The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Suffering (page 1 of 2)

How Do We Respond with Love to a Crying World?

In lifeless bold letters across a slab of concrete, the word “Indifferenza” (“Indifference”) is etched at Milan’s Holocaust Memorial. The somber word, heavy with plaintive meaning and tragic history, serves as both a constant and cautionary reminder of the grave horrors that can befall humanity if we give into such a state of apathy. The museum stands where Platform 21 used to, a train station that 70 years ago was secretly used to load Jews onto trains headed for death camps. The museum opened in 2013, and in taking seriously the writing on the wall, recently has sheltered and accommodated foreign refugees: an influx of men, women and children who have fled war, hunger and persecution in northern Africa.

Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winning novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor, knew well the consequences of a world lulled by the nefarious pitch of indifference:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Wiesel’s words conjure a sobering passage from the Book of Revelation in their indictment of those who stand detached, disengaged and disinterested with the world and the suffering of those in it:

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Does Trauma Help Us Grow?

Can trauma help you grow?

According to an article by that title in The New Yorker, written by David Kushner, the answer is definitely yes.

Kushner’s family endured a horrific event when his 11-year-old brother was kidnapped and murdered in a rural small town in Florida. Although Kushner was only four at the time, he explains that as he grew up, he struggled to understand how his parents were able to carry on — giving both him and his other brother happy and normal lives while they still harbored the aching memory of something so awful. Continue reading

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Laying Down the Cross That Leads to Death

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

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Is It Better to Have Loved and Lost?

I recently heard about an app called KillSwitch, which is designed to automatically remove all traces of a person from your Facebook account with the click of a few buttons. Of course, it’s no surprise that its primary reason for existence is to wipe clean one’s ex-girlfriend or boyfriend from all wall posts, status updates, videos, and photos after a cataclysmic breakup. In anywhere from five to twenty minutes—depending on how many photos, posts and heart emojis you have associated with the other person—every painful or infuriating remnant of the person can be evanesced for good. And just like that, you can get on with things. Or at least look like you are to all of your Facebook friends.

When I first heard about it, I was reminded of the film The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which details the quirky and volatile relationship of a couple living in New York (played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet). After a seemingly irreconcilable and caustic argument, they both participate in a procedure to erase all of their memories of the other person—every miserable and ecstatic moment—in only a night’s sleep. This procedure is conducted through an organization that resembles a dental practice—the relative ease and efficiency of removing the deep, complex emotions and feelings associated with a relationship are placed on the same level as the filling of an aching cavity. The unique and imaginative premise of the film ponders the value of our memories—both the good and painful ones—and the possible danger of washing them away to avoid the pain of emotional loss and heartbreak. It asks the age-old question: is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

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God Asks Us to Mourn With Him

The Syrian refugee crisis is the latest national debate, played out, as debates are these days, on Facebook feeds and talk shows, on blogs and in political discourses.

Some want to shut down our borders, a decision not stemming from maliciousness but rather a genuine fear that not doing so would put our country at risk. Others recall the parable of the Good Samaritan, contending that we have a duty to shelter, comfort and help these people, for they too are our brothers and sisters.

Regardless of where people stand, the recent events in Paris have jarred us—they’ve given us view to not only horror and violence, but a deep, harrowing sense of human suffering.

When I first learned of the news about the attack in Paris, I felt tremendous sadness, sorrow and anger. Even more, what I felt was an aching helplessness. How do we as Christians respond to this suffering—to the suffering families in France, to the suffering mass of refugees without a home or country, to the suffering people being terrorized and killed throughout the world? Continue reading

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The Paradoxical Allure & Terror of Death

Most of us fear death on some level—that final stroke of our lives that will push us off into the hereafter and the mystery that awaits. To some, death marks an end to an otherwise short flash of conscious life in a vast, mysterious cosmos. To many others, Christians especially, it’s a beginning to a new life—a rebirth into an eternal state of being based on the state we’ve chosen for ourselves. And even as Christians who profess the resurrection of Christ and the eternal Kingdom of Heaven for those who choose love in this life, there is still something fearful, unnatural, and—paradoxically—alluring about death.

God did not create the death that we know—one beset with fear, pain, sadness and horror. We created that death with our decision to turn from God and sin—inviting the natural consequences of such a decision to follow: a return to dust. However, Christ, through his death on the cross and resurrection, has conquered death. It’s good news. It’s very good news that we must proclaim to our culture lest we become filled to the brim with woe. Still, despite Christ’s victory over sin and death, we will still endure a natural death—a reality that doesn’t go down easy for most of us.

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The Vulnerable & Rejected God: Power Made Perfect in Weakness

To be strong in every area of our lives—physically, mentally, spiritually, financially—is a desire we all share. We are instructed from a very young age to hone our natural strengths and shed our weaknesses, or if we can’t shed them, at least keep them tucked away from view. With the 2016 election season drawing near, it becomes quite apparent how little tolerance we have for weakness, as politicians are placed before the hyper-focused lens of an incredulous public for purposes of dredging up and broadcasting their character defects and personal flaws. Weakness is always assigned to the “con” column, something we see as only detracting from who we are meant to be. We don’t envy others’ weaknesses, and we surely don’t revel in our own. We are told that in order to be successful, we must be strong. Yet strength doesn’t correlate to how strong we actually are, rather to how cleverly we can hide our weaknesses: the survival of those who seem fittest.

Of course, it would be absurd and highly imprudent to blatantly brandish our weaknesses or moral shortcomings in any and all contexts. And the honing of our strengths as we work to remedy our flaws is a virtuous, necessarily practice. Many of us want to be powerful as to employ some great good. And there is something noble about desiring to shed our weaknesses to become more like God—to become more perfect. We see such a desire regularly alluded to in film and TV, especially with the recent influx of mythology-inspired superhero movies and shows. If we can’t be superheroes ourselves—gifted with supernatural power and unrivaled might—then we at least want to root for one. Humanity has always dreamed of reaching the stars and beyond, which affirms our desire for greatness. It can be a good thing as we strive to be powerful like God. Although, it’s only a good thing when we see what being powerful like God actually means in this world. God desires us to be like him—there is no question—but to be like God, well, is not often what the world points to as mighty and powerful. Continue reading

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“Inside Out” and God’s Gift of Sadness

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

(Warning: This piece contains details about the movie Inside Out.)

Pixar’s newest film, Inside Out, serves as another brilliant addition to their oeuvre of computer-animated films. Just as critics were growing suspicious of this famous animation studio due to its recent reliance on less memorable sequels, Pixar released one of their most stunningly original and beautifully touching films yet, complete with a charming cast of characters and compelling narrative as well as a seamless integration of deep, complex themes about growing up and, essentially, learning what it means to be human. They have answered any and all critics with an impressive rebuttal: a confident wagging of their Midas finger.

The film masterfully explores the danger of avoiding sadness and exhausting joy, a theme we can see in our culture without much eye straining—an inordinate drive to secure emotional happiness at all costs, avoiding, ignoring, or destroying all obstacles that could hinder it. Yet, as we witness in the film, there is a necessary “growing up” that reveals not only the benefit of sadness, but also the inescapable need for it to allow a deeper sense of richness in our lives and, paradoxically, a more lasting joy. The merging of these two emotions—joy and sadness—serves as a reminder of the way of discipleship. By following Christ on a path that requires us to carry our cross while at the same time exuding joy, we come to regard this bittersweet bond as a gift—an opportunity to receive and give love more fully.

The film follows the manifestations of five emotions—named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger—in the mind of a girl named Riley. These emotions dwell in her mind’s “headquarters,” a control room where the characters control Riley’s emotional states (as you can guess, each character is responsible for the emotion of its namesake). The film casts Riley’s mind as a wondrous, orderly landscape, complete with “islands” that reflect different aspects of her personality, colored orbs that signify memories and, most importantly, a hub located in headquarters that stores her “core memories.” Continue reading

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Accepting Our Broken Dreams

A solid realization has begun to take form in my life, one that’s bloomed as I’ve grown older. I just turned 29, and recently I’ve found myself coiled in a web of aching nostalgia and subtle sadness.

It’s this slow realization that my childhood dreams and imaginings won’t quite come to fruition, at least not as I supposed they would. It’s odd to think that at one time, with unreserved vigor and anticipation, I expected a life full of bliss and unadulterated joy.

Boy, was I wrong about all of that.

My twenties, the supposed best decade of my life, is in its twilight. What should be my response? Is it actually true that the best years of my life are over? That now life’s stroll gives way to a trudge?

It’s easy for me to summon only the pleasant, good moments, and in some ways it’s a gift that I have good moments to play over in my head from the last three decades of my life. Even if some of these good things are no longer part of my life, I’ve been gifted with their memory. And for that I’m grateful. Continue reading

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Your Worthless Identity

Do you ever get that feeling when meandering through a mall, snaking in and out of the varied assortment of stores and shops? It’s this subtle temptation to think that if you purchased that one article of clothing or piece of merchandise—just the one—you would be set. That you would be happier and more fulfilled. Do you?

A few months ago during Christmas Time, as is the case whenever I set forth with my Yuletide shopping, I found myself struck by this very thought. I remember a particular moment walking by The Art of Shaving, a store which sells classic shaving sets, brushes, shaving creams, pre-shaving oils (because there is nothing more manly than oiling up your face before shaving your mug to avoid redness and skin irritation) and other instruments reminiscent of life in pre-1960’s American suburbia.

When I stumbled upon the store I was gripped with the unyielding conviction that I needed to buy a shaving kit. It must have been the aroma of the Sandalwood Shaving Cream wafting in the air, the vintage, masculine look of the shop’s interior, or maybe the glints of silver from those handsome blades hanging on display. I don’t know. But I remember strolling in there, convinced that if I purchased an overpriced razor and badger-haired brush that things would be different for me. In fact, there was a part of me that believed I would be more of a man. Somehow, my identify as a man could be shaped—strengthened even—by the purchase of these products.

I would be somebody now, which, naturally, would make me happier. I mean, what woman now wouldn’t be drawn to me with the mingled scent of sandalwood and wild beaver…or badger…or whatever hair emitting from my face? Exactly. None. Continue reading

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