Wage a War on Despair

There is more to being “pro-life” than just being against abortion. Being pro something means being in favor of something. If we are pro-life, we must always encourage the culture of life. No one embraces the culture of life better than Catholics. The Universal Church’s message at every turn is one of love, hope, forgiveness, redemption, and joy. WE, making up Christ’s body on Earth, have the important task of being the messengers. We are called to live like Christ lived, spreading the joy of the Gospels to every corner of the universe not only through our words but through our actions.

Humanity is of a fallen nature. Our inherent selfishness is the Original Sin we are tainted with. When we think we know best, we turn ourselves away from God. Luckily we have free will. We have the freedom to do what’s right. First let’s establish the difference between political freedom and natural freedom. Political freedom is the freedom from our government to do, think, and say things as we please regardless of if they are good or bad for us (assuming it doesn’t violate other people’s rights)–this is often what people think of when we talk about “freedom”. Political freedom is incredibly important as it protects things like our God-given rights to personal property, justice, self-defense, freedom of speech, and religious freedom. But we are not talking about political freedom here, we are talking about Natural freedom. Natural (God-given) freedom is the freedom to choose what’s right. It’s the freedom to turn towards God with even the smallest decision. The gift of free will is the ability to do what’s right rather than simply take the path of least resistance–this is what separates us from the rest of nature. Unlike a growing tree, flowing river, or hungry animal, we have the ability and freedom to choose a path differently than what the minimum for moving forward in time requires (a tree will grow in a direction that’s easiest to move, a river will flow in a line that offers the least resistance to water, an animal will take whatever food that’s easiest to claim). If we had no free will, we could only react in ways that would support our innate desires and physical preservation.

Let me help explain this with an example.

Situation: you’re walking behind an elderly lady in a parking lot. As she approaches her car, she reaches into her pocket for her keys. Along with her keys, a $20 bill slips out of her pocket and falls to the ground unnoticed.

Outcome without free will: You take the money for yourself as she drives away. There is no reason not to take advantage of this easy way to preserve your ability to pay for things, just as a lion would take the food of another lion that has overlooked their mistake. It’s survival of the fittest. Another option doesn’t even cross your mind. It is not even sinful because you didn’t have the ability to even consider otherwise.

Outcome(s) with free will: (1) You choose to take the money for yourself. Only yourself and God will know of this. OR, (2) you can pick up the money and give it back to the elderly woman even though it would be in your own self-interest to do otherwise.

Free will gives us the ability to do what’s right even when it’s not the easy thing to do. Unfortunately, humans too often choose to turn their backs towards God when given the choice. Every time we sin, we are turning our back towards God. While turning your back to God might not immediately harm your own Earthly life (or you might not realize it), it is harming someone. In our example, the person being hurt is the woman that will never see her $20 again. While mortal sins like theft certainly do take place in our world, most people know these things are wrong and usually avoid them. More often we are guilty of much smaller (venial) sins throughout our day that build up like a wet blanket on our society. Every time we purposely fail to acknowledge somebody, every time we drive too closely to someone who’s going too slow, every time we tip less than we should out of selfishness, every time we fail to completely finish a task, and so on, we are contributing to the often-unrealized pain of others in a “death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts” sort of way. These seemingly small choices are all ways of turning our backs on Our Father and by doing so we are all wronging ourselves and one-another. Despair in the world is the outcome of built up unreconciled sin.

Note: I really can’t stand super slow drivers. I actually secretly want you to tailgate them.

Despair is the complete absence of hope. We have all experienced despair to varying degrees. There have been nights you’re going through a situation of gut-wrenching pain and you see no light at the end of the tunnel. There are people who are perpetually in a state of poverty (whether financial, spiritual, mental, or physical poverty), and despair hangs over them like a dark cloud. There might be a situation in our life that we cannot change even though we desperately want to end the despair it causes (which is when we pray to Our Lady, the ‘Undoer of Knots‘). No matter how well-off in life you are right now, you have felt despair at some point and are surely still going to. Despair exists because of sin, right? So how do we fight despair in the world? We fight despair by bringing a message that is Kryptonite to despair: joy. We must spread joyful witness in all our actions. Bringing joy, even in the smallest of actions, to the least among us offers a glimpse of hope. Just when someone is down in life and they feel undignified, disrespected, and forgotten, it is you, the faithful Catholic, that must come along to dignify, respect, and revere their life. Remember the pro-life thing?

Mary the Undoer of Life's Knots | I really could have used your help with my Christmas lights this year.
Mary the Undoer of Life’s Knots | I really could have used your help with my Christmas lights this year.

Note: the rest of this post contains a lot of suggestions based not on what I necessarily do, but also on what I know I should do better. I fall short of the following recommendations every day. 

We must be gracious to those around us. Remember the oft-forgotten! Don’t just thank your cashier, thank your bagger too. With a simple affirmation of appreciation, you might have brightened someone’s otherwise hopeless day that they are masking from people around them. We must always make sure to thank the people who are serving us. The waiter that just offered you more water is a human soul deserving dignity, don’t just nod your head without looking at him, tell him “yes, please.” and then, “thank you”. Or we can make a worker’s day better by putting something back in its proper place at a store after you decide you don’t want to buy it. Open the door for others, smile when others are speaking, look at people in their eyes, try to engage conversation beyond the minimum required for a transaction. Suggestions like these sound elementary but, if you look around, basic manners like these are disappearing from everyday life.

Always preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.

-St. Francis of Assisi (rumored)

I try to compliment the people I run into in daily life that wouldn’t normally be praised. I actually complimented my quiet “sandwich artist” at Subway today for her careful hoagie assembly skills. I noted that she was really good with transferring the meat from the little paper tray to the bread, pointing out that most people just flip the meat onto the bread quickly, losing some ever-so-valuable sandwich topping. She smiled and said “thank you, I don’t like that either”. Maybe she has already forgotten about my words but maybe she was going through the darkest time of her life and I was able to provide a beam of light. We should especially seek to compliment fellow Catholics in public to help strengthen their daily witness of the faith. In the past month I have complimented a nice bartender at a sportsmen’s club on her Benedictine crucifix necklace (and I think she gave me a couple extra wings because of this :-D ) and a grocery store cashier on her Saint Christopher medal prominently being displayed on top of her uniform. Many people are bashful to compliment these things…WHY?! Are they scared of seeing someone smile? We must let people know we think they are doing a good job, especially when it comes to displaying their faith tactfully.

It is, however, okay to avoid eye contact with cashiers if they have ever bagged your meat with your other items. Then they deserve no respect at all.
It is, however, okay to avoid eye contact with cashiers if they have ever bagged your meat with your other items. Then they deserve no respect at all.

We should also forgive those who might not deserve forgiveness in our lives. If that is hard to do (another thing that is much easier said than done), keep in mind that forgiving is something we do for ourselves if no one else. It frees our own soul.

..forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.

-GK Chesterton

I have directly benefited from the forgiveness of others in my life. If I have been forgiven for actions of my own, who am I to withhold forgiveness? If the Gospel calls us to forgive others, who are we to do otherwise? Aside from saving your own soul, it could bring great hope to someone in despair. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean accepting the lifestyle of an unrepentant perpetrator, it means letting go of a harmful or hurtful action directed towards you. We must freely forgive (which can be near-impossible in some situations), especially if forgiveness is asked of us. Our Father freely forgives us daily and especially through the Sacrament of Confession, let us participate in His image by doing the same.

Never forget this: The Lord never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we, who get tired of asking for forgiveness.

-Pope Francis

Something else we should strive for is expressing interest in other people. Ask your coworker how his son’s basketball game went. Ask how your neighbor’s Christmas was. Tell your friend you’ll be praying for their sick family member. We must avoid apathy towards others–even when it’s difficult to care. Strive to make a connection with everyone you regularly come into contact with. Show others that you care about their life.

Lastly, when you see somebody struggling in life, try to reach out. Reaching out doesn’t have to be some great gesture. It can just be a small gesture out of great love–not only will you be making someone’s life better, you will be also be participating in JPII’s call to the New Evangilization. (Book Suggestion: Evangelizing Catholics – Scott Hahn)

The birth of Christ is a time of Joy and Hope, let’s live it out not only through the season of Advent but the entire year!

We can do no great things; only small things with great love.

-Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

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We must always embrace the “least” among us. This means anyone that would be ignored for any reason.
Pope Francis hugs 8-year-old Dominic Gondreau, who has cerebral palsy, after celebrating his first Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square
Fighting the “throwaway culture” – Pope Francis hugs 8-year-old Dominic Gondreau, who has cerebral palsy, after celebrating his first Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square

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8 thoughts on “Wage a War on Despair

  1. Wonderful, particularly your thoughts about everyday interactions with others. My mindset in dealing with others, particularly those in low-reward jobs, always adjusts when I reflect on the adage “What you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”

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  2. […] With all this said, it’s important that we do not retreat from the secular-relativist culture around us. Sure, we might opt to watch something other than Maury during the day but we need all need to peacefully fight relativism on the front lines without our opponents even knowing. We must fight it by speaking our values when they come up and by providing powerful and positive witness to the joy of the Christian lifestyle. […]

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  3. […] Brokenness can be a variety of issues and it can be self-inflicted or inflicted by others. It can be as extreme as a person feeling constant shame from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse they endured as a child but can also be less obvious like the person who feels loneliness after a series of failed relationships. Modern society’s brokenness is commonly put on display (and sometimes embraced) in torn families, poverty, anxiety, gender denial, feelings of unwelcomeness in the Church, war, poverty, and the entire narrative of moral relativism equaling true tolerance and love. Brokenness is the damage done to our spirit and, in turn, society by the unrepentant and unchecked sins of ourselves or others. It often results in a greater desire to sin by blinding us to the weight of our own vices. Someone that grows up in a broken inner city is likely repeat the behavior of what made their neighborhood broken. Someone who is overcome with a culture telling them babies are disposable is more likely to accept abortion as an option. Someone who sees people around them taking marriage casually is more likely to break their own vows. Someone broken by selfishness of those around him will likely commit their own sins out of selfishness. Sin breaks us and unless we fix what’s broken we will continue blindly plunging society deeper into problems. It’s no secret that Original Sin is what created the broken state of affairs we now live with. Our hardwired temptation to delegate the criteria for what is right and wrong to ourselves is what Original Sin has done to us (aka moral relativism). You might claim innocence…but you do too. We all do in either small or large ways; some rationalize gossiping around the water cooler while some are able to rationalize something like stealing money. It all depends on how hardened your heart has become to despair. […]

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