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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | A Swift Kick
Tag Archives: A Swift Kick

Saintly Marriage: Why it Matters

The ideal of celibate marriage is not one that should be accepted by most couples in the form of renunciation of conjugal intercourse. Instead it should properly be understood as a challenge to examine one’s love for one’s spouse in comparison to one’s love for God.

Sexual activity isn’t what really matters. Love is. What is the honest answer to the question of whom one loves? It should be God. And then when someone asks about one’s love for one’s spouse or children, the answer should be a declaration that obviously one loves them appropriately since one loves God. Yet in comparison to one’s love for God, one’s love for one’s spouse must look like hatred.

The greatest challenge of marriage for me so far has been to learn to love my husband more than myself, and yet still less than I love God.

This week has been a great reminder of how very far I am from that. On Monday night I set the alarm so that I could get up in time to go to Mass before work. On Tuesday morning I turned the alarm off and stayed in bed for another half hour. It was lovely to be there listening to my husband’s breathing. Prior to getting married I could make myself get out of a cozy bed while it was still dark in order to go to Mass. But now the hard floor is too wonderful to leave when my husband is there beside me.

Thankfully God loves me more than I love God and I got the unexpected opportunity to go to Mass later in the day. But there could not have been a clearer indication that my love for Josh won out over my love for God. Yes, there are times in marriage when one needs to put service of spouse above spiritual practice, but it was not as if my sleeping husband cared whether I was there beside him. It was all about me.

Today I walked into a Mass that had started two minutes early. As I checked to insure that my cell phone was silenced I noticed that I had new voicemail from three missed calls. I did not check to see whose calls I had missed even though it was unusual to have new voicemail from the morning.

Then suddenly during consecration I realized that it could have been that something was wrong with Josh. I hadn’t seen him online in the morning. I had assumed that meant that he had closed Gmail in order to work without interruption, but it also could have been a sign of something wrong. Perhaps he was locked out of the apartment and his only way of contacting me was the cell phone which I ignore while at work.

I realized that I was being silly. I also realized that the priest had finished the prayer while I had been thinking about Josh rather than God. Unlike earlier in the week, I had not consciously chosen Josh over God, but Saint Paul might as well have been standing beside me with an “I told you so” look.

Marriage is a great gift and beautiful path of salvation. But it is also one of the most alluring temptations of damnation. Women in particular are especially vulnerable to spiritual damage in marriage because many of us are naturally inclined–and all of us our taught–to pour ourselves entirely into marriage. And the harder we work on our relationships, the more we give ourselves to our spouses, and the better our marriages are, the less we are drawn to the Triune God. For our energy is directed to our spouses and we are satisfied with something wonderful; something dreadfully less than God alone.

One obvious help for many married women Saints was wretched husbands who drove their wives constantly back to the arms of God for solace. That is not exactly the sort of aid to salvation that I desire!

And yet as I look at my life it is clear that I am constantly in danger of damning myself through “love” of my spouse! I am not worthy to be the disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, I continually pray “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word…” but so often I am not really aware of how unworthy I am. For I am too busy loving my husband to notice that I hate my God.

This is why I must look to the ideal example of Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph and all the Saints who followed after them in the most perfect of marriages. It is not that sexual intercourse is bad, but rather that forgoing it for the glory of God is emblematic of the pure devotion to God which characterizes all the Saints. And the great love for God which makes spousal love seem like hatred by comparison is precisely what I lack.

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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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Does Anything Strike You About This List?

The idea of conventions really appeals to me. You not only get to hear great speakers on the topic that interests you, you also get to meet others with the same interest. Even though I do not attend many conferences, I love to read about them. And what could be better than conferences that focus on natural family planning?

So I was easily engaged with the Couple to Couple League’s 2010 speakers list. Check it out. Then you can read what I thought as I read about who is speaking:

Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
I would love to hear him!

Bishop Ronald W. Gainer
I should probably know something about him…

Mike Manhart, Ph.D. CCL Executive Director
Makes sense since he runs the organization.

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. (Fr. Tad) Director of Education, The National Catholic Bioethics Center
I love Father Tad. I still can’t believe that the Vatican seems to be taking his side on the embryo adoption issue. Hm…

Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Ph.D.

And then there was Joseph Corbo, M.D., James McKenna, Ph.D., Dale Alquist, Ray Guarendi, Ph.D., and Michael Schwartz.
I don’t know any of these guys, though McKenna sounds really interesting.

Then I scrolled through the list again.

I had to be missing people.

I had to be missing women.

No, I had already seen the one woman… a sister. I have no objection to celibate women promoting life, they are crucial! But why is she the only woman listed? Does the Couple to Couple League believe that if NFP-using women want to hear from women who actually live with NFP they should just talk to themselves? Are women and men really so similar that men can speak to these issues just as well as women? Did the conference organizers try to get women to speak but find that they were all so drowning with their own children that they had nothing left to give to others?

I left Couple to Couple League’s website with the sinking feeling that they are crippled in their ability to promote the fullness of what the Church has to offer for women in real life. Am I missing a good reason for avoiding married women as speakers, or does the Couple to Couple League have a tremendous opportunity to grow in this area?

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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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Sometimes I need to think about why I should be sad… and work harder!

Today was one of those days when I felt like doing… nothing. It was a grey day and I am tired of grey days. I want spring.

But I got it all done because I had my must-do list and a bit of inspiration. When I feel tired and lazy there is always one way that can get me to work. Check out this or this for an example.

I just have to remember that there are many children out there in pretty nasty situations. And I could help some of them some day. But that day is going to stay far away as long as I am too lazy to get my act together and do the things I must to be able to care for a needy child. I don’t have a romanticized view of adoption or foster parenting. I know that it is emotional agony (among other draining things). I know that I am not yet prepared for it.

But I have a deep desire to be able to help make a little space a little better.

The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit. -Saint Basil

The extra books sitting on my shelf can be sold to provide income to pay off debt. In the process I become not only financially able to parent, I also practice the self-denial and self-discipline which I would need to love a child. And when I hear quotes like the one from Saint Basil, I can only wonder why on earth I haven’t done it already.

If anyone who happens upon this has suggestions either for motivation or ways to prepare for parenting (or other forms of service) I would love to hear about them!

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