Catholic Match Catch-Up

I’ve been taking an extended break from Catholic Match while trying to get the rest of my life together.

But I still write for them intermittently, which means that, as a side effect of my break, I’ve been missing when my own essays appear (these things are written months in advance). So today I’m going to offer the three most recent posts of mine that have appeared there:

January 26: Should You Date Someone with Different Politics?

Let’s talk politics.

We live in a peculiar world in this regard. A world in which political matters are often taken very seriously, in some cases to the point of being essentially a religion. But, with this being the case, the question cannot help but arise; should two people form a romantic relationship from different ends of the political spectrum?

If I had to give a short answer, it would be “no.”

If I had to give a somewhat more nuanced answer, it would be “probably not, but it depends.”

You see, it is one thing to have political disagreements with a friend or neighbor, to hash things out and come to verbal blows every now and again with someone you like and see regularly. It is quite another thing to do this with your spouse, for your partner in life to hold a different understanding of the world from yours. Just how much this will disrupt your relationship depends on what place politics has in your life and, yes, what those politics are.

I’m afraid there’s no getting around it; political views are not created equal.

Some are more compatible than others, some are more open to opposing views than others. Because, every political perspective is, at the bottom, a narrative for understanding the world (at least as far as the interactions of society are concerned). Depending on what that narrative is, it will tend to create more or less hostility toward a different narrative and those who hold it.

A classical liberal and a libertarian, for instance, will likely get along better than either will with a socialist or even a mainstream liberal, because the narratives of each side directly address those of the other as being fundamentally opposed to their own, while regarding each other as more or less variations on the same premise. Whether this is true or not (that is, how the actual content of a given political philosophy compares to another) is, for our purposes, less important than whether they believe it to be true.

The short version is that if you think your spouse is perpetuating a moral evil or encouraging tyranny and oppression, then your relationship will have problems.  

Read the exceptions and how they’re a potential relational time-bomb here.

February 1, When We Feel We Can’t Wait

Why do we bother?

We pay our dues, we maintain our profile, we run our searches, make the effort to reach out…and nothing happens. We seem to be doing everything right, but no one responds, or if they do, nothing comes of it. So why bother to keep it up?

Do you remember the incident in the Gospel of John at the pool of Bethesda? A man had lain beside it for thirty-eight years hoping to be cured, but each time the angel disturbed the water, someone else got down first and he missed his chance. Or the woman with the hemorrhages, who had suffered for twelve years and spent all she had on doctors, only to be made worse.

I wonder how frustrated they must have been. How much they must have begged for God to take away their infirmities, no doubt wondering why He had abandoned them, what sin they had committed to suffer so.

But the truth, though they could not know it during their long years of suffering, was that God had heard their prayer, and He was preparing something special for them. He meant not only to cure them in His time, but at a time and in a manner that would glorify Him and them to the end of world. In fact, He was building them up to serve as types of every sinner and every suffering soul who seems left aside, passed over, and forgotten by God. One could almost put it that God forgot them for a time in order to show they were never truly forgotten.

The Almighty has His own purposes, which we cannot know ahead of time.

They may or may not correspond with what we want, and almost certainly don’t correspond with what we expect. Probably most of them we won’t understand until after death, when we see the whole form of our lives and of history itself laid out before us. But we can catch glimpses of it even now: how often do we want something badly and are denied it only to find something far better later on, or to discover some truth of ourselves or the world that we may never have realized but for the opportunity created by this disappointment?

Much about the dating scene today, online or otherwise, seems to encourage discouragement. Like the man by the pool or the woman with the issue of blood, the case seems hopeless and intensely frustrating. But also like them, no doubt God has His plan for each of us, which He will bring to fulfillment when the time is right.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we just keep doing the same thing as we’ve always done. Perhaps we should vary up our approach, perhaps we should explore other avenues. That’s as may be. But we should continue to make the effort, even when it seems pointless.

Find out more here

February 10 Reflections on the Year of St. Joseph

The present Liturgical Year has been declared a special year of St. Joseph.

Lord knows we need his intercession right now more than ever, but we won’t go into that.

Instead, in order to prepare ourselves properly to celebrate this year, let us reflect: who is St. Joseph?

He was a carpenter, which is to say a relatively respectable man in his community. Not wealthy, but what we might call comfortable, as he was able to travel and seek accommodations at an inn; though for a temple sacrifice, he could only afford the two turtledoves reserved for the less wealthy. He was what we might call a skilled tradesman, though he was of noble blood through at least two lines.

We are told he was a righteous man, as would only make sense. There is a venerable tradition that, like his wife, he had taken a vow of perpetual virginity from a young age. Certainly, he cared for and guarded the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son for as long as he lived.

He is not directly quoted in Scripture at any point, though he serves as the protagonist of St. Matthew’s introductory material. This tells us of his doubts regarding whether to take his betrothed into his house after she was found with child (which the Saints tell us was not because he doubted her purity, but because he doubted his worthiness to be part of the Divine scheme) and of his angelically guided efforts to evade the persecutions of Herod.

More important than any of these details is the nature of his mission.

St. Joseph was the man fitted by God the Father to stand in His place to God the Son: the man who taught God to be a man.

In that curious household the natural hierarchy of the family—father, mother, child—was reversed: the child was greatest, the mother next in prominence, the father next after her. And yet (for such is the nature of goodness) at the same time it was not reversed. The Divine Child, we are told, was obedient to His human parents (Luke 2:51), and His immaculate mother was likewise obedient to her husband.

Responsibility thus fell to St. Joseph of caring for God’s two most perfect works. As Pharaoh elevated the Patriarch Joseph as his steward, so God made St. Joseph “master of his house and ruler of all his possession” (Psalms 104: 21).

Read more about St. Joseph here

Peace on Earth at Catholic Match

When I wrote today’s Catholic Match piece, I was taking it for granted that the year would end in tumult (these things are written weeks or months in advance). Turns out, this is even more timely than I expected:

In truth, if you’re seeking reasons to lament the apparent failure of the angelic promise of Christmas there is no need to go to a Civil War or a natural disaster or…whatever you would call the events of 2020.

Loneliness, disappointment, and depression will do just as well or better for most of us. Sure things are bad on a global level, but what is that to the fact that maybe we’ve just lost a job, are mourning the death of a loved one, or ended yet another year still single?

Yet every year, amidst whatever personal or historical sufferings or disasters that confront us, we receive that same message from on high: “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy.”

Those good tidings are not of the immediate end of war, or of the restoration of basic sanity to our civilization. They aren’t even of personal happiness and success, the promise of a better year to come.

They are, “this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

We know, for we are told, that this is good news.

But what does it mean here and now? It clearly doesn’t mean ‘peace on earth,’ at least not in the sense we would expect, for wars and strife still torment us.

Yes, but it means that these things shall not have the final word. Our existence is not limited to this world. For God has come to establish His Kingdom upon earth; a kingdom not of this world. To be of that kingdom is to be in right relation to the cause and center of our being. And God has provided us the means to do this through His son, who is born to us on Christmas day.

That is the peace on Earth that angels proclaimed, and that is the great joy of Christmas; the peace of being in union with God, and the joy of knowing that He has come among us. This is a peace and joy that can and has endured amid the most savage worldly turmoil and most devastating personal tragedies.

Hence the joy of Christmas, the reason why songs of celebration are uplifted every year on this day even from battlefield trenches and terminal wards.

Read the rest here.

Merry Christmas everyone, and be not afraid!

CM Piece: Authority in Marriage

Well, this one’s probably going to make some people angry:

The standard practice when faced with this passage is to emphasize the duty it and the following verses place on husbands: to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and to lay down their lives for them.

This is all perfectly right and proper, however it is easy to skim over an important point.

And I am fully aware how little what I am about to say will be to the liking of most who read this, but it has to be said.

To say a husband stands to his wife as Christ stands to the Church is to say that he is very definitely in authority over her. Whatever obligations this may impose upon him, her duty to be obedient to him is in no way mitigated.

Now, as I began this post by suggesting our idea of authority may be erroneous, you may (I foolishly dare hope) suspect that this doesn’t quite mean what we would tend to think it means.

So what exactly does “authority” mean in a Christian marriage?

Authority means the right to be obeyed with regards to the subject of one’s authority. It is the power to create a moral obligation in a subject. If I own a book, then I have authority over that book, and so if you borrow it, I can demand it back and so create in you the obligation to give it back to me, not because I can force you to give it back, but because it is mine and if you refuse to give it back you will be committing a sin.

To say a husband has authority over his wife means that when he asks her to do something, it creates in her the moral obligation to do it, to the extent that he is invoking his husbandly authority. Obviously she can suggest something else, or make her own wishes known, and no man of sense would press his authority too often or arbitrarily, but at the end of the day, the husband is the one who holds the family policy.

Read the rest here

Catholic Match: What to do When You have a Difficult Personality

I get to quote The Lost World in this one:

This is not something that is going to go away, or that is a matter of simply building confidence in yourself (though more on that in a bit). Your personality will make your dating and married life harder for you than it would be for someone else. Such things are a part of life and it is better to face and acknowledge difficulties than to try to evade them. Be aware of your oddities, recognize how they affect your interactions with people, and as far as is possible or prudent, try to account for them.

This means acting according to what you know about yourself, not according to how ‘normal’ people act. That may mean abstaining from certain pleasures or avoiding certain situations. You don’t engage someone in conversation because you know how hard it will be not to call him an idiot. You don’t stay long at family gatherings because your temper shrinks as your boredom rises. It is no different from abstaining from alcohol because you struggle with temperance. What you cannot cure you must mitigate.

More specifically, when you come to form a relationship, find ways to compensate for your oddities so as to make them less irksome, or at least to give the other person sufficient reason to put up with it. If you must give the whole of your attention to your work most of the time, make sure that she gets it the rest of the time. If the ‘normal’ pattern of a relationship is not open to you, then you must work extra hard at the one you have. In short, you should go beyond what you think is necessary to convince her of how much you value her.

Read the rest here.

Talking Confession at Catholic Match

My latest Catholic Match post is up, talking about why you need to go to Confession:

This brings us to the second point: besides your eternal salvation (if anything can be ‘besides’ that), Confession, along with the other Sacraments, conveys a very useful lesson. Namely, that we do not get to set the terms of our relationship with Christ.

This is particularly useful for us moderns, as the whole tenor of our lives runs counter to it. We are surrounded by choices and the continual message that we and we alone can legitimately make them, often causing us to fall into the habit of thinking that the world can and ought to conform to our own wishes. We even extend this to God, saying things like “oh, I can find my own way to serve Christ.”

Jesus does not play games like that. He is the one in authority here.

You have sinned against Him, and He is offering a means of forgiveness. If you don’t like the means offered, too bad. That isn’t your call to make. The repentant soldier doesn’t get to tell the king what conditions he will accept for being readmitted into the army. As long as he is doing that, he is still in rebellion.

Read the rest here

Catholic Match – What Do I Have to Offer

My latest piece at Catholic Match went up today:

One of the ideas that comes up in job hunting is “distinct value add.” Basically, what do you bring to this company that no one else does?

The problem for many of us, of course, is that in most cases a truthful answer would be something along the lines of, “probably not much; anyone applying for this job has much the same skills I do, and unless you have a pulp fiction or Catholic theology division that I don’t know about, my unique skills probably aren’t going to be very relevant.”

Cynical sarcasm aside, I think this is a bit of a stumbling block for most of us in online dating as well, probably even more so; the question of “what, exactly, do I have to offer this person?”

Dating, obviously, is a different matter from job applications. But the trouble is, many of us end up approaching it with a similar mindset. We pull up someone’s profile, and she’s beautiful and has a lovely description of all the cool things she’s into, and pictures of herself doing amazing things, and then we look at the mirror and wonder why someone like that would be interested in someone like us.

We know our flaws, we know our failures, we know how, well, uninteresting we are. So, what do we have to offer? What is our “distinct value add” to this person’s life? And all too often, if we don’t have a good answer, we let the opportunity pass by.

There are a few things to be said about this.

Find out those few things are by reading the whole thing.

Do You Really Want It? – Catholic Match Post

My latest Catholic Match post is on the all-important question of “do you really want what you say you want?”

I think a lot of the things we claim to want are in this category.

We say we like the outdoors, or that we would like to travel, or that we want a relationship. We may even make some easy, halfhearted efforts in that direction, such as reading up on foreign places or making up a profile on CatholicMatch. But we go no further.

We never book a flight or work out a way to budget for the trip. We don’t make overtures to people we find or respond to those we receive. We play with the idea, but we never commit to it.

But to truly desire something is different. That is when you want the thing itself, for its own sake. We think of it often and give our time and attention to figuring out how to achieve it. We’re excited by every small step that leads us that much closer to its accomplishment.

This is when the wish goes beyond a pleasing fantasy to become a real motivating force. It becomes, as it were, incarnate in action.

For instance, a man who says he ‘would like’ to travel to Japan might spend time reading up on the country, or enjoy relics of Japanese culture, but he won’t go any further.

He ‘wants’ to go to Japan in the same sense that he ‘wants’ to be a millionaire; it is a pleasant fantasy that conceivably could happen at some point. But the man who truly desires to see the Land of the Rising Sun won’t just stop at speculation; he’ll figure out the cost of the trip and carefully budget for it, spend time every day learning the language, and book a flight months in advance so that he’s fully committed to the journey. His desire takes on form by driving him to real and ongoing effort to achieve it.

In other words, you may judge whether you really want something by what you do to acquire it, and what you really desire is shown by what you in fact do.

Now, if you will here stop and honestly ask yourself what your real actions say about your desires, most likely you will find that they are not at all what you would have thought or wanted them to be. Most of us will probably find that watching funny videos on YouTube or engaging in meaningless chatter on social media hold a higher priority with us than serving God or pursuing what we describe as our dreams.

Read the rest here.

Talking about St. John Henry Newman’s Idea of a Gentleman at Catholic Match

Latest Catholic Match piece is up, going into St. John Henry Newman’s description of a Gentleman and how it applies to people today:

St. Cardinal Newman (a man who knew something of being both a Christian and a gentleman) offered this definition (abridged: the full description can be found in his Idea of a University):

‘It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain…The true gentleman…carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;—all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home.

He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; he can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome.

He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets every thing for the best…

He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny. If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blunder.’

The Saint is here speaking of the ideal of a secular gentleman: of “gentlemanly behavior as such” you might say.Obviously, Cardinal Newman is the last man in existence who would take this to the extreme of hiding your faith or compromising the truth to avoid giving offense: he gave plenty of “jars and jolts” in the course of his life, not the least being scandalizing a good portion of the nation by converting to the Church of Rome.

But the idea is that a gentleman avoids any unnecessary offense and seeks to make the other person or people as comfortable as possible. Lord knows that’s a challenge enough, and it is here that we can truly stand out in today’s world.

Read the rest here.

Catholic Match Post on a World without Manners

My latest post is up on Catholic Match, discussing the pitfalls and solutions of dating in a world without set manners:

For an example; just the other day I read a woman claiming that it is inappropriate behavior for a man to compliment a woman on her looks if they are not dating. Not long after, on a different site, I read a man recounting how he did just that in a (successful) bid to cheer up an evidently unhappy stranger.

Now, suppose a man who thinks it is an act of kindness compliments a woman who believes that such behavior is inappropriate. We immediately have a conflict in which one thinks she is being mistreated and the other thinks he is being rebuked for an act of kindness.

The immediate point isn’t which one is right; the point is that neither can justly claim the other did anything wrong, as far as this little scenario goes, because they were each following what they believed to be appropriate. Only there is, at present, no objective and exterior standard which both may be expected to know and to which both can appeal.

To make matters worse, the same man may receive a completely different response from a different woman, meaning that even his own experience cannot serve him as a guide.

Thus, the answer often given when this problem is brought up—“Just don’t act inappropriately”—misses the point entirely. The problem isn’t so much that people behave inappropriately, it’s that the word ‘inappropriate’ in this circumstance has no content.

To say ‘act appropriately’ is meaningless unless there is an agreed upon, objective standard for ‘appropriate’ that both parties can be expected to be aware of and to which both sides can appeal. We simply do not have that in modern Western society (we are not discussing here obviously aggressive behavior such as physical grabbing or open solicitation).

Now, the obvious solution is “then we need to establish new standards!” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. No one sits down and says, “our society shall have these manners and these norms for this reason.” These things develop over time, born of ethics, custom, common beliefs, and so on. All that’s mostly been torn up and thrown out of our culture, and restoring it is beyond the scope of any one of us.

No, my point is much less ambitious; it is simply to encourage charity. Being aware that the other person is operating under such uncertainty ought to make us more patient and less quick to judge when he does something we consider inappropriate. This alone would smooth out many if not most of the friction that occurs in such cases.

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: I realized that I put in the wrong link in both cases. It’s been fixed.

Memento Mori at Catholic Match

My annual Halloween piece is up at Catholic Match:

If you ever explore some of the old churches in Europe, or look over art from the old days, you’ll notice quite a few skulls.

Some of which are even attached to skeletons. They show up in some of the most unexpected places: on clocks, or in Cathedrals, for instance, or in the famous painting ‘The Ambassadors’, which features a distorted skull that only comes into perspective when viewed from the lower left. These are often supplemented by various grotesqueries and monsters decorating the church façade or capering about the pictures.

The message of all of this is the same; “don’t be complacent, but remember your death and what might await you beyond. That night of death is full of terrible things just waiting to grab hold of you, so take care before you find yourself venturing out into it.”

In other words, Christians have been doing Halloween, and doing it properly, for a long time. The macabre is as much a part of our heritage as anything else; it is the other side to the hope we have in Christ.

Therefore, the common call of Christians of the past was Memento Mori: Remember Death. As the prophet wrote in his book, “In all thy works, remember your last end, and thou shalt never sin,” and “Remember that death is not slow.” (Sirach 7:40, 14:12).

Read the rest here, and Happy Halloween!