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Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

24 Mar Start Teaching our Children the Faith Early

Spirituality and religion are so profoundly personal.  And many of us are still on our journey of either/both/one.  Given that each person has a particular journey, why start religious instruction early for children?  Why not let them choose their own path when they are old enough to be interested in it?

We have opted to start religion for our kiddos from the get-go for a number of reasons: 1) being part of a larger spiritual community; 2) development of conscience; and 3) reinforcement of our parenting values.

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

Why Start Religion Early for Your Kid?

Our son who is two and a half has a sweet love of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He doesn’t get the advanced concepts of the hypostatic union or transubstantiation.  He doesn’t need to.  He understands Jesus was once a little boy too.  He understands Mama Mary to be his heavenly mother, and Jesus’ mama, who is there to comfort him when he is alone and scared.  For him, the Saints are not only a great baseball team, but also a team of wonderful people who are dead and whose examples we strive to follow.

 When we consider how the Church can influence the development of conscience, we don’t see religion as a vehicle for shaming or guilt-tripping.  The shaping of a conscience is comprised of delineating desirable behavior from undesirable behavior, and empowering the child to internalize this distinction process.  All parents do this, regardless of creed.  Catholicism provides a blue print to make this go more smoothly.

But why start now when they are so little?  Because I cannot hope that our children come to embrace these values later on as they are not the natural values to embrace.  It is natural for children to be rude, selfish, and wild. Instead of shaping his behavior through punishment (all the time), an external force, we are trying to give him a rooting in the whys behind the don’t-do-that.  Following your base instincts will not bring you closer to a God of love, and will not make you happy.  You have to practice self-discipline, and develop it from the get go, based on something that is higher than your parents.  Someone you are accountable to when no one is looking. If you have surrounded your child with a culture that backs up what you have shown them, then they can see from their friends, their friends’ parents, their school, and their environment a mirroring of values you hold true.

In conclusion, why not have God as a part of their routine?  Even if you are more spiritual than religious, consider how as a parent you give your child parameters and boundaries on all other fronts.  Why not organize their exposure to a Higher Power in the form of organized religion? It’s up to you how you present the routine of the Divine, and which traditions you emphasize, and accordingly you could give your child a better or different or more complete version than what you yourself received.

-Nell Alt

January is the Cruelest Month

29 Jan

   If, as T.S. Eliot says, April is the cruelest month, then January must be a close second. Family celebrations, gifts, parties, and holidays have come and gone. We are left with the chilling, brute facts of winter: it is cold, dark, and quiet. January is the great existential month marked by its silent anxiety, the month where we come to terms with our own mortality, our own sense of purpose and place. It is the month that we wonder not only what resolutions we should make, but what, really, is the point of making all those resolutions anyway?

Winter Lonely Tree Photograph by Larysa Luciw

Winter Lonely Tree Photograph by Larysa Luciw

   I am struck by the quiet of this time of year. We are led to think of how little quiet we ever have, and we do not know what to do with it. This thought struck René Pascal, who wrote, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” We do not know how to face our own self. If we did face that self, what would we find? A substantial whole, a known entity, a being whose questions are easily answered? I think that we would be confounded by greater mysteries and deeper questions.

  Are you really always yourself? Were you born to be who you are today, with all of your character traits and identities? Even if we cannot answer these questions with certainty, there is meaning to be found in this dilemma. By recognizing our problem, perhaps a transcendent solution will present itself, somewhat unexpected and wholly other.

   Thus, we reach our January angst. Thus, the abyss of the self. One of the remarkable things about our Christian faith is that we believe that Jesus Christ faced the heart of this very abyss before his crucifixion. While in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is “alone on earth,” Pascal writes, “not merely with no one to feel and share his agony, but with no one even to know of it. Heaven and he are the only ones to know.” In other words, the Christian faith is realist to its core. It believes in a God who became like any one of us in order to take on the greatest human suffering imaginable. God does not take us out of our sufferings but stands there with us, grasping our shoulder as we shake in fury and despair.

  God does not promise a paradise on earth, but rather something altogether different: a real fellowship with him and his people. It is a fellowship of radical abandonment and otherness. When we encounter Jesus, we are not simply encountering a wise teacher, but rather he who has plunged the depths of our greatest suffering, of all life and death, and who promises to transform their very meaning. When Pascal experienced Christ, he did not necessarily come any closer to understanding his own self, but he found something perhaps more important and meaningful:

“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ….Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.”

 -Tim DeCelle

In the Light of Reality

16 Jan

Editors Note: We are happy to have a contributor from the Bellarmine Forum, a staunch defender of orthodoxy, the sanctity of marriage, and the centrality of the liturgy. In a world that forgets that fidelity to the Church is essential in all things, the Bellarmine Forum reminds its readers of the importance of obedience to the eternal verities of the Church. Mr. John Dejak is the president of the Bellarmine forum and a frequent contributor to their blog: http://bellarmineforum.org/.

The Bellarmine Forum

For all of the iPhones, iPads, and modern comforts and conveniences, we all still seem to want the basics. We want something real. A good hot cup of coffee brewed on a frosty Minnesota winter morning is one of the great gifts of our Creator (couple it with bacon and eggs, and you have heaven on earth!); so too is a conversation with friends before a roaring fire that begins early in the evening and lasts deep into the early hours of morning, feeling like only a few minutes have passed. Listening to Mozart or seeing the stars of the clear night sky create in us a pensiveness and an awe that oftentimes can only be expressed by the simple words of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

I suspect that people throughout all of history have experienced these things and have had similar reactions. These are the simple things of life and—though I have only mentioned a few—they are the good things. In their simplicity, lies their profundity—for that is where the really real may be found: comfort, friendship, goodness, beauty, and truth. These are desires that we all share and they point to the fact that there may be something to this notion of a “common humanity.” We can identify these common and simple desires of human persons with another simple term: happiness.

Happiness has been a preoccupation of human persons since creation. Life seems to be a constant battle for that goal. And as Genesis says that we were made from the earth, so too is life a gritty and dirty business. Along with the simple joys just mentioned, there are profound sorrows and sufferings that rack us to the depths of our soul—addictions, neglect, poverty, sickness, abuse, death. But in the midst of these sufferings and tragedies, stands tall the God who knows suffering; whose light dispels the darkness; and who built an edifice—the Church–to bring a suffering humanity comfort, friendship, goodness, beauty, and truth. An edifice that may be old and beaten—even deplorable—on the outside, but within is the longed-for happiness of every human heart. This is nothing less than the answer to the poetry and mystery of human life. Perhaps the mystery was best put by Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited:

[A] small red flame—a beaten copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been built but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it lit this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

This is the flame which shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

-John Dejak

Mr. Dejak is a man of many talents: a classicist, attorney, teacher, and veteran of the US Army. Currently, he is Dean and Latin Teacher at St. Agnes in St Paul. He is a happy husband and the proud father of seven children.

Between Life and Death: Choose Life, Choose Love

26 Nov
Hell Hieronymus Bosch

Hell Hieronymus Bosch

At the beginning of Dante’s Inferno, most readers are struck by an odd claim: the building of hell was an expression of God’s “primal love.” Hell, the place of eternal punishment, unquenchable fire, demons, and all the rest; Love built that! People do not like to talk about hell very much these days. It seems to be a nasty vestige of an old world, left behind with ruler-swinging nuns, and talk about sin. At The Heart of the Matter, we try to present the ‘Amen’ of the Church, the joy of the Good News. But for Dante, Hell was part of the Good News of Christ.

How can this be so? In 2nd Corinthians, Paul makes clear that Jesus Christ is not “yes and no, but in him it is always yes.” Yes to God the Father and yes to each person. The Kingdom of God is open to every person. But people do not always respond “yes.” So often we say no–no to God and no to our brothers and sisters.

Where does hell fit into this? God made us for love and joy in Him and with each other. Love yearns for the other to say yes but it lets the other say no. No one is forced to enter hell; people choose it. In Deuteronomy, God says to us, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing:therefore choose life.” We are made for living and for blessing. We are made for the Kingdom. However, Love does not compel; rather, Love offers a choice.

This still seems almost unfair. If a person offers us love and we say “no thanks,” that doesn’t mean hell for us. Why is saying “no” to God’s love so different? Because God is Love, is Joy, is Goodness. Every time we meet love, joy, and goodness we are finding traces of God. Our joy is found entirely in God. Our lives flow out of His goodness and we can only find our fulfillment by flowing back into God’s goodness. To reject God, is to reject the source and summit of all our hopes.

How do we choose life and blessing? To chose God by having faith in His Love. What does this mean? In John’s 1st letter, he writes, “He who loves his brother or sister, is in the light.” What is the light? God and His Kingdom.  John writes again, “He who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness.” To truly love God is to love Love and therefore to love each person we meet. Hell is not just isolation from God but from everyone; a darkness in which we no longer see or care for each other.

God gives us a choice. Because, God loves us, God gives us freedom. Through God’s grace we are called to fulfill our freedom, to become the image of Jesus’ total ‘yes.’ A ‘yes’ to God that encompasses each person we meet in our life. In the end, we are offered blessing, joy, fulfillment, and life. Choose life, choose love, choose God.

– Terence Sweeney

The Bible and the Everyday

14 Nov St John’s Illuminated Bible – Collegeville MN
St John’s Illuminated Bible – Collegeville MN

St John’s Illuminated Bible – Collegeville MN

It was my anxiety that did the trick. My anxiety was ramping up and starting to verge on panic. I was waking up at 3am worried about a myriad of things: people, tasks, to-do lists. My internal engine was revving at high speed and I couldn’t get it to slow down. To make matters worse, I am a psychologist. I’m supposed to know how to treat anxiety. But I couldn’t successfully treat it in myself. I prayed diligently for help and inner peace, but began to feel that God was not responding.

Then, I met two Christian psychologists, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I attended a seminar to learn how to be a better therapist; I ended up learning a lot more about how to improve my own life. I have found profound relief from my internal suffering and I believe that relief is available (this side of heaven) to anyone who is willing to walk the path God has laid out for us. Those psychologists taught me that the Bible is relevant for me (and every person) and that it even talks about my anxiety and what to do about it.

I began to learn that the Bible is not just a collection of old, strange stories that have nothing to do with me and my daily struggles, but rather that it is a guide book written to help me every step of the way in my daily walk (Psalm 119:105) and it can help you too. I was led to several passages that speak about anxiety and I learned that through prayer and petition, I was promised a peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). THAT grabs my attention and sounds good to me! God wants me to put my anxiety on Him, because He loves me (1 Peter 5:7). God encourages me to reach out to other humans for help (James 5:16). I don’t have to lie awake at 3am worrying about tomorrow because tomorrow will worry about itself (Matthew 6:34). God will look out for me and will even bring good out of the problems (Romans 8:28).

It shocked me that God’s word, written so very many years ago, could speak to me and could be a balm to my suffering soul, but it has been and continues to be every single day. I began to develop the practice of memorizing these verses so that I could recall them during times of struggle (Psalm 119:11). God’s time is not our time and that has been true in this process of discovery for me as well. I am coming to see incredible, miraculous fruits of the labor of the past year, but it was not a quick fix. I encourage you to open the Bible’s pages, read it, study it, give it time, and get ready for it to change your life.

– Alice Benton

In whom do you have faith?

5 Nov

Faith has kind of gone out of style lately. For many, belief in God is about the same as belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Prayers and devotionals seem to be nothing more than superstition. As for believing in an afterlife, it’s a nice way to help kids feel better about death, but not much more. For those who don’t believe, faith in a higher power could be seen as anything from a harmless personality trait to a naïve, unintelligent worldview to a dangerous ideology. Some might even be convinced it’s a sign of mental illness.

I pity those who think faith is in vain. Not because I think that their lives would be so much better if they believed in God (although I do think that). I pity them not because they do not have faith, but because they actually do have faith. However, they either don’t realize this and/or they simply think they are above such a thing as faith.

St Paul explains that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The Catholic Catechism, while explaining this statement, goes on to say that faith is an authentically human act, contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason. In other words, someone would have a hard time doing anything human without faith.

Marriage, even love itself, is impossible without trusting the promises of the beloved. Promises which cannot be proven ahead of time. Promises that offer no tangible assurance of the thing hoped for, that is, lifelong love and fidelity. In fact, any human interaction whatsoever, from simple conversation to purchases to employment contracts require something called “good faith.” You trust what the person says or represents to be true, even if you can’t be totally sure. And if you can’t do that, well, then you can’t really function in the world as we know it.

There is another way “non-believers” share the experience of faith with those who actually do admit to a life of faith that’s much more profoundly comparable. And that’s the faith they put, not in their fellow man, but in themselves and their own ability to understand the world around them, indeed reality itself.

The Christian believes in God and a world created by Him, and seeks to live accordingly. The one who lives as if there is no God has to live according to his own, yes, beliefs, as well. And he is also left, again, to believe that both his beliefs correspond to reality and that those beliefs will end up making him happy and satisfied throughout his life. He has no guarantees of either.

So really, the choice is not whether to have faith or not, but in what (or whom) to believe: God or yourself, the Church or a secularist culture, etc. Faith in God, or in anything unseen or hoped for, but not obvious, doesn’t make you naïve, unintelligent, or dangerous. It just makes you human.

– Isaac Huss

2 Great articles: Faith and Science – How Silence Works

12 Oct
Here at Terence’s Corner we are keeping a fresh revolving group of artcles that we find interesting in our continual search to define and rediscover our Catholic Faith.  These are helping us in our search and we thought they may touch on issues, questions, or fresh Catholic topics that you may be thinking about as well.

Have some articles you found interesting and you’d like to share them here as well? Send them over and we’d love to start up a conversation and maybe post them here too! Email us theheartofthematterblog@gmail.com

A review of Alvin Plantinga’s new book on faith and science.
by  Thomas Nagel 
new!
The gulf in outlook between atheists and adherents of the monotheistic religions is profound. We are fortunate to live under a constitutional system and a code of manners that by and large keep it from disturbing the social peace; usually the parties ignore each other. But sometimes the conflict surfaces and heats up into a public debate. The present is such a time.

One of the things atheists tend to believe is that modern science is on their side, whereas theism is in conflict with science: that, for example, belief in miracles is inconsistent with the scientific conception of natural law…More>>


How Silence Works: Emailed Conversations with Four Trappist Monks
by Jeremy Mesiano-Crookston 
new!

About two months ago I started reaching out by email to a group of people whose lives I wanted to know about and understand: The Trappist monks of Oka Abbey, in Quebec. Oka Abbey is the oldest Trappist monastery in North America. A century ago, it was a powerhouse; but in recent decades, the community had dwindled to a fraction of what it used to be. After leaving the Abbey to a heritage group, to be preserved as an historical site, the remaining monks relocated to a smaller retreat in the mountains north of Montreal.

Even if you’re not Catholic, you may have heard of the Trappists. They’re the monks that make those impeccably crafted beers. And the Trappist monks of Oka created a cheese worth drooling over that’s still widely sold today (though now it’s made by a Quebec dairy company). The Trappists are known for one other thing as well: they’re the only Western-based monastic order that still actively practices the “vow” of silence. (I put quotes there because neither the Rule of St. Benedict nor the practice of the Order actually contains a specific vow of silence. As I understand it, it’s an edict, a practice that’s a part of their lives that the monks happily follow.) It was this element of their lives, their dedication to the enshrinement of silence, that drew me to them. Not really knowing how one goes about approaching monks, I located list of monasteries in addition to the former Oka group and started emailing. It took a few weeks of very slow introductions to find the right people, but I ended up in conversation with four monks, two in America and two in Canada..…More>>

Guilt and Atheism

28 Sep
Georges Rouault’s “Crucifixion”

Georges Rouault’s “Crucifixion”

I once had an exchange with a good friend of mine (we’ll call him Herschel) about the existence of God. Herschel asserted that the scientific method is the highest and/or only way to come to know things. The supernatural realm can’t be claimed to exist because it can’t be tested. After bantering back and forth for a while, I was surprised when he then turned, looked me in the eye, and said, “Isaac, you don’t have to live with this guilt.”

I was taken aback; it was clear we were no longer debating the existence of God anymore. We were psychoanalyzing me. Typically I require a comfy couch, a pillow, and a wave machine before I allow my friends to play shrink. I asked him what he meant, and he said one of the most freeing things about embracing his newfound atheism was being released from the burdensome guilt he carried around from being a Christian. The implication being that since it’s impossible to live up to the Christian ideal, it’s inevitable that every Christian has no choice but to live in the shame. After all, it’s our own sins nailed Jesus to the cross. This leaves no choice—unless Christians were to stop believing altogether.

I thought for a second, and responded by saying that I actually do know how great it is to live without guilt. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. And wouldn’t you know it, I still believe in God. Herschel was operating under a false dichotomy that said to believe in God means to live in guilt, and the only way out was to abandon belief.

Catholics in particular get a bad rap for this. Anyone familiar with the term, “Catholic guilt” has an idea that Catholics tend to “focus” on sin, so to speak, and its consequences more than the average Christian to their own detriment. What I tried to communicate to Herschel was that there’s no reason for even the most sinful Christian to have to be wracked with guilt as he described, and it has nothing to do with lowering standards or manipulating theology. Instead, it has everything to do with love and forgiveness, like any good relationship.

Sure, I sin. All the time. And if all I did was focus on how consistently and convincingly I fall short of Christian perfection, then I would be a sorry sack. Instead, I focus on God and his love and the reason he allowed his son to die on that cross in the first place: not to shame me, but to forgive me. Does that mean I give myself a free pass to sin at will? Absolutely not.  Do I somehow see my sins as less heinous? No. But my sins are nothing compared to that love and goodness. And the fact that he loves me so much, even to die for me, does sound too good to be true. Not because it’s not true. It’s just sometimes we have a hard time believing in things beyond ourselves.

– Isaac Huss

Flow

30 Aug

FLOW

If no one objects, I’m going to review a book that is currently in my queue. Meaning I haven’t read it. Yet. It is tucked neatly behind The Brothers Karamazov, between Gardening for Dummies and Bossypants. This is really more of a concept review. The book was a doctoral dissertation before it hit the press, and, once it did, psychology buffs and corporate executives alike dropped their pens to listen. The actual book is called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a psychology professor at the University of Chicago.

Csikszentmihalyi’s exploration of the psychology of happiness and innovation led him to a construct which he named flow. He describes flow as the experience of immersion in a skilled activity such that the mind catches a wave of rhythmic engagement, which it finds to be both perfectly challenging and deeply satisfying. Sound familiar? His assertion is actually audacious and it grabbed my attention: flow is the reason happy people are happy. Apparently, people report deeper satisfaction during meaningful work than they do amidst what they describe as leisure. The pleasure one might chase through a gripping novel or a primetime series is meanwhile lingering in the chance to decorate a cake or fix a leaky faucet. This is not to say that leisure is futile. It just fails to compare to the happiness of being suitably occupied. So he says, anyway.
After the impulse to fill my Amazon cart like an eager disciple subsided, I caught myself pondering how vaguely familiar this all sounded. In fact, the founder of modern Christian monasticism taught something of the sort. The secret to the good life—he argued—is this: prayer and work. In a word, flow. Saint Benedict of Nursia’s teachings were so popular that millions of people have sold all that they own to live a life founded on this principle. To this day, his monks quietly experience what their religion has taught for thousands of years: man is built for work and for contemplation of the great mysteries of the universe.

Work satisfies the heart as man expresses his inherent urge to create, to make, and to make of himself what he wasn’t before. Prayer is the reciprocal engagement in which man finds the paradox of present satisfaction met with ever increasing longing and desire to chart into deeper and deeper waters of the soul. Sounds pretty complex, but apparently it’s really not. Meaningful investment in daily duties and purposeful activities is my best shot at happiness. Saint Benedict would add: an active contemplation of the Life that lives and moves in me. However you spin it, both of these guys would agree that more flow means more fulfillment. And this leaves me hopeful. Hopeful that my queue of endless to-do’s, including the challenge of daily prayer, is a list of joys within my reach.


The Rule of Saint Benedict


-Emily Stevens