Still Rejoicing

My father reminded me of this good advice when I was in my teens: “…whatever is true, … whatever is lovely, … think about these things.” My response was something like ‘…because they won’t last.’

I wasn’t happy about saying that at the time. I still regret it.

I can’t, of course, undo what was done. And the time for telling my father “I’m sorry” has long since passed. In any case, I said “I’m sorry” too often, and that’s almost another topic.

The quote is from Philippians 4:69. I’ll get back to that.

Following the advice from Philippians isn’t easy for me.

But it’s been getting easier as I work though a massive backlog of bad habits. Nothing unusual there, since we’re all dealing with consequences of a bad choice described in Genesis 3:113.1

My inner housecleaning got a boost about 11 years ago.

That’s when my wife told me I should talk to a psychiatrist. As usual, she was right.

We knew I had problems. Now we know more about what they are.

That didn’t make them go away, but it helps me deal with them.

The most obvious problem was depression. It still is, but now I don’t have to fight the controls just to make my brain work. Antidepressants keep my body from running through neurotransmitters faster than they’re produced.

I even have moments when I feel good about who I am and what I do.

It’s a nice change of pace.

Like I said, antidepressants didn’t make my problems go away. But they make dealing with Asperger’s/ASD/whatever, plus PTSD and assorted other glitches, a whole lot easier. Let’s face it, I’m a mess.

Melancholia was being redefined as depressive reaction while I was growing up, then to depressive neurosis. Maybe it’s just as well that my condition wasn’t spotted then.

We’ve been learning a great deal about mental illness. There’s a great deal left to learn.

It’s been some time since I ran into the notion that medication and faith don’t get along. But I’ll repeat what I’ve said before: being and staying healthy is a good idea, within reason. (March 31, 2017)

If I’d spent more than four decades of my life in a different way — I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Joy, Zest, and Mud

As it is, I had an opportunity to reason my way out of suicide; and developed a knack for seeing beauty in just about anything.

Seeing a crescent moon, or noticing symmetries and order in drying mud, didn’t give me an emotional rush of wonder and delight very often. It still doesn’t.

But I learned to appreciate the beauty that’s built into this universe. It’s always available for inspection, no matter what sort of emotions I’m experiencing.

Decades later, I learned that paying attention to such things can help us find God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 341, 1147)

A dictionary says that joy can mean intense happiness: particularly ecstatic or exultant happiness. Ecstasy can mean intense joy or delight, getting so emotionally whipped up that rational thought and self-control are impossible.

I’ve run into folks who seem to approach faith with a zest and enthusiasm worthy of a homecoming game pep rally.

That’s okay, I suppose. But I very much prefer a faith that still works when all the light and color has drained from the world.

Emotions Happen

Experiencing emotions is part of being human. They’re not good or bad, by themselves. It’s what I decide to do with them that matters. (Catechism, 17671770)

Using my brain is part of being human, too: or should be. Doing what is right is easier when my emotions are in sync with my reason. But how I feel shouldn’t determine what I do. I’m expected to think. (Catechism, 17771782)

My faith depends on what I decide to think is true: not how I’m feeling. (Catechism, 30, 142150, 156159, 274, 1706)

But it’s not all about cold logic. Now and then we get a glimpse of the beatific vision. The beatific vision is contemplation of God in heavenly glory. (Catechism, 163, 1028)

That’s what I’m told, at any rate. I don’t know from personal experience. My metaphorical mirror isn’t all that shiny.

“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

That’s okay: since, like 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”

As a Catholic, I must believe that by using reason, we’re “…capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator…;” and that “conscience is a judgment of reason … a law of the mind….” (Catechism, 1704, 1778)

It’s not blind faith, or the sort that avoids facts and reason.

Swooning Saints and Ham Sandwiches

Maybe it’s just as well that I haven’t gotten the ecstatic ‘beatific vision’ experience described in some tales of Saints like Teresa of Ávila.

Swooning Saints were a staple of some Medieval and Victorian pop literature.

The Saints are real. Some of the tales, apparently not so much.

Garrigou-Lagrange’s advice for folks getting “visions” like that makes sense to me.

Basically, they should calm down, go to the kitchen, and eat something. They’re hungry, or tired; possible both:

“…These swoons should be eliminated as much as possible; they should be resisted and the organism strengthened by more substantial food….”
(“The Three Ages of the Interior Life: Prelude of Eternal Life,” Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1938-1939) via Google Books)

My cure for that sort of ‘mystical experience’ would be a ham sandwich.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with emotions. Affective piety, intensely emotional devotion to some part of our Lord’s life, is important for some folks.

What gets us in trouble is letting emotions replace thinking.

Expecting the sort of mystical ecstasy Teresa of Ávila reported isn’t reasonable. Folks like her don’t come along very often. She was remarkable, even for a Saint.

Wanting happiness, within reason, makes sense. I put definitions of happiness and the beatific vision at the end of this post.2

On a related point, I’ve been learning that Christian mysticism makes sense. The real thing, that is.

I think David Torkington does a good job of discussing differences between today’s Pelagianism retread and serious mysticism.

I also recommend studying “Jesus Christ The Bearer Of The Water Of Life….” At upwards of 26,000 words, it’s not light reading. But it’s worth the effort, I think:

Trouble Happens, Anxiety is Optional

It’s been nearly a half-century since my father reminded me of this bit from Philippians:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.
“Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
(Philippians 4:4, 68)

I don’t “feel” joyful very often, and that’s okay.

I may never have the “mountaintop experience” folks describe as being overwhelmed, ‘knocked down,’ by God’s presence. That’s also okay.

Folks have taken verses like Philippians 4:6, “have no anxiety at all…,” and run straight off the edge of reality.

Assuming that God will make my life rosy if I pray, ask for something, and say ‘thank you,’ makes no sense. Not to me. Neither does assuming that folks who have trouble must be sinners. I don’t know which, if either, of those wacky ideas is popular these days.

Christians are wounded people, living in a damaged world; just like anyone else. We’re going to have trouble. (Job 5:7; Catechism, 386390)

The trick is not being anxious about the troubles we face.

I think looking at the big picture helps.

The Big Picture

About two thousand years back, Jesus, the Son of God, was born, lived, was tortured and finally killed on Golgotha.

For anyone else, that would have been the end.

Jesus isn’t just anyone. A few days later, our Lord stopped being dead.

If that seems unbelievable, you’ve got company. It took quite a few meetings and at least one working lunch to convince the Apostles that Jesus was — in fact — really — no kidding — not a ghost — sit-down-and-eat-a-baked-fish, alive.

“While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’
“They gave him a piece of baked fish;
“he took it and ate it in front of them.”
(Luke 24:4143)

“Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.'”
(John 20:2627)

A little later our Lord gave them standing orders, told them that he’d be back, and left.

Matthew 28:1820 is one of my favorite parts of the Bible. I also enjoy reading what happened next:

“While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
“They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.'”
(Acts 1:1011)

Our Lord’s return has been “imminent” for about two millennia now. Jesus said we should “be prepared,” since we wouldn’t know when that will be. (Matthew 24:44; Catechism, 673, 840, 1040, 2772)

I’m okay with that.

We’ve got our hands full, helping set up the civilization of love, and passing along the best news humanity’s ever had — God loves us and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; 2 Peter 1:34; Catechism, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

Posts that aren’t entirely unrelated:

1 Part of my take on being human and getting a grip:

2 Definitions:

BEATIFIC VISION: The contemplation of God in heavenly glory, a gift of God which is a constitutive element of the happiness (or beatitude) of heaven (1028, 1720).”

HAPPINESS: Joy and beatitude over receiving the fulfillment of our vocation as creatures: a sharing in the divine nature and the vision of God. God put us into the world to know, love, and serve him, and so come to the happiness of paradise (1720).”
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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6 Responses to Still Rejoicing

  1. Pingback: Still Rejoicing

  2. Peggy Haslar says:

    Wow. Such a beautiful piece. Thanks for all the Catechism connections. So much to ponder! My father gave me Philippians 4:8 when I was about 13. Took me years to get why. Keep the faith!

  3. irishbrigid says:

    The section on Swooning Saints and Hamm Sandwiches reminded me of a Snickers ad campaign that became an internet meme.

Thanks for taking time to comment!