Tag Archives: Catholic

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


How Can I Be A Saint, Part 2: Email from a Friend

Wikimedia Commons

 

It’s always encouraging to know that someone cares.

Since I started this blog, I have become spiritually close to a fellow Catholic who lives overseas. Although “Julia” and I have never met in person, her heart for Christ is so pure and holy that she recently took some time to respond in specific detail to my previous post.

I am honored to share her email with you, dear reader. Whatever sin you’re struggling with at the moment, I pray that God will grant you the faith, grace, and strength necessary to overcome it.

 


 

 

Hi [Topaz], my dearest brother in Christ,

 

I read your new blog post. It was very timely since I’ve been wondering how you were doing and how your Holy Week was. Just a few things I had in mind as I read your concerns:

 

1. Dealing with Sin

Have you thought of emailing Matt Fradd? Or has it ever crossed your mind? I highly suggest emailing him your concerns, struggles and questions, because I am pretty confident he can give some practical advice or insights about the issue [of sexual impurity].

Actually I am suggesting this because I already did it. I emailed him about a question that’s been bugging me for years, and it was related to pornography. And praise God, he replied speedily. I’m really hoping he can help you in whatever way he can and with God’s grace.

 

2. Spiritual Director

I just learned that we as Catholics are in dire need of confessors or spiritual directors who will patiently help us with our struggles. How often do you go to confession? I try to go once a month. It would also be a great help if you could find an accountability partner. Pray and ask God for that person (a male friend or a brother from K of C) who can also guide you in fighting the battle.

But if not, I hope this helps: Try to contact Opus Dei and ask if they have a center near your place. In my own experience, I felt God’s guidance through them. Since I’ve been attending their monthly recollection, I feel that God is there leading my life.

 

3. Continue to Seek God

You ask in your blog “where are they?”, so now I am eagerly telling you to continue seeking… and to never lose hope. Please don’t think that the demons are binding you. We both know that they have nothing else to do but to keep us away from God. So please CONTINUE SEARCHING… and try not to give in to these temptations. Please don’t lose hope.

 

4. Spiritual Reading

Have you heard of this? If not, then let me give you an idea how to go about it. I’ve also learned this from doing the Norms of Piety booklet. It says that allotting 15-20 minutes of spiritual reading daily is a great help to enrich and inspire you spiritually.

You might want to start off with St. Augustine’s books in which he also admitted that he struggled a lot with sins of the flesh. I also just started this habit and I’m currently reading St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. Even doing this, I must admit, is also a struggle. I believe the devil doesn’t want us to practice this because we are uplifted and encouraged to persevere in sanctifying our lives.

 

5. And, finally, Daily Mass

I’ll probably be struggling with this practice forever… but i know that I should not give up. Here in the Philippines, weekday Masses don’t last an hour since sometimes there’s no choir. So, if I go to noon Mass in our Cathedral, it usually only runs 30mins or so. I hope you can find time to go to Mass even on weekdays — especially if your schedule permits. The reason why I really want to practice this is because the Mass is our great source of grace. We do want that, don’t we? And it’s also one way of showing our love for God, giving praise to Him and listening to Him through the Liturgy of the Word. Right?

 
But if you think it’s really hard or impossible (for now) for you to attend daily Mass, then you can always find a way to make if more convenient for you. Like maybe one day a week excluding Sunday… I guess you just have to put a little more extra effort into fighting this battle. And the tricky part is how not to give up the fight and how to sustain yourself in not giving up. I think it all depends on that. We should also realize that we can never perfect all these things on our own. And we probably will not, but it’s still not an excuse not to try. Because, along the way, I’m pretty sure something wonderful is waiting, and something beautiful will happen. Let’s never cease to believe and have faith.

 

Your Sister in Christ,

[Julia]

~t


Sunday Musings: Weekend Campout

 

Credit: Microsoft images

A few weeks ago, my sons and I had the opportunity to go on a weekend father-and-son campout with my parish youth group.

Surprisingly, my wife didn’t object when I asked her if I could start taking our sons to a Sunday afternoon youth group. At first our kids didn’t quite fit in since they’re not being raised in the most Catholic of households. Before bed, my kids and I pray the Hail Mary, and we read a Bible story each night in my oldest son’s My Little Bible.

With this being my very first outdoor Mass, and having to corral my two muddy little boys through the whole thing, I thought that it would make for some Sunday musings.

 

1. Watching Clark Kent Change into Superman

I thought it was cool that the two young priests put on their vestments among us since there was no sacristy at the campgrounds. It was kind of like a behind-the-scenes moment that I probably won’t see very often.

 

2. The “Choir”

Mothers and daughters, how we missed you.

 

3. The Spirit of God Was Alive and Well

Missals being blown off the lectern, altar cloth billowing in the wind, ball caps flying across the seats. Oh, and the now-infamous highlight of the Mass for the kids: watching some poor family’s tent being blown into the lake directly behind the altar.

 

4. A Scary Cave Experience

The homily was really gripping. The Gospel text was John 9:1-41 which was about Jesus healing a man who was born blind. The priest, a native of Arkansas, shared a personal account of exploring some of the state’s many underground caverns.

He described one cave as a five-level maze. Sure enough, his helmet light wasn’t fully charged, and it died at the wrong time. I wouldn’t want to imagine the fright as he tried to find his way out of the total darkness. Eventually, he saw a tiny speck of daylight far off into the distance. Relief flooded over him as he made his way to the light.

Needless to say, it put the Gospel reading into full perspective for me. You know, “blind but now I see” and all that.

 

5. Feeding Frenzy

No tabernacle = nowhere to place the Eucharist after Mass. I suppose the priests erred on the side of caution, because after communion, both of them stood at the altar for a very long time consuming all the leftover hosts. I bet there were a hundred extras that had to be consumed before Mass could continue. Talk about an awkward moment.

~t


And God Said No

Credit: Alexandre Buisse

My wife, who is not a Christian, reluctantly agreed to attend a baptismal class for our youngest son. I figured she would be bored out of her mind: The hour-long class would be full of Catholic terminology regarding a sacrament that Ayako had no clue about.

And there would be praying.

That evening, I found the courage to glance over at Ayako at some point during the class, and, sure enough, her eyes were glazed over. “How are you doing?” I asked meekly.

No response.

I got worried. The whole idea of baptizing our children was mine. I was the reason we were all here on a weeknight instead of at home in our highly-structured routine.

In my mind, I tried to hurry along the class so that I wouldn’t feel like I was keeping my wife hostage inside a Catholic church. Just a few more minutes, right? I kept asking myself nervously.

After 90 minutes, we were dismissed. Leaving Ayako with both kids, who were going stir crazy by then, I went up to the individuals in charge of the baptismal class to ask some questions.

Outside in the parking lot, I expected Ayako to either give me the silent treatment or start complaining about wasting her time. Instead, the first words out of her mouth were: “I liked that prayer.”

“Which one?”

“The one at the beginning. It sounded like a poem.”

This is a very good sign! I thought, shocked that she actually enjoyed something about the class.

I went home and punched in some key words on the computer; I had no idea what the poem was called or anything. That’s why God gave us Google, I reminded myself.

Ayako even wanted me to print a copy for her which she now reads every night before going to bed.

The moral of this story? God is in control. He can work wonders. He changed a big fool such as me, and He can surely convert the heart of a tough little non-practicing Buddhist/Shintoist Japanese woman. Just not according to my timetable.

Anyway, here is the poem that I tracked down. It’s called “When God Says No” by Claudia Minden Welsz.

 

I asked God to take away my pride,
and God said, “No.”
He said it was not for Him to take away,
but for me to give up.

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole,
and God said, “No.”
He said her spirit is,
while her body is only temporary.

I asked God to grant me patience,
And God said, “No.”
He said patience is a by-product of tribulation.
It isn’t granted, it is earned.

I asked God to give me happiness,
And God said, “No.”
He said He gives blessings,
happiness is up to me.

I asked God to spare me pain,
and God said, “No.”
He said, “Suffering draws you apart from
worldly cares and brings you closer to Me.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow,
and God said, “No.”
He said I must grow on my own,
but He will prune me to make it fruitful.

I asked God if He loved me,
and God said, “Yes.”
He gave me His only Son, who died for me.
And I will be in Heaven someday
because I believe.

I asked God to help me love others
as much as He loves me,
and God said,
“Ah, finally, you have the idea.”

~t


Sunday Musings: Do Not Worry

credit: wallpapersus.com

This is a section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass.

It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

 

1. Running into Church

I cant believe it. Yesterday I was wearing shorts and sweating at the park in 80 degree (26 C) sunshine. This morning, the temperature had plunged to 40 (4 C).

You would have thought the world was ending: everyone sprinting into church from the parking lot. Alas, no spontaneous conviction of sin; just cold Texans headed into a warm place.

 

2. Mass Disruption

I’ve been reading blogs by traditional Catholics who prefer the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin. It’s definitely given me food for thought as to the modern innovations that have taken place in the past 40 years or so.

All of this came to mind in the middle of Mass this morning when the priest suddenly asked all parishioners to come to the altar in a chaotic mob and pick up a copy of a Lent booklet. It just didn’t seem like the appropriate time to do such a thing.

Maybe the complaints of the traditionalists are starting to influence me, or maybe I’m being too uptight about the whole thing. I don’t know. I’ll just continue to trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding us as we are fumbling along into the third millennium of the Church.

 

3. Do Not Worry

The homily and Gospel reading today fit perfectly into my current positive-thinking discipline. Matthew 6:24-34 reminded me to stop worrying about things and trust that God will provide in all situations.

It also helped me to remember that the upcoming Lenten season is a time to draw closer to God as we make sacrifices that might otherwise distract us from Him.

My fear for this Lent (as well as previous ones):  Will I be holy and pious enough during the upcoming 40 days? Do not worry, Topaz.

 

4. Men’s Club vs. K of C

After Mass, a representative from the parish Men’s Club gave a recruitment spiel about the benefits of joining his “social and service brotherhood.” I don’t know if other parishes have a Men’s Club, but I found myself being offended that this group would (gasp!) dare to compete with the Knights of Columbus. We are better! You few guys need to join us! 131 years and going strong! Definitely a pride check from God.

 

5. Chalices are Back

During the winter, the chalices (communion cups) weren’t being used due to flu season. Today, all of a sudden, they were back! I know it’s the very beginning of March, but… What if flu season is still here?! After my initial panic, I got in line for the chalice. Do not worry…

~t


Sunday Musings: Franciscans Make Me Think

Credit: Jimmy Smith

This is a new section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass.

It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

 

1. Don’t Judge a Beard by its Cover

As we sang the opening hymn, the procession passed by me. I had to do a double-take. It’s a visiting priest, I thought. Look at that beard! It’s overtaking his face. And then more thoughts: I think he missed his exit. The Orthodox church is downtown.

It turned out that he was a Franciscan friar and had the most gentle, welcoming voice, reminding me of John Michael Talbot (below), one of my favorite Christian vocalists. The beard isn’t too far off, either.

 

2. The Ambience of an Evening Mass is Better

Because of my oldest son’s birthday tomorrow, I attended the 5:30 pm Mass today (Saturday). I don’t know, but there’s something about the (lack of) lighting that made this evening Mass more intimate and special. The candles were more brightly illuminated, and there was more of a mystical feeling in the air. I loved it.

 

3. More Bible

Of course we Catholics hear Scripture readings each Sunday from the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament Epistles, and the Gospels. However, it’s great to hear a homily that is totally about the Bible (not that other homilies are bad).

The priest elaborated on the Gospel reading (Matthew 5: 17-37) and spoke in detail about how Jesus was the new Moses who taught the new Ten Commandments from the hillside (Sermon on the Mount) just as Moses received the tablets from the mountaintop. Eye opening indeed.

I encourage Catholics (and other Christians) who are reading this to delve into the Scriptures more to find these little nuggets of inspiration. It will deepen your faith tremendously.

 

4. Summarizing the Homily in One Statement

I liked how the priest today summarized his entire homily like this: “So, the word of the day is: the law of grace.” Boom. Succinct and effective.

 

5. Franciscans Always Make Me Think

There’s something attractive about Franciscans. It must be their vows of poverty and way of life. It’s so… impacting.

The friar this evening was wearing brown sandals in stark contrast to his flowing green vestments. As I watched him distribute the Eucharist, I couldn’t stop admiring his pure joy and humility.

Driving home, I usually turn on my iPod or listen to talk radio. Tonight, however, I spent the whole commute thinking about how I could be more like that kind friar. I didn’t even catch his name, but I’m still thinking about him. Wonderful.

~t


11 Things I Learned From the Ordination and Installation Mass for the New Bishop of Fort Worth

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the ordination and installation of Bishop Michael Olson over in Fort Worth. I didn’t merely attend: I volunteered with other Knights of Columbus members as security personnel. FWPD made their presence known on the outside of the convention center. However, the diocese didn’t want any demonstrators to interrupt the proceedings or to desecrate the Eucharist, so some of us volunteered inside.

As an “insider” during this historic event — a new bishop isn’t ordained and installed in one’s region very often — I wanted to share 11 things that I learned from working behind-the-scenes at this event.

1. Priests are not always serious

Maybe it’s because I’m a fairly recent convert, but I’ve never seen priests joke around with and make goofy faces at each other. Just before the procession into the arena began, a priest came up to me at the entrance and said comically, “Run away! This is your last chance!” Scared the heck outta me, actually.

2. Seminarians are just regular college guys…

As I “guarded” the seminarians (young men who are studying to become priests) before the procession, they were a bunch of giggling chatterboxes. A priest had to yell at them to settle down, and the young men’s faces displayed the same embarrassed satisfaction that I often see on my six-year-old’s. Boys will be boys.

3. …who love their Starbucks as much as the rest of us

I mean, man, do those guys slug down the lattes. It wasn’t a question of how many were seen with the white cups and the green logo; rather, I had to ask myself how many didn’t have one. But, hey, as long as it’s consumed one hour before communion, right?

4. We are not alone

By this, I mean the Knights of Columbus. One of my security duties was to guard the vesting rooms that contained the personal belongings of the clergy and choir. I saw the vesting room for the Order of Malta which was pretty cool. Even more cool was to see the room for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Granted, the Knights of Columbus outnumbered these other group 10 to 1, but I hadn’t realized that there were other Catholic fraternal orders out there and that we were all unified with one common purpose.

5. Catholic schools are definitely not dying out

Since teaching in Japan, I had never seen so many young people in school uniforms! It seemed like most of them had volunteered to give directions to people: Everywhere I went, about two students were assigned to every single door in the convention center… and the place was HUGE.

6. Standing for eight straight hours isn’t always a bad thing

I think the secret is to keep busy. I was surprised to know that, while stuffing my hungry face with cheese and crackers during the reception, it was nearly 6:00 pm. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

7. 15,000 Catholics in one place does not always result in alcohol

I have to admit, I was ready for an ice-cold beer by the end of my duties. Making a quick dash to the reception hall before anyone else (Transporting gifts for the bishop was my excuse!), I quickly scanned the gigantic hall for any sign of beer or wine. Nothing! (The lemonade did hit the spot, though.)

8. If a behind-the-scenes meeting is scheduled for 1:00, it really means 12:30

I was supposed to help guard the priests as they offered communion to the masses. The meeting was at 1:00. I arrived at 12:51. On a tight schedule, I suppose I was considered late. Everything happens for a reason is what they say. I was able to greet members of the procession as they made their way to the arena entrance, though. So, the awesome photo below wouldn’t exist had I been earlier to the meeting.

Lots of bishops!

9. Volunteering makes you feel great

My mind was occupied and my schedule was packed. Somehow, though, I felt like a million bucks. I’ve never been one to show off or to draw attention to myself. But, somehow, being engaged in an activity (church; K of C) that I really enjoyed did wonders for my mind. It said, “I enjoy this and I’m having fun. You’re not gonna take that away from me, Mind.”

Try it! You don’t have to be “religious” to volunteer. Seek out a local food bank or homeless shelter. Opportunities to serve are all around us. By helping others, you help yourself feel good. It’s a win-win.

10. An ordinary convention center can be temporarily converted into a cathedral

11. Alternate versions of the trendy 13.1 and 26.2 car stickers do exist

I saw a car in the parking garage with this sticker on the back. I’m a serious fuddy-duddy who never smiles, but this made me LOL. A refreshing sight since every other car (seemingly) has the real versions.

~t

(photos by Topaz)


Why Christians Need Flannery O’Connor

A snapshot of Flannery O’Connor beside her self-portrait

I recently came across this opinion piece on CNN’s website. The title caught my eye since I’m interested in all things Christianity and, being an English teacher, I can’t help but admire and love the works of O’Connor — not to mention the fact that she was Catholic.

Before reading anything in the Belief section of the website, I always scan the credentials of the writer to see from which angle the topic is being viewed. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked to find that this piece was written by a leader associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why would the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission be praising an odd, peacock-obsessed Catholic writer?

There was only one way to find out.

I do hope you take the time to read the following article. It is a sobering critique on American evangelical Christianity and how so much of it is feel-good, seeker-friendly entertainment to justify our sense of entitlement, all the while avoiding that dreaded “s” word: sin.

The following is the original column by Russell D. Moore in its entirety:

 

On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there’s a little book of prayers.

This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren’t from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.

But I think Flannery O’Connor’s newly published “Prayer Journal” is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.

The book, recently discovered in the writer’s papers in Georgia and now published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reproduces the handwritten notebook prayers scribbled down by O’Connor during her years as a student at the University of Iowa.

The prayers are jarring because they are so personal and raw, clearly not written to “edify the saints” in a published manuscript. They are, well, just prayers.

Part of the rawness and authenticity of the prayers come with the way O’Connor refuses to sentimentalize her personal relationship with Jesus (thought it’s clear she has one). She is here constantly aware of her own fallenness and of the seeming silence of the God to whom she pours out these little notes.

O’Connor notes that her attention is “fugitive” in prayer. She confesses that hell seems more “feasible” in her mind than heaven because, “I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God.”

She is constantly second-guessing whether her prayers for success as a writer are egocentric, or a genuine striving to use the gifts God has given her.

Moreover, O’Connor is constantly aware that she is a sinner, and she can’t get around that. Perhaps the most widely publicized sentence in the book is her confession that she “proved myself a glutton, for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There’s nothing left to say of me.”

Even when she’s confessing sin, she seems aware of her sinfulness in doing that. She says of sin, “You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited,” but, she immediately concludes, “perhaps that is too literary a statement; this mustn’t get insincere.”

O’Connor’s prayers are hardly “inspirational,” in the sense that many American Christians want: a model of the “victorious Christian life” where “prayer changes things” and we’ve got “joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts, to stay.” That’s why we need them.

American evangelicalism, my own tradition, rightly emphasizes the biblical truth that the gospel is good news, that our sins are forgiven in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We rightly emphasize that the believer now has a personal connection to God, accessible in prayer through the priesthood of Jesus himself.

But sometimes we forget how hard that is in this time between the times.

Some of our worship services are so clean and antiseptic, led by grinning preachers and praise bands, talking about how happy Jesus makes us, that we forget that the Spirit prompts us to “groan” at our sin and the suffering all around us (Romans 8:22-23). This is especially true at Christmas, with so many evangelicals forgoing the dark longing of Advent to go straight to the tinsel-decked rejoicing of Christmas.

Some Christians, then, can wonder if something’s wrong with them when they feel as though God seems distant, or when, despite all the smiles at church, they still feel guilty for the way their hearts don’t seem to match up with their hymns.

But the good news isn’t that we are all put together. The good news is that though we’re wrecked and fallen and freakish, Jesus loves us anyway and has made peace for us with God and with each other. That’s not something we always feel. We see it by faith.

O’Connor, elsewhere in her letters, writes of what it means to agonize over one’s sin, to wonder “if your confessions have been adequate and if you are compounding sin on sin.” She concludes that this agony “drives some folks nuts and some folks to the Baptists,” while noting, “I feel sure that it will drive me nuts and not to the Baptists.”

Those of us who were “driven to the Baptists” can benefit from a book of prayers that remind us that the Christian life is exactly what Jesus promised it would be – the carrying of a cross.

We can be reminded in prayers such as these to remind ourselves that between now and resurrection we will never be, in ourselves, anything other than sinners. That’s why we need a Christ.

It’s only when we grapple with the darkness of a fallen cosmos, only when we’re honest about the fact that all our efforts look more like Herod’s throne than Bethlehem’s stable, that we can sing “Joy to the World.” Flannery O’Connor wasn’t an evangelical Protestant, but we need her.

We need her, especially perhaps, as we pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, for Christmas in a Christ-haunted world.

 

(Source: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/15/why-christians-need-flannery-oconnor/)

~t


The Glorious Mysteries

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Life has been better lately:

I’ve finally dealt successfully with a particularly nagging sin in my life.

My wife suddenly started sleeping in our bed again (that’s in, not with by the way).

I have a good chance of getting a better-paying job in the near future that would finally free my kids from the reduced-price lunch program at school.

So, driving home from work last week, I was pleased to know that it was the day for the glorious mysteries of the rosary.

Out of all four of my “rosary reports,” this is the only one where I was actually in a good mood beforehand. Below are my thoughts while praying the glorious mysteries last week.

 

1. The Resurrection – Fruit of the Spirit: Faith

The resurrection. Who wouldn’t be joyful after being reminded that Christ overcame death and is now reigning in glory? That would fire someone up right away. Jesus didn’t just conquer His fears and the painful agony of the cross. He conquered death. Satan has already lost!

If you’re still feeling down, don’t worry. Just ask God for an increase in faith. I do this all the time. Some days I can barely get out of bed due to my depression. All I have is my mustard seed of faith that God will help me; all I need to do is ask.

 

2. The Ascension – Fruit of the Spirit: Hope

After all that time with His apostles, Christ ascended into heaven to be with the Father. Just like the apostles, we have that special hope to be with the Lord after finishing our earthly lives.

It’s easy to have hope and to be happy when times are good. Right now this describes me. However, as little as a year ago, that depressed me. Why? Because I had the mindset of “what goes up must come down.” My hope was crushed because of my own lack of faith. These days, I rejoice when times are good. I feel that my walk with God has matured to the point where I don’t worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

 

3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit – Fruit of the Spirit: Love of God

Just like Jesus said, the Holy Spirit came to rest on the apostles and Mary. They were waiting in anticipation, and Jesus stayed true to His word as always.

God is love, and he is always reliable. I had the hardest time accepting this truth because my dad was the complete opposite. So many people, as I did, picture God as they do their earthly father because, well, that’s all we know. But God doesn’t belittle us or wait for us to mess up so that He can punish us.

If you’re having a hard time accepting the fact that God is love — love in its purest form — then ask Him to help you. You’ll be amazed when He grants you the faith to accept and believe in His true nature.

 

4. The Assumption of Mary – Fruit of the Spirit: Grace of a Happy Death

The next two mysteries don’t go over very well with Protestants. No, the Bible doesn’t mention the Assumption or the Coronation of Mary. But where in the Bible does it say that everything we believe has to come from the Bible?

Anyway, this doesn’t mean that Mary ascended into heaven by her own power as Christ did. As Elijah and Enoch in the Old Testament, it was God who made it happen.

I used to fear death. In college, I flew a Cessna 172 on weekends, but I quit after about a year because my fear of dying overtook my passion for flying. It definitely wouldn’t have been a “happy death.”

What is a happy death? I believe it’s when we’re old and full of years, having lived a fulfilled, selfless life with our loved ones around us, with the hope that we will soon be with the Lord. That’s the only kind of death that I want for my family.

 

5. The Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven – Fruit of the Spirit: Trust in Mary’s Intercession

I consider going to heaven a fringe benefit of being a Christian. Some people are too focused on it, but, honestly, it’s usually not even on my mind. I guess it’s because God has blessed me with a wonderful life right now. I’m not perfect. The world isn’t perfect. But life is good.

This mystery reminds me that I, like Mary, will receive a crown when I (prayerfully) get to heaven. What a glorious day that will be! In the bestseller Heaven is for Real, a non-Catholic book, someone asked Colton Burpo if he saw Mary in heaven, and if so, what she was doing. He responded and said that Mary was next to Jesus and never left His side. Just like a queen mother in the Old Testament. I found that inspiring even before I was Catholic.

Mary is praying for us, just like my good Christian grandparents who are in heaven. Recently I asked a friend to pray for my mental health. I trust that her intercession was effective. How much more effective and trustworthy would the intercession of “the mother of [the] Lord” (Luke 1:43) be?

 

Unrelated Thought

With Thanksgiving coming up, everyone will soon be focused on food what they’re thankful for. However, take some time out every day to count your blessings. You’ll feel a lot better.

I wish you, dear reader, a wonderful day.

~t


Should Christians Watch Orange is the New Black?

Credit: Netflix

I wrote this post because I typed the above title into Google the other day and got zero results. Disappointed, I decided to do something about it.

If you want to know about the latest TV shows or the hottest movies, I am the last person you should ask. Seriously. The inane garbage that Hollywood and the TV networks produce doesn’t interest me in the slightest. When my mother raved on and on in an email about the movie Gravity, I didn’t really pay attention. Sandra Bullock in a space movie. Whatever, I thought.

So, I find it ironic that I’m writing about what many people are calling one of the hottest TV shows at the moment. To be honest, I stumbled across it by accident. My sister lets me watch documentaries on her Netflix account (thanks Kay). For some reason, I’m drawn to prison documentaries like Lockup and Behind Bars. I’ve always been afraid that I might end up in prison one day due to my anger, so it’s like preventative therapy. Netflix is good because I can find obscure independent films about prison life or how ex-cons adjust to life after they’re released.

Every time I entered the keyword ‘prison’ on Netflix, Orange is the New Black always appeared in the results. With my strict diet of gritty documentaries and independent dramas, I naturally avoided Orange. Take another look at the promo pic at the top of this post and you’ll see why. The thing looks like a goofy chick-flick comedy, for cryin’ out loud.

Bored and running low on choices one night, I decided to give the first episode of Orange a try. I was pleasantly surprised at the writing and character development. And I love good writing and character development (Peter Bratt’s La Mission is a recent favorite of mine).

Let’s get back to the topic of this post. To support individual Christian opinions, we can use Scripture verses such as Matthew 15:11 (What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them) or the sin catch-all verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (Abstain from every form of evil).

A lot of gray area exists in life, though; some things are not so cut-and-dry. However, as good as Orange is, there are two main things that make me wonder if Christians should be watching it.

1. Sex, Sex, Sex

Lesbian sex scenes. Close-up photos of male and female reproductive anatomy. Lesbian sex scenes. Nude scenes. Sexually-explicit talk. Suggestive scenes…

I understand that the story takes place in a women’s prison, but are there REALLY that many lesbians in such a small area at one time?! And if so, are they REALLY that free to have sex whenever they want in showers and in the chapel?? Of course. That’s what viewers want to see. But, wouldn’t the series still be a hit without all the gratuitous sex scenes? I think so.

Well, then don’t watch it, Topaz. But I want to. Although parts of the show are distracting and tempting to my sinful nature, it’s a good, solid story. So far, I’ve been able to look away or skip past the sex. I don’t know how long I want to keep doing that. It’s frustrating and troublesome.

2. Secular Humanism

It’s obvious that Orange is targeting the middle-class secular market as most TV shows do, but there’s a difference between secularism and overt God Delusion-thumping atheism.

Yes, we know that Piper Chapman, the main character, doesn’t believe in God, but the writers still make her spew all of this:

Piper: I can’t pretend to believe in something I don’t, and I don’t [believe in this]… I believe in science. I believe in evolution. I believe in Nate Silver, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Christopher Hitchens, although I do admit he could be kind of an ***hole. I cannot get behind some Supreme Being who weighs in on the Tony awards while a million people get whacked by machetes. I don’t believe a billion Indians are going to hell. I don’t think that we get cancer to learn life lessons. And I don’t believe people die young because God needs another angel. I think it’s just bull****. And on some level, I think we all know that…

Actually, instead of being offended, I laughed out loud. Really? Is that all you got? I thought.

The main spokesperson for Christianity in the show is a character nicknamed Pennsatucky, a backwoods, uneducated, former meth user who condemns nearly everyone to hell at one point or another. The figurative triumph of atheism over religion in the last episode left me speechless. Really? I’ve seen high-school stage productions with deeper symbolism than that.

There is, however, a Catholic nun character who is locked up for civil disobedience. The few times that she appears in the show, the nun acts as a moral compass. When Sophia, a transgendered inmate, is having personal issues, it’s the nun who supports him her. It’s too bad the nun doesn’t appear in the series more.

The writers take some jabs at Buddhism as well. The inmate who teaches yoga is portrayed as a New-Agey, mumbo-jumbo space cadet. Come to think of it, isn’t yoga based in Hinduism instead of Buddhism? I suppose that, through the lens of humanism, it’s all the same thing anyway.

On a side note, the series is starting to drag midway through the season. I may stop watching because of that.

~t

Update (June 10, 2014):

I began watching season 2, but I only got halfway through episode 2 before I gave up. It appears this new season has even more nudity and left-wing propaganda. I would not recommend this series to Christians after all.