Love Thy Neighbor or Mind Thy Own Business?

no-access-71233_1280You know how people usually compare  the journey of dieting and losing weight to the journey of faith?  Maybe it’s just me since I seem to have an ear for this sort of thing and my ears perk up when I hear anything related to food. But I swear ever since I started reading more about the saints and listening to Catholic speakers and reading Catholic books, it seems like desire and sin are always compared with our desire for food, and the  journey to sainthood and heaven is always linked to a weight loss goal.  It’s fascinating because, truthfully, it’s spot on!

Don’t believe me? Read on.

So I have a spiritual director (Hello Fr. Adam!) and what I’ve discovered is that SD’s are similar to Personal Trainers in a lot of ways (similar to any coach/counselor).

We give instruction, we give guidance, we ask questions. But ultimately, we can’t force you to lose weight/get stronger etc. That’s something you have to do on your own. My SD can’t force me to do anything but he does provide guidance, instruction, asks probing questions (that I sometimes hate to answer). “Did you workout like you planned?” similar to “Have you prayed using Lectio Divina?” to which I usually answer, “I plead the fifth Father!”

Most personal trainers or strength and conditioning coaches will ask their client to record their workouts and their food intake in a journal. It’s more about self-reflection than anything else. Same is true for anyone seeking the “more” to life. I’ve always journaled but I go through periods of lulls where I just don’t feel like writing anything. And I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve attempted to log my food and kept failing because of laziness.  It’s an ongoing struggle.

And then there’s the gym. Clearly, the most obvious similarity is that to a Church, with the congregation being fellow gym-goers.

But I would say watching people work out is not like sitting in the pews. That’s probably more comparable to every day activity.

For example – I see people at the gym doing exercises improperly at least once or twice at each visit. Of course, no one is going to be perfect all of the time, but that’s why we have gyms – so people can exercise and work their way to their own version of the “perfect” body. (A whole other blog post)

But what about these gym people who seem to have terrible form and their breathing is off and they look like they might drop a dumbbell on their foot (or face!) any minute now?

Do I have an obligation to go up to them to tell them what they are doing is wrong and that they might hurt themselves? If the potential to hurt themselves is imminent, I do and I have. (A dumbbell to the face is no something I would like to watch!) But usually, they’re just going to hurt themselves over time. Not right away.

Keep in mind these are people I have seen repeatedly throughout the week. It’s usually something as simple as improper form. Will it kill them? No. Will it hurt them? Most likely, over time. Will it be an injury they can’t recover from? No idea. But most likely not.

Do I now have an obligation to help them or to say something? What if I wasn’t a PT and just a regular knowledgable gym-goer? Do I interrupt their workout and say something or just let them figure it out on their own? I could just wait until they learn from someone else more qualified. But then, won’t they feel kind of silly or stupid for doing it “their way” for so long? Will they wonder – “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before?”

Why is it so hard for me to work up the nerve to say something, and offer a better way for them to achieve their exercise goal at that moment?


Won’t You Be My Nosy Neighbor?

As you ponder that, let’s take the guy out of the gym and put him in a real-life scenario. Let’s say it’s a neighbor. Like, literally, your next door neighbor.

You know he’s married with a kid. You’ve met his wife and daughter. They go to your church. But you don’t know them that well. Just well enough to wave hello and once in a while borrow a cup of sugar or something. (Does anyone do that anymore?)

Let’s say over a period of time, you notice this guy talks down to his wife and daughter. But he seems to verbally abuse the wife more than the kid. You only notice this when you can overhear them if they’re outside. But let’s say it starts to become more frequent. And let’s say he starts to do it while you’re hanging out with him and his family at a cookout or something. Or at a church function.

Do you wait and not say anything? Do you pull her aside and say something? I mean, these people go to your church. But it’s not like he’s sinning right? He’s not hitting her because you’d be able to tell, right? You could always assume he’ll learn how to be a better communicator eventually from someone more qualified than you. You’re just a neighbor and you should probably just mind your own business…right?

The big dilemma is this: At what point do we go from casual observer to intervener?

Because I think that’s what’s happening in the world today but it’s being misinterpreted as being nosy and injecting your self into someone else’s life. Or the most popular argument: “You’re forcing your beliefs onto me!”

No, actually, no one can force you to believe anything. I can’t force you to lose weight, I can’t be forced to lose weight and I can’t force you or anyone to become a saint.

The Christian and Correct Response

It comes back to what I said in the beginning: We can guide. We can offer assistance. We can start the conversation.

And one thing I’d love for people to know, especially those who don’t quite get us Christians, is that we want to help people. I know some Christians are better at this than others. Some yell and scream (not good, seriously can we stop that please?) some calmly approach (better) and some literally offer to accompany and walk with that person on their journey (best). But even this approach may come across as hurting someone, because we are telling them bluntly, that they are hurting themselves by whatever sin they are committing. But even if we tell them the truth in love, I promise we really have their best interests at heart.

When we see someone living their life a certain way that we believe to be wrong and that will hurt them, we have a moral obligation and a duty to help that person the best way we can. But, and this goes to my fellow Christians, once you try to help someone, you have to get out of the way and drop it. No amount of coercion or yelling or degrading will ever get anyone to change their ways.

So I end with a question, for myself and for you, to think about: If you see someone, your neighbor, your fellow parishioner, your friend, doing harm to their soul, will you work up the courage to provide a better way?  Or will you just walk on by? Is minding your own business really the loving thing to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Help Me To See

I’m not blind, but I’ve experienced “sight” twice in my life that I feel compelled to share.

The first was when I was taken to the doctor for an eye exam in the 4th grade. I had no idea I couldn’t see the chalkboard; it was my teacher who told my Mom that I was squinting to see it. When it was clear that I could barely read the eye chart at the doctor’s office, we went to get a pair of glasses.

I’ll never forget sitting in the chair at the optometrist. Before he came in, I looked into the holes of the giant machine that he would use to ask #1 or #2, #1,  or #2. (Anyone who’s been to the eye doctor knows all too well this process, it’s kind of comical).

Anyways, I took a peek and I remember telling my mom, “Wow!!! There’s a dog on that wall over there!”  I think she said something like, “Yes, that’s a picture of a dog, what’s the big deal?”  And I replied something like, “But…but…it’s DIFFERENT when I look through this thing. It’s like it’s magic! I can see the dog! I can see him!”

Having never had a need for glasses, she couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. I was trying to tell her that I could see every DETAIL of this dog. I will NEVER forget that dog. The picture is ingrained in my memory forever and the first image I saw clearly.  I recall thinking this machine that I was looking through must have been magic. I honestly didn’t understand the concept of SEEING CLEARLY.

After the appointment we went to LensCrafters to get my glasses. I remember picking out pink frames, thinking they were the “cutest” looking glasses, although I was dreading wearing them. Glasses, at age 9, were not “cool.”

“Do you see what I see?”

I will never forget walking out of LensCrafters to the car. I recall it was fall and the leaves were starting to change color.

Imagine seeing leaves for the first time. I know it’s hard to picture seeing something that you see every day but just imagine never having seen the leaves on a tree.

I could SEE! I could see every single leaf on the trees that we were walking past! And the concrete – I could see that too!

I was literally looking down at my feet walking on the sidewalk and noting to my mother, “I can see!! I can see the sidewalk!! I can see the leaves!!! Do you see them? Do you see that?”

I wish I could remember her reaction. I wish I could ask her if she remembers that day that I got my sight.

But most of all, I WISH I could have every person I know experience this newfound sight. It’s like being born again. It’s like realizing you are alive when this whole time before, you had been dead.

I recently came across a video from a popular speaker named Nicky Gumbel, and he discusses how he got glasses as an adult and HIS reaction is very similar to mine.  (Fast forward to 12:30 to SEE what I mean.)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

I mentioned I gained sight twice in my life. The most recent time I found sight had nothing to do with a new pair of glasses. It has everything to do with looking at life through a different lens, a different perspective.

This “secondary” sight occurred when I read Theology of the Body for Beginners just 8 months ago. I knew something was happening to me as I read this book and took notes on it, which I have NEVER done while reading any book as an adult. I felt compelled to reflect on these words this man Christopher West, was writing. It was another experience of saying to myself, and sometimes to others, “Wow, NOW, I can see! I see things the way they REALLY are! THIS, this is what is truth!”

It was a few months later in June that “the scales fell off my eyes.” I had heard this expression before but never truly understood it until it actually happened to me. This experience took place during a week-long course through Theology of the Body Institute.. I recall telling myself and others, “I cannot un-see what I just saw. I can’t un-hear what I just heard. I will never be the same person I once was. I can see again!”

Where I once thought I saw love, I see lust.

Where I once saw truth, I now see the lies.

Where I once saw friendship, I now see possession.

Where I once saw harmless entertainment, I now see abuse.

Where I once saw freedom, I now see impurity.

But don’t get depressed and discouraged! There’s Good News to share:

Where I once saw rules, I now see freedom.

Where I once saw archaic teaching, I now see beautiful meaning.

Where I once saw restriction, I see chastity.

Where I once saw punishment, I now see blessings.

Where I saw an aged, celibate, old-fashioned man in Rome, I now see a Saint that I want to embrace in heaven and thank him for helping me to see.

Thank you God for my sight. I never want to be blind again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the words of Mother Angelica…

From the book “Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality:”

Called by God

You are called by God at this time in history to be so holy that this whole world will be sanctified. And you’re going to do that only by being yourself and changing that self into Jesus – cooperating with the Spirit to be transformed into the object of your love.

 

That last part is my favorite – transformed into the object of your love. YES!!!

How often I pray to be transformed. How often all of us should be praying this same thing. Imagine the possibilities if we all aimed for this. To change ourselves into Jesus. I don’t know how often we think in those terms but after reading Mother’s words, I think it might be time we start.

 

 

 

The Single Dilemma

Ahhh, the single life. Ain’t it grand?

I was recently a bridesmaid at a wedding and it was probably the first time I was GLAD to be at a wedding without a date. Why? Because recently I discovered my calling, my vocation, my purpose in life.

I know what you’re thinking: Whoa. You discovered the purpose in your life? That’s kind of a big deal.

And I would say to you, yes, it’s a very big deal. Hence, my dilemma. (And Yes, that IS how you spell dilemma. I know, I thought it was with an “N” too! There’s even an entire website dedicated to this comical error!)

Getting back to this wedding I was in. Since it was across the country, it wasn’t ever expected for me to bring a date. So I managed to avoid any and all questions of “Who are you here with?” “You’re here alone? Oh…You know I have a cousin who is single…”

Isn’t that usually how the conversations go? Our attached/married friends so badly want to set us up with someone who they assume is single and looking. Or, you get a slew of some form of the following questions:

Are you dating anyone right now?

Are you seeing anyone?

Are you interested in anyone lately?

Have you met anyone?

But see, I’m not looking anymore. And that’s really difficult for people to comprehend. Especially since I’m a female of child-bearing age.

What’s even more difficult to understand is that I’m HAPPY to be single. And not because I think dating is difficult (which it is) or that marriage can be extremely hard (which it could be). No, I’m not saying YES to being single because I want to AVOID dating and marriage. I’m saying YES to being in communion with God, and in the communion of saints – that is, with Christ and the Church.

Again, a very difficult concept for even the most super of super Catholics to comprehend, not to mention non-believers.

How can anyone be single and celibate and be thrilled about it? I attempted to explain this in a post recently. And I also explained a little bit about the freedom of lust here.

But here’s more of how this single life looks:

Celibacy emphasizes that man is called to be a “Partner of the Absolute” – that his deepest yearning is not for the marriage of earth, but for the marriage of heaven. When viewed in light of “the kingdom,” the celibate person loses nothing and gains everything! The joyful celibate testifies that heaven is real. And it is worth sacrificing everything to possess. – Christopher West – Theology of the Body Explained

The joyful celibate. My gosh, how perfect is that?! I think that might need to be the name of my book, if I ever get finished with it.

If you know that being single is your vocation, how do you even begin to tell people and expect them to understand?

I never viewed being single as being a vocation. And technically, it’s not a vocation in the truest sense of the word according to the USCCB. It’s a state in life.

Being single is a state in life, not a vocation. Being single can be support for your vocation to follow God’s call to you to help others, to do good works, etc., but it is not a vocation in and of itself. — Dr. Theresa Notare, USCCB

BUT, technicalities aside, it doesn’t matter. If anything, this reassures me that I AM meant for something else, that my life is meant to be steered in a different direction.

According to Mary Beth Bonacci of CatholicMatch.com, being single means that God is asking you to follow a different path, one that is uniquely your own.

“God writes straight with crooked lines. He meets us where we are. When we turn our lives over to Him, he creates something beautiful — beyond our wildest expectations,” she says. “As singles, we’re more aware that real fulfillment comes from giving. The absence of built-in gifts in our lives motivates us to move outside of ourselves and to reach out in love to those around us.”

I’ve felt this inner voice also steering me to GIVE of my time more. Since, as someone who does not have children or a spouse, I DO have the time! I might not have the money that some singles might have that’s needed to make a huge difference in someone’s life, but donating my time is something that I CAN afford to give.

But how do you know singlehood is your lot in life?

Excellent question. I wish I had a solid answer to this.

All I know is the Holy Spirit is definitely speaking to me. After many months of asking and praying about it, the Holy Spirit has put me on the right path. And that path seems to be pointing towards “a voice for the single’s.”  We are commonly referred to as the “leftovers” because no one knows what to do with us. And because being single covers a wide variety of ages, there’s quite a few of us that need some direction and purpose in the church besides clean-up crew.

What does this ministry or group look like? No idea. I’m working on it though!

There’s hope for us in the singlehood. I found my hope and my enthusiasm for the single life through Theology of the Body. But it might happen for you or others thru a different avenue or a different ministry or an entirely different and unique experience. And that’s all good!

If there was one message to my single friends I would want relayed, it would be this:

Don’t become frustrated if you keep getting those questions about seeing someone and dating someone. If you feel it is your vocation to be married, I believe if it’s part of God’s plan for you, it will happen. But in the meantime, why not be a joyful celibate? Be happy to be in a season of waiting for that final union with God. Because in the end, you’re seeking Him, not him or her.

 

“In the beginning, it was not so.”

The body expresses the person. We have to go back to the beginning, before sin distorted things. That is the standard. That is the norm. The Pope proposes an “echo” of the beginning exists within each of us. TOB for Beginners

John Paul maintains that, despite sin, an “echo” of God’s original plan remains deep within every human heart. In his TOB, the Pope aims to help people peel away the layers of debris that cover the true desires of their hearts so that this “echo” can resound. The more it does, the more our subjective experience harmonizes with objective reality. The more that echo resounds, the more we can read the “language of the body” and the desires of our hearts “in truth.” People who come to understand the Pope’s TOB cannot help but recognize the inner movements of their own hearts being laid bare. It rings true. “I can identify with this,” they respond. “I experience life this way. This is what I desire. TOB Explained


For as long as I can remember, I have always felt like I was trying to play catch-up.

What do I mean by that? I mean that feeling you get when someone tells a joke and everyone laughs but you don’t get it but you’re too shy to say anything. That feeling of everyone raising their hand in class because the answer is easy and simple but you don’t raise your hand because you have no clue what’s being taught. That feeling of seeing your friends and people your age getting married and having kids and you haven’t even had a serious boyfriend yet.

Part of this, looking back, was due to my age. Maybe I should have been held back in school by a year. I was one of the “young ones.” Do you remember the kids in your class that were JUST celebrating their birthdays when you started a new grade? I was one of those, being a September baby.

This feeling never really left me. Up until recently, I still felt like I was behind the times. Slow to catch on. Not getting the joke. Appearing perplexed and confused when everyone else has taken the test and handed it in and I’m still stuck on question number 3.

Finally, after almost 37 years, I feel like I know something no one else does and I feel like I just skipped to the head of the class. I feel like I just solved every single question to every problem I have ever had in my entire life and I can’t tell anyone.  Not because I don’t want to share this news, but because I have no earthly idea HOW.  But over the next few week, months, years(!?!)  I will attempt to uncover this through this blog.

“Echo! Echo! Echo!”

What were the events leading up to this “discovery?” I would say the retreat at TOB Institute was the Main Event. But reading Theology of the Body for Beginners was the dress rehearsal. It was in this book that I finally was able to answer questions I have had in my mind since I was young, especially concerning sexuality, marriage, love, the existence of God, pretty much every question every person has but might be too fearful to vocalize it.

I just took two quotes from TOB and put them up there at the top of this page to help explain a little bit of this “discovery” and perhaps you, reader, have felt this too.

Disclaimer: In case it’s not obvious, I am no theologian. I am no best selling author. So this explanation will pale in comparison to the real deal, the actual Theology of the Body written by Pope John Paul II. If you want to “skip ahead” yourself, I encourage you to read one of Christopher West’s books. They will change your life.

Pope JP2 refers to an “echo” that we all have in our hearts. I think of this as a feeling of wanting to do the right thing, a feeling of love, a feeling of enormous longing. A feeling of “there has to be more than this.” And “I know that this is NOT what my life is supposed to look like. I know there is something more. I can feel it.”

This line that I underlined describes perfectly the feelings I had while reading TOB and continue to have now: People who come to understand the Pope’s TOB cannot help but recognize the inner movements of their own hearts being laid bare. It rings true. “I can identify with this,” they respond. “I experience life this way. This is what I desire.

In short, one can observe that the TOB seeks to answer two of the most fundamental human questions: What does it mean to be human? and How do I live in a way that will bring true happiness? TOB Explained page 74

I know what you’re thinking – Geez, this is some pretty serious stuff you’re saying here. I’m not sure I can handle all this theology! And you’re right, it is serious. But, I believe in my heart, that this teaching, this catechesis on the body by JP2, is what will save lives. It certainly saved mine.

To be continued….

-Michelle

What I’m Currently Reading:

Losing my religion for equality

From Rene Descartes to Caitlyn Jenner

The Body God Gave Us Doesn’t Lie

Chivalry Is Making a Comeback

Love, Tolerance, and the Making of Distinctions

 

Do You Desire Holiness?

This is an excerpt taken from Patty Schneier’s talk “Prove it, God…and He did!”

Do I desire holiness? Do I even want it? Do I search for holiness in my life?

Do you search for holiness like a mother would search for her missing child?

Do you struggle for holiness as if your head were being held underwater, how that person would struggle and fight to come up for air with every ounce of his being? Do you struggle for holiness like that?

Holiness is being nothing more than what God intended me to be in my everyday life.

How can one become more holy in their day to day life? It starts with prayer.

A day without quiet, reflective, meditative prayer time everyday makes you spiritually dead.

Just take the daily readings of the church and unite your prayer time with Catholics all over the world and ask yourself “What does God want to say to me today?”

Holiness begins right here and right now. That’s your challenge. Not, “When my kids are grown or starting school.” Not, “As soon as we move into our new house.” or not “next year or next week.” You start your quest for holiness NOW.

Get a reflection or guidebook to help explain these readings so you’re not just guessing at their meaning.

Make a resolution – Pick one thing to think about, pray about, or do each day that will take you one step closer to living a holy life.

As busy as you may be, there is always time to pray. How much time a day do you dedicate to God? Is 30 minutes a day too much to ask?

Fit in Your Faith Today: Your challenge is the same as what was presented to Patty – Daily reflective meditative prayer is key to becoming closer to God. Without prayer, we are “spiritually dead.” Instill in your life this quiet time everyday. You’ll be surprised at how much your life will change after just a few weeks of this routine. If you already pray everyday, there is still no such things as praying too much. 🙂 Adoration, praying the rosary, reading spiritual literature, praying the Examen, bible studies, evangelizing, etc are more ways to seek a closer relationship with God as well.

Fill Yourself with Good Things

Luke 1:53

“He has filled the hungry with good things.”

Such a short sentence to reflect on today! You might think it doesn’t mean too much other than God provides us with good things. But I think you can read and reflect on this in a number of ways.

My first observation was on the word “hungry.” This is mainly because as of now, it’s time for me to eat being almost lunch time. Also, I’m currently dieting for a fitness competition so food is on my mind a lot these days.

But did you ever think about how we feed our souls and our minds?

I think about this a lot; we feed on what we see and hear everyday. Something as simple as a movie or a song that we hear or watch. We feed on the words of our friends and co-workers. We feed on what we hear and see and look at everyday.

This is why it’s very important to our faith that we “consume” as much of the Word as we can each day. It leaves little room for the rest of the “anti-Word” to enter our minds and bodies.

You can think of the Word as all the good things God provides to us; good healthy nourishing food of course, but scripture and God’s loving words are good for the soul. What else can we feed on that’s “good?”

  • Uplifting songs on the radio and on our ipod’s
  • Volunteering/stewardship for organizations and causes that need help
  • Positive images in magazines and in advertisements (or simply trashing the trashy ones)
  • Motivational videos on social media and TV
  • Following and reading blogs and organizations that have a “good” theme

How can we avoid or abstain from the “anti-Word” things? (This doesn’t mean REPRESSING our feelings or even AVOIDANCE but it does mean making an effort to surround yourself with “Good” things)

  • When shopping, only purchase what you budget for
  • Avoid the candy/junk food aisle if you know that you can easily be swayed and “cheat”
  • Change the channel on the radio/tv when you know something is coming on that you have no desire to watch/that might make you feel depressed or angry
  • Read books (besides the Bible) that explore theology or are faith based; books that might help you learn instead of escape

Fit In Your Faith Today: What do you “consume” that you know isn’t provided by God? Do you purposely seek out these “anti-Word” items? How can you seek out the “Good” in an effort to become less tempted to consume the “anti-Word” messages/items?

This is probably not an overnight process. This will be a journey for most that might take a long time.

Here are some authors/books that I have found particularly helpful:

Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing by Christopher West

What Are You Hungry For? By Deepak Chopra

The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose by Matthew Kelly