on the right track.

In knowing our own need, we know why others need us to manifest the truth. If we truly “owe” our brothers and sisters the truth, as St. Thomas states, there must be a reason! Why do each of us need the truth? Because we are created by God, in the image of God, for eternal life with God. What I am trying to say is, intentions matter. If I am speaking the truth to another, it is not out of pride or judgment. I speak it because I hope they can know the love that I have experienced, and the joy, the strength, and the adventure that comes of knowing Him who is Truth. I speak it because I not only long to live my eternity in Heaven, but I long to have you there with me. If my intentions in manifesting the truth fall short of this (which they so often do), I do not stop trying to manifest the truth but I do keep purifying those intentions.

From our humility in accepting the truth for ourselves, comes change. Our lives must back up what we might say to another about the truth. When this is true, “saying” can become unnecessary in certain cases. The living speaks for itself and attracts others to the truth. No one expresses it better than St. John, I guess, for I go to him again: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).”

I write this as one who needs to hear it. As one who must pray from the soul, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling (Psalm 43:3)!” And my prayer goes on, “Make me a beam of that light of your truth.”

Because the Saints Said So, Catholicism, Faith, Holiness, Saints, Scripture

Because the Saints Said So: On Sadness and the Spirit (St. Pio)

In the past few years, the saint whose words and stories have resonated with me the most is St. Pio of Pietrelcina. An Italian farmboy born in 1887; a world renowned miracle worker known for his humility, integrity, and simple wisdom by the time he died in 1968. There are plenty of biographical details worth examining from his life but that is not the purpose of this post.

Numerous statements by St. Pio have I read, considered, prayed over, and taken to heart. Most recently, the one that is staying with me is this: “Don’t allow sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely.”

My first response was, “Well, that’s just too much to ask!” But I stared a little longer at the words. I wondered if it was a matter of refusing to be sad about anything. That seemed unnatural and impossible. Was it about not letting the sadness reach your soul then? That could be debated, I suppose, but I still believed I hadn’t hit the nail on the head. True sadness does reach the soul. That’s the nature of the beast. So what then was St. Pio challenging me to do?

Eventually my eyes lingered on one word: dwell. Don’t allow sadness to dwell.

Dwell: verb: 1. to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside; 2. to live or continue in a given condition or state

Don’t let sadness be a resident. Allow sadness to be a visitor. Treat it as such. Visitors require attention. Meet the needs of the visitor of sadness. Ignoring it is not appropriate. Visitors (hopefully) come for a reason. They are present but they are expected to depart. Visitors are not permanent residents.

St. Pio is not demanding the impossible. Nor is he saying anything that wasn’t already indicated long ago in Scripture by Jesus and his apostles.

So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you (John 16:22).

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Romans 8:18). 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7, emphasis added).

They and St. Pio challenge us to give sadness its proper due but nothing more.

What should you allow to “dwell in your soul?” Well, St. Pio touches on that, too. The rightful resident of your soul is the Holy Spirit, and therefore the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Corinthians 3:16)?

Gifts;
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength [fortitude], a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord [piety] (Isaiah 11:2-3a, emphasis & notes added).

Fruits:
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23, emphasis added).

When visitors like sadness are allowed to act as residents, the life and work of the Holy Spirit is fettered and obstructed. Luggage blocking the hallways where the Spirit should move freely. In the case of sadness, it is the fruit of joy that is most inhibited. However if joy is a resident of your soul while sadness, caused by any number of things, is only given a visitor’s pass, you will not lose your joy.

Joy is not merely a higher degree of happiness. It is different than happiness. Joy is rooted in hope, particularly the hope of salvation. As its roots then link it to eternity, Joy is not eroded by the changing tides of circumstances the way that happiness can be. Certainly circumstances can affect our joy, strengthening or weakening our awareness of joy or our ability to choose joy in our reactions to things. Circumstances cannot steal authentic joy though. That is among its key differences from happiness.

It is wrong to say that a Christian should never be sad. It is right to say that a Christian does not allow sadness to be a resident of the soul.

Faith, Holiness, Jesus

Enduring Faith

Today, my friend came home. For the last three years he has been serving a prison sentence, unjustly in many people’s opinion – including mine.  This man… well, I could spend this entire post summing up the goodness of this man and the effect he had on me during our time of closer friendship. But that isn’t the purpose of this post. The purpose is to honor the way, during the last three years, he lived the Scripture, “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

I didn’t get an opportunity to visit Pete while he was in prison. I sent a handful of letters and cards and occasionally received a reply. The tone of those replies, the statements he made, added to the stories and descriptions I heard from his family and friends who did visit him, came as no surprise to me. They were true to Pete’s character. True to the young man I knew better years ago; true to the man I have always assumed he has continued to be since then. No, they did not surprise me, but that’s not to say they didn’t move me.

Smack dab in the middle of his doctorate studies, ongoing cancer research at his job, and plenty of other endeavors and activities, Pete was punished for circumstances outside his control. He had reason to despair. He had reason to wallow and slip into depression. He had reason for anger. Yet, beyond a reasonable level of righteous anger, he indulged in none of these things. I’m not saying he didn’t have to struggle against them. I don’t know if there were days when they tried to sneak into his heart and fill him with discouraged resignation. I do know that he did not allow them to take over.

Throughout the three years, Pete remained a man of hope. He remained a man of patience. He remained, above all, a man of faith. We are exhorted again and again in Scripture to endure trials and tribulations with the attitude of Christ. We are called upon to take up our crosses and carry them in the path of our Lord. In the Gospels, Jesus does not assure us that we will see justice prevail this side of Heaven. He does not promise to relieve from our lives the suffering that comes our way. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, the Apostles reinforce these realities of life in Christ.

We are assured instead that there will be crosses and trials. We are told flat out that “in the world [we] will have trouble” (John 16:33). The promised reward is only received in full when this life has finished. The justice is meted out according to God’s terms and timing, not ours. The relief from the suffering is not guaranteed until Paradise.

So many of us know these truths. We’ve heard them, read them, attempted to be accepting of them. In the moment though – the moment of darkness and pain – do we hold fast to them? There is no easiness in this aspect of the Christian life. It is why the stories of the martyrs and saints are such effective buoys of inspiration. We need to know it’s possible. We need to celebrate the lives of those who emanate the attitude of Christ as they carry their crosses. In them we gain encouragement to do likewise.

This is what Pete gives to those who know him. Whether he ever realized it or not, each day that Pete chose faith, hope, and charity in his attitude, thoughts, and actions during the last three years, he allowed Christ to make use of him. He became an extension of the example set by Christ for us all.

Pete isn’t a superhero. He’s not something other than what we are. Which means, we are all capable of acting in God’s grace to live with the attitude of Christ. In every circumstance – joy and suffering – from the most ordinary to the most extreme. By the Spirit of Christ, we are transformed. Let us live transformed lives. Let us honor those among us doing so right now.

Holiness, Writing

Add To the Beauty

Recently, my favorite band released their latest album. It took until last week before I was able to pick up a copy of “Inland” by Jars of Clay, but the disc (yes, I bought the actual CD) has been on repeat in my minivan since then. Superb new music, especially by artists I’ve long enjoyed, is like comfort food – stimulating in its newness yet soothing in its familiarity.

My husband and I are both passionate about our favorite music. However, we could hardly be further from each other on the spectrum of musical taste. To be blunt, we do not enjoy each other’s preferred music. I know he doesn’t like the large majority of what I have playing in my car and he knows likewise about me. I think the reason it’s not a source of real conflict is that we both respect the passion in each other. He knows what it feels like to have true favorites, to really get excited about new music from those artists, and so he can respect that I treasure that experience, too. And vice versa. In fact, his value of the experience is probably even greater than mine as he makes his own music as well. Which gives me even more reason to respect his desire to listen to his favorite songs. Of course, if we shared a car, I can’t guarantee the peace would endure!

I think it’s rather incredible, the range of artistic tastes you can find in the minds and hearts of people. Just within one family or one circle of friends, the variety of preferences can be quite wide. It makes sense of course, when God has created individuals in every generation with such a vast range of talents and artistic capablities. Why fill our world with such people and not also filll the world with folks to celebrate and experience the art that pours forth from them.

That’s the thought, now that I’ve wandered up to it in this meandering reflection, that encourages me. There can be such fear in pursuing an art, in using your talents and acting on your passions. It’s intimidating. It’s unsettling. And it is all too easy to talk yourself out of trying. How wonderful then to be built up by this truth: that God not only pours a share of His own beauty into us, but also places us in a world filled with people desiring to experience that beauty in its multitude of forms!

Think of the art that has added to your life. The music, the books, the paintings, the architecture, the speeches – think what you have gained from them! Think what would be lacking if those artists had not endeavored to be co-creators sharing in the the work of the Creator, the Divine Artist!

It’s easy, of course, to say this about the greats. The Bachs and the Monets and the Dostoeveskys. But you? Me? Oh, I don’t know… the hesitation sets in as soon as the comparisons start. Then I remember my favorite band. A few midwestern boys who encountered each other at college and bonded over a mutual appreciation of Toad the Wet Sproket. One saw another wearing that band’s t-shirt and offered up a “Dude… Toad…,” and the rest is history. Think of your favorite band, or author, or any manner of artist. They had a beginning; a beginning without guarantees of what would come after.

You do not know to what extent you can add to the beauty of the lives being lived on this earth – both while you’re here and after you’re gone. But just like we need to be generous with our love, and trust God will use that offering for the good of any who receive it, we ought to be generous with the art He has placed in us.

Honor Him by refusing to leave it in a mere state of potential. Honor yourself by believing that someone, somewhere, at sometime will be better for encountering your art. Honor your brothers and sisters of this world by offering to them a taste of God’s beauty – which in all truth, is the only beauty all of us are searching for from birth to death. What a privilege that we can pour it into the waiting spaces of each other’s worlds.

Faith, Holiness, Scripture

The Look of Trust

Depending on the day, saying I trust in God can land anywhere on the spectrum of easy to difficult. In the best mindset though (note: not necessarily the best circumstances, but the best mindset), aware of God’s promises, of His nature, and of all the ways He’s cared for me in the past, I can readily say that I trust in God.

Trust in God for what? “I trust in God” is truly an unfinished statement. For what? With what?

Added to these questions is the wondering, “what does that look like?” When trust is real, when it accomplishes what it ought in my heart and mind, what does that look like? Surely a life lived with trust in God has some noticeable differences from a life lived without.

Today is as good a day as any for me to think through these questions as the trusting is landing somwhere near the more difficult-but-extremely-necessary end of the spectrum.

A couple nights ago, I started reading the Psalms to my son (via my belly). I thought about how all the books and folks say that baby in the womb can sense and react to the way Mom is feeling, especially when it comes to stress, anger, distress, fear, etc. It struck me that, because it doesn’t cause concern health-wise, it’s not talked about so much from the opposite angle. Does consistent peacefulness, a restful mind, a gentle spirit do as much good for the developing child as the opposite does harm? I like to think the answer to that is yes.

The words I read to my unborn son spoke frequently of trust, strength, peace, provision – all coming from the Lord. And that’s really what it comes down to, doesn’t it? That’s where the difference lies. A life lived in trust in God means I look to Him for what I need. I trust Him with the worries plaguing me. I trust Him with the potential joy or sorrow that could come of a relationship or experience. I trust Him with the ones I love and whom I wish I could save from every harm. I trust Him with my hopes. I trust Him with my self!

The peace of mind, the needs of each day, the strength and wisdom in each circumstance; I don’t look to anything or anyone before God. He may provide through other things and other people, but I look to Him first and above all. And when He provides by whatever means He chooses, I remember and am certain that the answers came from Him, not anywhere else. I don’t get chained down by worry and fear because a need placed in God’s hands means it is in His hands. In His care. A pretty notion? No, a powerful notion. If I can encourage my children not to worry or be afraid because they can rest assured that their mother and father are caring for them, how much more can a life changing example be set by the fact that I live in deliberate assurance that I am in God’s care!

A life lived in trust in God does look different. There is a steadiness to it, an unshakeable character that breeds confidence, peace, and endurance through the thickest and thinnest of life’s days. It shapes reactions, choices, words, and thoughts. The look of trust is the look that I pray will mark my features as a wife and mother.

To thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee I trust, let me not be put to shame. (Psalm 25:1-2a)
 
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. (Psalm 26:1)
 
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
Holiness, Love, Scripture

Bear With One Another

(Originally written for “The Bells of St. Mary’s” parish newsletter)

I’m on break at work and it’s been one of those days: computer issues rendering me incapable of completing my task list, miscommunications and lack of responsibility by individuals, and a vague awareness that I need a vacation. It’s all adding up to a mood in which I’m simply trying not to ruin other people’s days. Now I’m sitting down to write about forbearance. The humor is not lost on me.

Forbearance. The word almost sounds foreign. Certainly not one that rolls off the tongue in everday conversation. It is a word hearkening back to the antique language of the Bible, before revisionists tried to modernize the verses of Scripture. But what is it? Merely a synonym for patience? When St. Paul instructs us to bear with one another (Colossians 3:13), is it a matter of just putting up with people as they are? Or is it a virtue that integrates several virtues at once?
Patience, compassion, mercy, understanding, humility, forgiveness – each is in play when forbearance is practiced. And why do we forbear? Ultimately? Because God does. Because “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

We forbear because the Father did not wait for us to understand His plans before He sent His only begotten Son. Christ did not wait for people to believe in Him before performing miracles, or for folks to humble themselves before setting a holy example of service. And He did not wait for us to stop sinning before pouring His life out on the Cross. When we consider the Lord ‘s mercy, we should “consider the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).

The family member who can’t shake an addiction, or who has an unbroken pattern of selfishness; the friend who clings to self-pity and grudges, or is too proud to admit a mistake; the coworker who gets under your skin; the spouse with the habit you wish could be eradicated; the child who just can’t correctly do what you’ve shown him how to do a hundred times. They all need your forbearance.

One who forbears looks upon another’s struggle, suffering or shortcoming and, as he does so, humbly acknowledges his own of the same. Forbearance manifests itself in enduring, determined patience. It is the antithesis of provocation. Where you could react in loud anger, you choose mildness and calm, firm words. Instead of giving up hope, you ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to help. Rather than dismissing the troubles weighing on another’s mind, you listen and seek to understand. Forgiveness is chosen over resentment. Intercession is offered up instead of condemnation.

Look on everyone with the eyes of your Heavenly Father, from the briefest encounter with a stranger to the most intimate relationships in your life. The Father’s eyes see each of us as we truly are, with every success and failure, strength and weakness, act of love and act of fear, virtue and vice. Through those eyes, we can love, and because we love, we can forbear.

Holiness, Intentionality

Can’t Get Enough

Two mornings in a row, I have been awakened by Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough” playing on my alarm clock radio. As I lay for a few moments longer on my pillow today, listening to Mr. White’s resonant baritone and laughing at the coincidence, I couldn’t help wondering if there was any significance to it. Was I about to live Monday through again in a Bill Murray-esque manner? Oh, I hoped it wouldn’t be so. Then as I passed the next hour dressing for the day, applying my makeup and drying my hair, I wondered a bit at how anything signifies anything.

Let me qualify that. Of course there are things of obvious significance – events, actions and interactions that have meaning and influence, effecting change and so on. My pre-workday musings had more to do with the rest. The rest. All that fills our days and nights, in between the moments of clear significance. The way we phrase our conversations; the clothes you put on; the food you decide to consume; the music you tune your radio to in the car; the people you choose to smile at; the people you choose not to smile at; the tv show you sit down to watch; the laundry you make time for; the dishes you decide to leave for another day… Does any of it signify?

There are many in this world who would answer with a firm ‘no.’ What do these things matter? In the long run, who cares? Well, sorry to be such a contrarian but I take a different view. I say ‘yes.’ I say the little bits of life signify a great deal. The little bits are what our habits consist of, and our habits are what our characters consist of. Recognizing this, I believe we can choose to live deliberately. That is, live in a manner that directs all our actions, words and even thoughts to the service of developing virtue. Patience, courage, generosity, joy, mercy, understanding, love. Virtue doesn’t grow out of enormous tests and trials. Virtue grows out of day to day living and proves its worth when the larger events come to pass.

I too get caught up in thinking that living with purpose means setting out to achieve great things. I fill myself up with resolve that is sapped in a week’s time. I overlook all the small opportunities to live deliberately and when the opportunities for great things do come, I find I am nowhere near ready for them.

I don’t know if Barry White will wake me up again tomorrow. I do know that choosing to be amused and to get out of bed smiling as the song played set the tone for my day. In fact, this seemingly insignificant event and reaction might be credited with today being remarkably more pleasant than yesterday despite the content of the two days being so alike. Just another reminder to live deliberately and trust that the big and lasting good things are built upon numerous little and momentary good things. Barry White and I encourage you to live so as to infuse significance into all the moments between the significant.