In our culture, people are starving. Yet, they feast and feast, but still remain hungry. It is kind of like that old adage about eating Chinese food, where you eat it and a half hour later you’re hungry again. Maybe that’s just me – chubby, chubby me. I am talking, however, about a different spiritual malady than basic gluttony. Many of us remember that 80’s musical classic Hungry Eyes by Eric Carmen. In that song he declares:
I’ve been meaning to tell you,
I’ve got this feelin’ that won’t subside,
I look at you and I fantasize,
You’re mine tonight
Now I’ve got you in my sights
With these hungry eyes
One look at you and I can’t disguise
I’ve got hungry eyes…
You might think I’m going to simply talk about lust in the sexual sense, but I’m not Matt Fradd (I could never be that dashing…or that Australian). I want to talk a little more about simply hungry eyes and what that means for us. Today, I saw a young couple talking to each other. The young lady would say what looked like kind words to her boyfriend, he’d smile and as he’d respond, the young lady would look down at her phone, and begin to scroll. After he was finished speaking, she would then look up, smile, respond, and then go back to her phone. The two of them shortly departed with a hug and a kiss, and without skipping a beat she was back to her phone as she walked away. Sound familiar? Here’s another story. I recently went for dinner with my wife, and as we sat there, I instinctively reached for my phone to check Facebook. What’s the newest cool thing happening? What’s the hot debate? Who commented on the picture of the food that I just took? I’m hungering for something, yet nothing satisfies. My beautiful wife right there, and I’m more interested in Buzzfeed? What the heck is wrong with me? I set the phone aside, but still felt the nagging desire to pick it up, just to check it. Chris has a problem.
Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat cash in, in a very particular way on this reality. It’s the quick fix to the hungry eye that is looking to devour something, anything. We love to see. We are truly a visually overstimulated culture. We can’t go to a regular restaurant without there being TVs everywhere. Our screens have gone from monstrously heavy entertainment boxes (remember those days), to fitting in our pockets. We binge watch Netflix like its our business. We scroll until there is nothing left and then we refresh the screen waiting for the newest thing to show up. We are ferociously bored, and try to inoculate ourselves with a hit off of the WiFi like a crack addict. You don’t need to fly to the Congo to see starving kids; go to a high school cafeteria and you will see crowds of young people starving for something. Yet, no matter how much we surf, scroll, watch, vine, snap or see, nothing ever satisfies. Our eyes become more and more hungry.
Pornography is an epidemic. That is abundantly clear. The multi-billion dollar industry makes their money on this very reality. It took off with the magazines. The magazines were made to be gazed and flipped through. The addiction began and the more dirty mags people would buy and stuff under their bed. With the introduction of the internet, the hungry eye could feast endlessly upon the flesh of the broken, hurting women in the industry and close their browser when done. Yet, the eyes began looking elsewhere first. Getting into pornography finds its roots in a person with hungry eyes. I know because I’ve been there and struggled with it.
Recently I was hanging with a group of non-Christian married guys, and we were driving downtown. The guys began checking out every single good looking woman going down the street, commenting “I’d tap that” or the equivalent. Frankly, at first it sickened me. I was the only one in the car actually seeing the spiritual implications. I remembered that Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”(Matthew 5:28). Yet, as I saw these guys lusting after these women that weren’t their wives, I looked at myself and thought, “How often do I do a double take when I see a good looking woman?” All I have to do is take stock of myself and I see that I too have hungry eyes, just like them, but to a different degree. Yet, we all have one thing in common – we’re hungry. But what is it that all of us are hungry for?
We hunger for the Beatific.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines the Beatific Vision as:
“the immediate knowledge of God which the angelic spirits and the souls of the just enjoy in Heaven. It is called “vision” to distinguish it from the mediate knowledge of God which the human mind may attain in the present life. And since in beholding God face to face the created intelligence finds perfect happiness, the vision is termed “beatific”.
Our physical eyes, like or physical bodies, were made for the reality of being with God, seeing Him face to face. This is primarily a spiritual reality because God is spirit, however, our eyes were meant to gaze upon perfect beauty. Original sin and concupiscence have marred that reality for us. Yet as Catholics we believe that Christ, at the end of time, will raise our physical bodies from the dead, and unite our souls with them once more, but now, our bodies will be like His in a glorified, immortal state. God has always wanted to be united with us and to make us like Him. Our bodies have an eschatological dimension. Our eyes are meant to behold in wonder the sheer beauty of God in the Person of Jesus and that alone will be beyond all we have ever hungered for. Yet, what good does that do for us now as we live in this “vale of tears.”
The very vision of the Lord is the inheritance of the chaste. Jesus in the Beatitudes tells us that, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”. The lust of the eyes begins with a lust in the heart. We may not even be lustful of another. We can be lustful of another person’s position, state of life, possessions, status, experiences, etc. We fantasize about what it would be like to live another life, or have that certain thing. We can even look upon good things and want them selfishly, such as children, a good job, a future spouse, a perfect vocation. Even those seemingly good things, even if they relate to our vocations, can become idols for us, and turn our gaze away from the place where it belongs.
The Church in her wisdom has placed before us countless things of authentic beauty, not to simply amaze us, but to draw our hearts and minds into a deeper reality – that this is what we were made for. The Sistine Chapel, for example, is simply a marvelous feat of artistry to many, yet for the faithful we know that the art depicts not only past realities, but future realities for us, such as the painting of the Last Judgement which sits above the high altar. Yet, even those things which contain great intrinsic beauty like catholic art, the beauty of creation, even another human being will never satisfy us, because they are simply not God.
Those who have followed our blog have heard us mention the analogy of the two wolves before, but it bears repeating. Within us are two wolves, the pure and the impure. The one that survives is the one that you feed. So often we get caught up in gazing upon the things of the world. Yet, just as through the mouth, the body becomes fat and can poison itself, so too, through the eyes, do we “batten on spoil” as the scripture says, and become spiritually dull.
The reality for those of us who are baptized and in state of grace is that the very One upon whom we shall gaze upon in Heaven truly dwells within us. So, we must not simply realize why we are hungry and perhaps cut back or cut out completely those things to which we turn our eyes, but we must turn our gaze inward, and open the eyes of our hearts to the reality of God dwelling in us. The proper care for the eye of the heart, referred to as the “Nous” in Eastern Christian Monasticism, must be of paramount importance for us in this age of over-stimulation. Simply being Catholic is not enough. We have to fight our natural inclinations to look for the sake of looking. We must guard what our eyes see on the outside so as to better dispose ourselves to seeing the blessed Trinity dwelling inside of us. If we want to truly be satisfied, we have to consume the right thing. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament reminds us of this reality at every Sacrifice of the Mass. Yet, although He is physically present within us in the Eucharist when we receive Him, we have to remember and constantly call to mind that His spiritual presence in our soul in the state of grace is very much real, and we must open the eye of our heart to recognize that reality. But, if we fill our physical eyes with things of the world, we will remain blind to the reality of God within us. We must learn to close the eye of our hearts to the desires of the world, and open them to the reality of Blessed Trinity dwelling inside. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God”.
“You O struggler and imitator of Christ’s suffering, fight within yourself, that you may be deemed worthy of tasting His glory. For if we suffer with Him, then we are glorified with Him. The nous is not glorified with Jesus, if the body does not suffer with Christ. He therefore who disdains human glory is deemed worthy of the glory of God and his body is glorified with his soul.”
(St. Isaac the Syrian)
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” – Luke 12: 49-53
Being a Christian can feel lonely at times. In today’s culture you may feel ostracized by the world that just wants you to keep your mouth shut and your beliefs to yourself. Also at times, you may feel a sort of spiritual loneliness; where like David in the Psalms, you feel like God is hiding His face from you. Being a Christian is not always a walk in the park. I have personally found that one of the most painful feelings for me is wanting to share the joy I have found in Christ, but even among those closest to me, they simply do not want to hear about it. Sometimes I desperately want to be open about that part of myself with those I love who are not Catholic, but I know it will be met with silence, sarcasm, or anger. Though I still speak up in defence of the truth, I have also had to find different ways of showing that faith without words to my family and friends who do not believe or are against listening to anything that leans towards objective truth.
In our present culture, where “hate” has become the new catchphrase for anyone who stands up for objective moral truth, it is almost comical to see how much hatred the world has for authentic Christianity. Jesus warned us of the hate we would experience for loving and following Him, but He also reminds us that the world hated Him first.
The struggle can be difficult at times, yet, we know that there is victory in the struggles that we endure as Christians. The feeling of loneliness we can encounter can become redemptive. We can come to encounter Christ more deeply by offering our suffering to Him and with Him. Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Suffering is a great favor. Remember that everything soon comes to an end… and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal.” We must take these words to heart and remember that the lives we live here are temporary.
It is of great importance to pray for the gifts of charity, humility, and patience. Charity is one of the hardest things to practice toward someone who speaks ill of you. It can be equally as hard to remain charitable when Christ or His Church is attacked. It can be much easier to get angry than to take a breath, pray for a moment, and speak respectfully to that person. Keep in mind our Blessed Lord before Pontius Pilate. He simply spoke the truth in peace.
It can be difficult to love the people who attack us, whether it be in the online sphere or among our families, friends, co-workers, etc. It is of paramount importance that we continue to love those who hurt us. This doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends, or even get along. It may even mean ending the relationship. But, we must be willing to reach out and serve them. We must remember that they deserve love and respect, even when they don’t give these things to us. Jesus loves the person who attacks us and desires for them to be united with Him for all eternity. Our job is to show that by our deeds, and then our words.
Remember you are not alone.
I remember years ago feeling very alone and wishing that I wasn’t. I was so caught up in myself that I forgot that I was never alone. I failed so many times to enter into prayer, to recall the saints, or to seek out authentic community. In hindsight, I wish I had been able to remember those painful hours Jesus wept in the garden. I forgot that on the cross, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Now, I understand that I can take consolation in the fact that not only can I offer my struggles, loneliness, and sufferings to Jesus, but that I can unite them with His suffering for the salvation of souls.
Pray for those that persecute you. Pray that their hearts may not be hardened. Pray that they may recognize the love in you as God’s love for them. Pray for them if they abandon you, or if you have to leave that relationship for reasons beyond your control. Leave it all in the hands of the Father. He will take care of His children.
We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God. – Saint Vincent de Paul
It is a hectic life that we lead.
Work, school, family commitments, socializing… it’s a wonder any of us are still standing, dizzied as we are.
And at the very bottom of our ever-growing list of priorities, is our need for rest.
The Bible speaks a great deal about care for our physical bodies. Jesus’ life, in particular, emphasizes the importance He placed on rest and sleep. One would think that God incarnate would consider it unnecessary to take time to sleep and recharge, busy as He was fulfilling salvation history.
But then, He falls asleep in boats in the midst of raging storms. (Matthew 8:24)
And then, He encourages His disciples to rest after ministry. (Mark 6:31)
He even often carves out time away from the crowds to retreat and pray alone. (Luke 5:16)
Why would God model and encourage rest for us with such earnest?
Truly, the Creator knows His creation.
Medically, lack of sleep wreaks havoc on us. Short term, we can suffer decreased alertness, memory impairment and hindered fine motor skills. Not to mention overall grumpiness and irritability. In the long term, forgoing rest produces even more serious problems, like high blood pressure, obesity and possible psychiatric problems, such as depression.
Spiritually, things also tend to take a turn for the worst when we struggle with getting enough rest. As a mother of young children, I can attest to those long nights of tending to little ones, and the lack of motivation, the diminishing patience and the lost inspiration for prayer that comes with the morning light. In fact, I’ve noticed a pattern of increased temptation and struggle for holiness during those periods of time where sleep eludes me.
This made me wonder about the world at large. We live in a 24/7 society, where in most major cities, at least, you can go shopping for crayons and coffee at 3 a.m., if you so desired. There are cities that “never sleep”… and they’re proud of it. There is always noise, there is always money to be made or spent, there are always duties and responsibilities to fulfill. Stress and anxiety abound, with no seeming reprieve.
And yet, have we ever considered what our insomnia is doing to us?
There is a song written by Cage the Elephant in 2008 called “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”. The chorus sings, half desperate lament, half proud anthem:
“Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked,
Money don’t grow on trees,
I got bills to pay
I got mouths to feed
There ain’t nothing in this world for free.
Oh no, I can’t slow down,
I can’t hold back,
Though you know, I wish I could.
Oh, there ain’t no rest for the wicked,
Until we close our eyes for good.”
If, as individuals, we suffer from poor judgement, increased temptation and a tendency to wander from holiness when we lack sleep, what is our obsession with universal wakefulness doing to our collective souls?
Over the past few months alone, it seems that the faith has endured blow after blow – morality crumbling, hate increasing, spiritual apathy on the rise. It has become overwhelming and has created a downward spiral that no one seems sure how to even begin escaping from.
No one, that is, except for the Spirit.
“Come to me, all you that are weary… and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
We need to return to the Creator’s plan. Our Father would not ask of His children that which they could not give. So this incessant need to be awake and the guilt that wracks us each time we dare to rest – this cannot be of God, because even He slept.
The Creator’s plan comes down to this:
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)
As hard as it is sometimes, we should be making time for God’s stillness. When possible, go on a retreat, visit the Adoration chapel often, put the phones down and go to bed a little bit earlier – for these are some of the ways that we are stilled. From that stillness we will emerge with wisdom. We will be fearless in our evangelism and tireless in our ministries. The Church will be fruitful, thriving and alive!
And while the rest of the world stumbles along, exhausted, in its bleary-eyed haze, the Church, fully awake, will continue to fight on its behalf, as it has always done.
But first, we must sleep.
In Luke 16: 1-9, Jesus tells an extremely interesting parable, about a dishonest manager who is caught wasting his master’s money, but finds a clever way to come out ahead even when he loses his position.
This parable can be very confusing at first glance, because it appears to praise the dishonest manager for squandering even more of his master’s wealth, for his own gain. The master whom he defrauded commends him “because he had acted shrewdly,” and Jesus comments that “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
When the manager realizes that his life as he currently knows it is about to end, he makes use of everything he has in that present position to prepare for his future. What the disciples were meant to take from this, and what we need to take from it, is that we need to come to a similar realisation about our current state of life.
Our life on this earth will come to an end, just like the manager’s comfortable position. While we have the opportunity, we must be shrewd with the resources available to us to prepare for our future home.
When we look at state of the world, particularly in the ‘culture wars’ going on in modern society, it’s clear that Our Lord’s words still ring true. Those who advance an agenda of moral relativism, hedonism, and license are eminently shrewd, and they use the means available for gain at every opportunity. The result has been a stunning transformation of society.
Being Spiritually Shrewd
In light of recent events in the United States, a lot of people are thinking about how to react, and how to fight back. If we want to serve God in modern society, and evangelize our culture, we need to consider some ways of being spiritually shrewd.
Being shrewd means having good judgement, making intelligent choices, doing what is most effective for our goals. If we want to be spiritually shrewd, we need to stop putting too much emphasis on the worldly battleground, because that is the arena where our enemy invests his strength. It doesn’t take a military genius to tell us that we need to fight where we are strong, and our enemy is weak.
4 Ways of Being Spiritually Shrewd:
1. Love your enemies
Perhaps Our Lord’s most controversial and hardest teaching. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
For a long time, Christians have had it easy in western nations. Being Christian has often been the way to be honoured and respected in society. Now, the tables have turned, and if you live a Christian life, you are certain to be hated for it. Lets rise to the challenge of being real Christians, and be tenacious in loving our enemies. This means not just praying for them (though it does mean that), it also means loving them in action. It means actively looking for ways to wash the feet of our betrayer, as Christ did.
2. Offer up your sufferings
All of us who strive to live the faith publicly have, and will continue to suffer for it. This is the reality of our calling, but God makes suffering a blessing for us. This is part of the wisdom of God, which is “folly to those who are perishing.” But it is in this way that God allows us to unite ourselves to Christ.
“For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps.”
3. Carry out your Christian witness all the more, when it contrasts with the culture
Whenever the culture moves away from God, the need for people to return to the Church becomes more apparent.
If our society no longer respects the rights and dignity of all human beings, then let us take courage in the fact that our unshakable respect for those values will become more obvious, and attract people back to the faith.
4. Become more detached from the cares and concerns of the world
If we no longer have the opportunity to live in a society that honours the human family and offers protection and help to it, let’s take the opportunity to detach ourselves from the luxury of that help. God’s grace has always been sufficient for us and our families. Let’s take the opportunity to show that the human family doesn’t need a government or court’s permission to exist and thrive.
All of these are simple (but not easy) ways to take the defeats that the Church and her members may suffer in the world, and turn them into victory. Although we know Christ has won the final victory already, in our time on earth we must be willing to work out our salvation and make disciples, despite the sorry state of the world. God knows we can never be shrewd enough to outsmart the demonic intellect of the enemy, but he gives us all the means to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”, and to overcome the world by his grace.