Phil 4: 4-8

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Attachment and Detachment

The bumper sticker on the truck reads, “The One with the Most Toys Wins.”  The driver, a passionate fisherman, is fond of saying, “You can’t have too many fly rods or reels,” while the passenger, an avid shooter, will tell you the same thing about guns and ammo.  But if you’re not into shooting or fishing, what other pastimes capture your passion and your interest—collecting antiques or art, refurbishing cars, bicycling, motorcycling, or…? 

And, we can be attached to, or distracted by, doing “stuff” just as easily as we can by owning “stuff.”  Does your life include so many activities that you find it difficult to spend quiet time with Jesus every day?  Even if these activities are admirable and for some eleemosynary objective, they can become barriers to a strong and growing relationship with our Lord.  Spiritual directors and confessors tell us that the evil one plays to our habits.  If we have a tendency to volunteer freely, it may just be a hop, skip and jump to the point that we’re over-committed in charitable volunteering, and falling down in our personal spiritual life as a result.

The point here is that at least some of us (I know I have, over the years) end up devoting more time and attention to, and becoming attached to, these and other things and activities of this world, at the expense of our progress towards a life that will lead us to eternal happiness in the next world.  During this season of Lent, it’s appropriate to give some thought to our attitude about “stuff,” whether it involves owning it or doing it, and the notion of detachment.  Over the centuries, the pitfalls of attachment to, and the benefits of detachment from, things and relationships that move us away from God have been discussed and explored in writing by many notable saints.  For example:

"The soul has but one will; and if this will be occupied or embarrassed, it is not free, perfect, solitary, and pure, as it ought to be for this divine transformation.”1

"We should seek to practise such indifference with respect to all that concerns our natural life such as health or sickness, beauty or deformity, strength or weakness, honour, rank, and riches; so, also, in all fluctuations of the spiritual life, dryness, consolation, and the like."2

In Consoling the Heart of Jesus3, Fr. Gaitley explains that an attitude of indifference is something that comes to us from an unwavering fixation and focus on the goodness and glory of the Lord.   In other words, if we stay focused on the end game, life eternal with our Lord, we’ll get the grace to, over time, be able to discern what brings us closer to God, and what doesn’t, with the result that we can detach from things that don’t get us closer to God.

And, by the way, if you know someone who’s read the book or been to the controversial movie about the rich guy with a desire to dominate his partner, ask the reader or viewer if they think this pornography gets them closer to God, and send this link to them:

1 - John of the Cross, S., Zimmermann, B., & Lewis, D. (1906). The Ascent of Mount Carmel (p. 50). London: Thomas 
2 -  Francis de Sales. (1888). Of the Love of God. (H. L. S. Lear, Trans.) (p. 292). London: Rivingtons.
3 -  Michael E. Gaitley, (2010). Consoling the Heart of Jesus (p. 88). Stockbridge: Marian Press.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

“After 879 hours of dancing and with 20 couples remaining, the contest is shut down when there is a murder at the dance hall's bar. A stray bullet from the shooting hits and kills Mrs. Layden. The promoters decide to give the remaining dancers $50 each for their efforts. Robert and Gloria go outside for the first time in five weeks and sit on the pier looking at the ocean. Gloria takes a pistol out of her bag and asks Robert to shoot her, which he does. He remembers when he was young, and his grandfather shot the beloved family horse, which had broken its leg. The police ask Robert why he shot Gloria, and he answers, ‘Because she asked me to.’ The policeman persists. Robert answers, ‘They shoot horses, don't they?’"1

In Colorado, a proposed bill that would have allowed physician-prescribed death (the sponsors’ euphemism for this was “physician-assisted suicide”) was voted down in committee on a bipartisan, 8 to 5 vote recently, only after many Catholics and other Christians voiced their opposition to it.  Proponents claimed a compassionate, humanitarian intent, to help eliminate suffering.  Generally speaking, few people are interesting in suffering unnecessarily, of course.  But this type of law, which already is on the books in other states, is about more than eliminating suffering.  It’s about playing God, determining who lives and who dies, and putting people in the position of killing themselves or others.  Initially, the outcomes under such a law would be focused on people playing God and choosing when to end their own lives. Ultimately though, it would create a slippery slope where someone else would be able to determine this for you once you are deemed to no longer add value to society.

As Father Michael Gaitley states succinctly, “People often think they can escape suffering.  They can’t.  Suffering finds us all.” 2 But in our secularist society, there is no recognition of the potential value of suffering.  For that matter, among many of the faithful of the Church, redemptive suffering is a foreign concept.  St. John Paul II, no stranger to serious, prolonged suffering himself, in his Apostolic Letter on the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering,3  published on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1988, reminded us that Jesus clearly told us, "If any man would come after me... let him take up his cross daily'' (Luke 9:23).  St. John Paul II further tells us,

“Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. To this grace many saints, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and others, owe their profound conversion… When this body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.”4

And Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, wrote that, “A world-view that is incapable of giving even pain meaning and value is good for nothing. It falls short precisely at the hour of the most serious crisis of existence. Those who have nothing to say about suffering except that we must fight against it are deceiving us. It is, of course, necessary to do everything one can to lessen the suffering of the innocent and to limit pain. But there is no human life without suffering, and he who is incapable of accepting suffering is refusing himself the purifications that alone allow us to reach maturity.5

On this, the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the First Reading is Job 7:1–4, 6–7.  As St. John of the Cross suggests, “God acknowledged him [Job] as His faithful servant in the presence of the angels good and evil, and immediately sent him heavy trials, that He might afterwards raise him higher, as He did both in temporal and in spiritual things.”6

Suffering here in this life can provide heavenly merits for us and others if we only allow it to do so.  Purgation is going to occur one way or the other—why not thank God for the opportunity to do some reparation here on earth?  By taking the opportunity now to “offer it up” and unite our sufferings to those of Jesus Christ, we demonstrate our faith in, and love for, Jesus.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the one mediator between God and men. But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to take up their cross and follow him, for Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example so that we should follow in his steps. In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. (CCC 618)

Is it easy?  For many of us, probably not, to begin with.  But is it worth it?  You decide.

1 Wikipedia write-up on the novel, made into the 1969 movie, “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”
2 Gaitley, M. (2010), Consoling the Heart of Jesus: a Do-It-Yourself Retreat, (p. 68)
3 Salvifici Doloris – Feb. 11, 1984 – downloadable copy available at
4 Ibid, 26.
5 Ratzinger, J. (1996). Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. (A. Walker, Trans.) (p. 155).
6 John of the Cross. (1864). The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross, of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (D. Lewis, Trans.) (Vol. 2, p. 247). London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green.