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Relic of True Cross Returned

It is a happy day for Boston. The relic of the True Cross stolen from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross has been recovered.

I look forward to once again venerating it next time I am in Boston.

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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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I Submit the Obvious

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.

“For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:21-33

Have you ever heard conservative Catholics talk about this passage? They tend to compare marriage to a government or business and suggest that God instructs husbands to “lead” because nothing gets done without someone having final authority. I used to become upset by the way this passage was misused to elevate men over women, now I simply wonder at the way it is first drenched in a utilitarian sauce before being offered up as the supposed meat of Christian married life.

I am not a biblical scholar, but some things are so obvious that I wonder how they are missed by so many. I suspect that the general misapplication of Ephesians chapter five is not merely the result of the way we are trained to read this passage: it is just more fun to make this into something threateningly, absolutely, concrete.

But what happens if we step back and read this the same way that we read the rest of scripture?

The answer for me is that the “practical model” of marriage is replaced with something more mystical. It is not simply the way the passage starts out, and the clear fact that authority is not subordination. It is the fact that the author is writing about Christ and the Church. How then can it be correct to start with the assumption that this passage is about married couples, and only secondarily consider the relationship of Christ to the Church as a  model for human marriage?

Furthermore, a traditional Christian reading of the passage is bound by the idea that marriage is a sacrament/sacred mystery. A mystery would not be a mystery if it were simply another name for efficiency.

With this in mind, I smile when I hear friends say that “someone has to be in charge for marriage to work efficiently.” I may not know much about marriage, but I do know that it is a sacrament–a means of salvation. I worship an omnipotent God whose version of efficiency is coming to earth as a human, living a sinless life, suffering and dying on a cross, and allowing humans the freedom to reject it all. And you suggest that I should believe that that God was suddenly most concerned about efficiency when inspiring the author of Ephesians to write about marriage?

It could just be that I do not have enough experience with marriage, but I suspect that if I wanted an efficient means of salvation I should have sought out martyrdom rather than marriage. Marriage is a lifelong giving of self; a painfully inefficient, indissoluble community of love, worked out in sweat and tears and blood. But I chose marriage knowing that it would be difficult, and so far I am far from tempted by the lure of efficiency through hierarchy. I would much rather work together with my husband for our mutual salvation than to work for him for the efficienct running of our home.

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Women in Catholic Leadership

SrBenedictaAnnie asked “why aren’t women more active in the church leadership?” which is a great question. It actually thrilled my little soul because of the way she phrased it. Instead of writing about why women aren’t priests, I get to address the much less discussed topic of why the leadership of the Catholic Church is not only male, but overwhelmingly male.

First, I should note that it is likely that Catholic women are more active in leadership than most people think. Women run Catholic schools and pastoral councils. Women are diocesan judges and advocates. The number of women working behind the scenes in the Vatican has also risen dramatically since John Paul II became pope. Also, when Catholics think of leadership, we do not just think of those who have temporal power. Even more important than priests, or even the pope, are the Saints who are the spiritual leaders of the Church. For Catholics, Mother Teresa was as much of a leader as John Paul II.

That said, there is no doubt that women have a minor role compared to men in Catholic leadership. Why? Because of sin. The Church is full of sinners, and it is oh-so-very difficult for any group to see the need to share its power with another group. Women had a great role in leadership in the early Church, but as the Church government was formed and influenced by the outside, the patriarchal form partially won out over the example set by Christ. Perhaps part of this was necessary to accommodate culture. Perhaps it was entirely the result of weakness. But in any case, the Catholic Church was clearly influenced by the culture in which it took shape.

To quote Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein):

In the early Church, women played an active part in the various congregational charities, and their intense apostolate as confessors and martyrs had a profound effect. Virginal purity was celebrated in liturgy, and for women there was also a consecrated ecclesiastical office–the diaconate with its special ordination–but the Church did not go so far as to admit them to the priesthood as well. And in later historical developments, women were displaced from these posts; also, it seems that under the influence of the Hebraic and Roman judicial concepts, there was a gradual decline in their canonical status.

Catholic authority is further complicated by the role of ordination. Because women are not priests, it is all too easy to refuse them a place in the group of decision-makers. Bishops have the greatest authority in the Church, and since women are not bishops, they are simply excluded from the highest positions of leadership. Thankfully women are now more frequently brought in as consultants. As far as I am aware, progress is slow but steady.

I remain hopeful because, like Pope Paul VI, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ words seem only more true after several decades have passed:

a Catholic feminist movement was thought to be impossible when the interdenominational movement when into action. The concept which assumes that everything in the Church is irrevocably set for all times appears to me to be a false one. It would be naive to disregard that the Church has a history; the Church is a human institution and like all things human, was destined to change and to evolve; likewise, its development takes place often in the form of struggles. Most of the definitions of dogma are conclusive results of preceding intellectual conflicts lasting for decades or even centuries. The same is true of ecclesiastical law, liturgical forms–especially all objective forms reflecting our spiritual life.

The Catholic Church has made astounding improvements since the 1930s, and who knows what positions of leadership women will fill in another 70 years? I have great hope that the necessity of change will foster increased perfection under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that this post will both fail to satisfy non-Catholics such as Annie, as well as shock many Catholics who would respond that the Church is the way She is because God wants it that way. I do not expect too much of a response with the busyness of the holidays, but for those Catholics who do read this and disagree, please feel free to chime in with your version of why women are not more active in Church leadership.

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Catholic Scandal

There is a Catholic saying that “the Church lives on forgiveness.” The most important thing that I could possibly express about the topic of scandal in the Catholic Church is sorrow. I am sorry.

No, I am not a bishop, so my expression of sorrow cannot officially represent the Church, but as a member of the sinning body it is only right for me to convey sorrow at the profound failure of my Church.

When someone brings up the topic of Catholic scandal I assume that they mean the sex-abuse scandal. I could attempt to address the sociological history of Catholicism which enabled bishops to simply move criminal priests from one parish to another and cover up the evil reality of abuse while parishioners did nothing. But I am not a sociologist and I do not think that the history of how this could happen is really at the heart of the issue. I could explain what the Church has done to remedy the situation. But efforts to stop failure of epic proportion do not make up for the fact that it happened.

Even if I had a perfect answer for the question of the sex-abuse scandal, there would still remain the general question of scandal in the Church. What about the crusades, Spanish Inquisition, encouraging secular governments to enslave non-Christians etc.? What about the majority of American Catholics who ignore the Church’s instructions to give to the poor, care for the environment, uphold sexual morality, and oppose unjust war? The painful truth is that the Catholic Church fails dramatically to live up to its call to represent Christ on earth.

In order to be Catholic, one must either live in denial of the reality of the Church’s failings, or else accept the difficult idea that God has chosen to work through horribly defective humans. One Catholic theologian suggested that God could have chosen to create a sort of angel-administration to run the Church, but that if God had done so we would have loved the Church in its perfection rather than the source of the Church, God. I am not sure that explanation is any more satisfying than the typical explanations for how a good omnipotent God could allow evil, but it the best attempt I have encountered.

What aspects of Catholic scandal are of most concern to you?

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Can't Justify the Cheese

I really, really, really like cheese. I like fresh mozzarella on homegrown tomatoes with fresh basil. I like cheddar-jack piled liberally on top of steaming mashed potatoes. I like feta tossed in a salad with just enough arugula and fresh thyme. I do not understand the point of pasta without sufficient parmesan (not the dried stuff!).

I have never had much expensive cheese, but I am quite fond of the typical American fare (with the exception of American cheese!).

But this is not an ode to cheese. Because as much as I love cheese, I cannot justify buying dairy products.

1. Over-consumption of animal products is bad, bad, bad for the environment.

2. Dairy products are in no way helping my body. When I buy dairy, it is the cheapest, non-organic, hormone-laden sort available. And while I am not a part of the China Study fan club, I have been unable to convince myself that consuming dairy is actually good for bones.

3. Most of the animals used to produce eggs and milk are not treated well. For a vegetarian, I am not much of an animal rights activist. But the catechism is clear that “it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.” And “causing animals to suffer needlessly” seems like an apt description of the source of most of the cheapest dairy products.

These concerns would not be as strong if one were thinking about milk from a pet goat. But I do not have a pet goat. I also do not have good options for local organic dairy.

Even if I had a good source for dairy and I had the money, I am not certain that I would feel justified since I am not convinced that consuming diary is a good use of resources. It is not merely an issue of my money to be spent on dairy as opposed to being given to a more worthy cause. I am also very concerned about the world’s resources in general. Dairy is not an efficient way of maintaining Earth with a large well-fed human population. My preference is for adults to drink less milk, and more babies to be born and breastfed.

Ultimately I do not need perfect reasons to stop purchasing dairy products. My faith teaches me that abstinence is good for the soul. It can be difficult to actually fast on days when energy is needed, but giving up dairy only requires self-discipline.

When Advent started I thought that I would give up dairy for the season, and return to eating it at Christmas. But the more that I think about it, the more it feels wrong. After Advent I will still eat dairy in food prepared by others, but it seems that I must, at the very least, stop purchasing it myself.

What are your thoughts on consuming dairy products? Do you have any good resources to recommend for more information?

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Single-Hearted Advent

Lord our God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ: he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples, he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us, he is the Savior of every nation.

Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath. May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation. May he come quickly and not delay.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

–From the rite of blessing of an advent wreath

During the blessing of the advent wreath on the First Sunday of Advent I was struck by how much Advent is the season for singles. It is a season when we all focus on longing for fulfillment; we immerse ourselves in preparing for a joy which is promised rather than present. As such it is a season which heightens the state in which adults who are neither married nor consecrated religious live daily.

The longing of Advent properly bears the characteristic of pain. In hoping for that which we do not yet have, we cannot help but be agonizingly aware that we are incomplete. And yet, in the pain of the longing there is the great joy of the Beauty of that for which we long.  We yearn for a beautiful salvation. It is most fitting for the prayer “come, Lord Jesus” to be the pain-filled cry of persons who are keenly aware of the lack of perfection, the lack of God, in their lives.

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict writes that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.” But knowing that one’s life will not end in emptiness requires the realization that what we have now is ultimately empty and incomplete. And in this way the fierce longing of Advent is the time in which all Christians must be aware of the truth which is revealed through the single life: we lack perfect love. While singles are urged to “be content” in their waiting, everyone knows that they have reason for discontent because their very state of life emphasizes longing for something more.

And yet, while the married life represents the great unity of Christ and the Church in the mutual self-donation of the spouses, and the consecrated life is certainly an early entrance into ultimate fulfillment in God, all married people and consecrated religious are still mere humans whose state in life is imperfect. We all need Advent as a time to remember that all is not yet well.  We groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies and all Christians join with the singles in praying for something more than our isolation and longing for communion.

This Advent we must all love and long and cling to the knowledge that fully living the suffering of our incomplete lives is essential on the path to salvation. Again, from Spe Salvi:

It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.

Contemplating our isolation and incompleteness is painful, but “it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of [God’s] love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God”.

In the past I have criticized C. S. Lewis’ hyper-focus on “longing for something more” as problematic because it  imagines a world in which it is always Advent, and never Christmas. I still passionately believe that Christians must work to bring about heaven on earth rather than merely longing for something which this world can never supply. But  Lewis’ view can at least provide a valuable contribution to our understanding of life, and the single life in particular.

During Advent we pray for the second coming of Christ, and we recognize that until that day, part of our lives will always be winter.

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O Glorious Advent!

I am so very happy for Advent this year. It feels a bit fake in some ways since the weather seems far too warm for Advent, but it is my first year as an adult that I haven’t been drowning in busyness. I love being able to properly celebrate, even if most of the “celebrating” is really more recognizing than celebrating.

The only problem is that we did not plan ahead enough, so some of our Advent activities will be what I term cheater-Advent (following the first 24 days of December rather than starting on the first Sunday of Advent). I had thought that we would just stick with the basic adult devotional practices: an Advent wreath with extra prayers, greater recognition of the feast days of the season, memorizing scripture, Eastern inspired fasting, and praying the Liturgy of the Hours together more often. But on Saturday, the day before Advent started, my husband said that he would like to start working out our traditions now, rather than waiting for some children to show up to appreciate them. So I am scrambling to figure out what we want to do about a Jesse Tree and O Antiphon House and some sort of Christmas story chain that my husband’s family used when he was a child. It is great fun, even if I do feel like a cheater!

What do you do to prepare for Christmas? Please let me know if you think that I am missing something important!

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Do you judge others for missing blessings?

babyMe: You know those Rad Trads who say that NFP users are sinning for avoiding conception rather than having as many babies as possible? Well I just realized that they must really hate babies–or maybe children in general. Why else would they think that children are such burdens to be forced on others who they imagine do not want children for frivolous reasons?

Josh: It could be that they hate children. Or it could be that they resent their own situation and seek to justify it to themselves by trying to force it on others who are not called to the same.

Can you think of any reasons that we’re missing? I am not sure that my pity for those who judge is any better than their judgment of others, so please share if you see something that I do not!

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Love: Or Why I Do Not Try To Convert You

I am a Catholic of the sort who really loves being Catholic. You know, the sort who goes to Church six days a week and is sad on the seventh (which is today, but I guess it is good penance for a Friday?). I do not simply love practicing Catholicism, I really believe that the Catholic Church offers the opportunity to get the closest to God that one can while on earth.

So why don’t I focus on converting1 non-Christians? Because it is quite possible that any given non-Catholic is closer to God than most Catholics, including myself.

Sound odd? Think of this: I love my husband. I believe that being married to Joshua gives me the opportunity to know him and love him in ways that no one else can. Being married offers the opportunity to be the closest to Joshua that anyone can be.

But simply being married does not mean that I love my husband, or even know him well. With the passing of time others could become closer to Joshua while I focus my attention on everything else. I could even start to hate my husband and deliberately hurt him in ways unthinkable to his friends who really love him.

The point is not simply to be married, the point is to love. Marriage offers the best opportunity to foster the highest sort of love, but it is virtually meaningless in itself and could even become the source of the greatest of hatred.

The same is true of Catholicism and loving God. I would love for everyone to become a Catholic because I believe that would offer them the chance to know God most fully during this life (and the Real Presence really rules!). But simply being Catholic can be useless, or even harmful at times, and I am ultimately most interested in others loving God.

So, if you’re interested in seeking Truth, then we’re cool. I have no interest in converting you, simply in sharing the journey as we both seek Truth. And while I do believe that the Catholic Church is where it is at, I am quite aware that you may actually be closer to God than I am. I will do my best to learn from you rather than focus on converting you, so maybe at the end of the day I will have something to offer others.

What do you think about evangelization/proselytization? Be honest, are you interested in converting me/others in general (whether religiously, politically, or otherwise)? How do you feel about people who believe that they have truth, but aren’t in any hurry to spread it around?

1. One can only “convert” to Catholicism if one is not already a baptized Christian. If one is already a baptized Christian then one can merely “reconcile” with Rome since one cannot “convert” to a religion of which one is already a member! So a more accurate question would be “why do I not focus on converting non-Christians and reconciling non-Catholics?” But you don’t really care about that sort of accuracy, do you?

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