God's Commands + Generational Spirits, Resources on Transgenderism, and God's Seeming Silence
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Deus Caritas Est Study, Week 5
“Having reflected on the nature of love and its meaning in biblical faith, we are left with two questions concerning our own attitude: can we love God without seeing him? And can love be commanded?” Pope Benedict XVI.
How can God command love? Answering that question starts with understanding that God’s commands are not like man’s. Man’s commands are sometimes just, sometimes not. They can be for the common good. Or they can be for the good of those issuing the commands. Sometimes, they’re arbitrary. Other times, they’re misguided.
Man’s commands also come with a threat: Obey or you will suffer.
And we all have. Each of us has suffered in some way from another person’s wrong, foolish, or selfish commands. That suffering inclines many of us to skepticism about the goodness of any command, leading us to conflate authority with authoritarianism. We rightly fear being controlled.
But again, God’s commands are not like man’s. They’re always just, for He is just. They’re never shortsighted, for He sees all—every consequence of every command. They’re also always given with our best interest, not His, in mind. He doesn’t want to control us; He wants to lead us to joy.
Which is why we suffer when we don’t follow God’s commands. We’re not simply going against some law; we’re going against our nature. We’re choosing poison, instead of nourishment.
The two greatest commandments aren’t random orders from on high. They’re a roadmap to the life for which we were made. They are God saying, “You want happiness? You want a life filled with meaning, joy, and glory? Then, here you go. Love me. Love your neighbor.”
As Benedict wrote, the more we choose to obey that command, the easier obedience gets. The more we love God, the more we love those around us. And the more we love those around us, the more we love God. Also, the more we love, the more like God we become—the more we image Him and understand the goodness of His will. Most important, the more we love, the more we see the love He has for us.
It’s that love which ultimately makes obedience possible. That’s how God can command love. He makes love possible. He gives the grace of obedience. He gives the grace to love. We just have to say yes to that grace.
On a natural level, are you someone who is inclined to obey authority figures or resist authority figures? Do you naturally trust authority? Why do you think that is? How does that affect your relationship with God and the Church?
Which comes more easily for you—fulfilling your obligation to God or your neighbor? Is there any way in which you are neglecting your obligations to either?
What is one practical thing you could do in the next week to show greater love for God and greater love for any neighbors (family, friends, the poor) whom you might be neglecting?
Every month, on Instagram, I open up a question box, where readers can ask questions about Church teaching, the life of faith, or my life in our home. I answer some questions there immediately. Others I answer here in the free newsletters. If you have a question you want to ask, the next open question box will be next Monday, March 6 (barring acts of God).
What are your thoughts on generational spirits in the family tree? I thought baptism took care of it?
The whole idea of generational spirits, as some talk about it today, is a relatively new one in the Church. It’s also an increasingly popular one. Accordingly, back in 2018, the International Association of Exorcists asked one of its most respected exorcists, Father Rogelio Alcantara, to investigate the matter and present on it. In sum, he concluded that the idea is new, novel, and spiritually dangerous. The exact quote was that it is, “an invention, that represents a grave danger for those who want to accept divine revelation as presented to us by the Catholic Church.”
Beyond the proceedings from that one conference, the Church has no definitive statements on the issue. It’s simply not been part of Catholic teaching. That doesn’t mean it’s not a real phenomenon or that the Church won’t teach something more explicit about it in the future. But for now, it’s something considered outside the bounds of normal Catholic teaching on demonic activity.
As for me, I tend to be skeptical about it. Mostly because I have a hard time making sense of it theologically. At least when it comes to the baptized, who are made new in Christ. In every Catholic baptism, an exorcism is performed, and sanctifying grace is poured out on the individual. If a demon has hold of someone before their baptism, he won’t afterwards. He’ll be driven out and any curses attached to the person will be broken. No demon can dwell where God dwells. Nor can any curse have power over a person in sanctifying grace. Asserting otherwise makes no sense. That would make the demon more powerful than Jesus.
This doesn’t mean curses can’t have power over the unbaptized or over those no longer in a state of grace. And demons certainly could develop attachments to particular families, especially where the head of the household is mired deep in sin and no one else is in a state of grace. But over baptized individuals in a state of grace? I don’t see how it’s possible.
That being said, baptism is no guarantee that we won’t suffer on the natural level because of the sins of our fathers. But that suffering is usually due to generational wounds. Not generational spirits. It’s a natural phenomenon, not a supernatural one.
Will you need healing if you are raised by unhealthy people in a dysfunctional home? Absolutely. And you should look for it in prayer, the sacraments, counseling, spiritual direction, healthy friends, and role models who live their lives differently than your family of origin did. Have Masses said for your relatives, dead and alive. Have Masses said for yourself, too. And go to Confession. These are the sacramental helps the Church has given us for fighting temptation, overcoming sin, healing from past wounds, and helping departed ancestors. Make those helps your first resort. Avail deeply of them.
The ordinary means the Church has given us to deal with both our own sin and wounds AND with the powers of darkness are not lesser for being ordinary. They are real. They are powerful. And, unlike all the healing of the family tree stuff, they are backed up by sound theology, clear doctrine, and the official teaching of the Church.
What is your favorite Children’s Bible?
I’ve been asked this question so many times, and I never answered it because I could never find one I liked. Some children’s Bibles were too cartoony, which catechetically is a problem. Other children’s Bibles were too dumbed down, written in language that was over simplified and boring, which I was never comfortable with. After all, the Bible is the Word of God. His voice speaks to us through the words of the Biblical books. And I think it benefits children to hear His actual words, even if they are a bit above them and we have to do some explaining as we read.
After years of looking, however, I have finally found one I love. It’s called A Catholic Child’s Bible, and it’s a Giant Golden Book published in two volumes, Old Testament and New Testament. The Bible was originally published in 1957 and 1958, but long ago went out of print. Which is a crying shame because it is so wonderful. The illustrations are gorgeous, almost like child-friendly icons, and the words are the actual words of Scripture. There were a ton of these in circulation once, so you can get used copies of them at many online retailers, including Amazon, which is where I found ours. We now read from it to the boys every night before bed, and they love it. The books look holy. They sound holy. They are obviously special. And the kids respond to that.
I am currently in the process of begging a Catholic publisher to bring this Bible back into print. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for used copies, because they are worth every cent.
I’m struggling to talk with my non-Catholic friends about transgenderism. Do you know of any good resources I could recommend to them?
In terms of Church documents, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a free document you can download on the topic on their website, and various bishops have written letters of their own (Bishop Burbidge’s in Arlington, VA, was quite good). If you’re looking for something a bit weightier, John Finley’s book Sexual Identity is excellent, as is The Metaphysics of Gender by Michele Shumacher and The Genesis of Gender by Abigail Favale.
Honestly, though, when it comes to sharing resources with people who aren’t Catholic and who might be inclined to dismiss something religious or conservative out of hand, I would recommend sharing critiques that come from the left. Probably one of the best conversations I’ve heard on the issue was a recent episode of Coleman Hughes’ podcast that featured the liberal lesbian philosopher Kathleen Stock. Stock lost her professorship because of the concerns she voiced over certain aspects of transgenderism, and the whole discussion between her and Hughes is excellent. Her philosophical training shows in the precision with which she approaches language. Neither Stock nor Hughes is conservative or religious, and I have some differences of opinion with both of them on this issue (and many others), but in terms of secular resources out there that are free and easy to share, it’s hard to beat this one.
Any tips for praying if you feel ignored by God? It feels easier to ignore God than keep feeling rejected?
You are in a tough place right now. I know because I have been there. I have had long stretches of talking and talking to God and feeling like I was getting nothing back from Him. It is such a hard season. But it’s also a normal season. There isn’t a saint in Heaven who didn’t, at some point, feel like they were talking into a void. So, know that you’re not alone. But also know that these seasons, when endured with faith, can be incredible blessings. We can learn so much about ourselves and God during these times, and those lessons only draw us closer to Him in the end.
The years and years where my prayers went seemingly unanswered taught me not to treat God like a fairy godmother. They helped me to grow in trust. They taught me to look beyond what I was asking for and not getting to all that I was getting, to all the ways God was providing for me and caring for me. Most importantly, those years forced me to confront the mystery of His will, a will that does not look like my will, conform to my will, or answer to my will. That has been a great gift as I’ve navigated other suffering in the years since.
Looking back, all those years of unanswered prayers, where I felt ignored and sometimes even badly used by God, were some of the most spiritually fruitful periods of my life. I didn’t see that at the time, though, and I don’t expect you to see it in this moment either. That’s almost impossible. But if you ever do want to see it, you have to keep talking to Him, sharing your heart and your worries and your needs. You also need to ask the hard questions about your faith: What do you really want and expect from God? How are you treating Him? Are you seeking Him or just the consolations and gifts He gives?
As you ask those questions, remember that God is never silent. He is always speaking. Not necessarily audibly, but in a myriad of other ways. He speaks to us through His Word in Scripture. He speaks to us through the teachings of the Church. He speaks to us through Creation. He speaks to us through His saints. He speaks to us through our circumstances. Listen for Him there.
But through it all, keep talking. If you have run out of words, pray the psalms. Use the words of those who have gone before you and felt anger and frustration in the face of seeming silence. And if you can’t use any words, just sit with Him. Don’t let Him alone. Hold fast to Him. He really is there, and sooner or later, He will help you see that.
I have a whole section in my book Letters to Myself from the End of the World that deals with God’s silence and unanswered prayers. That might prove more helpful than this short answer.
Five Things I Loved This Week
The Free Press has a new seven-part podcast out called The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, and I am blown away by how good it is. If you are interested in the origins and implications of the current transgender movement, cancel culture, and Internet mobs, you need to listen to this. It is pulling together so many cultural pieces for me and helping me make greater sense of our current moment. Three episodes have been released so far, with a new one coming out every Tuesday.
Chris and I watched Green Dolphin Street over the weekend, and if you like older movies, this one is worth your time. Released in 1947, it’s based on the Elizabeth Goudge book Green Dolphin Country, stars Lana Turner and Donna Reed, and asks important questions about what differentiates mature love from immature love. It’s long (it took us two nights to get through), but well done. We found it on Amazon Prime.
I stood in line at our local parish fish fry for almost 40 minutes last Friday, but didn’t mind. Partly because Chris had the kids with him, in the minivan. But also because I was reading this article from The Atlantic: The Children of Nazi’s Genetic Project. A deep dive into a little known or discussed part of World War II history, it touches on adoption and identity, and held my attention the whole while. Definitely the most interesting thing I’ve read all week.
I’m also grateful for this wonderful address turned essay by the fantastic Catholic historian Glen Olsen: The Catholic Roots and Changing Anthropology of Western Medicine. In it, he talks about the book God’s Hotel and the work done by its author, the medical doctor Victoria Sweet, which focused on Saint Hildegard of Bingen’s approach to healing. I first read the book when I was researching Saint Hildegard for the Endow study I wrote on her and was absolutely gripped by it. I couldn’t put it down. Olsen’s article gives a good introduction to Sweet’s work (and more), but after you read it, do yourself a favor and check out God’s Hotel as well.
A few months ago, the organic baked goods company Wildgrain reached out to me about doing a collaboration. I get, on average, a dozen similar messages a day, and I say no to all of them. But Wildgrain’s bread looked amazing. And I just didn’t have the willpower to say no to a free box of organic artisan baked goods delivered to my doorstep. So, I said yes. The box arrived and everything in it—sourdough bread and biscuits, croissants, homemade pastas, and cookies—was all top shelf, better than the quality I’ve gotten at any Pittsburgh bakery. But I never said anything online because the cost seemed too high to me. I didn’t plan on ordering a box myself, but then Wildgrain sent me a generous lifetime discount, as an extra incentive to share, and Chris kept asking me to order again, so I did. We’ve gotten two more boxes from them since then, and the quality is always fantastic. If you want to give it a try, just use this link to get $10 off your first box and free croissants in every box for as long as you subscribe.
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