Wednesday, May 18, 2016


If you're into food at all, there's a couple buzzwords used when it comes to labeling you may have heard used.

The first is "All Natural." Now, all natural is, as you may (or may not) know, a bullshit term. It means nothing--or more accurately it can mean whatever you want it to mean--but it sounds good. Marketers love it for this reason, and they usually combine it with pictures of a barn and silo, and cow grazing in a field, and bank on people not really knowing the difference or caring.

There is another term you might have seen--"USDA Organic." Now, this is another crunchy term, but unlike 'all natural,' for something to be certified organic, it needs to meet a stringent set of objective criteria to meet standards. Slapping a USDA Organic label on something that hasn't been certified is like pirating music and carries similar legal ramifications. This is part of the reason why organic food is seemingly so expensive. But it's also necessary to prevent counterfit organics capitalizing on the label and higher profit margin.

I also see these food label parallels when it comes to the spiritual life. The Church has always maintained a pragmatic and certifiable approach to canonization. The investigative process is extensive, and two verifiable miracles--which themselves must meet certain criteria--due to the intercession of the holy person being considered are necessary. It is not a willy-nilly process, but lengthy, thorough, and conservative.

Why is such a scripted and seemingly legalistic approach to declaring someone a saint necessary? I suppose for the same reason why 'USDA ORGANIC' certification is necessary--to protect people from 'all natural' counterfit. When I ask St. Jude the Apostle to intercede on my behalf, I can be assured he is in Heaven close to the Father and trust that he is able to work miracles through the power of God. He is Certified Holy, as are hundreds of thousands of others named by the Church.

Can we pray to those who we trust are in heaven though not yet canonized? Of course. If you want to make the parallel, it can be likened to eating organic food from the local farm whose organic practices you know are legit, but who haven't gone through the formal USDA certification process. This is the communion of saints after all--the Church Penitent (those being purified in purgatory on their way to Heaven), the Church Militant (those working out their salvation on earth), and the Church Triumphant (those in Heaven). Prayers for intercession to those holy people who have died are, after all, what often lead to miracles and eventual canonization or beatification.

As we grow more and more accustomed to terms that sounds legit but in reality mean very little and have little basis in objective reality, I appreciate a little certifiable objectivity to reign things in an overwhelming subjective culture, as well as to those who speak to certain objective realities. As G.K. Chesterton famously noted in Orthodoxy:

"Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. "

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

"I Liked You The Way You Were Before"

One afternoon a few months ago my wife and I came downstairs and the boy who lives across the street was standing in our living room, petting our dog. "She's a nice dog," he said.

Yes, nice dog, thanks. Now, um, can you with something? Where is your dad?

I do know that he has Asperger's, so was not totally alarmed, but still, it threw me a little that he would just walk in a stranger's house without knocking or anything. Most people would take that as a given that that's not something you do. It's funny the things we take for granted.

I recently read a NYT article about a man with autism who underwent experimental treatment so that he would experience emotions. ("An Experimental Autism Treatment Cost Me My Marriage"). He went from being "autistically even keeled" emotionally (which his wife, as a chronically depressed person, appreciated) to someone "joyfully shedding the cloak of disability" and being in tune with not only his own emotions and social cues, but others as well--something foreign to him as an autistic man.

The NYT article made me think about the question the author poses as it relates to marriage: "Normally, people change in a marriage over time. What happens when one person changes overnight?"

There has to be something deeper than what we see when we marry someone. Something at the core. I don't know because we haven't hit that, but I have to trust that it's there. If you've ever been to a wedding where people have written their own vows, sometimes you might hear things like "I love it when you laugh at my jokes; I love spending Saturday mornings with you sipping coffee and listening to the birds chipping outside out window. I will always be your partner in crime." Great stuff, no doubt.  But not core material.

We took the standard vows at our wedding--you know, the "for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health..." I wanted to share the same vows that hundreds of thousands of couples before us shared with one another. I don't know why--maybe it made me feel in corporal solidarity or something with those who have gone before us down this path. But regardless, vows are vows. They are your life raft in the choppy ocean that you cling to sometimes when there is nothing else to hold on to; the mast you tie yourself to, like Odysseus, when the siren songs of temptation threaten to crash your ship into the rocks.

If I did write my own vows, though, I would hope it would be something like: I will love you when I am changing your adult diaper. I will love you after the lobotomy when you are a shell of your former self. I will be there when you are no longer the person that I married. 

It's scary to think that you might wake up one day next to a stranger--same body, different mind. Same mind, different emotions. Same emotions, different spirit--when your partner in crime says to you, "I liked you better the way you were before." You see this situation (sans the preference qualifier) sometimes with those sweet old couples where one has Dementia / Alzheimers. It's a testament to the vow--the external, objective, the anchor in a choppy sea of feelings, expectations, and change--and to a love that runs deep, that drills down to the core of a person when they are in fact a shell of their former self.

We are coming up on our 6th wedding anniversary this summer, and also have a few weddings coming up we are attending this busy summer. We're babies in the game, and have a lifetime of change ahead of us. It's made me reflect on the core of my wife, what exists ephemerally beneath the beautiful skin and bones, the glowing spirit, but also to the dreadful uncertainty of a future that isn't here yet and doesn't metaphysically yet exist.

Dig your nails into those vows. Clutch them close to your breast, stake them down hard. Believe them when you don't believe anything else and everything in you is screaming to leave. Drop anchor in the storm. If you're in good times now, enjoy it, don't take it for granted, and drink it in. If you're not, if life is not happy and is in fact a living hell, for God's sake...just hold on. And don't forget your promises.