Love and Violence

As many of you have probably heard, an auxiliary bishop of Newark was assaulted at a Mass offered for Roberto Clemente (this is apparently a thing in New Jersey). If you haven’t seen the video or read any accounts, it’s pretty shocking. Basically, a very loudly dressed man steps into the sanctuary, walks up to the bishop, and punches him right in the face. With the abundance of indestructible TV and movie characters who can take dozens of punches and keep moving, it’s easy to forget how visceral and painful a blow to the face can be. It’s really the most basic and primal act of violence that one can perform. What makes the scene even more bizarre is the fact that assailant apparently walked straight out of a Flannery O’Connor short story. Seriously, read about this guy’s background. Crazy.

But I don’t want to focus too much on the assault itself. I think it’s sufficient to say that it’s a startling reminder that we live in a broken world and that the forces of evil haven’t gone away on vacation (like we needed more confirmation of that). What I do want to highlight are two aspects of the event that caught my attention. The first is the timing of the incident. Bishop Cruz had just finished the penitential rite when the man steps in front of him, poised to strike. The bishop has literally just finished praying that God have mercy on us and forgive us our sins and in the next moment he is laid out by a very angry man. I don’t think that I could imagine a more fitting illustration of humiliation (which, in essence, is the action of being humbled). Mere moments after confessing that he - along with all of us - is weak and sinful and desperately in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness, the bishop has this notion confirmed in a very real way. I am by no way insinuating that the bishop deserved being attacked or that it was because he was a sinner. What I mean is that here we see what it means to be made low. It’s painful and embarrassing and wholly unpleasant, but it’s what we open ourselves up to when we cling to Christ. After all, what we see as the ultimate victory, the cross, is viewed by the rest of the world as nothing more than a failure, the death of one leader among many. When you think about it, the image of a bishop lying on the ground, struck down while in the process of praying for himself and his flock, rings more true than many other contemporary depictions of the faith.

Lest I get too gloomy (let’s all pray for more suffering!) let me move on to the second facet of the attack that I noticed. For me, this is the most significant part of the whole ordeal and the one on which I think we all need to focus. After the bishop is knocked back and falls to the ground, the camera pans to the left to show several police officers tackling and restraining the attacker. But in the bottom right corner of the screen, you can see the altar server cradling the bishop’s head in his lap and seemingly trying to comfort him.

Pictured: The Catholic Church. 

Pictured: The Catholic Church. 

This seriously almost makes me cry every time I see it. It is such a candid and spontaneous gesture of love and compassion. I don’t know if the altar server knew the bishop personally or not, but regardless, here is a young man doing what he can to relieve a spiritual father’s suffering and protect him from further harm. And that’s what the Church is! We are all sinners and every so often we are made to know just how lowly and vulnerable we are. And when that happens, we can count on the loving embrace of our Lord and each other to raise us back up. Yes, we suffer, but we suffer together. When one part of the Body of Christ is harmed, we all feel it. And we know that this is not done in vain, but rather we find solace and fulfilment in uniting our suffering to Christ’s and to His Body.

There are probably many other lessons that can be extracted from this occurrence, but I hope others will take some time to think about the ones I’ve mentioned. We all need a reminder to follow St. John the Baptist and declare, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” We need to remember to let go of haughty notions of ourselves, to be prepared to be made low. But at the same time, we can also rely on the healing love of Christ to grow with us, fostered and sustained by encountering His Body.

- Daniel

The Real Thing

A few weeks ago, we travelled down to North Carolina to spend Thanksgiving with our families. One of the perks of being from the same hometown as your spouse is that you never have to decide whose family you visit on holidays. The value of this perk is greatly diminished, however, when you live 500 miles away and the entirety of your immediate families live in close proximity to said hometown. Now, we have to endure an 8-hour road trip whenever we want the boys to see any of their grandparents, uncles, aunts, or cousins. An additional effect of living so far away is that all of the little toys and treats that grandparents pick up for their grandchildren here and there end up accumulating over time and when we eventually come to visit, the boys are showered with gifts. 

One of the surprises that our toddler, Jack, received (with delight) was a scale model backhoe. It’s actually an excavator, but in Jack’s world, any piece of large construction machinery that digs holes is called a backhoe. Jack has other “backhoes”, but this one actually looks like the real thing with all the right hinges and parts and even has little tracks that roll along when you move it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the desk of an executive at a construction company or displayed at a construction vehicle dealership (that’s where you buy bulldozers and cranes, right?). Of course, to a 2 and a half year old, it’s just an awesome new thing to play with and Jack immediately took it outside and began digging holes in the garden with it. My first instinct was to tell him not to get it dirty, to only pretend to dig in the mulch, but the determination and focus on his little face made me just sit and watch as a fine layer of dirt spread across the toy and my son.

It was in this moment that I realized that my understanding of toys and playing is very different from a child’s. For Jack, that little model IS a backhoe and it is MEANT to dig in the dirt. That’s what backhoes do. The distinction between real and not real that is so clear in the minds of adults simply isn’t there. There are backhoes that are big that people drive and dig big holes with and then there are small backhoes that dig in the dirt in the backyard. It’s as simple as that.

I know that play is an important developmental tool for small children and that it’s how they experiment and learn about the world around them. And I know that the fact that I can distinguish between make believe and the real world makes me a functional adult. Nonetheless, watching Jack with his backhoe has gotten me thinking about his ability to merge in his mind the toy and the real thing, the symbol with the referent (that’s right, I studied literary theory). My thoughts naturally go to the sacraments, the ultimate signs of God’s continued involvement in our lives. They are outward signs that point to an interior grace working within us. When we’re baptized, the water pouring over us is a visual representation of God’s cleansing grace. In Eucharist, we physically consume bread that is at the same time spiritual nourishment and replenishment. When we are absolved in the confessional, God releases us from our sins through the actions of the priest.

This is nothing new to anyone who’s aware of the Church’s teaching on the sacraments, but lately I’ve been asking myself a question: am I treating the sacraments like a real backhoe, or am I content with just pretending to dig dirt inside? Am I getting out in the mulch, so to speak, and really using these gifts like I believe what they contain? Do I leave Mass and act like I have in my stomach the body of the King of the Universe? Or am I content to pray for a few moments and then get on with the rest of my day to day life? Granted, we cannot fully understand the mysteries of the sacraments and our sinfulness clouds our understanding sometimes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. So for the rest of Advent, hopefully longer, I’m going to be asking myself daily if I am really living out what I believe. Am I going to take those graces with me outside of the church and the confessional and my home and put them to work? 

- Daniel

Losing Faith in Humanity

If you know me, then you know that I am not a big fan of buzzwords and clichéd phrases. With the advent of “social media” (I die a little bit every time I have to say that), it seems like their proliferation is at an all-time high. One phrase that has been particularly galling to me lately has been “faith in humanity”, which is frequently being lost and restored at an alarming rate. When it’s lost, the reason is usually disappointment on the part of the speaker that something in the world is not as they would wish. This can range from the laughably mundane (people don’t like the same music as me) to startlingly divisive (people have a different opinion than me and that is not ok). The flipside, having your faith in humanity restored, is generally prompted by some pleasant human interest story, often involving animals.

The trouble with these public declarations is the dissonance between the seriousness of the claim and the (relative) levity of what brings them on. It is really sensible to write off all of humanity because middle schoolers love One Direction, but don’t know who the Beatles are? Are you truly going to withdraw from the world because someone disagrees with you? And are you seriously going to suddenly become a champion of all mankind because you saw a video of a guy stopping traffic to save some baby ducks, or because of a news story about someone leaving an exorbitant tip?

I get it. These things are said (as are most things on the internet) with a tinge of irony. They’re supposed to be hyperbolic and, at times, silly. But underlying that sardonic tone is a bit of truth.  I would venture to say that with the recent presidential campaign and its surprising conclusion, people may be a little more truthful with their thoughts about humanity. We might really be a little dismayed at the values of people who are different than ourselves. We might find it genuinely puzzling that people could hold a view that we find logically or morally incorrect. And it may bring some warmth to our hearts when we realize that our society isn’t as divided and polarized as it’s sometimes made out to be.

Nonetheless, we are destined to always live with a little bit of the good and the bad. One’s “faith in humanity” can never be constant or ultimately fulfilling. The reason for this is simple: humanity isn’t something we should put our faith in. Our world is rather complicated. It is a fallen world inhabited by fallen people, but (here’s the kicker) it’s a world that’s been redeemed. You don’t have to be a Christian to see that people are capable both of great love and great evil, sometimes even in the same person. When we decide to live apart from God and put our faith in ourselves or humanity at large, we will inevitably be disappointed. Things may go our way at times, but even the greatest accomplishments of men can quickly crumble when we forget that without God we are nothing.

This is a lesson I’ve needed to learn myself lately. People will be unthinking and uncaring. They will allow themselves to see only enemies around them instead of brothers and sisters. This goes for all stripes of life: the young and the old, the left and the right, Christians and non-Christians. Our country has problems and is facing a lot of change and it’s not clear whether that will be good or bad. Even if it’s good, what’s good for one person is terrible for another.

It would be foolish to think that such problems only exist in secular institutions. Within the Church there is division and dissonance over a number of issues. These things trouble me and can cause despair. But I need to remember that this is the way it’s always been. Humans are not perfect and that’s who the Church is made up of on earth. But, again, we need to remember to put our faith in the right place, to focus our hearts and minds on Christ. And we can always rely on the protection of Holy Mother Church. Not its individual members, who are merely human and subject to the same faults we all have, but on the Bride of Christ, whom the Lord will not abandon.

I find an odd comfort in the fact that many of the great heretics were priests and even bishops. Appolinaris, Donatus, and Cornelius Jansen were all bishops and actually have heresies named after them. Rather than driving me to utter in defeat, “the Church isn’t perfect,” it makes me want to shout triumphantly, “the Church isn’t perfect!” Catholics fighting amongst themselves and erring in thought and deed is nothing new. In fact, it’s not even that unusual. Judas is often called the first heretic, which means that the Church has been imperfect from the start. Seriously, 8.3% of the apostles wanted to sell out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. But that didn’t stop Christ from establishing the Church, and it didn’t dissuade the Holy Spirit from continuing to guide her.

Christ is the head of the Church and the King of the Universe. Nothing that happens here on earth can change that and nothing will cause Him to abandon us. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems or that it’ll be easy to see error and division spreading through the Church and the world. But as Catholics we are called to persevere and be a light to the world. At times we might feel like we’re the only ones carrying the light. We must fix our eyes on the cross and be sustained by the help of the saints who have endured much more than we have in service to the Lord.

So maybe we all should lose our faith in humanity and focus on fostering our faith in the Lord. Without Him we are doomed to fail, but with Him we will become who we were truly meant to be.

- Daniel

Finishing the Conversation

Yesterday, I was at a play café (a place where the boys can play freely and I can drink coffee and eat food too… it’s genius) and I had a conversation that I can’t really stop thinking about. It wasn’t out of the ordinary, but I had to leave it before I wanted to because – you guessed it – Jack was hitting a kid with a broom. Anyway, she saw me with the two boys, and we exchanged the normal mom pleasantries.

“He’s so cute! How old is he?”

“Thanks! 8 months and the other one is a little over 2 years, and your little girl?”

“17 months. How is it with two?”

And I responded with my usual, “It’s pretty crazy, but it’s awesome and I love to see Jack interact with Blaise.”

“Ah, I just don’t know if I can have another one. I’m so tired. I don’t know…”

My reply was casual:

“DO IT.”

We talked for a short while longer and I was able to say some of what I wanted: “What’s been really cool about having two is that by seeing all the things that are special about Blaise, I realize all of the special things about Jack that I didn’t know were unique just to him.” And my typical, “It was tough for the first 6 months, but now that Blaise is sitting up and is able to do more and react to Jack and play and laugh, it’s much, much easier.”

When I had to run after Jack to save his poor victim from the next impending broom strike, she was still saying how tired she was, so I wish I was able to say more.

If I were able to finish the conversation, here is what I would say:

We have been given this awesome-amazing-ridiculous power to generate human beings. We get to create people. When we don’t, that’s one less person in the world.

Isn’t your daughter your best friend, the person you love more than anything, the light of your life? What if you got to have that twofold? Threefold? FOURFOLD? I don't know anyone who, when they're old, wishes they had fewer kids. I know many who wish they had more. 

And isn’t she undeniably worth the late nights and early wake ups? How could the next one not be the same?

And biggest of all,

What is love without sacrifice?

The bigger the sacrifice, the bigger the love.

Which, of course, always brings us back to Christ. I get the other mother's mentality. She still feels like she’s in the trenches. How can she come up for air when she feels like she has a weight tied to her ankle? I get it. I mean, I’m there right now. But sometimes what we have to realize is that the weight tied to our ankle isn’t our children, it’s our own attachment to ourselves. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is discernment needed with spacing children – to look at one’s mental and physical health prayerfully and seriously before considering another child. But the offer should stay on the table, not permanently written off for temporary reasons. Or, even more, reasons that are keeping you from holiness.

Now, this woman probably isn’t Catholic, but the points I wanted to share with her are true for anyone coming from any background or worldview. For whatever reason, I come across this question often and fleshing out my unfinished exchange with this woman has helped me form a response that, while challenging, is ultimately encouraging. And in a world where everyone seems to want change and revolution, the family is the best place for it.

- Holly

And we're blogging!

For a while now, Holly and I have been thinking about mixing things up here at Halfway Saints. We often have thoughts or ideas that we want to share and explore more deeply, but aren't enough to fill a whole podcast episode. Or there's something specific to either Holly's or my own experience and wouldn't work well as a conversation between the two of us. Like true millenials, we decided that the best solution was to start a blog. The podcast will remain our main endeavor and we hope to keep putting out episodes regularly, but we hope the blog will let us provide some musings and commentary throughout the week that wouldn't ordinarily get to share. Be on the lookout for our first post later today!

- Daniel