13 November 2008

Questions From a Young Person. . .

I feel a special warmth when answering a question from a young person who is searching. I will share some of them at this blog. I think too often we get bogged down in theological history and theory and quote scripture, when we should get to the heart of the matter, just answer the question and talk about Christ's love, and who God is according to what Christ taught us. Why make it so intimidating and difficult, for one who is just beginning to understand?

QUESTION: If God Loves all of us humans so much...
Why does he let natural disasters happen?
Why does he let us be exposed to such filth?
And why does 'god' have to be a man.
It's all a tad stupid to me...
Because he doesn't exist.

MY ANSWER: I hate it when people quote scripture to answer a simple question, so forgive me. But .... My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)

God is beyond our understanding. Our lives are such a small second in our existence. What seems so big to you in this life, is really so small in the grand scheme of things. His ways are not our ways, his thoughts not our thoughts.

There is another biblical passage that says, "for now...we see through a glass darkly, but THEN face to face" - in this life we don't see things clearly, it's like we are looking through a smoky piece of glass. But THEN, beyond this life, things will make sense to us.

Part of faith is accepting that God does have a plan for each of us, and learning to trust in that plan in times of trouble . . . . . . I don't believe God causes bad things to happen. However, once someone explained it to me like this: if you are a parent and have a toddler, sometimes they trip and fall. That is what they do. Sometimes they scream for half an hour after. But you don't always prevent the fall, and you don't always pick them up either. Why? Because you want them to learn to get up themselves, to be less afraid of the world, to brush themselves off - you want to allow them to have the opportunity to find out that they can pick themselves up, to find the self-esteem that comes with that knowledge. It is that way with God and us.

Years ago, I nearly died, twice. I was very very ill. It was terrible to go through. But I learned so much from the experience, in a spiritual sense! I grew closer to God. Everything became so much clearer to me. I looked at myself and life differently. I would do it again! If God wanted me to suffer like that, he was also giving me the opportunity for such growth! I welcomed that, and would welcome it again.

I want to speak to your frustration over the "he". God isn't a man. God is. . . God. A priest taught me once that for him, Jesus is the masculine, the Holy Ghost is feminine. (In Catholicism, Mary is given importance, and is feminine...) God is neutral. We say "he" because we don't have another word: there is no neutral gender in English, just he or she. And by tradition we say "he" when we don't know the gender of a thing. God created both male and female. He loves both equally - I'm certain of it.

Here is another good one:

QUESTION: Would I be absolved from sin if I marry the girl I lost my virginity to?
We lost our virginities to each other. I dont feel that it's a sin, even though it's premarital sex, because I love her and even the whole confession/repentance seemed odd. Now that we are talking about marriage, when we marry is that sin absolved? Was it even a sin because I heard that you are married in the eyes of God once you have sex, and we didn't have sex with any other partners. This almost feels like a formality because in our hearts we knew we were going to marry each other that's why we did it.
Or am I just being a stubborn or delusional sinner? I don't feel any guilt.

MY ANSWER: You are just being human. :)

Confession doesn't count, if you don't feel any remorse. I don't mean GUILT, I mean remorse.... Think of it like this: the Church teaches you that premarital sex is an offense to God - it runs contrary to his plan for us, and it runs contrary to what is a healthy lifestyle for us. You should confess to him (privately is fine) because it is offensive to him. Not because you find it wrong or feel guilty. You apologize for offending God , out of respect for him. Get it?

Everything that is taught to be a sin, is actually something that is ultimately hurtful to YOU the individual. God is offended because the act hurts you. It is not in your best interest. It doesn't bring you closer to Him, it doesn't work to make you happy in life. Premarital sex, because it is sex without a real commitment, is harmful to the individual - because in the context of a commitment it is much better for you. God hates what hurts you.

If you confess/apologize sincerely, you are absolved. You needn't marry or do anything else. If you ask sincerely for forgiveness, with real contrition (sorrow that you may have offended God by your behavior), you will be forgiven. God forgives anything, if you ask sincerely for his forgiveness, always. Simple.

God wouldn't want you to be fretting over it like this, or even to feel some horrible guilt. But I think he might want you to apologize to him out of respect, for mistreating yourself.

Lord, please send the Holy Ghost into my heart so that I answer in the words that you would have me use. Help me always remember that all wisdom comes from you, and help me to never stop seeking your guidance whenever I speak to Christianity. Amen.
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03 November 2008

A Little Guilt . . .

When did it become fashionable to avoid guilt? So many times, I've heard Catholics complain about the guilt they were taught. I'm not judging that - as I've mentioned I grew up Protestant. But my contemporaries that grew up before Vatican II obviously suffered; the fury over it is palpable even today, more than forty years later.

I just wonder if there is some middle ground, when it comes to guilt. I have often joked that I am probably the world's worst Catholic: having grown up liberal Protestant, I had no sense of guilt. Sure, I had enough to form Christian conscience, but not the kind of deep all-encompassing guilt that leads to self-loathing, which I see in some lifelong Catholics. I have to qualify the statement with "some Catholics" because so many grew up and lived devout lives and were not eaten up by guilt. Somehow, they had a different understanding of it - a healthier understanding of it. Why? . . .

Perhaps the chance that an individual would see guilt not as a monster but as a tool, depended upon the particular priest of the parish and the mood which was set; perhaps it depended more upon home environment - the way the faith was taught. It is fascinating to me as a bit of an outsider, that there is so little middle ground. Either an individual seems to have benefitted from the Catholic childhood, or they have vowed never to set foot in a Catholic church again.

I have read my previous posts which deal with my frustration at my own lack of spiritual strength, and I wonder if an angry former Catholic would read them and hear something they understand as guilt. This troubles me, and I feel a need to speak to it.

I suppose there is a little bit of guilt there, certainly, but it isn't something I feel beaten by, or attacked by. Rather, I feel challenged by it. For me, one of the very valuable things I have found in Catholicism is the emphasis on self-examination. It often seems to me that Protestants - and this is more true the more fundamentalist the group - like to look outside of themselves for sin; a lot of energy is put into critiquing the behavior of others, pointing out to others their shortcomings. But Christ told us to remove the log from our own eyes before looking at the speck in our brother's. This is so often forgotten in the Protestant churches.

That is my point: Catholic faith emphasizes self-examination through its prayers, the very act of frequent confession, the ideology of penance and contrition. Although Protestantism incorporates these ideas to an extent, the same emphasis on self-evolution isn't there.

I appreciate the challenge that Catholicism presents to me as an individual to look at myself every day, to set spiritual goals, to carry on a dialog between myself and Christ in order to improve myself. Not only is there little or no emphasis on worrying about others' sins, but to do so works against the virtue of humility. (I could write another essay on Humility!) The Catholic faith by its very structure demands self-examination above examination of others.

And Guilt - is that such a bad thing anyway? I can agree that we need not walk around feeling so guilty that we feel defeated; this ideology ignores the essential truth of Christian thought that we are all sinners and all have God's love regardless. But guilt that compels one to constantly evolve, set moral standards, seek new spiritual goals, can only serve to force one to spiritual development.

The guilt I feel as I contemplate my own spiritual failures is profound and causes me a lot of pain, but it isn't something that I feel victimized by. I hold it separate from my sense of self-worth - which in fact grows as I feel closer to God. If anything, guilt is a gift - it spurs me on in the journey. It's a necessary pain through which I find so much enlightemment when all is said and done, and I find this over and over again.

Lord, thank you for making me aware of my shortcomings. Every thought, every awareness of them is a grace from you - for it allows me to know how to keep working toward you. These thoughts illuminate the path to you. Please don't stop showing me how I can be closer to that which you want me to be. Please keep opening my eyes to my true self, a little at a time, so that I can change a little at a time. Amen

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