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Joseph, Husband of Mary

One of the things I love most about religion is its unending ability to astonish. Such is the case with the feast which is celebrated today by traditional Western Christians. It is the Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary. Saint Joseph is known as the last patriarch 1. In the words of Saint Bernadine of Siena: “in him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment.”

You are not astonished? The last patriarch, the greatest non-divine human example of what it means to be a man, is revered for his role as spouse. Saint Joseph is venerated because he was the perfect husband, because he accepted the vocation of guardian and protector of a child who was not his own, because he supported his wife in her divine mission.

It is hardly surprising that Saint Joseph was overlooked for years. After all, we have long ignored women whose identity came from being a spouse and parent, so why should a man be honored for taking on that role?

This is nothing short of uncomfortable for those of us who love traditional Christianity. We are accustomed to the fact that achieving perfection as a supportive spouse and parent is not enough to make one venerated as a Saint. And, more importantly, we know that men are responsible to do great deeds, while women derive their value from helping men. The idea that a man should derive his greatest value from supporting his wife in her vocation is laughable.

It is also the truth of the life of the Saint we honor second only to the Virgin Mother herself.

In recent years the Church has gained renewed appreciation for the “other” lives of those who were previously valued only for their supporting role as spouse to one who achieved the life of inherent value. Women have been urged to share their gifts outside the limits of the home and convent, and Saint Joseph has also been honored for his role as the model for all workers.

While I greatly appreciate this development of understanding, I still find myself especially loving Saint Joseph for his role of supportive spouse and father. I run to him for help finding employment, but I also ask him to intercede for me for the grace to be a supportive wife and to put the needs of my spouse above my own.

1. The term “patriarch” has two main meanings in traditional Christianity: the great fathers of the Hebrew Bible, and the super-bishops of post New Testament Christianity through the current day. “Patriarch” has also taken on additional meanings in modern Christianity, but that is a topic for another day.

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Please Answer: Sex and Marriage

“Sex is marriage and marriage is sex.”

I will post on this after Easter, but for now I would love to have your view.

Do you agree or disagree?

Do you identify as a member of any religion?

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Philosophical Apology

Dear Mr. MacIntyre,

You know that I never liked your work. It was not your fault that I first encountered you through pompous “traditional” young men who had only read parts of After Virtue but still liked to cite you as evidence for the evil of modern Catholicism and feminism in particular. Once I actually began to study your work I quickly saw that they were wrong to imagine you as a champion of their conservative, I mean, “traditionalist” mentality. But in the development of your thought I saw a need to develop further. It seemed as if you did share something in common with the young men of my acquaintance: you loved to hate modernity and preached the superiority of that which was past, and thus could be understood differently (arguably more fully) than that which is still being lived.

I thought that you failed to see how judging liberalism as a philosophy today is much like judging Thomism while it was still being developed. If Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and John Paul II could all work with the philosophies of their day, why could you only insist that the main philosophy of your time was incoherent and useless?

When I read your argument against voting I saw only the thoughts of a man so privileged to live above reality that he feels no need to  stoop to choose the lesser of evils. I did not understand how not voting could be voting against the system. After all, not voting is typically only a vote for apathy.

I did not have much patience for your talk about not talking about the culture of death. Here you were, once again pontificating on how John Paul II used a dangerous rhetorical style and ignoring the substance of the issue! Even though I was supposed to be studying your thought I was much more drawn to the talk on Catholic feminism.

I could not help but like some of your thought, after all, I accused you of inconsistency. But I had already decided that you were no infallible tower of philosophical perfection, and there was nothing more to it. Nothing, of course, other than the nagging fear that you would get me eventually. After all, there are only so many noncommunitarian communitarians out there.

And then one day I read a great post on the contraceptive mentality. It was as good of a description as any that I have seen on the topic, but instead of “bravo” my fingers were inclined to type questions. What culture has not considered children in terms of economics? How is imagining that one has a right to children a “contraceptive” thought? Are we to imagine that Popes Paul VI and John Paul II were guilty of a contraceptive mentality when they allowed that one should consider the serious problem of population growth? Or that Pope Benedict XVI suffers from an inverted contraceptive mentality since he believes that population decline is a serious problem? How exactly can abstaining from sex in order to avoid pregnancy be a sign of a “contraceptive mentality” when the complaint is that this mentality separates sex from procreation? Why should considering sex as a base instinct be “contraceptive” when it does not in any way necessitate the separation of sexual intercourse and reproduction?

And then it clicked: I was rejecting the philosophy behind this post because I was accepting yours. You were right that  “moments of great rhetorical power are dangerous.” If one seeks understanding, then one must be very careful about how one characterizes a culture or mindset. And rhetoric is, by its very nature, more useful for drawing together an army than for gaining understanding of those around us.

Blast it.

I tried to think of other areas where I could still disagree with you, but all that I could come up with was that Dependent Rational Animals was not particularly well constructed. And I wished that I could have been a grad student working for you to help you improve a few parts of the manuscript.

I have known for a while that you were right about voting. Maybe not totally right since even if the third-party candidates are not good enough one can always find some potential philosopher president to write-in, right? But in terms of practical ramifications, you were right.

And, no matter how much I make myself believe that your book on Edith Stein is merely philosophical hagiography which shows more of your story than Stein’s, I still want to read it. Because I want to know your story, and I cannot think of a better way of learning it than to read it cloaked with the life of one of my favorite Saint Philosophers.

You win, Mr. MacIntyre. Thank you for making this one-sided fight possible. It did my mind good.



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Ash Wednesday and Unfaithfulness

At today’s Mass, after hearing the Gospel, we all line up to do not what Jesus commands, but the opposite. Unlike Holy Thursday, when we act out the command of Christ as literally as we can, today we do just what Jesus says not to do. He tells us to wash our faces, and then we all scramble to have someone put dirt on our heads. It is a kind of ritualization of our failure to live the Gospel, a common confession that we have not done what the Lord commands, a plain and public admission of our unfaithfulness.

Please read the rest of Brother Charles’ thoughts on Ash Wednesday here.

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Happy Mardi Gras!

I have to admit that I do not really “get” Mardi Gras. Is the idea to party so hard that you are asleep for all of Lent (or at least Ash Wednesday)? I used to think of Mardi Gras as Saint Patrick’s Day for French people. But businesses, libraries, and schools stay open in Boston on Saint Patrick’s Day, and I am not aware of people skipping Mass on the Sunday before Saint Patrick’s Day due to parties.

Hopefully I will understand Mardi Gras eventually, but in the meantime I am admitting that I am probably more English than French and going for more of a Shrove Tuesday approach. Does any else ever feel that “English” tends to mean understated and boring?

Also, I do not know anyone else who actually gives up dairy products for Lent, so how does the whole pancakes and doughnuts thing would work in reality? In any case, I think that I will be partying it up tonight with strawberries on our pancakes. Yum, right?

How are you celebrating this day before Ash Wednesday?

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In Singing, The Affection Of One Loving

While reading Pope Benedict’s “The Presence of the Lord in the Sacrament” in God is Near Us I was reminded of the importance of complete bodily worship, and ashamed to realize that I do not sing. Even when praying the liturgy of the hours I simply read the hymns. I “know” the importance of music, but somehow in the past few years I have lost my connection to it. I am not musically gifted, but singing is not about having a gift, it is about using all available methods to respond to God.

The Lord gives himself to us in bodily form. That is why we must likewise respond to him bodily. That means above all that the Eucharist must reach out beyond the limits of the church itself in the manifold forms of service to men and to the world. But it also meas that our religion, our prayer, demands bodily expression. Because the Lord, the Risen one, gives himself in the Body, we have to respond in the soul and the body. All the spiritual possibilities of our body are necessarily included in celebrating the Eucharist: singing, speaking, keeping silence, sitting, standing, kneeling…

[O]nly all three together–singing, speaking, keeping silence–constitute the response in which the full capacity of our spiritual body opens up for the Lord.

Everyone knows about the issues with “Church music” but what about the role of music, and singing in particular, in our private worship? I am hardly in danger of being more moved by “the voice than the words sung” and sinning through overuse of music, so I really have no excuse for not cultivating sung prayer.

My first step has been to start singing with daily prayer. I would love suggestions for learning more of the hymns, but it really is not difficult to substitute an unknown hymn with an appropriate alternate that I can sing. It may be a while before I get around to chanting the Psalms though!

How do you incorporate music into your worship? Please share suggestions for someone with little talent who is trying to remember what it is like to sing daily.

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I have loved books for years and accumulated hundreds by the time I was in my mid-teens. When I went to college I started trying to reduce my collection, but I only managed to hold steady a bit above 1,000. Then I started dating Josh. Josh did not have quite as many books as I did, but his collection was rapidly expanding. And, if possible, he was even more attached to his books than I was to mine.

Before we were engaged we had a conversation that went something like this:
Me: May I have your car?
Josh: Ha! Yes.
Me: Hmmm… may I have your new computer?
Josh: Yes.
Me: May I have your books?
If you marry me.
Me: What?! You love your books more than you love me?!!!

Apparently I really wanted Josh’s books, because we got married. Procuring bookshelves was our furniture priority, second only to the mattress to put on the floor for sleeping. Our three bookcases were not enough, even though we also had small built-in bookshelves. So while we stacked books in the fireplace for storage, I worked on convincing Josh to get rid of most of our duplicate books. He mostly agreed, but insisted that we needed to keep two of the three copies of John Paul II’s theology of the body. Considering the fact that Josh is the only person I know who has actually read both English translations I did not fight, but tried even harder to find less sacred books to eliminate.

Despite our pathetic best efforts, we still had far too many books by the time we really needed to simplify. So we sold some more books, and gave others to friends, and to the local adoration chapel, and to the library. We drove to my parents’ house and gave my youngest siblings many books that we thought they could enjoy. And we still ended up with four large boxes of books that could not fit in the car.

Four months later I find myself periodically running to the bookshelf to see whether I kept a certain book. I am happy to have gotten down to a reasonable amount of books, but I am sometimes slightly confused over what I chose to keep (or not). There were many books that I loved, but knew I would not reread for years while a friend might enjoy them soon. There were other books that I valued quite highly… but not more highly than their current resale value. As I often told Josh, we could always buy them again later. And then there is a stack of Latin books that I chose to keep. I have not spent more than an hour working on learning Latin so far this year, but seeing all of the books stacked together made me realize how much I must have wanted to learn it only a few months ago.

So, for the sake of tracking my rapidly changing values through books, here is a record of the books I1 owned on October 15, 2009.

Later I will post about each of the books and why I chose to keep it. But I am really curious as to which books readers can identify by their covers in such a small picture, and any stories/thoughts you may have about them. Extra points if it is anything other than Vatican Council II. 😉

1. This is the story of “my books” according to Rae. Josh might think that some of these books are “his” or that some of what I think are his are really mine. But I am right. And this is my blog. And we are not getting divorced any time soon, so you really do not need to worry about whether Josh insists that all John of the Cross belongs to him.

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But Where is Jesus?

Over the past few months I have been given a great gift. By American standards I have been poor. It is not real poverty: there has been plenty of (really cheap) food, and I was not homeless. But money is tight. Very tight.

I can write about this now because I am finally convinced that we really are quite well. If I could have planned out our marriage I would have chosen that we would have a time of significant financial struggle, and I would have chosen for it to come fairly soon into our marriage. So I am just getting my way, and it is good.

It really is Good.

I have known for years that I needed to experience poverty1 and while this is a pretty tame introduction, it is already working. I know that it is working because I am learning to see Jesus, and as I learn to see Jesus I am terrified to see where he is not.

Last week I looked up the local meeting schedule for a Catholic women’s organization2 which runs small group studies for women. I had stayed away from them a few years ago over their connection with another Catholic organization, but I softened almost completely last summer when I learned that they are affiliated with Helen Alvaré, a woman whom I greatly admire. For the first time they had an upcoming class at a time and place that worked for me, so I looked to see what was involved in signing up.

It cost $60.00. There was no question that I could not afford it, and I started to get mad. I did not care that I could not join a group now. I fully expect that I will have money within a few months. But I could not escape how obvious it was that this is a group for women who have. If you are not privileged, then you are not welcome. Do they realize what $60 is in this region of the country? People live in two-bedroom trailers that rent for $350 a month. People work for minimum wage. Do you even know what that is? Try $7.25/hour. I do not know what percentage they3 pay in taxes, but I am guessing that it is at least a full day’s work to cover the class.

Then I read a bit more about the scholarship policy which included an incredibly condescending note that every woman must pay something, even if it is a “small amount.” Yes, they have officially defined $30.00 as a small amount. Because in a group of privileged women, $30 is a small amount. I was not really outraged though, until I read their last word on the topic of scholarships. They noted that all of their materials are copyrighted and said: “Not only is it against the law to copy these materials, it is diametrically opposite of what [our] program teaches. In order to maintain the integrity of [our] program, we respectfully ask all facilitators and participants to honor this policy.”

Ah yes, there is no need to mention copyright unless one is addressing underprivileged women, right? Because it is always the poor who steal?! And copying materials is “diametrically opposite” of their program’s teaching? I ran to my husband in horror, spewing something about whether this group must be centered on something other than Catholicism for copyright to be such a central issue. He calmly replied that the Catholic Church is, at best, ambivalent about the issue of copyright.

I sputtered on about the rest of my issues with the group and asked whether Jesus would really support this organization. All that came to mind was the fact that while parts of the gospels (Luke) talk about the importance of the poor, there are other places (Matthew) that modify the message by specifying that the issue is poverty of spirit. I am quite confident that many women in this organization of great poverty of spirit (just not the copywriters/editors for the website!) so why did I have such a strong feeling that this was not a place I would find my Savior?

I went to sleep with thoughts of bishops in solidarity with the poor being murdered by men supported by privileged Catholics dancing in my head. And I woke up with thoughts of Schönborn. This was not a case of “edgy” liberation spirituality. It was simply fact. To the extent that a group fails to include the poor, they fail to include Jesus.

What if it really is true that while white women with college degrees and high-earning husbands sit around talking about suffering, Jesus walks down the road to work in the form of a single mother who dropped out of high school during her first pregnancy?

1. While I grew up in a family which went through many years solidly under the poverty line, it is different going through it as an adult.
2. It does not matter what the organization is, because they are simply one of many with the same issues. And this post is not really about this particular organisation, it is about one of the first parts of me waking up to where my life should, and should not, be headed. If you suspect that you know the organization to which I refer, please refrain from using their name in the comments. And please, please change them from within.
3. Yes, I say “they” because even if I got a minimum wage job I would still see myself as a person who belonged in a higher pay grade and would get it eventually. I may not have money, but I have a sense of privilege, and that is a hard thing to kill.

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Going to Hell

At the end of last September I realized that I was headed toward hell.1 I sat in Adoration reading random chapters from Schönborn’s My Jesus and wondering what on earth I was doing with my life.

Schönborn quoted Matthew 25:31-46 and then he wrote:

It is God’s Final Judgement. But how will it come about? What standard will be used to measure; which criteria will be used to judge? Two big surprises:

The Judgement has already taken place. Only at the end will that which was decided long ago become clear. Everything was decided where we might have expected it too little or not at all: in the attitude toward my neighbor. How I ultimately stand before God one day is decided today by the question of whether I was aware of my ill neighbor and visited him. Jesus names six instances of need: the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, the naked, the sick, and those in prision. They stand for all forms of need and suffering.

And now the second surprising thing: Jesus identifies himself with all those who suffer such deprivation. Whoever notices them finds him. Whoever does them good also does it to him. “When did we see you and help you?” to this amazing question Jesus gives the decisive answer: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethern, you did it to me.”

What counts with God is the love and attention given selflessly and as a matter of course to the neghbor who needs my help. On this, Jesus tells us, your eternal salvation is decided. The decision to do this is made daily, and the importan thing is, not whether we are aware of it, but that we do it.

One thing frightens me about Jesus’ discussion of the judgement of the world: the “goats” on the left who are given over to eternal punishment, did not at all realize they had failed to see God when they did not turn their attention to those suffering need. How easily our neighbor is overlooked! In God’s sight, failure to do good weighs more heavily than doing evil. I might comfort myself with the fact that I hve not killed anyone. But that is not enough in God’s sight if I have nevertheless found no time for the sick, have not noticed the hunger and thirst of my neighbor, have not given shelter to strangers, in short, if I have been unaware of the needy.

Sins of omission should frighten us. For whatever good I have failed to do is irretriveably past. My neghbor, who might have needed me, whom I failed to see (maybe because I was too preocupied with myself and my wishes), was Jesus himself, who was waiting for me. My God, help me so that I will be able to show in my last hour at least a few moments when I served you in my suffering neighbor.

I was shocked in a stomach-in-knots way to think that I was headed to hell because, well, I live in a sort of ongoing communion with God. As one with stronger evangelical tendencies might say, I had a personal relationship with Jesus.  He would not send me to hell! Does it really matter that much that the communion is on my terms, so long as I am a fairly good person who follows all the rules?

Yes, yes it does. To the extent that the communion is on my terms, it is not fully communion with God. And as for following all the rules… I could only think that I was obedient when I conveniently forgot about the most important Rules of love and self-sacrifice. It was pretty clear that I was headed toward hell. The truth was screaming at me from the pages and it seemed that the Real Presence of the Lord was there in a sort of head-tilted-to-the side, hate-to-tell-you way with the affirmation that it was true. I was not loving God. I was doing what worked for me. And since what works for me happens to line up rather well with going to Mass and Reconciliation, following the Ten Commandments, and all the other things popularly associated with being Catholic; I could actually sit in Church struggling over what to confess.

But I had forgotten about the works of mercy. I had forgotten about living as Christ. I knew that Christ has no body on earth but mine, but I did not really believe it.

For Catholics, living like Christ is summed up in a short list that many of us like to forget so quickly that most non-Catholics do not even know that the Church cares about anything other than contraception and gay marriage. But Catholics are required to:

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

Instruct the ignorant
Council the doubtful
Admonish the sinner
Bear wrongs patiently
Forgive all injuries willingly
Comfort the afflicted
Pray for the living and the dead

I could handle the burying the dead part since I did not have any dead people to worry about, but otherwise I solidly failed both lists. And I knew it.

It has been a little over four months, and this story does not have a happy ending. Yes, I took action in early October. I started looking for Jesus in those around me and taking little things more seriously. But I did not really understand the ramifications of my insufferable, unbearable privilege. I kept thinking in vague terms about how my actions impacted others in their suffering, but did not focus on my suffering savior and what I could do to live most fully with God right now.

This past week has given me the chance to understand a bit more of what this all really means, but it still seems worthwhile to try to process these things in chunks rather than waiting for the complete picture. It is quite likely that I will need to spend the rest of my life remembering my inclination toward hell. And honestly, that is not a bad thing for me.

1. I do not even believe in hell in the way that most people understand the word, but ThePlaceWhereGodisNot is not where I want to be.

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Why I Love Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas is one of my favorite Saints. This was not always the case. At first I struggled with the fact that Thomas devalued women, was a bit boring, and was over-cited by the sort of Catholics who disliked Pope John Paul II for being too progressive.

It did not help matters that my first real introduction consisted of Kreeft’s A Shorter Summa. I found the book significantly less than engaging and did not take further interest in the Summa Theologica until I found myself exploring it online after searching various topics. Suddenly Thomas was nothing if not interesting. A few years later I read more of Thomas in another class and was finally able to appreciate a bit of his genius for bringing together the Christian faith and classical reason. Turns out that Saint Augustine had not really covered everything.

Suddenly Saint Thomas was my hero. While he had his share of odd views, Thomas was a master at working out competing claims to truth. It also helped me to remember that, by the time of his death, Thomas was quite aware of the inadequacy of his work compared to the overwhelming beauty of mystical Truth. It seems likely that Thomas would be happy to look over my shoulder as I struggled with a part of the Summa and remind me that this was meant to be an introductory work for beginners with the best knowledge of his time. He did not offer it as the final word on anything.

And so Thomas became one of my models for working to learn from both Christian Tradition and the emerging philosophy of my time. I do not need to worry much about Aristotle, that has been worked out for me and bishops have long ago given up on condemning Thomas. But I do have to deal with feminist philosophy and the contemporary secular wisdom which forces me to wrap my mind around new truths in an attempt to understand how best to re-understand Truth.

And then, of course, there are Thomas’ prayers. I kept a copy of Thomas’ prayer before study over my desk:

Ineffable Creator,
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom,
has established three hierarchies of angels,
has arrayed them in marvelous order
above the fiery heavens,
and has marshaled the regions
of the universe with such artful skill,

You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me
keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You
guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign, world without end.

And it was only natural for me to love “O Salutaris Hostia”

O saving Victim, open wide
The gate of heaven to us below,
Our foes press on from every side;
Your aid supply, your strength bestow.

To your great name be endless praise,
Immortal Godhead, One in Three;
O grant us endless length of days
In our true native land with thee. Amen.

In fact, it is one of the few things that I will say seems far better to me in Latin. Too bad Thomas is not around to translate for himself!

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