Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Harden Not Your Hearts

Annunciation of the Lord (Mar 25, deferred from Easter Week)

When the Archangel Gabriel came to the Blessed Virgin and announced to her God's plan of salvation, God's plan for her life, and what He wanted her to do, she had two very real options.

On the one hand, she could have said, "Well really, sir, you see I've just gotten engaged to a very good man whom I love a great deal, and I think I'd rather just settle down with him in a much more ordinary sort of life."

But she didn't. She took door number two instead by saying, "Be it done unto me according to thy word," (Lk 1:38). Be it done unto me according to thy word. Implicit in this act of faith is the same sentiment that our Blessed Lord himself cried out from the Cross, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," (Lk 23:46). The first is a receptive statement of trust. She is willing to receive whatever God wants to give. The second is an oblative statement of trust. He gives all that the Father wants to receive. Each is a statement of trust, trusting that the Father in His mercy will hear their plan and provide for their wellbeing, their heart, their life. Each of them, the Virgin of Virgins and Innocence Himself, had the purity of heart, a heart free of division or admixture, to entrust themselves entirely into the Father's loving hands.

Today, on the solemn Feast of the Annunciation, let's pray God grant us the faith and purity we need, in our various circumstances in life, to receive His will and life and to commend our own into His hands.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

The Real Scandal

Christ is risen, alleluia!

The real scandal of Christianity, it's real shocker, isn't that Jesus died on a cross. Please don't understand me here to mean that Paul was mistaken to call the cross a scandal. Not at all. It's just that the Romans crucified people all the time. That's no secret, nor is it a shock.

The real scandal is that God loves us that much. The idea that the Force behind the Universe is really a Being - that much can be accepted by almost all. That the Being behind the Universe is really a Person - that too, can be accepted by almost all. That the Person loves us, so much that He entered into our pitiful condition - that is something many of us, even practicing Christians, don't really buy very easily. And even if we buy it, we usually brush over it. We think we "get it," when we've only just begun to fathom what that means.

The Resurrection of our Blessed Lord, which we celebrate this Easter Week, is a direct consequence of God's immense love. In the words of the Song of Songs, "Love is strong as death," (Sng 8:6). The same Love that brought the Son of God to take on human flesh led the Son of God to die for the sake of that human flesh. The same Love that brought the Son of God to die for the sake of that human flesh overpowered death in all of its manifestations and implications (disease, suffering, hatred, etc.) and conquered the grave. That Love restored the Son to His Father, and bound to Him in that Love we now have the hope of being restored to the Father as well. Christ is risen, alleluia!

We need to be clear what is meant by "Resurrection" because there has been renewed confusion about it in recent years. Four major points need to be laid out that come to us from the Scriptures and the Gospel Tradition.

1. The resurrection is historical.
2. The resurrection is witnessed.
3. The resurrection is bodily.
4. The resurrection is supernatural.

The articles that follow over the next few days will address these points, each in turn. In doing so, the articles will lay out a brief apologetic regarding each point. Finally, the last article will be devoted to drawing out some basic implications of the Resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime, rejoice, for Christ is truly risen, alleluia!

Were You There?

If you've been to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then you've been to the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary re-presented across time and space. If you're Catholic and you've missed Mass without a very serious reason, now is the time to go to your local parish, make a good confession and receive Holy Communion with our Blessed Lord. If you're not there, then you weren't There, and His Precious Blood isn't upon you, and you aren't sheltered under the shadow of the Cross.

Lord Jesus Christ, we pray you help us to turn from sin and stand with you at the foot of your Cross, come what may, so that we may in the end rise with you from death; and that you bring our family and friends with us. Amen.

Judas, Peter, and John

I want to look back to last Tuesday's (Tues after Palm Sunday; Isa 49:1-6; Ps 71; Jn 13:21-38) Gospel reading from St. John's Gospel. Our Lord predicted that Peter would betray Him, and He was right. Our Lord made the same prediction about Judas, and was also right. Perhaps our Lord made these predictions so that, after they had accomplished their respective villanies, Peter and Judas would remember what our Lord had said. Judas began to understand with horror some of the gravity of what he had done and attempted, in a kind of childish way, to undo his folly. When the reality of the situation became apparently hopeless, Judas murdered himself (Mt 27:3-5). Peter, after his treachery, remembered the words of the Teacher (Mt 26:75) and the memory of our Lord's gentle prediction caused him to weep bitterly.

Of the apostles, only one was present, perhaps having followed at a distance, at the Crucifixion itself. The Beloved Disciple, St. John, stood with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:25-26). She was unweakened by sin and so could stand faithful. But how could he stand with her in that dark hour, when all others fled? The answer is buried, I think, in a much earlier chapter that recounts the events of the evening before. During the Last Supper, it was St. John, the Beloved Disciple, who "was lying close to the breast of Jesus," (Jn 13:23) resting upon him, listening quietly to the beating of His Strong and Sacred Heart.

Let us bury ourselves in Jesus in prayer, resting our heads upon His breast, and our hearts close to His. Let us listen quietly for Jesus, and be strengthened by Him, so that we can stand with the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the Cross, though every other friend betray us and all Hell array against us.

St. John, the Beloved Disciple, pray for us.

Jesus, Judas, and the Poor

Today's readings (Monday after Palm Sunday; Isa 42:1-7; Ps 27; Jn 12:1-11) are powerful ones. The Gospel passage bears repeating before discussion:

"Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him. Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, "Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?" He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions. So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him."

A lot of disaffected or disillusioned Catholics cite the splendor of some parish churches, or St. Peter's in Rome, the very exemplar of architectural splendor, as their reason for being unhappy with the Church. They will even make the same recrimination made in today's gospel reading, "Why was this... not sold... and given to the poor?"

It is worth noting, first of all, that this objection was Judas Iscariot's. It was he who betrayed our Lord and they are lying to themselves just as Judas did. Mary of Bethany, out of devotion to our Lord, poured out a year's wages - an enormous sum for anyone - what was almost certainly the bulk of her wealth, perhaps even her dowry and chance at marriage - upon the feet of the One who had saved her. Judas by contrast, devoted not one bit to our Lord but only to himself, was accustomed to taking for himself what had been given to him in trust for service to God.

The gifts that God has invested in us - time, talent, and treasure - we are meant to hold in trust until He comes to reclaim them. More than that, we are called to invest them to great profit in His service. The greatest investment we can make on God's behalf is to give them to those in greatest need, to those for whom He has a special affection - His poor little children. Christian stewarship is the way of life that recognize that what we have been given is not primarily for ourselves, but for those around us. The gifts we have we are given to share, in the words of a popular hymn. When we fail to exercise Christian stewardship, we act as Judas, taking for ourselves what was given to us in trust for service to God.

Judas did not understand what Jesus was about. He understood Jesus as a some sort of political or military leader, and seems to have become increasingly disturbed that Jesus was not doing a very good job of capitalizing on His immense popularity. Many modern Christians also do not understand what Jesus was about. They see him as some sort of figure head, or leader of a movement that has come to "solve" poverty or overturn a wicked economic system.

Judas did not understand that the Kingdom that Jesus had come to establish, a Kingdom that truly is ordained to overturn all the kingdoms of the world, would not be just another kingdom along the same lines - but a whole different sort of thing. Rather than governing by force of arms, it would govern by the suasion of love. Rather than murdering its enemies, it would heal and reconcile them. Rather than being founded upon the blood of its enemies, it would be built on the blood of its Founder. Judas wanted Jesus to seize power, and Jesus wanted only to give His life. Jesus understood something (well, a number of things) that Judas did not: God's inexaustible generosity. The Good News of this new kind of Kingdom isn't that we're going to invent a new politico-economic way of doing things. The Good News is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that he has power over kings and corruption, and even over death itself.

Mary of Bethany, whose brother Jesus raised from the dead, understood that as well. She poured out her best upon the One who would pour out His best. She gave everything to Him who would give everything, who had been giving everything since the outset of His public ministry. Her gesture of pouring perfume reveals the depth of conversion that Jesus had poured into her heart. Judas, with his objection, did not reveal the generosity of its heart, but its miserliness. People who object along Judas' lines - well, let's say that I for one have never met one that tithed, or probably even gave more than a dollar or two a week at the offertory. Someone who has learned to sacrifice in order to give will have a generous heart and an easy conscience on the matter, and no objection to giving more not only to the poor, but to our Lord and His house of worship as well.

"But," many people say nowadays, "all those fine golden chalices in churches - wouldn't Jesus be happier with humble vestments and such?" This objection represents a misunderstanding of history and culture and the heart, and it is a thin cover for the same ungenerosity. If Jesus, a humble worker, used a ceramic mug for the Passover supper, you can be certain it was because He had nothing better. It would be incomprensible to a 1st century Jew as it was to a Jew 500 years earlier and as it is to a Jew now to use one's second best, let alone one's worst, in the worship of Almighty God. Any Jew would use his very best for the Passover, and like as not would have special equipment just for it. And Jesus, cared for as He was by so many doting widows, likely enough had much finer than baked mud to use for worshiping His Father.

We cushy Americans with our fancy vacations, sports cars, and video games - more wealth amassed in one nation than ever before in the history of the world - can certainly manage better for God than a ceramic mug. The whole point of Jesus living such a simply life was that He was God and gave up everything to be with us. Those of us who have given up very little give even less when we can spare nothing better than a pewter jug for the worship of Almighty God. It is not the same gesture as Mary's, or as Jesus', not at all. Such gestures do not honor and exalt but rather parody God's great humility; they do not show our appreciation for His sacrifice but our lack of gratitude for it. If the best we could do was a simple table, threadbare vestments, and a tin cup - well, that would be more than enough for God. And in places where that is the best that can be done - concentration camps, lands where Christians are persecuted, warzones - God is glad that it is done. But people in those dark places are the ones who most hunger for lavish churches and spledid symbols for God. It is only in our comfortable and selfish generation that we cannot spare a bit of gold for God.

If we will not make our best efforts for God, then we will make ourselves into Judas. For a generous heart there is no contradiction between pouring perfume on Jesus' feet and giving three hundred days' wages to the poor.

Running with the Spirit

More and more I am finding that the spiritual life is a lot like running. I'm not the first to have thought of the metaphor - it thoroughly saturates St. Paul's epistles.

During my prayer, say a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, I frequently experience a pattern that starts with a sort of getting started, or warm-up period. After that sets in a peace, a sort of groove. At some point, but a run and a time in prayer often become very difficult. My back starts to hurt, either from the running or the kneeling; there is distraction and I just lose my balance, so to so speak. The temptation to stop, either running or praying, becomes very fierce. My whole world contracts to the ache in my knees, or to the old women kneeling behind me and mumbling her prayers too loud. Everything else becomes a loud blur. I cry out in my heart for help. Sometimes I quit. Sometimes I just push through and finish up as quickly as possible. But sometimes, the peace returns - more intense yet more serene. Questions are answered; stress is relieved; a joy wells up, or at least thaws and loosens a cold hardness just underneath my skin - the shell that shields, protects, and closes off my heart. I relax and am washed in peace. God is so merciful.

After Lent, I think I will explore running as a metaphor for the spiritual life, both from my own experiences and in St. Paul's writings. That will be interesting. It might be better to wait until after Eastertide, when the Ordinary wear-and-tear of life sets in again.

The Archbishop of Mosul

The Italian Catholic website has just reported that the kidnappers of the Archbishop of Mosul, Faraj Rahho, have reported that His Excellency is dead. The report did not specify the cause of death, but he is known to have been in bad health for some time. According to the BBC, the kidnappers disclosed the location of his buried body.

His ordeal began with his abduction February 29, after leading the Stations of the Cross in a parish of his diocese. Since then, he had been held in captivity and incommunicato at an unknown location. During his kidnapping, three aids with him were murdered.

His predecessor was also kidnapped, though more briefly, and returned safely. During his predecessor's governance of the city's faithful the cathedral was bombed.

Holy Faraj Rahho, Martyr for Christ and His Church, pray for us.

My Unbelief

How many times, yesterday alone, did I become anxious and frustrated about how life would go or whether it was going my way? Probably about twelve or fifteen times, concerning three different subjects. Each time, our Father in his mercy led me to prayer, gave me a measure of peace to deal with the situation, and resolved it for me better than I ever could have done myself.

Thank you, Father. "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief," (Mk 9:24).

Azerbaijan's First Catholic Church

Yesterday, March 9, 2008 on the Feast of St. Dominic Savio, a Salesian (suppressed by the Fifth Sunday of Lent), Cardinal Bertone, the Papal Secretary of State and a Salesian Missionary, joined his brother Salesians as personal representative of the Holy Father in the consecration of the first Catholic parish church in Azerbaijan. The Church there is very young, and very vibrant in a Muslim land that is striving to learn tolerance for legitimate differences. Jesus Christ be praised!

Just thought you might like to know.

Saint for Young People

St. Dominic Savio
(Mar 9)

In his life of the young saint, St. John Bosco wrote that St. Dominic Savio was his favorite student. In fact, St. John Bosco's high regard for the youth was instrumental in the boy's canonization in 1954. He lived from 1842 until only 1857. As an older child, his poor but good parents sent him to Milan to live with St. John Bosco at the home he ran for boys, so that Dominic could continue his studies in the city. His frail health was no impediment to his vigorous activity, and his deep commitment to loving Our Blessed Lord. Instead, by voluntarily accepting what he could not refuse, St. Dominic Savio turned his illness into a means of union with Christ Crucified.

His diligence in setting a good example without being showy, his firm commitment to ample amounts of time in prayer, and his careful preservation of his purity are all aspects of the youth's zealous love of God. St. Dominic Savio willingly admonished youths older and larger than himself - even putting himself in harm's way to break up fights, warn them against the dangers of pornography, and encourage them in chaste modesty.

He desperately wanted to be a priest, and even founded a Company of the Immaculate Conception at the home St. John Bosco ran for boys. Eventually, all the other boys in his Company joined St. John Bosco's religious order; only St. Dominic Savio did not receive his wish to become a priest. Instead, he received his heart's deepest desire: to see God face to face in heaven. After a serious bout of illness, he died.

He is a patron saint of choirboys, the falsely accused, and of chaste youths.

St. Dominic Savio, pray for us.

Friends of Jesus, Together, Overturn the World

Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs and Holy Wives (Feb 7)

When he consolidated full control of the Roman Empire in AD 197, it wasn't long at all before Septimus Severus initiated a bitter persecution of Christianity because of its unwillingness to conform to the state-sponsored syncretism, or mixing of religions, that he wished to promote. Among the measures he instituted was the prohibition of conversion to Christianity (or to Judaism) under penalty of death. The persecution intensified from year to year: Bibles were burned, Christians were dismissed from the civil service and military, clergy were ferreted out on false pretenses, pressure was brought to bear on wealthy and powerful Christians to renounce the faith publicly.

None of this mounting terror stopped a beautiful, educated, young mother of the noble class of Carthage, in North Africa, from converting to Christianity. Vibia Perpetua entered the catechumenate despite pleas by her father. Her brother, inspired by her example, entered the catechumenate as well. Her pregnant slave, Felicity, was already a baptized Christian and the two rejoiced to be sisters. Within a few weeks, someone informed on Felicity, who was swept up in a dragnet along with her brother, her friend the slave, her catechist, and several of the other catechumens in her group. The lot were taken to jail to await judgment.

While in jail, each member of her family pled with Perpetua. Her father and mother pled. "Father," she asked him, "Do you see that water jar?" When he responded in the affirmative, she replied, "Can you call it rightly by any other name?" When he replied in the negative, she added, "And neither can I call myself rightly by any other name but Christian."

Her husband, who adored her, pled. She was young, and beautiful, and intelligent. A darling of local society. "How can you do this?" he pled. He reminded her of her infant son. She replied lovingly that the best things she could give her child was Christ.

The judge assigned to hear her case pled. He even went so far as to offer to seal the chambers and require that she only allow him to announce that she had made sacrifice to Caesar - but not that she actually do so. He offered to spare her slave for her sake. She replied that her slave was as willing to die for Christ as she was.

Perpetua and her brother were baptized after their sentence was handed down: death. The lot was taken to the colloseum of Carthage, and held there for several days. Because it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman, Felicity would not be put to death until she had delivered. It was in Perpetua's dark prison cell that Christ's revolution came to light. St. Paul had asked Philemon to overlook the status of his slave, Onesimus, for the sake of Christ. Perpetua put St. Paul's plan into action. Perpetua, a wealthy noblewoman, fed, cleaned, and cared for Felicity, her very pregnant slave. And Perpetua served her hand and foot, much to the discomfort of her jailers. Almost two centuries earlier Our Blessed Lord had asked rhetorically, "Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, `Come at once and sit down at table'?" (Lk 17:7). Here, Perpetua answers him to the shock of the pagan world - "Yes!" In Christ there is no slave and free, but only love between brothers and sisters. In today's re-paganized world, this leveling of love is again a revolutionary act.

If you doubt that the old Pagan order has been restored in the modern world, sweeping away Christ's revolution, you have only to ask yourself how many would do as St. Perpetua did for her friend St. Felicity. How many post-Christian neo-Pagans (whether they recognize themselves as such or not) make friends with other people who make one fifth their income? The only remains of Christ's revolution in the world are found in the Church. Here in the Church we Christians serve those who, in the natural order of the modern world, would be our servants. Soup kitchens, literacy classes, and all manner of social services are provided to social lessers for the love of Christ.

The judge had offered to spare Felicity for the sake of Perpetua, but in the end, it was Perpetua was who allowed to live a bit longer to tend to Felicity until the slave had given birth. At that time, their children were taken away from them and the two ladies were taken to the colloseum. The Roman world watched in amazement as another round of Christians were happily united to their Lord; this time, to add to the spectacle, a slave and her mistress went together as sisters.

So it is with us. As we allow Christ's love to transform us in our inner depths, we will almost unintentionally push against the artificial boundaries laid down by society, like a child who has outgrown his pants. Around us the seams of society's cold and loveless institutions will strain and rip as they begin to overflow with the love of Christ. Christ's revolution is not fought with guns, or even petitions and votes. It is waged with friendship that defies all odds, prayerful hope in dark prison cells, love that never ceases to sacrifice. Christ's revolution will buckle and explode the narrow walls of our hearts and then the narrow walls of our society. It is like a mustard seed, Our Lord said. Buried under a concrete foundation it will grow and uproot a whole house. It will move mountains. Christ's revolution will, we pray, overturn the foundations of the modern pagan society in which we live, tearing down the thin veneer of Christianity and replace it with a hearty, vital, living Faith in the Living God. Ss. Perpetua and Felicity joyfully lived this revolution in their lives. Pray, Holy Women, that we may live it in ours.

Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.

The Culture of Me

This from the Washington Post (

If It's All About You, You're in Trouble. Why a Sense of Entitlement Can Wreak Havoc on Happiness.

By Dan ZakWashington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 2008; Page N01

Broad pronouncement of the week: We are entitled brats.

For immediate proof, turn on the television. Locate a reality show on Bravo or MTV. The "Real Housewives of Orange County" and their real children are halfway through a marathon of placating and whining. "The Hills" and "Newport Harbor" are stocked with people who expect to be treated with a disproportionate amount of respect, lest they erupt in a raging meltdown.
We watch these shows in horror, with a judgmental eye on their cast members, but how different are we from them? In real life, we want what we want and we want it now. No delay. No aggravation. No hassle, pain-free, our way, right away. We're a highly technical society in a land of plenty. We place a premium on efficiency and convenience. Tiny annoyances and inconveniences foul our moods and affect our behaviors. Why? And how can we get past these trivialities?

Consider this paradox: Things are becoming more instantaneous in an era when delays are rampant and increasing. There are faster flights and cars but more people in airplanes and on the roads.

What has happened, even though companies are improving service, is that "customer expectations are continuing to rise," says Roger Nunley, managing director of the Customer Care Institute in Atlanta. This can be attributed to "consumers doing business online, where they get instant gratification and quick turnarounds. That's quickly becoming the standard expectation."
Change in expectations is a generational thing, experts say. People who grew up during the Depression were happy to have a job and stuck with one for a lifetime. Many members of generations X and Y were raised in a different light. They expect a buffet of opportunities and are peeved when they don't materialize.

Narcissism and entitlement among college students have increased steadily since 1979, according to a study to be published this year in the Journal of Personality. Between that year and 2006, 16,000 college students were asked to pick between such paired statements as "I expect a great deal from other people" and "I like to do things for other people," and "I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve" and "I will take my satisfactions as they come."
The data are clear: The ascent of narcissism and entitlement is dramatic.

"What we really have is a culture that has increasingly emphasized feeling good about yourself and favoring the individual over the group," says the study's co-author, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. "And that has happened across the board, culturally, and it's showing no signs of slowing down."

To complement her research, Twenge offers evidence from the field: "I have a 14-month-old daughter, and the clothing available to her has 'little princess,' or 'I'm the boss,' or 'spoiled rotten' written on it. This is what we're dressing our babies in."

Schools have programs designed to boost self-esteem. Parents say things like, "You shouldn't care what other people think of you." We're inundated with the notions of "feeling special," "believing in yourself" and "be anything you want to be." Twenge ponders all these messages in her book "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before" (Free Press, 2006).

Quite a title, but doesn't it feel kind of right? Twenge also coins the term "iGeneration" ("i" as in both iPod and "me, me, me"), which includes those of us born in the general range of 1981 to 1999.

This goes beyond social conditioning and technology, though. Entitlement is something that's part of human narcissism. It's an ego thing that transcends generations. When something goes wrong for others, it's their fault. When something goes wrong for us, it's not ours; it's the fault of external forces. We project blame.

This projection often antagonizes a situation. Feeling entitled to something you aren't getting leads to frustration, which leads to bratty behavior and confrontation. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say rudeness -- particularly behind the wheel, on cellphones and in customer service -- should be regarded as a serious national problem, according to a study by the opinion research firm Public Agenda.

An airport is a petri dish for rude behavior: a bunch of people in close quarters under time constraints. Stress and impatience lay down the welcome mat for brattiness.
"You have people screaming at customer representatives at airports because it's snowing out -- as if they're entitled to have a sunny day," says professor W. Keith Campbell, who specializes in the study of narcissism at the University of Georgia. "That's where it gets out of hand. With entitlement, the issue is, yeah, there are certain times where we're entitled and other times we're not. The problem is when we have that meter wrong."

It's unreasonable to spend an hour on hold, in other words, but there are situations when basic entitlement turns into self-infatuation and blatant disrespect for others. All of this is tied to the feeling of not being satisfied, of thinking that some force is blocking the way to a goal we think we deserve.

"The question is, 'What the heck is enough?' " says writer and psychologist Carl Pickhardt, who specializes in parenting and child development in his private practice in Austin. "I see that all the time. A couple comes in for marriage counseling, and they ask me, 'Are we happy enough?' Somebody's at a job they like, but are they successful enough? People have to make that choice. We are a dissatisfaction market society. Advertising constantly creates the notion that whatever we have is not enough. We can declare independence of that."

But how? It's about realigning our expectations and then squelching the nagging voice in our minds that propels our discontent. Pennsylvania psychologist Pauline Wallin calls this voice our "inner brat," which is an evil twin to our "inner child." After years of counseling clients who routinely made mountains out of molehills, Wallin dived into the concept, named it and produced the book "Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior" (Wildcat Canyon Press, 2004).

"We have enough big things to be upset about, and people are losing their minds over small things," she says. "Frustration leads to aggression. If you don't let yourself get frustrated in the first place, then you don't get so angry and you don't blow things out of proportion."
Stress also fuels bratty behavior. It makes us impatient and irritable from the get-go. Psychologist Ronald Nathan of Albany, N.Y., recommends practicing relaxation techniques when waiting for such things as the Metro, the doctor or tech support. This turns a disadvantage (the frustration of waiting) into an advantage (making good use of that time to relax).

"Whether you are tempted to interrupt someone or are trying to get around a slow car -- when you're under stress you tend to react rather than respond," says Nathan, who specializes in stress. "Look at what you're telling yourself about your world and how you are interpreting it. We sometimes interpret the world as a set of 'shoulds,' 'oughts,' 'have to's,' 'musts,' 'deserves.' Those are exaggerations. It's a very competitive world we live in, so we easily get frustrated."
Nathan has trademarked a technique for stress relief that has a time-release formula ( It involves setting some kind of unobtrusive alarm -- the vibrate function on your cellphone, for example -- to remind you to take several minutes to do some deep belly breathing and loosen your muscles and limbs. After several months of conditioning yourself to do this at certain times of the day, this kind of reframing of the mind can become automatic.

Another habit to form is being grateful. Clinical experiments show that people who express gratitude in some form every day live more-content lives, and they record lower levels of narcissism and entitlement.

"On the drive home from work, it's a matter of turning the radio off and thinking about how wonderful your job is or, if your job sucks, how wonderful your family is or, if your family's in shambles, how good your health is," says psychology professor Mike McCullough, who studies gratitude at the University of Miami.

He helped conduct one experiment titled "Counting Blessings Versus Burdens," wherein one group kept a journal of their daily hassles for a period of time while another recorded the times they were grateful. The outcome may be obvious, but it is no less instructive: People who concentrated on hassles were generally miserable; the others were pleased and satisfied.
It comes down to perspective and expectations. Do you want empty highways, no lines, a promotion and limousine conveyance to your birthday party? Fine. But don't expect them. Focus on your reliable car, your good health, your job stability or the fact that you're in a position to celebrate a birthday at all.

"When you're feeling this sense of deprivation or entitlement, try to take the longer view," McCullough urges. "Ask yourself, 'Is it really true -- empirically true -- that you are entitled to something?' In most cases, people say no."

God's Eye

Those of you who know me personally know that is without a doubt my favorite website. I haven't commented on it much of late because it's been a long time since anything new has been posted on the webzine. But it is back up, with a new format, and lots of new, very interesting-looking articles. It is a website run by members of Communion and Liberation and is dedicated to engaging contemporary issues (but not just "news") from a Catholic perspective: fearlessly looking for truth wherever it lie. If you are looking for a saccharine catechism from the 1940s, filled with pat answers, well, Godspy is not it. But if you are looking for sound ideas rooted in orthodox Catholic faith engaging the (post-)modern world in a constructive way, search no further.

I am going to put a link to it in under my banner head above, but it might take a couple days to get it up.

Ugliness and the Christian Spirit

This morning as I was getting out of my car, having come from Mass and arrived at my office complex, I was taken in by a contradiction. On my iPod I was listening to Pavarotti's performance of "Nessun Dorma," from Puccini's Turandot. Under my feet was cold asphalt beginning to warm in under the fresh Spring sun. Asphalt has the perhaps unique property of being the only material that is more unpleasant warm than cold. Before my eyes lay my squat, squared, sprawling office building, one of a number of identical ones all next to each other, each made with a red brick facade and with broad, black-tinted windows replacing half the exterior surface. In short, my surroundings were uniform labyrinth of modern ugliness, my escape and relief was a postmodern presentation of a piece of what might be called romantic-revival opera. The beautiful, if saccharine, opera contrasted so sharply with with the blunted, if practical, buildings that I was literally startled.

We live in a world that God has made beautiful, good, and true. Remember, truth is the conformity of our mind to reality, but in this case, I am speaking of the world as an expression of God's Mind, and it conforms, or was made to conform, to Ultimate Reality, that is, to God himself. Goodness is the moral and appetitive manifestation of truth, the aspect of truth that appeals to our desires and our will. Beauty is the manifestation of goodness to our senses, the taking in of the world's harmony and diversity by our heart through our senses.

We live in a world that we have increasingly made ugly. Since we stopped respecting the truth that the world is an expression of God's Mind, we have stopped seeing its inherent goodness, its order, and desirability as a thing in and of itself. We have increasingly come to see the world around us, and all its parts, as mere stuff to have and manipulate for our advantage. We have grown cold and hard with respect to our surroundings. Nothing is seen as worthy in itself, but only for what it can do for us. As the spiritual disease has progressed, our contributions to the world have decayed. We have gone from building lofty and inspiring cathedrals in durable materials using means that don't pollute in the slightest to squat wood and plastic buildings using what is already deteriorating into tomorrow's landfills using means of production that doubtless have left a swath of filth in their wake. Our factories belch smog and we cover over every green field on God's good earth with asphalt.

Of course our war against truth (the war is called Relativism) is closely connected with our war against beauty (called by architects Functionalism). They are both two prongs of an assault against our Good Creator and good world He made. They are both attempts to subvert His order and replace it with our own way of doing things. I think we will find the trade a stupid and unprofitable one. In fact, I think the only thing that keeps most of us from coming to that conclusion is our lack of awareness that other things are possible.

Enough ranting. It is time to propose remedies to the spiritual malady. I have in mind three:

1) Take in beautiful things: look at photographs of beautiful mosques and mountains, take site-seeing trips of inspiring cathedrals and canyons, walk through charming villages and grottos. Train yourself to enjoy opera, sculpture, classical music, Giotto, and Gregorian chant, even if you don't understand a word of them, let your heart feel them. In doing so, perhaps we can free our hearts from the bonds of ugliness, and train them to yearn for something better than what we have bought.

2) Make beautiful things: a friend of mine told me last night that he thinks he will plant a garden. Maybe stencil vines around the ceiling of your livingroom and put lots of nice plants around it. Frame a nice print of something by Bouguereau and hang it on your wall. Paint your house brightly instead of blandly. Do arts and crafts with your children. Read the great poets and try your best to imitate them, but using your own words and themes. Take up photography. Do something to contribute to the net beauty of the world.

3) Pray for the gift of yearning for heaven. Remember that this world is not all there is. Remember that God wants to instill in us a joy that makes everything we've ever experienced seem trifling. He wants to radically remake everything, even better than how it was. Let the beautiful things in this world remind us of God and the glorious dwelling He is preparing for us, and the ugly things remind us that we aren't home yet.

Laetare Sunday (a bit late)

This past Sunday was the fourth of Lent, called Laetare Sunday, named as many Sundays are, for the first word of that Mass, which comes from the opening antiphon:

"Laetare, Ierusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam."

Or, for the less Latinly inclined,

"Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad because of her, all you who love her."

Normally, as a sign of joy, the dark and somber purple of the priest's vestments is relieved by a giddy pink. It's like the Church lurches forward with excitement and anticipation when She notes that she has rounded the corner and Lent is over half-done. While usually the priest is the only man gutsy enough to wear pink on Laetare Sunday, my sister and neice thought it appropriate that they should as well. How can a little cutie-pie like that NOT make someone smile from ear to ear?

In the Washington, D.C. area, our famed Cherry Blossoms are about to start blooming - first fruits of the spring, as if Nature and Fauna themselves are rejoicing that their King will soon rise from the dead. How wise of Mother Church to give us, her weak little boys and girls, a reprieve from our Lenten disciplines.

But alas, it's Tuesday now, and so we are back into Lent.