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Sin, Damnation, and Disclaimers

As usual, this post is half tongue-in-cheek and half deadly serious. My hope is that with enough of these I may not have to post as many disclaimers and explanations. Of course it is not most efficient (or material, formal, or final for that matter!) to include jokes in a post intended to prevent further confusion, but I just can’t help myself!

Every day I learn something new. Recently I learned that the real reason that God made Josh the head of our home is so that Josh can point out the obvious to me. Like the fact that, even though I am only celebrating my second anniversary of reconciling with Augustine, I was born with a profoundly deprived nature deeply ingrained Augustinian view of the world.

Basically, Josh would say that when I think about sin I am off by myself with three Augustine-lovers somewhere in sight, and the rest of the world in in, well, wherever it is that the rest of the non-Augustinian world is.

I think of the world as God, and degrees of not-God. I think of sin as everything that decreases the God and increases the not-God1.

The presence of sin in the world is so obvious to me that I simply cannot understand those who do not see things this way. It does not matter whether you tend to think of things in terms of original sin or structural sin (I personally embrace believe in both!), that which is not-Good, not-Beautiful, not-God–however you choose to think of it–is so clearly real. No matter how “good” I am, I will always live in a world that is burdened by sin. All will be well, but in my little human life there still remain huge gaps of non-wellness. And so talking about sin is quite natural and almost causal for me.

But then whenever I dare to hint at it (and I do typically feel as though I am only hinting) people misunderstand and are even offended that I could imply that they might possibly be sinning! I am then struck with a double-confusion: first I am typically writing about myself, and so do not know why others imagine that I was implying that they are sinning, and secondly I do not understand why anyone should be surprised to find sin in her life when it so clearly permeates all of our lives.

My view of hell and damnation follows quite naturally from my view of sin. I believe that hell is real. I also believe that God is willing that none should perish, and that God’s willing is infinitely more powerful than any human insufficiency. So I am one of those who believes in a very real, very empty hell. It is incomprehensible to me that any of my readers might possibly be in danger of damnation.

Yet I know that hell is the absolute absence of God. And in my own life I have been given the gift of awareness of how I bring hell upon myself through my lack of love for God. I am aware of swimming in sin and breathing grace daily.

Which brings me to the fact that I do not think of sin and hell as scary or threatening. I am not scared because only threats are scare me; reality simply is, and this is all reality for me. I am continually aware of God as Love. I dread not the wrath of God, but the sadness of God. I do not relate to God as a parent who might be upset by my failings, but as a lover whose day I want to make a little bit brighter. And oh how very crushing it is to have the one whom we love reject us through apathy!

So I rely on my earthly lover to not only provide an example of how I should love, but also to tell me when others are completely misunderstanding me because they somehow manage to live without a constant consciousness of sin.

And maybe I’ll sit here singing “I’m just an Augustinian girl in a Pelagian world!” while writing a list of all the ways in which I am oh-so-very non-Augustinian.

1. See! There is proof that I am not really Augustinian. It would not make any sense to a real Augustinian to say “increase the not-God!” Take that, Josh! Guess I won’t just accept everything you say after all! Which goes to show that I am not only not Augustinain, I am also non-Monicanian!

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Celibate Marriage: Why I Should Stop Blogging

I blog because it is good for me. So it does not really matter whether it is useful for anyone else. And honestly, it is a good thing that I am not one who sees it as “an apostolate” or some such thing because I would collapse under the burden of my own failure.

Remember the other day when I rambled on and on about why Periodic Abstinence For All of Marriage could be okay for some couples? I used lots of words and convinced no one. Instead I simply should have given Allison a quote:

Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. -Pius XII

Yeah, the first dude to actually say that NFP was okay (Pius XI only half counts) said that if it is okay it can be okay for all of marriage. Okay? Pope wins. I should let him do the talking. So why on earth didn’t I? It isn’t like I was pulling stuff out of a hat, so why not just send you all back to the sources? Silly me.

And then I somehow felt the need to stop trying to come up with a good post on celibate marriage and just post basics. And I went back through my sources, you know, Augustine, the Church Councils, JPII, but I did not bother to check if anything had been posted online since the last time I checked, almost a year ago.

So, of course, once I do start to post others not only chime in and say things better, but Josh finds a post that includes almost all of the older stuff (1930s-now is new) I had been re-reading. I still intend to post some quotes, but really, it would have been much more effective to simply send you all over here: check it out.

Would you find it useful if I posted more quotes and less of my own rambling?

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Web 3.0 Fail

Twitter Communion is an opportunity for Christians around the world to celebrate their love for God in Jesus Christ by sharing in a live global communion through Twitter.

Hopefully thousands of you will sign up to take part in this historic event.

It doesn’t matter what denomination you belong to or what creed you believe in, anyone who wants to join in is welcome to take bread and wine (or fruit juice).

It’s a way for Christians to show that we really do belong to one Church, that we can lay our differences aside and proclaim that we are united in one thing – our love for Jesus. Source

As if viewing Communion as merely a time to “remember Christ” were not little enough, we are now supposed to sit alone behind our computers and find this a spiritually fulfilling practice.  I am far, far, too hungry to be filled with such a light meal. I am far, far too weak to find the computer a sufficient companion on my journey.

I do appreciate the note “If you have any concerns about taking part, you should consult your church leaders about the possibility of having an authorised communion celebrant present, or having previously blessed elements.” Ah yes, that would take care of it. But why on earth would I have a priest visit with the Blessed Sacrament and then turn away from Jesus to the computer?!

I remain hopeful that it is just a bad joke.

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Vegetarian Fridays

Christ Died for Our Salvation on Friday.

Gratefully remembering this, Catholic peoples from time immemorial have set apart Friday for special penitentialobservance by which they gladly suffer with Christ that theymay one day be glorified with Him. This is the heart of thetradition of abstinence from meat on Friday where thattradition has been observed in the holy Catholic Church.

Sometimes the US bishops are quite a pain. In much of the world Catholic vegetarians do not have to think about Fridays as any different than the rest of the week. They know that meat is forbidden on Fridays, and they don’t meat any day, so there is nothing to think about.

But years before I was even born the pesky US bishops had to make such a point of emphasizing Fridays as a day of penance that they downgraded abstinence from meat from a hard and fast command to just a really, really strong suggestion. And in doing so they made it very clear that Fridays are still days for profound penitential conversion.

I cannot be satisfied with the fact that I never eat meat. Instead Fridays should find me

doing volunteer work in hospitals, visiting the sick, serving the needs of the aged and the lonely, instructing the young in the Faith, participating as Christians in community affairs, and meeting our obligations to our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our community, including our parishes, with a special zeal born of the desire to add the merit of penance to the other virtues exercised in good works born of living faith.

I know all of this, but somehow I constantly fail to keep Friday as a special day of penance. Oh I’ll try to skip some food sometimes if I remember, and I may toss in a few extra prayers or refrain from taking painkiller for a mild headache. But often I do next to nothing, and what I do do is of little service to others.

If I weren’t a vegetarian I would follow the bishops’ instructions to give first place to abstaining from meat on Fridays, and not stress too much about what else I was able to add to that. But as it is I struggle to find a penitential practice which works every Friday. I need something which is so fitting that I can do it every single Friday and form a habit which will protect against the Saturday morning effort to figure out whether I can justify calling what I did or did not do “penance.”

The best thing that I can figure out for right now is to pray the complete liturgy of the hours on Fridays. But I also know that I personally need to do something of more direct service to others. And I have no idea what that should be.

I suspect that most of my readers do not find abstinence from meat to be the most meaningful way to follow Christ on Fridays. So, will you please share your penitential practices for Fridays? It’s not bragging, it is giving me a chance to copy you! And if you really can’t get over your fear of what others might think, then fake names are always allowed.

Note: I realize that this is something which simply is not a part of the religious lives of many Catholics today. If you don’t currently keep Friday as a day of penance, why not start by giving up meat for a meal or two? I suspect that you will soon find that it is fairly easy to give up meat for Fridays.

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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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Haiti and Helplessness

I found out about the earthquake in Haiti the morning after it happened. I saw something online about praying or giving to Haiti the night before, but that is not unusual for me, so I did not think about it. Then my mother called wanting to know whether I had information on a friend who was there. I checked Facebook and informed my mother that the friend was apparently fine as people were posting “I am so glad that you’re okay!”s. I did not ask my mother about any of the other people we know in Haiti, because if she had had information she would have given it to me.

After talking with my mother I went back to my job-hunting and Haiti-ignoring. But soon it was impossible to ignore. It seemed that everyone was overcome with horror and trying to do something to help. I could not help but wonder why. I do not have a television and my brain cannot process the difference between the “normal” level of suffering and unnecessary death in Haiti and that which is happening now. I tried to figure out why I was blocking the information. Why was I not caring?

The answer was obvious: I cannot handle it. I have a special Haiti-shaped blinders to keep information away from from me (I also have African filters, a South Asian firewall, etc.). There is nothing that I can do, and so I try to avoid thinking about it.

I finally broke down this morning and rambled on and on to Josh about how there are always children dying in Haiti because they do not have access to basic medical care and how my friend could give her life to take care of them, but I cannot even get a job to give money, let alone get through school to help personally. There is nothing that I can do. It is immensely frustrating because I know that I could help… except that I cannot. In the past I could use things like this as motivation to work harder, but there is nothing to do that I am not already doing.

My only comfort is that others are immersed in images of the tragedy and are giving. And a year from now I will still care about the daily reality of Haitians and maybe, just maybe, I will be closer to being able to do something.

But I cannot really convince myself that it is okay, and so I try to distract myself from the reality of my inability to help. I do not wait and hope, I put my head in the sand and hope.

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Today I struggle to be thankful because my thoughts are clouded by guilt. It is the guilt of squandered privilege that distracts me from thanking God for my blessings. It is not simply that I have what others have not. The problem is that while I have resources to improve the lives of others, and with a few small exceptions, I have done nothing.

I do not believe that one should ruin one’s life by feeling guilty about one’s blessings. But I am glad to embrace this opportunity to change my direction and absorb just a bit of concern for others’ well-being.

And so I am thankful for the chance to grow and change and learn to see beyond myself, even if I have yet to do anything with what I have been given. I am thankful that I am not important enough to make my failure decisive. There is yet time to change, and I am willing to be patient while I adjust to being slightly less self-centered.

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