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Sundays

I hated Sundays as a child. My parents believed that Sundays were a day set apart, and that meant that they were miserable for children.

Sunday morning was filled with the less-than-engaging church service that seemed to take forever. Church was sandwiched between the drive which took almost an hour each way. Sunday afternoons were filled with quite. I would take walks in the woods, play with the animals, or cook a little once I was old enough. That list sounds restful now, but at the time I was simply board. Since I was often unaware that my father was fasting1 I would spend hours making something2 for him, only to have it politely declined as he told me that he would try it another day. I did not sense a deep spiritual time, I simply felt that Sundays were so bad my dad could not eat!

My father said that, since Sunday was different from other days, we could do things such as swimming or sledding on Sundays or we could do them the rest of the week. I was smart enough to know that one day of fun was not worth a week without it, so Sundays was my boring day. I had siblings to play with, but somehow Sunday was not a day of creative play. We would be separated from each other in complete silence for at least two hours in the afternoon while one or both of our exhausted parents caught up on sleep. When I was 10, I loved to volunteer to watch the baby during my parents nap. Taking her for stroller rides outside was far better than staying inside! Being outside was far busier and brighter than being alone in my room.

During college I learned to love Sundays. I delighted in walking to Mass and spending hours reading or, once again, walking outside. There was some stress as I battled with whether to study on Sunday or avoid “work” but for the most part Sundays were grand.

This feeling continued until my present job. Sundays still mean Church, but Saturdays are somehow better. On Saturday mornings my husband and I start the day with a walk to the 8:00am Mass. The congregation is small enough that we recognize almost everyone and note the new people. Then the rest of the day is filled with good things and the knowledge that there will be more of the same the next day. When Sunday comes, the joy of the day has the almost painful tinge of knowledge that most of the week will not be spent like this.

altar

Today I once again revelled the day of rest. After Church my husband and I spent a lot of time walking around Boston and then hanging out with my brothers. And it was good.

Do you have any Sunday traditions that I should consider trying?

1. Fasting meant only drinking water. Sometimes he would eat nothing all day, other days he would join the rest of the family for a simple supper of whole wheat pancakes.
2. Okay, so the “something” was probably highly unappealing as I started playing in the kitchen alone by 7 or 8 and the ingredients allowed tended to be rather… um… wholesome. But as far as I was concerned, I was making something great for my parents, and my father would have none of it.

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John the Baptist

johnthebaptistSt. John the Baptist had a most difficult office to fulfil; that of rebuking a king. Not that it is difficult for a man of rude arrogant mind to say a harsh thing to men in power,—nay, rather, it is a gratification to such a one; but it is difficult to rebuke well, that is, at a right time, in a right spirit, and a right manner. The Holy Baptist rebuked Herod without making him angry; therefore he must have rebuked him with gravity, temper, sincerity, and an evident good-will towards him. On the other hand, he spoke so firmly, sharply, and faithfully, that his rebuke cost him his life.

We who now live have not that extreme duty put upon us with which St. John was laden; yet every one of us has a share in his office, inasmuch as we are all bound “to rebuke vice boldly,” when we have fit opportunities for so doing.

John Henry Cardinal Newman

Today the Church remembers the death of the Forerunner of Christ. Newman’s thoughts on St. John’s example of rebuke strike me as especially pertinent for today. But what a challenge it is to rebuke sin correctly! It is so very easy to whine about politicians with whom we never have personal contact. It is so very difficult to speak well to those whose lives we do impact, and most importantly, to pray for all.

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Original Sin Makes Me Feel Warm and Fuzzy

Okay, so that title isn’t entirely accurate. But Jenna’s post on sin got me thinking about how the doctrine of original sin is actually a positive thing.

The doctrine of original sin is a happy doctrine for a few reasons. The first is that original sin offers a suggestion of how God can be good even though bad things happen to good people. We can argue all we want about the role of origional sin in deciding the eternal fate of babies who die, but the fact remains that babies die. And there is nothing good about babies dying.

If one believes in original sin, then one can also believe that God did not create a world in which babies die. God created a good world, but Adam and Eve chose evil and thus babies die. Romans 5 explains that “through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned.”

It is not that a baby chooses sin. But all babies feel the impact of original sin, and for some this means death. There is no way around it. There is redemption, but there is also the stinging impact of sin which causes all creation to groan “as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). If one denies the place of sin in causing babies to die, then what is left but to say that it is directly God’s will? It seems to me that it is horribly arrogant to attribute the result of sin to God’s design.

The second benefit of the doctrine of original sin is that it asserts the connectedness of humans in an overly-individualistic society. The influence of liberalism (Enlightenment, Protestant Reformation, what have you) on Christianity has brought many good things, such as a focus on God’s love for every person. But, in some ways, it has lead to an insane idolatry of the individual and no place is left for the crucial role of the community. The doctrine of original sin reminds us that Christianity is not just about “me and God.” We are connected to each other and have to live with the fact that our lives are shaped by the actions others took long before we were born. Ideally, this should serve as a reminder that our actions impact others, and we should live well. It does not really matter whether one prefers to focus on sin as “origional” or “structural” or any other term. What matters is that one remembers that one is not alone and never acts in isolation. The Bible is full of stories of God seeking out individual people and dramatically altering their lives. But these stories involve changing people’s lives so that they can change even more lives, not because God simply likes shaking people up. God didn’t grab Abram and Sarai and say “I want to make your dreams come true, just for the two of you.” Saul wasn’t stopped on the road to Damascus simply for his own salvation. One’s theology of sin is an important aspect of one’s theology of community. And the doctrine of origional sin offers a good starting point for humbly accepting the facts that we did not choose to be who we are, and our choices will impact others.

Lastly there is the great irony that believing in origional sin allows one to have a much more positive view of humanity. If one does not believe in original sin, then it seems that one must attribute all evil acts to sheer malice, greed, etc. But origional sin explains that people do not necessarily choose to be evil. We were stained by sin before we were even born. Remembering this is a tremendous help for me in loving others as weak, rather than despising them as cruel. Sure, we can choose evil, but not all evil is chosen by the person who acts it out. Choice is never truly “free” and no one gets to start with a clean slate.

What is your preferred way of thinking of sin? Do you think that the term itself is problematic? If so, what constructs do you prefer?

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Spring: Yet Another Post about Statues

Spring BVM StatueLook at that grass! It may not look especially nice to you, but to me it means spring. The grass is not especially green and there are still patches of snow piles around, but I knew that it was spring once there was no snow in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother. Most every Catholic church that I have been to has a statue of Mary outside. They are sometimes hidden around back, or even in the woods, but they are almost always there.

I like to stop in front of the statue to pray a few quick prayers after Mass. Each winter I have to stand back further because of the snow in front of the statue. And I know that it is really spring when I can once again walk near the statue to pray.

Do you have any personal religious rituals which end up marking the seasons for you?

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