apparitions & faith

As a Catholic, I’m very familiar with the stories and history of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.  Many would argue that these are hoaxes put on to fool the masses, but I don’t believe that to be true.  I also don’t think it really matters whether they’re real or not…here’s why.

Regardless of their validity, the purpose of these apparitions is not to prove that our faith is true.  We, as Catholics, shouldn’t point to these apparitions and say, “See?  I told you what I believe is the absolute truth!”.  Our faith can’t be proven true, that’s why it’s called “faith”.  Those events are given to us to help point us in the right direction and keep us all on the right path.

Looking at each of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the message(s) that comes from them always revolves around Jesus and turning back to him.  Mary comes to remind us to strengthen our faith.  Whether you believe these actually occur as we’re told they do or not, it really doesn’t matter.  If your faith is strong and you’re reminded to continue to work on it, that’s the end result Heaven is looking for.

I had the privilege to go to Medjugorje a few years ago and witnessed an incredible peace and an amazing display of faith by those that live there and by the many pilgrims from all over the world.  I did find it interesting, however, how many people were looking for miracles and I wondered why.  In many cases, the miracle desired revolved around healing of a loved one, which is perfectly understandable. Perhaps, though, these miracles were needed for confirmation (or proof) of that persons’ faith.  It’s always good to get that, as we all question our faith sometimes, but we need to remember not to dwell on that confirmation if we receive it.

We need to avoid getting caught up in the signs given to us and focus instead on what those signs are pointing to.  Think of it like this, you’re driving with a friend to Phoenix.  On your way you see a road sign that says “Phoenix – 150 Miles”.  Would you really stop the car at the sign and point out to your friend how amazed you are that this sign exists and is proof that Phoenix exists?  The sign is only there to point you to your destination, nothing more.  We should still be grateful for the sign as it keeps us on the right path (in this analogy, it confirms you’re still going to Phoenix), but your focus should remain on your destination.

Pulling this back to our faith, our life’s destination is union with Christ in Heaven.  These apparitions are signs that point towards Him and we should learn from them and follow any guidance they provide, but our gaze must remain on Him.

wisdom listens

I saw a quote recently that resonates very strongly with me.  It was, “Knowledge Speaks, Wisdom Listens.”  I’m not sure if this is a well-known proverb, is from scripture or a quote of anyone in particular but it stands on its’ own just fine.

Looking at the first part, “Knowledge Speaks”, I don’t think it’s necessarily a slam towards those that speak out.  I do think, however, that when we do speak, we should do so from knowledge.  This rules out all unnecessary speech like gossiping and hearsay.

The second part of that quote is what truly resonates with me.  I firmly agree that wisdom comes from listening and observing.  The simple act of doing so puts us in a place where we receive information (with as few prejudices of our own attached to them as possible) and can let it roll around in our minds while we think it over.  If we’re not listening, we’re closed to that information that may help us understand our current beliefs better or that may challenge misconceptions we have.

The “listening” I speak of doesn’t apply only to words spoken to us.  God speaks to us in a number of ways, many of them non-verbal (ie: through events, signs, books, random thoughts, etc.).  If we’re not aware (awake) or paying attention (listening), we are missing our opportunity to gain in wisdom.  Tuning out distractions (like when driving) that may handicap our awareness can go a long way towards our spiritual growth.

This takes us right back to “living awake”, doesn’t it?

love for others

We all know in our minds and in our hearts that we’re called to love others.  With most people this isn’t an issue.  As Jesus said, even the tax collectors love their friends.  The hard part is loving those that we find hard to love.  We’re called to love them in spite of the actions and behaviors that get under our skin.

Something that’s hit me when reflecting on this (typically after an encounter that leaves me wondering how I could possibly love such a person) is that I, myself, must have traits and characteristics that rub some people the wrong way.  Since everyone is different, something I do that my wife or family loves about me might be the very same thing that annoys another person.  Similar to everyone else, I certainly want others to love me for who I am and don’t want them to pick and choose parts of me to take or leave.

Doesn’t it follow that we should offer that same treatment to others?  If we would like them to overlook some of our own quirks, shouldn’t we overlook theirs?  Keeping this in mind may be extremely beneficial in finding a way to love someone that we consider “hard to love”.

An important lesson I remember learning during the Marriage Preparations that the Catholic Church requires in my diocese is that, in a marriage, you oftentimes have to make the choice to love your spouse rather than the “love” just being there.  Times get difficult and during those times you can’t depend on a feeling to be there…you can, however, depend on your own ability to make that decision to love.  That same decision can be made with those we know and acquaint ourselves to.

I recognize that doing this can be very difficult in the heat of the moment or when emotions are running high.  I counter that with the question, “Isn’t that part of our desire to grow and become better people?”  None of us are perfect (as proven in the fact this challenge even exists), so it’s going to take effort for all of us to improve in this aspect of our relationships with others.  The key here is to continue to try our best and to get back up and try again when we’ve failed.  That’s much more possible to do if we remain aware of ourselves and our actions in the moment and that we take time to reflect on our actions after they’ve occurred.

best version of ourselves

I enjoy reading a great deal and was introduced to Matthew Kelly, a Catholic author/speaker, recently.  Matthew Kelly is an Australian speaker who has written many books focused on helping each of us become the best versions of ourselves.  The one I read most recently, “Rediscovering Catholicism” was excellent in how it covers the various aspects of our lives that need to be addressed and constantly improved upon.

From that, I came up with an acronym that helps keep these aspects in focus…PIES (think of four pieces to a pie, or PIES).  The “P” stands for the physical aspect of our lives.  This includes our activity level, exercise and diet.  How well we’re treating our body will have a great impact on us becoming better at everything else.  The “I” stands for the intellectual aspect of our lives.  Reading more than just fluff-material, learning new concepts, performing our normal job at work but at a high level, all of these these relate to how well we’re excelling intellectually.  The “E” stands for the emotional aspect of our lives.  I like to think of this more in terms of relationships and our emotional connection to others.  For me, the key here is family and my involvement in my family as a Father and Husband.  Finally, the “S” stands for the spiritual aspect of our lives.  Our connection with God through prayer as well as our overall level of peace and equanimity are indications of the strength of this aspect.

A good exercise for all of us to use and help keep a balance in these four parts of the PIES is, at regular intervals, score ourselves in each of the four quadrants.  You can use whatever scoring/grading you want (whatever motivates you the best).  That could be a scale of 1-5 (or 10), a letter grade (A, B, C, D or F) or something else that works for you.  The key is to see where you’re lacking at any given moment and to work on that.

The goal, eventually, is to be at the top of each on a regular and continual basis, though that’s probably going to be impossible (as none of us are perfect).  Since this is all one big journey on our way to Heaven, think of it like checking the critical parts of your vehicle that’s taking you there (which is your body & soul), similar to checking your tires & oil, filling up the car with gas, etc.

no greater love

One of my favorite new shows is the ABC show “Flash Forward”.  It does a great job of combining drama and science fiction from a moral standpoint.  I wanted to discuss a recent episode (“The Gift”) that had a major scene that I think relates very well to our Christian faith.  If you haven’t seen this episode yet or think you may want to watch this show from the beginning, you may want to avoid reading below until you’ve done so.  Otherwise, the plot of the story doesn’t matter so much as the content of the message and its’ application to our faith.

In this episode, an FBI agent “Al” decides to commit suicide to avoid causing another woman’s death (that has yet to occur).  He finds out from his flash forward that he is the cause of the death of a woman named Celia but doesn’t find out how or why.  He also finds out that she has twin boys that would be moved on to foster care after her death.  This hits him deeply in the present and he decides to commit suicide to prevent this from happening.  In addition to this, his committing suicide proves to the world that what they all saw in their own flash forwards don’t necessarily have to be the case.  His own flash forward can’t come true now that he’s dead.

While, as a Catholic, I am obligated to look at suicide as a path all of us should avoid.  It is seen as giving up rather than fighting through whatever is bringing us down in that moment.  In this case, however, I think it relates well to one of Jesus’ comments when he said (paraphrasing), “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  Al truly lays down his life (via suicide) for Celia and her two sons by undeniably avoiding the possibility that he cause her death.

This also reminds me of what St. Maximillian Kolbe was known for.  He held true to that quote of Jesus’ by giving up his own life to take the place of another man’s in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII.  He didn’t know that man personally but knew he had a family, so this wasn’t even a case of laying down his life for his friends but a complete stranger.  Al’s decision to do this for Celia was the same as Al only knew Celia’s name and that she had two sons (he didn’t know where she lived, what she looked like or even what her last name was).  He sacrificed himself anyway to save her and, in the process, gave hope to the world over.

Pretty remarkable stuff and quite profound for a TV show on network television.  If you aren’t watching this show, it’s certainly worthwhile as it raises a lot of good questions and moral dilemmas.

perseverance

Father Roderick of SQPN.com talked about the importance of perseverance recently.  He pointed out its applications in diet, exercise, prayer life, etc.  I’d like to echo that sentiment with some comments of my own.

As we can all attest, the world tries very hard to pull each of us away from anything that is challenging, difficult and requires discipline.  Think about your diet.  Is it even possible to watch anything on TV without being bombarded with advertisements for unhealthy food choices?  We can’t even go outside now due to the excessive amount of billboard and other advertising showing off the “easy way out” for our diets.

Exercise is very similar, though not attacked nearly as focused as I think our diet is.  The attacks on that come in the form of whispers and excuses as part of our continual spiritual battle.  Think about how much better you feel when you exercise regularly…aren’t you more capable of doing everything else better, including working on your relationship with God?  It would follow then that this activity is one the enemy would want to shake us from as best as possible.

Persevering through prayer is a day to day struggle.  Even though we might be consistent after a while, due to it being routine, the strength and depth of that prayer is something we need to continually work for.  Similar to exercise, this practice is attacked ferociously by our enemy, for obvious reasons.

In all these things, our ability to better ourselves and continue moving upward comes down to how well we persevere through the discouragement, road-blocks, nay-sayers, etc.  All of us will fall, probably quite a bit.  The important thing is that we get back up and we try again (the true nature of perseverance).  Father Roderick pointed out a very important distinction between failing and quitting.  Failing is when you fall, but quitting is when you don’t get back up.

In all things, whether it be diet, exercise, prayer, parenting, work, blogging (yes, I’m guilty of this…notice the delay between posts?), we need to persevere and keep getting back up.  We also need to assist our brothers and sisters of our time so that they, too, get back up when they fall.  Encouragement is contagious and is paramount to persevering through difficulties.