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Taking Authority

December 11, 2018

In an average discussion of temptation, the issue of evil is right at the surface. Temptation is understood as wanting to do evil things; of course God would never lead us to want to do evil things. He would want to deliver us from evil things.

If you have read Neal Lozano’s book Unbound, you will be aware of his teaching about five keys to deliverance, whether from evil spirits or from harmful tendencies. The first three keys are repentance, which most people have thought about; forgiveness whose power many people have experienced; and renunciation, which may be confusing as it may seem like the same thing as repentance. In repentance, however, the emphasis is on sorrow and surrender, on “turning to Jesus,” while in renunciation, the emphasis is on the named rejection of a specific falsehood, false path, or deceptive presence.

But a fourth key is crucial to Lozano’s teaching and is perhaps little considered. It is exercising authority and commandingthe evil spirit or evil influence to leave. It’s not just saying, “I don’t want it here;” or “I don’t want you here.” It’s saying, “Get out of here!” 

We always hope that repentance will bear fruit; we make sure, through forgiveness, that no lingering grudge can freeze our progress; we do our best to renounce our sins and make a firm purpose of amendment. But even after all these things, we may still be a little supine, hoping that someone else will take care of the problem. Lozano says that this won’t do. You have to take authority over the evil and tell it to scram. Thinking you can’t do this is missing a key aspect of the Christian promise of spiritual power. If you feel you lack that authority, sit a little closer to Jesus so you can feel his authority flowing into you, or at least so you can feel his Presence that constitutes the promise of that authority. Of course it is helpful to have others praying with you and reminding you of this promise.

But here’s the point: whether or not others are there, you yourself have to stand up and fight like a man. Take charge of your interior life. Tell the creeps to get out.

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Temptation

December 3, 2018

Temptation just means living in a world whose attractions are so far beyond our capacity to enjoy.

St. Thomas especially emphasized that whenever we do evil, there is, underneath it, some good that we were seeking. Nobody seeks evil as such.

Recently, there was an execution in my state. The guilty party was in jail for life (I don’t know exactly why) and he and an accomplice tried to break out, killing a guard in the (unsuccessful) process. He wanted to be free. It doesn’t take five minutes in jail to understand why he wanted to be free. We all want freedom; God made us to want it. During his last months in jail, he came to know God, and found the interior freedom that makes other kinds of confinement tolerable. Even so, and even though there were lawyers working for a life sentence, he was happier to die than face life in prison.

At that point, however, he would not have killed to get out. The desire for freedom never left him, but it the pull to seek it outside of love, justice, and wisdom subsided.

On a different scale, I know someone who eats more than she should for her health, and someone who sits indoors too much. Neither of these evils is chosen for its harm to the body; those harms are secondary, or seem secondary, to the comfort of chocolate, or of warmth and concentration. Comfort is natural to seek; and in a demanding climate, going outside is a severe interruption of any thought process beyond survival. 

Temptation is not evil. If we say to God, don’t lead me into temptation, what can we mean? Do we want a world where there is nothing good beyond what we are immediately engaged in? Do we want a world without any available choices between what we are doing now and what we will – or might – do next? Do we want a world without desire?

Obviously not! Desire is the very structure of our emotional life, the engine of our choice and the actions that flow from it.

We want relative freedom, freedom from the desires that are not part of our vocation, moment by moment. Relative freedom – not so that we don’t feel desire, but so that we are able to say on top of our choices, stay conscious of their relationship to long-term, loving, and holy purposes, able to let those purposes govern choice. 

Temptation is not sin, not even when it is an attraction to things that would be sinful. Over time, in maturity and especially in spiritual maturity, the lurking evil becomes clearer and our recognition of it more quickly interrupts our desires. That is a kind of freedom. But the world is so full of good and desirable things, it would be madness to pray for a lack of desire. As well pray to be deaf, blind, and dumb.

No, we are praying for the best thing that can happen when side-tracking desires arise.

A World without Temptation

November 30, 2018

Do we really want a world without temptation? What would that look like?

Should we burn the Thanksgiving turkey so there is no temptation to gluttony? Should we give our children stupid pills so they won’t be tempted to pride in school? Should we keep strictly up with, but not ahead of, the Joneses, so there is no temptation to envy? If a slave shows anger at his master, he will be beaten until he shrinks into apathy, even to death if necessary. Is that a good way to build a world without anger?

What about no beautiful women to prevent temptations to lust? I hear that it doesn’t actually work, because smaller and smaller indications of the female body become occasions of lust, and when all is really out of sight, then young male bodies become the objects of lust… So really, it doesn’t stop that way. 

No, temptation is part of a beautiful world. Maturity, personal or spiritual maturity, means becoming ordered from the inside out, so that the attractive things of the world don’t unbalance our interior life. 

So we pray: lead us not into temptation except to bring us into greater freedom, deeper deliverance from the evil or unbalanced aspects of our interior life.

As we reach for yet one more serving of a good meal, the one that we won’t be able to digest properly, what other direction can we take? We can grit our teeth and say “no” to ourselves. That sometimes works, but it’s not what we are praying for here. It’s not, “Lead us not into temptation but help us clench our teeth.” 

Lead us not into great meals except you also deliver us from the food-centeredness, from the self-centeredness, that is implicit in gluttony. Did we compliment the cook? Did we remember to make conversation with the person who is left out? Did we remember to bring an interesting thought to share? Did we listen to others at the table? Deliver us from the self-centeredness that we didn’t notice until we saw ourselves dishing up the fourth serving. Temptation is an invitation to self-awareness.

And after we are self-aware, we can move on to seeking deliverance.

“But” deliver us.

November 28, 2018

So do we need to instruct God about leading us? Hey God, don’t lead us into temptation; instead, deliver us! That’s your job, okay?

Whew! Good thing we know what to tell him! (God can get so mixed up…?)

Really?

Let’s go back to: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”

Normally, we read it as: “Lead us not into temptation [which everyone knows is an evil] but instead,deliver us from evil.” As I said, advising God that he should deliver us from evil instead of taking us into it seems to assume that he needs advice about the responsibilities of good leadership.

Let’s consider some other meanings for the word “but.” 

When Beatrice Potter writes, “Round the end of the cucumber frame, whom should he meet, but Mr. McGregor,” then “but” means “except,” not “instead.” 

“Whom should he meet except Mr. McGregor?”

OED strengthens this possibility of exception, saying that when “but” is used “after a negative, expressed or implied… it may be explained as ‘unless, if not’.” 

“Lead us not into temptation” is certainly a negative. Thus, we may translate “but” as “unless;” and this provides us with a very different prayer:

“Lead us not into temptation except/unless to deliver us from evil.” Temptation is, in fact, not an evil. It is a potential sidetrack and even a doorway to evil, but the existence of temptation is simply part of life. Eve was already looking at the tree when the serpent spoke to her, and God had put the tree there and had even made the fruit pleasant to behold while telling the young couple not to eat it. The temptation was there in the nature of the thing, and this is often the case. Temptation is… well, tempting; otherwise it would not be temptation. Many attractive objects and events in life have multiple layers, some helpful and some harmful. Getting to the right use of things is the challenge of maturity.

In this view, then, the Our Father becomes a teaching for us, on the proper response to temptation: it is meant to open some door, or point in the direction, of a deeper deliverance. Since the Apostles had asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, it makes sense that his answer was a teaching, and this is how it ended: “Lead us not into temptation except/unless to deliver us from evil.” See my previous post.

It may be objected that in this interpretation, we are still giving our Father advice about how to lead us. Perhaps so, but the situation is more subtle and therefore qualifies as a teaching for the apostles, rather than a piece of advice for our Father.  This is a normal function of prayer, lex orandi, lex credendi:  The law of prayer is the law of belief. This prayer invites us to engage the moment of temptation as an opening for deliverance.

This is an intriguing prayer; try it!

Lead Us Not into Temptation, but

November 28, 2018

Does our Father plan to lead us into temptation unless we specifically ask him not to? Why do we pray this way?

Here’s why.

Because a good father would lead us into challenging circumstances for any number of reasons: to help us get over our pride and self-certainty, to help us think new thoughts, to help us develop compassion for people who live their whole lives in challenges that are over their heads. And if, in those challenging circumstances, we sin, our Father is altogether compassionate and ready to forgive and bring us out safely and strongly.

More than that. He is ready to deliver us from darkness, including interior darknesses that we had not noticed. We might have bad habits from our family or neighborhood, things that were just “part of the woodwork” where our lives began, but which we need to notice and challenge. Or we might have developed a selfish attitude in some circumstance, such as a sickness where we were the center of care. Perhaps some real misfortune led us to feel sorry for ourselves, and it’s time to get over it and notice others’ sufferings. There are any number of ways that we need to grow up.

So in our Father’s leading we frequently enter difficult territory, and this territory includes temptations, definitely, sometimes temptations that we would not have encountered if we just “stayed at home.” But temptations are not our Father’s purpose. Rather, our own interior dispositions that make temptations so attractive need to be addressed “unto deliverance.”

Deliverance. It’s the buzz word. Exorcism? Rarely. But to grow up, we must notice our spiritually harmful inclinations, get uncomfortable with them, and turn firmly away from them. We need to reject any advantage they may have offered us, including the subtle advantage of thinking we deserve pity because we have suffered so much more than others. It’s very possible that at the first moment of turning away from these interior evils, we may suddenly feel the urge to hold back – can we really live without the companionship of our favorite sins? Or just our favorite indulgences, not really sins? Scary thought!

So it may take an effort to let go, and in fact “let go” might not express it. We might have to rise up within ourselves, take authority over these demons, and kick them out.

Demons? No, no, these are not demons, they’re just innocent little tics that don’t mean a thing! Maybe. But there are two things about the “little foxes” that rob the vineyard. First, even if they are small, if we consent to their presence, we could be breaking the first commandment — the one about putting God first, remember — if we cling to them. Pretty innocent-looking things can set us against that command.

Second, though, they might be demonic. There are all kinds of demonic influences around us. Organic foods may include food grown bio-dynamically, which includes planting by the Moon, no big thing, and invoking “strange gods” at the start of the growing season, which is demonic. It’s an entry point, and once you see that, grace before meals takes on a new depth. You don’t have to be anxious; you just have to be woke. Bless your food and everyone who prepared it, before you eat.

You might have neighbors who are doing ‘strange’ things in relation to ‘strange’ gods; you could have had a first grade teacher or an ancestor who was meddling in superstition or other “strange” things. All these and many other things can set demons wandering around to be picked up by the unwary. I don’t care to list too much of this stuff because it sounds creepy and that’s not the point. The point is authority. In Jesus, you have authority to bind demons and send them packing. Use it. Kick them out.

Immediately thereafter, most importantly, abide in the love of your father. Let him fill your heart with blessing. Be still in his presence and let the sunsets, meadows, violets, stars, woodlands, and streams of your life renew their beauty in your heart. Enter into the communion offered by that cloud of friends, saints, heroes, and general witnesses to love who constantly offer their support on your journey. Above all, look into that face of eternal love and rest in the arms that are always beneath the curve of your life. You have to be healed of the scratching and scarring of what you are casting away. Otherwise it may come back with a vengeance and nestle into those those homely wounds.

In this whole process, you see, events that may include an encounter with temptation lead us into a deepening deliverance from evils that were already within and around us. That is what God wills and what Jesus teaches us to ask for. Engage the world, always under the eyes of your Father: only in God let my soul take rest, for he is my salvation.

We pray to be led to deliverance, sometimes through temptation, but always unto  deliverance.

Fiat, Emma and Olivia

March 25, 2014
How was it gentle,
That curve whence they fled our gaze
like snow in springtime?

 Just one week ago, the wife of my daughter’s erstwhile thesis advisor at Wyoming Catholic College lost two little daughters in an accident on a snowy highway. She herself was not much hurt, because it was a case of slipping sideways and being t-boned on the passenger side, but the children did not make it. One minute hers; the next minute, slipping away, though it would be hours before the final breath.

So painful, so sorrowful! All the college and its students’ and professors’ families, especially those with small children, wakeful and crying at night and clinging to their children in spirit; classes disoriented, papers overdue, teachers overloaded.

Yet also…

I have been reading – for other reasons – a book called A Song for Nagasaki. It is the story of a Japanese Catholic convert who lived in Urakami, the suburb of Nagasaki which was struck by the atomic bomb in August 1945, and which had been the center of persecuted Catholicism in Japan for 300 years, ever since Paul Miki and 25 others were martyred. The very center of the long-suffering of Japanese Catholicism!

Why there?

America planned to bomb the center of a different city; it was clouded over. The second choice was Nagasaki, center city. Instead, because of still more clouds, it was here on the outskirts, right here! Could not he who calmed the storm…

Takashi eventually has this beautiful reflection on the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins, the pure sacrifice that brings an end to wars. Was not Urakami the pure lamb slain for the sins of that war which ended on Mary’s feast of the Assumption, 6 days later? “A whole burnt offering on the altar of sacrifice…”

There was a great murmur about this when he first said it – at a large outdoor Mass, by the ruins of their cathedral. But he had been loved, had worked tirelessly for the sick for months before, indeed years before, as well as pulling things together in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, on a barren and bloody hillside, though his own head was deeply punctured and bleeding steadily under whatever bandaging. He had lost all his work, research, books, home, hospital, teaching center, grass, trees, flowers, beauty of his land, and above all, friends, co-workers, patients, neighbors, the Catholic cathedral, the priests hearing confessions inside, and above and beyond all, his valiant and beloved wife, Midori. His angel. Charred he found her when relief came and he could look for her on the third day, her rosary melted in the black bones of her hand. His children lived; they had gone over the mountainside with Gran. He almost died of his own bleeding, radiation, and exhaustion in the first weeks and was saved by a miracle, but still faced long-term leukemia. He was to live 6 years, mostly bedridden.

So they loved him, and they listened: this was how he had found peace. They were the lamb that was slain for the sins of many, and so brought peace. Even today, the bombing is remembered in Nagasaki with prayer, not with anger.

Less than a year ago, the same college in Wyoming lost a lovely member of the freshman class in a hiking accident with her family; recently a new and hopeful graduate of an associated college, Thomas Aquinas, died just as abruptly, and now this. It is unspeakably painful. There’s snow all over the place and a thousand curving roads; why couldn’t God take someone more … uh …dispensable?

But God is still the Lord. He was not taken by surprise when the truck came round the bend.

I’m not very good with the Atonement doctrine as it is commonly taught: our Father has no need of blood to stir up his forgiveness; he is our father. But there is something else on the underside of this teaching, something infinitely tender, infinitely lovely.

That the wicked should suffer seems fine; they jolly well deserve it, we think, presuming them not to be ourselves, and taking passages from our scriptures to prove it. But the truth is that innocent death and innocent loss are a particular grace, achieving something more hidden and deeper, and therefore Jesus came to make of these a particular union with himself.

Jesus has a particular grace in this. I feel it in my heart. I feel joy. It is around the corner – but like a light around the corner. The light cannot hide: “all my soul’s acres shine and shine” with it.

Oh yeah, I’m weeping too, but it’s like when my brother died in Viet Nam, and I could look up and see Jesus. I remember that so distinctly. I felt it even before I saw the first letter his wife pulled from her collection:

So when you realize I’m going to be gone and in danger, don’t let it shake you. It’s God playing hide and seek with you, all you have to do is stop crying and look up, and there He is, as he was for Mary Magdalen in the garden of Easter. 

I love you… Now it is Sunday night.  Ha!  Now it is eternity.  Stop!  Do not go to jail.  Go directly to Go and collect 200…

I feel deep, deep joy and hope in spite of my tears. God is here. Something lovely is up. If we could see it, we would smile through our tears and shake our heads. Someday, we will see, but meantime, give him a chance. Just a moment; one smile of trust. He is so good a Lord!

He desires our joy.

Heavenly friends, Midori and Takashi Nagai, pray for us

Charlie Van Hecke, pray for us.

Christine Allen, pray for us.

Emma and Olivia Lewis, pray for us.

Angela Baird pray for us.

Sgt. Roy O’Keefe, pray for us.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

St. Paul Miki, pray for us.

Mary, mother of the Incarnation, our sister and our mother,

pray for us that we may look up into the fair face of your Son.

Father Abraham, pray for us.

Lamb of God, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

 

Haunted House

March 5, 2014

I keep returning to the house in Open Season on Moms post. What a weird house!

How many people live in houses where there is a hallway between any two bedrooms? I mean, actually I did, but I had 8 brothers and sisters. Most arrangements, you’d just step across the hall.

This is a single mom with a single child and a walkable hall. Really?

  1. Independently wealthy single moms might have such a house, maybe, but with a nanny.
  2. Or high-intensity top-executive single moms might, but such women always get up in the morning. Even if their alarm clocks fail, their circadian rhythms do not.

So why are there so many weird contradictions here, in both the characters and the setting? There could be two reasons, and both are probably at work. The first one is that the story is supposed to elicit a spontaneous response from children who live in every kind of housing and family situation. Responsibility and irresponsibility, courtesy and rudeness, long-suffering love and utter heedlessness co-exist throughout. Any child or no child could identify with it. There is no possible way to mend the story, but attempts to bring it to a close would obviously be telling. It would be interesting to see the scoring on this one.

The second reason for the contradictions is that the general purpose of keeping students off-balance and uncomfortable is nicely met by this kind of more-than-ambiguity. I have seen it before, in materials from the American Psychological Corporation, which drew up the Metropolitan Achievement Test. Weird stuff. Psychological Corporation indeed!

Remember at the end of C. S. Lewis’ story, That Hideous Strength, when the guy is imprisoned in a cell where everything is just a little bit off. Off-plumb, off-square, the arch off-center. So you don’t notice it at first, but then it starts to drive you crazy?

Welcome to school.

 Haunted bus

Not just the house and the Mom. The bus.

When a school bus comes for someone and he doesn’t make it, usually he has friends by the bus windows, watching eagerly to see him, and all the more so if he’s been late a few times before. If he comes out the door as the bus pulls away, they yell to the bus driver, “Stop! Stop! He’s coming!” In this lazy residential area, the bus is about to turn a corner, so it’s doubly easy; it’s not like he’s whipping down the road at 50 mph, surrounded by wild traffic. He could stop.

No response. The bus is as blank and blind as the mom; it might as well have shutters and prisoners. It does.

Where are the children? None on the bus, and no more in the neighborhood either, for as far as the eye can see after the bus pulls away and disappears. Weird.

Getting a different perspective on that hair all on end when he woke up…

Get me out of here.