Time in Dating and Engagement

Clocks

For Everything There is a Season

In the ever-popular verse from Ecclesiastes we read, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (3:1).  In our modern world, time is the very thing that we seem to lack perpetually.  If only we had more time to exercise, to reconnect with friends, to spend with our loved ones.  Our preoccupation with busyness causes us to lose a sense of peace and even, at times, joy.  Indeed, we have become so accustomed to this cacophonous state of being that we find it difficult to pause and to reflect upon the very blessing of time.  Our being so conflicted is nowhere more prevalent than within the process of dating and engagement.

Of course, for Catholics, being in relationship with another brings to mind the concept of discernment which is often a difficult experience riddled with questions and differing opinions.  We scour through the best literature looking for concrete answers and consult those in whom we trust.  However, despite our best efforts, we bring with us our contemporary concept of time with its built in sense of restlessness. The unfortunate result is that discernment itself becomes a cog in the machine of modernity, another thing to do, a period characterized by a zealous endeavor to determine one’s vocation and to do so in haste.  In verse 12 of Ecclesiastes, we are told that “there is no happiness for a human being except in pleasure and enjoyment through life.”  Why, we may ask is this the case?  The reason is that life is “a gift from God” (3:13).  What then must we do to reclaim the proper sense of enjoyment and pleasure, particularly when dating or becoming engaged? In other words, when we are in a relationship how do we carry out the process of discernment so that we can have peace?

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, gives us an insight by saying, “Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”[1] For the person dating or engaged, “loving these questions” means allowing them to unfold in time, becoming ever clearer. The experience of being with another is one that is ever pervaded by mystery, by the reality of the unfathomable depths of the human soul.  Therefore, when we rush to figure out everything immediately, demanding quick answers from God, we fail to allow His grace to pervade our experience of time. We do not give ourselves the space for His grace to imbue our senses with expectant hope.  We lose the pleasure and enjoyment of a properly ordered life by endlessly searching to assure ourselves that we are with the “right” person or to rapidly commit to the other to take away our anxiety.  Our culture promotes this form of decision-making, particularly with respect to engagement (as a quick perusal of popular blogs and magazines will make evident).  To make the resolution to respect the process of time is markedly countercultural, yet not without reward. When we abandon haste in our relationships, we instead enter into an ordered rhythm of time and, in so doing, embrace and reclaim joy and solace in allowing God’s plan to be revealed.  Like Rilke, we love the questions “like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue,” and we “live those questions” until the day when “gradually, without noticing it,” we live our way into the answer.[2]

Cristina D’Averso

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

[2] Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

Book Review: Faith Factor in Fatherhood

Father and Son

 

SUMMARY:

This is a review of the book Faith Factor in Fatherhood edited by Don Eberly and published by Lexington Books (1999).

The book itself is a collection of excellent essays which examine the issue of fatherhood and it spiritual roots from various Christian traditions. It provides a critical analysis of what has happened to fatherhood and why we need to recover an authentic fatherhood in our own time. One essay shows how statistically when a father is not physically present in the home the children suffer enormously, including the facts that such father-less children are 3 times more likely to commit suicide and 40 times more likely to be abused! These essays offer important insights into the need for fathers and helps us to see what authentic fatherhood looks like, especially its spiritual dimension.

This essay helps you see keypoints in the book.

Click here to read essay:

The Faith Factor in Fatherhood 2014-09-17

 

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Family: Key To The Covenant

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All civilizations, if they are to last, must be founded on the principle of corporate life. That is, individuals must mature to the point of being able to live for others, i.e., beyond themselves. In this sense, the modern west has become an aberration. This is especially true in regards to the family. Whereas fathers and mothers should be living in service to each other and to lay down their lives for their children and the family as a whole, we see just the opposite.   The driving force in western societies is the desire to secure individual rights and personal anatomy This has made us self-centered rather than other-centered; a shift which has had a pernicious effect as it has distorted both society and the individual.

In contrast, the Church teaches that the family is the basic cell of society. As JPII said, “the future of humanity passes by way of the family” (FC 86).  During Vatican II, Bishop Fiordelli of Prato, Italy made the point in the Council debates  that the Christian family was the smallest articulation of the Church. From this it is clear that the family is of critical importance to society and the Church. In effect, the family is part of God’s design for saving the world. This truth is difficult for many in the modern world to grasp because we have adopted an atomistic view of the person.  We see the person as being absolutely autonomous; any corporate dimension is accidental and not essential to the person’s identity.

But Scripture shows us that the family is part of who the person is.  Indeed, salvation is always, and at the same time both corporate and deeply personal, but never individualistic.  Noah was a righteous man and ‘found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen 6:8).’ Because of his relationship to God, he and his family were saved (Gen 6:18).  The covenant with Abraham was to him and his family to all generations.  All families (not all individuals) of the earth would be blessed in him (Gen 12:3).  During the Passover, the Jews were saved within the family context. The Passover is a family meal. All who were within their family homes, eating the ritualistic meal and under the blood of the Passover lamb were saved from death (Ex 12:3ff).  It is clear that God uses families as a means to work out salvation.  That is why the genealogy of Abraham’s family forms the basis of the Old Testament that goes right up to the beginning of the New Testament.

It can be observed that in the OT there is no covenant without the family. The covenant, the teaching of the Law and its rituals were passed on within the family. In the NT, we find the practice of household baptisms (Acts 16:15, 31; 1 Cor 1:16) and in the new covenant, the family becomes the place where the Holy Spirit is present and where the salvation of the family members is being worked out (see 1 Cor 7).

It only makes sense, therefore, that the family has become the prime target of evil.  Once the family is destroyed, both society and the Church are greatly weakened.  The myth of the autonomous individual is simply that, a myth. The truth is that a person needs a family to grow into psychological, emotional and spiritual wholeness.  As JPII said, “The family finds in the plan of God the creator and redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. … Family become what you are.” (FC 17)

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Measuring Sticks

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Life gets hectic and overwhelming at times. Sometimes we get caught up in the many things that we are involved in and we begin to lose perspective. We can’t see the forest for the trees.  It is important to have some sort of gauge or measuring stick by which we can measure where we are and how we are doing.  Scripture gives us a very basic way of evaluating our spiritual life.  It comes in Micah 6:8.  The prophet here is showing us both what is good and what God requires of us.  Micah says that the Lord “has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (KJV)

Note that the first ‘measuring stick’ is to do justly. We often put the emphasis on mercy- and rightly so.  Yet mercy and justice are not opposites. Rather, mercy and justice are interrelated.  We need to give to everyone what is truly theirs. We need to honour our parents (Ex 20: 12; Eph 6:1); we should sacrifice ourselves for our children and provide them with loving disciple (Heb 12:7-8; Eph 6:4); husbands need to love their wives and wives need to respect their husbands (Eph 5:33).  All this is simply being “just”- i.e., giving to the other what is appropriate and what is due them. In this way, mercy and justice are two sides of the same coin. This is emphasized by the next ‘measuring stick’ that is given: we are to love mercy. The word here in Hebrew is chesed.  It has to do with loving-kindness, mercy and faithfulness. God loves His people with chesed.  He is kind and merciful to us and we need to be kind and merciful to each other.  Both are always necessary: justice and mercy. They inform each other.

The third ‘measuring stick’ is to walk humbly with God.  Good advice for all of us. This is a simple reminder to always remember that God is God and we are His creatures.  We owe everything to Him.  It is so easy, especially when things are going well, to think that we are in control or that we are spiritually superior to others.  All of this is wrong.  Our focus must only be on God and our only response must be to worship Him.  Humility is simply knowing that God is our Creator, that He is our Father, and that we are His children. Our dependence on Him is simply the truth of who we are. Humility is always living in this truth and having a child-like attitude of trust towards the Father.

We need to be just, we need to have mercy and we need to be humble.  Great measuring sticks which will accurately show us where we are spiritually.

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God’s Timing

Clocks

There is surely a mystery to time but there is also a mystery to timing. Isaiah 49:8 says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘In a favourable time I have answered You and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” God does intervene in our lives but always according to His will and time. We cannot force this delicate timing, try as we might. As created  human beings we all stand before the great mysteries of life, death and the vicissitudes of daily life. Because of our fallen state, we no longer intuitively trust our heavenly Father; we have a primal fear when things appear to be out of our control. The original paradisal trust has been replaced with anxiety. Yet, Scripture overwhelmingly urges us to have faith. The covenant of salvation was to pass through Abraham, through a child of his own body, but he and his wife Sarah were barren. They had to trust in this seeming impossible promise of God and it took many years to be fulfilled (Gen 15, 16, 18, 21). Isaiah had been shown that the ‘Suffering One’ (Is 53) would come to heal the nation. But those messianic visions took over 700 years to reach fulfillment in Christ. Our human sense of timing is usually marked by the word “urgent.”  We want everything done right now. This is understandable: we are in pain, a loved one has a need, we are faced by something threatening and want it removed at once.

But God’s perspective is not ours; His timing is always flawless. He sees beyond the immediate and looks towards the perfection of his frail creatures. Sometimes the answer to our cry is immediate or relatively quick. At other times, it may take months; some answers take years or even a whole lifetime to work out. These are deep waters. We do not know how all things work out in the will of God. We usually see things from our limited, temporal perspective, and this often distorts reality.  Of course, we want to avoid pain and rightly so; we do want everything to be better. But ultimately only God knows what that “better” really consists of and how to bring it about. The mystery of our faith is that God is causing ‘all things to work together for good’ (Rom 8:32) whether or not we can see that in any given moment. It may take a moment, a day, a year, a decade, a lifetime but God is in control, working all things out for good.

Let us ask the Lord to help us trust His timing in our lives and trust that He is working out all things for good, even when we have difficulty seeing this.

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The Pain of Grace

As Christians we talk a lot about grace. This grace is the power and love of God by which He saves and redeems us.  This grace of Christ heals us, brings us to wholeness and restores hope in our lives. We are never the source of this healing grace, nor is it something we can earn.  Grace is a gift from God alone, flowing from the Cross of the Son.  It would seem logical that everyone would want this grace as it brings peace, healing and hope back into our lives and into our relationships with others.  But why is it that so often we find ourselves fleeing from the grace of healing?

Sometimes we do not want this healing because there is often pain associated with it, and so we run.  Grace itself is free, but it is never cheap.  Grace was obtained through the death of Jesus on the cross, and for this grace to be effective, we must allow it to work in our lives, to have its way. Depending on the situation, grace sometimes has to act like a surgical scalpel used to make an incision so a doctor can see clearly the diseased areas inside the body in order to heal them. Similarly, it can be painful when grace penetrates us and allows us to see ourselves as we truly are—to see those places in us that are broken and in need of healing. But this sight, this self-knowledge, is a fruit of grace and a step towards healing.  A scalpel can be used to cut away diseased tissue in order to return the body to health.  At times, this too is the purpose of grace, to remove all that is hurting and poisoning our lives so that we may be restored and healed.

To become whole, to have relationships restored, we may have to face painful situations or things about ourselves from which we have been hiding, sometimes for years. Our pride, which has built up false images of ourselves and others, may have to be confronted.  What we have done to others and to ourselves will have to be faced. The truth is that there is no shortcut in these cases and the way forward in the process of healing can be very painful. The mystery of grace is that it is by facing this pain that we will be led to wholeness and to peace. By seeing and acknowledging our situations for what they really are, by allowing ourselves to be confronted with the truth about ourselves, freedom can begin to flow.

Malachi 4:4 states that in the last days God will send Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. That is, fractured family relationships can be healed. Hearts that have been hardened by sin and selfishness can be changed, but they first have to experience the pain of self-knowledge which the Holy Spirit gives to us.  May we continually be open to God’s grace, even when it causes us pain. May we live this pain always looking to God and never letting go of Him so that the Lord can lead us through to the other side of healed relationships within our families and with ourselves.

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Friend or Parent ?

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         We have lost our way in regards to the structure of the family in the last few generations. In the 1960’s the very concept of masculinity and the role of father was attacked and rejected by the elites of society.  In the 1970‘s and 80’s androgyny and the neutering of gender was fashionable. In the last two decades confusion and a certain inertia over the real distinction between the genders has marked social discourse. One effect of all this social upheaval has been the fear to uphold the uniqueness of parents and in particular fathers.  Consequently, a certain homogenization has occurred between children and parents such that everyone is seen as an equal player with equal rights.  Any sense of hierarchy is rejected as being hopelessly antiquated.

         Is this a sign that modern societies are more enlightened or is it a sign that their belief and actions are based on a fundamentally flaw concept of the human person?  Clearly Scripture shows that all of reality is hierarchical.  God is not an equal player in creation. He is Lord and this sense of hierarchy flows through all of created being.  (This can be understood if we thought of creation as participating in a dance- the Cosmic Dance. Clearly, if everyone led or everyone followed, there would be no dance at all1) Each part of creation has its own nature, its own glory and its own role to play. (See Gen 1:1-31.) True hierarchy gives life because it is never self-serving. Christ, who is Lord, comes to serve, not to be served. Family life is also caught up in this cosmic dance of relationships. Men and women, parents and children relate to each other in highly different ways that allows each to come into fullness of being.

         Society urges parents and children to be friends. But if that is how we are to relate in the family, then there would be no final authority in the home. There would be no appeal to anything beyond the individual and people would end up doing whatever they felt like as individuals. Surely there is an element of friendship between parents and children but it is never the basis of their relationship.  Such friendship is the fruit of many years of formation and appears when the child know his own self and can make a gift of himself.  But to get there, fathers need to be fathers and mothers need to be mothers, both exercising loving, parental authority.  In this way, they serve their children.  To do less is to abdicate their role as parents and to put the emotional and spiritual security of their children at risk. By accepting our role as parents, and all the sacrifices that go with it, we end up giving life to our children and discovering deeper dimensions of our own personalities than we could have ever dream of.

          To dance the dance of life we must hear the music inscribed into our very nature, music that is gloriously hierarchical, infinitely sacrificial, and profoundly life-giving.

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The Power Of Our Words

Chains

 

Talking and having conversations is one thing that distinguishes man from the animals.  Our ability to communicate with the spoken word is a reflection of the divine image that we possess (Gen 1:27).  Our words are meant to participate in the Word who became incarnate for us.

However, it is so easy to misuse this incredible gift of speech.  We use our words to praise but then also to hurt, condemn, and belittle.  In his letter, St. James spends virtually the whole of chapter 3 warning us about the dangers of the tongue.  He says it is “restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8) He reminds us that our words can set a great fire going (v. 6).  Since the Fall, we no longer use our power of speech aright. We bless God, and then we turn around and curse men who are made in His image (v. 9).

Paul, in Ephesians 4, shows what our speech should be like. If Christ is living in us, then our speech should be reflective of Him.  Paul commands us that we are not to let any  “unwholesome (sapros) word” come out of our mouths (:29 NAB).   Sapros has the meaning of something that is rotten. The truth is that it is easy for us to get into the habit of being uncharitable, negative, judgmental, or condemning in our speech.  Our words can produce decay in others’ lives and this can be a difficult habit to break.

What helps here is to know what is the purpose of our words. Paul tells us that our words should “edify” (oidodomen), that is build up those around us.  The root of this word (oidodomen) means ‘to build a home.’ In particular, we should speak to the needs of others and the situation in which we find ourselves in such a way that our words are helpful to the hearer. This means that we have to first pause and discern what is the right thing to say.  This, as Paul says, is so that our words will give “grace to those hearing” (v. 29).

Our words are meant to be instruments of grace, to build up, not to tear down, not to wound or destroy. Do  my words leave people with a sense of grace or do they make them feel negative and burdened?  Lord, help our speech come every more under the control of your Holy Spirit that our words may become instruments of God’s healing grace to those around us.

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Foundations

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It is always important to go back to foundations. Life grows and becomes more complex and this is the natural order of things. But we can be overwhelmed at times by the complexity of life and of our beliefs. When this happens, we need to return to the basic foundations, to re-adjust our view, to see things clearly once again. In order to safeguard the truth, Christianity of necessity had to develop doctrine. For instance, when people began to distort the nature of Christ, the Church had to articulate, with great exactness, what Jesus’ nature really was. Over two thousand years of development has created much complexity in these doctrines. But in the richness of doctrinal development, we must never forget the foundation.

The first creed of the Church consisted of three words: Jesus is Lord! This meant that Jesus was God and was the controller of all things. His rule, and His rule alone, would bring peace and salvation. As Christians submitted to this rule, they experience His peace.

At times, we too need to come back to this foundational creed and remember that Jesus is Lord of all, i.e., over every aspect of our life. All our needs, our hope, our desires, our fears, our sins… everything is in His hand. As we realize and affirm that He is Lord over all, we begin to experience His supernatural peace.

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Adam and Forgiveness

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There is something missing in the story of the Fall in Gen 3. Adam and Eve have rejected God’s commandment and have partaken of the forbidden fruit. As a consequence, they begin to hide from God. What is unusual is that when God confronts Adam with his sin, he never asks for forgiveness, never says he is sorry, but rather begins to make excuses. ‘This woman that You gave me, she gave it to me.’ JPII in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope states that when man sinned he gave up the father-son relationship with God and took on instead a master-slave mentality. In other words, Adam began to operate out of his guilt and this led him to fear. His guilt became the lens through which he saw everything, even God. It prevented him from seeing the fatherly care of his Creator.  In this, Adam truly became a slave, a slave to fear, so much so that he could no longer see or feel the grace of God.

That is precisely where the miracle of redemption comes in. We cannot save ourselves. But on His own initiative, God sends His grace into our fear and shame penetrating our fearful minds. In sending His Son, the Father shows He never stopped loving us. Once we know that we are in fact loved, despite our sinning, we feel free to acknowledge that we have sinned because we no longer are afraid. Fear is a horrible thing; it separates us from God, from others, and from our true selves. But it took the crucifixion to penetrate our fearful hearts with the good news that we are still loved. In the first Adam, we lost the sense of God’s fatherly love; in the second Adam, this fatherly love is restored to our consciousness and we are set free.

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