This is a pretty good week to be Catholic. The Conclave is starting on March 12th; we know that now, and the reporting from EWTN has been nothing short of inspiring. I have been so blessed by the comprehensive coverage this network has provided its viewers from our Pontiff Emeritus' announcement of retirement up to the present moment. I'm also reading about, and hearing about (on NPR of all sources!) state level victories for the anti-abortion movement. Even when they are likely to be squashed at the Federal level, trust me, they have the pro-aborts running scared. Listening to NPR certainly confirms that!
has, sadly, been a very busy time for me in terms of intercessory prayers. I am
inundated with prayer requests on Facebook and in my "real life." I
feel the suffering and desperation in each request, and sometimes it is
overwhelming. I know it is my privilege and duty to pray for everyone I
encounter, those who ask and those who do not, so I do what the saints
teach me to do: bring it to the foot of the Cross and join these
petitions to the groans of our Savior. I am praying for miracles for three persons with advanced, metastasized cancer. I am also
praying for a family who recently lost their foundation, their wife and
mom, Kristina, when she had a heart attack and brain aneurysm during
the delivery of her fifth child. I continue to pray for the Faddis family, Chris and his two small children Gianna and Gus, who lost their Mama and wife Angela to
cancer. You are always welcome to join me in these prayers.
am currently in prayer for for four atheists of varying ages. One is a young, rebellious girl, one a man in his early thirties, one midlife, and one a very
elderly man. I pray for their souls and for some aperture to open inside
of them so they can see God's light through whatever darkness that has driven them to this lonely place where they hide from their Father. Will you also join me
in these prayers?
Germane to atheism, CINOism, and all manner of disobedience and just all around folks being LOST, I've run of late up against an old difficulty: people's disbelief in the devil, demons, or any sort of concrete definition or manifestation of "evil." Of course this is an expected offshoot of secularism and relativism, and I have come to expect it. If nothing is a sin, then the foe, too, the author of lies, the cheerleader of sin, has reached obsolescence. And arguing to an atheist that there may be a demonic influence working on him is generally a dead end street, bad pun intended. The concept of the great I Am has been reduced, in the atheist's mind, to a sky fairy, and the very real fallen angel nothing more than a character in a red unitard on a can of ham.
But we know, of course, that the foe is real. And among the myriad ways he has of involving himself in our lives, there are four biggies that keep cropping up around me. The title of this blog popped into my head as I was remembering the old Austin Powers movies . . . this colloquial phrase was the mnemonic Agent Powers used to remember how to make the sign of the cross: up, down, side to side, or, in his exaggerated British accent, "Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet, and Watch." A crude way to bless oneself, to be sure, but in the context of the film it was rather charming, sort of an homage to a grown man's religious training as a school boy, and how he often comes back to that resource when he is in imminent physical danger.
The saying got me thinking of four favorite ways that we let sin enter our lives by failing to practice custody of our senses or observe proper order. Custody of the eyes is essential, now more than ever before, as we are daily, no, minute by minute, inundated with graphic visuals that should be private. I can't stand at the checkout line in a Midwest grocery store without seeing near-naked adults on magazine covers. Enriching these images is usually some insipid rhetorical question like, "Do you know the sex move ninety percent of guys are afraid to ask their gals to perform?" This is usually when I start saying a Hail Mary and praying for the state of the world. Or start considering buying a pallet of bottled water and going to hide my family in the mountains.
How many times does sin enter our days and nights via our eyes? Just because two people are fighting or a child is misbehaving doesn't mean we have to stop in our tracks to eavesdrop and judge. Just because someone chooses to dress with complete immodesty or inappropriateness does not mean we have to ogle that person. Custody of the eyes means you avert your glance. We need to monitor what we expose ourselves to out in public, what we watch on television, what posts we click on whilst cruising Facebook or other social media, and what movies we attend or pay for on home services.
Another way to use your holy "spectacles" is to stop looking at things you are apt to covet. If you find yourself obsessing on material possessions like clothing, jewelry, cars, vacation homes, and the like, stop looking at them. Stop looking at people's photos of these material luxuries if they are an occasion of sin for you. If you are given to the sin of envy of other people's material success, avoid exposing yourself to it. Talk to your priest about it in the confessional for further steps to overcome that hurdle, one which is prevalent in our consumerist society.
Related to custody of the eyes, especially in terms of lust, are, as Mark Shea famously terms them, "groin pieties." By this we mean the long and varied buffet of sexual goodies that we are tempted to take a tiny plate of every day. Oh how old Fault Face loves to tempt us in the sexual realm. We can be convinced, by media and academic indoctrination, that any sexual behavior that makes us feel good, makes us "happy," (read: makes our bodies react) is okie dokie. More bad decisions have been made, more innocence lost, more marriages snuffed out, more women's lives ruined, more babies killed, because of the misuse of the gift of sexual intercourse than any other force I can think of, including poverty.
But poverty is next in my discussion, so you who hold your wallets closed with a rubberband and snort at the notion of giving to the poor are by no means off the hook. The devil loves to watch us hoard our money and possessions. The more we collect on this earth, the more we feel at home here. Then we forget our real home in Heaven! We make it so easy for the devil, don't we? If this world is full of bank balances, beeping electronic equipment, and fatty restaurant food, why would anyone want to leave it to go to the Heaven described in the Bible? Leave all of this debauchery and gluttony to sing Psalms of praise all day? Satan would love it if you would see it that way. Don't let him fool you. Don't let the television shows where preparation of food is shot so close by the camera that you can see the dimples on an orange mesmerize you for sixty minutes. It's like food pornography! These are physical pleasures, meant to sustain us, yes, and to be enjoyed, but not to be obsessed upon, not to fill up all of our time while we neglect prayer and spiritual reading. Trust me when I tell you that the latter will fill you with greater satisfaction and there are NO negative side effects. You can read all the Thomas Aquinas you want and you won't gain a pound.
The last symbol, the watch, is maybe the most meaningful, at least for me. As you know from reading my writing before on The Catholic Revolver or watching my conversion story on Journey Home, I lost my mom to ovarian cancer when she was only 64 years old and I was the 37 year old mom of a toddler. Nothing prepares you for the void, the palpable absence, of the single person who was positive that you were a miracle. My mom was not only a nurturer, she was my confidante and, as it turns out, possibly my co-dependent.
The foe loves for us to waste our time on selfish pursuits while we ignore those we love. We become keenly aware of this when a loved one dies. No matter how much time we have to ready ourselves, no matter how many times we express our gratitude and love to these people while they are ill, it is never enough if we look back and recall days when they wanted only a sliver of our time and we couldn't spare it.
My mom had a habit of calling me on the phone at the exact moment I would walk in the door after work. She knew my schedule very well, so she knew when to call almost to the minute. Now, I had been teaching high school English all day, and I needed to unwind. I wanted to clean my house, change my clothes, have a snack, maybe a cup of coffee, watch a television show. My mom, conversely, had been home all day, waiting to talk to me. She had no job, no hobbies, no volunteer work, and no kids left to raise. She would want to summarize a magazine article she read, or worse yet (for me in my selfish mind), read me the article verbatim over the phone. Or she would hit me with a series of questions about my day that were better suited to an interrogation room. My poor Mom was bored. She had dedicated her life to being a mother, and she didn't want to retire from that job. So every aspect of my life was fascinating to her. That I didn't feel like reliving it on the phone the second I got in the door was reasonable, perhaps, but that regret sits within me to this day. What I wouldn't give for one more chance to hear that phone ring. I would listen to her read the phone book if I could; that's how much I miss that Mommy of mine. The lesson here is pretty clear: don't let the sin of selfishness with your time permanently scar your relationships.
Time is precious. Money is necessary and nice to have. Sex feels good. God made it, so he knows! A wandering eye feels natural , like free exploration of our environment. But these are the doors through which the enemy saunters into our lives, like he's strolling into a cocktail party, casual, not making a big ruckus, no alarms ringing. We don't even notice. Because we've seen him at everybody else's party, too.
It's always a good time to be Catholic, because we are the recipients of a most generous God who has left us a Church full of literal and figurative treasures. Books, Sacraments, sacramentals, priests, encouraging and like-minded friends, websites, blogs, television shows, and charitable causes for us to feel great satisfaction in giving our talents to when we are so inclined.
Catholicism is a party to which everyone is invited, and you don't have to bring a thing but your willingness to enjoy Christ's hospitality.