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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Saved by Beauty

‘This aspiration—born of love—is a search for integral beauty, for purity free from stain. It is a search for perfection that contains a synthesis of human beauty—body and soul.’ (Theology of the Body, St. John Paul ll)

As she sat in the morning light, hair shining silver, I realized that she had never been lovelier. All the years together, just shy of 40—and she more dignified and womanly than ever. I thought of the Rogers and Hammerstein lyric: ‘Do I love you because you are beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?’ and concluded nothing except life means little without her. Beautiful Annette, or better put, beautiful marriage, saved me.

Isn’t that idolatry? Doesn’t only Jesus save? Of course, only one Savior, but Jesus has given marriage power to permeate its players with His very Presence in a way that saves man and woman through their communion—body, soul, spirit. St. Paul likens sexual fusion between husband and wife to the ‘great mystery’ of Christ’s union with the Church. For years now, I have participated in this most holy, earthy communion with another; in so doing, Annette and I share in Jesus infusing His Church with divine presence. As Annette and I permeate each other with our self-giving, we are being saved—made holy through love as we ‘submit to each other out of reverence for Jesus’ (Eph. 5:21).

This flies in the face of charges—laughably foolish—that any person who has same-sex attraction cannot be redeemed in his or her sexuality. I came across an ad for the film ‘Boy Erased’ that ominously read: ‘The truth cannot be converted…’ Du, du, du, dumb. Talk about an inverted, uninspired worldview!

As our common enemy would have it, homosexuality, the big ‘H’, now subordinates Jesus to little ‘j’. For every sheep that drank the cool-aid and now believes all we can do for the LGBT+ set is to agree with their divided, sterile identifications—hear this: Jesus redeems us for beauty! And that means He has power to enable sinners from any fractured starting point to join the dance of life. Marital love with Jesus at center redeems persons who participate in it.

‘Boy Erased’ and the trendy assault on anyone who efforts to grow beyond sexual illusion reveal a loss of vision for human creativity and dignity. Not beautiful Jesus; He has never lost sight nor power to summon what He sees. That takes disciplined response, of course. Any good thing does. Becoming who I am is hard yet deeply fulfilling. I am not even tempted to trade my marriage and its unitive, creative power for a weird friendship with a dude. I was created and redeemed for beauty. Beauty saved me.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Love

God gave everything for us at Calvary. He poured out His life, which is the best definition of love I know. We have all (I hope) known someone who sacrificed for us. But he or she did not give everything. God did. He died for us.

He died for us in order to gain us: He died to draw near to us, to be with us, to calm us with His Presence, to speak words we can hear, to nourish us with His body and blood. He ‘who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see’ (1T 6:16) humbled Himself in His Son and came closer to us than a mother or a lover ever could.

Love means God comes near to us in Jesus. We who are little and rebellious and unable to love Him back now have access to God through this Jesus. We are not alone anymore. Because of Him, we need not be destabilized by other lovers. All He asks is that we give everything to Him.

That seems like a lot. But it’s the only way we can live happy lives. To know Him but to serve other gods is torture, hell before hell. Discovering the secret of surrender opens to us the music of the spheres, the peace that surpasses understanding, unbounded joy. We die to worldly distractions in order to rest in holy love, to enjoy the fruit of His suffering–the Creator’s desire for intimate union with His human creation.

I want to rest in the arms of the One who fought for me. I want to know that sweetness in full. To do so, Oswald Chambers quotes St. Paul: ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20); “These words mean the breaking of my independence with my own hand and surrendering to the supremacy of the Lord Jesus…it means breaking the husk of my individual independence of God, and the emancipating of my personality with Himself, not for my own ideas, but for absolute loyalty to Jesus.”

Lent then is an opportunity to let go of specific distractions so we can know Him more. It is simple: we give Him more space to love us; in gratitude, we love Him back. That rhythm sets in motion the ordering of our other loves, the people He calls us to love.

Immersed in His Spirit of love, we may hurt when we discover that we have loved others poorly, be it in needing another too much out of disordered desire or withholding love because one threatened us or did not give us what we wanted.

Our pain is good. Weep and rejoice in His mercy that renews our efforts to love others better. The Lord is faithful. He will not leave us alone in our human loves. He loves us and them too much! He converts us continuously with His self-giving until we love as He does. By the time we see Him face-to-face, we may well love others better than we do now.

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Hope

Lent begins with hope. We start with Jesus, hope’s foundation. We can bear the mark, a little cross on the forehead, because He has gone before us and made a way for us to walk. His Cross blazes our trail and gives us hope to walk further and more fully into His best for our lives. May these days of Lent clarify that hope and quicken our step toward all that Jesus wills for us!

Hope is a virtue, one of seven I will be focusing on as we walk together this Lent. In the words of Josef Pieper, a virtue ‘is the most a man can be.’ (All my references here are contained in his sublime ‘On Hope’, Ignatius Press.) Becoming virtuous unites us with our true selves (human nature as God designed it) and prepares us for eternity with Him.

I say ‘becoming virtuous’ because we integrate these qualities over the course of a lifetime. Gird up people; this is one long ‘cross-walk’! Hope lights the way. Radiant Jesus grants us a well-lit trail but also goes before us and is never quite within our grasp. I love that! He keeps us reaching. Jesus longs to fulfill our hope. But that fulfillment comes only when we behold Him face-to-face. Then it disappears. Hope ceases to be when it is realized in full spousal union with Him.

In the meantime, we take seriously St. Paul’s words. ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I have not yet taken hold of it. One thing I do: forgetting what is behind, straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…’ (Phil. 3: 13, 14) That goal involves all that God has for us and wants to accomplish through us. Hope frees us to aspire to more! Alleluia!

Hope invites us to repent quickly of the heaviness that rests upon us like silt in a polluted world and tempts us to settle for the status quo. ‘No Lord! There must be more that I have yet to grasp about Your good and perfect will for my life!’ Hope stirs up a robust expectancy for the marvels our Father has in store for us.

And hope grants us the humility to recognize that we have not yet taken hold of all the marvels. Our vision is still impaired, our healing not yet complete, the gifts we are remain chipped masterpieces that cut others and can still collapse if we don’t stay fixed on Jesus. I love that most about Pieper. His understanding of hope guides us on the narrow way between presumption and despair.

This Lent, I am sobered by the hard truth that unless we stay on hope’s track, we can lose everything. We all know good men and women who have lost the Way and who are taking others with them. We have never faced such a powerful pull to craft our own identity and sexual fulfillment apart from Jesus. May I ask you to join me this Lent in praying for a godly fear based on the truth that we too could be lost to illusion? May the searchlight of hope reveal every little comfort that dulls our hope in Jesus. May this Lent grant us sacred space to ‘let go’ of sin so we might ‘take up’ more of Him and His glorious will for our lives.

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Under the Rainbow?

When I crossed the finish line at Kansas City’s toughest half-marathon last week, I was astounded to see volunteers adorning us in rainbow necklaces. We looked like a swarm of half-naked gay activists. Refusing to be an emblem of the zeitgeist, I politely refused my medal and thought about the hundreds around me who unwittingly had become flags of a false freedom.

More concerning was this comment by a friend of DSM/LW, recently back from Rome. “Pope Francis is surrounded by people who are pushing a gay agenda…When I was at the papal audience two weeks ago, there was a rainbow balloon ‘cross’ flying overhead the entire time. The gay issue is a major source of fracturing within the Church.”

Both encounters tempted me to fear. Peace prevailed when the Spirit reminded me of the authority I possess as a Kingdom citizen. I am not living in a rainbow dome but under the rule and reign of an altogether generous Father who through Jesus is making me His own. I look to Him alone to define me; the fire of His love burns off all other claims upon my personhood.

Now is the time for all fiery converts to stand firm in Christ Crucified: this is our day ‘to know Him in the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering, to become like Him in His death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead’ (Phil. 3:10, 11).

I love St. Paul’s being-converted-tension here; the Apostle is clear, he has not yet attained in full this Cross-bearing unto Christ-likeness. Rather, he aspires to know Him in the fight for freedom to which God calls all converts. ‘Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, we press onward to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:13, 14).

I will cry out for mercy for all who live under the rainbow. With gentleness and respect, I will testify to hope for anyone longing to be free from false liberties (1P 3: 15). I belong to the King, under whose reign I bow. And race: ‘I run in the path of His commands, for He has set my heart free’ (PS 119: 32).

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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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