Forget ‘Fitting In’

chesterton-banner-640x400In the beginning of G.K. Chesterton’s deftly illuminating biography of St. Thomas Aquinas lies this thought:

Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt… Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.

Like most of Chesterton’s writing, that quote comes at us like an unforeseen stiff jab; it’s odd, jolting and strangely awakening. When we try that passage on like a t-shirt we see that at once it scratches and challenges us, but, simultaneously, somehow it fits perfectly.

From adolescence to our twilight hours, we get so anxious about ‘fitting in’ and ‘finding our place’ in the world. We try to find our group – our place of connection and belonging. We have last names that contextualize our lives in a ‘clan’, we buy t-shirts that manifest our being ‘part of something’ and we find people with whom we come alive. And it goes all the way up: we look for this sense of belonging – this sense of home – in our communities, countries and our planet as a whole. (What else do political and environmental concerns – local or global – boil down to but a worry over the state of one’s hearth and nest?)

This is all very natural; it is a deep human need. We should look to belong somewhere. We should desire a home. But, where is our home? Where do we belong?

It simply can’t be here. If it is here, then while we live we make no sense to ourselves and then, ultimately, we are lost forever. Such a perspective offers us this: we go through life with an insatiable, restless Sehnsucht that yearns for something ‘we-know-not-what’, something ‘more’; and, as a culminating capstone, we are ripped from our beds and from our ‘home’ by the death that comes for us all. Life is a meaningless tragedy.

But, no, we are not orphans! We are not stuck out in the cold forever. We do have a home…but it is not of this world. It is the world to come. This is a fact that should change the entirety of our lives. Really.

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Now, the challenge: If this is the truth, do we actually live this way?

This should stop us in our tracks. How often do we try to ‘fit in’ and conform to what is around us? How often do we feel the pressure to live by the creeds and impulses of the clay-footed culture of this passing kingdom? How often do we allow a competing compass set our priorities? How often, amidst the copious options encircling us, do we frantically search for our place of belonging – thinking that changing ‘this’ or ‘that’ will finally be the answer?

Thankfully, Christ came to free us from that unquenchable and desperate search. When we finally quit the rat race and rest in Jesus, as always, we discover He has the only answer that helps us understand ourselves. He told us we wouldn’t ‘fit in’:

In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Look around – there is a distinct tension between the culture ‘out there’ and the Gospel. This presents an enormous temptation to Christians (as human beings with a natural urge to get along with others) to ‘go the way of the world’ because running against the grain is too isolating and just too darn difficult! It’s simply a lot easier to ‘get along.’ But, to do that is to live a lie:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19; emphasis added)

We are not of this world. Thus, our lives should manifest that reality. If we are baptized into Christ, we cannot sacrifice and compromise our identity merely to ‘fit in.’ It may bring us grief and woe, but Jesus can handle that hurt. He begs us not to give in, but to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1), because in Him alone is life and eternally tremendous glory.

We must constantly be asking ourselves, “Where is my home and where does my allegiance lie?” And then, live accordingly.

A final, crucial point: the answer is not to grit our teeth, build a bunker and bear out our countercultural lifestyle in lonely isolation. Such a condition is hardly conducive to the Gospel message or human flourishing. The answer is solidarity. The common gathering and shared life of the brothers and sisters, supporting one another in our walk toward the Lord. Any talk of not conforming to the ‘ways of the world’ is insufficient without affirming the proper solution: a rich communal life of missionary disciples. And, paradoxically, it is in living this way of ‘contradicting’ the world (as Chesterton aptly illuminated) that each and every generation can be brought to Jesus.

In conclusion: do you want to be a saint? Do you want to be missionary? Do you want to be a disciple? Then forget about ‘fitting in.’ Give your allegiance to the one true King.

 

(Check out further application of this discussion here and here.)

The Economics of Sex

Take 10 minutes and watch this. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good, practical cogitator. This production from the Austin Institute provides a unique and thoughtful illustration of the sickly situation of sexual relationships in the young adult culture (and beyond) and how it can be improved. Because this video is a secular production, it is – from the perspective of this blog – incomplete on certain factors and a bit overly ‘worldly’ in certain characterizations. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing portrayal of the dynamics of sexual relationships and the hopelessness of the current trajectory of the dating culture.

Food for thought:

  1. How is the walk of a disciple different from the general cultural portrait sketched here?
  2. Taking some time to think honestly, how can you act differently to heal the diseased relationship culture we live in?
  3. Considering how unnatural and fractured the relationship culture is, where does our hope lie?

Contra Comfort – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For


A traveler walks in snow in Chicago


 If you live in the Midwest of the United States, over the past week or so you have been somewhat uncomfortable. The snow has made ordinary tasks just a bit too difficult, the cold has made leaving your house catastrophic and the omnipresent clouds have chased any inspiration into hibernation.

The common response to these kinds of storms, at least in the Western world, is to maintain a certain level of convenience and comfort. We must keep everything in order so that we can still eat and drink what we want, watch what we want, and spend time with those we want to be with. On a certain level, that seems a proper response to a storm. Surely, life must go on. But it also exposes the over-inflated comfort level in our culture.

As clever human beings, we have invented and crafted a myriad of tools, toys and techniques to make our lives easier—more convenient and comfortable. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But in a postmodern culture where the atheistic and nihilistic anthems of Nietzsche and Sartre contaminate our water, comfort becomes our bitter Master, quick to turn its subjects into slaves. Without the horizon of the eternal and transcendent, our only purpose in life is to maintain this baseline comfort level. We bow down to it like starved minions. If there is no meaning to life, what is our life’s aim except the daily toil of minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure? Perhaps this is a slice of the carrion comfort that disgusted Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Too often these toxins can contaminate us as disciples and we backslide into living for our physical, emotional and situational comfort. We want just enough of this and that, avoiding pain and suffering at all costs and increasing pleasure to give us a serene, prosperous, tranquil, fun, enjoyable life. Isn’t this basically “the American dream” that assaults us through the media at every turn? Isn’t that what the West now offers the rest of the world? But is this dutiful preservation of perpetual comfort and convenience a healthy state?

This should give us pause:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25)

Does that sound comfortable? To deny yourself, lose your life, and take up your cross sounds like the antithesis of “comfortable”, yet it is the job description of a disciple of Jesus Christ. Moreover, look at Jesus’ very life! What about it – down to his very occupation – was comfortable? And century after century His closest friends, whom the Church honors and reveres, without exception lived lives in which comfort wasn’t the rudder guiding their ship, but the chain they deliberately severed, because it kept them moored to the dock.

One could go so far as declaring the tagline for a Christian disciple to be “Jesus of Nazareth – making people uncomfortable since the year zero”.

But, here is the paradox: that tagline is actually really, really, really Good News.

Peter Kreeft has said that the two worst things in the world, that humans can’t help but resist, are loneliness and boredom. Well, if living for comfort rings with a dark dissonance, it’s because it is boring – and we aren’t meant to live in boredom. So says Benedict XVI:

“This world will offer you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

Comfort tries to make a home out of our temporal lives here on Earth. And that simply doesn’t cut it for us! We want more. We want glory (Romans 8). We want radiant, unmitigated joy (John 15:11). We want all things made new (Rev. 21:5). We want to be heroes in a great story – in The Great Story – and what heroes that you know of surrounded themselves with comfort? We want, as two different Irishmen put it, to go “further up and further in” “where the streets have no name”. So we should live like missionary pilgrims “seeking a homeland” (Heb. 11:14) who “still haven’t found what [they’re] looking for”, not fearfully and fancifully settle for less – for mere comfort amidst a storm.For this reason we are told to “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials” (James 1:2), and, taking our guidance from the Lord and our cue from the weather around us this winter, to resist our culture’s comfort fetish and “rage, rage against the dying of the light” in our souls and in our society.

Motherinez

I know a woman who hasn’t had a real night’s sleep in decades. She is an 86 year old, hunched-over nun who runs an orphanage in Mexico City. She began her vocation teaching in a prosperous school in the city. Yet when she encountered abandoned, suffering children on the street, she relinquished her own comfort to be Christ to those who literally had no one else to love and care for them. She set up a tarp for shelter and “took in” the forgotten, unwanted children. Today, housed in a simple building, she almost single-handedly cares for more than 230 children. Most are mentally handicapped and some are quite young, disabled and in such a fragile state that they often need critical help at any moment. So, during the night, as these infants sleep in their cribs, Madre Inez dozes intermittently in a nearby broken down chair so that she can respond to their needs.

This is a woman who has purposely chosen the life of a disciple: a life of love.

Does it sound comfortable? Absolutely not. But, my Word, is it great.

Developing a Heart for God’s People

Over the past few weeks, Joey McCoy and Pete Burak had the opportunity to participate on the EWTN television show, Crossing the Goal.  The normal hosts temporarily stepped aside to let four members of FOCUS and the i.d.916 guys run the show.  The links to the first two shows are below:

Why the New Evangelization?

 Win – Developing a Heart for God

The video below is the third episode on Developing a Heart for God’s People.  Visit http://www.crossingthegoal.com or http://www.ewtn.com to learn more about the show and the schedule for future episodes.

No Room at the Inn

 

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by David Macari

As I reflect on the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, they would be nearing the city now. Joseph would be silently relieved that his wife would not undergo the danger of delivering a baby on the road−at the same time telling Mary, “See, I knew we could do it. Here we are, just a few more miles to a bed and a hot meal.” Mary is in active labor at this point. She would be feeling a mix of body wracking contractions and a very real, very human fear that delivering a child would include in the best of the circumstances of her day, let alone in a foreign land with no assistance of an elder woman to guide her through it. They’d would both be aching all over from their journey, Mary bruised extensively from riding the donkey, (she probably didn’t have a comfy padded leather saddle) and Joseph wincing with every step as his tough soles have been split by the 80 miles of walking over four days.

Then they arrive at Bethlehem, the City of David, the City of the King. It is the day of the invasion of Heaven unto Earth. It is God’s version of D-Day to break the power of evil.

No one will help them. As Joseph humbly negotiates and begs for a place for Mary to lie down, imagine the simple refusals that progress from annoyance, to anger, then to scorn; anything to get this pitiful pair away from their door. The head of the Holy Family is laughed to scorn in his time of need, a foreshadowing of what his Son would experience. I wonder how many places they went before they went to the outskirts of the city where poverty, crime and danger were likely to exist. This is where God softened the heart of a man to open a hovel to the Holy Family. Here they will take refuge in this germ infested, smelly, uncomfortable, not-idyllic-in-any-way, animal cave; rejected by the City of David.

God chose to have His Son born in filth. I strongly believe that He chose this, so that we would know that He wants to be born in our hearts−just as they ARE. My heart is still filthy. Compared to a glorified human heart, what our hearts will be in heaven, our hearts are nasty hovels. God has been looking for a landing zone for his Invasion. HERE, Lord! Be born in me! Make my hovel of a heart the dwelling place of the King of Kings. I am not ashamed to let You in. I boast of my weakness to You, Lord (2 Corinthians 12:9). Make my heart humble enough to receive Your Son.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for they, like the most humble cave in the world, will receive the Kingdom of Heaven.

Periodic Scripture Reflection: John 14:30

saint-john-the-apostle“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.  He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

This passage from the Gospel of John comes from a long exhortation from Jesus. It fits nicely around famous verses like “I am the vine and you are the branches…” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” and therefore could be easily overlooked. These are two simple sentences that reveal much about Jesus’ posture and relationship with the Father. The first line serves as a warning to Christ’s disciples that the Passion is quickly approaching. Even though they have spent countless hours with Jesus, they still don’t fully realize what is to come. The coming days will be filled with confusion, fear, and sadness as Jesus is taken from them and He wants to give them reassurance. He warns that the “ruler of this world” (Satan) is coming but the power of darkness does not control Him. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Guys, our time together is coming to a close, and it’s going to look bad, but don’t worry, I’m doing what the Father wants me to do.” The final phrase reveals so much about the heart of Jesus towards His Father: “…but I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Jesus goes to the cross to save us, rescue us, bridge the gap between God and man, to become the sacrificial lamb, to redeem mankind, to open the gates of Heaven, and to show the world how much He loves His Father. Jesus endured the worst suffering, embraced humiliation, and accepted total rejection to demonstrate His love for us and for His Abba.

This is the ultimate example of how Christ wants us to act towards the Father. We need to embrace the Father’s plan, not out of fear or obligation, but to show the world that we love the Father. When someone asks you why you go to Mass on Sunday or why you don’t use contraception, I bet they won’t expect you to say, “I do as my Father has commanded me, because I love Him.”