A House Divided

A House Divided

Satan, the father of lies, loves division.

It matters very little what the division is actually over.  In fact, I think the more religious-oriented the division, the more it pleases Satan.  But he will take any dispute, so long as it seeks to divide.

Knock down drag out brawls over the liturgy?  Disputes over the placement of the altar?  Feuding over Lenten fasting?  Frustrations with priests and bishops?  Sides forming over who is more Catholic than the pope?

Satan is delighted.

We spend our time considering what we think is best and we tend to lose sight of the Lord.  I’m not arguing for an “anything goes” mentality.  Far from it, I am encouraging us to focus on what is the most important rather than repeatedly increasing the divisions within humanity.

For the bonds which unite the faithful are mightier than anything dividing them. Hence, let there be unity in what is necessary; freedom in what is unsettled, and charity in any case.

(Gaudium Et Spes)

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis portrays Hell as a place of isolation.  The opening pages start in a town that is approaching the evening hours but seems empty of people.  Yet the narrator finds people waiting in line at a bus stop.  As the minutes pass, people leave the line because they keep quarreling with each other about one thing or another.  The town is empty because the inhabitants cannot bear to be in such close proximity to other people with all their flaws and imperfections.  So they keep moving, distancing themselves from others until they find themselves in complete isolation. Continue reading “A House Divided”

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

“I will not let Satan use my heart against me.”  

Arguably, the topic I write about most is the human heart.  This is probably because I am always struggling to come to terms with having one.  The Lord redeemed the human heart  when He became incarnate.  I am certain it provided difficulties for Him, also, but He handled all of those temptations and challenges to prove that, with His grace, it can be done.

Scripture speaks often of the heart.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt. 6:21)
“My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.”  (Ps. 45:1)
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23)
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:7)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, said, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”  Beauty is a powerful force and both God and Satan use it for their own purposes.  It moves our hearts, sometimes against our wishes or in spite of our intentions.

Our hearts are being fought over and so I guess it makes sense that mine so often feels like a war zone.  Too often, however, the main focus can be me and not about how the Lord could be using feelings, situations, and circumstances to draw me closer to Himself.  And when the focus rests on me, it becomes a pretty dismal outlook.  In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis recognizes this tendency in a letter to Wormwood, a young demon-in-training.  “The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.  Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the actions of their own wills.” Continue reading “Getting to the Heart of the Matter”

Who is your father?

“Who is your father?”

The words are spoken by the silver-tongued devil as Jesus agonizes in the garden.  I am always struck by the way Satan is portrayed in “The Passion of the Christ” and how perfectly it is done.  Part of me thinks he should be far more evil in appearance and words but I think they actually did it correctly.  Satan doesn’t tempt us with murder at first.  Rather he sows seeds of doubt and distrust.  Jesus agonizes in the garden and Satan is attacking His very identity.  To attack His identity means to attack the very relationship that defines Him, that defines us.

Who is your father?  The question is laden with subtle hints that a loving father would not subject His only beloved son to such torture.  Such suffering is unnecessary, it is unkind, it is not good.  Satan is trying to shake the belief that God is all-good and all-loving.  Once the question of doubt is placed about the Father, then he attempts to destroy the very image of the Son.

“Who are you?”  Such simple questions.  With such simple answers.  Yet in the midst of despair and confusion, the answers can be hard to come by.  I am….who am I?  Once the relationship with the Father is cut, then it is much easier to destroy who you are.  Think of the Lion King.  Mufasa appears to Simba and says that because Simba has forgotten who he is, he has also forgotten who his father is.  We also can fall into the same trap.  We forget ourselves because we have forgotten who the Father is.

Satan plants these little lies, these questions, these doubts and then lets them wreck havoc in our lives.  Who are we?  “You are my son (daughter), the one true king…and you must take your place in the circle of life.”  Theological translation?  You are the son/daughter of the one true King and you must take your place in the Body of Christ.

He is.

You are because He is.

Never think that He is because you are.  You are the dependent being.  You are the one who relies on Him for everything.  Do not let Satan shake your foundation.  One of the best things I have learned (and strive to put into practice) is simply asking, “Would Jesus speak to me in this way?”  Jesus challenges us and pushes us forward but He doesn’t do this by tearing us apart.

St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?”  This is very different from how Satan approaches the issue.  He attacks when we are weak and questioning.  He uses the questions to create distance, not to draw us nearer to Our Lord.  Satan’s questions cause unrest, lack of peace, and sow doubt.  The prayer of St. Francis encourages depth and seeking the Truth about God.

Who is your father?  Who are you?  You are the Beloved of the Father.  The Father is transcendent and immanent.  He is Mercy, Love, Goodness.  He is the great I AM.  He doesn’t need you but He loves you radically.  He is the origin of all things, the Creator of the Universe.  He is wonder, awe, and beauty that we find all around us.  He is.  And because He is, we are.

“here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”
–excerpt from ee cummings [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in]

The Art of Going Deeper

You think you know something.  And then you find out that you really had no clue.

Yesterday my Scripture class was learning about the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Ever since taking an Old Testament Scripture class in college, I have had a deep love and appreciation for the Old Testament.  Perhaps my “love” isn’t quite as passionate as it should be, but there are parts of the Old Testament that I will return to and soak in the goodness of salvation history.  The story of creation and the fall of man is one of those stories.

I was guiding them through Gen. 3 where the serpent began to wheedle his way into the innocent hearts of the first couple.  Reviewing the story again I was amazed by the goodness of God and the way He loved us from the beginning.  He asks little of us and when we fail to give Him that little, He is quick to promise redemption.

The serpent from his very first words is twisting the beauty and goodness of God and tries to portray Him as a harsh dictator.  “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'”  Very quickly the loving generosity of God is portrayed as miserly withholding.  “You will not die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  He dares to blatantly contradict God yet he always operates under half-truths.  Adam and Eve do not die an immediate physical death.  Yet the death they undergo is of a far more detrimental sort–they die spiritually and face separation from God.

The serpent sows seeds of doubt in the hearts of Adam and Eve.  “Does God really have your best interests in mind?  Is He holding out on you?  Can you really trust Him?”  They begin to wonder if perhaps everything they never knew they wanted could be found within the fruit of this tree.  Perhaps God, all-good, all-giving, all-knowing, perhaps He cannot be fully trusted.

They buy stock in that lie and it turns out to be the worst thing they could have possibly done.  The facade crashes around them and the lie becomes apparent.  As they realize they are naked and have fallen from grace, I can only imagine that the serpent did not remain silent.  At this point he was probably whispering to them how disappointed God was with them, how things could never be the same, and that their sin was irreparable, unforgivable, too big for the mercy of God.

It struck me while I was speaking to them about these doubts that Satan whispered to our first parents, that we hear those same words, too.  I told them this.  But my realization was that when I was their age, I wouldn’t have believed myself.  I would have claimed to not listen to Satan or to mistrust God or doubt His intentions.  When I was 15-16 years old I would have said I trusted God.

Now I am far closer to God and I am beginning to realize how little I trust Him.  I begin to see how I do listen to the voice of the enemy and how I doubt God’s intentions, plans, and desires for my life.  When I was the age of my students I would have thought that I didn’t doubt God because I was close to Him.  Now that I am closer to Him, I see that I doubt Him.  It is a beautiful mystery that in the spiritual life, the closer we come to the light (and I am by no means very close to holiness or this light) the more we can see our own darkness and imperfections.  We see places that need to be purified and cleansed where before we thought we were perfectly healed and whole.

So we delve deeper into the garden of our hearts.  We question why we run from the God who made us, loves us, and wills us into existence.  We realize that we are running from Him.  As we turn to hide and cover ourselves, we ask why we are ashamed and what needs covering.  When I taught Totus Tuus I would have little kids tell me that if they were Adam and Eve, they would have listened to God.  My response probably wasn’t as delicate as it should have been–I told them that they would have done the exact same thing and that Adam and Eve made the choice on behalf of humanity.  My innocent little 3rd and 4th grade Totus Tuus children probably didn’t understand that.  But if I reflect on my day and my life, I can see how nearly every day I have eaten the fruit and then run away from the sound of my Lord seeking after my heart so that he may simply be with me.  He comes to seek me out and forgive me and I run away, saying I am unforgivable.

Lord, help us to delve deeper.  Grant us the grace to dig beneath the surface and look past what we have assumed to be true.  Help me to trust in You with a genuine trust that will enable a wholehearted joyful surrender.