Healed

But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed. — Isaiah 53:5

Almost two weeks ago I shared an image of Jesus I see in my mind, most often in Adoration, in which the scars from His scourging are revealed to me. And as you may have seen, last Thursday I left to make a silent retreat. The weekend was peaceful, profound, and, I believe, fruitful; I will be sharing bits and pieces of it over the next many days, I’m sure.

One particularly impactful reflection began as we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and came to a beautiful conclusion early this morning. As we prayed, I meditated on scourging and crucifixion, and as usual, wondered what must happen to people to harden them enough to inflict such suffering on another human being. I can almost imagine it in the abstract—that people could be cruel enough to flay someone ragged and nail him to a cross to die. But when the scene becomes specific—how could this person put his hand to the whip or the hammer and make that person weep and bleed—I struggle to comprehend the inhumanity.

Could I do it? Never…

And then I thought about those around me, whom I profess to love and then lash with my tongue and pierce with my glance. The suffering I inflict out of comfort and convenience by looking away, tuning out, remaining ignorant and silent and comfortable. Continue reading

God’s Love Is Mercy

“Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God.”
– Jesus to St. Faustina
Devotion to Divine Mercy is not every Catholic’s thing. Some people struggle with the image of Divine Mercy: Jesus, His right hand raised to bless and heal, His left indicating his heart, from which rays of red and white, symbolizing blood and water, pour forth as a fountain of mercy for souls. Every version I’ve seen has been a bit mysterious and unsettling—which seems appropriate, given that it’s a vision of the resurrected Christ.
Some don’t like the chaplet, which is simpler and more repetitious than the rosary. Some consider the visions of a poor Polish nun to be private revelations: fine for her, but not necessary for us (even though she is a saint and was canonized by another saint).
And some struggle with the emphasis on God’s mercy, seemingly at the expense of His justice or even over His love. At first blush, saying that “mercy is God’s greatest attribute” (Diary of St. Faustina, 300) appears to downplay the seriousness of sin and the need for repentance. It suggests—much to the comfort of some sinners—that God will invariably forego His justice. It seems presumptuous.
But let’s think about what love, justice, and mercy actually are. Love, we are told, is willing the good of another regardless of the cost to yourself. Justice is giving another what is due. Mercy is often regarded as a bridge between these two: sparing someone just punishment for his or her benefit.
Because God is infinitely good, justice requires complete goodness from us in return. That is God’s due. But we are all sinners, and even the smallest sin stands in stark contrast to God’s infinite goodness—a grave injustice toward One who loves us perfectly.
What is our due as a result of this? Condemnation. We ought to suffer, not out of retribution, but as the natural consequence of our sins.
So God’s mercy does not deny the reality of sin or the need for repentance. Instead, it depends on these things. Without the grave reality of sin and the suffering that justly results from it, we would have no need of mercy. God’s mercy exists because of sin. There is no other reason.
But how can God be perfectly loving, perfectly just, and perfectly merciful—all at the same time? And how can mercy be God’s greatest attribute, when Scripture tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8)?
Look at it this way:
  • If God is love, then His very nature is to will our good, whatever the cost to Himself.
  • What is our good? Ultimately, it’s the end for which we were made: union with Him.
  • What is the cost to Himself? He sacrifices His claim against us for sinning against Him—He shows us mercy.

By doing this, it appears that God abandons justice in favor of love. But how can He do this, if He is perfectly just? Doesn’t sin demand punishment?

Yes, sin demands punishment. But with so much sin against so perfect a God, who could possibly bear it? Who, except God Himself?

So He becomes flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, living, suffering, and dying for us—willing the good of each of us at whatever cost to Himself. God’s perfect justice demands a perfect price be paid, so He pays it Himself. His love is mercy.

In the person of Jesus Christ, God loves us to death. All that remains for us is to return the favor.

Book Break: The Spiritual Combat

Dom Lorenzo Scupoli’s The Spiritual Combat was recommended to me by a friend many years ago, when I was first looking into my patron saint Francis de Sales’s spiritual classic An Introduction to the Devout Life. First published in 1589, Fr. Scupoli’s book was required reading for those whom St. Francis de Sales advised, and he reportedly carried in his pocket a copy given to him by Fr. Scupoli himself.

Over the past several months, I’ve been reading and reflecting on The Spiritual Combatduring adoration. I will warn you up front: It is not an easy read. The language and structure are archaic and complex at times, and Fr. Scupoli takes sin, Satan, and the possibility of Hell uncomfortably seriously (as we should, too). Take your time; read a section and reflect on it. Re-read if necessary. This is a book the rewards patience and prayer.

I believe it will reward repeated reading, as well. Each “chapter” reads like a short reflection building upon the previous. I have read all of these reflections now, but find that, in my own spiritual life, I’m still focused on the first few reflections. Early in the book, Fr. Scupoli insists that in the battle for souls, we must fight or die—but victory can only come from recognizing our own spiritual weakness and putting no trust in ourselves and our own abilities. We must recognize our overwhelming tendency to fall and put all our confidence in a loving and merciful God, without whom we can do no good, but with whom we cannot fail.

I don’t live like that. Most days I still try to get by on my own steam and get frustrated when I stumble or fail. So in terms of spiritual combat, most days I’m still reminding myself of my weakness and striving to distrust me and trust Him instead. When this becomes habitual, it may be time to read this book again!

My edition ends with a shorter work also attributed to Fr. Scupoli, A Treatise on Peace in the Soul. This is another old fashioned, hard-hitting, and practical work, much shorter than The Spiritual Combat, and for me, much easier to apply as a whole to my day-to-day life. The overarching theme is the importance of maintaining peace in the soul and responding immediately to worries, anxieties, and fears that disturb us, recognizing that these are tools the Enemy uses to separate us from God. I read this part in about two sittings and found myself much refreshed and with much to think about and apply, even as a raw recruit to the spiritual combat.

* * * * *

Blogger’s Note: The cover on my edition is the one pictured. As a former wrestler and father of wrestlers, this image of Jacob wrestling the angel alone is worth the price of the book! Also: toward the end of the post at the following link is my brief reflection on Introduction to the Devout Life, another great spiritual book.

Addendum: The Science Behind Man-Cold

Blogger’s Note: In a recent post, I explored the symptoms, origins, and treatment of the the very real, though often ridiculed, affliction known as man-cold. In retrospect, I realize that I did not do justice to the prevailing scientific theories underlying this misunderstood illness. This post seeks to rectify that oversight.

As providence would have it, on the heels of my earlier post on man-colds, I was stricken by the dreaded disease myself. This first-hand experience, coupled with a striking observation by my son, Gabe, has shed new light on why man-colds happen in the first place.

First, the story: Almost at the same time I was posting the earlier writing, the symptoms began: sore throat, cough and congestion, alternating sweats and chills. At first these appeared to be little more than common cold symptoms, but at a certain point, they quickly escalated, leaving me a shell of the man I hoped to be the next morning. I was feverish, sleepless — near death in all things save fact — and did not know when (if ever) I might expect to be upright and functional again.

The following day, thankfully, my symptoms were reduced, and I was my typical jovial, carefree self — ready to take on the world despite a constant and singularly non-productive cough that plagues me even now, and the periodic sensation that I am about to drown in my own fluids.

During a coughing jag while I was out and about with my family, I shook my head and muttered, “Man-cold…” Gabe looked at me with a sympathetic smile, but gently corrected me: “Clearly not, or you wouldn’t be here.”

He’s right. What I was experiencing was no longer a man-cold, but the common-cold symptoms left behind by the more virulent strain. The question then became, how? How is it that that what manifests itself as a common cold in women and children — and even in men both before and after the man-cold — is so devastating to grown men at its symptomatic peak?

The prevailing theory is so simple it is often overlooked: the man-cold virus is a strain of common cold that feeds particularly on testosterone. When the virus infects a grown man, the testosterone available for consumption causes this strain to outperform all others. The manlier the man, the worse the man-cold, as the bug turns from a mild-mannered sniffle-inducer to a rampaging, rage-infused berserker virus, pillaging and burning everything in sight.

Now consider the effect of this rapid consumption of testosterone after the initial infection:

  • First, the man appears to have the same cold as the woman and/or children his life, with little impact on how he interacts with the world.
  • Next, the man-cold strain begins to feed on testosterone, outperforming the others strains in much the same way the healthy man would outperform lesser men, and quickly spreading through the man’s body, enhancing symptoms and overwhelming defenses. Instinctively the man lays low, knowing that, in nature, the weak and sick are killed and eaten.
  • As the man-cold virus multiplies rapidly, it consumes exponentially more testosterone, emasculating the patient and causing him to revert to a more childlike state of dependency. 
  • Furthermore, in particularly manly patients who are, by their profuse masculinity, prone to frequent man-colds, the immune system may itself reduce the supply of testosterone to starve the virus. The patient’s weak and pathetic appearance is, in fact, proportional to his typical strength and manliness and a testament to the quality of the man under attack by the virus.
  • Once the testosterone in the man’s system is sufficiently reduced, the man-cold strain quickly dies off, restoring the patient to common-cold status and relatively normal, manly functionality.
Of course, this theory need further investigation, but it’s elegant simplicity makes it the front-runner for explaining the truth of man-colds. Please share this information to continue to spread awareness and understanding!

Man Cold: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

A friend of ours was sick this past weekend. Actually, two friends: a man and his wife. They were supposed to join Jodi and me and two other couples for an evening of dinner and faith-building conversation, but (according to the message we received as the rest of us were gathering), he had the “man version” of the cold she had, so they were unable to come.

The men gathered for dinner immediately fell silent in sympathy and concern. The women laughed. They are not ordinarily so hard-hearted, so I began to wonder: why is the man-cold so misunderstood and easily dismissed by women?

When we returned home, my bride relayed the tale to my second son, Gabe, and that conversation yielded valuable insight into common misperceptions about man-colds.

Jodi (laughing): “She had the same cold that he had!”

Gabe: “That’s not possible. He has a man-cold, and she is not a man.”

Jodi (smiling): “Okay. She had the same SYMPTOMS as he did.”

Gabe: “That’s not true: she wasn’t bedridden.”

Jodi (exasperated): “Look, she was just as sick as he was!”

I was proud of my teenage son. Already at age 16, Gabe has come to understand that there are, in fact, fundamental differences between men and women and how they experience and interact with the world, and his polite but firm insistence that a man-cold is no laughing matter will one day garner his mother’s respect, even if in the moment she wanted to bean him with her Yeti tumbler.

At any rate, these two interactions led me to research and reflect upon the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the man-cold. Here’s what I discovered.

Symptoms
Perhaps the best summary of the symptoms of a man-cold appears in the classic YouTube video below:

In addition to the typical symptoms of the common cold (runny nose, congestion, fatigue), the victim of the man-cold—invariably men, not women or children—are nearly always bedridden, finding it nearly impossible to rise, and may also experience burning sensations especially in the head; vocal hoarseness, faintness, and strain sometimes experienced by the listener as whining; extreme lethargy and heaviness of limbs; intimations of impending mortality; and an overwhelming desire for maternal care and physical proximity and affection.

Diagnosis
The fact that these additional symptoms are so rarely experienced by women does not make them any less real for afflicted men, and this disconnect is the cause of much misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and marital strife, as evidenced by this more recent video. (Warning: What follows includes examples of inappropriate gender-based “humor” and is difficult to watch, but unless we confront the reality of misunderstanding and neglect, we cannot hope to treat man-colds properly.)

Let’s start with the positives, such as the are: the woman in this video is at least minimally responsive to the needs of her spouse and appears to have a sincere desire to keep the household functioning despite her own minor ailment and the absence of her husband’s no-doubt considerable contributions. But from the start, she equates her cold with his, despite the clear difference in symptoms and severity (most obviously, she is vertical; he is not), and the sarcasm and lack of sympathy demonstrated here is disturbing, but unfortunately all too typical.
It turns out that diagnosing a man-cold is actually relatively simple: If the patient is an adult male and has any of the symptoms of a common cold, plus any of the following additional symptoms, he has a man-cold:
  • Inability to rise from bed, couch, or recliner (or in some severe cases, the floor)
  • Inability to change positions without groaning, crying out, or otherwise vocalizing discomfort
  • Rapid fluctuation in felt temperature (“burniness” or chills) resulting in piling up or throwing off covers—again, accompanied by vocal expressions of discomfort
  • Concerns about obscure or unknown diseases, viruses, or parasites
  • Feelings or visions of doom or death
  • Intense limb heaviness, achiness, fatigue, lethargy, work avoidance and antisocial behaviors, depression, unhappiness, acedia, or ennui
  • Deep desire for physical contact (hand-holding, back or head rubs, forehead kisses, and the like) and child-like need for maternal warmth and affection
  • Fluctuating appetite and desire to eat only particular foods associated with past (especially childhood) recoveries
  • Any other manifestation of the victim’s inexplicably faltering body or immune system
Generally, the difficulty is not with the initial diagnosis itself, but with sustained confidence in the diagnosis, since the symptoms are so severe and persistent, and since in most cases the primary caregiver has no firsthand experience with a man-cold and no ability to measure these additional symptoms independently of the patient. 
This is why early diagnosis and treatment is so critically important: a man with an untended man-cold could potentially spiral into a more severe state in which he begins to hallucinate and his ability to gauge the severity of his own illness is compromised.

I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge the possibility that some of these additional symptoms experienced by men may, in fact, be psychological. The reasons behind this are hazy, but are likely rooted in the man’s inherent role as provider and protector. Consider: especially in humanity’s early days, men were required to hunt and to kill, to provide for and defend their own lives and the lives of their family with their physical strength and prowess. And it is well known that both predators and enemies target the sick, the injured, and the weak—thus beginning in prehistoric times, men would have lain low at the slightest sign of infirmity, lest they be killed and leave their wife and brood utterly alone and undefended. 

That feeling of vulnerability and mortality is still manifested in today’s men, who are ordinarily bold, robust, strong, striving creatures unaffected by fear, fatigue, or pain. Imagine if you can the emotional impact on that heroic figure of being cut down in his prime by an invisible (microscopic, we now know) enemy and thereby exposed to saber-toothed cats and club-wielding neanderthals intent on dragging away their brides and children to who-knows-what brutal misfortune. That strength of purpose and fear of failure persists today, even in the lowliest pot-bellied office drone, and must not be regarded lightly.

Treatment

The good news is that treatment of the man-cold is simple: in addition to the steps and precautions one would take with a common cold, you need only supplement with patience, affection, and understanding—and though many people (men and women alike) insist that the man’s mother is the only suitable caregiver in cases of man-cold, this is not true. As awareness of the reality and seriousness of the man-cold spreads, wives can, in fact, become the preferred caregiver—especially for men who have already fathered children and find their mother’s affection for them diminished in favor of her grandchildren.
Wives are, in fact, naturally suited to this role and, when motivated, can be trained as effective man-cold caregivers. First, they have their own peculiar strength that enables them to persevere in loving service even at the cost of their own comfort and wellness. (It is worth noting that this can be a source of added tension in a marriage afflicted by illness, as in the second video above, or in the case of confused husbands who see their wives up and around and naturally assume they feel better: “If you’re sick, take something and lie down! The kids can fend for themselves— it’s good for them!”) Second, they are expert and efficient at taking in the worst in life, transforming it, and pouring it out again again in love (as evidenced by pregnancy and childbirth, leftover night, and their apparently honest affection for snot-crusted children, wilted dandelion bouquets, and abstract crayon drawings).
Advancing the treatment of man-colds requires that wives recognize these inherent strengths and abilities as such and apply them to the men in their lives. This can be challenging, given the difficulty of the caregiver ever truly understanding the magnitude of the patient’s illness in that moment—but it is not impossible. Visualization training can help female caregivers grow in sympathy and patience. Encourage the following visualization exercises:
  • Young Love. Your wife should envision you in your prime or when she first fell madly in love with you and recall how she desired nothing more at that time than to be near you and spend time with you—then awaken and apply that dormant desire to your current illness. Please note that back hair, bald spots, spare tires, and other natural signs of masculine maturity can unfortunately reduce the effectiveness of this approach.
  • Momma’s Here. Your wife should call to mind her affection for your children at there tiniest, cutest, and most vulnerable (or at whatever stage in development appeals most to her maternal instinct), then recall that the child she loves so dearly is a manifestation of her husband’s love for her. She should then recall that, in this moment, he is every bit as vulnerable and helpless as that child and needs her loving care and attention. At all costs, men should resist the urge to spark this maternal instinct in their brides by assuming the fetal position or reverting to crying or other forms of pre-verbal communication. These approaches have been known to backfire.
  • Martha Kent/Nurse of Heroes. Your wife should remember your natural call to protect and provide and envision you as the heroic figure you are meant to be—she need only restore you to health for you to strive and reach that magnificent potential. This approach requires the most imagination and effort on the part of your spouse; if undertaken seriously, it can be effective, but most early trials have resulted in eye-rolling and fits of hysterical laughter, which can be detrimental to the patient’s emotional well-being.
Man-colds are no laughing matter and, to the victims, can seem debilitating or even deadly. However, they are treatable. With further research and understanding, the scourge of man-colds and accompanying sarcasm and ridicule, can be, if not eliminated, at least effectively managed to the benefit of men, marriages, and families everywhere.