There are certain days when it takes every ounce of willpower to drag myself to work and attempt to render what can rightfully be called a semi-productive day. We all have days when we just can’t see the purpose of our work, or if we do, we still can’t be bothered to do it. The general feeling of malaise might stem from a lack of passion, boredom, restlessness, laziness or any other number of things, including an underlying feeling that our work is a time devouring inconvenience that prevents us from doing the things that would really make our lives more meaningful and rich—nurturing relationships with friends and family, helping others, reading scripture, and of course, spending time in prayer.
I do like my job, and I’ve had other jobs in the past where nearly every day I dreaded punching my timecard. I’m grateful that I’ve found something that I enjoy on most days, but I know there are many who struggle to find value or joy in their work. For some, their work is pure toil and unforgiving labor, while for others, though it may not be awful, it’s not life-giving or fulfilling.
Still, it’s a great misconception to view our work—this mandatory, hefty chunk of our lives—as a means to an end. It’s easy to assume that we work so we can take care of our loved ones and ourselves, and that our jobs are merely something to occupy our time and render us “productive” in the vacant eyes of society. And while work does allow us to provide for others and ourselves, there is something deeply mystical and spiritual about it as well that we must not overlook.
The value of suffering can’t be denied. Christ commands us to pick up our cross and follow him to Calvary—to lose our life in order that we may find it. A brief perusal of literature from any Saint or Doctor of the Church—from St. John of the Cross to St. Thérèse of Lisieux to St. Pope John Paul II—will quench any doubt that suffering in this life is inescapable and necessary—an extension of “hard” grace needed for our own sanctification and entrance into heaven. There is a reason we display the corpse of God strung on a crucifix in our churches. We are broken, our bodies at war with our spirits. Or to reference St. Paul’s allusion to concupiscence: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” And so we need to be purified, pruned, shaken out of our stupor of self and reformed in God’s image. This requires—to all of humanity’s grave disappointment—suffering. Whether in the form of sickness, death, disease, financial hardship, addictions, war and so on, suffering clutches its wan grip on all the living.
Suffering can lead to bitterness, a turning even farther away from God. Instead of a catalyst for conversion—sincere repentance—it spawns resentment, hatred, jealousy and, consequently, more suffering. This is obviously never God’s will, and why our response to suffering is of eternal importance. We can be tempted to believe that it’s God’s will to stay mired in our suffering, as if remaining captive to it is a necessary panacea for our soul. And while we know that suffering can be quite medicinal, if we allow it to overtake us and cause greater, unnecessary suffering—and eventually sin—then we have replaced God’s true will with the will of our own twisted ego, harrying neurosis, false understanding of Catholic suffering, or worse, the devil himself. Continue reading
Has the gift of broadened technology begun to narrow us?
It sounds almost apocalyptic, but as I read an article in The Atlantic titled “What Tinder and Halo Have in Common,” I began reflecting on the dark sides of the modern convenience of being spoon-fed our shopping, news and entertainment choices.
The article explores the surprising similarities between the complex algorithms used by Halo to match a video game player with an online opponent and those used by Tinder to pair a person with a potential date.
The author of the article, Michelle Ehrhardt, voices a distinct wariness to a mechanism used to match individuals based on culled data. But while she questions the overall effectiveness of such a process, the article is suggestive of a potentially larger issue.
Earlier this month Netflix began streaming its very own Christmas special, A Very Murray Christmas—a short musical comedy written by Bill Murray, Mitch Glazer and Sofia Coppola. In it, we’re introduced to a rueful Bill Murray playing himself—steeped in an aching loneliness that’s so raw and unadulterated that it’s, well, funny. To a point.
Murray’s character is all set to host a Christmas special in New York City, but an encroaching blizzard has kept all of the show’s other stars from attending. Despite his self-deprecating pleas, the show is scheduled to go on. And it does—kind of—but the power goes out just as Murray and Chris Rock are droning out one of the most unsettling yet disturbingly captivating renditions of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Murray, having nothing else to do on Christmas Eve, does what you would fully expect and saunters to the Carlyle Hotel’s bar. Continue reading
As Christmas draws near, many of us welcome the season with great joy. This festive time affords an outpouring of great mirth—the reuniting with friends and relatives, the pleasant nostalgia of past Christmastimes, the giving and receiving of gifts, baked treats and warm affection. However, such feelings of joy can be dampened by the laundry list of to-dos before the big day, and the unrelenting stress and busyness can snuff out the holiday cheer. We can get caught up in the many distractions of the Yuletide season, and amidst the sound of Christmas carols and the smell of gingerbread, fail to image the joy of the season to the world. Not to mention, there are many others who face the season with dread. It’s well known that the Holidays can be a particularly difficult time for people. Such joyous occasions can point instead to their stark absence in one’s own life. Sadly, this time of year can stir feelings of loneliness and loss as well.
Christmas stories like A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life can fan flames of empathy and goodwill toward all, lest we forget what the season is all about. But as Christians we are called to be a light to others all year round. We are called to be a city on a hilltop, a lamp on a stand. That’s why Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas tale, a staple this time of year, speaks a great truth about Christianity that can never be lost: Christians are called to be people of unshakable joy in order to draw the lost back to God.
In Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, the selfish, wizened Scrooge is converted through God’s initial act of grace, which manifests in the form of three oneiric spirits. There are two major elements to his conversion, which occur during the course of the night: the first is a witnessing of his inevitable end if he continues to live a life of selfishness. While in the company of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, he foresees his own death devoid of dignity, as his lifeless body is scoured for valuables by the undertaker, laundress and charwoman (implying he is more valuable dead than alive). Additionally, very few care about his passing—his legacy stands frigid, dishonored and meaningless to the rest of the world. In that moment, Scrooge glances the interior of his own soul—a type of heightened examination of conscience—and is jarred by his current fate.
An old man rests in bed, coughing, spitting up blood. His children and grandchildren are huddled around him. In the midst of the group, another man stands donned in a Roman collar. The priest urges the old man to make amends with God—to repent for his sins, receive the Eucharist, and make peace with his maker. After a life lived according to his own will—a life that kept God tangentially in the background, if present at all—the old man realizes he won’t ever get up again from his bed. And so, just as he intended in his youth, he opens himself up to God’s love, asks for pardon for his past life of sinfulness, and waits peacefully to be ushered into God’s Kingdom.
This is commonly referred to as a “deathbed conversion”—a situation where someone has put God off for his entire life only to convert right before the lights turn off, the signing of a last-minute eternal insurance policy. That’s not to say there isn’t great joy in heaven over anyone who turns his or her life over to God—even at the last hour—allowing God’s mercy to sweep him or her into eternity with the rest of the blessed. Like with the Good Thief, we can—and must—rejoice in this soul’s turning to God in this life. However, God obviously doesn’t prefer that we live a life of sin and separation from him, harboring only the vague intent of reconciling our souls with him at the very last minute, when it’s convenient, or, just in case.
Such a way of life is often indicative of a muddied understanding of God and his love for us. Not only are we, in effect, telling God we don’t love him now (and might love him eventually on some undefined day in the far-off future), but we are depriving ourselves of a life of grace—one that offers joy, peace and meaning, even through suffering and difficulty. Continue reading