Easter Gift – Book Give Away

March 29, 2010

Easter is only six days away now, and it serendipitously falls on my birthday this year. My first birthday as a Catholic will be my first day as a Catholic. My journey to enter the Catholic Church has seemed so laborious and fraught with indecision. Although I think that anyone looking back, even at my very first post, will see that I’ve spent the last year and a half only coming to terms with what I already knew I was supposed to do – become Catholic. And now my first Communion is imminent. I have a lot to look forward to this week in the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. (And I just realized that I forgot the last Stations of the Cross this past Friday, which I meant to attend. Oops.)

I’m beginning to absolutely love Catholic liturgy. Passion Sunday was fantastic. How better to remember what Christ did than to hold blessed palm branches to lay down for our King and to read our part in His death He died for us? They’ve thought of everything to remind us of all the important Christian truths, events, and their meaning, if we only listen as we go through the motions. Honestly, much of the time it’s fairly difficult for me to focus, and I’m disappointed that I feel rather distracted and ill-prepared for my entry into the Church. So I’m extra thankful for all the liturgical aids that keep re-directing my mind and heart to focus on uniting myself with Christ in His death on the cross giving me hope in the resurrection.

On the subject of preparing for Easter, three weeks ago I had my first confession. I brought my list on which I wrote nice and small to get it all on one side of the paper. I cried. I burned it afterward. Chris and I celebrated with queso and chips. It wasn’t particularly difficult for me to say my sins out loud. As Chris had told me it would be beforehand, it was the least judgmental conversation of my life. Telling a priest your sins isn’t hard at all. It’s calling them to mind, realizing what you have done and being sorry for them that is difficult. Then there’s the beautiful prayer of absolution at the end. I’m not sure if this is the one my priest used, but it’s lovely:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son
has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I was surprised to actually feel better after my confession. I honestly wanted to do better, to behave as Christ would in my life, and was more patient with the kids. It has slipped away over the weeks, but gives me a hint of the grace available through the sacraments.

I’m a little concerned about the logistics of Easter Vigil. There’s a practice session early in the morning, during which I hope the RCIA class will provide babysitting, otherwise we’ll have a very loudly protesting, rampaging two year old boy destroying our ability to figure out what where we’re supposed to stand. Later that night, we plan on bringing Isabel with us, but getting a sitter for Chris Jr. We think she’s old enough to handle the late night and maybe even get something out of it. Hopefully. My family won’t be there to help, since they’ll be out of town, so we’ll have to haul her along with us the whole way. In a way, I’m glad I won’t have an entourage of opposition there. I’ll be more able to immerse myself in what I know is going on instead of explaining what I believe and why Catholics do what they do (and why that’s not un-Biblical or unreasonable). On the other hand, I very much want to share this with my family because it means so much to me, even if they have no idea that it does.

Another practical concern for Easter Vigil is they are not reserving seats for us candidates and the catechumen. I can’t think of good reason why they aren’t, since this mass is integral to our entrance to the Church. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except our church is massive. With six weekend masses, we still have a packed church with standing room only, and the traffic to get in and out of the church backs up for blocks in either direction all Sunday morning. It’s like that on normal Sundays, and we all know there are those know there are those who come out of the woodwork twice a year at Easter and Christmas. If we don’t get there at least an hour early, I may not have a seat for my Confirmation and I’m sure Isabel would handle that rather poorly. I’m sure we can work it out alright, but it’s an added stress.

So that’s where I stand, on the verge of becoming one of those reviled by the world at large, deemed un-Christian by some of our close Protestant brethren, and despised as a mind-controlled fool by non-Christians, but utterly resolved to give up my self as Christ has given Himself to me.

Book Give Away

In recognition of this great gift that I am about to receive this Easter, I want to offer a choice of gifts to those who would ask. For a while now, I’ve wanted to offer a free copy of Hilaire Belloc’s The Crisis of Civilization to up to 10 people (limited since I don’t have infinite resources). I chose this book because it puts the entire Christian civilization into a long term historical perspective in a readable manner, and it’s eye opening. I was ignorant of much of history, and this book does much to describe the organic nature of the Catholic Church and how Christianity shaped the world. It’s of vital importance to have this perspective, since those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.

I would like to offer alternatives, if you are interested in something else. I’m happy to substitute any of Hilaire Belloc’s books, particularly The Great Heresies, which is also a nice Catholic history of the Church in relation to those who have separated from her teachings. I’d also like to offer either of my chosen Confirmation saint’s works, The Catholic Controversy and Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales. I personally believe that The Catholic Controversy is the finest work of counter-Reformation apologetics ever written, and I can’t help but think St. Francis prayers for reconciliation in the Body of Christ were in part answered in my own conversion. Finally, you have the option of choosing Adoration: Eucharistic Texts and Prayers Through Out Church History if you are more inclined to strengthen your faith in the Eucharist through historical and contemplative reading.

If you want to take me up on this offer, shoot me an email at soimarriedacatholic@gmail.com with your name, book choice, and address and I’ll send it off as soon as I have a moment!

To Rome, one way or another

March 29, 2010

Although I avoid the news as much as I can, since I get a little too… involved in it, I am aware of the recent health care bill passage and at least some of the reactions it has sparked. Opponents are outraged, appalled, fearing for our country, slamming the President for being a fascist, etc. While all these reactions may be valid responses to certain evils of bill passage, I think a little perspective is needed to keep all of us at peace.

Living in the pocket of a foreigner is eye opening at times, and especially so when it comes to politics. Although neither me nor Chris are political enthusiasts, we have our views. More so I have realized that we have our assumptions shaped by the society around us. Particularly, Americans have the assumption that democracy is the best system and the majority is right.

We were watching Star Wars with our three-year-old daughter, Isabel, the other day. Don’t worry, it was a highly edited version. In episode III, the Republic was being taken over by the soon to be Emperor and Padme says, “This is how freedom dies, with thunderous applause!” Later, when confronting her beloved Anakin about whether he had turned to the dark side, she didn’t seem overly upset at him “killing younglings”. Instead, it was when he turned his back on democracy that she gasped in horror and left him. My parents like most Americans also have this weird idea that Christianity, and goodness itself, is inextricably tied to democracy.

Democracy is a system founded on the power of the vote, but a vote is only as good as the opinion of those who cast the vote. The vote is ruled by the majority, and in the absence of a moral code, the majority is not always right. Effectively, the majority becomes the mighty, and the vote ensures that might makes right.

Another weak point in the American system is that it is not actually a democracy. It is a republic. We elect officials who vote on issues for us, and once they are elected we can do little to affect their vote. Most of the time, our “representatives” are not representatives. These legislators have their own ideas of what is right and wrong and will make laws accordingly. Moreover, we are limited in our choice of those we elect to those who run for office, which in turn is limited to the wealthy or those backed by the wealthy. There may be exceptions, but this is how it generally goes, and most the time Americans vehemently defend this system as if it is, in itself, a righteous absolute or basic human right. It is merely the best we can do right now, and as we have seen recently, it is not nearly good enough.

The reason the democratic ideal in America is failing is that its people are in the midst of a long and painful divorce from the philosophy that has for so long shaped their morality. Far too few people have a clear picture of the history of the world, and the flavors that filled the world in different times. Before Christ came, Rome ruled what was known as the civilized world, surrounded by what they called “barbarians”, those outside of the Roman Empire. Although barbarians were seen as uncivilized, it can be easily seen from Roman culture that nothing during the time immediately preceding the coming of Christ could be called civilized by our standards today. The Roman Empire was a military run society, loosely an oligarchic republic of sorts, but holding all sorts of vicious and inhuman behavior as acceptable. Without a second thought for the value and dignity of an individual human, they practiced forms of brutality like gladiator games, slavery, abortion and cruel punishments like crucifixion. There was corruption in the form of exorbitant taxes, extortion, and distorted sexual behaviors like homosexuality, male infidelity, incest, pedophilia, and prostitution. Although these offenses occur in current times as well, in the Roman Empire they were culturally accepted. The powerful created the laws, and the weak were crushed underfoot, because the society was shaped by the philosophy its people held. Although the ancient Romans had religion in the form of multiple gods like Jupiter, Mars, and Neptune, there was little morality beyond that of the mighty. Strength was admired and victory was noble. Power over others was the highest Roman virtue, and there was no lasting hope for the people, for even the power they possessed was lost at death.

Jesus Christ preached a message of self-sacrifice and eternal hope. He taught us to give our lives for others rather than seeking power over others, and Christ Himself gave His life for the forgiveness of our sins as our perfect example of the love we are to have. In a society that despised the powerless, Christianity thrived because it gave hope in a world of despair. There was meaning in its message of love and resurrection, and so Christians faced persecution, humiliation, and martyrdom against all apparent reason. The Christian civilization that rose from the moral ashes of ancient Rome had a new life. These people sought a moral goodness that was well defined by the Catholic Church who united, strengthened and expanded their society. Slavery faded as a practice until it disappeared, since a Christian could hardly keep a fellow Christian brother as his slave. People were urged to give to the poor, to make sacrifices for God and the Church, to spend their lives in service to others, and to be content with having the necessities of life instead of seeking great wealth. The high middle ages were a beautiful time for the human soul. This was the nature of Christian morality that laid the foundation for our society today.

Yet a century or so before the Reformation, this high Christian society began to face the inevitable poisoning of corruption from those who still sought power instead of goodness. The Reformation protested the corruption for good reason, but the Reformers lost sight of the cause of the problems, and broke with the institutional authority of the Catholic Church, rejecting and revising all her teachings rather than just the corrupt practices. Over the next century, the separation became permanent, and the Christian institution that had for so long directed the society around it was weakened. Five centuries after the Reformation, Christian society is even more fractured and its influence on the philosophy of secular society has steadily decreased.

There is now a battle going on between those of differing philosophies. The Christians, more and more so only the conservative Christians and I believe eventually only the Catholic Christians, hold to value and dignity of individual human life. We oppose abortion and euthanasia. We call for right action and fairness toward all people. We desire goodness rather than power. Those who hold secular philosophies are not without morality, but they are without an absolute morality. They retain a vestigial morality like a distant memory of their ancient religion, but the grounds for what they believe is right and wrong shift as their position shifts. They legalize and fight for the right to infringe on the lives and dignity of others when it is convenient for them to do so. The life of an unborn and unwanted child is seen as insignificant only because it has no ability to defend itself, and in the absence of Christian morality, might makes right. Power is sought and the strong make the rules. The majority wins in a democratic society, and without the foundation of Christian morality the majority will not care for the weak and powerless. As the moral tide of our society continues to turn away from the Rome of the Catholic Church, it is returning to the barbarism of ancient Rome.

As individuals, we make a choice whether to live for ourselves as the Romans, or to live for each other as the Catholic Christians. The world and our country are made of individuals, but we cannot make their choice for them. Though their failing morality and hence our failing democracy saddens us, it should not make us despair. Our hope is not, nor has it ever been, in our own power to create a perfect society or perfect governmental system. Our hope is in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, His death that we share that we may also share in His glory and resurrection. Though the world around us falls further from goodness, it is only a sign of the movements of society as a whole, and the light of Christ has never failed to shine in the darkest places at the darkest times. We are His light, and whatever governmental laws are passed, we will still act in accordance with the laws of God.

Let us try to keep this all in perspective when the health care bill fails to uphold righteousness in many respects. We can also be thankful for the improvements it has made, since it is criminal to drop an insured just as they need the insurance they have paid so long for, or to not cover a child on a pre-existing condition when they need care. Above all, we can be grateful that Christ has come and changed us, so that we are no longer barbarians, and have through Him the ability to be in this world and not of it.

The First Lashes

March 10, 2010

And so it begins. I had a feeling that the reason my parents took my joining the Catholic Church so well is that they didn’t realize how Catholic I am. Today, I was telling my mom that we will most likely put our kids in the Catholic school of our parish. It’s a good school that even Catholic-shy Protestants send their kids to. It doesn’t cost much more than public school and I’ve been really unimpressed with public schools lately. She wavered and stalled, then confessed she doesn’t like the idea of Catholic schools because they teach the kids things she disagrees with, like “praying to the saints and doing rosary beads for forgiveness.” I told her there are things she disagrees with that they teach, but Chris and I agree with them. It’s like I slapped her and called her ugly.

She stuttered, “You believe in things like praying to the saints????”

“Yes, mom. Why do you think I’m joining the Catholic Church this Easter?”

“But Jesus is our only intercessor!”

“He is our only intercessor in one way, but even you ask others to pray for us.”

“People who are alive and in the body of Christ!”

“Those who have died are still in the body of Christ.”

“There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us to pray to the saints.”

“There is the cloud of witnesses. If they can see and hear us, and they’re with God, there’s no reason to believe they can’t pray for us. They’re not spiritually paralyzed!”

“We’re supposed to pray directly to God.”

“I do pray directly to God. And I ask you to pray for me, and Chris to pray for me, and the saints to pray for me.”

“You are such a chameleon. You change your beliefs according to who you’re with.”

The last several weeks, since Fat Tuesday actually, I’ve had this tension headache/neck pain from stress. It gets worse when I’m more stressed. Right about this point in the conversation, my neck hurt. There’s really no reason for my mom to suggest that I just conform to those around me. There is never an instance in my past when I have changed my faith, let alone changed it to agree with the multitude of strange ideas from people I’ve come across. I’ve dated atheists (one who was “Catholic”), Catholics who believe everyone goes to heaven, a multiple personality ridden Protestant, and one guy who actually thought he was God, but I never changed the beliefs that I was raised with. I’ve been surrounded by nihilistic attitudes, scientism, “spirituality” rather than “religion”, and other religions. The most I had in common spiritually with any of my friends in college was with a Muslim friend of mine who agreed that science and religion are not at odds! And yet my own mother now thinks that despite all this resistance and adversity to my beliefs that I’ve gone through, my faith is week enough that I’ve just passively absorbed that of my husband. I’ve never changed my faith for anyone, and I still haven’t. I’m not becoming Catholic for Chris. Neither am I just becoming Catholic in the same way that my parents join different churches. I am Catholic.

She changed the subject a bit, “You believe in praying rosary beads for forgiveness?”

“That’s not why people pray the rosary, mom.”

My faculties failed me while I attempted to explain the power of forgiveness in confession. I recounted Christ breathing the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and telling them what sins they forgive are forgiven and the sins they retain are retained. She answered, “I’m not sure where you’re going with that.” I considered going through the whole Apostolic succession through the laying on of hands thing. The words that Father Andrew said last week at the RCIA class on confession ran through my head, “Well, how can they forgive sins if they don’t hear them?” The look on her face stopped me. Instead I ended it with “Oh look, Isabel wants to watch Star Wars.”

I think my mom accused me of being a chameleon because she was rather shocked, and couldn’t think of another way to explain the fact that I believe in praying to the saints. Unfortunately, all this came after a bad day in which I was rather frustrated and annoyed with the kids, perfectly demonstrating how Catholics shouldn’t act. I’m holding my breath, waiting for the phone call from my dad. And bracing myself for the next barrage of challenges to Catholic beliefs.

God Answers

March 9, 2010

Chris and I have lately been enjoying the show Joan of Arcadia. It’s about a sixteen year old girl who is sent on missions from God when He appears to her in the form of different people. I love Joan’s childlike petulance and lack of understanding and her sincere desire to help. Although I’d want to be holy and respectful if God Himself came down from heaven to talk to me, I know I’d be more like Joan–without a clue and just pestering Him with questions like “Why??” Most of the time, He just ignores Joan’s questions, because she just doesn’t get it.

If I had God in front of me, I would ask Him why all this suffering. Is it really necessary? A boy in our parish has leukemia. Is that necessary? I’m desperately trying to understand how any of this redeems the world, but I can’t. I’m trying to be the kind of person who doesn’t let life grind her down, but I’m not. So why disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes? Why evil in the world like genocide, abortion, murder, rape, torture, and neglect? Why daily frustrations that I can’t even handle?

There was a time when God was asked this question and He answered. Not a very satisfying answer of course, but as always, the best answer. Christ was asked about the suffering of those whose blood was mingled with sacrifices. Jesus answered that the greatest suffering is not dealt out to the greatest sinner. Then He says, if we don’t repent of our sins, we too will perish through terrible suffering. (Luke 13:1-9) He redirects the issue, because our physical sufferings are nothing compared to our eternal end. And there’s the key. We keep from being overwhelmed by this painful life by having an eternal perspective. Easier said than done.

More and more I see myself as a child of God – a petulant child of God. I see my children screech and holler for “their way” without restraint or thought. They want cookies without regard for the stomach ache they’ll get when they haven’t had a meal yet. They want to run into the street without caring that a car is coming and could crash into them. They want to roll around in the mud without caring that messes have to be cleaned up. They want to push each other out of the way and grab the coveted green lightsaber without realizing their push could hurt the other person. I’ve heard the phrase “I want” so often I’ve banned it. And what I want from my children is goodness. I want them to care about each other, to share, to love, to help, to be good and so be happy. Because all the “I wants” they get will not make them happy. Their happiness depends on their disposition and ability to let these things go.

And here I am. God’s child. I don’t want to worry about a budget or not having a second car. I want to eat chocolate cake every night and not gain weight. I want a maid to get the mold out of the corner of my showers. I want people to listen when I think I’m saying something important. I want to be able to control my children’s outbursts and bad behavior. I want, but God knows that all the “I wants” I get will not make me happy. He wants me to be good. Not a goody-two-shoes kind of good. He wants me to be really truly good, loving Him and others and just letting go of everything else.

I’m so very not there yet. I’m probably further from where God wants me to be than my three year old is from where I want her to be. I can no easier be good than Isabel can drive a car and budget for groceries. I guess I have to start with God where I would have Isabel start with me. Stop fighting Him. Listen to Him. Trust that He knows better than I do. And maybe, hopefully, God will be glad that He gave me just one more year to bear fruit.

Feel Like Giving Up

March 1, 2010

Let me just say, it is incredibly frustrating to attempt to write blog posts when children are trying to physically separate you from the computer, tearing the keys off of the keyboard when you load the dishwasher, ripping the cushions on the couch, coloring on the walls, climbing up onto the counters, fighting over movies to watch, grinding food into the carpet, ripping pages out of my books, cracking DVDs they pulled down from what I thought was a high place, eating window cling gels, eating chapstick, slinging diapers across the room (used and unused), fighting over the green lightsaber although a blue one is lying on the floor, and generally not giving me more than a few minutes time before I have to intervene, save a life, or clean up a new mess.

So it’s taking a while for the 10+ posts that are half written to surface to the published section of the internet and for me to reply to the thoughtful comments people have already made on the few of my posts that have miraculously already been pushed out. I really want to. But late breaking news from me is, in fact, late in breaking if it is broken at all. Isn’t motherhood lovely? 🙂