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Facing Identity Crisis: In Search of the Soul [Followup]

challenge

The cat’s out of the bag — or is it? Monday I wrote about everyone’s deep dark secret of individual identity, essentially calling the whole thing a socially constructed sham. Without backtracking on that, I’d like to make some distinctions about what I see as what constitutes perceived “whoness” and how it interacts with the more important “whatness” of a human being. So on with the next hypothesis.

This post will contain two sections.

1. The “whatness,” or what we can call the soul, of a human being is made up of what a human needs to survive and the purpose of a human being. So, the necessary conditions and the overall purpose of humanity. No big deal… we’re just talking about the meaning of life, right? The purpose of humanity as far as I’ve learned is to be loved by God and to love others because God loves them.

Sounds warm and fuzzy, right? Well, think about this. Are human beings necessary? If you believe in a God, does this God NEED human beings for anything? I can’t fathom any concept of an objectively existing God where that would be the case. Humans are therefore not created out of necessity, but of will. We are a product of God’s altruistic love. We have our worth and very existence only from God’s love. Furthermore, God is Love. Therefore, as we know, we were made in the image of God.

Going back to what I said earlier — “the necessary conditions and the overall purpose of humanity” constitute humanity. One of those necessary conditions, if we believe in a God, is God’s love. If we are Christians and observe the crucifixion, we believe that love is self-giving to the extreme. So now that I’ve clarified it, I can call the substance of a human being the sum total of a human being’s necessary conditions. (P.S.: Taking it a step further, I can call any affront to those necessary conditions an affront to God’s loving will and reason that action to be objectively immoral.) There are also necessary conditions to effectively accept God’s love and thereby love humanity such as reason, philosophy, scripture, and religion. Therefore, we can derive that freedom of speech and religion are as basic of human rights as food and water.

For now, I’ll make the claim that this is all that makes up the human being.

 

2. The perceived “whoness” of the human being is made entirely of the human person in action. This is when the human soul interacts with a “state of being.” A state of being in reality refers to the nature of the circumstances surrounding and interacting with the soul, not the actual identity of the human person. “Whoness” is what the “whatness” verbs and/or what verbs the whatness. It’s the situation.

2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

a. Psychological situations. Some people have brain chemistry issues, hardwired differences in thought patterns or attention spans, as well as different exterior environments than others. Yes, I am calling brain chemistry environmental. It’s an environment that moves with the body as the soul interacts with it. We identify people based on psychological characteristics. This, however, is really a socially constructed identity useful for identifying the situation of a particular individual and matching the situation to a name. What is more telling, however, is our ability to overcome our own weakness to do good when provided a channel of grace.

1 Corinthians 4:7 “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

b. Talent situations. Some people have more talents than others. At any given time these can include skills, intelligence, looks, etc. Some people are frequently inspired. Others, seldom so. This can be the result of merit or otherwise freely given by God in another manner. Either way, the talent itself and situation necessary for it to be actualized speaks about the Creator rather than a particular individual, aside from any good will present in cultivating it for good purposes. This latter exception is where the human person willfully chooses to be in line with the “whatness” of a human being by accepting this manifestation of God’s freely given love. And, yet again, the “whatness” itself points to God. God does not love us because we are great, but we are great because He loves us. Further, since we are made in the image, to an extent you can apply the same thing to human love for x, y, or z. Got pets?

Luke 10:38-42 “Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.’ The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.’”

c. Love situations. And no, I don’t just mean romantic love. The above gospel passage from this past Sunday illustrates the usefulness of realizing the situations of others in mutual understanding of good will. Since people have different inclinations, their perceptions, comforts, and pleasures may deviate. Our situation, or “verbing” throughout each breath of our existence, makes us sensate beings. We may be inclined to do things for others in loving them that allows them to know God’s love through us. We love and wish to be loved in different ways. Knowing the particular desires one has themselves, as well as the desires of the other, is useful to sharing in these things with one another. They can help relationships to function better for God’s purposes. Humans are of course highly motivated by their desires, which is why money tends to be so useful.

However, desires can change over time and typically are not stable. Even where they have been stable, we should not base our true identity on them. And, to take it a step further and presume that love for another should depend on these things undermines the true nature of love itself. When I say I’m a coffee drinker, or powerlifter, or video gamer, all it means is that I’m inclined to enjoy these things. Will I like all of these things tomorrow? Who knows. There is no true identity crisis if I happen not to like them. However, if I decided to take any of those desires too seriously by assuming them inculcated into my identity then my purposes would begin to aim at one of these lesser ends rather than the end inherent in the human soul. Losing them would thereby create a crisis of identity. All of the utility in understanding love situations is involved in “verbing,” which is how we know these situations are not inherent within our identities.

We have no idea what our situations fully are, since we’re not omniscient. But that’s not a problem. God will reveal to us in due time our situations and how well we’ve done with them when he judges our souls by the good we have done or failed to do — our real identities.

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Facing Identity Crisis: You’re Not a Personality Type

“Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things above thy ability: but the things that God hath commanded thee, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious. For it is not necessary for thee to see with thy eyes those things that are hid. In unnecessary matters be not over curious, and in many of his works thou shalt not be inquisitive.” -Sirach 3:22-24

I was praying on this and had a thought. I think this realization might solve a lot of people’s anxiety. Ready for it?

Two quick points:
1) You don’t know who you are.
2) It’s not that big of a deal.

Think about any social or psychological problem. In a vast majority of cases a failure to recognize one of these two facts will be the cause.

Midlife crisis guy? Gets point 1, denies point 2. The prideful sinner, or attention-seeking personality spammer? Denies both points. The depressed cynic? Gets point 2, denies point 1.

Instead of asking “who” we are, I think it makes more sense to ask “what” we are. The answer is obviously simple: human beings. What are human needs? Food, water, shelter, and to love and be loved. As soon as we ask “who” we are, we attempt to define ourselves in reference to others. Therefore, we begin to socially construct who we are instead of objectively accepting our own substance. This truth also makes real equality possible: all human beings are the same in substance. If we categorize by individual “whos,” it necessarily follows that we begin to group otherwise equal human beings on personality traits which could be largely socially constructed as well.

Next hypothesis, following from the above: you are not your personality.

Personality might fluctuate depending on genetic predisposition, mood, brain chemistry, or other environmental factors. This is not necessarily a stable thing. Sometimes people like strange things or are in strange moods. Sometimes people go through phases. I suspect people take their feelings and desires too seriously, codifying them into this contrived “identity” based more on the perceived “whoness” than the “whatness” of their substance. This is where we get identity politics.

Much of the drama of daily life and the political stage alike tends to come from this commonly shared bond of marionette strings. Instead of humbly acknowledging our equality, we establish an equal right to socially comfortable pride bunkers built around whichever mood or inclination we’ve latched onto. So, without further ado, if you want to immensely confuse yourself and some others too, the worst case scenario goes like this:

1) Have want or desire
2) Presume said want or desire is good, because if you want said want or desire, and you are presumably good, it therefore must also be good
3) Discover or collectively create archetype for said desire
4) Assimilate socially constructed “who” archetype into your identity
5) Take offense to anyone opposed (passive-aggressive defensiveness works) / lobby for special class of group (or individual, on the micro-scale) rights / make everything contrary personal.

Individuality is killing us. Wants are being wrapped up and packaged as needs interpersonally and on a wider scale. So, in summary, you don’t know yourself. And it’s not that big of a deal, since we were made to know God.

God knows us. If we’re aiming to know ourselves, we’ve focused in the wrong direction. Now stop being such a drama queen/king and enjoy life. :)

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The Grace of a Grateful Heart

About a week ago, we had some really warm weather in the region of Germany where I live. It got up to 100°F and, with the humidity, felt like nearly 120°. That kind of weather is bad enough back home in the US, where at least there’s air conditioning in most homes and public places, but here in Germany, they aren’t quite so keen on such luxuries, and after several days of not being able to sleep and attempting to sit through classes while dripping sweat, I was exhausted, resentful, and annoyed, to say the least.

The situation reminded me of being at World Youth Day in Madrid in August of 2011. At the Saturday Outdoor Vigil, temperatures reached 114°F and there was no shade, little water, masses of people (no pun intended), far too few restrooms, and dirt everywhere. I was miserable – and so was everyone else! Then, later that night, Papa Benedict’s planned speech was prevented by a huge thunderstorm, which subsequently knocked over a tent housing thousands of hosts that were to be consecrated for the papal Mass the following morning and resulted in the majority of the 2 million pilgrims being unable to receive Communion. In the stress and exhaustion and physical suffering of the Vigil, I remember questioning why I’d ever decided to come to Spain.

 

“Thank Him for everything, because everything is good.”

 

But then, on the way back into the city, I ended up on a bus with 15-20 Sisters of Life, who sang hymns the whole ride back – a beautiful reminder of the joy of our Faith. When we returned to the gymnasium where we’d been staying with hundreds of other pilgrims, I was able to take a shower – the water was freezing, but I’ve never been so grateful to be clean in my life! And finally, that night, we slept on the tile floor at the air-conditioned airport, where there were restrooms with running water just around the corner. After the Vigil, I was profoundly grateful for the littlest things – clean toilets that actually flushed, a whole foot of space between me and the person sleeping next to me, the hard tile floor that was *not* covered in dust or dirt… I had a very different perspective on everything. And the gratitude engendered by the entire three-week pilgrimage in general carried over into my everyday life – after going straight from the airport up to college to begin my sophomore year, I found myself rejoicing at the smallest blessings: having a dresser full of clothes to pick from, only having to share a room with one other person, being able to choose from a variety of foods, having internet access…the list goes on and on.

At one point last week, in the middle of the heat wave, I sat down to send an email to a friend of mine, intending to complain about how awful I was feeling as a result of the extreme temperatures. It started out with “I feel like I’m back in Spain at the Vigil, except for the fact that I have access to running water”, and suddenly I found myself writing out all the things that made this experience more tolerable than what had happened in Spain: Not only did I have access to running (cold!) water, restrooms, working showers, a stocked refrigerator, and a bed and pillow, I also had internet access, a phone, and was able to go to Mass and receive Communion! I ended up having to finish the paragraph with “Actually, I think I’m relatively well-off, even without air conditioning or a fan. WYD does have a way of putting things in perspective, doesn’t it?”

The perspective shift was a real grace from God – it didn’t take away the suffering, but it did remind me how blessed I am. And after that, I was able to actually offer my suffering up for other people who really needed my prayers. As soon as I stopped focusing on how miserable I felt and started focusing on God’s providence and others’ needs, my resentment and annoyance seemed to melt away. It’s amazing what a difference a grateful heart can make in the midst of difficult situations.

As St. Josemaría Escrivá said, “Get used to lifting your heart to God, in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day. Because He gives you this and that. Because you have been despised. Because you haven’t what you need or because you have. Because He made his Mother so beautiful, His Mother who is also your Mother. Because He created the sun and the moon and this animal and that plant. Because He made that man eloquent and you He left tongue-tied…Thank Him for everything, because everything is good.”

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The Failure of Abstinence Only Education

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Smart made headlines for pointing to abstinence only education as a reason she didn’t try to escape her captor.  Why?  In her Mormon faith, abstinence only sex education led instructors to compare a girl who has sex before marriage to a chewed up Oreo.   The news media used it as another opportunity to criticize the right for continuing to support such silly rhetoric.

You know what?  I agree.[sociallocker]

Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember the Oreo story.  I remember sitting in a room watching kids chew up a cookie and spit it into a glass and passing it on to the next person until there were four or five different colored foods sitting in the glass.  Our group leaders made lists of things we shouldn’t do so we can be “pure” on our wedding night.  There was no joy, just rules.  And, depending on who was telling us the rules, the rules usually changed.

Abstinence only sex education fails miserably when it lists rules and consequences, when it focuses merely on sex before marriage, when it fails to delve into deeper questions about love and fidelity, when it completely ignores Biblical and philosophical arguments for chastity in marriage.

We teach what the “rules” are, but we aren’t forming consciences to make real decisions, just painting lines in the sand and saying “don’t cross that.”   In one of his first books Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla (later Blessed Pope John Paul II) said, “It is easy to draw up a set of rules for Catholic in the sector of ‘sexual’ morality…his [the spiritual advisor] task is not only to command and forbid, but to justify, to interpret, to explain.

Abstinence only education cannot work in a vacuum.  Abstinence works most successfully as part of a greater understanding of chastity and marital love.  If we look at sex as a selfless act of love connected with responsibility to ourselves, others, and above all God, abstinence becomes a consequence of chaste love, not a seemingly arbitrary line drawn by a 2000 year old Church.

When we compare a post-intercourse woman as a chewed up Oreo, what are we telling young people about the act even within marriage?  What are we implying about the sacredness of their own bodies?

Healthy education should start with a fundamental understanding of the human body.  First as something made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) and a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  The body is good, was made for good, and should witness to good.  As Blessed Pope John Paul II said, “This is the body: a witness to creation as a fundamental gift, and therefore a witness to Love…”.

Thus, the body should be used above all as a witness to God’s love.     Sex is the most intimate act that we can perform in this world. That’s why philosopher Peter Kreeft often connects the experience of sexual unity to an understanding of the Trinitarian love of God.  Sex in its proper context gives us a glimpse into God’s love for us!  When we begin to put a positive image on intercourse and educate on its true meaning, it transforms the sexual act from something that merely happens between two strangers or two people who might stay together for a while if things maybe sort of work out into an expression of complete human dignity.

“Chastity in this context is not simply a string of prohibitions.  Chastity is the integrity of love, the virtue that makes it possible to love the other as a person,” observes George Weigel in Witness to Hope.

And this is why traditional abstinence only education fails.   All to often, we forbid but we don’t justify or explain.  With a fuller understanding of the Church’s teachings, young adults would be better equipped to figure out on their own how to live chastely.  They’ll be able to live it throughout their single lives and on into marriage because they have not been weighed down with negative “Do not”s.  Instead, they were empowered by the positives of Catholic sexual teachings: the body is good, sex is good and both are to bear witness to the joy of the Christian life.[/sociallocker]

 

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Sunday’s Saintly Spotlight: St. Zita of Lucca

Our daily lives can seem mundane places to live out our faith.  Household chores become stressful when added to our jobs and relationships.  As our lives become busier, it becomes difficult to find time to pray and develop our most important relationship, the one with God.  St. Zita’s life reminds us that there is a certain greatness in the small things of life.  Like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Zita devoted her entire life to doing all things with great love and goodness.

Through the intercession of St. Zita, may we all find ways to give glory to God in the smallest chores of our day.  As the Bible reminds us, the servant who is faithful in small things will receive great rewards (Matthew 25:23)

Zita was born into a large, but poor, Catholic family.  At the tender age of 12, she began working as a domestic servant for a prosperous merchant family.  Before work each day, Zita attended daily Mass.  She returned to the church at the end of the day to pray privately.  Her pious nature, and desire to give what little she had to others, brought on the resentment of the rest of the household staff.  Zita was often beat by her master for giving away food to beggars.

On one such occasion, in the midst of a famine, Zita gave away the master’s beans to the starving residents of Lucca.  Realizing the great profit he had, Zita’s master decided to sell the beans at a great profit.  Zita prayed for divine intervention, realizing her master’s wrath would be unbearable.  When the master went to sell the beans, the full amount was miraculously accounted for.

Over time, Zita’s faithfulness and diligence in her position was rewarded by the master of the house and she was given the keys to the house and entrusted with the entire household.  With the abusive treatments of her superiors fresh in mind, Zita lead the household as a loving Christian.  Later in life, many of her duties were removed and Zita was allowed to devote her life to caring for the sick and serving the poor.  She died 48 years later, still in the employment of the merchant’s household.

Zita was canonized in 1652.  During the beatification process, her body was found to be incorrupt.  Zita is the patroness of laywomen, lost keys, domestic servants, and people ridiculed for their piety.  Her memorial is celebrated on April 27th.

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Zita.

Saint Zita, dear follower of the Son of God, you desired to become a servant and died the death of a slave.  You were not only a faithful maid-servant, but a practical lover of the poor.  May we seek to serve God as you did, through service to our brothers and sisters on earth.  We pray that we do not despise authority, but in humility and love, seek to do the Will of God by serving others. Amen.

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