Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Who am I? The Heart of Human Discovery

When diving into your own internal philosophy one question remains for anyone desiring to know what truth is: Who am I? This question is one which man has been asking himself since the beginning of time. Adam asked himself this very question in the Book of Genesis. When Eve came to be Adam stated, 'This one, at last, is bone of my bones', the 'at last' gives us proof that while Adam was naming the animals he was searching internally to know who he was and why he was. Could it be that God has left this question in the human heart to dig for the treasure found in the innermost recesses of our soul? Or is it that humans are built to search for and find a reason for living by the discovery of who they are?
Aristoltle once wrote that 'Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom' so for those who want to be truly wise this question should remain with them for most of their lives. Many name themselves by their careers or their positions of respect but to delve into who and what you are these superficial titles mean nothing. When owning up to your purpose in life, money, stature and material goods mean absolutely nothing. In today's Gospel Jesus resounds this ideal with the famous quote "But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

Knowing who we are and why we live on a big rock called Earth gives a clear focus to our purpose in life. At the deepest depths of our existence Christ reigns within and even though we are a speck on the masterpiece that is the universe, in God's eyes He sees a living, breathing organism worthy of sacrifice. So when we strive to know ourselves better we end up finding God Himself dwelling within us, which as Artistotle proclaimed, is the seedbed of true wisdom. I heard a great speech by the motivational T.D. Jakes the other day, and while I don't agree with most of his theology he made a valient point when he said the fight (talking about the fight of your life) is not in your checkbook but it is in your mind. Prioitizing is necessary in this thought as the real fight belongs within your soul. There is where we find who and what we are. We find that we are all sinners in need of a savior and that although we might believe we are immortal at times, "Because you are haughty of heart, you say, 'A god am I! I occupy a godly throne in the heart of the sea!"— Ezekiel 28, within our souls we find real immortality.

When life gets rough and the future is unknown this is when we can find out who we are and whether or not we have the sand and grit to face the turbulent storm ahead. Christ calls us to carry our crosses daily because it is in those crosses that we find oursleves which ultimately leads us back to Christ. In the great school of suffering we gain a diploma in self-knowledge. Positive thinking techniques and sweeping problems under the rug can only carry us so far before the stench of our own souls stings our spiritual nostrils urging us to study our own consciences and decide what we will live and die for. When reading the stories of the great saints we find humanity at its finest but what many tend to forget is that each of those powerful souls had to answer their own question of: Who am I?

"It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or from what country he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are -- those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul's beauty. All our interest is centred in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle -- that is to say, in these bodies of ours." - St. Teresa of Avila "Interior Castle"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mixed Martial Spiritual Arts

One of the fastest growing sports in the world today is mixed martial arts. While many only see the barbaric nature of two men entering a cage and knocking the snot out of each other, others see a different aspect of the sport. The sportsmanship and the overall design of a strategy to out wit and out think your opponent. Boxing still is a very well respected and watched combat sport today but the comparison of these two combative arts is chess against checkers. Boxing offers the thrill of combat but the hands are the only weapon used. Whereas in mixed martial arts, the hands, elbows, knees, feet, shins, legs and forearms are all used, and this doesn't even begin to explain the ground game. Mixed Martial Arts or MMA for short combines American wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Karate, and any other lethal art. Both sports can teach a man about struggle, sacrifice and never giving up but there is a world of difference between focusing on one art (boxing) and focusing on many arts to become a well-rounded overall fighter. Though these sports can teach us much about physical combat, a comparison might be needed to teach us about spiritual combat.

In the spiritual combat arena the Catholic Church would necessarily be compared to mixed martial arts. The Church offers a vast array of strategies, weapons, sportsmanship, goals and has the ability to teach all of us how to properly use them. While I respect and love my protestant brothers and sisters, their faith only offers what one could compare to boxing. Focusing solely on the Bible and good preaching, many non-Catholic Christian denominations only offer one, maybe two, but highly respectable combat strategies. The Catholic Church on the other hand offers Mass, Confession, the rosary, Tradition, Confirmation, Biblical wisdom, sacramentals, great preaching, and most importantly a direct line to the ultimate mixed martial spiritual Artist, Christ Himself. "Spiritual combat' is another element of life which needs to be taught anew and proposed once more to all Christians today. It is a secret and interior art, an invisible struggle in which (we) engage every day against the temptations, the evil suggestions that the demon tries to plant in (our) hearts." - Pope John Paul II Catholicism offers  mere human beings the ability to become the best fighter of temptation possible, all we must do is listen and obey.   

Men love to think of  themselves as dangerous to their adversaries. Not that we want to strike fear into the hearts of those we come in contact with, we simply want others to know that if you mess with my family and any of those that that I love, you will answer to me. So becoming a well-rounded fighter of our most dangerous adversary, Satan, we become a weapon for Our Lord and The Church offers the mixed martial arts necessary to fight and fight manfully. Throughout the 2,000 year history of Christ's Catholic Church the world has tried over and over again to destroy Her, yet She prevails through each generation with the holiness of devout fighters daily making it to Mass, going to regular confession, praying the daily rosary, and studying Holy Scripture. Our Lord wants us to be able to fight for the Cause of Salvation, thus He gave us the Church to train us in the deadly art of spiritual combat. Knowing that it isn't easy He bestows unending grace upon his soldiers to continue the fight and die with honor.

Would any combatant in MMA study only one martial art and win? I think not. Many boxers have tried to enter the MMA cage and have been beaten for it. Many jiu-jitsu artists have tried to win with only their ground game yet lose because their striking is minimal. Well we can spiritually box with the knowledge of Scripture, we have ground game when we prostrate ourselves in front of the Holy Eucharist, we have strategy with the wisdom of the saints, we have submission moves through confession and prayers to the Blessed Mother. Most importantly we gain heart, a must for any fighter, through the devout recption Holy Communion. Christ and His Church requires us to fight and gives us the many mixed martial arts to do so. In the world of strategy would you rather be the King of the chess board or the pawn of checkers? 

St. Michael, pray for us!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Momento Mori: Catholic Manliness and Death

I recently finished a powerful book called, "Preparation for Death" by St. Alphonsus Liguori. This book is filled with heavenly insight and thoughtful reflections to prepare yourself for the ultimate end that we all face: death. He quotes several saintly men and women and refers quite often to the early Church fathers. His main focus for the book is to prepare his reader for what is bound to happen to all of us. The first several pages speak of the nastiness of death and that each and every one of us will eventually become 'food for worms'(his words). He blatantly states that the room you die in could very well become a place of joy and happiness, where people might dance to a tune and completely forget about you, within a few weeks of your soul leaving your body. Being that I tend to relate all of my subjects and readings to manliness, I thought to myself 'Is it a manly trait to have the looming fear of death upon you?' I think that the answer is a yes and a no.

A man must always remember that sooner or later he will die, what he must also remember is that death is not something to be feared, but rather something to be celebrated. In J.R.R. Tolkien's less known work, "The Silmarillion" elves are higher beings, comparative to angels, who are immortal. The elves are envious of the human beings because of the gift of death. “And amid all the splendours of the World, its vast halls and spaces, and its wheeling fires, Il├║vatar chose a place for their habitation in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the innumerable stars.” The men became envious of the elves for their immortality and the elves envious of men for their ability to die. If mortal men were granted the so called 'gift' of immortality would it really be a gift? Life is a gift to us from our Creator, we are to appreciate it and treat it with respect and dignity, but we are all sojourners in this world. Our home is not of this world.

Men who have knowledge of the eternal judgment of God may have a healthy fear of the afterlife, if there is no fear of the very real possibility of hell then there is no sense of sin. Hell is an authentically devilish place, filled with wailing and grinding of teeth, so a fear of spending eternity there is healthy and can help with growth in virtue. Many men today think that in order to 'live life to the fullest' means that a person must live without fear of punishment and have a keen lack of awareness for sin. But if that is what a life well spent is then why are the statistics of depression and suicide much higher in affluent, promiscuous, party-towns? Could it be that because without the thought of death you actually can't live life?

Life for most all of us is extremely unpredictable, we never know where we'll be in the next year. Death can serve as that eternal, spiritual reference point, pulling you in closer and closer each day. With a mind set on either eternal salvation or damnation a person is truly able to live their lives by knowing that sooner or later this life will end and he or she will be brought in front of a merciful, but just, Judge. Fear no longer is something that causes our knees to shake, it is now a much less selfish fear, a fear of offending God by ignoring his statutes. So if a man wants to live life to the fullest, he must embrace the thought of death. Just as Jesus embraced his Cross at the beginning of His life, we too can embrace our Eternal Home each day by joyfully embracing our crosses. Knowing and embracing death no longer makes the adventure of the after-life a frightful one. Since we have the knowledge of eternal life with Christ, a virtuous man would be so prepared for death that he would smile and embrace it. "Death where is thy sting? Oh grave where is thy victory?" -1st Corinthians 15:55. Bl. Miguel Pro is a supreme example of the ability to stare death in the face and cry out to the heavens that Christ is King and therefore I shall not fear the impending adventure of death.

I think a healthy dose of realism would be advantageous for most in today's 'hustle and bustle' world of monotonous and readily available entertainment. Death is much more than a cloaked, dark figure holding a sickle, it is the moment in which our eternity is decided upon. So preparation for that moment must be manly. A man wouldn't go into war without training constantly and knowing his enemies and allies. Why would we treat death, which is the last battle we face here on earth, with such disrespect by not preparing? So, gentlemen, man up and prepare for the moment in which you meet your Creator face to face. Learn the philosophy and theology of the after-life. Daily prepare yourself, your family and those in your care with prayer and the Sacraments. The Catholic Church has the tools to send people to heaven, the winning side of death, so let that natural want for competition come forth and be on the winning side of this adventure!