Catholicism is truly a “Taste and See” kind of religion. Most religions are, to some extent, I suppose, but this is really true of Catholicism to an extent that truly gives me pause sometimes. I used to study when I didn’t know something about the faith, or didn’t understand it. Now, instead of studying, I practice it.

This poses challenges when it comes to sharing the faith. I remember a friend crying out on Facebook once: “Am I not your creature? Why will you not converse with me?” The only answer I could offer (and didn’t because I didn’t think it would help was, “conversation presupposes conversion.”

Atheists and agnostics say “You can’t prove there is a God, and that He loves me. I cannot trust something that isn’t proven.” The reality is the other way round. You cannot prove something without trusting it. I cannot prove the rope except by climbing it, or swinging from it. I cannot prove the parachute except by jumping it. I can’t even know the bread turned out well without cutting into it. We can test and retest and make checklists and follow procedures until we are blue in the face, but even in this mundane world of the physical, we don’t know until we trust. How much more in the world of friendship and human knowing? I cannot know my brother, my friend, or my wife is trustworthy until I trust her. That is precisely how I know.

Nowhere have I found this principle more in evidence than in my relationship with the Blessed Mother, and in talking about her with non-Catholics. I caveat by saying that I struggled, and still struggle, to understand her place in the economy of salvation. I started out firmly on the nervous “this-seems-a-little-too-much-like-worship-for-a-mere-creature” side of the fence. Again, it is not something you can parse your way through. You have to practice it.

After several decades of saying the rosary on the daily basis, if not always every single day (it was not a habit I had as a teenager. In fact, looking back at my prayer life as a teenager I know beyond a doubt that someone must have been praying for me a lot, because I sure wasn’t) I can say I have come to understand by experience in a way I never achieved through the many books on the topic.

It is an experience of praying with a person, to another Person. There is no question of anyone who prays the rosary regularly and with anything like attention worshiping Mary, because you will find yourself joining her in worshiping Him.

I cannot put it any more clearly than that. Worshiping Mary would be rather like worshiping the little old lady who seems practically to live at her parish church… you know the one, who still wears a mini-veil, attends every weekday Mass, leads the rosary before Mass, knits baby hats and blankets.

Then I read a few weeks ago (yes, I still read) in Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” a statement to the effect that part of the reason why Protestants have such a hard time understanding the difference between the worship we offer to God and the veneration we have for Mary, is because they have no sacraments. That clicked for me as well. To an ancient Jew, “worship” meant sacrifice. It meant animals killed, blood drained, fat and offal discarded and burned. It was a visceral experience, and more than that it was an objective act of taking some of your livestock, which was your wealth and livelihood, and giving it to the priests to slaughter, butcher and burn.

The early Christians would have come from the same world and would have continued with the same assumption. Worship means sacrifice, only now, there is only one sacrifice, once and for all, the Eternal Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross of His Body and Blood. It was this sacrifice which He bound into the Last Supper, and which the Church has participated in ever since in the Eucharist. It was this Sacrifice that Mary herself witnessed and participated in, and she worshiped her Son as He hung on the cross, and for the rest of her life in the Eucharist. We follow Jesus’ command to “Eat His Flesh and Drink His Blood” but no one has ever claimed to eat Mary’s flesh, or drink her blood.

This fits with the experience of hundreds of hours spent with the rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I do not worship Mary. I kneel beside her as she worships her Son. In fact, I kneel with a great cloud of witnesses, all worshiping her Son with her. When I prepare for Communion I ask her to help me to prepare as she prepared to receive the Body of Jesus.

It does not solve any particular apologetic conundrums, I don’t think, but nevertheless, I think it may help others to think about it. It certainly helps me. It is one more reason to invite others, even those who are not Catholic but want to know Jesus to spend time praying the Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Monday of this week was a lousy workout day.

If you have been training for any length of time you know that some days are just lousy workout days. Some days you just can’t train like you usually do. Monday was one of those days. Part of it was my fault. We ate heavily in the early afternoon and then not again the rest of the day, so I was well into the fasted stated by 5:00 AM on Monday. Plus, I had too much simple carbs and alcohol (two drinks, I know, #lightweightheavyweight) on Sunday and was feeling heavy and sluggish.

Part of it was only slightly in my control. We let the girls listen to Celtic Women, and they had been obsessed with two of the songs “The Caelie” and “You’ll be in my heart.” So all my dreams had a Celtic Woman soundtrack in toddler voices. Needless to say my sleep was poor.

Part of it was completely out of my control. The YMCA was closed for some silly reason on Monday, so none of my regular equipment was available to me.

So the workout was weak and I couldn’t hit my regular moves. The video is long, I don’t expect anyone to watch the whole thing, so I’ll sum up:

  • I couldn’t keep a straight arm on the lever pullups, and could only do one rep instead of my usual three per side.
  • I couldn’t push out of the hole on the HSPU.
  • I couldn’t hit more than one weighted (24kg) pistol per side.

This is why it is important to master the basics of calisthenics and have a solid understanding of the progression of every move you are working on. Some days you will be feeling great and may want to hop up a level or two just for fun. Other days you will be feeling lousy and will need to take it back a level or two. Know your progressions, be able to transition up or down based on your body’s needs on the given day.

The one thing you must not do is nothing.

Moving into the stamina phase, my third round was rocky. My pullups were weak, partly because I was tired and partly because rings are just harder. I didn’t have a box to elevate my feet so I subbed out KB OH presses (32kg) for my regular pike pushups, and concentrated on form.

Drop back if you have to, just put in the work. Even if you have to right back to square one (aussie pullups and floor standing pike pushups) you still get in your reps and sets and rounds.

The secret to progress is really very simple. If you practice anything every day, 4 – 6 days per week, for a year or two, you will start to develop a certain proficiency at it. If you keep it up for 10 years, you will be quite good. If you keep it up for 30 years, you will master it.

Since no blog post would be complete without a reference to the spiritual life, let me point out my prayer time that day felt as sluggish and lousy as my workout. Or rather the other way round, since I did my prayers first, as per my custom.

Some days you will feel alive and alert and in tune with God and the Communion of Saints and all people of good will. The light of Eden will flow in your veins. When that happens, recognize it as a gift and take advantage of it. Give in to the call, say the extra prayers, read the extra chapter, spend the extra hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Do not worry about sustainability, just capitalize on the present gift.

More often, I think, you will find your thoughts wandering, your enjoyment sluggish, your insights shallow and halting, and your love pale and stunted. Some days you may not be able to collect yourself for one minute out of the whole hour.

Don’t worry about it. Just put in the work. Keep the discipline, say the prayers, leave the rest in the hand of God.

Calisthenics, when done properly, is a prayer of the body. It is a choice to glorify the God of the Incarnation by disciplining the body He designed and gave me to its maximum strength, beauty and usefulness. Like all relationships (which is what prayer really is) it has its up as downs, its highs and lows. The only thing that really matters is giving it your best, whatever that may be at any given moment, in every moment. If all you can do is one pushup, let it be a perfect pushup. If all you can say is one “Our Father,” let it be with your whole heart.

Even if we have to go all the way back to “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Let us never give up.

61vmyhdipkl-_sx258_bo1204203200_A long time ago, (by which I mean probably about a decade) a book by Rick Warren entitled, “The Purpose Driven Life,” was topping the bestseller chart. It had already taken the evangelical Christian world by storm, and even topped the New York Times Best Seller List. I was on active duty at the time and I remember chaplains handing out copies by the crateful, and book study groups forming at every base. You could find copies flying off the pinewood shelves in the major FOBs in Afghanistan, and even on offer in any of the smaller FOBs that sported a chapel.

I never read the book.

I am not sure why, since I was reading probably well over a hundred books per year in those days (I could kick myself when I recall how I took that ability for granted) but I just never was that interested in it. I suppose I thought the title said it all.

Life should be about a purpose. I had a purpose (becoming Special Forces) and I was ordering my entire life around that goal. Or rather, my purpose was to become a consummate warrior-poet-mystic, triple-role which Brad Miner would dub “The Compleat Gentleman,” and Special Forces was the path I was following to pursue one arm of that purpose. 4153dpdpwpl-_ac_ul320_sr214320_

In the regular Army I was an anomaly, but not so terribly much of one as I thought I was. I was one of the very few who not only wanted, but intended, to become Special Forces, but I was not the only one with a purpose. In fact, most of the guys had a purpose higher than themselves. They had long term goals for themselves, for their families, for their careers,. One of my best friends, Mike, was thinking about going Special Forces with me, but he was then the age that I am now, and he had met someone, and he was feeling the need to settle down and raise a family. As he put it, “At some point you have to decide whether you want to go on being John Rambo, or whether you need to become a good Christian husband and father while you have the chance.”

Perhaps it was our closeness with mortality, but the few in the unit who had no purpose other than making it back to the civilian world so they could smoke weed again, were actually in a minority.

Then when I got into the Q course I was surrounded by purpose driven men day in and day out. Those who were not so driven didn’t last long.

Now I wonder if I might not have done well to read Warren’s book. Being an evangelical Christian he might have pointed out the error in my thinking, namely, that my purpose was not high enough.

Wedding eucharistThis is the great truth of Christianity that I have slowly come to learn, that God has created each human person specially and intentionally and for a purpose, and that our purpose, (your purpose and my purpose) is to exist in relationship with Him.

That’s it.

It is really that simple, no other purpose will satisfy. No career, no family, no retirement, no American dream, no vacation, no adventure, no mission, no glory, no achievement… nothing will satisfy except relationship with Him.

“For you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” as St. Augustine says in his “Confession.”

Or as Saint Paul would say, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.

This purpose is the beginning and end, the alpha and omega, the source and summit, the starting point and the goal of every choice, every thought and every affection.

But on the other hand, the fact that this is our only purpose as Christians does not negate other, lesser purposes. To the contrary, it places them in context and gives them their true meaning. It is because God has called me to be a husband and father that it has transcendental and essential meaning, rather than merely accidental meaning. It is because He has called me to pursue the path of the warrior-poet-mystic that my training takes on an enduring and spiritual significance, rather than being merely a hobby.Ruckmarching

In the light of the One purpose, everything matters. I will offer one example, the thought which triggered the writing of this blog, that is, the placement of my cellphone charger.

For me an important part of pursuing that relationship with God is starting the day with an hour of prayer. I make exceptions for emergencies, (such as staying up all night with a newborn) but in the main I try to pray for an hour every morning.

In order to do this, I need an alarm to wake me up in the morning. That alarm is provided by my cellphone, a recording either of Josquin de Prez’s “Ave Maria for Four Voices” or of Trope’s “Kyrie – Virginitatis Amator.” By a sort of operant condition, it is enough to wake me from even the soundest sleep, despite being very quiet and beautiful. But if I can reach it without getting out of bed, then I can hit the snooze button (or worse, the “stop” button). I have done this without even waking up a couple of times. Or, if I am not quite asleep enough for that, I can argue myself into setting a backup alarm for an hour later, and going back to sleep.

Then that second alarm goes off an hour later and I wake up, realizing that I have now missed my prayer hour, and I have a terrible choice ahead of me. You see, immediately after my prayer hour is my workout time. Training is still a duty for me, and I don’t like to miss my scheduled workout. But, if I haven’t said my prayers, then I am faced with the dilemma. Should I skip them and try to make up a rosary or something in the car, and get on with the workout? Or skip the workout, and do my prayer time, instead.

Or maybe I will just go back to sleep and not do either. That has happened more than once.

So I keep the phone in the bathroom down the hall, on top of my gym clothes on the sink. In order to turn it off I have to get out of bed and walk into another room and pick it up off the stack of gym clothes. If I had to I would put a bottle of cold brew coffee next to it.

That is what I mean by purpose. It is the choice to hem yourself in when the purpose is strong in you, against those moments when the purpose is weak.

That’s what St. Thomas More was talking about, which means that one may think of getting up in the morning as a sort of preparation for martyrdom.

Every morning I get up and pray. It is a struggle. Almost every day I have to force myself to

st-francis-de-sales-quote-on-a-wandering-heart
Borrowed from https://www.catholiccompany.com/getfed/9-tips-focus-mass/

get out of bed, make coffee, kneel in front of the crucifix and begin my prayers. I have to force myself to keep my mind on the words, on the presence of Jesus, on what I am doing and who I am doing it with. It isn’t even a matter of keeping my mind there, so much as continually bringing it back.

Over and over again I bring it back, usually with a sigh, to the task at hand, which is usually simply to trust in the Presence of God in the midst of a staticky sort of emptiness.

If this sounds discouraging, it isn’t. I am describing what my prayer life is like at this time in my life, but I am not complaining about it. After all, I have a prayer life. That is a gift. I didn’t always have a prayer life. Millions of people around the world do not have a prayer life. The mere fact that I do pray is a blessing and I am grateful for it.

In fact, that is the big danger, that I will become pleased with myself. I can easily become complacent and lose what intensity I do have. Prayer and training are much the same, in that regard. The hard part is remembering what they are all about, remembering that we are at war.

I saw it all the time in the Army, even when I was on active duty. I even saw it in Special Forces, from time to time. When you are in garrison in peace time, or only pulling occasional easy missions to Thailand or Nepal or Europe, where all you really have to do is train and party with our allies for a few weeks, it is easy to feel like the training doesn’t really matter. Everyone laughs at the crusty old team sergeant who always insists on that one extra run through the shoot house, or dragging out the tourniquets and running some trauma training. Sometimes it takes a funeral to bring it home to you.

We are at war. Training matters because training saves lives. And it isn’t the big, flashy, sexy training events with people jumping out of airplanes into the water and swimming up onto the beach with SCUBA gear. That is good for movies and recruiting videos and making generals feel good about their career choices. The real business of saving lives is the continuous, repetitive daily practice of the same old thing: drawing and firing the pistol; firing the rifle; putting on a tourniquet; whipping together a pressure dressing; running, rucking or lifting; managing vital signs; talking to people who want to kill you, or who just don’t like you; building common ground with ideologues from either side of the fence. These skills are basic, lifesaving, and necessary, and they save lives.

They are also boring.

I have an A-type silhouette on the wall in my garage and a training pistol that fires a laser instead of a bullet when you pull the trigger. Most days, before I leave for school (after morning prayer) I dry fire that or my rifle a few times, practicing my basic stance, presentation, sight picture, and movement, with and without body armor. It takes a couple of minutes to get in a few dozen good quality repetitions. Sometimes I feel like it’s a few minutes I could do without.

I do it because I am a husband and father, and also a soldier, and someday the muscle memory I build a little bit every day may be the difference between me coming home to my family or not. When I find that I am forgetting that, and starting to get lazy with my shooting or at the gym, or in my medical training, I deliberately remind myself.

We are at war.

Prayer is similar, but even more serious. I train for combat a little every day, but when I pray it is not just training. It is the real deal. That is actual spiritual warfare. In the air all around us, all the time, demonic and angelic forces are continuously locked in an epic struggle. The devils and all the powers of darkness and hate are ranged against us humans. All of us. Even our human enemies are less our enemies than our fellow casualties in this cosmic struggle.

Prayer is an act of war, an act of renewing our commitment to being on the side of Jesus and all the Saints and Angels. It is my daily call for orders, and taking my station, asking for protection for my family and friends, and making sure that my supplies and commo and gear are set before I go out into the day. It is also an offensive weapon, a direct strike against the devil.

There is no more important thing I do in any day than my first hour of prayer.

It is life and death.

The only hard part is remembering that.

Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above,   like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.

Let the earth open and salvation bud forth;

let justice also spring up!

Isaiah 45:8

I had an interesting insight this morning during morning prayer as I read this passage. One of the occupational hazards of being human, I suppose, is being distracted in prayer. One of the occupational hazards of being a military man is being distracted by a preoccupation with combat. So I had to pull myself back from mentally designing a rifle and pistol training event that I want to set up, to get back to the Divine Office. And when I came back in to read it, it was this passage from Isaiah.

When I read that, I had the image of myself standing outside of a very large burning building. I had a tin can full of water in my hand and I wanted to put the fire out but all I had was a tiny little tin cup of water. I was ready to throw that little bit of water on the fire solely as a gesture knowing that it wouldn’t accomplish anything. And then water came down from the sky, as a dew, or is a gentle drizzle, and slowly begin soaking the burning timbers until eventually, after a couple of hours the fire was extinguished.

It is an image, and like all images it is a way of suggesting the truth too complex to be apprehended logically, but graspable intuitively.

world_in_fire
Source http://parody.wikia.com/wiki/File:World_in_fire.jpg

Sometimes it seems to me that the world is on fire. Recent events in Berlin, Turkey, and Syria have reminded me, as if I needed any reminding, but the world is a dangerous place, full of hatred and violence. My response to the reality of violence has always been on the one hand to seek peace in my own life, but on the other hand to pursue what I call the Way of Training. By this I mean disciplined, consistent, long-term pursuit of the skills and abilities necessary to confront violence directly. These include, of course, combat skills, but also medical skills. In the simplest terms, not much is changed since I was a little boy and all of my games revolved around stopping the bad guys and healing the good guys. Life is not that simple, but that’s not a bad place to start.

The problem is that it’s so overwhelming sometimes, and we risk being like the me in the image, roaming around burning building, or even a burning city with my little cup of water, unwilling to keep that water to myself and not do my bit, but also not knowing how to spend that water in a way that will actually do some good, and not just be a waste of gesture.

I suppose my tin cup of water is my history of, and familiarity with, the use of force. Perhaps in a broader sense that represents all of the decent, honest, hard-working warriors in the world: military folks and police officers mainly, but a few private citizens in their own right. We all want to stop the burning, and just make the world a safe place for the innocent people, but no matter how many times and how many places we put the bad guys down, more just pop up somewhere else.

It’s important to remember that the use of force, and in fact all human effort but most especially effort centered around military options in the force of arms, are not and never can be final solutions. They are stopgaps. Only and ever stopgaps.

I am not sure that I want to call The grace of God a “final solution,” since that phrase tends to reduce complexity of the fallen world to some sort of Advanced math problem. However, the image of dew, or gentle rain fall, is a hopeful one. The water forms in the air in a million tiny little droplets. Unlike water splashed on from the outside, the rain forms within the heart of the fire. At first it seems like it has no effect because the heat just vaporizers it as it falls. But even the vaporized water goes back up into the clouds, cools again, and falls again. Each time the waterfalls and his vaporized it absorbs a little bit of the heat from the fire, and it burns that much cooler. Eventually, slowly and after an agonizingly long time, The fire is reduced to smoldering ruins. Then eventually even the smoldering embers are reduced to ashes, and the ashes become fertile soil, and something new grows in their place.

How is that hopeful? Am I basically saying not this world is lost and there’s nothing we can do but wait for God to come in and magically make everything all right? No.

I think it is about having a realistic, by which I mean humble, understanding of my own place in this fight. Putting out the fire is not my job. My job is to salvage what I can. Perhaps that means just keeping the walls of one little house damp, so that it doesn’t go up in flames. Perhaps it means putting out one little fire in one little back alley so that somebody can escape to safety. It means that I must be active and resisting the fire but not settle myself but the expectation of putting out the whole burning city myself.

There is one other thing that may be drawn from this image, if I’m not stretching the analogy too far. I only have a little bit of water, and if I splash it on the first conflagration  I come across, it will not put it out and I will be left dry. I don’t think that I need to use it sparingly, but I do need to have a good resupply plan. That is I need to maintain contact with the source of that water.

Nietzsche had a quote to the effect that, “He who fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster himself. If you stare too long into the abyss the abyss stares back into you.” It is too easy to get sucked into the pattern of the violence that you’re trying to resist, especially if you lose contact with the source of the water. This is why the heart of all apostolate, is contemplation. The temptation for well-meaning Catholics is often to focus on social justice and charitable action so feverishly that we lose, or let go of, the time for prayer. This may achieve some short-term gain but it never last long, because once you stop praying you are cut off from the source of all water. Being too busy for prayer is like a firefighter being too busy to hook the hose up to the fire hydrant.

Anyway, that’s what came to me during prayer this morning.

I, who cannot do a thing about it, 

Kneel before you, who can, 

And wonder what is wrong with me. 

How is it possible for me to yawn?

Not just the yawn of the mouth, but of the mind?

Seeing no other way forward, I offer you

A wry shrug and all my boredom

Saying, “Oh well, what can you do?”

And the question ceases to be rhetorical. 

The more serious graces in prayer acontemplative-provocationsrrive only after purifications have made forgetting self a steady habit no longer needing arduous effort. But this requires also that outside prayer the sharper edges of self have been sanded down and even crushed. We have to play a part in this, but surely God assumes the primary role. And so the customary pattern of souls undergoing struggles with humiliation and aloneness, facing burdens and demands, and finding new release from trial as they are growing in the deeper life of prayer.

What God asks is that we except the hard truth of actual poverty in itself, the emptiness and everything so apart from him. It is always a certain desperation of need for God the draws his love in a deeper way.

Fr. Donald Haggerty, Contemplative Provocations pg 68.

Self forgetfulness is one of the hardest things I have ever tried to learn. How do you forget yourself? More to the point, how do you know when you have forgotten yourself? Does not the question assume that while undergoing the work of forgetting yourself, you are surreptitiously looking at yourself every five minutes or so to see if you had forgotten yourself? This of course brings you back to square one, and the very fact of that surreptitious glance makes it clear that you have in fact not forgotten yourself. You are still looking at yourself.

I suppose it’s rather like when someone tells you “Don’t think about a purple elephant.” The first thing you think about is a purple elephant. It is very difficult to empty the mind. In most cases it probably isn’t even desirable.  The mind was not designed to be empty.

Instead, in order to get rid of one thought, it is necessary to replace it with another. To get that annoying commercial jingle out of your head, you don’t try not to think about it. You play Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, or Handel’s Water Music. The lesser is driven out by the greater, when the greater is attended to with the energy it requires and deserves.

So, I suppose, it is with forgetting of self. The self is like a bad commercial jingle, it won’t go away unless it is replaced by something else. Not nearly replaced, but driven out. I suppose we have all had the experience of getting lost in a novel, or a movie,or some other hobby or work of art.

In the Christian sense, self forgetfulness is what happens when the soul is completely absorbed in God. However, by a paradox, it is also the necessary prerequisite for the soul’s being absorbed in God. This is why works of charity are such a necessary part of the spiritual life, because service of others draws us out of ourselves and causes us to forget ourselves, if only for a moment.

But the truth is that the real work of self forgetfulness is not a work of our own. It is a gift, and a best all our effort is simply a struggle to receive what is freely offered.

My latest post is up at Ignitum Today. Check it out at:

Tactical Pause

 

*To “Wear your red hat” is a slang term in Army planning for the process of viewing a situation from the point of view of an enemy.

A while back, during some Army training, I had the opportunity to participate in a planning exercise. The scenario was that a small team of Special Forces guys (us) was going to be inserted into a country that had recently suffered a violent coup. We were to link up with the remnants of the legitimate government and begin working to enable them to cooperate with conventional U.S. forces in order to retake their country.

It’s a pretty standard scenario for SF, and has been since our legacy days with the OSS in WWII. That was a large part of the “special” warfare, preparing resistance forces to work with the Allies when they arrived. The details of the scenario don’t really matter, except to note that in our fictional Area of Operations (AO) there was an enemy infantry division of 6,000 troops garrisoned in the capital.

Now, part of the planning process involves looking at the entire situation from the enemy’s perspective and planning what they would do so that we can develop contingencies for our own plans. The official term is “war-gaming” but we often call it “wearing the red hat.” Of course the potential range of activities for the enemy is virtually limitless and it is impossible to foresee and plan for every contingency, so instead, by convention, we limit ourselves to two specific courses of action (COAs). These are the most likely (MLCOA) and most dangerous (MDCOA).

Without getting into all the details, we decided that the MLCOA was for the enemy to keep doing what they were doing in their area, continuing to consolidate their hold on the country, register people, disarm, conduct atrocities and war crimes and maybe launch an occasional small scale anti-guerrilla operation. The MDCOA, we decided, would be for them to take that division sized element, mass all 6000 troops in the various small towns throughout the AO, and conduct huge sweeping search maneuvers all through our territory. We reasoned that this was the most dangerous because it would pin us down and cause us to be surrounded by a vastly superior force, and eventually fixed and destroyed by their superior firepower.

I don’t know about you, but certain death usually counts as “most dangerous” in my book.

That was what we came up with, and that was what we briefed to the senior SF officer who was playing the role of our task force commander. After we had finished explaining that, we ended up contradicting ourselves by saying that our plan was deliberately to trigger that MDCOA to divert the enemy’s attention away from the oncoming friendly forces (and hope that our people could get to us before they did). Then we asked him if he had any feedback.

65076032He did.

“So, your MDCOA. If that is what you guys are trying to do to facilitate the war effort, why do you consider it the most dangerous?”

We reiterated the line about enemy troops massing, fixing, battering us with artillery, etc.

“I get that,” he said. “And yeah, I grant you having 6,000 dudes chasing you through the woods is probably pretty dangerous. But is it dangerous to you or to the mission?”

We were silent.

“I guess what I am saying is, if you can disrupt these guys enough that they feel they have to send in an entire division to hunt you down, some people would consider that a good example of you winning. That is what is going to draw the people to your side. That is what is going to make way for the cavalry to come in guns blazing and clean house. So yeah, you might get killed, but them coming after you isn’t going to damage the overall mission.”

wpaqixhAs we digested that he went on: “You know what would damage the overall mission? If they didn’t come after you, all guns blazing. What if, instead of launching division sized sweep and clear, they started beefing up their secret police? Buying out the local citizens? Sending out propaganda messages that de-legitimize everything you do? Bribe your fighters with offers of power, money and privilege? What if they slowly stripped away your support and then sent in little assassin cells to hunt you down quietly? Or even just capture you and send you out of the country? Do you think that would be more dangerous to your mission?”

All of a sudden it was a paradigm shift. We had been thinking in terms of what was most dangerous to us, and from a purely conventional mindset as well. Now we had to think what was most dangerous to the mission, in an atmosphere where the enemy could use any and every dirty trick in the book to get us.

It got me thinking. Isn’t that kind of how it goes in the Spiritual Warfare? Have you ever had the experience of trying to grow spiritually, maybe during lent, or Holy Week, or maybe you decide to start a novena or a ministry project, or a new morning prayer routine? And did you ever find that plan instantly beset on all sides by temptations, distractions, and even outright spiritual panic?

If you’re like me your first thought when that happens is, “What am I doing wrong?”

However, as a priest said to me in confession once, the question in such situations might well be, “What am I doing right?”

What is it that has caused Satan to ramp up his game against me? Why is he massing troops and conducting counter-guerrilla operations? Unlike in an earthly war where we might want to scale back whatever we are doing that triggered that, in the spiritual warfare, once we figure that out we need to keep doing it. Even when it feels like we are hemmed in on all sides and taking indirect fire every five minutes and about to be wiped out, we need to keep doing what we are doing. That is not his most dangerous COA. It is his most desperate COA. We have superior firepower on our side (that angelic air-force is badass!) and we cannot lose, even if we die.

I will tell you what his real MDCOA is. It’s that slow, steady, creeping discouragement, as prayer-spiritual-warfare-thumbhe slowly and methodically strips away all of our bases of support. Whenever he can convince us to neglect prayer, that’s a supply run that never happened. Avoiding Mass or confession is like not going out to get our resupply bundles.

Worse if he can bribe us with promises of money, power or privilege (or even just comfortableness) to give up Sunday Mass, or to commit a mortal sin. (Can you imagine the damage a Special Forces Team could do to a war effort if while they were inserted behind enemy lines they periodically defected to the enemy? That is what happens every Sunday that we do not go to Mass. That happens every time we commit a mortal sin.)

I guess what I am saying is don’t be discouraged by temptations, or even by sins. Just keep trusting and plugging away (this doesn’t mean be stupid about not avoid occasions of sin). Keep coming back to God, trusting that His mercy and love are enough and even my less than stellar attitude in the armpit end of a losing battle is raw material that He will use to bring about victory.

Absolute trust.

And damn the torpedoes! Full Steam Ahead!

 

Yesterday morning during Holy Hour I received a text message out of the blue from an old friend. It said simply, “Have a super day! I hope its better than ever.”

It got me thinking. The phrase, “Today’s the day,” popped into my head.

The day for what?

Simply THE day. It is the only day. All my life I have been preparing for this day. I bring to it 31 years and 9 days of experiences, successes, failures, thoughts, study and training. God has been shaping me for 31 years and 9 days to meet this day (plus about 39 weeks in utero). Before that He has been guiding the course of history to shape my family line which shaped my genetics, culture and the whole context of my life. He has brought me to this day, and this moment with a purpose that it is up to me to fulfill. This moment is both its own end and at the same time preparation or training for the next. This moment is both the point of my existence to date, and also part of the full weight of being that I will bring to all future moments.

It is an odd way of looking at things. We tend to think of most days as average, run-of-the-mill days and a few days as exceptional. Maybe one day in every ten years really calls forth our full weight of intention, for a wedding, or a funeral, or taking a test for a job. This is partly because we have learned to settle for the boring, the banal and the mediocre. Our lives are quietly bland, and it is our choice that makes them so.

Slide2On the other hand, it is also partly because we do not see the everyday rightly. Everyday is not meaningless. 30 years in Nazareth is too short a time fully to experience the depth and richness that God offers in the everyday. It is not the largeness or the smallness of our sphere of activity or the flashiness of our stunts that determines the meaningfulness of our lives. Rather it is the depth and intensity of our love.

When we learn to live each ordinary day, each load of laundry, each dirty dish or wet diaper with the same fullness of intention with which we live a rock concert or a wedding or a war, then we will have discovered what T. S. Eliot called, “The point of intersection of the timeless / With time…”

as_wx14_td_am1_576Shaun White, Olympic gold medalist, trains his record-breaking moves at an isolated facility in the mountains of Colorado. There, he tests new moves over a giant foam-filled pit, into which he can fall again and again and again until he perfects the move.Only then does he try it out on the unforgiving surface of the half-pipe.

In Norse Mythology warriors who died bravely in battle were taken to Valhalla, where they would train with Odin’s army, which he was building for the day of Ragnorak, the battle at the end of the world. Each day in Valhalla the warriors would awaken and go out to fight each all day long. They would wound and kill and die until the sun set and the field would run red with blood. Then, at sunset, each man would spring up fully alive and well, all wounds healed, to return to the great hall to feast and drink late into the night. They would do this every day until the end of the world, when they would gather for the last time to fight the forces of evil. From this battle, there would be no awakening.

Can you imagine that, though? How badass could you be if you could train all out, 100% intensity every day, to the point of wiping out or getting killed, and then pop back up alive and well to do it all over again? What mistakes would you fear to make if you knew that the discomfort would be minor, or at least temporary, and the experience and glory gained would be permanent?

Welcome to Valhalla. In this life every day, every moment, is a new chance to give it your all. Mistakes are temporary. Imperfections are fleeting. The glory of bringing to your task a mighty heart, is eternal.

Slide1Of course, there is always a deadline. Without it, how could there ever be any adventure? Eventually Shaun White has to take his move onto the real half-pipe. Eventually Ragnorak will arrive, and the dead will remain dead. All day long all of our little actions, all of these infinite number of points at which eternity touches time, are forming the ultimate choice that we make for or against God. That is our adventure, and it occurs in the most mundane of our daily activities.

Learn to see this. Look for it, search it out, and live it. Forget about worthless, passing things like making money or preparing for a secure retirement, and bend yourself to attend to the Eternal love that burns at the heart of every moment.

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