Ever since some wise man discovered the zero, thus enabling what became mathematics, we have been able to add, subtract, multiple, divide, etc., developing computer codes and such esoteric, yet deemed critically important, statistics as “earned run averages”, stock market averages, currency fluctuations, and literally innumerable other uses of numbers, though some, like tracking how many ‘friends’ one has on social media sites belie a deeper angst which infects much of the human family.
I am tempted here to insert various common wisdoms such as ‘figures don’t lie, but liars sure can figure’ and ‘it is never too late to teach an old dog a new trick’, but to pursue such would be to avoid the very tough lesson I am barely on the threshold of embracing!
In human terms there is no one more important in my life and whom I truly seek to be a gift to, to love, protect, serve, than my own son and since his marriage his wife and their children have a co-equal share of my heart.
Holy Mother the Church, friends, the poor, yes even my enemies are treasured, loved, and when needed, forgiven.
Primarily for each one of us love is an act of the will, but we are beings who also have emotions and we all know emotions are about as easy to control as it is to carry a pound of jello in our bare hands, running a steeple chase!
Our emotions often behave like earthquakes. It is as if we live on a fault line, the sudden upheavals coming at the least expected and most inopportune moments in our lives.
How about the emotional reaction of the disciples wanting to nuke those they felt opposed Jesus [Lk.9.54]!
We learn as children, appropriately as it is connected both to playing fair and also teaches deep lessons about accepting loss in life, that some forms of play involve team sports and the team with the most goals, wins.
The other team does not.
Winning, wrongly interiorized, can lead to arrogance.
Loss, wrongly interiorized, can lead to deep wounds woven into self-doubt, even in the extreme a sense of being unlovable which in turn is often expressed as extreme, never able to be satisfied, need for acceptance.
If parents pit one child against another, deliberately or inadvertently, that is the ultimate experience of being the losing team.
I admire my son and his wife how they manage the extremely important balance of treating each of their children equally with love and attention, yet also have neat little ways in which each child gets the right amount of individual love and attention which affirms to the child they are unique and uniquely loved.
Suffice to say my experience growing up was the polar opposite and by the time I left home at fourteen to find my own way in the world more damage was done than then, or even now on the threshold of seventy, I realized or, as recent events have underscored, realize fully yet!
Indeed it is a shock to face the fact I am not unlike the labourers who felt they should have been paid more [Mt. 20:1-16].
They were keeping score.
I have been doing so most of my life, with more emotional damage to myself and being burdensome to those who love me than I have ever understood, Lord have mercy indeed!
Keeping it simple, suffice to say the other day my son did something necessary for his own wellbeing as a hardworking family man which gave him some respite and a relaxing evening.
When I heard about it I was frankly deeply hurt at not being included as it is something I have long desired to participate in with him and I went, to be honest, emotionally ballistic.
Chatting with a friend I uttered score words, namely how long I have been waiting for……and my friend said very simply: “You are keeping score.”
I felt like I have been sucker punched and went interiorly into aggressive denial, but his words would not be silenced in my mind or heart.
I began begging the Holy Spirit to settle me down and enable me to look honestly at the implications of my friend’s words and I discovered, primarily about myself, this human bondage to keep emotional score and how damaging it really is.
Now in some ways I have been trying to dig myself out of quicksand.
Thankfully, I do not have to do it on my own because in the midst of all storms we see Who
really is doing the digging out, the rescuing: Mt. 14:23-33.
The Holy Gospel is filled with examples of Jesus taking someone by the hand and raising them up from illness or paralysis and so forth and each of these examples of physical healing, the examples of Jesus setting people free from bondage to demons, are applicable.
Jesus will, indeed yearns to if we ask Him, raise us up out of, set us free from, emotional turmoil as well.
So if I am to be raised up from drowning in, set free from the bondage of keeping score is there a sort of replacement means of score keeping, in other words, is there a way Jesus teaches me to keep score?
If we meditate deeply and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us then in passages such as Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7 and 18:21, 22; Mark 10: 29-31; Luke 6:38; John 15:13, just a few examples, we will see that the way Jesus keeps score, as it were and call us to, is never about what I get or what need of mine is met, rather all is about gift, in essence how as Jesus gifts Himself to us is precisely how I am called to make myself gift to other.
Sure I am not claiming when it comes to keeping score being converted as yet but thanks to that word from my friend I am no longer comfortable keeping score in the old way plus my eyes are wide open to being aware of what an immense gift my son is – and that, constantly giving thanks, is the essential way too Jesus keeps score, always giving thanks to Our Father and His for love and blessing, indeed Jesus gifts Himself as the penultimate reality of thanks-giving in the Holy Eucharist.
So, how have you been keeping score lately?
Ever since President Obama declared himself in favour of gay so-called marriage I have been particularly concerned by his stating how he came to this stance based on consultation with his wife and daughters: in other words rather than assert authentic manhood he caved, rather than lead chose to be led, rather than teach truth he surrendered to the lie that the original human vocation of real marriage, the union in love open to self-gift and new life between a man and a woman, can be distorted by the mere dictates of pretence!
There is a cry and deep sorrow at the very center of our world. The cry is wrenched from the hearts of adults but is rooted in the hearts of children.
Someday a wise anthropologist, perhaps, will do an in depth study of our culture of death and make the connection between the origins of this cry, this deep sorrow, rooted in the loss of authentic manhood and how we came to suffer such a loss.
Perhaps then we will have a better understanding of the complexities of human intercourse which resulted in the 20th century being so soaked on every page of its history with the blood of the innocent, shed massively in war but on an even greater scale through abortion, a river of blood already flooding this new century.
How urgently we need to pray that we come to grips with a generation and more of fatherless men, of boys, in the words of Susan Faludi in her work: STIFFED, growing up in “...a culture that has them by the throat.”
An adult whose own experience of being fathered, being authentically masculine, was actually that of being father deprived, starved for affirmation and completion as a male, finds himself in a situation ready made for legions of demons to create the evil of lack of courage, inability to be faithful to the command of self-gift.
Marriage is the ultimate expression of authentic reciprocal gift of self to other and presupposes both the willing generosity and ability to make the gift. Distortion of authentic marriage, such as advocated by Obama and others, pre-supposes an intellectual, seemingly logical, disconnect between the reality of self-gift being about the other, rather than about myself.
We live in such a dark and confused culture, such a disordered body politic, that we take demands for what the ‘I’ wants and devise arguments to make such a demand appear as a ’right’ and as the screams increase in volume gerrymander laws which then form a type of feedback loop so the egotistical ‘I’ is vindicated.
This process is only possible when the culture, the body politic, and most disturbing of all large numbers of the baptized, abandon the law of gift for the anarchy of ‘take’!
The supreme acts of self-gift are God, creating us in His own image and likeness; the Father loving us so much He gifts His only-begotten Son for us; the Son Jesus laying down His life for us; the Holy Spirit sanctifying us, crying out within us constantly: Abba!
Bl. John Paul’s constant teaching on what he sometimes referred to as the ‘law of gift’, is drawn from the Second Vatican Council teaching on the Church in the Modern World, Guadium et Spes # 24, reminding us that we alone of all His creatures, we the human person, are the ones He wanted, ultimately, for communion of love, so the only way then we can discover our true selves is through a sincere GIVING of ourselves.
The male person, we men, in face of the constant assault on faith, family, life from the womb to the tomb, as baptized men in particular, need to incarnate in all we do and say the fullness of self-gift.
Unless we rediscover our true selves as men the darkness of the culture of death will overtake everything and we will wake up one morning and discover that, unlike the current situation where a type of emasculation leaves us with cowardice and indecisiveness in the body politic, frequently in the pulpit, we shall confront the polar opposite distortion of manhood asserting power if not complete control, namely those who use violence to subjugate their families and terror to cower whole nations.
In 1989 Bl. Pope John Paul reminded us all in his letter on St. Joseph that we have a model of manhood and an intercessor for all in good Saint Joseph. Granted the prime icon is Jesus, yet in terms of a guy like us, St. Joseph is the model of self-gift manhood, authentic husband and fatherhood.
A whole man, a real man, is a person comfortable in his skin as a man, who embraces life, protects and defends objective truth, thus he protects and defends life.
In our culture, however, we have seen a progressive denigration of that which the Father has created: the human person, in the God created beauty and dignity of an equality of person which flowers in the diversity of some persons being created male and some persons being created female.
Our media saturated, politically correct chattering classes are willfully blind to the sheer idiotic stance of debasing either gender, to those futile and sacrilegious continuing efforts, in particular, to un-male or un-female children to the point of making adults who are so totally confused about gender they no longer even know they are persons.
Each person, each male his maleness and each female her femaleness, has this incontrovertible reality sanctified at Baptism.
As men in our very Baptism we are irrevocably and indisputably consecrated as protectors of the domestic church, proclaimers of the Gospel of Life, defenders of the human person, especially in those stages of life – it’s very beginning and natural end, its childhood and old age, its times of sickness or weakness – when life is most vulnerable.
To do less is to betray our male personhood and discipleship of Jesus Christ.
Saint Joseph is a powerful intercessor for us as we seek to be whole and holy as male persons, mature men with childlike hearts who are at one and the same time son of the Father, father to all our brothers and sisters in Christ, brother to all the children of the Father, through the activity of the Holy Spirit within us by our sacramental baptism and fidelity to self-gift.
Just as Bl. John Paul teaches how the Angel introduced St. Joseph to the mystery of Mary as mother, it follows quite simply then none is better than Joseph to introduce we men to, and teach us about, Our Blessed Mother, about self-gift to women, to children, to everyone.
This is our vocation, to be protectors of the sacredness of other, of life, of truth.
This requires we be real men, holy men, and fatherly men. Men capable of strength, courage, tenderness, love, wisdom, and generosity to provide for and protect those confided to our care: in the immediate wife and children but also our co-workers, the Church, the wider community, in particular the vulnerable pre-born.
Saint Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly ‘through the exercise of his fatherhood’, as Bl. John Paul reminds us, and we men are likewise called to serve Jesus as well through self-gift to other and in a culture where the one who is allegedly the father of the nation, sort of the ‘man in chief’ has caved to the clamour of the culture of darkness and death, how urgent that the rest of the baptized men stand up in the face of all that is disordered, indeed in the face of satan himself, stand firm and declare enough!
Fidelity is this day to day, moment by moment, willingness to give ourselves as gift.
Once again, naturally enough, we come face to face with a simple fact: we need faith!
Faith is a gift.
Increase of faith is a gift we must ask for.
The faithful St. Joseph will intercede on our behalf for a constant increase in this gift of faith if we, man to man, ask him.
Because of the pulverization of our true understanding of self as a male person and living out of that gift, a pulverization inflicted upon us by the culture of death, we too, even as adult men, can be burdened by the sorrow(s) so common among our brothers.
There seems to be, frankly, to a very dangerous degree – dangerous for the faith, the Church, for the vulnerable, especially for the unborn and those weak in anyway, for women and children in particular – a lack of mature holy manliness and is why Bl. Pope John Paul II was seen as such a sign of contradiction because he never wavered when it came to objective truth, never shied away from proclaiming the truth about the Gospel of Life, about the reality of marriage.
A man has only to look upon Christ to see himself as God intends us to be and who better to bring us to Jesus but St. Joseph?
Love and truth are inseparable. Love is never interested in self. Love is always servant of the other.
As we seek to enter ever more deeply into communion of love with the Blessed Trinity, imitating the Trinity’s own self-gift, we must enter more fully into union with Christ the man, the obedient son of the Father. It is to journey, with steadfastness and honour, the pilgrim’s way.
Self-gift love costs. It costs the life of Love Himself upon the Cross.
Can we love any less?
In the Litany of Saint Joseph, noted in the Litany as being strong, obedient and faithful, is also the terror of demons.
When we, as true holy men, are by grace also strong, obedient and faithful we too shall be a source of terror for demons, in particular those demons of the culture of death.
To become ever more completely that which we are, by gender, baptism, we must, like St. Joseph the good and just man before us, constantly be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit within our beings.
The Sanctifier at work within us, calling us to ever more complete abandonment to Divine Providence, ever deeper metanoia, that total kenosis where nothing remains in or about us but Christ.
The fidelity of which St. Joseph is our patron and model was not for him, nor is it for us primarily a matter of ‘doing’ what needs be done, as important as that is.
Fidelity of the true and sacred kind, which implies explicitly the nitty-gritty doing well of the duty of the moment, is first of all a matter of ‘being’: being totally trusting of, and abandoned to, the love and will of the Father for us.
We men, indeed all Christian men and women, need to begin again to build anew the civilization of love, the culture of life. Thus we need the grace of a deep interior life for Gospel action flows from deep contemplation.
Saint Joseph is the patron of the interior life, having lived and served the person and mission of Christ with fidelity, courage, strength, obedience, selflessness and humility.
While being the teacher of Christ in the ways of a man’s life on earth St. Joseph was undoubtedly also a ‘student’ at the feet of the Master, learning communion of love with the Father.
Our increasingly fatherless culture has produced generations of children who become adults not knowing the truth, a truth we need to relearn and teach: that we are beloved.
St. Joseph will teach us and then affirmed in the truth we are beloved of Love Himself, we will go forth and love.
We have not been created primarily, to do great things, rather because we are greatly beloved, we are called to love, greatly. We are called to be faithful to Someone and with, in, through Him to love all others.
It is through fidelity to the One who loves us so we are urged on by grace to be faithful in all else.
Fidelity to love, to self-gift is heroic, for spouses, parents, for everyone. Fidelity is heroic especially in our day when we witness to the Gospel of Life in the darkness of the culture of death. Fidelity is that manly heroic courage lived at a time when as men we are pulverized from all sides, often simply because we are men, certainly because we are Christian men.
Here too we turn to the good Saint Joseph as our model and patron, for he carried within his very being the history of a pulverized people, a history marked by deliverance as well.
In his own life St. Joseph suffered much being faithful to his vocation as spouse and protector of his wife Mary and foster-father and protector of the Child Jesus. We men are likewise called to embrace, with courage, the mystery of suffering, the blessedness of suffering. We too are called to be father and protector of the Child Jesus: Christ who comes to us as every man, woman and child on the face of the earth.
No human being should be an orphan of our fatherly, manly hearts.
Our relationship is communion of love with Infinite of Infinite Love Himself! [Jn. 1:29, 36]
St. John also notes Jesus is in motion, coming toward, as He does within us, towards us, every moment of our life. [ibid: 29, 26]
How the heart of St. Joseph must naturally have pounded with the pride of a father every time he saw Jesus coming towards him, how his soul must have leapt with joy every time he saw Jesus coming towards him.
Jesus comes towards us, walks with us in every moment of our lives, thus every moment is a moment of contemplation in love.
So overtaken by the beauty of Christ, the holy allure if you will of Christ, the fire of His love radiating from His Holy Face, those eyes revealing the love of the Father, His disciples couldn’t bear being separated from Him and cried out to know where He dwelt. [ibid: 38]
Should not our manly hearts likewise yearn to ask Him that question, the cry of a heart yearning to be in communion of love?
Love’s invitation to intimacy is given, inviting us to ‘come and see.’
Always Love gives us freedom. We are free to follow Him, or not.
Yet the essence of fidelity is to choose to always be inclined towards Christ, to follow Him; being always with Christ wherever He is in the moment.
Where then is Christ in this moment: awaiting us, precisely where the Father wills us to be. The place where Jesus dwells is there.
It is to be one with Him in that place He invites us to when He says: ‘come and you will see.’
Only when we follow Him, as St. Joseph did, into the reality, mystery, grace, of each moment, through fidelity to the duty of the moment -–will we dwell truly, live and move and have our being completely, in Him, with Him, through Him, for Him! Then all that we hunger for, seek, do, will be in accord with the fullness of our baptismal vocation and like our model and patron St. Joseph, will we be true whole and holy men.
Fidelity is being in relationship with the Father in the place, manner, of Christ’s own relationship with the Father. Our fidelity is within the reality of communion of love with the Holy Trinity and will restore right order in the lives of our brothers and sisters, in our whole civilization.
As the courageous and humble man chosen to be the earthly father-protector of the Child and His Mother, St. Joseph, we too must strive to be faithful in the reality of every moment wherein Christ is always ‘walking towards us’.
This is the greater truth, the greater reality.
Though we may live at a time when we are pulverized by the culture of anger, blame and death which surrounds us, pulverized because we are male, it is a little thing to suffer for and with Christ.
St. Joseph suffered and remained faithful and chose the path of love, before he was ever consoled by the angel.
Dare we be less of a man than Joseph? Dare we love less?
What I begin with may seem unconnected to geography, in the broader sense of places on the earth, but actually is connected for I speak of the geography of the mind or the soul.
Geography is, among other things, a descriptive examination of the topographical features of, for example, some region of the earth or a planet – well I suggest there is a type of topography of the mind and the soul!
We know various regions of the brain contain what is necessary for thought, emotions, mobility, speech, etc. and that certain traumas can impact how well things function, so in a way post a stroke you might say that the geography of the brain is less.
PTSD and other traumas impact the emotional regions, the topography – one impact of those, along with other factors, can reduce the creative geographical regions dramatically to the point of experiencing what is known commonly as writer’s block.
It has been out of a prolonged period of the latter that I have been reflecting a lot on the human experience of geography as in distances travelled, that is the ever widening outreach of human mobility in general to the various ways in which, as we age or our economic circumstances change, our mobility is restricted to the point where we experience ever less geography.
I first began reflecting on ever less geography many years ago when I was chaplain in a nursing home and observed one of the elderly women, who lived in a sort of dorm room with three other women, pushing her wheeled walker down the hall.
I was struck by how she kept everything precious to her in a large purse strapped to the walker.
She had been a teacher, wife, mother, in a word someone whose area of life and mobility was extensive and for whom old age had reduced everything!
As a human family we first began to expand our experience and use of geography by simply walking and it took thousands of years before the domestication of horses, elephants, camels, increased the range of travel.
Then canoes, boats were developed, enabling travel not only along rivers and across lakes but eventually even across oceans until contact between peoples of all cultures, religions, languages became common place.
Yes not all contact was positive as history teaches us, but contact there was, is.
Only with advances in steam technology in the mid-19th century, then the development of commercial aviation, along with the combustible engine, did travel over ever vaster distances by ever greater numbers of people become ordinary, while space travel remains as yet mainly reserved to astronauts or the extremely wealthy.
Who knows where the definitive edge of space is, or for that matter the edge of the geography of the internet!
We can define the external limits of the human brain but not those of thought, emotion, creativity.
When it comes to the soul, the heart, the image which most impresses me for their geography is the tardis of Dr. Who: the external dimensions are fixed but interiorly is a place of seeming infinitude.
Such is the garden enclosed of the human heart and soul.
Writer’s block then is a rather tough, indeed excruciatingly frustrating experience of less geography on a par with the pain that elderly woman experienced with her world reduced to a small crowded room and a few hallways.
Age impacts physical, mental agility and stress impacts creativity agility.
For wee the baptized in particular, the reduction of geographical travel, daily life space, even interior suffering such as writers block or other mental, emotional pain, offers us the opportunity to choose what we do with it: agonize with increased frustration or literally offer the pain in intercession for those of our brothers and sisters throughout the world who experience the more nefarious aspects of reduced geography: the homeless who find their world reduced to a few dirty inner city streets and alleys, perhaps on occasion a cot in a shelter; those suffering famine, war, genocide who are pushed off the land where they and their ancestors have lived for millennia; yes for those languishing in nursing homes, those suffering in hospitals, those in labour camps, prisoners in general.
When it is the reduced geography of the creative aspects of the intellect needed to write that very painful struggle, experienced as mentioned for many weeks, can be an offering for those suffering depression, ptsd from being on the battlefield, or any form of mental illness or anguish.
The Saints learned and have passed onto us, rooted in Romans 8:27 where the Apostle reminds us that by the power of the Holy Spirit all things can work for our good, hence in all suffering by the grace of God through the merits of Jesus’ own suffering, good can be found, purification embraced, life enhanced, for ourselves yes, but by offering what we suffer, grace for others.
When the choice is made to offer up whatever we suffer, for the good of others in union with Jesus is made, the geography of gift, of communion of love, is limitless!