O Lord Thou shalt open my lips and my mouth shall declare Thy praise.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Lent, We Must Pray for Conversions Such as This One

-Greek Vespers last night (for today).

Ash Wednesday - I Class Feria
Commemoration of St. Margaret of Cortona, penitent - IV Class

Today us Latins begin the Great Fast, but also in the Roman Martyrology we have the commemoration of St. Margaret of Cortona. Sadly she is always covered up, usually by the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (which would have been today if it wasn't Ash Wednesday). She was a rebellious teenager that hated her parents and wanted to live her life her own way. She ran away with her lover and lived with him in concubinage (cohabitation), bearing for him a bastard son and very much wanting to marry him. It was only his death that woke her up from her life of sin and convinced her to give herself to God to live the life for which He created her. As it is with penitents, her conversion was all at once, not gradual. St. Margaret realized that she was wrong at the most fundamental level as to what love is. Therefore it became instantly clear that her whole life was wrong and she abandoned it all at one. Love is all or nothing. There is no room for compromise in love: either you completely give yourself to God for the sake of your beloved, or you don't. Either love is the complete giving of yourself to God that He might use you to strengthen your beloved or it isn't. Sex is not an act where people simply give themselves to each other to accomplish the goals they set for their relationship according to what they want. "If the Lord doesn't build the house, in vain to the builders labor." (Ps 126:1) Sex is the perfection and symbol of your entire life where you give yourself to God that He might use you as the sustenance for your beloved in a live-giving union that imitates the life-giving union between Christ and His Bride the Church. Also normal of penitents, St. Margaret was very greatly tempted to return to her former life, however she persevered because if what God says about love is right, then her life was wrong no matter how many people in the world around her say the contrary.

Here is a re-post from last year of the life of St. Margaret of Cortona:
I love all saints who are penitents. St. Margaret of Cortona is an especially good one. I wrote about her recently. She died on the feast of the Chair of Peter in the year 1297, and is listed in the martyrology on that day only, but I'll do her today because her day is obviously impeded. The day after is St. Peter Damian and he's to important to cover up. I could say much about her. When I spoke of her last, I spoke about true love vs. false love. I wanted to speak of her pride, but I decided to save it for today. We all know young people with a sense of pride. It's one of the most defining characteristics of that age group. St. Margret was no exception. She was born at Laviano in Tuscany in 1247. She was a strong-willed teenager. She wanted to "get away from her parents" and live life her own way. She didn't want to have to obey some authority figure because she was already grown up and could do what she wanted and didn't want her parents or God bossing her around. She was a big girl. She could live life however she wanted and be with whatever person she wanted. Stop me if you've heard this one before. Go to confession if this sounds like you.

So our little Margaret is "all grown up". She isn't some little girl, she's a grown woman. The problem is, she isn't a grown woman, she's a teenager that is proud and stubborn and wants her own way. If parents say the contrary, then they're wrong. What teenager doesn't fit this mold? Margaret, now college-age, decides to co-habit with her boyfriend. She lives with him for 9 years (until she's 27) and bears him a son. She wanted to marry him, but he was never really willing. So her chief sins were pride, lust, and sloth, for she was a fallen-away Catholic this whole time. She was freed from her life of concubinage by his murder. The killer was never found. He was found in a ditch several days later. That served as a wake-up call to revert back to the faith. She lived a life of severe penance. She was many times tempted to go back to her sinful life. She stayed strong and joined the third order of St. Francis at Cortona. She received private revelations from Christ, who became her mystical lover. After three years of penance, the revelations got more intense and Christ became more intimate with her, as she had worked off all of her temporal punishment from her life of sin. She is depicted with a crucifix to symbolize these revelations and mystical marriage to Christ. Aside form her conversion, she is famous for being a mystic and founding a group of sisters who worked in a hospital. She is incorrupt and buried in Cortona.

There are many, nay, most, teens today that act just like her and continue to do so long after their 20th birthday. When it comes to love, the mentality is about "getting something out of it". It's all about either the sexual pleasure or the romantic pleasure. The couple descends into what I call the "economy of pleasure". The boy gives the girl romantic pleasure in order to get sexual pleasure. The girl gives the guy sexual pleasure to get romantic pleasure. As long as this "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" agreement keeps flowing back and forth, the two are happy together, even though they are just using each other to get to happiness and calling it "love". At this point boys will do all sorts of crazy, ridiculous, and embarrassing things to impress a girl to which they're attracted, just to be able to have sex with her. He will expose himself to ridicule and degrade himself just to get the girl to have sex with him. The girl, inversely, will do all sorts of things to give him sexual pleasure, be it a sexual act or just simply the way she dresses, in order to please him enough to get him to give her romantic pleasure. She will turn her body from the greatest masterpiece of the Divine Artist, God's ultimate creation, and degrade herself just to get the boy to have give her romantic pleasure. For both the boy and the girl, this is an obsession. It is an obsession with a certain type of pleasure, whether it be romantic or sexual, and being willing to degrade your own self and destroy the dignity God gave you just to get to that pleasure. This is sin. The boy and the girl both destroy themselves just to get this passing pleasure. The pleasure passes and like a cup with no bottom they need more, and the girl will degrade her body by having letting him have sex with it and the boy will degrade himself by doing foolish things to get sex.

They are addicted and will do anything to leech the pleasure they seek from the one they "love". This is not love. I'll tell you what love is. Love, like these addictions, is a force greater than yourself, it consumes you. However, it does not bring anxiety and does not trouble you or cause you to madly crave the pleasure you seek. Love gives you tranquility and serenity, it gives you true peace. You love the person. It hit you like a ton of bricks and now you don't want anything out of them. Rather, you want to give yourself to them and be with them. In other words, you want companionship. This companionship is a deep and close friendship within the context of a romantic relationship, motivated by your love for that person. You do not want lust; it would be nice, but isn't a priority. Rather you want the companionship of the person you love. The underlying mentality is not one of an action towards you, the reception of sexual or romantic pleasure. Rather the underlying mentality is one of an action away from you. You want to give yourself to the other person. When I say that you want companionship, it is not a mentality of "I want the person to come here towards me and be with me." That is the mentality behind lust. The mentality behind lust is "I want to go over there to that person, give my very self to them and be with them." Love gives; it does not desire to receive. Love is completely self-less and self-giving. For this reason pride is completely incompatible and kills love quite easily.

This is why so many people cannot find lasting love today. This is why we have so many broken homes, single mothers, divorce, and cohabitation. They get consumed by the "economy of pleasure" and never experience actual love. They often care about the person and have good intentions, but unless the mentality is one of giving yourself completely to the other while not wanting any pleasure in return, it is not love. It is so easy to care about the person and have good intentions while still wanting to get them to fulfill your dreams of romance or carnal union. That is not love. It is manipulating someone you care about because you care about your romantic or sexual dreams more than you care about that person. The foundation of their relationship is weak and that is why so very few relationships last for a long time. The foundation is not that companionship, that romantic friendship. They might both want that romantic friendship, but have great difficulty in getting it to work because they want to get either sexual or romantic pleasure out of it. That desire for pleasure gets in the way and chokes the romantic friendship, preventing it from developing and this is what causes the break-up or divorce. If they really loved each other with that true, honest, self-giving love, then it would be easy to establish that romantic friendship. There would be no desire for happiness or pleasure in the way because love is self-giving and seeks nothing for self. They look to get some sort of happiness out of it instead of looking to give themselves to another person. They are acting in the wrong direction: towards themselves instead of away from themselves. Today is the day to pray for their conversion. We began the season of Septuagesima yesterday. For the next two months, we have nothing but penance leading up to Easter. Everyday is the day to pray for their conversion. Santa Margarita, ora pro nobis.