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?

Be Not Afraid

DawnTreader_MPC_Dark_Island

The word “virtue” can be one of those oft-repeated non-words that we digest as dull and lifeless. This reaction is completely understandable – the familiar becomes banal. But it is good to shake ourselves out of this and ask the Spirit to refresh and renew our vision to see things as they really are. The Christian concept of virtue simply consists of a person being all that it is possible for him or her to be (the realization of the human capacity for being). They are gifts that bud from the grace of God, which surge through the disciple and manifest him or her as a radiant, free, happy, inexplicably wondrous child of God.

One of these gifts that is seldom appreciated for its impact in our lives is courage. We don’t carry swords, fight in battles, lodge on the frontiers or live harvest-to-harvest anymore – we work on computers, drive in cars, store our food in Tupperware and have temperature-controlled houses. So why do we need courage?

“Do not be afraid” is the most repeated phrase in the Bible. In fact, it is repeated 365 times – one for each day. Isn’t that somewhat shocking? It’s not variations of “I love you” or “Come to me all who labor”, but “Do not be afraid”. That must mean two important things:  1) God is telling us that fear will be a huge part of our lives and, if you don’t think it is, you are kidding yourself and 2) He can do something about it (why would He tell us to rise above fear unless He could give us the power to do it?).

We need to admit that fear is a very real part of our lives. Every day we are met with situations and decisions that grip us by the throat – some lightly, some tightly – and make us want to shrink away, to run. Think of the Dark Island from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. How often does a “great dark mountain rising out of the sea” meet us on our life’s voyage, an “utter blackness as if they had come to the edge of moonless and starless night”, “not land at all, not even, in an ordinary sense, a mist… [but] Darkness”?

And, though they vary in severity, hue and gravity, this fear-inducing darkness meets us every day. Fear really is one of the biggest problems in our lives. Michael O’Brien – one of today’s best fiction writers, who happens to be Catholic as well – was recently asked what he learned from times of struggle, hopelessness and discouragement. His response:

I saw that fear – not just sin, but fear – blocks out the actions of God. It can…  What have I learned? After sin, fear is my greatest enemy. 

Sin is our worst enemy: evil flooding into our very selves. But after that, nothing is more hellish and can keep us from all the good the Lord has for us than fear – the fumes of that flood.

If fear is one of our biggest problems, then it makes sense that courage is one of the biggest “answers” in our lives. St. Teresa of Avila goes so far as to mark courage as perhaps the most important characteristic one can have when on the “spiritual journey” that is the life of a disciple. Why? Because fear won’t lead us home. Fear makes us shrink and deflate; it makes us “turn tail” as most of the members of the Dawn Treader would have done. But courage literally “gives heart” so that we may attain and achieve what is good for us and our brothers and sisters. It frees us to not be steered by our fears, but by our internal compass, by Truth, by God Himself. It liberates us to plow forth on the mission – our mission – given to us by the King.

We need not even be bogged down by the fact that there is fear in our lives. We are not called to be fear-less. We are called to be courageous – willing to go on in the face of fear.  Fear will come (doesn’t God allude to that by repeating a phrase 365 times in the Bible?) and when it does may we embody Reepicheep, saying,

This is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing when I get back to Narnia that I left a mystery behind me though fear.

So how do we acquire courage? By asking for a gift. We don’t have to rise above fear strictly on by our own moxie and savvy. Of course grace isn’t magic (it requires our co-operation) but it is, first and foremost, from the Father. We can’t defeat darkness. We can’t, of our own accord, flick the fears off our back and shimmy on up the mountain. But, our Father, who confidently stands as Lord over all, has no problem with turning our darkness into light. Let’s rejoice that, with God dwelling in us, we are empowered to rise above all evil. Alleluia!

Let us beg our Father to pour out on us this gift of courage, which, like Reepicheep, can often come in a small package, but can nonetheless steer the ship straight – through choppy, dark waters to Aslan’s country.

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.

Celebrating the Conclusion of Christmas with Celine

Lest we degenerate into paganism, we should remember that it’s still the Christmas season!

To aide in celebrating the conclusion of this marvelous time, I invite all of us to do something our generation rarely does. The soundtrack of our times, for good or bad, would definitely not be hymns, chants, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, Elvis, The Beatles or U2. Instead, it would be mindless, throbbing background music. Have we ever just sat on a chair, a couch, or a bed and just listened to music without doing anything else? Maybe we would hear something more than just sound and reverberation.

You want to try that, you say?! Splendid! Here is an opportunity to witness “angels ascending and descending”.

Sit down and listen (and if possible, for the love of God and the gift of music He has given us – not on dinny laptop speakers) to Celine Dion sing “O Holy Night” live. Whenever I pay attention to the words she is singing and behold this daughter of God pouring out her voice and soul to her Father in praise and glory, the dome of the everyday work-world existence is pierced and I glimpse a breath of what beholds us at the end. May it be the same for you.

Merry Christmas. May the Spirit of the Child Jesus fill you in the next 5 minutes and 19 seconds and always.

Merry Christmas

nativity-scene-1What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light, 
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light. -John 1:4-8

Merry Christmas!

In this special season of family, food, and gift giving, it can be very easy to lose sight of what exactly we are celebrating. Our culture attempts to engage in the true meaning of the season by promoting ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ but this approach is both fleeting and superficial. Unfortunately, we find many people whose hope and joy are not enhanced by the season but rather diminished by loneliness and increasing darkness. Eggnog, ham, and a new pair of socks are great, but without a focus on the true meaning of Christmas, something is necessarily missing.

The Church in her great wisdom attempts to turn our gaze to the fundamental reason for our celebration through the gospel reading from John. Through the birth of Jesus, life has entered the world and this life is the light all humanity desperately seeks. The darkness of depression, loneliness, and despair can be illuminated and conquered by Jesus. The Christmas season, which the culture fills with artificial light and life, is supposed to draw attention to the source of authentic hope, peace, and joy. The twinkling lights on the tree in Rockefeller Center which bring a certain superficial happiness can also remind us of the beauty and everlasting love we find in the manger. This awareness of Christ’s light cannot remain in the theoretical or the hypothetical since then it can be easily dismissed or ignored by an already skeptical society.

Just as John was sent by God to testify to the light, we are also called to become ‘decorations’ of Christmas to reveal the life we have found in Christ. God desires that we act as the twinkling lights on the tree or beautifully wrapped gifts, not to bring attention to ourselves, but to point to Him whose life we reflect.

i.d.916 exists to help young adults become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. We are a community of missionary disciples; always ready and willing to promote the source of our joy and our relationship with Christ. Let’s be intentional this Christmas season. Let’s enjoy all that Christmas has to offer while remembering why we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

And finally, let’s testify to the light, a light which darkness cannot overcome.

God bless,

Pete Burak