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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Catholicism
Tag Archives: Catholicism

Ave!—Hello!

Ave! This should be my salutation

addressed to everyone with Mary’s joy.

Ave! This is an announcement of grace,

reconciliation, renewal and resurrection.

Ave! This is a wish of divine benediction.

Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

I had just finished reading Van Thuan’s thoughts on the importance of the Ave. And I had resolved to work on greeting others with joy and openness. For how am I ever to get to the point of offering the perfect fiat to God when I cannot even offer an open ave to the people I encounter each day?

And then I was stopped in my tracks by a man.

Man: Hello, I see you around here a lot.

Me: Yes, I live right down the road. I like to stop and talk to St. Joseph.

Man: What is your name?

Me: ____

Man: Oh, I would have guessed Maria.

I smile. And he continues to ask me a bit about the man he has seen me with (my husband) and where I am from origionally. He also tells me that I am welcome any time and talks about a noise from a nearby car and the weather.

I answer his questions and smile and nod a lot. But other than asking his name (ah! I did not guess the “Father” given his clothing and the fact that I have never seen him celebrate mass at the chapel or oratory) and where he was from originally, I do not extend the conversation. I would have liked to talk more, but I could not tell how much he felt like talking and how much he was just finding out who it was who was walking around the grounds for which he had some responsibility.

And yet, maybe I did know that he wanted to talk. Just like that young priest almost a year ago… the one whom I answered politely and shyly, waiting to see whether my husband or friend would jump in. They continued to pray, and I felt awkward talking in church. So I answered his questions and ignored his obvious need to hang out with random young adults who found it worth the time to be at daily mass and pray morning prayer.

I view priests as humans. I greatly pity the isolation of the typical parish priest. Given my religious interests I typically find priests more interesting than the average person. But I am not friends with priests. I always assume that they have better things to do than to talk with me. This is somewhat justified considering how busy they are and the many times I have seen their eyes fill with dread at being cornered by some parishioner who wants to talk endlessly, or confess urgent sins- even though they just received communion. Perhaps I just want to make sure that I am never the one who makes them wish that they had left the room in time to avoid me.

Or perhaps I just stink at loving others in the very simple human way of sharing conversation and offering friendship. Perhaps I just fall too easily into the role of the perfect child who never needs anything.

Oh God, please help me to love others, no matter what their role or title. Please help me to say “hello” with love, and follow it up with a confident offering of friendship in whatever form is appropriate at the time.

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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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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.
Amen

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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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.
Awesome!

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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Failing NFP & Learning a Bit of Charity

I was full of dread as I approached the door to enter our final natural family planning class. When it was time to review my chart I nervously joked to the instructor that I had found a way to “fail” natural family planning before I was even married. It wasn’t that I was pregnant; I had started hormonal birth control and had an early temperature spike to prove it.

Thankfully the instructor was perfectly gracious. She was not especially surprised since my first month’s chart was disturbed by a laparoscopy which had confirmed endomentriosis but done nothing to ease my pain. She asked whether  the doctor had a plan other than keeping me on hormones for life. The doctor did not have a plan, but my primary goal was to get through the semester. I did not have the option of seeking out a specialist for another surgery, and I could not continue to function through the pain.

The hormones worked so well that I wondered why I had spent years insistent on avoiding them. It was so very wonderful to be able to function normally and I was thrilled to be able to concentrate on an intense semester. Then summer came. As I waited in a long line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation I thought about how easily I am distracted from God. It seemed that I turned away from every opportunity to join myself to the Savior’s suffering. And so I returned to the pain of my normal menstrual cycle.

Two months after I got married I again had a very strong need to be able to function physically. I tried the same hormones that I had been on before, but without success. It did not reduce my pain and I observed the signs of my fertility with the wry thought that it was a good thing I was not using the hormones to avoid conception! I got a prescription for a different mix of hormones, but by the time I had waited for my body to adjust I simply did not want to go through it all again. So I gave up on artificial hormones.

I am profoundly thankful for my experience. Without it, it is quite possible that I would be one of those Catholics who say things like “the pill is never a good option for Catholic women!” It does not matter how clear the Church is that artificial hormones are permissible for therapeutic purposes. Some continue to insist that no health issue can possibly make resorting to the evil of hormonal contraception legitimate.

I would never have directly questioned the fact that artificial hormones were allowed, after all Humanae Vitae could not be more clear:

the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

But I was all too ready to agree with those who asserted that doctors were just lazy and there was no reason for any woman to be on artificial hormones. I still think that the pill is over-prescribed, and I am still glad that I made the choice to have a laparoscopy rather than starting hormones without knowing the source of the problem. Information is good, even without pain relief. But the fact that many doctors are too willing to prescribe hormones without considering the underlying health issues does not negate the fact that there are very good reasons for therapeutic use of artificial hormones.

Even minor surgery has risks and it is somewhat naïve to imagine that it is always affordable and effective. I wish that no women had to deal with the physical pain of reproductive disorders, but I am thankful that there are many options for treatment and pain-suppression. If you know a woman who is able to treat pain with something as simple as a birth control pill, please consider suspending judgement long enough to ponder thanking God that she does not require anything stronger.

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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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Saint John of the Cross & Mean Christians

When I woke up this morning I ran into Josh’s office and after wishing him a blessed feast of John of the Cross began to wail “it is the feast of John of the Cross, and I could not even suffer enough to get up early enough to go to mass. I just had to stay sleeping longer on my cozy floor!”

Cross

Self-indulgent criticism of self aside, I am entirely thankful for this day to celebrate a Saint who turned all suffering to the glory of God. For those of you of a more traditional Christian persuasion I highly recommend the novena to Saint John of the Cross put into podcast form by the Carmelites of St. Louis. For those more skeptical of the value of suffering and its role in the Christian life, I suggest Teresa Benedicta’s thoughts on the Feast of John of the Cross.

In seeking to emulate Saint John of the Cross it is not as though Catholics just happen to like suffering or imagine that we must earn our salvation. Teresa Benedicta writes that

when someone desires to suffer, it is not merely a pious reminder of the suffering of the Lord. Voluntary expiatory suffering is what truly and really unites one to the Lord intimately. When it arises, it comes from an already existing relationship with Christ. For, by nature, a person flees from suffering.

And there is something particularly valuable about remembering the source of John’s suffering: it came from the Church itself. Due to religious infighting amongst the Carmelites, a group of monks broke into John’s room one night and kidnapped him. When John refused to abandon the Reform he was imprisoned in a 10′ x 6′ room for nine months. In The Science of the Cross, Teresa Benedicta describes John’s suffering:

At first every evening, later three times a week and finally, only sometimes on Fridays, the prisoner wsa brought to the refectory where, seated on the floor, he ate his meal–bread and water. He was also given the discipline in the refectory. He knelt, naked to the waist with bowed head; all the friars passed by him and struck him with the switch. And since he bore everything “with patience and love” he was dubbed “the coward.” Throughout, he was “immovable as a rock” when they commanded him to abandon the Reform, attempting to bribe him by offering to make him a prior. Then he would open his silent lips and assure them that eh refuse d to turn back “no mater if it cost him his life.”

The youthful novices who were witness to the humiliations and mistreatment wept out of compassion and said “this is a saint” when they saw his silent patience. His tunic was drenched with blood at the scourgings; he had to put it back on as it was and was not changed during the nine months he was a prisoner. One can imagine what suffering it caused him in the glowing heat of those summer months.

She continues to say that this was the least of John’s suffering as he was deprived of his ability to not only celebrate mass, but to receive the sacraments, and that this in turn was nothing compared to the spiritual darkness of God’s withdrawal.  John’s life is not only a shining example of embracing God through suffering, it is a stern warning about the way we treat other Christians.

I sometimes wonder what the difference is between the friars who tormented John and those of us who scream about how this group should not be allowed to receive Communion and that person should be excommunicated and this other person silenced. We do not have the power to do anything other than talk, but how much would we hurt others if we did have the power?

I am inclined to think that the bishops know better than a random twenty-something woman. And if at times the bishops are wrong? Then there is much more saintly precedence for writing a letter to correct the bishop rather than posting vitriol online.

Today I will start reading the Dark Night of the Soul in hopes of learning something from the spiritual depth of Saint John of the Cross. But even if I never get beyond the shallow details of his life, I am thankful for the grace of understanding that I have received from Saint John’s story in the most basic way: if you are nasty you risk beating a Saint.

And someday, maybe, I will be closer to the ideal of Christian life described by Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross:

To suffer and to be happy although suffering, to have one’s feet on the earth, to walk on the dirty and rough paths of this earth and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry with the children of this world and ceaselessly to sing the praises of God with the choirs of angels, this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.

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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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Busy Being Not-Busy

Praying

I think that it is time for me to follow her example and get to work! I will be back in a week. May those of you who celebrate the Paschal Mystery have a truly blessed week.

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Thirsting for God

Agnus Dei

Agnus Dei

Yesterday morning started out with Psalm 63:2-9

O God, you are my God, for you I long;

for you my soul is thirsting.

My body pines for you

like a dry, weary land without water.

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary

to see your strength and your glory.

For your love is better than life,

my lips will speak your praise.

It was the answer to my worn-out Saturday. While my suffering may be minimal, it is still a very strong reminder that I pine for perfection. I long for God.

It is extremely difficult to balance appreciation for life with the reality that we are also dying, even while we live. My body loves to make sure that I fully know how very imperfect this life is. I am far from able to purely unite my small sufferings with those of the Christ, but I know that it is what I want. And I am supremely happy every time I am able to partake in Mass and pray: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: grant us peace”.

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