Catholic

On self love

Since charity is a kind of friendship, as stated above (II-II:23:1), we may consider charity from two standpoints: first, under the general notion of friendship, and in this way we must hold that, properly speaking, a man is not a friend to himself, but something more than a friend, since friendship implies union, for Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that “love is a unitive force,” whereas a man is one with himself which is more than being united to another. Hence, just as unity is the principle of union, so the love with which a man loves himself is the form and root of friendship. For if we have friendship with others it is because we do unto them as we do unto ourselves, hence we read in Ethic. ix, 4,8, that “the origin of friendly relations with others lies in our relations to ourselves.”

St Thomas Aquinas, ST II:II q25 a4

I love this passage from the Summa. It’s so deep and affirming, and places proper love of oneself in such a high regard.

“Love is a unitive force.” A lot of Catholics like to always define love as “willing the good of the other”, which is a great definition in its own place, but seems to be used too often to suck the beauty and joy out of love. No, love is a force, a force that unites, the force that takes two and makes them one. This is also implies that our love of God is necessarily directed towards our divinization (or “theosis” as the Greeks call it).

In a sense, “self love” is an inappropriate term, because love is a unitive force between two people. But a man is “one with himself” which is something more than unity or friendship, more than love as we generally use the word. It’s something more, not less.

To love yourself is to be one with yourself, and it’s only from this unity that love of others is possible at all. This is the principle, the form, and the root of all other friendships. We can be united to others only insofar as we are one with ourselves. This is a truth that’s confirmed in all my experience: the best and most reliable friends are those who love themselves best, knowing their own worth and goodness.

This idea of self love as oneness leads to an interesting link between self love and integrity, which is also a matter of being one, whole, integrated. If you love yourself, you won’t deceive or betray yourself. You’ll be true to your own values.

So, how do you actually love yourself?

Some people really struggle with this. I think it’s something most of us are ignorant of in our society, and if anything it’s even worse among Christians, since we place so much importance on sacrifice and dying to self and our own unworthiness of salvation. But God made us good, and it is good to love what is good. God loves us, and it is good to love what God loves. And it is good to love those who are closest to us, such as our friends and family, and no one (besides God) is closer to a man than himself. Accepting this is a good start.

Then, treat yourself like you would treat a good friend in your situation, or like a good friend would treat you. Or as Jordan Peterson puts it in ’12 Rules for Life’, “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping” (rule 2). It takes a little time and imagination, but after a while it grows more and more habitual to be good to yourself. It’s not merely indulging yourself, and it’s not just putting in the work to improve. It’s caring for your good as a whole being. You need exercise and sustenance and rest and recreation [what a beautiful word].

As noted above, integrity is critical to self love. You have to recognise your values and live according to them. You have to be honest with yourself and with others, because we can only be one with ourselves to the extent that we hold to the truth of who and what we are.

Going to confession is a good exercise in this honesty and integrity, as is doing penance, because it means facing up to ourselves including our failures, and then working to make things right. It might sound paradoxical to say penance is an expression of self love, but there it is.

Another important part of self love is surrounding yourself with love. Make the effort to stay in touch with family and friends, and to make new ones too. Frequent the sacraments. Read scripture and good books. Make time to pray. Watch wholesome TV (‘Queer Eye’ springs to mind). Spend time in nature (it’s strange to say, but there’s a lot of love in nature).

(image links to a good article on Aquinas’s advice for dealing with sadness)

That’s all I’ve got for now! God bless!

How to be happy – some tips

  1. Live well. It sounds obvious right? But it’s worth saying as a starting point, that happiness will follow from living well.
  2. Live consciously. This ties into my first point, because you need to figure out what it means in practice to live well, and because you need to become conscious of where you aren’t living well so that you can correct it. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Don’t live on autopilot.
  3. Move forwards. That is, make your life better each day. Put in work each day to grow, to learn, to deepen your relationships, to help a friend, to make your life a little easier, whatever. Just keep moving forwards making things better. These things add up, and they have meaning.
  4. Face your problems. This goes back to point 2 and 3. Identify your problems and their roots as much as you can, and find ways to proactively address them bit by bit. Don’t ignore a problem or put off facing it, because it won’t go away.
  5. Love yourself. Self love provides a certain unity to your own soul, which is the basis for all love and friendship with others, according to St Thomas Aquinas.
  6. Trust entirely in Providence. Everything that happens is part of God’s will, and is therefore good. We ought to accept all things, good and bad, that come to us as being directly from God’s hand and give Him thanks for all of it. Especially for suffering, because it means God is bringing us some great blessing that will more than make up for the suffering.
  7. Life is a gift: be grateful and enjoy it. The worst ingratitude is to receive a gift and not enjoy it. Gratitude is arguably the centre of our faith. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and it’s our great sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, offering up all of our lives and the whole cosmos in union with Jesus, in joyful thanksgiving.

‘Above all we must reacquire confidence about creation’

‘Above all we must reacquire confidence about creation. I mean to say that things — the sacraments “are made” of things — come from God. To Him they are oriented, and by Him they have been assumed, and assumed in a particular way in the Incarnation, so that they can become instruments of salvation, vehicles of the Spirit, channels of grace. In this it is clear how vast is the distance between this vision and either a materialistic or spiritualistic vision. If created things are such a fundamental, essential part of the sacramental action that brings about our salvation, then we must arrange ourselves in their presence with a fresh, non-superficial regard, respectful and grateful. From the very beginning, created things contain the seed of the sanctifying grace of the sacraments.’

(Pope Francis, Desiderio Desideravi n.46)

Thoughts on suffering

Life is suffering.

Gautama Buddha

I believe that the large majority of suffering comes from the refusal to suffer. We refuse to face and properly suffer our own suffering, and we refuse to face and compassionate the suffering of others as well. But in this refusal, we just compound the suffering.

Suffering can be greatly alleviated, both within ourselves and in others, just by giving it some attention and kindness, and allowing it to be what it is. The suffering is trying to communicate that something is wrong, and it needs to be heard and acknowledged. When we compassionately hear out suffering, it will become quieter, because it trusts that its problems have been heard and are being attended to. We also gain some of the understanding needed to attend to problems.

But if we reject suffering, then we are heaping the pain of rejection onto the existing suffering. Whether it’s to our own or to another’s suffering, we are effectively saying, “no one cares about you” to the part of the person that is suffering. No one wants to hear that. It then makes the suffering try to look after itself, either by crying out all the more for attention, or by hiding itself away, becoming unconscious, placing walls around itself, refusing vulnerability and life itself. But the suffering is part of us: if the suffering is hiding, we are hiding; if the suffering is rejected, we are rejected.

We refuse to suffer because we are afraid that suffering will destroy us. And actually, it will.

If you allow it, suffering will break your heart. But hearts are made to be broken. A heart that won’t break is as worthless as a heart that won’t beat. This is how hearts are purified and trained in the ways of a higher love and a deeper joy.

Suffering is a cry for wholeness. When you suffer it properly, with attention and compassion, you bring that cry into yourself, you take on its lack of wholeness. You become the suffering. But in embracing it with attention and compassion, you also grant it something of the wholeness it was lacking, because now it is united with yourself; now it is loved and acknowledged; now it is not alone. Compassion is itself a unifying force, and brings a bit more wholeness to everything it touches.

God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.

St Augustine

It is compassion that brought Jesus to the cross. In His compassion, He united Himself to all of humanity: all of the suffering inflicted on us, and all of the suffering we inflict on others. He took it all into Himself. In this way, He offered all of creation to the Father, forgave our sins, and created a new, united, humanity in His broken body. His radical, ultimate compassion has granted the promise of wholeness to the world.

But we too must embrace the cross, if we wish to be saved. We have to embrace the way of compassion, daring to suffer and have our hearts broken. We must dare to be united to the entire suffering world.

“If we wish to be saved” from what? Hell, of course. But what is hell? I think that hell is the refusal to suffer.

At the judgment, we will each have to suffer all that we are due. What suffering are we due? We are due all the suffering of our fellow humans who we have failed to compassionate. And we are due even more for the suffering we cause. I believe that as long as we refuse this suffering, resisting and fighting against it, we will be stuck with it in its compounded, hellish form, but if we take on the suffering with compassion, we will have our hearts thoroughly broken, pass through the suffering and be purified, before entering into heaven. For as long as we resist suffering, it is hell, but once we accept it with compassion, it becomes purgatory, which is the way to heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 5:2-10)

How to suffer well

God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.

St Augustine

We will all suffer in this life. That is the truth of our fallen world. The question is how to suffer well? If we suffer well, we may do great good, and also suffer less in purgatory, but if we suffer poorly, we will multiply our suffering and only bring further punishment on ourselves.

To suffer well, we must accept suffering from the hands of Our Father, in obedience, in humility, and in love.

We must suffer all that comes our way in obedience to God’s will, recognising the truth that all things are directed according to His providence and will, to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Our suffering comes to us from God, and we must not refuse it, simply because it is His will for us.

You might find the thought that God has willed your suffering upsetting, but actually this should comfort us. Suffering is not the ultimate evil that it’s often portrayed as. It is not meaningless or pure evil. It is a gift, albeit a mysterious gift, of our loving Father. We can accept suffering because He is trustworthy.

It was by Jesus’s obedience to the Father upon the cross that Adam’s fatal disobedience has been undone (Romans 5:19), and so by suffering in obedience we are united to Jesus’s obedience and cooperate in the redemption of the world.

We must suffer in humility before God, acknowledging that we are sinners, worthy of all suffering, deserving of the fires of hell for our crimes against God who is all good and deserving of all our love. When we suffer, we should see it as a just penance for our sins, and that by this suffering we are paying a small part of our incredible debt to God.

Again, you might find this thought disturbing, and might even think it an unhealthy way of seeing yourself. And it can be, if it’s separated from from a proper awareness of God’s merciful love. But joined to that awareness, it is a liberating truth: through our suffering, the Father is disciplining us for our good, that we may share in His holiness (see Hebrews 12:5-11). Of ourselves, we are utterly unworthy of all His good gifts, but we are loved and thereby made worthy.

When we suffer with humility, we are giving God our all and asking nothing in return. It is a more perfect gift, because it is not tainted with pride. We get to offer ourselves without even claiming any credit for our offering. As Jesus tells us, we should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” (Luke 17:10) This humility is Jesus’s entire way of being, His whole life of emptying Himself and claiming nothing for His own (Philippians 2:6-7).

We must suffer in love for God, taking suffering as an opportunity to give ourselves to Him, along with the things that are most dear to us. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only beloved son (Genesis 22:2), and if we wish to be perfect we too must look to be ready to offer God our everything, trusting Him.

By offering ourselves and all we love to the Father, in love for Him, we are united to Jesus’s sacrifice upon the cross and upon the altar. We pass over from earth to heaven, from death to resurrection, from Adam to Christ. When we suffer like this, united to Jesus, our suffering and His become one, and our suffering gains immense value.

So, how do we suffer in obedience, humility, and love? Basically, by willing to. Each time you suffer something, by a quick mental act accept it and give it to God, saying something like, “All for you, Jesus“. It won’t cease to be suffering and it won’t become easy, but I have found that it brings a certain peace and a certain strength, because it has a meaning and because you’re no longer suffering it alone. I also recommend praying the morning offering first thing each morning, to formally offer up all the day’s prayers, works, and sufferings.

May you have a blessed lent! God bless!

“It is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ”

‘And today we again repeat with all the insistency We can command: it is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ, one needs to be a living member, in spirit and in truth, i.e., living in the state of grace and in the presence of God, either in innocence or in sincere repentance. If the Apostle of the nations, the vase of election, chastised his body and brought it into subjection: lest perhaps, when he had preached to others, he himself should become a castaway (1 Cor. ix. 27), could anybody responsible for the extension of the Kingdom of God claim any other method but personal sanctification? Only thus can we show to the present generation, and to the critics of the Church that “the salt of the earth,” the leaven of Christianity has not decayed, but is ready to give the men of today – prisoners of doubt and error, victims of indifference, tired of their Faith and straying from God – the spiritual renewal they so much need. A Christianity which keeps a grip on itself, refuses every compromise with the world, takes the commands of God and the Church seriously, preserves its love of God and of men in all its freshness, such a Christianity can be, and will be, a model and a guide to a world which is sick to death and clamors for directions, unless it be condemned to a catastrophe that would baffle the imagination.

‘Every true and lasting reform has ultimately sprung from the sanctity of men who were driven by the love of God and of men. Generous, ready to stand to attention to any call from God, yet confident in themselves because confident in their vocation, they grew to the size of beacons and reformers. On the other hand, any reformatory zeal, which instead of springing from personal purity, flashes out of passion, has produced unrest instead of light, destruction instead of construction, and more than once set up evils worse than those it was out to remedy. No doubt “the Spirit breatheth where he will” (John iii. 8): “of stones He is able to raise men to prepare the way to his designs” (Matt. iii. 9). He chooses the instruments of His will according to His own plans, not those of men. But the Founder of the Church, who breathed her into existence at Pentecost, cannot disown the foundations as He laid them. Whoever is moved by the spirit of God, spontaneously adopts both outwardly and inwardly, the true attitude toward the Church, this sacred fruit from the tree of the cross, this gift from the Spirit of God, bestowed on Pentecost day to an erratic world.’

– Pope Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge, On The Church and the German Reich, n.19-20, published 1937

I recommend reading the whole encyclical. It’s fascinating historically, but it also contains a number of remarkably relevant passages for our own times and circumstances.

God bless!

The nativity according to St Bonaventure

‘At length arrived at the city of Bethlehem, they found there so great a multitude of people, who had resorted thither from all parts, on the same occasion, that, by reason of their extreme poverty and distress, they could find no room in the inn. Here let tenderness excite you to compassion towards the august personage of this young and delicate Virgin. Consider her at the age of fifteen, wearied with the labours of a tedious journey, confused, terrified and abashed amidst a crowded populace: she seeks, to no purpose, a place of rest; and being everywhere refused admittance for herself and spouse, is at last reduced to seek for a shelter in a homely shed, the usual refuge of persons surprised by sudden storms of rain. In this place, we may suppose St. Joseph, who was by profession a carpenter, might probably have made a land of partition, or small enclosure for themselves, in which he fixed a rack and manger for the convenience of their beasts. And now let me earnestly entreat you to be sedulously attentive to everything that passes, concerning this subject, chiefly because what I am now going to relate, I had from a devout and holy man of undoubted credit, to whom I believe it was revealed by the Blessed Virgin herself.

‘The expected hour of the birth of the Son of God being come, on Sunday, towards midnight, the holy Virgin, rising from her seat, went and decently rested herself against a pillar she found there: Joseph in the meantime, sat pensive and sorrowful; perhaps, because he could not prepare the necessary accommodation for her. But at length, he arose too, and taking what hay he could find in the manger, he diligently spread it at our Lady’s feet, and then modestly retired to another part. Then the eternal Son of God, coming forth from his mother’s womb, was, without pain to her, transferred in an instant from thence to the humble bed of hay, that was prepared for him at her feet. His holy Mother, hastily stooping down, took him up in her arms, and tenderly embracing him, laid him in her lap; then through instinct of the Holy Ghost, she began to wash and bathe him with her sacred milk, with which she was most amply supplied from heaven: this done, she took the veil off her head, and wrapping him in it, carefully reposed him in the manger. Here the ox and the ass, kneeling down, and laying their heads over the manger, gently breathed upon him, as if endowed with reason. They were sensible, that through the inclemency of the season, and his poor attire, the blessed infant stood in need of their assistance to warm and cherish him. Then the holy Virgin throwing herself on her knees, adored him, and rendering thanks to God, said: “My Lord and heavenly Father, I return thee most grateful thanks, that thou vouchsafest of thy bounty to give me thy only Son ; and I praise and worship thee, O eternal God, together with thee, O Son of the living God, and mine.”’

– St Bonaventure, Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ

Happy 7th day of Christmas!

Lucifer’s justice compared to Mary’s

Why did Lucifer and his angels fall to pride, and the Blessed Virgin Mary not? Lucifer, prior to his fall, was the greatest and most beautiful of all God’s creatures. From her conception, Mary was the greatest and most beautiful of all God’s creatures. Lucifer was created without original sin, in fact he was created prior to sin even existing, and Mary was conceived without original sin also. So was Mary at risk of falling just as much as Lucifer was? I don’t think so.

The difference, I think, is that Lucifer was without sin because he was created in original justice, a justice that was his own justice. He was, simply from the way he was created, just, and ordered properly towards God. He had the justice natural to creatures.

But Mary’s Immaculate Conception did not give her a justice of her own: she was given the justice of the Christian, to share in Christ’s own justice, by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was not simply created fresh, without sin in the same way that Adam and Eve were, she was recreated in the divine recapitulation of Jesus, infused with the life of God. She is not just new, she is renewed. Her holiness belongs entirely and solely to God.

Lucifer’s justice was from God as its creator, to God as its end, but of Lucifer as its object.  Mary’s justice is from God, to God, and of God.

It is from God, but not as its creator, since the justice of Mary is the justice of Jesus, and the justice of Jesus is not created, but simply His being, His life of obedience and love to the Father from eternity to eternity. Jesus’s justice is His alignment with the Father, which is who He is.

It has God as its end, but not merely, as in Lucifer’s case, as the standard it is directed to, as an oven has cooking as its end. Mary’s justice has God as its end in a more perfect way, because Mary’s justice is her union with God, sharing His divine life, His very Godhead, and so its end is nothing less than for Mary to be made perfectly one with God.

It is of God, because it is Christ’s saving work upon the cross, and her being united to Christ crucified, Him living in her. It is not her work, but her union with Christ’s saving work. Lucifer had the justice of a servant: of doing what is required of him; Mary had the justice of a spouse: of loving and being loved, intimately and tenderly.

So we see just how great our salvation is, and how it leaves no room for pride.

God bless, and have a wonderful Christmas!