The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Thomas Merton

To Be Born (Yet) Again

There is something about the purchasing of a new product that is exciting, and this desire for an experience of “newness” extends well beyond the latest iPhone to all sorts of purchased items and experiences. In fact, compared to purchased items like phones and cars, experiences — vacationing in Oahu, camping at Yellowstone, parasailing off the coast of Miami — may promise a greater and more enjoyable level of “newness.”

A 2014 article from The Atlantic, “Buy Experiences, Not Things,” points to recent studies revealing that “experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions.” The reason for this, the article explains, is because there is an emotional benefit that accrues in the anticipation of an experience that doesn’t for material goods. Experiences also provide a lasting benefit after they occur, since their memory can now elicit positive feelings of nostalgia. Although experiences seem to edge out material things in offering a more meaningful and lasting level of happiness, experience shows we all still fall back into a state of restless pursuit of something new. Continue reading

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A Higher Calling for Higher Education

For a long time, institutions of higher education have been heralded as guardians of intellectual progress—precursors to a life of success, worth and greater happiness. Most would agree that when it comes to at least the nation’s premier institutions, a college diploma offers admittance to the good life: hefty Roth IRAs, spacious homes, coveted careers and a slew of invitations for the head of the societal table. However, recently, this long-held belief has come into question by even secular members of society. Higher education, if not blatantly under fire, has drawn the aim of quite a few barrels.

Although our universities churn out some of the nation’s brightest and most promising students—many of whom go on to do wonderful things in the realm of technology, medicine, science, law and so on—there seems to be something missing. Students are graduating full of promise but emptied of meaning. 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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How to Avoid a Fractured Spirituality

If you look at what all successful people have in common—from sports to entertainment to business—it’s that they have a singular devotion to a specific goal. They have concentrated all of their efforts toward some end, harnessing all of their talent, energy, stamina and will into achieving that particular thing—even to the point of sacrifice, suffering. It’s no mystery that in order to be great at something—not just good, but truly exceptional—you have to give it your all, literally.

When it comes to the spiritual life, for some reason that logic doesn’t seem to sway so obviously. Maybe it’s because at a certain level, we know the journey toward spiritual greatness—to sainthood—is tremendously difficult. We may see the gap from where we are to where we have to go as equivalent to a vast ocean running endlessly into the horizon. Instead, it’s easier to throw up our hands and concede how laughably far from sainthood we are. And besides, it’s God’s job, right? His grace? Of course, we can do nothing without the grace of God, but still, we have some skin in the game, so to speak—we have to respond to his gift of grace. And we’re called to respond with the whole of our lives. Not a sliver, not a fraction, not even a good majority. All of it. God doesn’t ask us to be good, very good, or even extremely good. No. He asks us to be perfect, just as he, our Heavenly Father, is perfect. And so if God is asking for perfection, why do so many of us still lack a singular devotion to the life of God?

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Receiving and Sharing a Love that Isn’t Fair

We’ve probably all received an unexpected gift or act of love. Perhaps this past Christmas someone we didn’t know very well—and from whom we didn’t expect anything—brought us a gift, wrote us a nice card. Since we didn’t expect it, we may feel uniquely loved and valued. We’re touched by the act, possibly more so than gifts by our loved ones, which we expect on some level. The urge breaches to do something nice for that person, to offer them something tangible as well—to remit payment for the free, unexpected act of kindness. Since they did something nice for me, surely I must do something similar in return.

There is obviously nothing wrong with showing affection or love to another who has first shown it to us, and in fact, that’s what we are called to do with God who first loved us. However, there can be the subtle temptation to believe that if we don’t respond in kind, if we remain only the receiver of love, then we’ll lose out on this person’s love—and potential gifting—in the future: if I don’t gift them in return, then they’ll love me a little less, or perhaps, not at all. It’s a natural and reasonable feeling because we live in a world ordered by justice. And with other people, that is usually true. If we don’t respond to their love with love, we can lose it.

It’s a great challenge not to let this paradigm of justice sour our relationship with God. We can fall prey to judging the measure of God’s love for us based on our actions or behavior. Now, to be clear, our relationship with God is dependent in some sense on our behavior—clearly a life of grace looks different than a life of sin. We must respond to his love with love, otherwise it’s a one-way relationship, which isn’t a relationship at all. We choose to receive God’s love—and receive it to an infinite number of degrees—or reject it altogether. In this case, any lack of union with God is our fault, as God doesn’t love us any more or less depending on the state of our souls:

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Is Busyness Jeopardizing Our Souls?

Today it seems everyone’s favorite response to the common, probing introductory question, “How are you?” is this: I’m busy. Very busy. Extremely busy. I’m guilty of this response more than I care to admit. Of course, many of us are—actually—extremely busy. Many of us are stretching ourselves razor thin, fulfilling the necessary obligations of life: tending to our jobs, families, and children, addressing the infinite list of errands and to-do’s, scheduling time for exercise, friends, entertainment, bills, volunteer work. The list goes on. Endlessly.

Technology, despite its aim to lessen our collective human burden (which it no doubt has in some ways), has helped fuel this increasing and widespread condition known as busyness. The ease with which we can connect to the world—be it to our work emails or social media relationships—allows us to be permanently “plugged in.” We can get away from the crowd and commotion of our lives physically to seek rest, but we can still pick up our phones to engage with them just as if we never left.

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Football, the Sabbath and Our Sunday Shrine

As football season comes to its long-anticipated start, it seems the nation has been cast into a frenzy of excitement. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard, “It’s finally football season again!” and “Thank God for Sundays!” in some form or another. And yes, I agree. I love football (especially college football), and I’m glad it’s back.

A few years ago college football meant everything to me. I remember late nights in my dorm room, my tired eyes lit up by the pale flicker of my computer, where I unremittingly combed various blogs and sites breaking down the upcoming season: everything from the star rankings of recent recruits to the particular strengths and weaknesses of our secondary. I obsessed over it. And since my school fielded a relatively mediocre team when I was in college, it was beyond painful to watch. Before every year I envisioned my team raising the BCS trophy like a king his scepter, garnering the nation’s admiration and respect. And there I would be, amidst a sea of other Bruin faithful celebrating the win in ecstasy—it would validate our existence as a school, and in some way, my identity as a man. Say what you will about my character, my football team is a winner.

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How to Discern Your Calling (Part 2)

This is the second part to the three-part series titled How to Discern Your Calling.

How to Discern Your Calling (Part 1) >

Often times, I think that if I uncover God’s plan for my life, things will get easier. If I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, then shouldn’t it be smoother? Shouldn’t I be coasting?

I wish. Truly.

The invitation to co-create your life with God is only the first step. As I talked about in Part 1, we have to take the time in prayer to discern where God might be calling us and then act despite not having it all figured out. It’s a step that has to be taken over and over again as our calling evolves due to the changing seasons of our lives. We never stop discerning what our calling is, always needing to sense God’s gentle direction in the midst of our ever-transmuting lives.

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls “working out our salvation,” is a labor that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many years.
New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton

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