What is the purpose of life? From Conan the Barbarian to Conan O’Brien, this question has been answered in many different ways. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph number 1, answers it in this way, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, and to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.”
Through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and through the Body of Christ, the Church, God has given us the means to draw close to Him and share in His life. Those means, those tools, are the sacraments, prayer, the devotions of the Church, the lives of the saints, and the Sacred Bible and Sacred Tradition as taught in the Magisterium of the Church. Through them God forgives our sins, renews the life of grace within us, and enables us to grow in virtue, even heroic virtue. Remember that there is no standing still in the spiritual life; you are either moving forward or falling back.
Prayer, even daily prayer, is absolutely essential to the spiritual life. Prayer is basically conversation with God. When we talk with our family and friends and share our lives with them, we come to know them better and love them more. When we pray we come to know God better and to love Him more. In prayer we meditate on the life of Christ, the nature of God, and the mysteries of the faith. God speaks to us through these mysteries, revealing Himself to us throughout the course of our lives. In the silence of prayer we come to know ourselves better as well, because God shines a light on our souls that reveals us to ourselves. We are able to see how God has made us in His image and likeness, and how we have distorted that image through sin. Then, in prayer, God gives us the grace to face our faults, to overcome our sins, and to grow in virtue.
Prayer naturally leads to sorrow for our sins and a desire to amend our lives, and so God has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive forgiveness and the grace to fight temptation. In Confession we admit to our sins before God, and God’s minister, the priest, receive penance to begin making up for our sins, and are absolved of our sins. Having the knowledge of our failures without the possibility of forgiveness would be a kind of despair, but God desires to draw us out of our sins, free us from them, and restore us to the life of grace. People often say that they don’t go to Confession because they confess directly to God. Confessing directly to God is a good thing, and every Christian should do it, but Christ Himself gave the Apostles the ability to forgive sins (Jn 20:22-23) and James instructs Christians to call on priests to have their sins forgiven (Jm 5:14-15).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation has a close connection with the Most Holy Eucharist and the Holy Mass. Through Reconciliation we are made ready to approach the Lord in the Eucharist and to receive Him in Holy Communion. The Holy Mass is the representation of the one sacrifice of Christ. The Body and Blood of Christ are offered to the Lord, are consecrated by the power of the Holy Spirit, and are lifted up to Him. We unite ourselves to that sacrifice by receiving it in Holy Communion, just as the ancient Israelites united themselves to the sacrifices of the altar by eating the sacrificial lamb. All grace flows through the Cross of Christ, and there’s enough grace in receiving the Eucharist one time to make us a saint, if only we believe and surrender ourselves to the Lord.
As I approach my last week here at Our Lady of Lourdes, I would like all of you to know that I loved my time here, that I will remember this community and the welcome I received here, and that I love all of you. I will pray for you, and I ask you to pray for me, and pray for your incoming pastor. Inoculate your families against the poison of worldliness by holding fast to our ancient traditions, keeping the faith, and growing daily in the love of Christ through prayer, Reconciliation, and the Most Holy Eucharist.
So, you are getting by and through this worldwide pandemic and dealing with all of the hand washing, social distancing, sanitizing, and limited travel away from home but just not feeling yourself. You have not tested positive for the virus but there is a sense that the pep in your step is less than what it was or that the things that usually amuse you seem not to be as amusing.
There is a better than average chance that you may have a different strain of the Coronavirus – the Corona Crud. For complete disclosure purposes, I am not aware that there is an actual ailment officially called the Corona Crud, but you get the idea. The overall feeling that life is just a bit off balance and that some days things almost feel normal but still different. You’re not overtly depressed or having debilitating anxiety but the updates of information and the review of the COVID19 statistics usually end with a deep sigh. Even the occasional glass of wine or beer is interrupted by some conversation about the virus and it seems that it’s one of the last things that you think about at night and one of the first things that you greet the day with on more days than not.
And as if all that wasn’t enough, all of your badges of honor from past disasters like Katrina, Rita, the BP Oil Spill, Refinery explosions, and even Betsy for the most experienced of survivors, really carry little weight to combat this one.
Well, here is the good news- in addition to the Gospel. If you’re going through any of the above or things similar you are completely normal. Keep in mind that normal is a relative term. But for the most part, you can count on the above symptoms remaining with you for a while longer butyou will get better at it and it will help form the roots for a stronger and more resilient you. In the meantime, here are a few helpful hints to remember that make for good emotional health.
1. One of my personal favorites- why give yourself a hard time for having a hard time dealing with hard times. In other words, feeling a bit off center in the face of a historical pandemic and all of the impacts associated with it is right where most of us spend a decent amount of our days. It is really important that we can acknowledge that the things that we are experiencing like the symptoms above is OK to feel. It doesn’t mean that we are in some way less than we are supposed to be. It just means that this situation is a challenge for now. Vent a little more, wonder a little more, nap a little more, and question a little more; but just for a while.
2. But be OK with not staying there. Once you can give yourself a pass for not being completely happy with the pandemic situation, you also can free yourself from having to change it. Take solving the COVID19 crisis off your To Do list. You see, we are creatures who look for ways to minimize discomfort and maximize pleasant experiences. So, if you release yourself from having to solve the COVID19 pandemic, it becomes a bit more sensible to let yourself do and think about other things. Be free of the chains of the virus. This simple act can go a long way to open yourself to the rest of the world around you.The daylight, the clouds, the rain, the stars, the sunset, the birds that you hadn’t seen before. Be open to it all.
3. Here is a small but powerful tool. Laugh and Smile. Sure, it may seem inconsistent to laugh or walk around with a big grin on your face when there is so much stuff going on but trust me on this one. This is a biggie. You know that it takes more muscle energy to frown than to smile- so it is actually more efficient to smile. Find something: a television show, a movie, a joke, a photo album or old video, a funny memory, or watching orangutans. Whatever it is that amuses you, find it, experience it, and laugh at will. Repeat as often as possible. And feel free to make yourself contagious on this one. Obviously, be mindful of the other people around who may not have advanced to your level of personal adjustment and who may not understand your laughter just yet.
4. Another helpful hint is to allow yourself to engage the pandemic for what it is - a world crisis that will end in time - and move on with your history story. Not that we should be insensitive to the struggles that people may have but let it have its place and stay in its place. People often can get wrapped up in having to know all there is to know about the tragedies of the world. Sort of like having to look at the car accident on the highway- you don’t want to see but you just have to look. Here is a secret that is related to #2 above. Its likely not your job to solve the Coronavirus pandemic so engage the crisis; get the facts;know that it is real, that it will have some impact on life as we know it for the immediate future; and expect that it will pass. So, turn off the 24-hour coverage on the pandemic and get on with something else. There will be plenty of time to come back to any relevant issue or person that needs your attention.
5. Eat, Play, Pray, and Rest. You know the saying- take care of yourself and your self will take care of you. Be deliberate in trying new things to eat or places to order from. EAT - Our culture is such a delicacy and while some of our reliables may be on a temporary hiatus, use this as the time to expand your food experience. Do a food exchange with friends and neighbors. You know you can really tell a lot about a person from the food they feed you. Travel the seven continents one by one by different cultural dishes during the course of the pandemic. Or play your own version of your favorite reality cooking show- you make the rules and you always win. PLAY - Dust off those board games or tennis shoes or gardening tools. You know all those things you used to enjoy doing but got too grown up to do anymore or made it a chore to do. Now is a good time to try them out again. Make it fun instead of seeing as a “have to do” item. And even while you’resocial distancing, you may find someone to do them six feet away from. Take pics of your new playful self. PRAY - And while you’re doing things deliberately- work a couple of practical prayers into the mix. The old favorites like the rosary or novenas are good solid prayers but stretch your spiritual self and try adding in a little mixture of prayers that you hadn’t followed before. Be it a focus on nature or history or mankind, let your prayer journey be influenced by topics of prayer that you have not considered a source of prayer time or include in your prayers getting to know some of the saints and or other spiritual models whom you don’t know. REST - And get your rest. Be careful in the process of eating, playing, and praying that you leave time for a few good mid-day siestas and some early to bed nights and late to rise days. Sleep is such a distinct behavior of ours that on this one be cautious about changing what works but be open to adjusting what does not. Someone recently shared with me that last year laying on the couch when the neighbors were out was seen as lazy and antisocial and this year it is seen as responsible distancing. Go figure. Rest sustains us; good rest energizes us; and peaceful rest strengthens us.
So, there you have a quick review of the Corona Crud and some ideas to cope with it. I most encourage readers to rip it apart, write your own version of the crud symptoms and the helpful hints to cope with it. Afterall, you are the expert. And as we often need to be reminded-
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.
This, too, shall pass. You know this because this is not where our story ends.
God Bless You.
When the statues are covered, you know you’re getting close to Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Thank you to Janet Nunez and Dcn. Craig Taffaro for getting them covered for us.
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and we hope to see everyone at Mass. Normal times: Saturday at 4 PM and Sunday at 9 and 11 AM. We’ll have the blessing of palm branches at all Masses.
If if you are any of your neighbors have palms, we could really use your help. All the palms we give out are donated by parishioners. You can leave them in front of the Parish Community Center any time this week. If possible, wash them first. Thanks in advance.
Yesterday, Tuesday, May 1, was the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker, the less well known of St. Joseph’s two feast days, the first being the Solemnity of St. Joseph the Husband of Mary. It reminded me of a talk I heard given by Mike Rowe who was the host of the TB V show “Dirty Jobs.” The talk was titled, “Don’t Follow Your Passion.” The common advice given to young people who are heading to college or looking for their future careers is to “follow your passion” and “if you love what you do you won’t work a day in your life.” Mike Rowe helps bring us back to the real world. Every job or career will have things that you love and things that you hate, parts of it will be tedious and parts exciting, some of it will be boring and some will be interesting. Plus, what you’re passionate about might not make a good career. Mike Rowe encourages people to find something that needs to be done, that’s in demand, and that no one else is doing, and become passionate about that.
We encourage people to find a job that they love, but the reality is that most people in the US and in the world have to take any job they can get so they can put bread on the table. So, how do we become passionate about what we’re doing and what does this have to do with St. Joseph? The Church takes the opportunity of the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker to remind us that work isn’t just a burden that we must bear but is also a gift from God. Through the work that we do we build up our community, we build up our families, and we build up our selves. As Jesus says, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (Jn 5:17). God is at work, and God invites us to participate in His work. Find what is good in your work and thank God for letting you contribute something good to the world. As Dr. Martin Luther King said in one of his speeches, “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. Even if it does not fall in the category of one of the so-called big professions, do it well. As one college president said, ‘A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.’ If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.’”
Equipped is about giving us information and techniques to help people to grow as parents and help their children to grow in virtue, especially chastity and self control, but the last chapter, “Confidence in Divine Mercy,” reminds us that Christianity is not about following a bunch of rules for their own sake, but about growing in our relationship with our Loving God. After all, as Dr. Scott Hahn says, sin isn’t just broken rules, it’s broken lives and broken relationships, and sin distances us from God, because it is incompatible with Who He Is. We didn’t do anything to earn God’s love, He loved us before He made us, so we can’t do anything to lose God’s love. We don’t do good things to try to make God love us; we do good things because God loves us.
We read in chapter 9, “But their (children’s) greatest need in life is not a good understanding of sexuality, a good sexual track record, or even good parents – their greatest need in life is God, including an understanding of their adoption as His children, as well as his Divine Mercy.” The information and tools in this book can help you to avoid and overcome temptation, but, as much as we try to minimize it, we all still sin sometimes. God’s gives us His mercy so we can return to His love, be strengthened by His grace, and continue to grow closer to Him. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:55-58).
Chapter 8 of Equipped, “Supportive and Structured Parenting,” is specifically on parenting styles and gives some practical tips on good parenting. Now, obviously I’m not an expert on parenting, but I would think that it’s good for every parent to occasionally do a self examination on how they are parenting their children.
What is the goal of every parent? It’s to raise your children to be the best men and women that they can become, the men and women that God is calling them to be: good, well rounded, holy, virtuous, and able to thrive when they go out into the world. Ask yourself, “Is the way I’m parenting my children encouraging and helping them to develop these traits?”
One of the main points of this chapter is the need for supportive and structured parenting. If one of these is emphasized to the detriment of the other, then the way you guide your children will become unbalanced and won’t help them grow into well rounded people. I can’t tell you how to do this, not only because I’m not a parent, but because every person, every parent and child, is unique. What I do know is this. If you try every day to be a slightly better parent than the day before, to strengthen areas where you’re weak and grow in virtues that you lack, to keep Christ at the heart of your family, and continuously return to Him when you fall away, then you’ll do the best job that you can.
Chapter 7, “Parental Controls and Media Literacy,” begins to get into the tools that you can use to help yourself and your family build up your virtue and self control. Humans are creatures of habit. Every time we make a decision and act upon it, we reinforce that behavior in ourselves. If we continue to act in a certain way, then it can eventually become a habit, and, if we continue, it will become part of our character. The problem is, it’s easy to form bad habits and hard to form good ones, and it’s easy to break good habits and hard to break bad ones, so we need all the help we can get.
The goal is to have the ability to regulate ourselves and control our own impulses, so that we control our desires instead of letting them control us. However, we know that it’s hard even for adults to do sometimes. There are all kinds of ways that can help with this, and each family has to decide what measures are best for them. When you go on a diet, the best way to control your cravings is to not keep junk food in the house. The same is true of pornography. You can keep the computers in public areas, not allow people to use their smart phones and tablets in their rooms, use parental controls, filters, and monitors, and set a good example yourself.
Teenagers hate to be told that something is adults only, especially when it doesn’t sense to them. When it comes to sexual content, if it’s not fit for being watched by children, then it’s probably not fit to be watched by adults either. The best way you can help your children develop virtue and self control is to set a good example.Treat the opposite sex with respect, especially your wife or husband, don’t tell crude jokes, don’t watch tv shows that amount to soft core pornography, and don’t listen to music that glorifies sexual sins. Your children will pay more attention to your actions than to your words. Seeing you try to live a virtuous life will encourage them to try as well.
Chapter 6 of the book, Equipped, tackles a difficult and complicated subject, but one that affects everyone: “Understanding Sexual Shame.” Shame is a fact of life that affects everyone, either when we sin, or when we think we’ve failed at something, or when something makes us feel inadequate. It’s helpful to understand how shame works and that it can be both healthy and unhealthy depending on how we deal with it.
Shame can be healthy and even a great grace when it points out a real problem is our relationship with God or with other people. When we’ve sinned and knowingly damaged these relationships we naturally feel ashamed of it. The shame is pointing out this damage and calling us to do something to begin repairing that relationship by apologizing and making up for it, or, in our relationship with God, by going to confession and doing penance. It is calling us back to love.
However, we’ve all experienced a different kind of shame; the kind that tells us that we are unloved and unlovable, that we are bad or damaged, and that’s there’s no hope for us. This type of shame draws us away from God and other people. It feeds on our fears and anxieties and often leads to self-destructive behaviors. It’s not from God, it’s a lie from the evil one. We must reject the lie that God doesn’t love us and draw closer to Him.
Parents, teach your children about the love of God. God loves us unconditionally and there’s nothing we can do to lose that love. We didn’t do anything to win God’s love, so there’s nothing we can do that would make Him stop loving us. Our good behavior shouldn’t be an attempt to try to win God’s love (He already loves us), but a response to His love (by loving Him in return). The best way you can teach your children this is by living it. Make sure they know that you love them unconditionally, that nothing they do will make you stop loving them, and that they can come to you with any problem and not be condemned.
In the fifth chapter, “From Impulse to Life-Giving Union,” we are asked to consider the three sources of temptation and how they relate to pornography and sexual sin. Only by understanding where these temptations come from can we learn how to fight against them and reject them. The three sources of temptation, which are listed by St. John (1 John 2:16-17) are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
The Lust of the Flesh is our bodily desires, for example, for food and drink, for comfort, and for pleasure. None of these things are bad. In fact, they are all gifts from God, but if we allow our desires to get out of control, then they can start to control us. Pornography enhances the lust of the flesh by presenting situations that are out of our fantasies. They go beyond and warp real life. When we begin to control our other bodily desire we can become better at controlling sexual desires as well. We can do this by practicing moderation in what we eat and drink, by putting the thermostat a little bit higher or lower than we normally like it, and by taking cold showers, and in many other ways.
The Lust of the Eyes is how we take delight in what we see. It is healthy to delight in a beautiful sunset or landscape, the work of talented artists, or even in the beauty of another person. It becomes unhealthy when we feel like we have to possess or own those things and when we begin to treat other people as objects. Pornography always treats people as objects and teaches those who use it to do the same. We can combat this temptation by practicing custody of the eyes; that is, when you are tempted by what we see, look away. Look at something else, or even distract yourself with something else. If you keep your mind occupied, then you won’t be able to think about whatever the temptation is.
The Pride of Life refers to the drive for ambition and power. This distorts our healthy desire to be the best that we can be and grow in virtue and holiness. Pride turns this into arrogance a desire for power over others. Pornography is attractive to some because it gives us an illusion of control. We think that we are in control of what we see, but in reality, the more someone used pornography, the more it controls him. We can fight this temptation through practicing generosity, compassion, and humility, and by praying for those who are trapped in lives of sexual exploitation.
All three sources of temptation take what is good and corrupt it. We can fight back through staying close to the source of all goodness, God.
The last chapter, chapter 3, of Equipped was about who we are as children of God made in His image and likeness. The fourth chapter, “Understanding Sexual Integrity,” is about human sexuality. You see, everything has a meaning. It’s been said that God writes history the way that an author writes a book; everything means something and past events point forwards to future events. Well, that doesn’t go far enough, everything that God created, He created for a reason and a purpose, including us. Even our actions have meanings. For example, if you slap someone in the face, it doesn’t mean, “I like you and want to be your friend,” even if that’s what you thought you were saying. It means that you don’t like them and want to hurt them.
The more more important something is, the more important its meaning, and human sexual is very important. In fact, it was the very fist thing that God commanded us in the Bible, “Be fruitful and multiply.” So, what does human sexuality mean? It means, “I want to be completely united to you. I give myself to you totally and completely.” As much as we try to make it mean other things, we all know, deep down, that that’s what it really mean. That’s why we call it consummating, or completed, a marriage. Marriage is about giving yourself to someone totally and completely and uniting your life to theirs.
If human sexuality is about giving myself to another person completely and totally, then what is pornography about? As Equipped puts it, “Porn always teaches us to use and dispose of people.” It’s not about sharing your life with another person, it’s about your own pleasure. If marriage is supposed to teach us to be generous and giving, through caring for our husband or wife and children, then pornography teaches us to be selfish and take.
Once we know and accept the truth about human sexuality and what it means, then we can begin to live it in our lives.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.