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Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Love
Tag Archives: Love

A Story

There is a story that I have heard over and over again. It is not precisely my story, though it contains echoes of what I have experienced. Because of all of this I assume that others know it. Not merely that they have heard it, but that they know it just as well as I. And yet it is apparently unknown to many. It is a truth which is whispered only behind closed doors in certain circles. I am free from these circles, though oh so closely united to them, and so I will repeat it here.

It starts with a little girl. She has been gifted with a special love for God, the Church, and the liturgy. She is, in many ways, the most innocently perfect example of what the entire Church should be. She longs to serve God in every way possible, and naturally draws near toward the fullest participation in the liturgy possible. She wants to serve God at the altar.

Her joyful anticipation of giving herself in this way is quickly squelched. She may not serve at the altar because only boys may do so. She is told that this is simply the way things are. The Church wants boys to serve at the altar, and because she is a girl, she may pray quietly in the pew–she may pray for the boys that they will serve God well. Certainly she can see that the boys need prayer, but the news that she is unworthy of joining them in the great privilege of serving at the altar is wounding beyond any of those instructing her can understand, most likely because they have never been full of such a pure desire for God.

Perhaps this is the greatest damage of the situation. But the full ramifications and more obviously problematic results do not show up for years. When the girl is in her late teens or perhaps even her twenties she learns that those who told her she simply could not serve because she was a girl were wrong. There is nothing in the Church’s infallible dogma which prevents her from serving.

The traditions which arose and led to the complete exclusion of women from all ecclesiastical office were a result of Hebrew and Roman influence–not the earliest traditions of the Church. The arguments used to prevent girls from serving at the altar are, in fact, often rooted in a deep misunderstanding of the tremendous privilege of serving at the altar.  Even the language of privilege rather than rights is used as a mask for turning something holy into a petty boys club for the utilitarian purpose of compensating for a culture which has lost its authentic faith and thus lost the Spirit which should rightly inspire vocations.

The girl, now a woman, is sick. It is not the fact that she could not serve which makes her sick. It is the fact that she cannot trust her Church. If the Church which told her she could not serve at the altar was simply making up petty rules to keep her from God when there was, in fact, no real reason that she could not serve, how on earth can she trust that Church when it says that only men can be priests?

When she does a bit of research she realizes that all of the arguments she has heard against the ordination of women to the priesthood are not in fact from the Vatican. The Vatican says very simply that Christ did not count women among the Apostles, even though they were counted among the disciples, and so, in keeping with that the Church can not count women among her priests.

But it is too late. It is clear that whatever the Vatican may say at any given point, the Church as a whole is still deeply sexist and happy to crush girls at whim in hopes of building up a warring empire of boys. It is clear that the actual history of the Church will be tossed aside in order to make a new tradition based only on the past 500 years, and that TRADITION will, in fact, mean whatever the good local traditionalists want it to mean.

And so, this girl who never would have dreamed of being a priest now questions her Church. She questions not because she served at the altar and thought she should advance in the ranks, but precisely because she was denied the opportunity to serve when there was no valid reason to deny it.

It is precisely the confusion of those who imagine that all actions surrounding the altar are the same, and thus exclude girls when there is no spiritual reason for exclusion, which has led to a doubt which will never be healed in this lifetime. She may continue to live with the rest of her Church and appear to be the most docile of congregants, but she will never trust the way that she should have been able to–the way that she would have--had we not placed worldly ideas of Church organization above the truth that our Lord taught.

Let the little children come unto me.

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Family Planning, Money, and Health

Some of the comments on my recent post on family planning reminded me of how differently I think from a “typical” American–whomever that is. I completely understand the idea of discounting money when having a child because there is never enough money. But perhaps my parents trained me so well in this regard that applying this logic to myself would lead to the sins of self-indulgence and irresponsible parenting.

In my mind one does not have enough money to have a child (in the US) if one does not have enough money to pay for nutritious food for the child, and more immediately for the pregnant mother.

For me it would seem incredibly virtuous and self-sacrificial for a couple to delay children under such a circumstance, even if it did mean never having children.

It is sometimes a challenge for me to remember that the rest of the (good, conservative) Catholic world (in the United States) views children so very differently than I do. I view children as a supreme gift from God, and in many cases the greatest blessing of marriage.

Others seem to view children primarily as an obligation which can only be avoided for grave reason. And so, while I am inclined to think of what I need to do in order to be adequately prepared for the awesome privileged of being a parent, others are inclined to think of whether they have a good enough reason to get out of being a parent.

I am sure that all of my dear readers are now judging me as judgmental (and I’ll post more about that another time) so I feel the need to explain that I do not presume to know enough about others to have any idea of how they make their actual choices (talk, especially online, does not necessarily correspond that closely to behavior in reality). All I know is the implications based on what they say to me, and the tremendous sins into which I would fall if I accepted their counsel. This is, as usual, all about how I think.

For me, it seems that sex is so connected to procreation that it is irresponsible to engage in sexual intercourse without first considering whether one has sufficiently prepared for the likelihood of conception following from that act. It seems to me that basic justice would dictate that if one has not taken basic steps needed for responsible parenthood, then one should abstain from the act which would lead to the conception of a child who would be hurt by one’s lack of responsibility.

We are not currently able to fully eradicate miscarriage or congenital disorders. But we can take the basic steps necessary to dramatically reduce them. To me it would be basic responsibility to ask myself whether I have been able to take care of my body (and my spouse’s) for the last few months in order to do what is reasonably possible to reduce harm to any child who might be conceived. If the answer was that no and I had not been able to get adequate nutrients (particularly in the past several weeks–think of the importance of folate etc. preconception), or that my husband has not (months ago) been able to consume the nutrients that we know are necessary for preventing miscarriage, then I would consider myself obligated to abstain from sex if it were at all likely to result in conception.

Because of my understanding of responsibility, and justice, it is difficult for me to see how others can think of engaging in conjugal intercourse as nothing more than an issue of generosity. It is certainly an issue of generosity, but for those of us who believe that sexual intercourse must irrevocably be tied to procreation, it is about so very much more than simply having sex when we like and generously accepting whatever God happens to throw our way.

I know that for many of us simply having a child is the best way for us to mature to the point of loving self-sacrificially. But I do not think that that means that we need to ignore the reality of the ideals of justice and responsibility and hold up thoughtless sexual activity as the standard of generosity.

So, while I can appreciate the idea of not expecting a perfect moment for a baby (and certainly letting go of the idea that one needs to have the next 18+ years paid for!), I do not find the counsel to ignore finances to be universally sound advice.

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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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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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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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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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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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