Simple Living for Catholics Part 2: Examples

Last Friday, I wrote about living simply as a Catholic. The basic idea is to buy what you need and give away the rest. To generalize even more, Catholics should use their resources as needed for their basic needs. Once their needs are taken care of, all surplus resources should go towards those in need. If we don’t pay attention to what we do, it is easy to fall into laziness with giving. You might think you have nothing to give, but spend some time thinking about it and you will find ways to give.

To illustrate the ideal of simple living, imagine a family of four with two parents and two children. The father is a police officer, the mother works part-time as a tutor and part-time as a housewife, the son and daughter are both in school. Their household income is $90,000. Per year, they spend $26,000 on their mortgage, $24,000 on healthcare, $15,000 for school tuition, $10,000 for transportation, $4,000 on vacations, $2,000 for utilities, $2,000 on other miscellaneous necessities, $2,000 on entertainment, and $1,000 for charity. They save $2,000 a year for retirement and $2,000 a year for emergencies.

On a typical weekday, the father gets home at 7pm, eats dinner, and watches TV until his 9pm bedtime. The mother gets off work at 1pm, does some errands, takes the kids home from school, has dinner with the children at 5pm, does some chores, and watches TV with her husband until her 10pm bedtime. The son and daughter get home from school at 3pm, have dinner, do homework, and plays with their tech gadgets until their 10pm bedtime.

On a typical Saturday, the father goes golfing with his buddies during the day and plays poker with other friends at night. The mother spends most of the day taking the kids to their sports practices and competitions, using any free time to make meals and do chores. On a typical Sunday, the family goes to church in the morning. Then they go shopping for food, clothes, entertainment and other things. The rest of the day, the father watches football, the children play video games or socialize with friends online, and the mother makes meals and finishes the household chores.

Now we can look at how this family can simplify their life by giving, donating, and serving. The first step is giving excess material goods. This family is buying new things every Sunday. Over a whole year that’s a lot of clothing and entertainment. At most, they need outfits for maybe a month. Even then, clothes can be mixed and matched, so they don’t need a unique set of clothes for all 30 days. Over the year, they should be able to give many surplus clothing items to the needy. Entertainment items are even easier to give. Most times entertainment is consumed and then never touched again. Movies, books, video games, and more can be sold at garage sales or on Craigslist. The money can then be given to those in need.

The second step is donating money. This family is not donating any money to the church or poor. It looks like they have no money, but they really do if they take the time to think about their actual needs. If they buy used cars instead of new ones, they can save $2,000 a year on transportation. Vacations can greatly be cut back. Their current spending is enough for a big trip every year like going to Disneyland, but it’s not necessary to go on such big vacations. Switching to camping or a short road trip will save $2,000 a year for vacations. This family buys clothes and entertainment every Sunday. Some of that is needed but not all of it. They can easily cut that down by $1,000 for another big chunk of money.

Combined with their existing donations of $1,000 a year, their new total is $6,000 a year in donations. Ideally, they would be able to donate 10% of their income or $9,000 a year, but $6,000 is not bad at all. God would be very happy with this starting point. The next $3,000 might require more drastic sacrifices like moving to a cheaper house or even changing careers. God understands our limits.

The third is serving others. Within this family we can already see that the father is not spending enough time with his family. It’s true that he gets home late from work, but he just plants himself in front of the TV for 2 hours on weeknights. On Saturdays, he’s gone all day with his friends. On Sundays, he spends a little time with the family but then watches more TV. He should use some of that time for family activities like talking about their day and prayer. TV can be a family activity if the children are involved, but other than dinner, the children are in their rooms. They should be using some of that time to help their mother with chores and spend time with their parents. The children should do their best to get good grades. Sometimes this is a real sacrifice but it will please their parents and aid their future.

The mother is doing the heavy lifting in this family, juggling her job and the household chores all while taking care of the children. The father and children need to help her out more. The parents also need to be educating their children in the faith and in basic skills they will need when they grow up. A huge part of being a parent is educating their children, but these parents are completely ignoring this responsibility. School is not enough to teach children everything they need to know. The education in school and from parents works hand in hand to make good kids. Without reinforcement at home, the children will most likely struggle to adapt to adult life.

The family members are not doing as much as they can to serve their loved ones, but they also aren’t doing any service towards those outside the house. All their weekly activities are for themselves. There are a lot of needy people they could help. An easy form of service to start is prayer on behalf of those in need. They don’t even have to leave the house to do this. Another easy service opportunity is helping with coffee and donuts after church. Within the community they can help at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Another good one is participating in the pro-life prayer vigils. They are very common on Sundays outside abortion clinics.

Here is a quick list of the changes this family could make to practice simple living:

Giving Material Goods

  • Once a year give clothes that haven’t been worn in over a year.
  • Once a year sell or give away all the movies and books you have seen or read. Donate any money obtained this way to charity.
  • Whenever the son gets a new game, he has to sell or give away one of his older games. If he sells it, he has to use the money for a family gift such as getting ice cream or seeing a movie.

Donating Money

  • Buy used cars instead of new cars. Then donate the saved money to charity.
  • Switch to cheaper vacations and donate the extra money to charity.
  • Buy clothes only one Sunday a month and donate the savings to charity.
  • Spend no more than $100 per month on entertainment, giving the rest to charity.

Serving Others

  • For the father, play one of golf or poker, not both. Use the extra time to help out with chores, making meals, and going to your children’s sports practices.
  • For the parents, spend one hour per night on weeknights teaching and praying with your children.
  • For the children, help out the family with one chore each per day.
  • For the whole family, pray at least 15 minutes every night.
  • For the whole family, help out with coffee and donuts after church every Sunday.
  • For the whole family, help make a meal at a soup kitchen one Sunday a month.

Every Catholic family should take the time to analyze how they are giving, donating, and serving. It’s not easy making these sacrifices, but this is the Catholic way. You don’t have to do everything at once, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, take your analysis and write a list of all the changes that would be good to make similar to what I wrote above. Then once a year during Lent, make just one of those changes. Put it on the calendar, so you will remember. Focus on just that one change the whole year. You’ll probably keep forgetting at first or get out of the habit, but eventually the whole family will get used to it. The next year make another change.

If, for some reason, you can’t work on a new change during a year, feel free to postpone it. Just do your best to improve over time as a family. When you look back 10, 20, 30 years of family life, you should see a huge, positive difference between your family now and your family in the past. Remember every sacrifice for good will be rewarded in heaven. You will not regret God’s rewards for your good works.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

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Speech Thoughts: Confession

Confession was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards on the Sacrament of Confession. My dad bought this CD at a men’s conference we went to a while back. I had totally forgotten about it until my mom happened to find it buried in the religious books. After listening to it herself, she let me borrow it. I already knew Fr. Larry was a good speaker from my time at the conference, so I was not surprised this was a good speech. It was perfect timing to listen to this now, with Lent being the time of confession, forgiveness, and repentance.

Many times I fall into the trap of thinking I know all about some aspect of the faith. Confession is one of the Big Seven (The Sacraments) in the church. Catholics like myself participate in the Sacraments many times a year. We know them well, so it’s easy to think we know all about them and have nothing to gain from a speech about the Sacrament of Confession. Fr. Larry did a great job of showing just how little I know. Even when I did know all about something, he was able to say it in a new and refreshing way. I truly believe much of studying the faith is looking at Catholicism from all different angles. In this way, we can know about how we fit into this faith from all different angles. In listening to a speech like Confession, we come to know ourselves that much more.

Knowing yourself is especially important in the case of Confession. After all, we can’t really change our ways unless we know completely and fully why we sin. It’s easy to read about various sins and understand the logic behind why they are wrong. What’s not easy is finding out why, despite having this knowledge, we continue to sin. The heart of Confession is looking at our deepest desires and longings and seeing why we choose sin as a substitute for God.

One of the main parts of the speech was a detailed explanation of sin and confession. Satan tempts us to sin through doubt, continually asking us to question God’s commandments. (“God didn’t really mean that did he?”) When we sin we are saying No to God. We are saying we know better than God. This is pride, the root of all sin. Sin is a cancer of the spirit. To treat cancer, doctors make sure to cut it all out. If any is left, it will just grow back. In confession, God does surgery on the soul. If we don’t do a good confession, some of that sin is left on the soul, and, just like cancer, it will grow back. With a good confession, the soul is totally clean.

The second big part was about how to give a good confession. Of course, Catholics know this means examining our conscience, so Fr. Larry went through the Ten Commandments talking about all the most common sins related to them. The last 5 minutes or so, Fr. Larry quickly rattled off around 30 easy questions to ask ourselves before entering the confessional. By the end of this part, everyone had a good idea of all their sins, many of which they had not considered before. Even though I wasn’t present for the speech, I could see many sins I haven’t really confessed very much or very well. I am eager for my Lenten confession, so I can say everything.

Because sin is such a big deal for all humanity, it would be very good practice to listen to this speech again every Lenten season. I only borrowed the CD, so I took lots of notes down instead. Then I can come back to my notes the next year. I am planning to write down the 30 easy questions on this blog in case anyone finds it useful. Every Catholic has done an examination of conscience and seen those long lists of questions, but I really like how short and sweet these questions are.

Simple Living for Catholics Part 1: Definition and Practice

Simple living is a growing movement in America to get away from the busyness of modern life. For many people, simple living means getting closer to their roots in nature usually in the form of homesteading. They learn to live off the land, not on manufactured goods. Life can be much slower and peaceful this way. For Catholics, however, simple living usually means avoiding materialism. Since earthly life is just a temporary thing, it’s a waste to acquire wealth we don’t need when it’s just going to be taken away when we die. Despite this, material goods can easily become idols (CCC 2113). They can be a distraction and sometimes even lead to sin (CCC 2536-2537). Because material goods can be a danger to holiness, all Catholics are called to this form of simple living (temperance, CCC 2517).

The basic idea behind simple living as a Catholic is buy what you need; give the rest away. Deciding what is a need can be hard because everyone is in a different situation in life. For one person a new smartphone is a luxury, for another it is a business expense. For a small family, a 3 bedroom home is fine while a 5 bedroom home is needed for a bigger family. It’s not always easy to figure out which things are needs and which are wants. With ample prayer plus the advice of fellow Catholics and our priests, you can get a good idea what you and your family’s needs are. There is no need to rush in this. About a month of thinking, prayer, and talking with others is enough.

Once you know what your needs are you can take inventory of what you have. Most people have many extra belongings they don’t need. These can be donated or recycled. This is a good practice for the whole family to reinforce the giving spirit of the Catholic faith. Another part of taking inventory is calculating how much money is required for the family’s needs. That is how much money you need. The rest of the money can be donated for the needs of others. A third thing to consider is your time. Time is a resource just like material goods and money. Everyone needs a certain minimum amount of time to meet their duties to themselves and their family. Extra time should then be used serving others. Parents do a lot of this already while taking care of their children, but the children also need to learn this, so it’s best to use some free time to serve others as a family.

You probably noticed that these three things all require commitment. Over the years you will continue to buy things, some of which you won’t need, so you will always have belongings to donate over time. The monetary needs of the family will always be changing as new members enter the family and children grow up, so the amount of money you can donate will change over time. Your free time will also change. When you have several young children, you might only have time to serve them. Once they get older and more independent, you will have more time for service outside the home.

Living a simple life is not easy. If you and your family have been living the typical American life, you probably purchased many things you didn’t need over the years and maybe haven’t donated much money to others. Even when you know what you should be doing, it can be a struggle to do the right thing. The challenge is maintaining the spirit of giving (service, CCC 340, 1109). This is very much an ideal. There may be times you forget about it, but always get back on track later. It’s not just about helping others. This practice will make you and your family holier people.

The persons of the Holy Trinity represent perfect, complete sacrificial love (CCC 221, 1109). In a perfect world, we would fully emulate the Trinity, giving all our money and material goods to others for their needs. Others would do the same for us. Receiving what we need would just be a side effect of everyone’s giving. That is what heaven will be like. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but at least we can see what that perfect world would be.

We know in heaven all our time will be spent giving, and we will love that completely. If we don’t love that completely, we need to grow more in holiness. That can either happen on earth or in purgatory. Since purgatory involves a lot of suffering, it is in our best interest to do as much growing as possible on earth (CCC 260, 1031). This doesn’t mean that we should ignore our needs or our family’s needs and expect others to take care of us. We aren’t in that perfect world, so we do need to cover our basic needs, but we should constantly strive to give whenever possible. Simple living is a huge part of that.

The practice of simple living allows for more giving with the same amount of resources. If you are just starting this practice, it may be hard. All change involves suffering, but that suffering will be far less than the required suffering in purgatory if you aren’t at that level when you die. With continued effort, simple living will just become part of life. You will be able to accept it and be content with it. You might not get anything in return for your giving on earth, but this is practice for heaven, where everyone will receive as much or more than they give. It is important to note that simple living isn’t required to go to heaven. Selfishness can definitely be a mortal sin, but in many cases, simple living is not a matter of sin. As above, whatever growth we don’t achieve on earth will happen in purgatory, but the holier we are on earth, the less suffering in purgatory. It just makes sense to strive for simple living.

With this you have the basics of simple living for Catholics. For a detailed illustration of implementing this in a typical family, see the second part.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Book Thoughts: Paint by Sticker: Create 12 Masterpieces One Sticker at a Time!

Paint by Sticker: Create 12 Masterpieces One Sticker at a Time! was a 2016 art book by Workman Publishing. The twelve art pieces consisted of a hummingbird, two rowboats, a goldfish, some sort of water or steel mill, a butterfly on a flower, hot air balloons, still life with fruit, wooden house with tree, a red fox, the head part of a horse, still life with sunflowers, and a train with billowing smoke. In recent years there has been a wave of new art books for adults. Most of these have been coloring books, but there are a few unique ones like this sticker art book. Maybe there are other books like this, but it was a new idea to me.

Like its name implies, Paint by Sticker took the idea of paint by number but replaced the paint with stickers. To do this, they subdivided each art piece into hundreds of numbered, tiny cells, either triangles (3 sides) or quadrangles (4 sides). In the back of the book were corresponding stickers to peel and stick in the appropriate cell. Finishing an art piece could be time consuming, but they all looked pretty cool at the end.  The art pages and the sticker pages could be torn out of the book for easier completion of the artwork.

There was a noticeable increase in difficulty as I went through Paint by Sticker. The first art pieces had fewer and larger stickers. By the end, there were more stickers, mostly smaller sizes. It wasn’t always easy to make it look like the sample picture because the stickers were not always the perfect size to fit in the cell. Sometimes they were cut slightly too large or small. In rare cases, the shape was slightly off. On top of this, it was hard to line up the edges of the sticker with the cell. By the end of an art piece, there were usually a few visible seams where stickers didn’t line up perfectly. The end result was that it looked like a mosaic. This didn’t bother me at all though. They looked good enough. The imperfections made it look more human and less like computer output.

One bad thing was how the sticker pages were sometimes not cut very well. I already mentioned some stickers not having the right shape, but on some pages the stickers were not cut all the way through. A few times I ripped a sticker while trying to peel it off. This was mainly a problem in the beginning when I wasn’t used to the technique. By the end, I was an expert and almost never had trouble getting a sticker out. I found it much easier to get them out by bending the paper on the edge of the sticker I wanted. Usually, the sticker would partially detach giving me a part to pull from. In cases where the sticker was not cut all the way through, I peeled the other parts of the sticker and then used my nail to gently cut the sticker were it was supposed to be cut. By the time I finished the last art piece, they were looking very clean. There were still a few seams, but they looked pretty high quality.

I thought it was a nice touch how the pages could be torn out of the book. It made it easier to finish each piece, but even better was how the artwork could then be hung up on a wall. Paint by Sticker was made for adults, but teenagers would probably be able to finish everything pretty well. The only requirement is patience. It can get pretty tedious when there are a bunch of tiny stickers to place. This book would be great for friends to casually chat while placing stickers. It very much fits in the same niche as the adult coloring books.

Overall, I had fun with Paint by Sticker and recommend it to anyone interested in easier art. It can take a while to finish the artwork, but it’s never hard. I received this book as a gift and enjoyed it, so I also recommend it for gifts. However, one possible problem is all the hunching over placing stickers can require. Several times I felt back pain after working on the book, but an elderly person might have more trouble. Keep this in mind if you plan on buying it for someone with back problems. Then again, they could tape the pages to a window, allowing their back to remain upright while they work.

What is Good Prayer?

You can’t live a good, holy life without consulting God on a regular basis. Prayer is the primary way we receive guidance and support from God (CCC 2566, 2611), so it’s super important to have a good prayer life. If you don’t, you will slowly move in a different direction than God, possibly wandering far away from where God wants you. If your prayer life is not doing well, you will get tired of prayer and likely abandon it. If your prayer life is doing great, you will look forward to prayer everyday and can’t imagine life without it. This is achieved through good prayer.

Good prayer is peaceful, relaxed, and easy. There is no effort involved. When you have a stressful day, you look forward to your prayer to calm you down. Good prayer warms the heart. Whether dealing with depression or sorrow, you feel the love of God in your prayer. No matter how bad you feel when you start, you always feel better after. Good prayer is desirable. When you forget to pray or don’t have the time, you feel something missing in your life. You look forward to your prayer time every day after work. Good prayer is meaningful. You’re mind isn’t blank when you pray. It is full of hopes, dreams, love, sadness, anger, and a deep longing to be with God. Good prayer is revealing. During prayer you unveil the depths of your soul to God and God unveils part of his essence, an insight that leads to a deeper understanding of your Creator. Good prayer is such a wonderful gift from God, but how do you get there?

The keys to good prayer are trusting God, understanding how you relate to God, and having a dedicated time and place for prayer. You have to trust that God exists and is listening when you pray (CCC 2609-2610). For new believers, prayer many times feels empty or stale. It takes time and dedication to become sensitive to the presence of God. Some people will hear the voice of God, but this is extremely rare. Most people only have the “feeling” of God, and it’s usually only barely perceptible in prayer. The closer you get to God, the more sensitive you are to his presence. Very holy people feel God throughout the day in everything they do.

If you start a new prayer habit, do not give up if you don’t feel like the prayer is doing anything. Just keep praying. Eventually, you will start to feel something (CCC 2613). It probably won’t be every time you sit down to pray. Unfortunately, on earth God will always be distant. Most people will barely feel God even after years of prayer, but occasionally you will have a really intense prayer session. Those times you are blessed with a small taste of what heaven will be like, something to look forward to after your resurrection.

Trusting God is important to good prayer, but it’s also important to understand how to you relate to God. As Creator of all the living, God is the father of everyone. Just as a child learns from his or her father or asks him for help, we as adults learn from God and ask him for help (CCC 2564). Remember when you were growing up at home and how you interacted with your father. Hopefully, you had daily communication with your father. That is how your relationship should be with God in prayer (CCC 2565). If you’re father was missing or emotionally absent, God can fill in as the perfect father.

When you talk to God in prayer, it should be the same as how you talk to a best friend, close relative, or spouse. You should be comfortable saying anything on your mind and not worry about being made fun of or taken advantage of. You should speak from the heart, not from a script. When talking to a human you can congratulate them, look up to them, thank them, ask them for something, give them something, or talk about others with them. All of these ways of communicating work pretty much same with God through the prayers of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, petition, offering, and intercession (CCC 2626-2643). The best part about prayer is that God is perfect. Even people we really trust on earth can sometimes treat us badly, but God is perfectly good. He will never do anything to harm us, so we can always look to prayer for a deep conversation with the Father we love.

Lastly, you need to get away from others in a quiet place for good prayer to happen (CCC 2602). Similar to how kids spend times with their parents as a group and one-on-one, every Catholic needs some alone time with God. This is where those deepest prayers can happen. To prevent other people from barging in on your time with God, you will probably have to dedicate certain times of the day for prayer. This might be in the morning before others get up or at night after everyone has gone to bed. Maybe the home is too chaotic, so you have to go to a nearby park, church, or some other peaceful place away from others. Whatever you choose, you have to get away from distractions to be able to pray deeply.

Good prayer is something that has to be worked on, but the reward is invaluable to Catholic life. Going from a life alone to a life with God is night and day. You will go from a shallow and dull life to a life full of meaning and purpose. It’s all through continued good prayer. I am a cradle Catholic who has prayed for decades, but I still continue to improve my prayer every year. The reward for this effort has been a deeper and deeper relationship with God as the years go by. It is just so comforting and pleasing throughout the day being with God. Some days I suffer a lot or people treat me badly, but it just doesn’t bother me much because I am with God. You, too, can have this peace and support if you work on good prayer a little every day.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Speech Thoughts: 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy

7 Secrets of Divine Mercy was a CD recording of a talk given in 2015 by Vinny Flynn. The talk was based on a book by the same name, also by Vinny Flynn. The recording was about 45 minutes long. I found Mr. Flynn to be a great speaker. He spoke clearly, had a good personality, and kept the subject moving along. Humorous puns relating to the topic added a lot of humor to the talk. I have never heard a speaker use so many puns. It was his unique style.

I have prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for many years, so I knew the general idea behind the prayer. I never studied it though, so this talk gave me a lot of interesting concepts to think about. I knew the basic idea behind the secrets, but Mr. Flynn had new details and insights I hadn’t heard before. I am always amazed at how various parts of theology relate to each other. Through the centuries popes, saints, scholars, and others has continually developed new and interesting ways to explain the Catholic faith. After listening to this talk, I see that Divine Mercy is another way.

I really liked Vinny Flynn’s explanation of the Divine Mercy image. I’ve seen it many times before. I always saw it as just a painting of Jesus displaying how his Divine Mercy works. Mr. Flynn said the same thing but then added that the Divine Mercy image was actually a mirror. In this painting, Jesus is showing us what a perfect image of God looks like, so we aren’t really seeing Jesus in the image but God himself. Mr. Flynn then explained how we needed to “improve our image”, the 3rd secret. This pun explained that when you look at yourself in a mirror, you should see an image of God. This was a great way to explain my unending effort to optimize my life around the faith. My optimization is all about striving for perfection in holiness. That is literally improving my image of God.

The 6th secret was about “the eternal now”. I know that heaven is not bound by the time of earth, but Vinny Flynn brought this paradox back into my mind. The basic idea is that when we sin Jesus literally feels it on the cross. How can this be? According to our Earth history he has already been crucified, died, and resurrected, but somehow our sins in the present affect Jesus in the past. Along the same line, our prayers in the present and our offerings of suffering somehow help Jesus in the past. This paradox is a mystery, but it is refreshing to know that my actions today have a big impact on Jesus. It makes my life feel that much more important.

Mr. Flynn also explained how this paradox applies to the souls of loved ones that have passed from this world. This means our prayers in the present for the dead can somehow still help a soul’s purification even if it already happened in the past. I don’t know how it works, but I’ve always heard people say no prayers for the dead are wasted. Now I have a better understanding. Whether their souls are still being purified or are already experiencing the Beatific Vision, our prayers will help.

I really enjoyed 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy overall. It was both educational and entertaining. I have only gone into maybe 10% of the content in the talk, so I recommend you get a copy of this for yourself. I only listened to the talk. The book probably goes into even more detail. It will really help you see the faith in a new light. Sometimes that is enough to put you on the path of major change towards “improving your image”. I will be thinking about these things when I pray this chaplet again.

The Importance of Chastity

Our current culture laughs at the idea of chastity saying things like, “How dare you limit sex!” or “We have a right for sex whenever we want.” The Catechism briefly describes how disordered use of sex is selfish (CCC 2351), but it doesn’t describe the negative effects a lack of chastity causes in our culture. We have many examples of the negative effects in our society because of its obsession with sex. At the same time, we have very few examples of the positive effects chastity brings.

In America, children and adults are bombarded by sex several times a day every day. It’s in our entertainment and in the media from movies to books to the daily news. Even many commercials are filled with sex. Over the years, this has created a society where many people are filled with lust. Because of this, much of the population makes decisions based on which choice will lead them closer to sex. It’s particularly bad for men, which I focus on here. Most of these examples can apply to women as well.

In our society, romance is equated with sexual relations. The romantic movies show the same old story with people dating, holding hands, kissing, and having sex. Then the movie ends. Sex is shown as the goal of every relationship, when it’s really a very small part of true romance. In a typical marriage, sex is only 1% of their time spent together. The rest of the time is nonsexual. The marital act is such a tiny part of the relationship, to focus on it is to miss the majority of the relationship.

So many men are driven by lust, their marriages greatly suffer. Many times the only thing the husband has in common with his wife is the marital act. The rest of the time they live separate lives. Even from the beginning, the relationship faces problems. The husband doesn’t truly love his wife, only her body. He showered her with positive attention, praised her, brought her gifts, offered her help when in need, and was willing to talk to her for hours about her feelings. He had no real interest in these things. He was only using her.

Men in this situation are incapable of being intimate without sex. They can’t have long conversations with their wife. They can’t spend time together in silence. They get frustrated with handholding or kissing if it doesn’t lead to the marital act. In short, they are unable to see the whole person, so the man appears two-faced. When he desires her body, he is very nice to his wife, does everything she says until he gets what he wants. Once his desire is sated, he’s back to his old self, not interested in spending time with her until lust sets in again. Many wives don’t see this going on. Having no idea why their husband is so different by the day, they can easily fall into depression and despair. These ups and downs are devastating to the relationship. Strong marriages need consistency.

These men don’t care about their children either. They will continually complain about having to go to school events, babysit their children, help with homework, change diapers or anything else for the good of their children. They don’t care about their children. Their sole interest is sex. So they are not a family man and don’t really love their wife either. They have no care for their marriage vows. Since physical attraction is the only thing keeping the marriage together, the relationship will turn sour once the wife starts aging. No longer attracted to her, the husband will leave for a younger woman.

American culture’s obsession with sex doesn’t just affect marriages. It also affects platonic relationships. Men are trained to see women as sex objects, so they are constantly evaluating all the women they come across for attractiveness. When a man sees an attractive woman, he rushes toward satisfy his sinful desires. If she denies him or doesn’t move fast enough, he is gone to find another woman.

Whenever he has to work with a woman maybe as co-workers or volunteers, sin is on his mind. He is unable to have any kind of meaningful relationship with her because he can only see relationships with women as the potential for sex. He doesn’t know how to just be friends. When a woman thanks or hugs him, he is thinking she is attracted to him. When he tries to take the next step and she declines, he gets angry and spreads lies about her to others. When this man meets a woman he’s instantly thinking about how to manipulate her when he should focus on just being friends. Romance will happen later on its own. There is no rushing it, but he is impatient. He sees no value in waiting.

All these negative effects and many more are a result of a society that celebrates sex, but a society that celebrated chastity would avoid most of these problems. There would still be some bad apples, but if people were constantly encouraged to value the whole person rather than just their looks, we would be in a much better place. Husbands would truly respect their wives. Men could think of women more like themselves, wanting to do what’s best for the individual rather than their selfish desires. I don’t know how to fix the problem in the overall society, but on an individual level, there is something Catholics can do to improve their relationships.

The only way to stop sex from clouding the mind is to avoid it. This is especially important for single people, but even married people can benefit from this. The most important thing is to limit exposure to the sinful culture. Avoid movies and TV shows with nudity or sex scenes. Reduce how much time you spend with entertainment and the media. The time you do spend, stick to films rated PG or lower, animated films, and documentaries. On TV, nature shows, science shows, and documentaries are usually good. Instead of popular music, listen to classical or Christian music. Another huge thing is not associating with people caught up in the sinful culture. They might be very nice as friends, but bad influences have to go. Make friends with fellow Catholics, who know the truth and strive to live by it.

The second most important thing for single people is celibacy. Our society has embraced the horrible sins of fornication, pornography, and masturbation (CCC 2352-2354). Whether you have developed a habit of these sins or not, the only way to see the opposite sex in a Godly way is to remove sex from the equation. You do this by dying to self (Mt 16:25, Mk 8:35), including practicing complete abstinence (or continence, 2349).

Many people don’t think abstinence is even possible. While it may be difficult at first, it is definitely possible. Sex is not a need. Studies suggest it takes about 90 days for the brain to adjust to abstinence. You’ll always have to deal with temptations, but they will be really easy to resist. Then when you get into a romantic relationship while remaining chaste, you will be able to see the whole person, allowing you to fall in love with the whole person, not just how he or she looks. You might even find you’re not called to marriage at all. Lust could have clouded your mind from a call to the priesthood or consecrated life.

Married people can also benefit from abstinence. If you went from the sins of fornication, pornography, or masturbation straight into marriage, you could still have a cloud over your eyes, making it hard to love everything about your spouse. You can remove that cloud through abstinence just like single people. You will need to make an agreement with your spouse, but if he or she accepts, a good time to start this is Lent. It’s only 47 days counting Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, but I recommend continuing for 90 days. In that time you will be forced to learn how to be intimate with your spouse without the marital act. When you finish, you will appreciate everything about your spouse, not just his or her body. Your marriage will be strengthened, and you might even find you don’t get in as many fights. You will just enjoy each other’s company more.

Everything we do is good or evil, so we are either a slave to sin (selfish) or a slave to God (selfless). We have to acknowledge that our physical body is not our own. It was lent to us by God to do good work; it will eventually be taken away at our death. Our sexuality is not our own but an instrument for God’s good work. Like all blessings, sexuality should be used as an offering to God, whether it be in the sacrifice of continence (abstinence) for single people or the complete giving of self in conjugal life for married people (CCC 2349).

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

The Suffering Servant

There are many different sides of Jesus. Some of this is evident in the list of qualities I made a while back, but there are other ways to look at Jesus too. Jesus can be thought of as a real man that took charge of every situation and fought back evil whenever it presented itself. Another side is the great, wise sage who taught people the true faith and set in motion the eternal Catholic Church. I have found that I most represent “the suffering servant” (Isa 53) in Jesus. As Messiah, Jesus had to suffer for the sake of others. While all Catholics are called to suffer for others, I feel like I have had to suffer a lot more than average.

From a young age (maybe age 14), I had lower energy than others. Whenever I was in a group, I usually became exhausted after just a few hours while everyone else had tons of energy. Most people were stronger than me too. I got really tired from what should have been easy things like a short bike ride. My muscles became weak and sore easily, and I would need a few hours to rest. Other than these minor problems, I was pretty healthy until shortly after college.

I developed social anxiety based on a false belief that strangers were all out to make fun of me. The anxiety was easy to ignore at first but eventually came to dominate my life. Anytime I was with other people I was nervous. The more people, the worse I felt. I was only comfortable with my parents, so I pretty much stayed at home. That same year, I developed digestive problems consisting of gas, bloating, stomach aches, diarrhea, and nausea. It started out just once a week but eventually became an almost daily problem.

Over the next five years, I developed a few more health problems each year until the present, where I have around 18 chronic problems. I typically have 4-5 problems each day. About half (51%) of my days I consider the suffering to be “bad”, 36% are “good” days, and around 13% are “horrible” days. My health problems are pretty random each day, but I can go into “remission” and “flare-up” phases, sometimes feeling really good for several days in a row or feeling really bad for several days instead. For the most part, the doctors have been stumped as to what’s causing all the problems. I’ve done all the tests for cancer and infections. Everything has come back negative. There is no explanation. It’s a mystery. Instead, our efforts have been in treating the symptoms, with limited success.

Because of the randomness of my problems, I never know how I will feel on any day. It’s hard to make plans with anyone, not knowing how I will feel on the day of the event. Working out of the house has become impossible. The Internet has become my way to socialize with others and work. I’m not able to make enough money to support myself, but I have been able to pay most of my personal bills like my student loan and health insurance. My parents help with the rest.

Obeying the call to serve others has been hard for me, so I had to be creative. I found that I could offer up my suffering to help others through the redemptive power of Jesus (CCC 618, 1502, 1505, 1521). I just offer it to Jesus to use as he sees fit. Many times I have offered suffering for loved ones in need, and it seems to help. There is no guarantee that this is happening, but sometimes it seems to be more than coincidence. That is enough for me. In addition to offering my suffering, I do a lot of praying for others. I also found the Internet to be a good way to communicate with others. One of the reasons I write this blog is to hopefully help the occasional person that happens across it online.

While my health problems caused me a lot of anger and sadness in the beginning, I’ve mostly learned to accept them. I can still have negative emotions, such as after a dream where I had perfect health, but I have learned to accept my bad health. I am really happy about my ability to help others through my suffering though. Everyone can pray and write about the faith — I’m not the only one — but very few people suffer as much as I do. Other people are stronger than me, make more money than me, get married, and countless other things, but I get to suffer more. It’s what makes me unique.

Sometimes I wonder if bearing my suffering patiently and offering it up is actually my calling. So far God has not given me any answer, so I will continue to work on treating my health problems and finding a way to support myself. I haven’t found any success yet, but I won’t give up. During my free time, I can pray, write things on this blog, and most importantly, offer up my suffering. That is enough for now. I greatly look forward to the end of suffering in heaven and my just reward for all I have endured.

Still, I suffer greatly many days and ask if you can find it in your heart to pray for me. So many days I feel absolutely horrible. Nothing on earth is pleasing but serving others. In the worst moments, I ask Jesus to take me to heaven with him, but he insists I continue to live and suffer. I need the help of your prayers. God can work through you to give me the grace of patience in suffering. You can make a real difference in my life. I am eternally grateful for any help you can provide and will remember your aid when we meet in heaven. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Culpability for Sins Related to Addiction

One of the most common questions I see is how culpable are addicted Catholics for their sins caused by addiction. After all, if they are fully culpable for the sin, they are in a state of mortal sin, a very serious situation. Answering the question is never easy because addiction limits control of the mind, but a pretty good idea can be achieved. To start with, the Catechism of the Catholic Church names three requirements for a person to be culpability for mortal sin: the sin in question has to be grave, the person must have had full knowledge that it was grave, and the person must have deliberately consented to the sin (CCC 1857). If any of these are not met, the person can only be culpable for venial sin. The sin is still objectively a mortal sin, but the person’s soul remains in a state of grace (assuming it was in a state of grace beforehand).

For the purposes of this article, I assume the person has a drug addition, but this text can be applied to any kind of addiction. Drug addicts have reached a point where their body is dependent on the drug. Their body doesn’t know how to live without it. This causes strong withdrawal symptoms whenever they try to quit. Sadly, it’s usually only at this point that the person realizes the drug was addictive. Many people are caught by surprise.

Because the addicted Catholic doesn’t have much control over their drug use, they don’t meet the requirement for deliberate consent. Their culpability for the sin of using the drug is greatly diminished. This doesn’t give them an excuse to use drugs. It simply means that while fighting their cravings the best they can, the focus should be on addiction treatment. They need to recognize that the addiction leads to repeating the sin, so fighting the cravings is just one small part of overcoming the addiction. They may not be culpable for much sin when using the drug, but they are definitely responsible for their efforts to treat the addiction.

Enter Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is most likely to succeed because the addicted Catholic is literally forced to not use the drug. Meanwhile medical staff are on standby in case withdrawal symptoms become dangerous. After a few months, the person’s dependence on the drug will be greatly reduced, giving them much higher chance of staying away from the drug. Rehab is a humbling experience as the person has to admit they can’t trust themselves to stop using the drug. During rehab they acknowledge this by putting other people in control of their life for a few months. Rehab may not be an option for everyone because of the high price and time away from work, but if it is an option, it is generally recommended as the first step in recovering from addiction.

Join a Support Group and Get an Accountability Partner

After rehabilitation, the person will be advised to join a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In the support group successes and failures can be discussed in a safe environment. The biggest benefit of a support group is keeping the addicted person motivated to keep fighting for abstinence in every moment. Knowing they will have to tell someone about their failure is a strong motivator to keep away from the drug. Through the support group, the person can also get an accountability partner. In AA, they call these people sponsors. The partner is also dealing with addiction. The partner becomes a good friend able to support the addicted Catholic outside of the support group meetings.

Participate in the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist

Through these sacraments, Catholics are blessed with grace that aids in the fight against mortal sin and addiction (CCC 1496, 1393, 1395). Because the Eucharist cannot be taken unless the recipient is in a state of grace (CCC 1385, 1395), addicted Catholics should find a church that does confessions shortly before mass. That way they are assured they are in a state of grace when they receive Holy Communion. At a minimum, a weekly habit of using these sacraments should be formed. Even better would be a daily habit, but many churches don’t offer daily confession or mass. Addicted Catholics should use the sacraments as much as possible.

Avoid Near Occasions of Sin

Near occasions of sins are situations where the person is pretty sure they won’t be able to resist using the drug. As part of the Sacrament of Penance, the Catholic is obligated to firmly resolve to avoid future sins (CCC 1490). Part of this is changing their lifestyle to avoid as many near occasions of sin as possible. For example, maybe they have certain friends they always do drugs with. Then the logical thing to do is not associate with those friends. The Catholic should examine their life for these occasions making lifestyle changes as needed to reduce their drug use. This isn’t always possible. Maybe those friends are roommates they depend on to pay the rent. God understands that there can be unavoidable near occasions, but all avoidable ones must be avoided. Every time they use the drug, they should be thinking about what led to it, so they can make changes to prevent access to the drug next time.

 

These are just some of the resources available to Catholics fighting addiction. Outside of rehabilitation, these resources are mostly cost free. During addiction, there is a good chance the Catholic is not culpable for the mortal sins committed through drug use. At the same time, they need to be actively working to recover from the addiction. If they are doing all they can to fight the addiction, using all the resources available, there is a good chance they are not committing any mortal sins through laziness about or deliberate ignorance of their addiction. When an addicted Catholic is doing all they can, they should understand that their actions are only half of the picture. The other half is God healing them.

God may choose to let an addicted Catholic struggle for some time to learn an important lesson, such as humility. After all, in the helplessness of addiction, a person sees very clearly how much they need God. Assuming they are doing everything possible, they can trust that God will do his part to heal them when the time is right. Those with addictions should be patient and not despair the state of their soul (CCC 2091).

I truly believe if an addicted Catholic is doing all they can, yet die before overcoming the addiction, God will not hold it against them. If they are fighting their cravings, avoiding their near occasions of sin, participating in the sacraments, active in a support group, working with an accountability partner, going to rehab whenever they have a relapse, and using all other resources to fight the addiction, God will invite this person into his kingdom on their last day. All that work won’t be meaningless just because they were still addicted when they died. God will reward that hard work. God doesn’t expect perfection, but he wants to see a continual effort made throughout life.

Warning: What I have written here is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. For medical advice see a doctor or addiction specialist. For spiritual questions specific to your addiction, ask your priest or confessor in the freely available Sacrament of Penance.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

The Progression of Faith

As Catholics, we have a Profession of Faith which states all of our core beliefs (CCC 14), but to understand this faith, accept it, and truly believe requires a long “progression” of faith. God in his infinite wisdom inspired the writing of the Bible over thousands of years (CCC 106). As each new book was written and compiled, God slowly added more to the deposit of faith (CCC 84). In the beginning, humanity had a very simple understanding of the world. As humanity progressed, it learned the world was much more complex than it seemed. If someone had gone back to the time of Adam & Eve and explained how the Internet worked, the people would not have believed such a thing could even be possible on the planet Earth. In these present times we are able to believe because we can use the Internet but also because we have this foundation of history and science. We learn enough in school that we might not understand every detail of how it works, but it’s at least plausible to us. It’s the same with our Catholic beliefs.

The first humans had only a basic understanding of the faith. In the time of Adam & Eve, the people only knew God existed and that he created the world and all it’s inhabitants (Gen 1:1-27). They didn’t know anything else. In Noah’s time, God taught humanity about punishment when the flood wiped out most of the population (Gen 6:7-8). In Abaham’s time, God taught humanity about obedience when Abraham trusted God that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars (Gen 22:12,16-18). A big revelation for the Israelites was the Ten Commandments God provided to Moses (Ex 20:1-17).

God knew humanity could not understand the deposit of faith from the beginning. It took generations to absorb and believe a new teaching. When humanity had enough of a foundation, God taught them a little bit more about the faith. This has gone on throughout history. It took thousands of years for humanity to be ready to know Jesus. Not everyone was ready (Jn 6:60-71) but enough to spread the Good News that God had sent his Son to save us. Belief in the Holy Spirit came next. In the Macedonianism heresy some Christians stumbled on the belief that the Holy Spirit was co-eternal with the Father and Son.

Belief in the Catholic Church was another new thing that had to be accepted. To this day there are millions of Christians who don’t believe in the authority of the Catholic Church. Even with belief in the Church, another development to accept was the belief that the Church could know, without a doubt, that a holy person is in heaven (CCC 828). Many people don’t believe in this. It’s a hard teaching, but when they can believe it, they have improved their understand of the overall Christian faith. There are countless teachings that I could go into when they were added to the deposit of faith, but it would be the length of an encyclopedia to go through it all. Instead, I end with where the progression of faith ends: Private Revelation.

The deposit of faith contains the entire truth, so belief in private revelation is optional (CCC 66-67). It can be something as amazing as a vision or as simple as a small insight into the faith after reading the Bible. Whatever the case, Catholics are not bound to believe private revelation because, for the most part, we can’t verify it is true. In rare cases, the Church has identified certain private revelation as being supernatural in origin. When that happens a holy person, such as a pope or saint might believe in and profess it to be true. It’s still private revelation, but over hundreds of years and a long line of affirmative belief, it can almost become a de-facto part of Church teaching. Catholics are still not bound to believe it, but there comes to be a sort of consensus among all Catholics that it is true (CCC 67). We have examples of this primarily in the appearances of Mary, such as Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes.

Much like how I wouldn’t be able to understand an advanced math book unless I had a long and proper foundation in math, humanity could not understand the path to eternal life if God had simply thrown down a book in the beginning with everything we needed to know. It was just too complex. Humanity had to understand and believe in one teaching before God could reveal another teaching. Because of our human limitations, it took thousands of years for the human race as a whole to progress in this understanding and belief. God is eternal though. He patiently revealed more when humanity was able.

Because of writing and books in modern times, we can read and learn much faster than those in the past, but it still takes time to absorb the knowledge and wisdom of God. Every believer is on their own faith journey. It takes some people their whole life to understand the truth while others might understand in just a few years. We all need to be patient with ourselves on this journey, reading, studying, and praying to continue learning. We also need to be patient with others.

They first have to believe that God existed, he was all powerful and created everything. Once they believe that, they can learn to obey his teachings. Only after that is known can they believe in Jesus Christ, the Son, and all his teachings. The Holy Spirit comes next, how it is everywhere and in everyone constantly urging good deeds. This is the place where many Christians are because the next step is believing in the Catholic Church. There is this human institution, the Church, that Jesus promised would stay true to his Way for all time (Mt 16:18). Once they believe in the Church, they can trust its authority and obey its teachings. This allows them to trust to the Church when it names the many saints throughout history that are now in heaven.

At the very end, they might have a personal belief in some private revelation, maybe their own or something they learned from others. This belief is does not supercede or contradict the Bible or the Church but instead supplements what they already know with more insight (CCC 67). This is where I am now. I understand and believe everything the Bible and Church teach, but I also sometimes gain insights. I write these down on this blog in case anyone else finds them insightful as I do.

Even with our modern technologies, deposit of faith is a lot to believe in, as the apostles made clear when they questioned Jesus (Jn 6:60). Not everyone learns at the same rate. You might know the whole truth about a particular teaching, but others may not. Do your best to lead them to the truth, but be patient with them just as you are with yourself. Don’t get frustrated if it’s taking awhile for them to move past an obstacle. They are on their own faith journey. Sometimes we have to leave it up to God. Always be a supporting presence in their life, ready to help whenever they have questions, and you will be fulfilling your obligation to spread the faith to them.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared