Category Archives: Sin

New Q&A Section: Is It Hard Being a Catholic While Suffering from Mental Health?

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Someone emailed me at my address recently (thepsychword@gmail.com). They asked a simple question: Is it hard for you to be a Catholic and to also suffer from mental illness?

First off, I would say to read some of my earlier blog posts in order to get a gist of my answer.

However, yes, it is difficult at times. But at other times it’s quite easy and even fun.

For instance, we just got a new priest at our parish. The former one retired. He was from Mexico, and he could hardly be understood. He let everything go in the Mass: bad music, no crucifix above the altar, clapping during Mass, etc.

Fortunately, our new priest, a much younger Hispanic man (I live in San Antonio, Texas, so, as I’m an “Anglo,” I’m in the minority), is a great homilist and is taking great measures to add more reverence to the Mass.

I guess I digressed, but oh well.

Having a new priest breathe new life into out parish makes me very happy. I am also going to be a catechist (teacher) on Tuesday nights to second graders! I am extremely excited to get out of my comfort zone by doing this.

Yes, I still have my struggles when I do not feel like praying or even opening my Bible. However, I have to fight through it. A lot of times I’m unsuccessful, though.

But, as they say, making the effort is half the battle.

Or, what usually happens is that I slide by until I feel that drive again.I know this isn’t the best advice and I’m probably not the best example for all of you, but, hey, I’m human and suffering with depression and bipolar personality.

I hope this is a good enough answer for you. It’s Sunday night, and I wanted to get this response posted for you, dear inquirer and reader.

Have an incredible week, everyone! I’ll try to as well. It’s a lot of up and down for me. Pray for me as I pray for all of you.

Also, keep the questions coming. You can drop me a line at thepsychword@gmail.com.

~t


Should Christians Watch Game of Thrones?

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As always, I’m a bit behind when it comes to the latest movies and TV shows. For instance, I finally broke down and watched season 1, episode 1 of Game of Thrones last night. Season 6 just premiered recently, so that shows you how much and how often I watch TV. But everyone seems to love the show, including Christians, so it piqued my curiosity, despite the gratuitous sex, nudity, buckets of gore, and extreme violence that I had heard about and read about.

However, after listening to a Catholic radio program where the hosts mentioned that they watched the show regularly, I thought, What the heck. If they, respected Catholic hosts, watch it, then maybe I should give it a try.

I have always been a fan (not quite geek-boy status) of anything involving the fantasy genre. I played D&D throughout high school, skipped college classes to play Dragon Warrior on my brother’s Nintendo, played World of Warcraft religiously (until my free trial ran out!), and now I am an avid player of the Pokemon card came with my sons.

Regarding Game of Thrones: Boy, was I disappointed. The show is well-written, a serial where the story arc expands over an entire season. And, yes, I’m aware that it was only the very first episode of six seasons so far. Nevertheless, I was sickened and appalled.

Am I telling you not to watch Game of Thrones? No. You can make up your own mind. Am I telling Christians not to watch it? No. Pray about it and follow your own conscience and convictions.

Here are the reasons that I will not watch a single episode more:

 

The Gratuitous Sex

Seriously, I haven’t seen so much doggie-style humping since I took our new pet to the dog park. I mean, it makes The Discovery Channel seem like Sesame Street.

There was even one scene where a fair-skinned maiden from one kingdom was married off to a barbarian. He practically ripped off her clothes, put her on her hands and knees, and started ramming her. Mind you, the whole time the young woman/girl was sobbing (rape, anyone?).

And the pointless nudity. Oh, man. In particular: The scene where the brother is caressing his younger sister’s nude breast? I thought that was only found in the manga that I saw when I lived in Japan. Sheesh. Was I aroused by all this? You may be wondering. Not really, just perplexed.

 

Severed Heads Rolling Everywhere

If I wanted to see chopped-off heads impaled on spikes or gory beheadings, I could just watch Daesh (ISIS) videos on Youtube. I mean, come on. Do the American people want to see more of this in their nightly entertainment? We have become neo-Romans in that case.

If you want to read about the above-mentioned points, then read the Bible! There, I said it. But, the Scriptures are based on true events. Does that give you the right to say the Bible is acceptable and Game of Thrones is not? No. Not really. But Thrones is written for shock value I believe.

Even the website DenOfGeek.com mentioned that the series is full of “gratuitous violence” by the way.

 

And, finally, to a lesser extent…

 

The Portrayal of Religion

In season 1, episode 1 (the only episode I’m going to watch), there is a scene that begins with what looks like a Catholic church, bells tolling away. Inside, stained glass is seen from a distance. Images of Jesus or the saints? I highly doubt it. Turns out it’s a pagan temple resembling a church in architecture (to me anyway). The priests look like they’re the latest incarnation of the Nameless Ghouls in a Ghost video, complete with paper-looking miters emblazoned with pentagrams. Oh, brother, I thought. Really? It’s a fantasy world. At least be creative and make it look like a funky fantasy temple, for crying out loud.

 

And there you have it. So, you decide. You have read my take. As they say in the fantasy world: What say you?

~t


Sunday Musings: The End of Our Lives

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Next Sunday is a solemnity called Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (colloquially known as Christ the King). It is the end of the Church’s liturgical calendar and is a time to reflect on the end of our lives on earth and on the second coming of Christ. (The priest in my old parish once called it “a funeral of sorts — our funerals.”)

Today’s scripture readings reflect and foreshadow these events. Daniel 12: 1-3 says:

At that time your people shall escape,

everyone who is found written in the book.

In Mark 13: 24-32, Jesus says:

In those days after the tribulation,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light…

He will send out the angels

and gather his elect from the four winds…

The priest at Mass this morning talked about how we should get rid of sinful habits in our lives so that we will be prepared to die and face the Lord. He also talked about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the attacks in 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York.

“Do you think anyone was thinking: ‘I’m prepared to meet my Maker’? Probably no one.”

We all have daily struggles. Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive amid all the stress and hardships of daily life. I know it is for me. However, we must hold to the promise that awaits us. This will get us through the tough times. As the adage goes:

Those who persevere through a storm often find a rainbow.

So, in conclusion: Am I ready to meet my Maker if I should die today?

Are you?

~t


Self-Pity

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I received a comment on one of my recent posts that really hit home. You see, when I started this blog (as mentioned in the “About” section), I had the intent of beginning a ministry to help others who suffer from mental illness. Being faith-based in nature, my aim was also to help people know God.

Well, by perusing my own posts for the last, oh, several months, I was hard pressed to find much, if any, encouragement from myself.

In other words, I’ve been sulking in self-pity for the longest time. I realized it, but I didn’t seem to care. I didn’t feel the need to make any adjustments. King David used the Psalms to gripe about things, and then he threw in a praise to God at the end, I would tell myself, half-believing the justification.

Also, my posts have gotten shorter. Why? I ask myself. Because I’ve been selfish. I drag myself before the computer, I whine and complain, and then I log off, putting in my “time.”

I’m glad Jesus’ ministry wasn’t like that.

I’m FAR from being like Jesus. Really far. At times I try–

See, I just caught myself before the full-on “woe is me” stuff came out.

Thank you, dear commenter, for bringing my self-pity to my attention. I listened to you because:

  1. you were sincere,
  2. you were loving, and
  3. you know what I’m going through because you suffer from it too.

The truth be told, I came back from the psychiatrist this evening. He’s trying to adjust my meds. Things aren’t working out too well. For some reason, when I leave the psych’s office, I feel like cutting loose with sin. The doctor told me I suffer from hypermania (whatever that is), bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (which explains why I feel the world is crashing down on me when I give in to the tidal wave of lustful thoughts and feelings).

The person who left the above-mentioned comment recommended a book entitled The Temperament God Gave You. I ordered it, and it arrived a few days ago. I like what I see so far. I’m so glad a Catholic book on that topic is available.

Dear readers, the only inspiration and positive thoughts that I have for you this time aren’t necessarily Christian nor are they from the Bible. An hour ago, I was sulking in my big, fluffy chair in my so-called library, and I pulled down my copy of poems by Emily Dickinson. I opened the book to a random page and found something called “Hope.” I posted it on my Facebook page, but you can read it below:

HOPE
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

~t


Not-So-Holy Family

Wikimedia Commons

In the Catholic tradition, today is the Solemnity of the Holy Family. This morning at Mass, the homily really struck me; the Spirit called me higher in my own life: fatherhood, marriage, my responsibility as the head of the family, and so on.

During the homily and after, not once did I try and justify myself. Normally I would only pick and choose what to apply to my own situation, in my mind knowing that my wife is a non-believer and that’s why my kids are not being raised in the Catholic faith.

On the contrary.

Amen, I was saying to myself, listening to the points that were being driven home by the priest. I’m gonna start getting my kids involved in my parish. I’m gonna live out my faith to the very best of my ability so my wife will see the Holy Spirit in me.

All these are good things, right?

Well, before I even walked through the door after getting home from Mass, my wife blurted, “You need to fix the refrigerator ASAP. It’s not cooling properly. Call your brother.”

I always go to my younger brother for any handyman-related problem. A firefighter/paramedic, he has that manly “gift” that somehow bypassed me.

Before I called him, I took a drink of bottled water from the fridge. It seemed cold enough. Then I opened the freezer and took out one of those plastic bricks that substitutes for ice in our cooler when we go on picnics. “It looks like it’s working.”

That set my wife off the deep end.

So there I was in a yelling match with her while the kids were in the very next room playing. You’re really putting today’s homily into practice, I kept thinking to myself.

Without playing the blame game, let’s just say that I could have prevented the huge argument.

A heart check from God? Probably. It really sucks, though. What sucks most is that I haven’t seemed to learn anything from our 12+ years together.

Like the rock band Extreme lamented in the 90s: “Am I ever gonna change?”

~t

 


Here I Go Again On My Own

Here I go again on my own,

going down the only road I’ve ever known.

Like a drifter I was born to walk alone.

                                     –Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again”

I am a member of the Knights of Columbus, and we had our monthly council meeting last night. The officer installation for the 2014-15 fraternal year took place in June, so our July meeting was the first time that our new officers took their positions (I continued as an officer).

This means that our new grand knight (chairman) assumed his role as leader of our council. The only reason he “got the job” was because no one else wanted it; too much responsibility and pressure. (In a lot of cases, grand knights are retired guys because they have the most time to devote).

Well, we officers and regular members knew it was a bad idea because… um… let’s just say he wasn’t the right type to lead a K of C council. Problems started right off the bat: He never bothered to learn the ins and outs of the office of grand knight; he shouted and berated guys who had the floor during meetings; it was “his way or the highway;” etc.

Needless to say, this caused an enormous amount of tension in the air every month, not to mention the fact that members have stopped volunteering for fundraisers and various other projects due to an apparent drop in morale.

At the July meeting, I merely sat there and observed the circus around me, ashamed at what the council had become. Last month, I went off on the grand knight and had to be calmed down by another officer. At that point, whenever I would think about or see K of C guys, I would get panic attacks and start to hyperventilate.

Last night, at the September meeting, all hell broke loose.

I won’t go into the details, but there was a controversial proposal from the floor which created a battle line immediately. Shouting ensued. Words with venom dripped from a portion of these godly men’s mouths.

After the meeting, I was confronted by some of my “friends” about my stance on the particular issue. It led to harsh words and defensive body language all around. I left in a huff, shaking and gasping for air, ready to physically assault someone.

It was as if I were drunk: I don’t recall everything that transpired during my raging panic attack. I loudly cursed at a friend and officer in the lobby of the parish community center. I stormed to my car, not looking back as my friend chased me down. I didn’t acknowledge him until I got to my car.

My complete meltdown was taking place. I could not stand up. Leaning on my car, shaking, you would have thought English was not my first language: I was having trouble forming words and uttering sentences.

I remember breaking down in front of my friend, confessing all of my mental issues. I was a blubbering mess. I kept repeating the refrain, “I don’t want to go to prison.”

I was on the verge of seriously hurting someone.

I would love to tell you that my friend hugged me, told me everything would be okay, and that I went on my merry way.

That’s far from what happened next.

One of the new members and officers, an arrogant, loud-mouthed stocky Latino guy strutted over to me in the dark parking lot. His actions and expressive speaking style reminded me of a pissed-off prison inmate.

“You know, I don’t appreciate the way you talked to me in there. You don’t know nothing about me. I’m a man. You disrespected me.”

(Mind you, we are two practicing Catholics and officers in the K of C, so this will definitely amuse you anti-Catholics out there.)

Lots of talk. Lots of swagger. Chest puffed out. Intimidating?

Not in the least.

I’m 6’5″ tall, 220 pounds, and skilled in aikido which I practiced in Japan. This guy was expecting me to either cower before him or run away.

Instead, I got in his face (Well, his face was in my chest).

Accusations, threats, and macho shouting progressed until my friend stepped between us.

Latino’s smart-ass taunts got me more worked up; I was already a basket case, pushed to the brink of insanity.

To make a long story short, he eventually walked away to his truck and left as I kept yelling, trying to provoke him into come back and taking a swing at me.

***********************************

What did I learn from this?

That I have a lot of soul-searching to do. That both the Latino guy and I need to repent. That I wasn’t being like Jesus.

That my illness had struck again and I’ll have to leave the council out of shame. That I’ll have to find another parish to attend. That I’ll have to start over yet again.

I have since officially resigned from my officer position, sent a heart-felt apology to the Latino guy, and sent myself into permanent exile from this K of C council and parish. Possibly an indefinite exile from the Church and religion for a while.

I never, ever imagined this happening. This K of C council was full of my brothers in the faith. I looked forward to every meeting, every function, every volunteer opportunity. Because it was a brotherhood.

But it happened.

Here I go again.

~t

(Photo by Topaz)


How to Increase Willpower in Our Struggle Against Sin and Addiction

Photo: Getty

 

Like other Catholics and Christians, I find it difficult to resist sin on occasion. Even after a great morning of prayer or right after Mass, it’s not too uncommon for me to lose my temper in traffic when, for instance, someone cuts me off. Like St. Paul discusses in Holy Scripture, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21)

The traffic anecdote may sound mild, but my anger tends to stick with me and ruin my day. I would say my biggest daily struggle, however, is with sexual impurity and pornography. I have made great strides and even stay on the wagon for weeks at a time, but, like St. Paul says, evil is always right there with me.

When I was at a retreat this past spring, I had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. confession) from a kind but stern priest. We were facing each other in folding metal chairs, and I’ll never forget his advice before I received absolution:

“You need a battle plan.”

Being a bonehead as usual, I failed to ask what kind of battle plan, or, better yet, what a battle plan was. In my “research,” I found some very good sites like this one. However, I felt that I was lacking something.

About a year ago, my regular confessor told me, after I had told him about my recent sins of masturbation and viewing pornography, “You… um… just need to… (sigh) try harder.”

I need to try harder?! I thought afterwards. Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s job? To help me out when I need it?

I didn’t understand that I needed to put forth some effort. Lots of it. 2 Peter 1:5 talks about making every effort to add virtues to our lives. Also, St. James writes in chapter 4, verse 7 of his epistle: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Then, recently, I came across a blog post by Eric Barker entitled “7 Ways You Can Easily Increase Your Willpower.” I devoured the article and started putting into practice things that I had learned.

It’s a bit lengthy, but the article is well worth your time. If you are having trouble with addictions such as (but not limited to) impurity and pornography, I would encourage you to give it a read.

By the way, I’m not implying that God is not powerful enough for us to overcome addictions. On the contrary, God wants us to make every effort to “avoid whatever leads [us] to sin.” (from the Act of Contrition)

Here it the article:

 


 

 

In general, people have an overly positive vision of themselves and their abilities.

But what’s the one thing surveys show that most people have a problem with?

Self-control.

And who is most likely to give in to temptation?

Ironically, it’s the people who think they have the most willpower.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Research shows that people who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to lose control when tempted. For example, smokers who are the most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are the most likely to relapse four months later, and overoptimistic dieters are the least likely to lose weight.

So how can we really increase willpower? What does science have to say?

I’ve posted a lot about the subject — from research to interviewing the foremost expert on the subject. Let’s round it all up and make it useful.

Here are 7 ways you can increase your own willpower and live a better life: 

 

1) “Keystone” Habits Are A Magic Bullet

Everyone wants a magic bullet. One pill that fixes everything. The closest thing in the area of willpower is what are called “keystone habits.”

The primary one is exercise. What’s so special about running or lifting weights? It doesn’t just give you more discipline at the gym…

It also makes you eat better. And helps you use your credit card less. And makes you more productive at work. And more patient with loved ones.

Exercise leads people to create other, often unrelated, good habits:

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly… “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

Going to the gym is too much for you? Try food journaling. Just write down everything you eat, every day. It’s another powerful keystone habit.

So if you’re going to do anything, keystone habits get the best bang for your buck. What else should you do every day?

 

2) Do Important Things Early

Leading self-control researcher Roy Baumeister, has found that willpower is limited.

It’s highest early in the day but as we make more decisions, it empties like a gas tank.

This leads to a simple answer: do the most important things first. As the day goes on it will only get harder to face big challenges.

When do most self control failures happen?

At night. Roy explains:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

So your willpower is limited. What else can this tell us about the best way to use it? 

 

3) Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower

Productivity guru Tim Ferriss says willpower is overrated. We have a limited amount of it, so relying on it is a bad idea.

Research shows we don’t use much willpower when something is a habit, when our behaviors are automatic.

How do you build good habits? Here’s a fantastic interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit:

Building new habits is too hard, you say? Then try this:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

Hide the cookies and put your running shoes next to the bed.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

People who think they have a lot of willpower expose themselves to more temptation — and eventually cave. So don’t rely on willpower.

Now comes the part where I contradict myself… 

 

4) Use Willpower To Build Willpower

I know, I know… I just told you not to use willpower, now I’m telling you to use willpower. What gives?

Baumeister compares willpower to a muscle. When you use it too much, it gets tired and gives out.

But by exercising it, over time it gets stronger. So you don’t want to rely on willpower for everything. You want to rely on habits.

But you want to make sure to tap into willpower a bit every day, always pushing yourself a bit to grow that muscle over time.

How simple can your daily self-control exercise be? Merely working on your posture can produce willpower benefits.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

Unexpectedly, the best results came from the group working on posture. That tiresome old advice—”Sit up straight!”—was more useful than anyone had imagined. By overriding their habit of slouching, the students strengthened their willpower and did better at tasks that had nothing to do with posture.

Simple is good, right? Want to know other crazy simple things that can help? Want to improve willpower in your sleep?

 

5) Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep

Yes, improving willpower is as easy as eating and getting enough sleep.

When I asked Roy Baumeister the easiest way to quickly boost self-control he simply replied, “Just eat something.

Want to wake up full of willpower? It’s as easy as getting more sleep at night.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

We shouldn’t need to be told something so obvious, but cranky toddlers aren’t the only ones who resist much needed naps. Adults routinely shortchange themselves on sleep, and the result is less self-control.

Eating and sleeping not easy enough for you? Here’s something even easier.

 

6) Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower

Ever been so lazy you put things off that you actually enjoy? This can actually boost self-control.

You don’t even have to say no to every temptation to gain discipline. Just postponing them can help too.

Research shows telling yourself “Not now, but later” is far more powerful than “No, you can’t have that.”

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

…people who had told themselves “Not now, but later” were less troubled with visions of chocolate cake than the other two groups… Those in the postponement condition actually ate significantly less than those in the self-denial condition…

Anything other than just giving in helps strengthen your willpower muscle.

Delay, distraction, or even caving in a defined way can help increase discipline.

Okay, now’s the time for the bad news… 

 

7) You’re Going To Screw Up… But That’s Okay

You’re going to give in to temptation. That’s not defeatist; it’s reality. But what matters is what you do after.

Feeling the urge to beat yourself up over your lack of willpower? Don’t do it. No Mea Culpas are necessary.

Blaming yourself reduces self-control. Showing self-compassion increases it.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion— being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure— is associated with more motivation and better self-control.

People who cut themselves slack go on to keep trying — and end up succeeding.

So how does all of this fit together? 

 

Sum Up

Give the 7 a try:

  1. “Keystone Habits” Are A Magic Bullet
  2. Do Important Things Early
  3. Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower
  4. Use Willpower To Build Willpower
  5. Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep
  6. Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower
  7. You’re Going To Screw Up… And That’s Okay

I’m sure to some people this sounds hard and lonely. But it doesn’t have to be a solitary thing.

Relationships improve willpower: the best way to accomplish any change is by having a supportive group of friends around you.

And the reverse is true as well: willpower improves relationships:

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

Willpower is one of the first steps in improving any area of life — and it’s good to know that self-control isn’t selfish.

 

 Source

 

~t