Monday, August 29, 2016

Motivation Monday - St. Augustine

This section from Augustine's Confessions has been stuck in my head for the last few days. And I only realized last night that August 28 was his feast day (of course)!

"Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new: late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace."

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Annus Horribilis

In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning. Or maybe it is 2016. I’m starting to be old enough to realize that no election year is pretty, and elections are fairly common around here. But 2016 seems to be vying for a top spot on the bad years list. The political tension, the protests, the refugee crisis, the poisonous water, the spreading virus, and all the death. So many people have passed away, both in the public sphere and privately.

Recently, at a memorial Mass (the third I had attended in a month), the celebrant noted it had been a bad year but that good things had happened too. He fondly recalled a recent ordination then asked, “What other good things have happened?” No one answered. You could sense everyone trying to think of an answer, to find something to celebrate. But it’s been a rough year.

I mean, not 1353 bad, or even 1916 bad, but maybe 1968 without the optimism of going to the moon. The year is only halfway through, and I’ve heard multiple people ask, “Is 2016 over yet?” I hear the end-times-ers crying that we’re living through the prophecy of Revelation, and while I vehemently disagree with their theology, I get it. Surely this can only be fixed through total destruction and rebuilding, right? How do we get ourselves out of a global dark night of the soul?

Much like purgatory, a dark night of the soul is temporary, and it leads to something greater. I wouldn’t go as far to call it necessary—we got ourselves here—but is a part of the path, not an end. There is light somewhere, even if unseen. A new year is only a few months away.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Back in July I attended at stateside World Youth Day event. The pilgrims there gathered in Washington, D.C. for catechist talks, veneration, and Mass. It was a small-scale replica of what the pilgrims in Krakow were doing and seeing. We gathered from across the country and ate Polish food, saw Polish dancers, and visited the Holocaust Museum (the pilgrims in Poland toured Auschwitz). The prayers were said in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Polish, and ASL. The idea was that we couldn’t make the pilgrimage to Poland, but we could experience the pilgrim spirit and show solidarity with those who did go.

I wasn’t really sure about being a pilgrim. Can one be a pilgrim in less than 48 hours? My ideas of pilgrimages are mainly sourced from The Canterbury Tales and The Way. So, walking around Europe with strangers. My idea of a pilgrimage is a very individualistic trip—one of self-realization and renewal. But this pilgrimage was all about the collective, solidarity with those in Krakow. It was about being part of something bigger than yourself, and any individual actualization was a byproduct, not the selling-point.

I guess what always turned me off to the idea of pilgrimage is the idea that I should expect some profound spiritual change. I’ve never held the idea that I could choose when to have an awakening, that I can plan a trip and organize spiritual insight. Now, the visiting places of religious significance I understand, because I’m a history buff, but I don’t think all those Europeans were travelling to Jerusalem in the 1100s because they were history nerds on vacation. But for me there is a fear of pilgrimaging: what if I spend all this time and money and effort to reach this holy place, and feel nothing?

But I’ve realized pilgrimage doesn’t have to be about that (and maybe never was meant to). My modern sensibilities prioritize the individual’s feelings, but feelings are fleeting, and they can be deceptive.  Faith is more than feel-goods and epiphanies. A pilgrim goes to a shrine because they are told to or because they need to or maybe because they want to. In the act of pilgrimaging, the reasons don’t matter so much; the pilgrim fades away into the faces of the thousands of other pilgrims—there together or over the centuries. It doesn’t matter that I go; it matters that a pilgrim goes. It matters that the saint is venerated, the holy day observed, the faith kept.

The faithful come from different cultures, with different languages and different prayers and different reasons for being there. But they converge onto one spot, and the differences fade in the brilliance of the shared faith. Solidarity. Something the Polish people know something about. So how do I be a pilgrim in less than 48 hours? I just go.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Morality isn't on the Ballot

I don’t know anyone who’s happy about the election in November. Some are angry at the system and are looking forward to upending the status quo: “That’ll show ‘em.” Some are angry at their fellow citizens and desperate to stop the opponent, regardless of who that means they wind up voting for: “Anyone but her.” “Anyone but him.” Even the comedians, who usually thrive in ridiculous politics are exhausted: “This isn’t funny anymore.” Most people seem downtrodden, doubtful that democracy ever really works. After all, it’s a winner-takes-all system, so people in solid red and blue states know their vote won’t make an impact. And the oligarchs and lobbyists will choose anyway. Voting only feels important if you think your vote is counted; that’s why voter turnout is so low. 

Resigned, some of us will go to the polls: “hold your nose and close your eyes.” No one seems to actually like their candidate; they just hate the other more. Every election, but especially this one, people complain that they are choosing between the lesser of two evils. That’s just politics, right? You pick the less evil option and hope the part of their platform you agree with actually gets done.

But picking a lesser evil is still picking evil. By choosing one over the other, you’d already surrendered yourself to the system which offers you no good options. C. S. Lewis wrote, “He [the devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

In Star Trek, Kirk defeats the unbeatable Kobayashi Maru test. He says it’s because he doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios (he does believe in cheating). Elections have become no-win scenarios. A vote against war is also a vote for abortion. A vote for security is also a vote against liberty. Voting your conscious between two evils is difficult, because your conscious knows that you’re voting for evil. I think a lot of us want to pull a Captain Kirk—find a way to beat an unbeatable system.

I don’t know the Kobayashi Maru cheat code. I don’t have a solution (other than a dream of a comprehensively pro-life, distributionist candidate). But I do know we can’t continue choosing our least-hated evil, for that only perpetuates evil, and it strips us of our morality. The moral choice isn't on the ballot, so there's really no choice at all. That doesn’t mean stepping away from democracy, leaving the politics to evil politicians. Staying at home and doing nothing is silent endorsement of a broken system. The USCCB encourages Catholics to be involved in civic matters. In a democracy, even a broken one, one is called to be an active citizen, to participate. People fought long and hard for suffrage and the Voting Rights Act. With the latter stripped away in the past few years, it’s even more important to continue to fight for and use the former.

It’s difficult for me to navigate how to follow my conscious and participate in my civic duty. I don’t know how it will play out in the following months. I don't know what I'll do a few Tuesdays from now. I know I have to pay attention, even when I don’t want to. I know I need to be well-informed, both on the issues and on my conscious. I know my vote shouldn’t be about winning or anger or fear but about asserting my civic rights and contributing my voice to a democratic system, even a broken one.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Be Our (Evil) Guest

This year has gotten lots of us down. More shootings, more bombings, more hollow words from greedy politicians, more extreme legislations, more us-versus-them, more fear. People have drawn their political lines, and those with different views are seen as dangerous to our very survival. And somewhere in all that, it is still the Year of Mercy.

We all know to love our enemies. But we also know how hard that is. They stand against us. They actively undermine us. They want to see us fail. How can I love someone whose worldview is so distant from my own? How can I love someone who not only refuses to love me back but seeks me harm? G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.”

I really hate when current politics is compared to Nazi Germany, but a recent trip to the Holocaust Museum has put Nazism on my mind. I see parallels to the early 1930s. And I ask myself: how would I have responded then? How am I responding now? We all know it’s right to speak up for the marginalized and oppressed. But should we vilify and shut out others in the process?

How would I have treated my neighbor who voted for the Nazi Party and believed Hitler would revive Germany to glory? Or the cashier at the store who is afraid of Jews overrunning the neighborhood? Or the boy signing up for the army just so he can shoot communists? Do I stand up and tell them how wrong they are, how uneducated and prejudiced? Then I get to walk off, feeling superior. Or should I engage, try to understand where the depression and fear and anger comes from? I should treat them as people, scared and lashing out in destructive ways, but people with real experiences and real feelings. Being nationalist or racist or corporatist doesn’t stop someone from being human. And being maligned and ignored will not change their minds. Being shown attention and compassion might. Loving your neighbor means seeing the whole person, not just the political bumper sticker.

Jesus ate with sinners. It didn’t mean he approved of their sins or that he stayed silent when seeing injustice. But he did sit down to dinner. I might have to grit my teeth or close my eyes, but I know should invite the Nazi neighbors to dinner too. Love is an action that requires practice. It requires climbing uphill—showing love to someone who might not show love in return, who might mock you for your weakness, who might continue down a destructive path anyway. It doesn’t always feel good or get the desired conversion of your enemy. But you do it anyway because it is the right thing to do. “Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.”