Stay With Me, Remain Here With Me

We are nearing the halfway point of Lent. For many, the interior battles and withdrawals are growing with a fierce intensity. Do you not know someone who is experiencing an intense spiritual struggle? Chances are you do, but maybe you cannot see it. Grief is always around and during our times of struggle, it is important for us to keep a faithful perspective on our lives. Some ways our faith teaches us to find perspective is through prayer, song or meditation. Taize is an opportunity which includes all of those aspects.

Taize prayer is best described as “an ecumenical sung and silent participatory prayer service designed to achieve a contemplative state through music, song and silence.” Here in West Michigan, there are a few ways to participate in Taize prayer, one being at St. Mary’s church in downtown Grand Rapids on the second Monday night of each month. I have been a couple of times and have loved experiencing the voice of God, the contemplative nature of it, and the depth of which Christ pierces me with his mercy and love. It is also a safe and collaborative way to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to come together to pray for peace everywhere in the world. Below are some lyrics from one particular song that stands out to me and one that moves me deeply during Lent.

Stay with me, remain here with me.
Watch and pray, watch and pray.

Verses:

1. Stay here and keep watch with me. Watch and pray, watch and pray!
2. Watch and pray not to give way to temptation.
3. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.
4. My heart is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here with me, stay awake and pray.
5. Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.
6. Father, if this cannot pass me by without my drinking it, your will be done.

For those of you who participate in Good Friday liturgies (which I highly recommend if you have not), this song is often sung when the Eucharist is brought out of the church and is moved elsewhere, signifying Christ’s death and absence during this time. It is a powerful message and the time spent worshiping the Eucharist in deep prayer and meditation can move mountains within the soul. However, you do not have to wait until Holy Week to experience the depth of this meditative prayer. Thankfully, the social media sources that be, have given us access to this music so we can listen to it anytime we need to. Simply visit YouTube and type in “Stay With Me Taize) in the search bar to find several music videos you can listen to at work, on Sunday mornings, or to prepare you for Eucharistic adoration or Holy Week.

“Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” Matthew 26:38

As I said in the beginning, there is always someone around us who is experiencing struggle and grief.  The beginning of Christ’s intense grief happened in the garden of Gethsemane. Our Lady has given us the sorrowful rosary to meditate on this mystery, and our faith community has expanded upon that by giving us this beautiful Taize prayer. I encourage you to take a look into it and to deepen your roots to Mary, most Holy and pure, and to ask her to help you pray alongside her son during this Lenten season.

Stay with Him. Remain here with Him. Watch and pray.

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Scratching the Itch: Sexual Nihilism in a Libertine World

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, March 26

In postmodern America there is perhaps no issue that has been more liberalized than sex. The latest example of this social trend is my home state’s decision to strike down its ban on same-sex marriage. This post is not meant to be about this decision per se but to use it as an illustration of how individualism manifests itself in our laws and what that means in regards to our sexuality. The reason this decision is an example of expanding sexual liberalism is because it was not decided in order to further any objective good. It wasn’t made to help families, support the common good, or even for the objective benefit of any individuals. It was purely based on the fact that such constraints treated people differently, sanctioning some choices and rendering others invalid, and that this is inherently incompatible with the ideology of liberalism itself. It was a decision that appealed not to morality of “the good” but to the freedom of the individual as an absolute. This individual absolutism, however, while expanding liberty and the choices society allows us to make, has other consequences.

By swallowing sexual libertinism hook, line and sinker we risk making our choices less meaningful.If all options are equally legitimate and whichever one we choose is merely a matter of individual caprice then why does our choice matter? Can we say that one is “better” or more “right” than another? If we really believe that our personal choice is meaningless beyond our own self-gratification then there’s no conflict but if we believe that our personal choice is in any way “better” then individual absolutism and decisions like Judge Bernard Friedman’s challenge that. If sex means anything then it means nothing. But for most people, even if they accept individual absolutism in regards to legislation, the choices they make in their personal lives, perhaps especially regarding sexuality, are not just mere preference. They make the choices they do because they believe that it is somehow better, and not just merely as a matter of personal taste. The choice is important because sex does mean something to them, quite a lot actually.

Judge Friedman, recognizing that people disagree vehemently on this topic, cites “equal protection” as the rationale for favoring sexual liberalism. We cannot agree on the moral law and what is good therefore differences must be protected so that a majority cannot impose itself on those not content with prevailing attitudes. Such was the case when the judge struck down the ban popularized by the people of Michigan in 2004. While majority rule can be equally oppressive as individualism, disagreement is no argument for laissez-faire. If it were, then it would require the abolishion of the State itself and all authority. After all, we disagree on everything. On the contrary, it is precisely on contested issues like sexuality that definitive laws are required. It is noncompliance that requires the rule of law and, while noncompliance and deviancy can and should be tolerated to some extent, it precisely on “important” issues that conformity to laws becomes especially vital. As one friend put it, “Of all the aspects of humanity, sex seems to preoccupy us the most. It is not logical that God, the creator of humanity, would not give humanity laws to govern the sexual appetite. The thing that preoccupies us the most is the thing that is most likely to have a law, not the thing that we would expect to be devoid of law.” We may certainly disgree on how those laws define our actions and constrain our behavior, and certainly a large part of the gay marriage debate focuses on that, but to argue that the law has no place to define what sexuality means and to guide our sexual behavior is folly.

To deconstruct our sexuality for the sake of human caprice is to invite sexual nihilism, to take perhaps the most personal and powerful aspect of our beings and render it without meaning, without taste, and without an ethos.

If sex is merely about satisfying a personal feeling then we’ve reduced it to the gravity of scratching an itch.

Christian Ohnimus is a husband and registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He hopes to raise a holy family with the help of his better and more beautiful other half.

The Word of God – Indy Series (part 2)

“Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed.” – The Last Crusade

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1

Our second test for the holy grail, (the spoiler alert is still in effect from last article) is the Word of God, and only in the footsteps of God will he proceed. After escaping decapitation and bisection our intrepid (love that word) hero comes across a giant word puzzle. Because before there were iPhones they built games out of huge stone pieces that could kill you if you chose the wrong one. Which our archaeologist then proceeds to do. Our favorite archaeologist is very lucky and has excellent reaction speed.

This test is good one to follow the previous one. The previous one tested whether we’d be willing to submit to God, to give Him due respect in our prayer and our life. This one tests how much we know the God we’d be serving. For a husband to know nothing of his wife, not even her name, even if he should down his life for her, it would ring hollow. Because we failed to understand, to know God (and because we disobeyed Him), He came down to us as one of us so that we could know Him. By knowing God, we become no longer slaves but friends. Our service, instead of just a duty, becomes a joy. And a Christian is drawn to know God more, through prayer and service and study. In prayer we communicate with God, more importantly we listen to Him. In service we show our understanding and love for Him. In study we seek Him out in everything. We seek His holy name.

Not that it is easy, many of the heresies that the Church has dealt with have been over Who God Is. In our personal journey we often stumble over our imperfect knowledge of God, and most of us have been given a bad start (like Indy with his first letter choice) toward knowing Him. Ultimately as finite creatures we could never truly know the infinite God, unless we had direct communion with Him (this, to my understanding, is the Church’s teaching of what heaven is). Both reverence and knowledge are necessary to proceed in holiness, but behold there comes another test, which will be discussed next time.

 

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who enjoys popular culture so much he gave it up for Lent (Easter, please come quickly)

The Three Friendships

It seems to me that the beginnings of a new year often seem to be the greatest struggle. Or at least they have been for me in the last few years. Winter brings its harsh, bitter winds and sharp ice, and we manage our way through desperate times. I wish I could say I was inspired to write this blog from more positive roots, however, with the sudden death of Ryan Fischer (see Mlive for more information), it seems that winter still has its grasp here in West Michigan. I won’t say much about Ryan because a lot has already been said, but in the three years I knew him through St. Pius X youth ministry, that young man brought more joy to my life in youth ministry than any other teen ever has. He was truly an exceptional young man who exemplified what it means to be Christ here on earth. He now belongs to the ages and I miss his rays of light very dearly.

One of the best things about Ryan was his talent in friendship. In praying about his life and our interactions, it led me to explore more into the idea of friendship. Ironically enough, the book I am currently reading “Men, Women and the Mystery of Love” by Edward Sri, brings up Aristotle’s three categories of friendship. These are: utility friendship, friendship of pleasure, and virtuous friendship. I will explore these three with an emphasis on the third, which is the most important to recognize and sustain in one’s life.

The friendship of utility is one that is more common than not in our modern day world. I have a need to find a leader for a group, Suzi is talented at being a leader and strives to be one, so we connect and make something happen. I may care about Suzi as a human, and we may “check in” with each other every so often or during our discussions about the group, but aside from that you would never see me hang out with her. Suzi and I have what is defined as friendship based on economics: she has something I want, and I in turn give her something that benefits her. Through this utility friendship, we are both pleased about what we receive, but the investment stops there. If at one point in time, the group fades away and the need is no longer present, the group would dismantle and most likely so would our pleasantries. Surely there would be no hard feelings, and when we saw each other there might be a “Hey, how are you?” but again, the investment stops there. How many friendships do you have like that? Even in Catholic ministry it can be easy to see a need, see a way to make “a deal”, and make it beneficial for the two parties. Even with the best of intentions, our actions can reflect a two-dimensional type of relationship. This is certainly not what Jesus called us to do.

“A new commandment I give you: love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:34

The friendship of pleasure sounds pretty much as it is. Two young men meet at football practice one year, and develop a friendship based on their love of football. These two men, though caring about one another through the time spent on the field and bench, experience times of fun, adventure, and joy. These two probably don’t see much of each other aside from football practice, games, or award ceremonies, but they have developed a unique bond between the two of them. Perhaps they even help and encourage each other to become better athletes. But here again is where the buck stops. The investment they have in one another does not elevate them to become the best they could possibly be in a holistic sense. Passion may motivate them, but passion also disappears with the seasons of a person’s life. In two to three years, the bond they create will wane due to new interests that take the forefront of their mind. And, these two do not come together outside of football related events to encourage each other to a higher cause. Again, we miss the opportunity of deeper friendship.

 Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.'” 1 Samuel 20:42

Lastly, the virtuous friendship is expressed as being above honor and justice. This is a friendship which has no deals nor needs for much pleasure, and this friendship does not consist of self-love. Therefore, it is harder to come by and even more difficult to maintain. Two people could begin their friendship through mutual pleasures, however, at one point, probably early on;, they recognize a truly rare and special quality in the other. They begin to realize their connection is called to a higher cause. They are motivated to deeply care about the other’s thoughts, feelings, concerns, and above all, soul. Aristotle calls it a “…complete sort of friendship between people who are good and alike in virtue…” These friends will go to any length to ensure the root of their friendship continues to thrive, and will endure pain, suffering, grief, and slander just to keep it intact.

“Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

How many of us can truly say we have virtuous friendships? I think I can count on two in my life. Perhaps more will develop; if so, I will be abundantly blessed. It is important to consider, during this time of desert, prayer, reconciliation, and reflection, who we count among our kin in friendship. Who of you would be moved to lay down your life for your friend? Who would truly love the other person in their entirety, regardless of what was in it for you? This is true love, and in this, true friendship. This is also the heart of Christ’s biggest message which I quoted earlier. To love another as He has loved us, is what we should be preaching during this Lent.

Lord, make us strong in your roots, preaching and proclaiming your Gospel of love. Focus our hearts this Lent and help us to manage our friendships in the way which we are called to.

(from left to right) Brenden, Ryan, Sam and Atticus at St. Pius X "Mess War"

                           A Band of Brothers                                 (from left to right) Brenden, Ryan, Sam and Atticus at St. Pius X “Mess War” 2013

 

Ecumenical Meditations: Accidental What?

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Thursday,  Mar 13

“Baptism therefore establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it.” – Unitatis Redintegratio par. 22

In the wake of Vatican II, perhaps no topic has been more contentious than that of ecumenism. Perhaps the main reason for this contention within the Catholic Church is the lukewarm manner in which ecumenism is conducted. To better explain what I mean by “lukewarm”, I basically mean that the community does not reach any sort of resolution other than the bastardization of everyone’s teachings. There is a reason why the Joint Declaration by Lutherans and Catholics was not accepted by most Lutherans and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  While attending an ecumenical lecture by Dr. Eduardo J. Echeverria (with a response from a Reformed theologian) at Hope College, I witnessed one major obstacle to ecumenism: misunderstanding. While I personally was left wanting, this is not meant to be a jab at Dr. Echeverria who clearly earned his great reputation. But, something must be said about the crux of the lecture which is a distinction between “essential” and “accidental” Protestantism. As a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, the distinction was unsatisfactory, but, hopefully, I can provide an alternative that is more fulfilling and beneficial for dialogue.

Now, while the distinction was central to a significant amount of lecture, Dr. Echeverria started with the premise that ecumenical dialogue should never be one based on compromising principles. One should never enter in a discussion less than what they are. The initial steps towards unity must be taken with honesty and frankness. I fundamentally agree with this position. In addition, Echeverria focused on the common necessity for love within these dialogues. Ecumenism should not be predicated on a will to power. This is meant to be a dialogue not a recreation of the 1970’s film “The Last Valley”.

the last valley

Ecumenism via pike and shot. Yes, that is a younger Michael Caine

The problem with the lecture started when Dr. Echeverria relied on a distinction between essential and accidental Protestants. This distinction is from the works of Reinhard Hutter who converted to Catholicism from Lutheranism. Essential Protestants are those who derive their identity from its active “protesting” against Catholicism. They essentially require Catholicism to be that historically antagonistic “other”, and can only validate their identity in this great dialectical struggle with Catholicism. Accidental Protestants, which I assume refers to the philosophical principle of accidents and substance (as both Dr. Echeverria and Dr. Hutter have an extensive academic background in philosophy), are protestants who rely upon themselves for their identity without the great struggle with Catholicism. The fundamental issue I had with this distinction is the terminology. Referring to the terminology of accidents and substance, one would have to assume that Protestantism is something accidental to a Christian substance. It is something present that modifies, but does not alter the substance of their Christianity. This appears to connote that Protestantism is external to their Christianity rather than the prism in which the entirety of Christian history and doctrine are viewed differently. Distinctions between essential and accidental Protestantism breaks down when it becomes clear that both are substantially the same thing. While the distinction is marred by improper terminology, there is a lot that can be said about the distinction between Protestants who are for and against a dialectical struggle with Catholicism.

In order to provide the simplest terminology possible for this distinction, I will use primarily two terms: Protestants and Ecclesial Communities. While both substantially hold onto the same principles, both differ in that one holds onto a meta-narrative of “protesting”. Even with a doctrinal difference, there are a significant number of Protestants who frankly do not require Catholics to be their dialectical other to validate their existence. And, no, I am not interested in engaging in a semantic struggle to assert that they are in fact protesting (unless I wanted to also claim that doctrinal difference make the Eastern Orthodox as univocally “protestant”). The signifier “Protestant” only finds meaning insomuch as one is actively “protesting”. As Leithart eloquently states it in his “End of Protestantism”, the mentality that “whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can,” is ending. Trying to state that he simply means essential Protestantism ignores the fact that the text as a whole is striking at the protesting meta-narrative explicitly. Now, in ecumenical texts such as Unitatis Redintegratio, the term “ecclesial communities” is used quite regularly. For my argument, ecclesial assembly is perhaps the best connotation for a Protestant community who know longer participates in protest. Most importantly, the use of the word “ecclesial” designates an affiliation with the Church proper. Unitatis Redintegratio clearly asserts that the unitive power of Christianity is found with baptism. The sacrament of baptism allows one to be “honored by the title of Christian” (UR par. 3). In the same manner that a Catholic would not treat their Catholicity as accidental to a baptismal substance, it would not be prudent to do the same to other non-Catholic Christians.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College. He studied  for a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. He also enjoys books written by Jesuits and long walks on the beach. 

Guns, Violence, and Evidenced-Based Public Policy

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, March 12

There’s a lot of drama in politics. Big decisions on important issues are on the line, things get emotional, oh, and there’s a lot of power at stake. One stage where this drama plays out over and over again is guns. From agenda-driven, non-investigative articles to church fliers quoting the bible to promote gun giveaways there is a lot of noise out there . . . and not much else.

I find the controversy over guns to be concerning: not because I fear countless hooligans wielding guns in the streets, nor because I fear that the government will come and take my guns away but because it represents a distinct divergence away from reality-based public policy, both in practice and in debate.

My interest in evidence-based public policy began when I was in nursing school. There, we were taught the importance of “evidence-based practice” in the nursing profession. Evidence-based practice is important because it objectively demonstrates whether a particular nursing intervention improves patient outcomes or not. Naturally, if a nursing intervention was evidence-based, contributing to improved patient outcomes, then it was worthy of consideration as a tool to be used by the nurse in the care of his patients. If a long-time nursing intervention failed under scrutiny to improve the patients’ condition in any way then researchers recommended that the intervention be abandoned, no matter how ubiquitous its practice may be, and alternatives considered.

Such evidence-based practice is valuable in improving patient outcomes. So, how much more valuable should an evidence-based public policy be in improving outcomes for our nation? And, conversely, how much greater should we expect the possible detriment to be for policies with no evidence to support them?

My initial reaction: why the heck did we ban Little Red Riding Hood from schools for having wine in her basket and how does that “protect” children?

In a criminological study published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy entitled “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” the authors, Kates and Mauser, provide a wealth of information on the subject of guns and violent crime invaluable to the pursuit of an evidence-based public policy. I encourage anyone interested in knowing the facts to read the study in its entirety. Most notably, the study demonstrates that, while less guns correlates with less gun-related crime, a negative correlation exists between gun-ownership and overall violent crime, meaning that the higher the rate of gun-ownership, the lower the rate of all violence and, conversely, the lower the rate of gun-ownership, the higher the rate of violence in a given society. If this seems to defy all logic then it is because such facts challenge our preconceptions, which have no guaranteed foundation in reality. Such is the value of familiarizing ourselves with the evidence.

The authors elaborate and provide additional evidence until they finally conclude, “the determinants of murder and suicide are basic social, economic, and cultural factors, not the prevalence of some form of deadly mechanism.” This conclusion defies both ideological extremes in the gun control debate.

Looking at the evidence provided by Kates and Mauser one may surmise that both pro- and anti-gun-control camps are superficially correct but, ultimately, wrong.

If you support background checks you are Hitler.

More gun-control does correlate with less gun violence. Likewise, more widespread gun ownership correlates with less violence, including less murder, overall. A more thorough analysis shows, however, that while both sides can appear correct on the surface, both are in fact wrong because both arguments are simplistic.

That gun-control reduces gun-related violence seems only relevant if you are particularly terrified of dying by gun versus dying by any other deadly mechanism. This is because, while gun-control generally means less gun-violence, restricting access to guns results in either no change in the overall rate of violent crimes or actually correlates with an increase in violent crime. While evidence around the world backs this claim, Russia provides a striking example in which its populace has been almost entirely disarmed but their murder rate has steadily risen to the point that it is four times higher than ours. Needless to say, most Russian crimes do not involve a gun. However, stranglings and stabbings are common.

Additionally, while gun-ownership shares a negative correlation with overall violent crime the evidence does not exist to support that purposely increasing gun-ownership will cause violent crime to further decrease. Instead, the evidence strongly supports that the determinants of murder and suicide are basic social, economic, and cultural factors, not the number of guns in circulation.

In other words, widespread violence results, not from the introduction of an object of violent force into an otherwise peaceful society, but from a culture of violence in which people are intent on doing evil regardless of the prevalence of any particular deadly mechanism.

All these strawmen are wreaking havoc on my allergies.

Because the evidence backs the claim that murder and suicide rates are determined by basic social, economic and cultural factors and not by the prevalence of any particularly deadly mechanism far better than it does the typical claims of either the gun-control or the gun-rights advocates I would endorse an evidence-based public policy that does not seek to either a) reduce guns in an attempt to reduce crime or b) increase guns in an attempt to reduce crime but c) seeks to address the underlying social, economic and cultural factors that lead to a more violent society, most prominent I propose being the Culture of Death that Blessed Pope John Paul II so frequently warned us about.

Christian Ohnimus is a husband and registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He hopes to raise a holy family with the help of his better and more beautiful other half.

Breath of God

“Only the penitent man will pass” – The Last Crusade

Spectacles

My favorite Indiana Jones movie is the The Last Crusade and the tests came to mind recently when I was thinking ofwhat was blocking my path to holiness. The answer was inspired with the memory of one of the tests that Indy passed before he could get to the Holy Grail. I eventually concluded that it would be interesting to review the tests and see what instruction I could glean from them. Finding glimmers of God in pop culture is fun. Oh, it kind of goes without saying but spoilers of the movie follow.

The first test is the Breath of God and only the penitent man will pass. Now if you remember from the movie this test had saw blades come out from the walls and the floor in to decapitate or bisect our favorite archaeologist. And if you remember our favorite archaeologist genuflected and bowed his way out. Then used his whip to stop the traps from springing again. It occurred to me that I was not being as humble in my prayer life as I should, that I was not going beyond saying the words but also acting on them. In the season of Lent we are called to repent, turn away from the world, and look towards God. One of the traditional ways in which we do this is prayer. By praying we humble ourselves in the presence of God. By praying we acknowledge our desires and then turn them over to God. And if we do not pray, if we do not humble ourselves, we submit ourselves to sin and the wages of sin is decapitation (or bisection if the weather permits).

Prayer can save us from sin. Not only ourselves but others, Indy wasn’t the only one saved by his act of penitence. His First Station - Gardenfather was eventually saved and the Germans who followed were also saved. The worst kind of people can be shown the light by prayer; St Monica prayed so hard and so long, and eventually the prideful hedonist that was her son repented and became one of the greatest intellectual voices of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo. Our repentance has deep repercussions, not only for ourselves but for others. Many of us (myself included) start the path of repentance because of our fear of hell. But the best motive for repentance is the same one that Indy had, Love, love for his father. In the same way Jesus ventured out into the desert for forty days out of love for His father. And we enter Lent out of love for Our Father. The first thing we must do is heed the cry of the wilderness “Repent!” and trudge in the desert in humility through these tests in our lives. For only the penitent man shall pass.

Joshua Fahey is a Chestertonian who loves a good pop culture reference that enlightens the path to God.