Undoing the Fall of Man: Obedience after Disobedience

“If God had commanded her (Mary) to carry out with her own hands that crucifixion which an inscrutable Providence had placed in the hands of the wicked, she would have obeyed with all the promptness and resoluteness expected of one perfectly submissive to the laws of the Creator.” 
(From The Cross of Jesus, Fr. Louis Chardon, OP)

This is a shocking statement. It disturbs us on a very deep level. How can anyone dare say that Mary, the gentle and loving mother, would venture to carry out the crucifixion if the executioners had refused? It seems so disordered!

To fully understand the magnitude of that statement, we need to first understand the dichotomy between order and disorder. On a human level, we flee from disorder and suffering, and we long for order. And yet all creation is continually moving towards disorder and chaos, as described in the second law of thermodynamics (creation, in and of itself, moves towards a state of entropy). Think of a tree that falls in the forest. Can it, of its own accord, pick itself up? No. In fact, once it has fallen, it will begin to die and decompose; it cannot return to an orderly way of being. This desire of ours for order and nature’s tendency towards disorder is a result of the Fall.

Before that fateful moment, all creation (including man) was ordered rightly; God was the center of all things, and all things were perfectly obedient to Him. After the Fall, we see a drastic and jarring change: man struggles against the natural tendency towards chaos on a daily basis. It starts right in the morning for most of us. Admit it: you hate the sound of your alarm clock. Your alarm clock is a signal to you of order, and your fallen nature desires to do its own thing.   That’s why the snooze button was invented: to give you a second (and third…and fourth…) chance at starting your day in an orderly manner. Disorder can lead to sin, while order leads to virtue. Sadly, due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we find it easier to sin (live in disorder), rather than to do good (live in order).

We need help in order to regain control. In our struggle, there is a beacon of hope: Mary. As one free from original sin, she did not have concupiscence (fallen man’s tendency towards sin). Mary’s vision was unclouded by sin. For this reason, when God asked her to be the Mother of Jesus, she consented. Oftentimes we fail to see beyond this moment in Mary’s life. We neglect to recognize that her whole life was lived out as a “yes” to God. In my own life, this truth is slowly coming into focus. I have recently become a mother, and I am realizing how profoundly demanding motherhood is. Yes, there are the natural demands of my little one (diapers, feeding, etc), but this is just the surface. On a very profound level, I am realizing what it means to live in a constant state of “yes”. Finding out we were pregnant was our first “yes” (acceptance of this wonderful news), but each moment after that has been a re-echoing of that attitude. Even in difficult moments, I need to give myself completely for the sake of this little being that God has entrusted to me. In one sense, I am just doing what I need to do. But, taken to a spiritual level, I am living in the “yes” of Mary, and bringing order into disorder.

Mary’s acceptance of God’s will was perfect in all things, and therefore was rightly ordered. This attitude reaches far beyond the joyful events of life, and even embraces the difficulties present before us. In Mary, I can find strength to do that which is unpleasant (e.g. feeding my infant at 3am) for love of God. If, like her, I can accept all things as part of God’s amazing plan for my life, then my life and actions become a prayer. It is this very disposition which restores order into even the most tumultuous situations. In a sense, when I align my will to God’s will, I am participating in a reversal of the effects of the Fall; the Fall brought disobedience and disorder, while living a life faithful to the Lord brings obedience and order.

God’s ways are often mysterious to us. Therefore, accepting them necessarily involves an openness to trust. If God is all-good, there can be no evil in Him. Mary knew this, and lived accordingly. In light of this realization, the opening quote comes to light: Mary would have done anything necessary, in order that God’s will would be fulfilled. No mother wants to see her child suffer. Neither did she. And yet, she was willing, like Abraham, to offer the Son she held so dear. She was yearning, in fact, to sacrifice her own desire for a greater good. As she stood at the foot of His holy cross, she said her “yes” once again to God’s plan. In her we find strength in sorrow. Through her we come to a fuller realization of our ultimate goal: to love and serve God in this life, so as to be happy with Him for all eternity in Heaven. This is the ultimate reversal of the Fall, and it was opened to us through the cross. Mary was able to accept it, even though she had no foresight of how the execution of her Son would ultimately affect the salvation of countless souls. She simply stood (yes, she stood at the foot of the cross) and lovingly accepted God’s mysterious plan. May we, through her intercession, daily strive to give our “yes” with loving obedience, and complete trust in God’s beautiful plan in our lives.

 

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Let’s Give It Up For Vocations: Life-Long Vocational Discernment in the Catholic Faith

It really irks me when I hear someone ask a young person, “are you discerning a vocation”? This question, although well meant, is quite misguiding. It leads one to believe that only those called to religious life or the priesthood ought to pray about their future. It also usually elicits an answer of, “no”, as the young person is embarrassed to think that he/she might in fact be called to something different. That which is different is often not comfortable, as it would make him/her stand out. In order to understand the whole concept of vocations more deeply, we need to ask two questions: What is a vocation, after all, and how does one discern it?

Every single person on the face of the Earth has a vocation. The primary vocation of the human person is to love. As baptized Catholics, we further acknowledge three states of life, or three vocations, which are in accordance with our faith: priesthoo_MG_8894d (men only), consecrated life (men or women) and marriage (one man and one woman). Surprisingly, the Church does not acknowledge a vocation to be single (stay tuned for more on this). Many Catholic speakers have taught that the single life is an acceptable vocation, and yet it is not. This may be upsetting to some, but the Church has very good reasons for this.

First of all, what is a vocation? Simply put, a vocation is a “calling”. The Latin root of the word vocation literally means “to call”. At the moment of baptism, the soul receives the seed of a vocation, so to speak. Over time, this seed grows and matures. Ever planted a seed? If you have, you are aware of the process. As a seed germinates, it sends out a root. As the seed continues to grow, a tiny green blade appears above the ground. For most plants, this first blade is indistinguishable from other types of plants. The same is true of a vocation: at first, God causes the vocation to root itself in the soul. This is a hidden portion of the development of one’s calling. Next, the vocation begins to bring forth a tiny indication of itself, until eventually it comes to be revealed in the light. Sounds easy, right? Just sit back and wait for your vocation to pop up out of the ground and reveal itself! Well, truth is that no one really has that sort of a “ta-da” moment with vocational discernment. This is why young people are often asked if they are discerning their vocation.

Discernment is a necessary step in any person’s vocational search. God speaks to the human heart on a very personal level. This is why discernment is a process of prayer and reflection. Many people search out a spiritual director to help them through this often challenging phase of life. Remember the seed planted in baptism? Well, the Lord wants us to search out the tiny plant it produced, and to distinguish it from amongst a meadow of other plants! There are so many distractions (both good and evil) in our world: work, school, family life, hobbies, multi-slacking (come on, you know you do it!), and so on. All these put forth a plant in the meadow of life. But which plant is your vocation? Think of it this way: what are you willing to give your life for? Look at your own life, and identify the different things/activities that fill your day. Are you willing to give your life for any of them? Sadly, many people put work, school and Facebook before other priorities, thus making these things/actions their selected vocation. But a vocation requires more than an attitude of acceptance; it requires sacrifice. This is why the single life is not a recognized vocation in the Church. Let me clarify. As a single person, you have the freedom to do what you want, when you want and how you want. No one really grinds your rough edges with rules or ways of doing things. Yes, there are social constructs which dictate a certain code of behavior, but as a single person you don’t have to fight with your new spouse over the toilet seat being left up/down! I think we can all agree that is harder to live with others. The same is true of religious life (mens’ or womens’ communities); suddenly you are faced with not one, but several others who do things a particular (often quirky) way! And what of the priesthood?   You get to serve an entire parish of quirky people! Putting aside the comical extremes, we come to realize that we need others. No, we don’t need them to drive us to the point of insanity. Rather, we need them to drive us to the point of holiness.

Holiness cannot be achieved in isolation. Our pilgrim way, which (God willing) leads to Heaven requires a testing of our virtues by our neighbor, as well as the witness of our neighbors to us, and our witness to them. This is not a popular thought, especially in an ego-centric culture. If I am to live in proximity to another person, it will require a certain level of sacrifice. So, why would anyone do such a thing? One answer alone suffices: love. Love demands a response, and that response is sacrifice. The greatest sacrifice we can make is the gift of our very self. This is what drives a young woman to abandon all her earthly possessions and enter a cloister. This is the same impetus that causes a young couple to vow their lives to each other. It is also this same self-gift that motivations a young man to accept the invitation to become conformed to Christ in a radical manner. Are you noticing how the single life is lacking? Just to clarify, by single life, I am referring to the self-centered and “unattached” life so many young people are choosing. It is one thing to be single for the Lord and quite another to just be single. Those who are single for the Lord, accept the radical call to chastity and/or celibacy for life. They make vows or promises to that effect, and these undertakings are accepted and approved by the Church (usually under the watchful care of the local bishop). Such single vocations include consecrated virginity and life in a society of apostolic life (for more on the different forms of vocations, see Vita Consecrata, written by St. John Paul II. Go on…it’s available online for free!  Did you click on it yet?)

The human heart longs to give of itself in love. Without this outlet, the human person is unfulfilled. Think of the many false “loves” in the world today which try to fulfill this longing: promiscuous sex, drugs, pornography, etc.  All these promise a sort of quasi-love, but without any effort on our part. Love, in order to be true, requires sacrifice. What sacrifice is there in selfishness? None. This is why we have to start asking our young people a different question. Instead of simply asking, “are you discerning a vocation?”, we need to challenge them by asking, “how is the Lord calling you to give of yourself?” or “how will you pour yourself out for others, out of love for Christ?”. This sort of question goes beyond the initial vocational discernment (e.g. am I called to religious life or to marriage?), and digs deeper into the daily life of the individual. Just because I am married, for instance, does not mean that my vocational discernment is complete! God help the family or community in which there exists such a though! Each day is a new challenge to find ways to love and to give of myself (even when it’s hard) for the sake of Christ. So, I ask you: how will you sacrifice yourself today, so that another soul may come to see Christ in you, and thus come one step closer to Heaven?

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Silent Yet Strong: The Counter-Cultural Witness of St. Joseph

Little is known about St. Joseph, other than what Scripture tells us.  There are, in addition, many pious traditions and legends, which help us understand the great love that surrounds this saint.  He lived 2000 years ago, and yet he is still honored and venerated today.  Why is St. Joseph important for our modern world?

A Man of Mystery and Silence

St. Joseph led a hidden life.  His life was so hidden, in fact, that Sacred Scripture does not give us a single word of his.  St. Joseph is, possibly, the least quoted saint, simply because we have none of his sayings written down for us.  And yet, in this shrouded lifestyle, Joseph teaches us how to contemplate the face of God in our daily life.  His silence josephcan be seen as an awe-struck adoration before the King of kings, whom he held in his arms!  Joseph also reminds us that, despite all the distractions of our modern society, we need time for silence and reflection.  This is especially true today, since there is an overpowering attempt to make loud all that should be kept silent, and to uncover all that should be held as a mystery.  At one point in history, seeing a woman’s ankle was considered shameful.  Today…well, I won’t describe what is considered shameful, for it ventures into a pornographic realm.  Suffice it to say that anything veiled seems to suffer the buffets of a culture of revelation, in which nothing should remain mysterious, and thus, nothing should remain sacred.  Joseph’s example of silence in the presence of the mystery of the Incarnate Word is a reminder of what our attitude should be before God.  Since the Second Vatican Council, many unfortunate abuses and “creative” additions have evolved in the Sacred Liturgy of the Catholic Church.  Some of these attempt to demystify the very mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and thus make it a Protestant-style Catholic event for worship.  By way of clarification, I am not here in any way criticising or condemning any of our Protestant brothers and sisters; rather, I am claiming that we, as Catholics, need to be Catholic.  We are different, and that is part of our vocation—to maintain and uphold the beauty of our faith.  In his earlier days, St. Joseph, too, had doubts about his vocation and the path he was to follow.  Recall how he painstakingly pondered over the idea of secretly divorcing Mary, his betrothed.  It was then that an angel of the Lord appeared to him, and gave him a clear direction for his life.  He was never the same again.

A Man of Chastity and Solitude

In the family home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, there was a strange solitude in the heart of St. Joseph.  He alone was not physically involved in the conception of Jesus.  It was our blessed Mother who carried Him in her immaculate womb. Joseph’s role was to defend her purity and virginity by his own pledge to chastity.  A unique marriage indeed!  And yet, what great love it expresses.  Many couples today sadly rely on sex as a standard of love.  Some even ask, “without sex, is there love?” as they continue to live out a falsification of this act.  In Joseph, we find the courage to live a chaste life, as appropriate to our state in life.  For the single person (heterosexual or homosexual) that means abstinence from all sexual activity.  For the married couple, it means fidelity to each other in all matters, including sexuality.  At times, chastity can feel like a deserted island, where we stand alone.  However, St. Joseph chose to follow his vocation to love Mary even more deeply than could be expressed through the limitations of the body—he was called to love her with a much greater purity than is required of most married couples.  This should give us hope as we strive for our own chastity.  Yes, it may be challenging, but often the source of challenges is the over-sexed media images we see and hear.  My husband and I do not have cable TV for many reasons, but one of them is the seductive nature of so many TV ads today.  I do not need to fill my mind (and my heart) with such images and ideas.  In days gone by, people practiced custody of the senses, meaning that they guarded carefully what they received through their senses.  The senses are a gift from the Lord, though which we experience the world around us, and thus come to know and love God more and more.  Disordered sexuality or seduction do not lead us toward God, and therefore must be avoided.  Most temptations require a head-on battle.  Temptations against chastity, however, require us to flee into the pure Hearts of Jesus and Mary, for we are often too weak to face these alone.

A Man of Devotion and Prayer

Walk into any Catholic Church for daily Mass.  Who do you see?  Most of our churches are filled with devout woman.  This is beautiful, but at the same time alarming.  Where are the men? It is true that in many families men are the primary “bread winners” so to speak, but what about the rest?  It seems that, over the ages, religion has been relegated to a feminine quality.  St. Joseph was a man of deep prayer, and he can be a source of renewal in the hearts of men.  Even though we do not know how he prayed (e.g. we do not have any of his prayers transcribed for us), we do know that he, indeed, must have prayed!  Each act of love for his spouse and foster-child was a prayer offered to the Lord.  Furthermore, his devotion to Mary and Jesus must have flowed from a heart filled with prayer.  Why else would he have stayed when things got tough?  Consider the flight to Egypt—Joseph was asked to take his spouse and child and flee to Egypt.  He could have thrown in the towel then, and claimed it was too difficult.  Aft_MG_9091erwards, it was more than a simple walk through the park!  Had he not already walked enough on his trip to Bethlehem?  I am sure that, thought his life, Joseph had many opportunities to turn away, and leave the Holy Family, even if just for a time.  And yet he stayed.  St. Joseph’s courage in times of trial, and devotion to his family in times of difficulty is proof of a prayer-filled soul.  Couples who pray together share an intimacy that is beyond a physical one—they share in the life of the soul.  It is the vocation of spouses to draw each other toward Heaven, day by day.  How else can a husband or wife know how to help his/her spouse on this pilgrimage unless they pray together?  It is through prayer that the Lord speaks to our hearts.  My husband and I take a few moments each day to pray together (yes, out loud).  It was very difficult at first, I will admit, but I think that this is simply due to the fact that Satan knows the power of prayer, and even more so, the power of a sacramentally married couple who is praying as one.

 

St. Joseph is a model for all Christians, men and women alike.  As head of the Holy Family, he is a great beacon of hope for all men in a particular way.  Our culture often tries to artificially equalize the sexes.  In St. Joseph we find a powerful reminder of the beauty of Christian fatherhood and manhood.  For myself as a woman, I find in St. Joseph the courage to live out my vocation as wife and mother, since I know that I have a husband who is striving to be like Joseph: prayerful, faithful and chaste.  St. Joseph, pray for us, that we may always run toward Heavenly things in a world full of noise and distraction!

 

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