Category: Lent

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Lust in the Light

‘Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.’ (Rom. 12:21)

All sins are not created equal. Overeaters wear their vice in plus-sized outfits; the slothful bear a gloomy countenance, swathed in grave clothes. Both confess their sins wordlessly. Yet the lustful can radiate good health from overheated frames, giving the appearance of order while driven by disordered desires that if conceived commit violence against all involved. Let’s not compare a breakfast of brownies or dour self-doubts to the one sin that St. Paul claims most opposes one’ own body (1Cor. 6:18) while violating intimacy with Jesus. (vs. 13-17)

Lust is a secret sin that incurs the shame of wasting one’s generative powers; that shame can further isolate the sexual sinner from openly expressing his/her vice. Yet the technology that now drives lust has so obliterated our good shame that we are now nearly shameless, naked and on fire, losing the feeling of exposure which demands what only the Lamb can provide.

With the help of Google fiber, split seconds exist between any lustful thought and a perverse pornographic image that sears itself on the heart, to be recalled at whim. Lust begins with disordered curiosity and ends up disordering our desires by awakening passion it only frustrates. Good gifts we are, yes, but lust lures us to pervert the essence of that gift in cheap exchanges that bankrupt our most precious offering. Even the shameless can feel its futility. Scripture claims that the law is written on our hearts, (Rom. 2: 15), which testify to the truth that God made us to give ourselves only where committed love creates an openness to life.

Any fluency on this topic is because of my sordid history; lust is my most deadly sin. For this I feel blessed shame, a gift in light of my rather shameless background. Growing up on the CA beach in the sexual revolution, we ‘spent’ our bodies to buy new sensations. Although my inclinations were homosexual, lust may better define what drove and derided me. The Catholic Church smartly defines lust as sexual pleasure sought for itself, without the goals of lasting communion and child-bearing, and cites masturbation, pornography, fornication, and homosexual practice as among its expressions (CCC2351-2359). Sexual immorality is an equal opportunity offender. For all who lust, we have an Advocate, the ‘Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.’ (JN 1: 29)

The Lamb leads us to purity, or better put, to chastity, which is the stern and splendid task of integrating our sexuality within both our bodies and our spirits. (#2337) What a long and invigorating adventure! His unfailing love enables our daily surrender to Jesus and His members. Through trustful confession, accountability, and ongoing prayer, He pours Himself out upon us and accesses the heart’s true cry for love and connection. We learn to love real people. Overtime, Jesus helps us to become chaste and so overcome our disintegration, the lustful tendency to dart from real love to fantastic counterfeits.

Along the way, many of us welcome the call to offer our bodies to one person over a lifetime. Jesus and His bride prepared me for Annette. With her I learned to focus my sexual energies in the context of loving a person who was like me and yet profoundly ‘other than me’—body, soul, and spirit. I praise both marriage, and the Lamb who was slain. Together, the two reclaimed for me the gift of sexual love from the distortions of lust.

‘Jesus has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being: He has set us free from the domination of lust.’ (St. John Paul ll, Veritatis Splendor)

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A Glutton For Nourishment, Part 2

‘Can you make the guests of the Bridegroom fast while He is with them? But the time will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.’ (LK 5: 34, 35)

Those days have come–feasting gives way to fasting for 21st century disciples who long and wait for Jesus. That is the paradox of going without in order to invite Him in. Fasting can be a feast of His Presence. His Spirit broods over persons who lay aside normal fare in order to welcome the unseen reality of Jesus-with-us.

Gerald May says it like this: ‘To experience a little hunger now and then can be a beautiful reminder of the deeper hunger of our souls.’ That hunger is for intimacy. His love for us is deeper than a brother’s, a mother’s, or a spouse’s: no-one loves us the way He does, because no-one has ever suffered for us as HE did (paraphrasing Pascal.) In the words of St. Faustina: ‘If you don’t believe My words, believe My wounds.’

So we choose the weakness, the faintness, the disquieting effect of physical hunger in order to open ourselves to the One who loves us most. In this way, fasting necessitates that we unplug from normal activity a little. Without food, we cannot do what we normally do. We are inclined to recline back on His unseen chest, to listen for the whispers of Him who said that He abides, dwells and lives with persons who partake of Him, the Bread of Life. (JN 6:56)

That means that we must deliberately turn down the roar of our noisy lives and the calories that fuel us into the fray. Start slowly, forsaking a meal but choosing to spend that time with Him. Let fasting quiet, slow and ease you into His Presence; don’t let it drive you mad as you seek to do all things without food. We surrender food in order to sustain deeper intimacy.

‘Be still and know that I am God’ (PS 46:10). Perhaps our resistance to fasting can be attributed to the fact that we cannot be still. We are overly attached to screens and rings, other people’s stories and demands, so much so that spiritual attentiveness becomes painful. But not impossible. Unplug. Fast from food, Facebook, fantastic plotlines that displace the one you are living. Welcome Him.

Keep in mind that this is not St. Benedict writing. I am naturally addictive, more inclined to grasp at sensational things than to ponder spiritual mysteries. I just know that if I want to give people Jesus I need more than my ideals and a strong cup of coffee. I need to sink into the Source and give time and space for Him to be my main meal. That means fasting. I now look forward to slowing down in order to savor the One I love most. I am a glutton for such nourishment. May the Spirit grace you this Holy Week with stillness and hunger for Him.

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A Glutton for Nourishment, Part 1

‘It is not the nature of things we use, but our reason for using them, that makes what we do either praiseworthy or blamable.’ St. Augustine

The greedy grasp after ‘things’; gluttons and sexual sinners (our last two ‘deadlies’) attach to pleasure. You could do worse. Jesus never raged at the unclean and overweight the way He did the religiously proud. Still, freedom from the Pharisee does not atone for sins of the flesh. Lent demands that we face with integrity our temptation to satisfy our desires our way.

Unlike sex, food is a necessity for everyone. We are weaned on it, fortified by it, and blessed by feasts at which we thrive in the joy of fellowship. Food can be a human pleasure, a delightful accompaniment Jesus shared many times with His disciples. In fact the Pharisees tagged Him a glutton. Food is praiseworthy–relished by God and a gift from God for our social and physical nourishment.

Food can also become an arm of our grasping, controlling selves. We become gluttons when we look for food to feed the deepest longings of our heart. Though food can enhance friendship, it cannot be our friend. The glutton romances food. One colleague confessed to extended fantasy over potential meals-to-come; another admitted to a fantasy parade of dancing BBQ meats that tempted her.

Both women are Christian, lonely, and share a history of early trauma and neglect. For as long as they can remember, food provided a kind of nurture, a reward that no human being offered as consistently. Food became the friend they could control, until it began to control them. Benign food became a brutal master.

Addicted to the rush of calories, they experienced consolation in overeating but suffered physically and socially from it. Gluttony thrives in the dark; my friends ate politely with others but binged alone, shamefully. Instead of drawing them into relationships, food barricaded them. Their oversized bodies reflected a kind of self-protection, an evident sign that another relationship was mastering them.

St. Paul said: “Everything is permissible for me but I will not be mastered by anything’ (1Cor 6:12). The Christian mastered by food can confess that mastery and like all addicts admit his/her powerlessness. Then grace alone can begin to activate the will to gather with others and face the heart’s true desire for love and intimacy. Quite apart from which diet works, Jesus wants to be the premier love through which we gauge the health of all our other relationships, including the one we have with food.

He helps us to go without and to experience our real hungers; He teaches us to turn wordlessly toward Him in the ache that arises when we refuse counterfeits. He wants us ‘to taste and see that He is good,’ that He is able ‘to satisfy our desires with good things.’ For that goal, the 40 days of Lent is but training for how God wants us to live all year.

One-third of Americans are overweight. Our sin of gluttony is obvious but not chronic. We can turn to the Source of our nourishment and begin to be reconciled to the good gift of food and of our bodies, through the Love that satisfies.

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Having Nothing, Possessing Everything

Unless the seed dies, it remains alone.’ (JN 12: 24)

My son Sam’s death took time. His surrender to Jesus was syncopated at best: the sorrows and pleasures of sin alternately roused and deadened him. Though counterfeits made him sick, he managed to stave off the Divine Physician. Ultimately, his defenses crumbled and he pled for mercy. God took His advantage.

Rising into new life took time and effort. It was especially tough for Sam to get a grip on his finances. Like his old man, we don’t ‘think’ financially. Combine that with prodigal living, unpaid bills forgotten in a chemical haze, and general neglect of the big green, Sam faced a slow ascent to becoming financially responsible.

One big motivator was a beautiful girl he pursued who proved to be the real deal. But pairing up demands you give an answer as to how you handle money, beginning with an engagement ring. In God’s economy, one must be able to save a couple thousand in order to seal the deal. That was big for Sam, and he worked hard and saved so he could pop the question with a decent stone.

Having ordered a modest ring, Sam then asked her father if he could proceed. The man blessed Sam as his son-in-law-to-be. He then told Sam that he and his wife had found a one-carat wedding ring in a park and in spite of much effort found no owner. He offered the ring to Sam.

It was the ring that rich boys give privileged girls who expect big stones. Its cost would have at least doubled, maybe tripled my son’s outlay. Sam did not have the earning power. God did. He bestowed that ring on Sam as surely as the father welcomed his prodigal son with a classy ring (LK 15: 22-24). Only the ring was not about Sam’s future alone; it was about his pledge to another, to fruitfulness. Sam’s surrender unto sanctification broke the husk of his aloneness. God blessed him with a partner and shiny pledge that only He could provide.

Jesus calls all of us onto the narrow way of surrender. Along the way, He tosses in diamonds we don’t deserve but that He delights to give. I love that. Sam is following his old man’s footsteps. We don’t think much about money, for better or for worse. We are Kingdom-minded. Like St. Paul, we have nothing yet we possess everything. (2 Cor. 6: 10)

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Greed: To Grasp or Give Away

For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

(Phil. 2:21)

The focal point of our faith and of most sanctuaries is the Cross. That emblem of God’s self-giving reminds us that freedom hinges on offering ourselves to others, to purposes that defy self-preservation. The servant is not greater than his Master. Jesus said it like this: the hard seed either opens or remains alone (JN 12:24). Fruitfulness requires surrender to the Sovereign will; the greedy self insists on gathering and defending its own securities. Greed gilds the husk of our humanity and renders us sterile.

We are naturally greedy. By that I mean we gravitate to securities that we can get our hands on. Fear drives our greed, as does envy: we look and long for what might give us the most power and so assuage the threat of extinction or at least insignificance.

I live in a Christian ghetto of sorts where few have much money and most are fairly generous with it. No Scrooges among us–wealthy misers who share only their misery. No, our greed is more subtle; it can appear justified, humane, and refined. But it’s the same old idolatry, the creature grasping after created things to give him the security only God can give. Take heed: ‘No greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.’

(Eph. 5:5)

Maybe we grasp after middle-class protections: retirement plans and insurance, the house on the lake for grandparents and kids, savings that soothe us to sleep. One friend confessed to me his obsessing over IRAs (I feared his association with political terrorists). We can squander much time and energy stockpiling on earth and lose the Kingdom—what it means freely to say ‘yes’ to God until we go or He comes. We must discern when we are padding our own kingdoms or availing ourselves to His.

Maybe it’s ‘quality-of-life’ stuff, good ol’ American consumerism that masks as wisdom or justice. For example, I know many seasoned Christians who have been exposed to so many church models they no longer settle with one. So they remain alone, high-minded and unchecked, disgruntled consumers that hurt the Church rather than help her. Or the spouse that after a decade or so claims to deserve more than the limited, frustrating person (s)he married. I recently sat with a couple who tearfully conveyed their mutual frustration and yet who are beginning to see Jesus’ purposes in the gaps. Do gaps in your church life and marriage inspire self-giving or greed? Jesus grants us the Cross amid idolatrous, consumer-driven options.

We have all been thunderstruck by the effective greed of gay activists. Their ploy? Take a common disorder and claim to resolve it by making it a boast, a right, even the basis for a marriage. But reframing a problem does not solve it. From every angle, homosexual practice is still delusional; it frustrates the very desire it claims to satisfy. Sex is for life, not to fuse misbegotten friendships. The ‘gay’ emperor is still naked and impotent. The greedy seed remains alone.

We overcome greed by giving our lives away to Jesus. Generous self-giving is the sole antidote to greed. That’s why we tithe; that’s why we thank God for hardship and unmet needs and frustrating people; that’s why we keep trying to love our fellow humanity. Ragged yet inspired, we offer our lives to Him and ask Him to multiply our gifts to others. Overtime He becomes our sight and our security. We find ourselves by looking straight at Him. He is God and He is enough.

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