Innocent Penance

Saying “sorry” even when you know you are right is the same as doing penance when you are innocent.  For a husband to be able to do this is a grace from God; his action would be united to Christ on the Cross (cf. Ephesians 5:23)  He was innocent, yet Jesus did the ultimate penance for those who are guilty.  If Jesus can do penance for His enemies, then I should be able to say sorry to my wife even though I know I’m right.

Mercy

Our men’s group is reading Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage.”  The focus is on Ephesians 5 and the challenge that most men fail to see (including me) is that Christ suffered for His bride.  Am I willing to suffer for my bride?  Dying once for my love is tragic and romantic, but what about dying a little everyday through denying myself what I want in order to please my wife?

How many men think husbands who constantly forsake their own interests for their wives’ is stupid?  Most men would think it is more reasonable to compromise, “I’ll give up something, if my wife gives up something.”  Did Christ ask the same of His bride?  “I’ll go to the Crucifixion if you stop stoning prostitutes and permit healing on the Sabbath.”  Instead, Christ asks God to forgive the Pharisees persecuting Him because they didn’t know what they’re doing (cf. Lk 23:34).  Jesus offered Himself first.

I am reminded of this every time when I take the Eucharist.  I may not stop sinning immediately.  Awareness of His self-sacrifice and developing a personal conversation with Him through prayer, I start wanting to change for Him.  I start to see my sins as empty promises.  By the grace of God, the temptations are not so tempting anymore.  I feel the strength to resist.  One day, I realize that a particular chain isn’t around my ankle anymore.  I smile and work with the Holy Spirit to unfetter my soul from the grip of other sins.

So, I must offer myself to my wife first.  I cannot expect her to change first, or bargain to have her change with me.  It’s not about reciprocity.  It’s about following Christ: He laid down His life for His bride first.  I do the same.  If I cannot forgive my wife even when she refuses to say sorry, how can I meet Christ’s greater challenge to forgive my enemies?

The more I live my marriage as God intends it, the more people will think I’m a “hen-pecked” man.  The more I please my wife and not ask for anything in return, the more people will think I’m “being taken advantaged of.”  This is the world’s opinion; they judge without the light of faith.  They do not see the Holy Spirit at work in her.  She has grown so much and I had nothing to do with it.  Her prayer life, her own journey with God did it.  She is a woman whom I love more than the day I proposed to her.  She is a mother I admire.  I watch her interior life grow, like the petals of a flower in slow bloom.  I do not pick the flower to adorn my pocket, but just watch it.  Learn from it.  Because I’m a flower, too.  We are growing, blooming, for God.

Obeying Out of Love or Fear?

obedience-out-of-love-or-fear-parenting
Obeying out of love or fear?

My eldest daughter, Maya, is the guinea pig for our different parenting styles.  Our bedtime routine for her is a good example of that difference.  I would classify my wife’s style as “obedience out of fear.”  I generously call mine “obedience out of love;” whether it’s truly love or just plain spoiling the child is something my wife contends.

For many months, I’ve been responsible for putting Maya to bed.  The routine after dinner is simple: take a bath, drink 8-oz of milk, read 2 to 3 books, brush teeth, read 2 to 3 more books, pray and then get tucked-in by 8:30pm or so.  Maya also has two 8-oz bottles of water on her nightstand that she would ask me to refill before she even finishes with one of them.

Obedience Out of Fear or Love?

Not surprisingly, Maya needs to potty three to five times before finally falling to sleep.  This means she’s not sleeping until 9:30 or 10pm on some nights.  Often, around 2am or 4am, she would wet her pull-up diapers completely, cry, and ask me to change her into a new one.

I do all of this without complaining.  I admit it’s a bit inconvenient for me.  Occasionally I put my foot down (i.e. refusing to tuck her in three times in one night), but I usually do everything she asks because it’s our idiosyncratic bedtime routine.  I know that this behavior will eventually pass and all of it would make a great story when she’s older.  Also, quite simply, love means self-sacrifice — giving up my preferences for the benefit of another.

When I went on a week-long business trip several weeks ago, my wife had to put Maya to sleep.  She was surprised by how spoiled Maya was.  Since she also had to take care of Hana, our youngest, at the same time, my wife changed the routine to accommodate the extra burden.  No water refills.  Change your own pull-up diaper.  Go potty only once or twice.  And, no tucking in.  Maya, of course, threw a tantrum, and my wife would threaten to close her bedroom door completely — an act that Maya sees as heavy punishment.

Coming home, my wife still wanted to put Maya to sleep because she had to “re-train” her.  So, every night was a scream-fest with Maya and mommy.  While I agreed with my wife that we should ween Maya off from her peculiar bedtime requests, I disagreed with her use of tactics that we usually employed only as a last resort.  I also threaten to close her bedroom door for time-out, but only for major infractions (i.e. repeated rudeness, throwing a hysterical tantrum, etc.)  Most of all, I disagree with my wife’s tone when reprimanding Maya.

Don’t get me wrong, my wife is a sweet woman.  So, even her deeply disapproving reprimands are like lovely feminine frowns.  She’s exhausted and needs to tap me in, like a wrestler in a tag-team match.  Yet my wife insists on staying in the ring.  Her willpower to resist Maya’s demands only gets stronger the louder our daughter screams.  I love my wife for devising punishments Maya fears that doesn’t involve spanking.  They’re effective and I use them, too.  But, a parent’s threats to induce fear will need to get more severe as the child grows older.  Sure, right now, Maya fears time-out with her door closed.  She’s only two, now.  What happens when she’s nine?  Or fourteen-years old?  We need to use the heavy punishments sparingly.

I take a different approach, normally.  I want Maya to love me so much that it is my absence that she fears.  She usually complies with what I want her to do if I threaten to walk away.  My nuclear option is mommy, as in, “Okay, mommy will [feed you/give you a bath/brush your teeth, etc.]”  Yes, I realize it’s unfair to leverage my own wife this way.  It’s ironic, though: throughout history mothers would threaten their children with “Wait until your father gets home.”  Maya would probably shout, “Yay!”

When my wife and I are calmly talking about our different parenting styles, I point out how her “obedience out of fear” is like how the Church gets people to behave and my “obedience out of love” is like how our Heavenly Father gets us to behave.  This is the Father that Jesus reveals, of course.  The God in the Old Testament is pretty scary at times.  It’s from the Father that Jesus reveals that  I take my parenting cues.  I don’t spoil my children; I am merciful as Our Heavenly Father is merciful.  Doing God’s will out of fear leads to resentment, like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  In my spiritual life, I seek to love God so much that I want to do His will as a loving response.  So, my Father is to me, I am to my children.

I observe that this “obedience out of love” is incredibly inconvenient for me.  I need more patience compared to the fear method.  Sometimes it doesn’t work and Maya still disobeys.  This is no different than God’s experience.  Torture and death on the Cross is pretty inconvenient.  We still disobey quite often despite God’s infinite love for us.

I’ve come to conclude that both obedience out of fear and out of love have a place in parenting, just like we need the Church’s doctrine and God’s mercy in our spiritual life.  My wife may be harsh at times, but just like how the Church’s moral prescriptions may be harsh, they’re good for us.  She may be too strict, but they will always find mercy from me.  The Church’s doctrine may be too strict, but God’s mercy is greater.  Our children’s first experience of God will be through us.  Mommy’s discipline and Daddy’s forgiveness will build their character.  The Church’s discipline and God’s mercy will build their spirit.

Father Hunger, Father Wound

Chapters 11 and 12 in Richard Rohr’s “From Wild Man to Wise Man” really had a profound effect on me.  I found myself putting the book down and reflecting on my own father hunger and father wound.  How did they affect me?  How do the hunger and wound manifest themselves in my life?  What I discovered about myself was amazing… waking-up-at-4am-amazing.

Father Wound, Father Hunger
(Source: http://www.hickorymensfrat.com)

According to Rohr, much of the human race experiences a deep “father hunger.”  The “pain is quiet, hidden, denied, and takes many shapes and forms that sons cannot even grasp–or care to grasp.”  We grow up without a good man’s love, without a father’s understanding or affirmation.  So, we always hunger for it, finding it in any older man who will offer it to them: in the military, in the business world, in hierarchical churches… seeking to be approved by their superiors.  A father’s response is the first response of an “outsider.”  A mother’s love is “body-based” and is assumed, taken for granted and relied upon instinctively, “which is why a foundational ‘mother wound’ can be even more devastating to one’s very core.”  He believes that what Judeo-Christianity was trying to communicate in seeming to prefer masculine metaphors for God is to heal this deep and pervasive father wound.  “God is that loving and compassionate Daddy they always wanted.”

Continue reading “Father Hunger, Father Wound”

What Makes a Person Unique

You can take any member from a class of animals and truthfully claim it is representative of the whole class.  For example, you can take any cat and say that this cat is representative of the whole species of cats.  Sure, there are differences in physiology (i.e. fur patterns, color) and behavior, but in general any cat is representative of all cats.

Not so with humans.  I cannot pick out a person and say that that person is representative of all humans.  Of course, there are commonalities: (again) physiology, biology, behavior, psychology.  What makes a person unique is his or her interior life.

…the person is simply an individual of a rational nature (individua substantia rationalis naturae).  This distinguishes the person in the whole world of objective beings; this constitutes the person’s distinctiveness.

…the person as a subject differs from even the most perfect animals by his interiority and a specific life, which is concentrated in… an interior life.  One cannot speak about this life in the case of animals, even though bio-physiological processes, which are similar to man’s and which are related to the constitution that is more or less similar to that of man, take place inside their organisms.  (Pope John Paul II, Love and Responsibility, Chapter 1)

Earlier in the chapter, Pope John Paul II writes, “The interior life is the spiritual life.”  I reflect on this and realize that because every human person has a unique interior life, an interior life that can lead to God, then every human person is a gateway to God, a universe unto himself or herself.  That is so amazing!

I almost floated out of my chair on the shuttle bus to work this morning.  I looked around, there were nine people on the shuttle to the Chancery.  Unlike a box of cats, every single person on that bus was quietly immersed in his or her interior world.  Nine universes sitting on the bus.  Nine gateways to God in various stages of opening up to Him.  When I smile and greet another person, it is like two universes about to connect.  Is this why small group Bible studies are so profoundly nourishing to the soul?  It is an opportunity for a handful of interior worlds to open up to one another, finding unity in one reality, One God.

This is why the Church is so adamantly against the loss of any single human life.  This is because each person is a universe, a gateway to God.  This is why, when Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was asked by the journalist Peter Seewald “how many ways are there to God” (expecting the Cardinal’s answer to be “one, the Catholic Church”), instead said “as many ways as there are people.”  Awareness of this new reality changes how I see other people.  They are no longer objects.  Each person has an interior life that is a deep mystery.

This is why friends are so beautiful; why being married is so beautiful; why having children is so beautiful.  They are opportunities for two universes to connect, to watch a door to God open, to see a universe expand, for the God in me to say “hello” to the God in you.  I look at my daughters, Maya and Hana, and am aware that their interior lives are growing with each interaction with the world around them.  The experiences my wife and I afford them will either help their interior lives grow or prevent it.

What an interesting point in my spiritual development!

Notes to “From Wild Man to Wise Man” (Chapters 1 to 9)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the writing style and narrative choices Richard Rohr makes in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” can easily cause us to miss the main message of his book.  I hope to draw out the main points in this summary for the first nine chapters:

“From Wild Man to Wise Man,” by Richard Rohr
  1. Just as both man and woman are images of God, the human spiritual journey can be described as both male and female.  In general, women are more in touch with their spiritual side, a spirituality that can be described as “feminine.”  Men, in general, have not developed a “male” spirituality that would help them on their unique journey.
  2. Part of the reason why men have not developed their own spirituality is because we live in a broken world.  In general, this broken world is an addictive system created by men, initially, to keep men in worldly power.  However, as power democratized, the very measures of success that keep men prisoners of the system are also keeping “successful” women and minorities prisoners.
  3. A unique quality of male spirituality is initiation: “Male initiation always has to do with hardness, limit situations, difficulty, struggle and usually a respectful confrontation with the non-rational, the unconscious or, if you will, the wild.  It prepares the young man to deal with life in other ways than logic, managing, controlling and problem solving.  Frankly, it prepares him for the confrontation with the Spirit.”  This has a biblical tie to Gen 32:24-26 where Jacob wrestles with the Angel and gets a wounded hip.
  4. The male spiritual journey “feels too much like dying in its early stages, and most people are not well trained in dying.  Initiation is always training in dying.”  In the male spiritual journey, the young man goes from simple to complex consciousness and then through a door to enlightenment.  “That door is usually some form of suffering — physical, relational, emotional, intellectual, structural…  Initiation always taught the young men to die before he died, and then he would begin to live.”  Once there, enlightenment deceptively appears a lot like simple consciousness.  “If you have once faced the great death, the second death can do you no harm.” — Saint Francis of Assisi
  5. A man typically needs an elder man who can lead him through his journey.  The male initiator “was never your biological father because that relationship was both too complex and had to be maintained as nurturing.”  John the Baptist, for example, was the initiator for Christ’s public ministry.  Saint Paul is a good example of how to be a master teacher, male initiator.  He shows young men how to face the great death.  We need more elder men to help initiate young men through their spiritual journey.
%d bloggers like this: