Saturday, July 6, 2013


July 2013 FGO by the tireless Brother Jason Rhoad:

Our family recently went on a summer vacation. It is always nice to be able to take a few days and unwind from all the day to day normal activities and responsibilities of life that come with both parents working and raising four children. I am very thankful to be able to do it, realizing that I am blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy the down time. This time, like most vacations, I caught myself wishing that it could be like this all the time. “Why do I have to spend 51 weeks of the year trying to beat the rat race and only really be able to enjoy myself for this one week?”, I wondered. And providentially it led to this month’s topic – detachment. You see, I was attached to what I perceived to be good. That is, the feeling I got from being on vacation. Eating ice cream every day, going down to the beach, to the pool, watching the kids enjoy themselves, etc. Now don’t misunderstand, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. The danger is being attached to it and dependent upon it for happiness. I used my vacation as an example of this, but we become attached in all kinds of ways.


The Church uses the language of attachment in her teachings as well. She refers to the need to be free from the attachment to sin in order to receive a plenary indulgence for instance. Father Robert Barron in his very fine documentary series “Catholicism” spends considerable time teaching on the need for becoming detached from the things of this world in order to be free to be attached to the things of the Kingdom of God. Fr. Barron goes through the beatitudes to explain how Jesus was teaching us on the Sermon on the Mount, how to become detached from some of the things that bring us down in the spiritual life: power, pleasure, honor, and wealth. Again, not that these things are necessarily bad in and of themselves, but how the attachment to them can lead us away from God, while detachment from them leads us closer to God. Blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Fr. Barron then goes on to explain how Jesus ultimately fulfills this message and practices what he preached by suffering and dying on the cross. There we see Jesus totally detached from power, pleasure, honor, and wealth. Power: He is nailed to a cross and can barely move. Pleasure: He is at the height of physical pain. Honor: He has been stripped naked and is hanging on a cross like a common criminal for all to see. Wealth: He has no physical possessions. One of the paradoxes of the cross is this. Free from attachment to the things of the world, the things that the world says will bring us happiness; Jesus is free to be attached to the will of the Father. So as we gaze upon a crucifix, we are beholding a truly happy man. And as we will see, it is only doing the will of God that brings true happiness.


Our culture sells us lies all the time. All too often, we buy them. One of the biggest lies going is that pleasure and happiness are the same thing. We are constantly being told that this or that thing will make us happy. Not in as many words maybe, but pay attention to how things are advertised. A particular brand of sneakers makes the person in the ad “happy”. The right kind of car makes the driver “happy”. And on and on it goes. What they are trying to sell us is that the moment of pleasure we get when we buy the product, will produce lasting happiness. Therein lies the lie. Matthew Kelly, in a talk he gives to candidates preparing for Confirmation, tells them that pleasure cannot be sustained past the activity producing it, but that happiness is lasting, even after the activity is over. Take eating for example. Eating brings us pleasure. But pleasure only lasts as long as the activity producing it. That explains why we don’t stop eating. But once we’re done gorging ourselves, we realize that we shouldn’t have done that. We usually feel horrible and have some level of regret. But what about when we exercise? Long after we go for a run/walk, or hit the gym, etc., we feel good that we had the discipline to do that. We know we are better off for having done it and so the happiness has lasted longer than the activity that produced it. And so it is in the spiritual life. Being attached to wealth, power, honor, and pleasure in the end only leave us feeling unfulfilled. The great St. Augustine referred to it as the God hole. Each of us has a void within us. We try to fill it with things of the world. But no matter how much we put in there, it is never enough. We are never satisfied. It leaves us necessarily unfulfilled. That’s because the only thing that brings true happiness is filling that void with the thing it was made to be filled with – the will of God. Once we become detached from the things of the world and become attached to the things of God, we go from pleasure (which is only temporary and leaves us unfulfilled) to true happiness, which is both lasting and fulfilling, and is what we were created for in the first place. “Our hearts are restless O Lord, until they rest in thee”, Augustine tells us.

I just wanted to make one final note about the Church’s teaching on purgatory and how it applies to this topic. As you may have figured out by now, it is not so easy to detach ourselves. We have concupiscence, or a downward tugging on us toward sin. It is a result of the fall. And at times in our lives, despite our best intentions, we may find ourselves attached to the wrong things. We may even die, not completely free from these attachments. We have no mortal sin on our souls and we have love for God in our heart, but we may still need to be purified or “purged” (thus the word “purgatory”) of the things that keep us from being fully attached to God. This purging occurs before we enter the fullness of heaven where there is no sin, no attachment to sin, and only love of God remains. So purgatory is the mercy of God. It allows us to become completely detached so that we can spend all eternity truly happy, experiencing what we were made for – union with God. At last, our hearts resting in thee.

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