The Scandal Christians Cause by Supporting Trump


The Scandal Christians Cause by Supporting Trump

(Source: Gage Skidmore, https://flic.kr/p/9hHrit

Here we are. At the time of my writing of this piece, we Americans are 19 days, 11 hours, 58minutes, and 3 seconds away from arguably one of the most controversial presidential elections in our country’s relatively short history. In case you have been living under the proverbial rock, you probably already know what makes this presidential election so controversial. News headlines blaring, radio pundits yelling, presidential candidates debating, and the rest of the world commiserating– these have all characterized the 2016 race for the presidency of the United States. If we are being honest, we know that every presidential election brings with it a host of issues- the potential candidates are put through the strainer, past sins are brought up, polemical attacks typically suppress fruitful dialogue, and so on. This is commonly found wherever American politics exist. Different groups support different issues; in recent years, the Democratic Party has moved towards greater efforts at gun control, pushing for same-sex marriage equality, advocating for reproductive rights, as well as highlighting a need for universal healthcare, and for tax cuts for the poor while increasing taxes on the wealthy. The Republican Party has pushed for a greater emphasis on individual liberties, a strong protection of the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms), opposition to abortion and gay marriage, ‘religious freedom’, and tougher stances on illegal immigration. While these are general characteristics, different candidates fall under different points of the political spectrum. Usually, for Americans, we are given a choice between two (often contrasting with the other on a number of issues), and the task for Americans is to vote who they believe is the best candidate for the job. Of course, we Americans are guided by our own political beliefs, biases, morals, and convictions. Some American citizens are influenced to vote for a certain candidate or party by purely political motives- Republicans often demonstrate resistance for government-mandated regulation of universal health care and oppose greater restrictions on who is allowed to purchase firearms because, they argue, it won’t stop criminals from obtaining and misusing firearms in the first place. Similarly, out of a strong environmental defense ethic, Democrats push for a need to protect the environment and combat global warming, which includes a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. And, of course, there are people in between- the independent, unaffiliated voter is the fastest growing demographic currently in America.

The Role of Religion in the Voting Booth

Speaking of demographics, a crucial part for any presidential candidate is to convince people holding religious convictions of any sort that he or she will be the best choice for the religious voter’s particular faith community. While there is indeed a separation between church and state (so as to protect the rights of both institutions), the role of religion within a voter’s decision still has a significant role, albeit a decreasing one. A Pew Research Center survey found that in 2008, “72 percent of voters said it was important for a president to have strong religious beliefs”, while “that number is down to 62 percent today.” Confirmation of religion’s declining influence in the lives of American citizens can also be found in a recent Gallup poll which found that only 65% of Americans answered “yes” when asked if religion is an important part of their daily life. Still, this number is extraordinarily high when compared to other Western countries who also took part in the survey, such as Sweden (17%), Denmark (19%), and even the United Kingdom (27%). Dr. Nigel Barber, author, professor, and contributor to the popular website “Psychology Today”, wrote an interesting piece on the question of why religion continues to play a major part in American politics today. One of his theories regarding the ongoing influence of religiosity on American politics includes the “push” by the conservative, Evangelical right during the 1970s to assert a moral platform in the face of the “Sexual Revolution” and other changes. As a reaction to this push, Democrats, for fear of losing voters, decided to insert religion into their political debates and rhetoric, so as not to lose the influx of immigrant-voters, who brought with them their own religious traditions from their homeland. Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that religion, even in 2016, is an important factor in a voter’s choice between candidates.


I, myself, am a practicing Roman Catholic, studying theology on the graduate level, discerning where in life I believe I am being called next. I come from a particular religious tradition, with a particular set of beliefs, practices, and customs, and am held to certain expectations within the public and private sphere. I am expected to attend mass weekly, to live a moral life joyfully, and to love God & my neighbor unconditionally. Also as a Catholic, I am bound to participate in the public life, to promote the dignity of the human person, to work towards the common good, and of course, to participate in the salvation of souls by my life, words, and deeds. Above all, as a Catholic Christian, I am called to follow Jesus Christ in all that I do & in all that I say. For the Christian, if life is a race, then the imitation of the life of Christ is the goal. And one can only imitate Jesus when they know Him, pray to Him, and follow Him. Jesus is seen as the Divine Teacher, the Incarnate Word of the Father, and the object of a Christian’s love and devotion par excellence. Contrary to the belief of some Christian anarchists who believe that Christ calls for us to reject all authority, Jesus Himself believed that in this temporal world, political rule has its place. However, He also taught that all authority, even political authority, derives from the ultimate authority of God (John 19:11). As the “both-and” cliché in Catholic theological circles goes, the Christian is to respect both the authority of the legitimate political leader, and the authority of God.

Now, what happens when a Christian is faced with a political authority whose policies directly conflict with the Gospel? Ah, welcome to the 2016 presidential election! Plenty of articles have been written on both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton’s fittingness for the Oval Office, and this is not going to be one of them. A number of bloggers and speakers involved in religion have also presented the case for voting for X or Y, and no, this is not one of them either. Without hyperbole, this election has been arguably the most frustrating and conflicting for the voter’s conscience in the history of American politics, and my intention here is not to tell you who to vote for- my intention is for you to realize how supporting Donald Trump on the basis of Christianity is false and dangerous, resulting in a direct assault on both the Gospel message and those who earnestly try to live it.

Put simply, Christians who support Trump are committing one of the greatest sins in Christian theology: scandal. In the Bible, a book hopefully familiar to many Christians, the word ‘scandal’ is written in the Koine Greek language as “σκάνδαλον/skandalon” literally meaning “stumbling block”. Jesus is recorded using the word four times: three times in the Gospel according to St. Matthew (Mt. 13:41, 16:23 18:7) and once in the Gospel according to St. Luke (Lk. 17:1). Of all the occurrences of this word, perhaps none is as poignant as when Jesus uses the word while rebuking Peter in Matthew 16:23: “But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” This occurs when Jesus is foretelling of His eventual suffering in His Passion & Death; Peter hears this and immediately rejects any notion that his friend, teacher, and master will have to suffer at the hands of authority. Jesus, who reveals throughout the Gospel that He has not come to do His will but the will of the Father, rebukes Peter for being a “stumbling block” to His mission- that is, the salvation of humankind. Peter is ‘called out’ for his misguided attempt to shield Jesus from imminent suffering. Jesus also uses a derivative of the word ‘scandal’ later in the 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, when He says “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). Throughout the centuries, Christians have had to come to terms with this powerful warning of Jesus. The Catholic Church categorizes ‘causing scandal’ under the violations of the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shall not kill.” Here, the Church defines scandal as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.” (CCC #2284). The person who commits scandal becomes a source of temptation to his or her own neighbor (#2285). And, in one of the most sweeping statements on this matter, the Church proclaims:

“Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.” This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.” (CCC #2286)

Re-thinking Trump as the “Pro-Life” Candidate

Donald Trump has made headlines ever since the announcement of his campaign, and very few of them have been positive affirmations of his humane proposals, upstanding moral character and strong family values. Actually, it would seem that it is the opposite. Take, for instance, the time he publicly mocked a man with disabilities. Or the time he said that he would ban all Muslims from entering the United States. Or the time he insulted the entire country of Mexico and the Mexican people. Or the time he claimed that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and wouldn’t lose voters. Or the time he expressed his desire to punch a protester in the face. Or the time he insulted nearly every political rival of hisand one’s wife. Or when he stated that there must be a “punishment” for women who choose to abort their fetus. He discredited the heroism of a P.O.W., he asserted that he would authorize methods of torture as well as murder the families of terrorists (a war crime), insulted women time and time again, lusted after his own daughter on-air, and, as recently revealed, bragged about sexual assault, and tried reducing it to being “locker-room talk”.

To defend voting for Trump under the illusion that he is somehow “pro-life” is to the definition of asininity. And yet, it is a mantra often chanted. Father Frank Pavone, National Director of the Priests for Life, has endorsed Trump, and encouraged his faithful followers to do the same. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, takes a more theologically-nuanced view. In their document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, state that Catholics are not “single-issue voters” (no. 42). The U.S. bishops also reiterate the fact that abortion is of the gravest sins of our day, but also state that:

Catholic teaching about the dignity of life calls us to oppose torture, unjust war, and the indiscriminate use of drones for violent purposes; to prevent genocide and attacks against noncombatants; to oppose racism; to oppose human trafficking; and to overcome poverty and suffering. Nations are called to protect the right to life by seeking effective ways to combat evil and terror without resorting to armed conflicts except as a last resort after all peaceful means have failed, and to end the use of the death penalty as a means of protecting society from violent crime. We revere the lives of children in the womb, the lives of persons dying in war and from starvation, and indeed the lives of all human beings as children of God. We stand opposed to these and all activities that contribute to what Pope Francis has called “a throwaway culture.” (no. 45)

And, while many Catholic commentators on social media & blogs will assert correctly that abortion holds preeminence among all violations of the human person and that one can never do evil to promote good, they tend to leave out this point: according to Catholic theology, there is such a thing as formal vs. material cooperation, and that Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), arguably the most theologically-conservative of post-Vatican II popes, understood this well. While Catholics may not vote for a pro-choice candidate on the grounds that the candidate is pro-choice, a Catholic is permitted to vote for a candidate who happens to be pro-choice when all other options are exhausted. M. Cathleen Kaveny, Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Boston College theology department, writes about this at length here. And, for skeptics of this claim, one need not traverse far from the previously-mentioned USCCB document on Catholic participation in the public life, where again they state in number 36:

When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

While his counterpart, Hilary Clinton, supports abortion (understood by Catholics as an intrinsically-evil act), Trump also supports the use of torture- an oft-forgotten “intrinsic evil”, as so clearly stated by Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, and the USCCB here. And therefore, now, the Christian is faced with a daunting task- which candidate is “more likely to pursue other authentic human goods”? Well, because I realize that oftentimes women do not choose abortion arbitrarily but rather because they are victims of societal sin, injustice, racism and poverty, I would probably choose the candidate- if any- who seems to promote social justice- not detract from it. As Eric Sapp wrote in The Christian Post, while she supports a woman’s right to choose, Hilary’s policies can very well lift women out of these rough situations where abortion is even seen as an option, anyway. He points out that under the two “most pro-choice” presidents, Clinton and Obama, abortions reached their lowest point since Roe V. Wade. Also notable is that when President George W. Bush was in office and the GOP controlled the House of Representatives, the Senate, and 2/3 of the Supreme Court, absolutely no motion was made to overturn Roe V. Wade. None. But yet, we are somehow supposed to believe that Donald Trump is “pro-life”, when he still allows for abortion in certain circumstances? We are somehow believed that Trump is “pro life” and is going to appoint “pro-life” judges, when he suggested that his sister, a federal judge, would make an excellent choice for the Supreme Court? (The same sister who publicly opposed a partial-birth abortion ban in New Jersey, but hey, Crooked Killary or something, right?)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ vs. the Gospel of Trump

Now that Trump’s claim of being “pro-life” has been effectively struck down, is there any reason for the Christian to support him on basis of the faith? Of course, Christians who supported him since the start of his troubled campaign in June 2015 and still do to this day remember the words of Jesus, right? The words proclaimed in His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, where He taught His disciples how to conduct their lives? “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20)… “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5)…“Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8)- have any of them been primary ways many a Christian have decided who to vote for? Apparently not. While the outcry against Trump was most vocal after the revelation of his recent comments towards women, the religious right have been at best, sheepishly criticizing his comments and at worst, absolving a man who claims he has no need of forgiveness.

The credibility of Christianity is at stake here. Which unbaptized person in this country considering Christianity would want to enter a faith community in which the vast majority of members in the United States view Donald Trump as a legitimate option? How does support for Trump translate into the Gospel message? How are we leading others to Christ by supporting this rising demagogue? The Christian right has all but canonized Trump, and it is quite creepy.

In this, the hypocrisy of the religious Christian ‘right’ is tenfold. Not only are the majority of them sticking by Trump, but they dare to masquerade their support of him as “Christian forgiveness”. Trump can (and did) say that he grabs non-consenting women “by the pussy”, and the Christian right will tweet “It’s fine, we are all sinners”, and yet if I posted “#ImWithHer”, I’d receive a direct message stating “you’re going to hell”. The conservative right who blindly supports Trump even after his lewd comments are now using a language of reconciliation and mercy when they have shown none to those who feel differently than they. Christians who support Trump not only commit scandal, but they also do so at the risk of denying Jesus’ own words. For millions of Christians in the United States, the infallibility of Scripture has been denied in favor of an infallible ideology. To them, Trump- and not Jesus- is the Messiah. It is Trump, not Jesus, who will lead this country back to prosperity. It is Trump, not Jesus, who will grant us peace & safety. It is Trump, not Jesus, who guides their attitudes towards their enemies, or even to their neighbor.

Why would Christians, even after all of his disgusting comments and behavior, tolerate the thought of voting for him? The support of Trump by Christians usually follows a particular and awkward trajectory. Since Trump is against abortion (sort of), he is “pro-life”. And because he is “pro-life”, he is the obvious choice for the presidency. And yet, one must ask: how “pro-life” can one claim to be when he has advocated the use of torture (an intrinsic evil, according to Catholic moral theology), or who chooses a running mate who supports electrocuting gays until they become heterosexual, or who mocks persons with disabilities, or who supports unrestricted capital punishment, or who wants to increase militarism, who threatens to jail his political opponents, who doesn’t think abortion is murder, who claims abortion is “okay” in certain circumstances, who has bragged about adultery, who has said absolutely nothing regarding assisted-suicide, who criticizes gun control, or who has literally amassed a fortune at the expense of not paying a fair wage to those under his care?

Exhortation

Can we please stop pretending that Donald Trump is the “Christian” choice for president? The people who actually believe that are not following the Gospel of Jesus Christ- they are following the Good News of Trump. Instead of putting their faith in God, Christians in this country have fearfully hid behind the intimidating figure of Trump. And yet, how can they reconcile their choice with the Gospel? Hint: they cannot. Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine, said in an editorial that Christians should not support a man whose life is based around “idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality”. “The revelations of the past week of his vile and crude boasting about sexual conquest — indeed, sexual assault — might have been shocking, but they should have surprised no one,” wrote Andy Crouch, editorial director.

While I applaud the decision by certain Christians who have abandoned the Trump Train, it’s a golf clap. What took you all so long? I’m astonished that it took a man bragging about sexual assault and objectifying women to splash the cold water in the face of delusional Christians, making them say “Hm.. maybe he isn’t a good choice.” As the well-known Christian hymn often sung on Good Friday goes: “Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?”

Now, I ask the Christians who support Trump:

  • Were you there when Trump insulted a reporter with a disability?
  • Were you there when Trump bragged about sexual assault?
  • Were you there when Trump expressed his love of war?
  • Were you there when Trump championed “getting even”?

As Jesus stated quite clearly in the Gospels, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these brothers of mine, you did to Me.” (Matthew 25:40), and therefore, if you were there supporting Trump when he did the unfathomable, you are the whips that flogged Jesus in His Passion. If you were compliant with Trump’s obviously misogynistic comments, or his words about refugees, or his business practices which exploit the poor for the gain of the rich, you are the nails put into Jesus’ wrists on the Cross. In Matthew 25, when talking about the Final Judgement, Jesus asserts that in the end, we will be judged by how we treated the poor, the sick, the downtrodden. How a Christian treats the marginalized is a direct reflection of how they treat Jesus Christ. And so, to support a man who regards strength and power as the highest virtues and calls the poor, the lowly, and the defeated “morons” and “losers”, is one thing. To support the same man under the auspices of him being the “Christian” choice is pure, unadulterated scandal. Will Donald Trump become a saint one day? I hope so. Saints are canonized as a public sign that they are those who led others to Christ. But as for now, Trump isn’t a saint. He is a stumbling block- as are those who continue to support his bid for the presidency. As a Christian, I am called to seek the holiness and salvation of all. No Christian rejoices in the death of another, and of course, we leave the Final Judgment up to God.

If you want to support and defend Donald Trump, hoping he becomes the next president of the United States, fine. That is entirely your prerogative and your civil right. Just please, for the love of God (literally), do not use Christianity to justify your choice. You’re causing others to stumble.

What the Internet’s Reaction to Kim Kardashian Getting Robbed Tells Us About Humanity in 2016

In case you missed it, Kim Kardashian, arguably one of the most iconic & well-known public figures in 2016, was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris private apartment early this Monday morning. She was found tied up, robbed of millions of dollars worth of jewelry, and according to a spokesman, is “badly shaken but physically unharmed”. Kanye West, the famous American rapper & recording artist who is married to Kim Kardashian, allegedly cancelled his concert abruptly at the Meadows Music & Arts Festival in Queens upon hearing the disturbing news. The couple reportedly have reunited and are requesting privacy at this time, while Paris police & French officials continue their investigation.

Armed robbery involving 5 men posing as Paris police. Millions of dollars in jewelry lost. A mother of two young children, a sister, daughter, and friend was bound by rope- the little privacy her life may enjoy was stolen from her. And yet, perhaps the most disturbing element of this story is the Internet’s reaction.


I just finished reading a very insightful piece, written by umair haque, on the decaying decline of Twitter and the root of its rot. In it, he discusses how the great challenge the Internet faces today is what he calls “abuse”. As Mr. Haque writes:

“To explain, let me be clear what I mean by abuse. I don’t just mean the obvious: violent threats. I also mean the endless bickering, the predictable snark, the general atmosphere of little violences that permeate the social web…” (Umair Haque, “Why Twitter’s Dying (And What You Can Learn From It”)

Here, he diagnoses a clear problem that many have tolerated for years now- the systemic plague of callousness & jaw-dropping coldness that is prevalent across the web. We know what it looks like: a Fox News’ official Facebook page posts an article about “Crooked Killary”, and the top comment with the most ‘likes’ says something about how she is a terrible human being & is unfit for the presidency. Similarly, when CNN posts an article about the GOP nominee, Donald Trump, the top comment calls into question his character, morals, and business practices. At least this is done civilly, right? Not quite. You see, if you have paid attention to anything on the Internet where comments are involved, you would realize that in order to be the ‘top’, you oftentimes need to be the meanest. This is nothing new. For years now, psychologists have studied the motivations behind the culture of angry Internet behavior, and what they are finding is largely confirming the fact that more and more, online users of social media are sacrificing their very identity for the opportunity to act in such a way where their customary moral boundaries and social etiquette are degraded or even eliminated. In the psychological field, this is called “deindividuation”. The concept is simple. First, the online user discovers the news article or post in question; second, they read/skim it all while making initial judgements based on what they read; and third, they identify which position will be held as the ‘typical’ one, and therefore, they decide to “troll”- that is, they purposely provoke other users into emotional discord & unrest, often by posting inflammatory remarks which seek to derail a potentially civil conversation into a more extraneous one. Despite its commonality, the existence of “internet trolls” does not seem to be an issue of most social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), as long as they are not posting explicit threats or posting unauthorized/illegal content. But even when people DO post unacceptable content, these companies are mum.

Living in 2016, we are much more connected to the Interwebz as ever before; ten years ago, when Facebook was just starting to develop, the thought of a politician communicating with plebeians on an instant-messaging basis would have been unheard of. Now, a mayor of a town can post a status about an upcoming town event from his official Facebook page, and can directly respond to individual residents who ask him questions about the said event. On March 21st, 2003, I remember sitting on the carpeted living room floor, turning on CNN, and to my shock, witnessing the city of Baghdad light up the night sky as American bombs rained upon the ancient Mesopotamian city. Early the next morning, I waited on my porch for the local mailman to deliver (aka fling) the newspaper to my front porch, and when he delivered, I took it, unwrapped it from its dewy plastic cover, and opened up the front page to read the Associated Press’ coverage of the invasion of Iraq. I was 11. In 2016, I receive a Twitter notification on my iPhone 6 Plus and watch armies on both sides of a conflict destroy what is remaining of Syria. I am given live feed, and if I know Arabic (I don’t), I can read official reports from Syrian residents on the ground in Aleppo. If I want to see what the Free Syrian Army is doing at any given moment, I can just type in “#FSA” into the Twitter search bar, and watch thousands of news updates pour in within seconds. I can read, at any time, coverage of any war or conflict, from the comfort of my phone in the palm of my hand. Even in a matter of thirteen years, the way we see, receive, and process information- especially on world events- is radically different.


It was 7:30 a.m. EST when I groggily picked up my phone, turned off the alarm, and quasi-drunkenly clicked the apps on my phone. I go in a typical order- Facebook, Instagram, Mail, Twitter, VSCO (yes, I use VSCO. Bite me). When I clicked on Facebook, I went to the search bar to see what everyone is talking about this morning. The top result? “Kim Kardashian- 350K people are talking about this”. I’m not Luddite- I realize that she is one of the most talked-about celebrities, for better or for worse, in this current age. While I don’t “keep up” with the Kardashians, I realize they exist. And yet, 350,000 seemed to be an extraordinary amount posts related to this Armenian-American clan, especially on a random Monday. Immediately before clicking, I wondered whether Kim “broke the Internet” again, or wondered if there was news of a new pregnancy- both of her children, North West and Saint West, received an incredible amount of media coverage minutes after their conception was announced publicly. Amidst my childlike wonder, I clicked on her name as a topic, only to be horrified. I saw the headline on CNN- “Kim Kardashian Robbed At Gunpoint in Paris”, and clicked to catch up on what happened. After reading about how she and her privacy were invaded by armed men posing as police, and how she was bound by rope, forced into a bathtub with tape covering her mouth, I was blown away. How? Why? Who? All of these were questions running through my mind; while I suppose robberies happen every day, they tend to take on a whole new meaning when a cultural icon of her status is the victim. Seeking more info, I went back to the Facebook News feed, only to be sickened in a completely other way.


Kim Kardashian was robbed at gun point. Atomically, she is a human being, of the same species as most of my readership (I assume). Abstractly, she’s a very well-known celebrity, synonymous with new wealth within an increasingly consumerist society. And yet, you would think that an evil, ravenous dragon who consumes entire villages was the victim of a robbery heist (“The Hobbit”, anyone?). Why do I say that? Well, comments ranging from “She deserves it”, to “LMFAO”, to “That’ll teach her!” abounded- all of them being the ‘top comment’ on various Facebook posts, posted by official news stations & affiliates. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself:

  1. Some called her a “worthless social parasite”
  2. Others suggested it was a “publicity stunt”
  3. Others attempted to make a ‘witty’ joke by commenting something inappropriately irrelevant
  4. Others engaged in “victim-blaming”
  5. Wait, more victim-blaming
  6. Really?
  7. One called Kim a “narcissist”, undeserving of sympathy
  8. Another creatively referred to the family as the “Kartrashians
  9. Others called the family “low life garbage
  10. One suggested that rape should have been considered
  11. And lastly (but not least), someone suggested she remembers that she is a “wife, a daughter, and a mother next time she poses naked online”, because as we all know, posing naked online deserves punishment by armed robbery.

These are only but a FEW of the snarky, horrid comments spewed forth by the cognoscenti, the self-proclaimed experts on the worthiness of human life, especially human life which they never actually encountered in person. To list them all would take a few days processing. And yet, folks, this is our Internet culture. This is our present, and it points to an even more depressing future, because as mentioned before, our world continues to increase in social media’s acceleration, all while we collectively decrease in compassionate consideration. In one way, the aforementioned poster of number 11’s comment was right- Kim is a wife, a daughter, and a mother. And yet, the way she is treated on social media by the Internet vigilante mob of justice, you would think she was none of the above. After all, who would ever say such heartless, biting, and unsympathetic things to one’s own wife, or one’s own daughter, or even one’s own mother? If one was to view Kim as a human being- a radical thing to do, apparently- then one would view her as a person whom they share a common humanity with, or on a clan-like, familial level, are of the same blood. However, very few people view her as such. Instead, the self-righteous commenters on social media see Kim as this abstract figure, a waste of space whose existence is satire, at best, and an inconvenience, at worst. And yet, there is this creepy demand that they put on her. The Internet mob is caught in an awkward dichotomy; on one level, they act as if they have no claim to relationship with Kim, but at the same time, they present their demands and critiques of her life, which imply they desire some sort of relationship- albeit a sick one. Here is the great subject-object irony- civility and proper morality is expected of the object of these posters’ hatred- namely Kim; Kim is criticized for dressing immodestly, hoarding massive amounts of wealth on her very body, as well as being criticized for constantly seeking attention & being in the daily headlines. These people commenting expect Kim, the object of their disgust, to be held to a certain standard; but the same qualities are not expected of they themselves, the subject. Herein, however, lies the problem: Kim, and moreover, the posters, are not objects. They are not even subjects, in a literary or newsworthy sense. They are persons, and yet in many ways, their humanity has been forgotten.


It’s a sad cycle. Major news break. Users on social media flood to be the ‘first’ comment. Some guy is “selling potatoes”, another is quoting the opening to the History Channel hit show, “Pawn Stars”. Another somehow composed a sonnet in Harambe’s memory. All clever, ‘witty’ ways to capture the coveted ‘top liked’/’most upvoted’ spot. But at its worse, it gets darker. When the news subject is an object of popular hatred- one could think of two United States presidential candidates, a famous, transgendered television personality, or even a former Christian football player, the snarky comments abound in plenty. However, even more disturbingly, they would never reach their goal (to be a top comment) without the support of the 1.3k Facebook users who ‘like’ their comment. Not only are there people making horrid comments, devoid of all sympathy, but there is a massive Internet mob behind them, cheering them on, raising their torches & pitchforks. And to be quite frank, it’s disgusting. If eyes are the window to the soul, and we let the Internet function metaphorically as eyes here in this example, then the soul of those who use the Internet- actual, living, breathing, human persons- is ugly and in need of serious healing.

The “no chill” culture, where a person posts something so ludicrous that he or she would have to think twice before actually saying it in person for fear of physical harm being done to them, has seriously stained our humanity. The human soul which animates the body is a beautiful thing. It is endowed with the intellectual faculties of the reason & the will. As the ancient Greeks wrote, we are moved towards the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Beauty, goodness, and truth- these ‘transcendentals’ have been the muse by which the greatest artists were inspired to paint the Sistine Chapel, the guiding force to Mother Teresa’s incredible work with the poor, and the motivation of Western philosophers to uncover what we can know inductively and deductively about the ultimate cause of all existence. And here we are, a supposed ‘progressed’ people, watching the destruction of a celebrity’s character online with glee, calling people who we will never meet insulting names, and deflecting every serious situation with a meme. For ‘homo modernus’, we are a doing a pretty terrible job at living up to our name as a modern people. We can send a man to the moon, we can discover life at the bottom of the ocean, we can create robots that simulate human activities, and yet we cannot display basic empathy and compassion to a person in need- for as much as we desire to claim our current world as the most progressed & advanced, we fall back into barbaric tribalism and exclusivity, forgetting our shared humanity, and using mediums that could be used for good (social media) as tools of our own bigotry, a perpetuation of systemic hatred for the “other”… especially when that “other” is famous.

The news of Kim Kardashian’s awful morning tells us that this world can be a very dangerous place, especially if one has wealth- and it is known that he or she has it. The reaction to this unfortunate news of Kim Kardashian being robbed at gun point tells us something else. It tells us that this world, especially as it is manifested through social media, can be a very ugly place. It also informs us of where we are as a collected human body, who spend probably more time than we need to on the Internet. The emptiness of any sympathy, empathy, or even basic consideration for her well-being points us to seek where and why so many lost their soul, an observation evident in the cruel comments posted by them on social media. Even worse, these comments are fueled to the top of a page after thousands of Internet mob members, in blind admiration, ‘like’ the comment, pushing it to the forefront of our social media consciousness. Some of you may comment and say I am painting a bleak, depressing picture of the current state of affairs. Some of you may say it was an isolated incident, and if this happened to a lesser-known celebrity, the vileness of the Internet reaction would have been severely decreased.

All I know this this: if my mother, sister, or daughter was ever robbed at gunpoint by five aggressive strangers, it would be devastating. I would be horrified that a group of individuals would have disregarded the inherent dignity found in each of my loved ones. However, they wouldn’t be alone, because in addition to their blatant refusal to see my loved ones as persons and instead commit violence towards them, sure enough, the Internet- depending on how well liked my mother, sister, or daughter was- would join in the fray. After spending a lot of my adolescence and early adulthood on the Internet, I have learned a few things. One of these things is this- I wouldn’t expect much emotional support from the online community. In fact, I would probably just omit the fact that my family was assaulted, and go back to posting videos of dogs cuddling bunnies. At least that’s something people on the Internet won’t lose their humanity over.

Broken Body

img_4895

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12: 4-5)

It’s 4:22 p.m. as I sit down to write this. Like most Millennials, I carry my iPhone with me at all times. My backpack is busting at the seams, it seems, from the weight of my books on canon law, Catholic social doctrine, liturgical theology, and even a book on preaching. I sit down at the library, reading to dive into the deep, rich theological traditions of the Catholic Church, when my undisciplined finger twitches and I somehow end up on Facebook, the digital land of milk and honey, filled to the brim with videos of puppies playing in the grass, political rants, updates on a person’s recent job transition,  Buzzfeed ‘listicles’ (“7 Things I Learned From My Ex”, “6 Things Disney Characters Taught Us About Life”, etc), and so on. Eventually, I scroll and see a post by the relatively famous American Jesuit Catholic priest, Fr. James Martin, SJ. As of the time of me writing this post, Fr. Martin’s official Facebook page has 467,384 ‘likes’, an extraordinary amount of a Catholic priest, and a drop in the bucket of the 77 million ‘likes’ of another esteemed public figure, Justin Bieber. Fr. Martin often posts on current happenings on the Church; for years, now, his official Twitter account posts daily reflections on the Gospel of the day, spiritual meditations, and updates on Catholic news. I see that today’s post is prefaced with an introductory nota bene– “NB: Two post limit. Be charitable. No ad hominem. Keep on topic please.” Scrolling down farther, I see another post, with the same preface. Scrolling yet even farther, I see another post. And another. And another- all with the same intro line.  Of course, as someone who has followed Father Martin’s online ministry for years now, this is nothing new- but apparently, for some reason, it still needs to be said.


Wading deep into the waters of procrastination, my twitchy finger begins to type in a new URL. Suddenly, before my eyes, I come across a website with a beautiful header, a 19th century painting depicting a young Catholic priest distributing Holy Communion to a group of simple, plain-clothed peasants, all gathering together at the front steps of the Church to receive the Eucharist. As I scroll down the website, I see various blog posts by a variety of authors. To the right of these posts is a Twitter feed, which from what I can tell, is very active- sometimes ‘tweeting’ several times an hour. I scroll farther and farther down the website, and my interest is piqued by the titles of blog posts. Some are quite noble-“Help the Benedictines of Mary Build a New Church!”- others, (“The Heretic Pope”), not so much. Sometimes, the blog post is a news update; another time, it may be a homily by a priest. Sometimes, the post reports news from the US and Europe- the Church as it is experienced in the global South and East Asian countries, not so much. Sometimes, the posts are quite supportive of the Holy Father, especially in his announced “Year of Mercy”. But most of the time, not so much.


Catholicism has a contemporary crisis- in an age where former global boundaries have vastly shrunk, where one can observe a political protest in Iran, watch a wildlife expert wrestle an anaconda in New Zealand, or even watch the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Ecuador, the digital landscape provides information and interaction across cultures like never before, and by and large, the Church’s presence on the Internet is largely embarrassing, at best, and scandalous, at worst. The Greek word for scandal, “skandalon”, can be translated into English as “stumbling block”. To cause scandal is to cause another to stumble, whether by our words or actions. To be scandalous is to be the cause for another to stumble, whether by our public persona or who we present ourselves to be. Catholicism, as it is often expressed on the Internet, is a cause of scandal, of making others stumble, a roadblock to the path of Christ.

Since the beginning of the Church, as handed down by Christ to His Apostles, media has played an important part in the role of evangelization. St. Paul, author of a large portion of the New Testament, composed letters to communicate to the local churches, exhorting them, encouraging them, warning them, educating them, and correcting them. Whether by writing, art, hymnody, dance, the early Church communicated the Catholic faith through the media of their day. During the Renaissance period, the creation of the printing press allowed for a printing of Bibles, pamphlets, books, and newsletters, which were disseminated throughout all of Europe, bringing people to the Catholic faith (or persuading them to join the Lutheran church!). In the modern period, the evolution and spread of photography, magazines, audio and radio communication, and the telephone allowed for Catholic dioceses and religious orders to establish a media presence, where to educate their faithful on matters pertaining to their life of faith. With the dawn of mobile cellular phones, tablets, laptops and personal computers, and the explosion of Internet access for billions of people living on this earth, the Church is tasked with making Christ known and loved, through teaching, preaching, and the witness of holiness in the ordinary, daily lives of everyday Catholics.  Dioceses now have large websites with listings of all of their offices and ministries, religious orders have online forms to fill out for potential candidates, parishes have an online presence with mass times and religious education information. As helpful as these resources are, they are not the front-lines of Catholic engagement with the Internet world, no more than American engagement with politics is with official, US government websites. If you want to find the newest, exciting, and most “lit” (as the youth say) place to discuss politics, it will be on social media newsfeeds, comment sections of online newspapers, and blogs. And if you want to find the crisis Catholicism faces in 2016, you will find it there.

For one reason or another, Catholicism-on-the-Web is largely dictated by snarkiness, political divide, and general ugliness. I speak not as a “prophet of doom”, but rather as a realist. For years now, and in an escalating manner, Catholics on social media have largely caused scandal to others by showing the sad divide of our Church on a plethora of issues, or even in Her mission. Catholics who identify as “conservative”, “liberal” and everywhere in between are engaged in  a war- not with the world, not with sin, not with unbelief, but rather each other. The Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is a body torn apart by political strife and inter-ideological warfare- a total war, if you will. If you do not believe me, then check it out for yourself; Father James Martin SJ’s Facebook page is a prime example. The fact that a Catholic priest has to write a nota bene forbidding ad hominem attacks and encouraging charity in comments, when his primary readership are ‘practicing’ Catholics themselves, is a sign that something is wrong, and something needs to change. Father Thomas Roscia, a Basilian Father and Catholic priest most known for his work within media communications, hit this unfortunate truth on its head this past May when he warned, to a group of journalists of this “culture of death”, and stated that Catholic blogs have become “cesspools of hatred”. Within hours of this news being reported by Crux, websites such as The Society of St. Hugh of Cluny, OneMadMomBlog, and Abbey Roads proved his point further, by continuing the calumny, erroneously accusing him of being “some liberal” and “renegade”, questioning if their hatred is not actually just a “zeal for souls”- as the saints throughout history have showed us, zeal for souls is a gift of God given by grace, and grace is a participation in the life and love of God- something that is clearly lacking in hateful words and actions. While Fr. Roscia’s point rang true, it probably won’t change anything, because those Catholics engaging in this polemic view themselves as righteous bastions of holy orthodoxy, and thus the more you criticize their approach, the more they believe they are serving the “Truth”.

I often imagine what non-Catholics think of Catholicism when they see Catholics comment on posts, whether regarding Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the Church’s understanding of marriage, among other issues posted on Catholic websites. I, of course, am biased- I am Catholic, and I keep up on all of the latest news and gossip in the Church. But I wonder what the experience is like for an inquisitive soul, who deeply desires to learn more about the Catholic faith, and yet when they search the hashtag “#Catholic” on social media or type “Catholic blog” on Google, they find such deplorable pulpits of doom, misery, and bitterness. I often wonder if these people truly believe that this is what the Church is about- anxious, angry individuals trying to assert their “truth” and impose it dogmatically, instead of doing actual research & learning what the Magisterium of the Catholic Church truly teaches. I often wonder how many dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of people have sought to explore Catholicism in 2016, and all they find is desolation and viciousness. I envision this curious onlooker who finally seeks to take his or her first step into the Christian life as one who approaches a king. The king, in his beautiful, majestic throne room, is excited to receive this new servant, a guest the king himself will wait on. So, the king orders his closest servants to go and bring the curious onlooker to the foot of the throne, but the king’s orders fall on deaf ears- his royal guard and closest servants are in the midst of a big, tumultuous fight after weeks and weeks of bickering. The king is looking at the curious onlooker, but he cannot get past the angry, crowded mess his servants have created; and ironically, the servants, whose job it was to serve the king and bring onlookers to his service, have themselves become the obstacles to which the person cannot be received by the king who desires the onlooker so dearly. This, for me, is the parallel of Christ the King, who, as St. Teresa of Avila says, “…has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.” Christ, who has no body on earth besides the Body of Christ as seen in His Church, has willed that His Church be the instrument by which His Body can extend and encounter those outside, in need, and seeking His Truth. And when the members of His Body, the Church, become deficient and fight each other, it’s like a body which seeks to help someone in need, but cannot reach the person because the leg just kicked the chest, while the hand pulls the ear, and the knees smack against each other. This is the Body of Christ at war with itself, a Body broken, not out of love for the ‘other, but rather a Body broken due to its strain from its own members. This is not the will of God, and this is not the mission of the Church-in-the-world.

Oh, we all know what it looks like.”Pope Francis is a heretic!!!” “You’re just a wackjob conservative”, “You effeminate sodomites are destroying the Church!” (All actual comments I have seen and documented on my newsfeed). We all know what it looks like- James Martin, SJ tweets “God loves you!” and Athanasius the Inquisitor of Heterodoxy replies “- but He also talks about judgement!!!!”. Traditional Catholic blogs cannot state with St. Francis de Sales’ douceur (“gentle sweetness”) the truths of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith. Nay, in order to build up their readership, they feel the need to tear down others, by sensationalizing news of Pope Francis and constantly criticizing the Church post-Vatican II. Whether by posting videos of “liturgical abuse”, whining about “clown masses” (as if they were ever a thing), or mocking Protestant ministers (especially when they’re women), the “conservative” Catholic presence has largely embarrassed the Church by not being able to affirm the truths of the faith civilly without resorting to bitter and insecure polemic. Oh, and let’s not forget Ms. Anne Barnhardt, who referred to Pope Francis as a “diabolical narcissist,” and in an interview at Creative Minority Report calls the pope a “fag hag.”

Catholic memes, another possible form of media, has sometimes been used responsibly for the promotion of the faith, and other times been used harmfully. I recall one meme in particular discussing the “punching of heretics”, a nod to St. Nicholas, who was said to once have punched Arius, a heretic, in the face at an ecumenical council. Another meme depicts a Christian crusader in full armor and garb, holding up a sword, with a chat bubble saying “Deus vult!” (Latin for “God wills it”, the infamous slogan of the crusaders inspired by Pope Urban II and his First Crusade in 1095). The comments are just as uninspiring, as they are filled with laughing emojis or “witty” comments in response. None of the comments discuss the sensitive nature 0f the Crusades or the destruction and havoc they caused. No comments seem to address the centuries of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic bias essentially sponsored by the Church throughout the medieval period, even up until the early 20th century. No comments mentioning that, because it isn’t “trendy”, as a Catholic on the Interwebz, to come to terms with actual history and crimes committed by members of our Church, fallaciously justified by “God’s will”.

And yet, the sharp, biting tone of Catholics on the Internet is not just reserved for the ‘conservative’ branch. The ‘liberal’ community of Catholics, mostly aged in their 50s, 60s, and 70s and children of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’, are susceptible to an exclusive ‘inclusiveness’, one that attacks the Catholic hierarchy except when they promote something in accordance with their personal beliefs and interests. Any discussion of traditional liturgy (the recent reactions to the possible return of ‘ad orientem’ was surprisingly negative), magisterial teaching on faith and morals (especially regarding marriage & the family, sexual ethics, contraception/abortion) are subject to ridicule and slander. Cardinal Burke and other traditionalist bishops are treated with such disdain and disrespect, with some in the comment section insinuating that he is a “closet homosexual” because he celebrates mass with traditional, episcopal, regal garb. Really, people? We need to do better than this.

“But it’s not just Catholics… it’s politics too,” you might add. Granted, it’s true. But the main difference (among many) between politics and the Catholic faith is that one is commanded by God to be proclaimed as “Good News”, and the other is politics. If these are the messengers of ‘good news’, I sure do not want to meet the bringers of the bad. The narcissistic and vile commentary of Catholic news & theology on both sides of the political spectrum taint the beauty of the Good News and turn it into their own warped, sinful creation. And put simply, this is a damn shame. It’s a shame because the Catholic faith is about much more than just the “do not’s”- in fact, the very source and summit of our life, the Eucharist, flows from a command to “Do this”. Until Catholic blogs focus more on what we, as Christians, are called “to do”, then we will forever be suffocated by a hazy fog of “do not’s”.

Moreover, many Catholics, in their social media presence, do not realize the damage they do by their vitriol. Many blogs will affirm their hatred and masquerade it as “defending the TRUTH!!!” and “orthodoxy!!”, when it is anything but. These snarky Catholics have lost their sense of the theological virtues, of faith, hope, and charitable love. They have placed partisan politics and ideology over self-sacrificial discipleship of the Crucified One. As a practicing Catholic who fails quite frequently but continues to seek mercy and grace, I understand that matters of faith and morals are important. But there is no excuse for justifying the polemical nature of Catholic commentators on the blogs, newspapers, and social media- none. Do polemics have a role in the faith? Sure, I would say that the tone and style of early Christian apologists (Justin Martyr comes to mind) or even some popes were warranted. However, not everything Justin Martyr or early defenders of Christian doctrine was a reactionary response to issues of the day- rather, they spent much more time in prayer, study, and community to focus on the locus of the Gospel- Jesus Christ, a person who seems to be lacking in the depths of Catholic social media and blogs.

When the early Church was so concerned about their “enemies”, even from within, the inspired authors of Sacred Scripture encourage us to focus on the kerygma- that is, the preaching and announcement of the Good News. This does not simply mean that they would ignore big issues of the day, but rather, it is a call to focus on the preaching of the Gospel message first. How many Catholic blogs have you found recently dedicated on the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel? How many ‘top voted’ comments on Facebook pages dedicated to Catholicism have been about the Paschal Mystery, the mystery of grace and its relation to nature, the beauty of God’s creative action, or the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us sinners, as well as the beauty of the Resurrection and what our mission as Church is- as people called in service to Christ and neighbor. I do not find many. Instead, I find blogs dedicated for “thin” liturgy (a term used by David Fagerberg, professor of liturgy at the University of Notre Dame), that is, the focus on rubrics and rules regarding our worship, instead of talking about the One whom is the object and source of our worship. What Catholic blogs need, more now than ever, is two things: one, a radical re-orientation to the Gospel message and the basic kerygmatic proclamation of the Christian message, and two, a rediscovery of charity. I am not advocating for a watering-down of the truths spoken by Christ Himself as recorded in Sacred Scripture, but what I am advocating is a discussion of these truths in a spirit of fraternal charity and kindness. Our Church needs less polemicists and more grace-filled messengers of Jesus Christ; our Church needs less hatred of the ‘other’, and more mercy for those who we disagree with; our Church needs less of what’s going on currently in Catholic social media circles, and more of what Pope Francis is trying to usher in: a year of favor from the Lord, a year where we find new ways to seek forgiveness from God and change our lives to be missionaries and disciples of Mercy Himself. We can only do that when we lay down our arms and embrace each other. Far from being a ‘soft’ witness, this tenderness is what Jesus calls His disciples to when he says, “…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). When mercy is seen as weakness and as a message that needs to be constantly and anxiously by the warning “God judges too!”, one realizes that we, as Catholic Christians, are still very, very uncomfortable with the path Jesus invites His disciples to follow, one which we learn from through meekness and humility of heart (Matthew 11:29).  As the newly-canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Part of the issue plaguing Catholics and their presence on social media is this very forgetting of the fact that we belong to one another. If we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, we better be broken for others, and not broken because of each other. Until then, we risk becoming a grave annoyance, one that will forever turn people ‘off’ from the saving act of God in Christ Jesus, or worse, become a scandal- a stumbling block- that prevents others from following Christ.


It is now 5:54 p.m. My iPhone is still with me, my backpack is still a penance to carry, and I have not gotten any of the work I need done for tomorrow. I spent the last hour and some-odd minutes scrolling endlessly between the blogs. In the same way my grandmother had her “soaps”, where she would flip and watch a little bit of each, piecing together an odd story from the same general narrative, I have my “sites”- my favorite Catholic websites to check out, where I try to piece together what, besides the externals & pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, actually make these blogs and Facebook pages “Catholic”, and it’s not exactly clear to me. But what does come to my mind, very clearly, are the words of Christ, echoing the Prophet Isaiah: “”These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8).

 

 

The First Principle

…and my first official blog post.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) is considered one of the most popular and well-known saints in the Catholic Church. For those who are not familiar with him, here’s a rough sketch of who he is and why he is important:

Ignatius was born in 1491 in the Basque region of modern-day Spain. He was born into a noble family, and worked as a page for a treasurer at a local castle.His youth was filled with the typical activities of a nobleman’s son- parties, women, and vainglory. Inspired by tales of knighthood and glory, Ignatius became a soldier in the army. In 1521, however, his life changed forever. It was then, at the Battle of Pamplona, that his leg was struck by a cannonball and he had to be carried away. He was placed in bed- injured, bruised, and defeated. To pass time and to distract himself from the many surgeries he needed, he asked for books to read, wanting to read more about the tales of brave knights and ladies-in-waiting. However, there were only two books available- “The Lives of the Saints”, and “The Imitation of Christ”. Originally annoyed, Ignatius’ mind began to wander. He would think about impressing ladies and winning battles, and his mind produced earthy thoughts, agitation, and overall restlessness. However, when he read about the lives of St.Francis and St. Dominic, both founders of medieval mendicant orders that focused on Gospel values and serving the poor, Ignatius was filled with excitement, wonder, and joy. It was here that Ignatius first understood the gift of discernment.

In a reduction that would disappoint any Jesuit reading this (I apologize in advance, SJs!), I will briefly summarize what happened next- he converted. He abandoned his noble title and his honor, and left the castle to a Benedictine monastery in the mountains of Spain- Montserrat. He wanted to live an austere life and make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but when he got to the Holy Land, he was rejected and took that as a sign that God wanted him to do something else. Ignatius’ conversion was radical; he took upon extreme penances and spiritual practices in order to become “holy”. And yet, he eventually grew in his gift for what is called the “discernment of spirits”- the process in which one sifts through what is of the good spirit, and that which leads us away from God and our truest selves- the evil spirit. Ignatius developed one of the first understandings of modern psychology, one that identified positive influences to behavior, negative influences to behavior, and even seemingly positive influences which, after much sifting and discernment, turned out to be a false “angel of light”.  His penances and mortification was now properly ordered to a healthy and organic spiritual end. Ignatius eventually went back to school (he was in a class with children, a serious blow to his ego but one he accepted with humility) and university. He founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order), and was canonized shortly after his death in 1556.

There is a rough sketch of his life, but if you’re interested in more on his life (or want to fact check some of my summary), I recommend a reading of his Autobiography (here). Oh wait. I forgot something. Ignatius’ greatest gift to the Church (besides the founding of the largest male religious order) was his thirty-day “Spiritual Exercises”. The Spiritual Exercises are designed to walk the Christian through a Scripturally-guided 4 week meditation, in which one views oneself within their relationship with God, with others, and how one’s life has responded to the invitation to divine friendship. The first thing the Exercises start with is what is called the “First Principle and Foundation”. This is:

“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”

(Source: Spiritual Exercises)

For Ignatius, man’s teleological end is to worship, adore, and reverence his Creator. And yet, this Creator is not some far-off, distant, cold, metaphysical Being. Rather, this Creator is none other than God- the Triune Lord of Life. Who we are to society, what we own, what our gifts and talents are- all of these are secondary- what is foundational is that we are created in love by Love Himself. Our primary identity is found in the fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). It’s not that our gifts and talents do not matter- quite often, we are given gifts by God Himself. So, if you have a talent of dancing, or public speaking, or singing, or art, or athletics, don’t buy into a false humility which makes you think that in order to be “holy”, you must abandon these gifts! If anything, the gifts and talents which we are given can (and should) be used to glorify God Almighty, the giver of good gifts (James 1:17). However, despite our gifts, they do not define us for who we are. Take for example, an opera singer who has a lovely voice. While singing may be her passion and a source of much joy and consolation, her primary identity cannot be tied to her ability to sing. Why not? Well, take the unfortunate case of someone with chronic laryngitis, a bane to beautiful voices, or imagine the awful case of this opera singer getting into an accident which prevents her from speaking- God forbid! Where would her identity and dignity lie, once her ability to sing is taken from her by some malevolent circumstance? Would she cease to have a sense of purpose or direction?

For the Christian, the answer is a resounding NO. While we would never wish evil upon anyone, in the case of suffering or a debilitating condition, our dignity remains intact. This is because our identity is not rooted in gender or sociopolitical roles or sexuality- our identity is rooted in the fact that each and every human being is an imago Dei (Latin: image of God). Thank God (literally) for this wonderful truth!

Ignatius, in saying that our foundation & primary source of dignity is in that we are “loved sinners” by God actually frees us. Whereas 21st century society might regard our worth based on how many ‘likes’ our Instagram selfies get or how many ‘followers’ we have on Twitter and other social media, Ignatius discards this in favor of a Christian anthropology, namely, that our dignity and  worth are found in that we are created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). This is both a consoling truth and a challenge- because we are created in His image and likeness, we always have an inherent and fundamental dignity that no circumstance or situation could take away (yay!). However, this challenges us, then, to recognize in every person- whether we like, love, dislike, hate, or do not understand them, is ALSO made in God’s image and likeness. Once we abandon the notion that our identity is rooted in anything else, we can rejoice, but we also must be mature in our faith enough to see this same reality in every other person- which may (and will) push us outside of our comfort zones. Will I smile at the lady who flipped me off on the freeway, or will I scowl and wish death upon her family? (Or anywhere in between). Will I discard someone who disagrees with me as a “conservative wackjob” or a “looney liberal”?

And so, we return to the title of this post- “The First Principle”. Let’s ask ourselves, “What is my first principle”? Do I view the source of my identity as a homo adorans (Latin: “man who worships”), or am I constantly burdened by “finding myself” through other means- what I wear, what music I listen to, what I have done, how much money I make, what kind of car I drive, etc? Moreover, how do I view the identity of others? Hint: if we view another person’s worth and “value” stemming from anywhere but the reality that they are created and loved by God, then we are missing the mark. The “First Principle” not only radically re-orients our understanding of self, but also challenges our understanding of others, as well.

Many of us are now saying goodbye to summer and hello to a new school year with new opportunities, new friends, new steps. We would do well to reflect on Ignatius’ “First Principle”, and to make his understanding of the human being- as created to praise God and accept His love- as our own.