Friday, August 29, 2008

The Challenge of Perfection

Today a priest was telling me about 5 priests who have left the priesthood in the diocese in El Salvador where I am at right now. He said he thinks the problem has to do with a lack of maturity. Some have told him that they don't want to have any problems.

This reminded me of a reflection on perfection that I have been mulling over for the past few months. I once heard in my developmental psychology class that the challenge that young adults face is that of accepting their limits while at the same time not completely loosing their idealistic way of thinking from when they were teenagers and wanted to change the world in an instant.

Well, I think there are two extremes that people can go to when it comes to experiencing their limits and reacting to them. On the one hand, someone can become very perfectionistic, thinking that they must at all costs overcome their problems and limits. This response becomes burdensome on the person because they will eventually fail and have to deal with the fact that they are not perfect. Otherwise, the person will burn themselves out trying to be perfect and end up either going off the deep end or giving up completely and doing a 180. Really, this kind of person has too much faith in his or her own ability to change and not enough in God's grace and forgiveness.

The other extreme is to run from one's limits. This means avoiding all situations in which one sees one's defects or limits and acting as though they do not exist. The problem with this extreme is not only does the person never try to get better, but they set themselves up to eventually run from any challenge or difficulty that comes their way. This person places all their faith in God's forgiveness without thinking that they can or have to place any effort into changing.

Then there is the way of perseverance. This means accepting that as a human being one grows in stages and that change is a process. So one looks to slowly but surely get better and better. He or she looks at one's progress not based on the distance from the goal (which still being far off can cause one dispair) but rather bases progress on where he or she started and where he or she now is. This way takes into account the fact that something is better than nothing and realizes that the not-so-perfect motives or ways of doing things still are worth something, while he or she keeps in mind that he or she is called to do better. The person who walks this path places his or her faith in God while still disposing him or herself to receive the graces necessary to change. He or she collaborates with God. Faith in God's mercy is accompanied by faith in His grace, which will produce the desired result (for example, Saint Faustina who prayed for the virtue of Chastity. It was given to her as a gift).

Only in this third and middle way can one understand what Mother Teresa meant when she said "God desires faithfulness not victories," which means that God would rather have us get up and try again when we fall down instead of getting upset that we were not able to obtain the desired result at that very moment.

Slow and steady... brick by brick... stone by stone... and the Lord knows we grow into things.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Submission in a Whole New Way

I was reading a book by Christopher West entitled "Good News About Sex and Marriage" and came across his definition of being submissive in the [in]famous Ephesians chapter 5. It just about blew me away. West says that really one should look at the word "submissive" by breaking it down into "sub" and "mission", which would really mean that a wife should be underneath the mission of her husband, whose mission is to love her as Christ loves the church and to give his life for her and lead her to sanctity. West basically asks, after looking at it this way, what woman would not want to be underneath the mission of her husband if her husband loved her as Christ loves the church and if he is willing to give his life for her? Even in our society that isn't interested in putting God into relationships, don't we find a man willing to die for his beloved romantic and a sign of true love? (The song "Everthing I Do" by Brian Adams comes to mind.)

But since marriage as the Grundsakrament (primordial sacrament) has been on my mind recently, this explanation hit me in a different way. If all of us are called primarily to be the spiritual bride of Christ (as members of the Church), then aren't we all called to be submissive to the mission of Christ our Spouse? So, doesn't this mean that the first thing we all have to do in our relationship with Christ is let Him love us, let Him give His life for us, and let Him sanctify us?

It seems to me that the foundamental thing we have to do is simply open our hearts and receive. Then, and only then, are we called to give back to God by giving thanks and by loving others from the love we have received.

Open up the doors (Oh gates, lift high your heads! Grow higher ancient doors. Let him enter the King of Glory) ... and do not be afraid. Open wide the doors of your heart to Christ... and let Him love you!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Farewell to Antigua

It's been nine days since I left Antigua. How can I sum up seven weeks there? I'm not sure what to say. I feel as though I learned a great deal there and some of that was Spanish. I meet a lot of people and made some friends in my short time. I hope I had a positive impact on them. One friend wrote me and said that I did. It was very confirming to hear.

What she said was that she saw me as someone who gives my heart in a peaceful way. I had never thought of that before. But what I did notice was that this summer was indeed a time in which I tried to give myself more to others, to befriend people and not to be afraid to make friends.

We had pretty neat circle of friends of people from very different backgrounds and different parts of the world. It was neat how we got along. What's more, we respected each other despite our different backgrounds. It was neat though too because people knowing I am a brother asked me questions and it became a chance to present the faith to them in a way that perhaps they had not looked at it before.

What's more, I really felt as though God was showing me that His love does indeed come at times though friends and that it is not necessarily just an abstract spiritual feeling of being loved. I wonder if that is not why John Paul II used to say that he was grateful for the help of God and the help of men, to show that at times the two go together.

Really, if there is anything the big man upstairs was trying to teach me, I think it was about trusting in Him to meet my needs. Twice that seemed to be the theme of the answers I was getting to prayer, especially when looking at how to overcome some of my bad habits.\

The other thing that seemed to be the big theme in Antigua was Theology of the Body and NFP and the eucharist. Not only did two people in the span of three days talk to me about Theology of the Body, but the next day I met a woman named Mercedes Arzú de Wilson, who had written a book on NFP and wanted to give me a copy of it. It was just too much a coincidence to turn down. So I arranged to have dinner with her and her family, and strangely enough the entire event was sandwiched by eucharistic adoration. First there was eucharistic adoration finishing up at the church where I was going to mass (incidently I asked this lady to have her driver pick me up at the church after mass). Then I met the driver, went to Doña Mercedes' house, spoke with her and met her family, and had dinner. After dinner, her son Philip was nice enough to drive me back to town and drop me off in front of another church where I was supposed to meet friends. He dropped me off, but I didn't meet my friends. Seeing I was late and not knowing if my friends had gotten back from their trip in time to meet me or not, I wandered into the church which was usually not open that late (like 9:00 PM). What do you know? Eucharistic adoration! I just had to God what Theology of the Body and Eucharist had to do with each other, and I got some interesting reflections on the body of Christ and our mystical union with Christ as bride. And what do you know...! The priest during the divine praises added "Blessed be the Church, mystical body and bride of Christ." If that wasn't a confirmation, then I don't know what.

Towards the end of my stay, though, I must say it was a bit sad since most of the friends I had made had already returned to their places of origin. Sure, I left behind some Guatemalan friends too, who I hope to still hear from, but I know that if I ever return to Antigua, it won't be the same. Sure it will hold a place in my heart, but only in as much as I let the people I met there into my heart. So really it's through them that I have fond memories of Antigua. I'll miss it but my friends from the summer more so.

Farewell Antigua. It was nice to roam your streets for a while.