Monday, June 20, 2011

St. Francis de Sales on true devotion

I thank God for the gift of reflection amidst scandal and disillusion. While it is heartbreaking to witness a champion of faith crumble in the face of adversity, a situation such as this can actually call us to reexamine our own understanding of what it means to live a life of devotion. What is true devotion to God and how do we seek to live this life in Christ?

St. Francis de Sales has a thought-provoking insight about spiritual devotion in his spiritual masterpiece, Introduction to the Devout Life, “There is only one true devotion but there are many that are false and empty. If you are unable to recognize which kind is true, you can easily be deceived and led astray by following one that is offensive and superstitious.”

Just how easy is it to be led astray? Very easy. Super easy. So easy that if we are not constantly vigilant, especially when we are doing some good work, our weaknesses will be found. Do we struggle with obedience, detachment from worldly possessions? Are we hot-tempered or arrogant? Do we prefer the affection and adulation that we get from others over the glorification of God and the furthering of His Kingdom? Do we rationalize disobedience or attachment to wealth in order to promote the mission that has become our own twisted creation?

It is easy for us to point fingers at someone else and say that these are not our problems, but just as quickly these same weaknesses could be on the brink of taking down any one of us. What are we to do? Again, I turn to St. Francis de Sales.

“Genuine, living devotion, Philothea, presupposes the love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently, and promptly, it is called devotion.”

I hope that whenever we experience disappointments, whether it be with friends or relatives, coworkers or people in roles of leadership and ministry and especially with ourselves, the sadness of detaching from our worldly affections will draw us more deeply into the love of Christ and into the joy of sharing in the communion of truly devoted believers.

Deo gratias. Let’s all continue to pray for each other.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Dad did right: 7 QuickTakes

Since my last QuickTake for Mother’s Day proved to be more effective at producing Mom tears than all of my past cards put together, I thought I’d do another in anticipation of Father’s Day. But first I’d like to share a few quick observations about the importance of fathers in general.

Fathers are underrated in our culture today, which is sad because I think they are so vital to the success of a family. Fathers are often dismissed on one hand and then made to feel guilty about not being involved (a la “Cats in the Cradle”). They are stereotyped, judged and derided at every attempt to assert their God-given role of leaders and protectors of their families. It takes a very special man to rise above these cultural obstacles and become the loving and supportive leaders our families so desperately need. My father is one of these men.

His own fatherhood flourished in a household of five women, none of whom were shy about expressing their opinions about any given subject. This list is dedicated to you, Daddy (yes, I’m 36 years old and still call my father “Daddy”) QuickTakes on what Dad did right:

1. He always went to Mass with us. This is a big deal, I’ve come to realize through years of parish-watching. Men are sparse at Mass, and I didn’t realize the extent of this until our first Mother’s Day at our current parish. All mothers and daughters were invited to process in with flowers for Mary. The remaining men could have filled only the first three pews. A wave of gratitude washed over me as I realized how blessed my mother and sisters were to have my father always with us at Mass.

2. He spent time with us on his days off. One of my fondest memories from childhood was Saturday mornings. The smell of coffee and pancakes would beckon me to wake. As I entered the kitchen, my sisters would be gathered little black-and-white TV, and Daddy would sometime pause to watch and laugh as Coyote fell off a cliff and got pummeled by an anvil.

3. He used his talents to relate to us. Some fathers might be daunted by having four daughters, being puzzled by these feminine creatures. My dad played to his strengths. He put us all in sports, and he coached our teams (usually all girls). I remember watching A League of Their Own with my dad, and watching him laugh as Tom Hanks shouted, “There’s no crying in baseball!” I think that’s something he had wanted to say on more than one occasion.

4. He worked for his family. When people get all weepy about how their father wasn’t there for them enough, I sometimes wonder if they aren’t taking for granted all the time he spent working for them at his job. This sacrificial love is not unnoticed by me, especially now that I know how much it costs to provide for a family.

5. He talked to us about important things. My dad has a great sense of humor, but he also likes to keep up on what is going on around him, especially in relation to faith and politics. His natural interest in history always made for great discussions about social and economic policies that would have an impact on our God-given freedoms.

6. He enforced curfew. If we weren’t home by a certain hour, I knew that our Dad would come looking for us. I think I had a healthy fear of my Dad showing up somewhere, a little discombobulated because of lack of sleep, and full of lecture notes he had compiled on the way.

7. He set a standard for my choice of spouse. My dad is a faithful husband and father who always worked hard and found true joy in his fatherhood. My own husband had the bar set high for him, and I was pleased to know that I could find a man who could measure up. I wouldn’t have settled for anything less.

Thank you, Daddy, for being such a great husband and father. Your fatherly example continues to bless our family each day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Get along or get to work

Summer is in full swing at our house. Our children seem to have the need to be kept busy. I don't know why they have a problem with finding something to do, but after a while the restlessness of relaxation causes them to argue and break things. Last count, we had 10 destructive mishaps in the past two weeks and countless arguments.

Needless to say, my house is becoming very clean. By summer's end we might just get all the closets cleaned out, and I won't have had to lift a finger. As a friend of mine once said, I will either have peace and quiet or at least a very clean house.

I will argue to the death with someone who claims there is no such thing as original sin. It's alive and well at the Nguyen household.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thank God for rotten vegetables

I can always tell how busy we’ve been by the number of rotten vegetables I have to throw out when I finally get around to cleaning out the refrigerator. Today was that day of reckoning. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put us at around a 9.8.

The worst one was the drippy bag of decomposed lettuce I pulled from the crisper drawer. There are not too many things grosser than that.

Whenever I am in these situations in which I am having to suppress my gag reflex, it helps me to contemplate the putridity of sin. This chore of cleaning out a neglected refrigerator this morning led me to reflect upon the times in my life when I was “too busy” even to remember God, how He had provided me with a treasure trove of nutritious delights, and I had let them spoil.

Thank you, God, for this reminder. You are so good to communicate things to me according to the mode in which I am most readily available to receive them, in the ordinary experiences of everyday life.