Monthly Archives: October 2014

Life for My Sake

I lose myself…

Matthew 16:24-27

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

When we are deeply engaged, with all of our senses and thoughts involved in something, we say that we lose ourselves.  How many people lose themselves in the playing of video games – and how many people think that that is sad?  But, one can also lose oneself in the admiration of a great work of art, the enjoyment of a song or concert, or in the pages of a novel.  We say that we lose ourselves in the excited activity of a city or in the expansive view from atop a mountain.  Most sweetly of all, however, is the losing of oneself in the loving gaze of one’s beloved… which is much like losing oneself in the deep communion of prayer.

Jesus says that whoever loses his or her life for His sake will then find it.  This “loss of life” is most obviously associated with martyrdom – if we are killed for our beliefs or because of charitably saving another, then our souls will go straight to Heaven and we will find the immediacy of our eternal lives.  But these particular words of His, as is true for all of the words that issue forth from the mouth of Jesus, have deeper and more complex meanings, too.  To lose one’s life is linked in meaning to denying oneself and to taking up one’s cross to follow Christ.

Self-denial in medieval times, and even now in some religious minds, meant the barest minimum of food, the poorest of clothing, and the scantiest shelter.  It even meant self-flagellation and other forms of self mortification designed, it would seem, to make the person feel as though he or she was nothing and that the body and earthly needs were a sinful burden.  The human body is, of course, not a sinful burden – for then Christ, who was without sin, would never have assumed a human body, and He would never have eaten meals or accepted shelter or even rested when fatigued.  And Jesus Christ did all of these things.

One of Christ’s great disciples was a man who lived more than 1000 years after His time on earth, a man called Francis of Assisi.  This man denied his wealthy inheritance and chose to live in low poverty.  But, this kind of self-denial was, for Francis, not a hatred of the body and its needs, but a love for his fellow human beings.  He wanted his focus to be solely on Christ – Christ who commands that we love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and that we love our neighbors as ourselves.  Francis did this while being attentive to the basic needs of his body, the needs of earthly survival, and, throughout his life, he celebrated the beautiful wonder of the earth and had great affection for the animallike aspects of his body.  Why?  Because he saw Christ in all of this.

His love of God was so deep that he did not consider his own individual life to be his own – rather, he saw himself as belonging utterly and completely to God.  And he wanted to be like Christ, God Incarnate, in this.  He believed that his very reason for being was to emulate and image Christ in the particular and unique way that God had chosen for him.  So, anything that he could, through free will, have claimed for himself only – for his self-centered whims and selfish desires – he chose to give to God and to God’s beloved creatures.  He chose to live his life for God’s sake.  And in this ongoing act of giving himself to Divine Will, he lost himself in Divine Love, he was daily losing himself in Christ… and was truly found.

We are not all called by God to be like St. Francis.  But, we are all called to be like Christ – we are all called to be saints, the holy ones of God.  We were created, not to have our lives end here on earth with the deaths of our bodies, but to live eternally.  And, as eternity has no beginning and no end, our eternal lives have already begun, here and now, within God’s blessed Creation, beloved creatures that we are of both flesh and spirit.  So, we are called out of self-centeredness and into God-centeredness.  Our true fulfillment lies, not in indulging fleeting, selfish desires, but in engaging the fullness of our lives, our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, in things eternal.

To work solely for the body and its appetites and pleasures is to live a life that has its only end in death.  But, to work solely for God, through, with, and in the body, is to live a life that has its end, its aim, in eternity.

By denying the soul and feeding only the body, we are only half human, half alive.  Denying the soul will result in the loss of the soul, which is the loss of eternal life – and, thus, we will be deprived of becoming fully ourselves.  This is a “loss of life” that goes against Divine Will, that causes God to mourn and the one lost to moan and gnash teeth.  Christ shows us the better way, the truer way, by being THE Way, Truth, and Life.  We are to feed both the body and the soul, not losing ourselves in fleeting and eternally meaningless things, but, rather, losing ourselves in the giving and receiving of divine love, in, with, and through all that is good, true, and beautiful, all that is of God.  In small but generous acts of loving kindness, through the simple willingness to suffer for the good of another, and with the loving and active respect for the Created world and for our fellow human beings, who are all beloved by God, we can strive to be like Christ.

Taking up my cross in order to follow Christ is not merely the taking up of a heavy burden (for a burden of love is never heavy).  It is the placing of myself at the apex of human and divine, at the intersecting and marrying of my will with God’s will… It is losing myself in the outpouring of love that is the realized fullness of who I am.

The true I of myself is waiting to be discovered, waiting to be fulfilled…

© 2014 Christina Chase

With a Double Heart

Am I two-faced?

Psalms 12:1-2

Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.

They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

We say one thing – and then we do another. We say that we believe in something – and then we give all of our actions and attention to something other. If we who profess a creed, if we who weekly attend worship services and make charitable donations and pray every day, if we cannot then speak kindly of others, with compassion and love, then who can? If we who believe in the eternal value of virtue do not consciously practice patience, then who will? If we, who laud the mercy of God our maker and sing the praises of forgiveness, cannot, in the spirit and action of forgiveness, work toward reconciliation of conflicts… if not us, then who?

We see the great turmoils in the world and the faults and failings that result in sufferings and troubles – and we believe that someone should do something about it. Someone with integrity and courage should step up and do what needs to be done. Someone should seek always to do the right thing and speak the truth with the gentle assurance of truth. But… do we? Do we?

Do I?

In the living of my every day, do I have integrity? Do my actions flow from my deeply held beliefs? I believe that in my heart, the core of my being, the Infinite/Eternal dwells with me – the core of my being, the heart of my existence, is union with the divine, with all that is holy, all that is good, true, and beautiful. To this I am wed… and the two hearts shall become as one.

To understand my words, you need to first understand who Christ is. Yes, Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary. And yes, Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God. Christ is the Word of God made flesh – who, “by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man.” Christ Jesus is the divine Logos made Man. He is fully human and fully divine in the great Mystery of the Incarnation and hypostatic union. He is the incarnation of the Divine, God Incarnate.  And, so, Christ is truth itself. Goodness itself. Love itself.

Because of His Paschal Mystery (through Christ’s Incarnation, life, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension) Christ is Truth, Goodness, Love – Divinity – in union with sanctified and redeemed humanity. In union with me. For I have been sanctified and redeemed by Christ Jesus and, now, God the Holy Spirit dwells in me… with me. My human heart is beating ever more closely in rhythm with the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the power of God – our two hearts are being made as one.

But is this how I live?

Am I letting this come to pass?

There are ways of finding out.

Am I two-faced? Do I knowingly smile and flatter someone even as they are being unkind or spreading gossip? Yes. Do I overly criticize someone for being overly critical? Yes. Do I want to squirm out of difficult situations where there is conflict and the difficulty of dealing with the truth – and then later complain on paper how no one has the courage to stand up for the truth? Yes. I could have helped the person who was struggling with living up to the Christian standards. Instead of giving a half smile and backing away from the words of complaint, I could have come forward with gentle guidance, loving correction, and steadfast assurance in the blessings of the ways of God. But… sadly… I did not.

My human heart alone, my fallen heart, takes over and I march to its fickle and failing beat. I do not seek out and listen to the heartbeat of my Beloved. I do not lay my head upon the bosom of the Creator who loves me enough to become a Creature like me in order to save me and transform me into a divine being like Him. No. I return to the merely physical, the way of dust and ashes, not letting the Breath of God fully and truly animate me so that I may, in, with, and through Christ, be a redeemed and sanctified human being with God’s law written in my heart of divine love. I want to be that holy person!  … Don’t I?

If I do, if I want the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be the beat and power and flow of my life, then I must seek out what I desire. If I believe that I am being transformed when in a state of grace, then I must seek to live in grace and speak and think and act and move in grace. It is not I who will be virtuously kind, it is not I who will change the world, but God through me. In Christ, my Lord.

No more speaking and acting from my fallen heart, the heart that was blind, deaf, and dumb – no, I have been saved, I am being saved, and I believe that I will be saved because God has transformed my heart like unto His Own. It is with His heart, the heart of love, the heart of goodness, the heart of truth, that I, body and soul, have life, true life, abundant life.

So may I live.

© 2014 Christina Chase

The Error of His Ways

Who am I to judge?

James 5:20

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

“Judge not, lest you be judged,”[1] we are told directly from the Bible. And yet, we are also told that we should correct people when they are wrong and work with the Holy Spirit to convert sinners. But… how do we know if someone is wrong or a sinner in need of conversion if we aren’t supposed to judge? The conflict here, I believe, arises from a confusion in language – not a confusion in moral guidelines.

First of all, what does it mean to be a sinner?

And, second of all, what does it mean to judge?

Every one of us is a sinner. How do I know? Because we are human – not divine. We have been divinely created with the gift of free will and that means that, sometimes, we choose poorly. To sin is to miss the mark of our full potentials, of the ideal – to choose poorly. Now, sometimes, we can choose poorly by making an innocent mistake and, in this case, our “sin” is less severe and we are less culpable for it (it’s easier to get back on the right path.) But, then, there are other times when we know that we shouldn’t do something (because it isn’t good for us or for someone else) and, yet, we choose to do it anyway. This second scenario is certainly more serious, but in both cases, we are committing sins by heading in the wrong direction – away from truth, away from love, away from goodness… and, so, away from God. If we continue making decisions that take us down inferior paths, straying further and further from who we are created to be, further and further away from God who is truth, love, and goodness itself, then we will have failed our souls, the very essence of we are. And that’s not good.

So… what if we see someone that we love making bad decisions and straying further and further away from love and goodness? Do we throw up our hands saying, “Who am I to judge?” Or do we try to help them? So many times, Christians are accused of being judgmental. The Catholic religion is sometimes seen as a system of harsh judgments imposed on people. But the people who think this way simply don’t understand the true meaning of Christian correction. Of course, there will be people in every religion who are, no doubt, overly critical and condemning, but I want to look at the Christian religion as a whole.

In Christianity, the right kind of “judging” is a prayerful and compassionate discerning of God’s ways – in our actions as well as the actions of others. Who among us would judge the murder of a child as the right thing to do, as what God wants us to do? Is it loving? Is it kind? (You know… as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that I should have written “the murder of a healthy child”, since some claim an act of mercy when putting a disabled child “out of her misery” – and I think that I will probably have to also add “the murder of a healthy child who has already been born”. How sad is it that I’m having a hard time phrasing this bad act so that everyone can agree that it’s bad?!) Is the willful, systematic torturing of a four-year-old a good thing? Can’t we, at least, all come together on this and judge – yes, judge – it as a bad act that should not be committed? Who are we to judge? We are human beings. We are compassionate human beings who want to help those who are suffering. So, we should judge the bad act and remove the victim from the control of the perpetrator, and we should protect other children by making sure that the perpetrator doesn’t hurt anyone else. As good Christians, we should also give the perpetrator the help that he or she needs in order to make better choices and to stop cruelly missing the mark of love. Yes, our “judgments” must be designed to help. We are to love one another. And we cannot love one another if we let each other stray and stumble down dark and dismal paths without breathing one word of warning or correction.

To put in a simple way…

You love your child. Do you let your child run out into traffic to play? Your child is happily and willingly running out into the middle of the street – what do you do? Do you spoil your child’s fun by yelling out “Don’t!”? Or, do you let your child figure things out for herself – after all, who are you to say what should or should not be done? You make mistakes, often, yourself.

Of course, if you truly love your child, then you will instruct your child not to run out into the middle of the street. You will inform your children about the dangers of cars and traffic so that they will know what NOT to do. And, if they forget or ignore your wisdom, you will correct them – even if that means yelling so that you can be heard or pulling them by the arm so that they don’t get hit by an oncoming vehicle. You do these things because you love.

Applying this to the larger world, to society, I can hear the argument that this is good for a child. But, adults need to be allowed to make their own decisions, right or wrong. Well… I have a friend who smokes cigarettes. She also has allergies and asthma that requires an inhaler. She knows that she shouldn’t smoke – but she does it anyway. Should I agree with her when she says that one cigarette a day isn’t that bad? If she is truly my friend, and I lovingly care about her, then I will not agree to that. No, I’m not going to bash her over the head with her poor decision again and again every time I see her – but I am going to gently remind her, every time she is wheezing or coughing, how much better she would feel without smoking and how much healthier she would be. Sometimes, with just a loving and pitying look. She knows.

Everyone needs help. If I see a man in the street talking to his wife as if she’s nothing but dirt and then hitting her, will I just stand by, mute, thinking, “Who am I to judge?” Or will I take action to help both the wife and the abusive man? I am certainly not doing God’s work, I am certainly not being a kind person, if I do absolutely nothing to help. I need to make a judgment. I need to take action. If I don’t… well, then, I am not a good Christian. I am a wuss. And worse, I am an enabler of violence.

So, what is Christianity to do in the world? We, as people in a society, regardless of religion, should be able to identify bad acts that are hurtful to people and do what we can to help. But, we don’t always. We trip over ourselves trying not to offend anyone, trying not to be too “judgmental”. And the bad acts multiply. The Church wants to be clear. There are paths that people can walk upon that are destructive – not only to others, but also to the people walking along them. And the Church wants to do everything possible to help people get off of the paths of destruction and get onto the path of life. Although we can say that full conversion would be conversion to Christianity, the first conversion, very often, must be to humanity. Recognize when people are straying from the fullness of being human – from love, goodness, decency, compassion, kindness – and help them back to the fullness. Help them to see the error of their ways, to reconcile relationships broken and damaged by bad behavior, and to deal with emotions and past experiences in a constructive way that will lead to healing and wholeness. This is what Christ teaches. (This is who Christ is.) And anyone who wants to live the Christian life must take up the mission of Christ and not shrug shoulders in a completely misplaced idea of mercy that is actually only apathy.

While we are helping others, we must make sure that we, ourselves, are keeping to the path of love and goodness – that we are always acting in selfless compassion, strong in the truth, strong in love, ever kind, ever generous, and always gentle when needed. Full conversion comes when we bring Christ to people who are suffering (and who among us isn’t suffering in some way?) bringing Christ by being like Christ. And when those who need help witness and experience the joyful, loving way in which we give help… well, that is the path of the Holy Spirit and, as we follow Christ, we will lead by example. That’s what Christianity is and does.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[1] Matthew 7:1

Servant

I want to be of some use. But I don’t want to be used.

Matthew 20:27

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

We don’t want to be anyone’s fool. We won’t let anyone put one over on us or walk all over us.  We are strong.  We are independent.  We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and don’t need anyone telling us what to do — or what not to do.  If one of us is asked to do some menial task, we think that such a thing is beneath us and say to the person asking, “I’m not your servant!”

We will not be used.

But…

Are we of any use to anyone but ourselves? What happens when we are the ones using ourselves for fruitless pursuits, enslaving ourselves to our own whims and selfishness?  I’ll tell you what happens: we become the worst kind of fools — our own fools.

I was once self-centered.

When I was an atheist, I spoke like an atheist, I thought like an atheist, I reasoned like an atheist. When I became a believer, I put away with atheistic things.

I was not a mean and nasty atheist, angry at the world, disgusted with people. I was one of those secular humanist kind of atheists, appreciating beauty and kindness, concerned with the plight of others, and wanting to make the world a better place.  You would not have known by my interactions with people, by my words or by my actions that I was a “godless heathen”.  But, well… I was.  I did what I wanted and what I wanted was what made me feel good about myself.  That very sentence can describe many people — including those who claim belief in, and love for, God.

The thing is, even when I might have said or done something that was of service to another, I cannot say that I did it purely for that other.  My act of kindness was not a selfless act, it was not true charity, because I was doing it to bring myself pleasure.  You know that pleasure that you get when you do something good for another person?  It gives you a kind of lift and can lead you to think very lovely things about yourself, and you are happy for that moment.  In this way, I can see how some people could actually get addicted to do-gooding.  But, what kind of good does it really do?  The other person who was helped is benefited.  But am I who did it?  I don’t think so.

You see, there were always people, who I helped out in some way, who did not experience the same pleasure as I did from my action. Sometimes, they received my kindness with ingratitude.  Sometimes giving meanness in return.  And, believe me, I snapped back at those people in a hurry.  “You don’t want me to help you?  Fine, then.  Suffer.  See if I care.”  Because, well, I really didn’t.  I centered all of my goodness, my talents and gifts, my beauties and strengths, in myself.  I did these things, I deserved full credit, I, I, I….  I hoarded any good quality of mine like a treasure.  I might pay out some of it somewhere if I thought it was a good investment and would give me a pleasurable return.  But, if it didn’t, then I would withdraw very quickly.  I was self-centered.

And then I became God-centered.

What does it mean to be God-centered? Well, it could be explained in many ways, but to explain the difference between being self-centered and God-centered, I’ll continue along the same lines that I wrote above.  As an atheist, I gave full credit to myself (including my genetics and experiences) for any of my gifts and talents, and anything that I thought, said, and did that was good, true, or beautiful (I was the determining judge of what was good, true, or beautiful, anyway).  But, as a believer, I give full credit to God (the true judge of truth, being Truth Itself) for all of my gifts and talents, and everything good, true, and beautiful in my thoughts, words, and actions.  God is the treasure and the treasure house.  God is the center.  And, by the love and mercy of God, God chooses to dwell within me.  Not because I deserve this.  But because God loves.

It’s like this. God created human beings in His own image and likeness and saves us from our sins, from our waywardness (a kind of drunk-on-self stumbling stagger, which is life that ends in death) by becoming one of us.  Christ sanctifies all of humanity through his Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension: the Paschal Mystery.  And when we choose to enter into the life of Christ, we first enter into the death of Christ — and then we are reborn.  And we are not reborn in order that we may serve ourselves, our own whims and pleasures.  We are born again from above in order that we may truly become ourselves by serving others.  It is that entering into the death of Christ that allows us to truly be of use — without being used.  We Christians sometimes say that we “die to self”.  And that can sound kind of scary and weird to non-Christians — even to Christians who have not come to a fuller understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, yet.  But, you see, it is by emulating Christ, in giving ourselves away, that we are able to fully recognize God as the center and then able to give tirelessly and selflessly from the Divine treasure house within each of us.  No need to hoard.  And no need to be thanked or even recognized for the good service given to the other.  All glory to God.  For we are doing what we simply must do as true believers.  In much the same way, a rose must breathe sweetly and a flooded stream flow quickly.  It is the true nature of who we are and we cannot weary of it as long as we remain who we are.

And, so, as a believer, I know that I can be of use to others without ever being used. If someone wants half of my desert, then I should offer them the whole thing.  If someone needs help with a computer problem, I should patiently give it and not begrudge one moment extra spent doing more than might be “necessary”.  Yes, this is the God-centered life.  (God, help me live it!)  And it can be tiring, and thankless, and even lonely, sometimes.  But, the greatest human that ever lived, and ever will live, was humiliated, abandoned, tortured, and killed cruelly.  And, yet… He was willing to go through it all for the sake of the very ones who hurt Him… and so He is is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  To be like Him is more than a good idea, a pleasure, or something that might be rewarded — it is simply and profoundly who I am as a human being, first, foremost, and always.

© 2014 Christina Chase