You Know You’re Catholic When…

November 28, 2012

It’s been a couple years since my last post on this blog, and we’ve been busy. We’ve had another baby boy: Maximilian Joseph, who is now a year and a half old. Isabel is in the first grade at the local Catholic school, much to the chagrin of my mother. The days keep ticking by with little time for reflection or writing, but plenty of time to practice selfless service to others. If only practice actually made perfect.

After years now of actually being Catholic, of compulsively crossing myself before and after prayers, of being surrounded by people who believe the same as I do, of being shocked by the occasional Protestant references I come across (such as calling James the other son of Mary), I’m very glad I started this blog. I’ve settled rather comfortably into Catholic life and am finding it difficult to remember what I was like pre-conversion. When a friend of mine in our Bible study asked what made me change my mind about Catholicism, I struggled for a concise reply. Maybe I’ll dig through this blog and send some of it on to her.

Thinking about where I am now and where I was definitely not before, I can say from experiencing the process of conversion…

You know you’re Catholic when:

  1. You have crucifixes in every room of the house (including the playroom), and move on to collecting statues of Mary at special occasions.
  2. Catholics you meet at the playground recognize your children’s names as saints names.
  3. Your daughter’s favorite night time lullaby is “Hail Mary”.
  4. Your three year old son asks to have a “Jesus” (crucifix around his neck) too, and ends up looking like an archbishop.
  5. You wonder not if your children will be doctors or astronauts when they grow up, but whether they will be called to a religious vocation or married life.
  6. Your kids throw fits at church because they want the special bread too.
  7. The question is not whether to buy a rosary or pray with it. The question is where you put it and how to fix the one that’s now in pieces.
  8. You feel weird when the doctor asks if you’re interested in a prescription for birth control at your 6 week post-partum checkup.
  9. You go for a visit back home in Northern Ireland, and the Craigavon boys think you’ve join Sinn Fein.
  10. You have exorcized salt sitting on the stove to cook with.

 


Mortification is the key to happiness

July 3, 2010

I’ve always had trouble understanding mortification. In becoming Catholic, there were subjects that I sidelined, preferring to focus on the meat and potatoes of Catholic life, instead of the weird fringe. For instance, I always steered clear of the saints section of the bookstore, especially the book entitled The Incorruptibles. That’s the kind of stuff that gives me goosebumps. Then there’s mortification. What sane person would subject themselves to pointless misery? But when you look at those who have practiced mortification according to the faith, like Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa, they weren’t miserable. They were gloriously, happily, unshakably at peace. Maybe those crazy Catholics (ha! us crazy Catholics) are on to something.

Let’s consider the nature of mortification for a minute. It is technically, “the subjection and denial of bodily passions and appetites by abstinence or self-inflicted pain or discomfort”. It’s not just self-inflicted pain or discomfort. It is pain in a very specific context, with the goal of subjugating our desires. Why should our desires be subjugated? We could just chase our every whim, letting our desires rule us. But then we’d look a heck of a lot like Chris Jr. (He’s 2 now! And good at it.) when he’s protesting the denial of his third DanAnimals drink for the day, no matter what it might do to his digestive system. If we decide we must have the light-up bouncy ball, when it is taken away from us, we suffer great emotional angst. Of course, this is nothing more than our own ridiculous desires turned against us. If we could wield our self-control such that our very desire for the light-up bouncy ball doesn’t sway our emotions, we could be happy no matter what come along. If.

So then, mortification is a forced detachment from the things that matter more to us than they should. I’m sure that Pope John Paul II liked a comfortable bed, but when he slept on the floor, he made himself rely on the bed less and rely on Christ more. He detached himself from the bed, so that he didn’t need it to be happy. When we’ve achieved that detachment, we can be happy in whatever circumstances we are in. Then like the men of the New Testament who suffered great persecution, we can rejoice in the great things that God has done for us even when the world seems to be ending.

Unfortunately, we are creatures made of flesh. Our desires are difficult to ignore just by concentrated effort. They can only be subjugated by making a habit out of mastering them. It is with practice that we can hone our desires and attitudes and emotionally suffer less though our physical sufferings remain. That is the goal of mortification – our happiness based firmly on the foundation of what really matters instead of on something as changeable as the weather. Truly, what matters most is our relationship with God, to remain in Him and He in us. If we have that, nothing else should bother us. It’s not that our sufferings aren’t real. We really feel the physical pain, and pain is a real evil that we sometimes must endure. It’s just that our happiness lies in God alone, not in our creature comforts.

Where am I with all this? I’m taking baby steps to mortify my creaturely desires. Right now, I’m having a difficult time controlling the urge to buy. Specifically the urge to buy yarn. That’s right. Yarn. It’s something that non-knitters/crocheters might have a hard time understanding, but it’s a well known addictive side effect of knitting. I see a skein of 40% alpaca, 35% merino wool, 25% silk, in a pearl gray hand dyed colorway and I start to drool. I imagine the lovely things that could be done with such a yarn. My world would be a better place, I’d be a happier person, a more patient mother, if I only had this yarn. But I am making an effort to control this seemingly ridiculous urge. I’m waiting to buy. I’m saving up spending money. I’m resisting the desire to load up the credit cards and hide the mail from Chris.

It’s maybe only half a baby step that I’m working on here, and I’m not doing all that well. I think the reason I fall so short so often is that I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to do things, the right thing to do, and I try very hard to work it all out. In the end, it’s me trying to work it all out. All too often, I’ve sidelined Christ as my guide instead of my strength. I’ve tried to get to know the person of Christ, to serve Him, to emulate Him. But it’s just me trying, and I’m not letting Him do the work. I confess I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should just with Christ. I haven’t made Him the light of my life, I’ve made Him the book light. I turn Him on when I want to look something up and figure something out.

Mortification teaches me that practice at denying my lesser desires will allow Christ to blossom as the center of my life. So then – small steps, little habits, repeated attempts. All on my to do list.

These lyrics are from Paul Inwood’s Center of my Life, and seem applicable:

“O Lord, you are the center of my life: I will always praise you, I will always serve you, I will always keep you in my sight. Keep me safe, O God, I will take refuge in you. I say to the Lord, “You are my God. My happiness lies in you alone; my happiness lies in you alone.”


Rosary Reflections – The Sorrowful Mysteries

April 2, 2010

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

First Decade: The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-56)
Second Decade: Our Lord is Scourged at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
Third Decade: Our Lord is Crowned with Thorns (Matthew 27:27-31)
Fourth Decade: Our Lord Carries the Cross to Calvary (Matthew 27:32)
Fifth Decade: The Crucifixion of Our Lord (Matthew 27:33-56)

My favorite mysteries of the Rosary are the joyful mysteries. I’ve always liked happy stories. Chris’s favorite mysteries are the sorrowful mysteries. When he first told me this, I didn’t quite understand. They are hard for me to pray and think about. It’s uncomfortable to dwell on this deepest of all tragedies. Then a couple things happened to change my perspective and draw me into the depths of the sorrowful mysteries.

Chris sent me a link to a blog post written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker about the difference between Protestant and Catholic understanding of the life of Christ. In essence, he describes the liberal Protestant approach as focusing on Jesus as a good person and nearly ignoring his death. The conservative evangelicals, he says, focus on the redeeming sacrifice of Christ’s death and nearly ignore his ministry beforehand. All this rang true to me, consistent with my experience. Then Fr. Longenecker says:

“The Catholic approach to the Life of Christ begins with the Paschal Mystery–the Cross and Resurrection, then looks back to the life of Christ and sees every aspect of the human life of Jesus as mystery that reveals the Son of God… In other words, every aspect of Christ’s life from the Annunciation through the Ascension was redemptive and charged with the grandeur and mystery of God’s work of salvation.”

This view of the life of Christ was strange to me. I was used to looking on His ministry as “proof” that He is the Son of God. His death paid for my sins, and that was that. I was grateful, but didn’t like to think of it much. It’s such a gruesome and sad story after all. There was little more to it than that for me, but when you think about it that doesn’t much make sense. Christ didn’t just die for our sins. The sorrowful mysteries refuse to let you retain that perspective. Christ was humiliated and suffered the worst physical abuse before He died. Thinking about that apparently senseless tragedy was just plain depressing. It only left me with a “people are so mean” impression.

Another thing that happened to aid my understanding of Christ’s suffering is that I saw Chris willingly humiliate himself, suck his pride up in one of the hardest ways, in order to have the charity he thinks God wants of him, and only by saying “If Christ can suffer the humiliation of the cross, I can do this.”

Christ did suffer the humiliation of the cross, and I had never paid any attention to it. If every event in Christ’s life meant something, then certainly this humiliation and suffering means something. I prayed the sorrowful mysteries looking for how these seemingly senseless events reveal Christ to me.

In the agony of Our Lord in the garden, Christ surrenders His will to that of God the Father, saying “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” He doesn’t just align his will with the Father’s, he surrenders his will. He does not want to suffer the horrible death that he knows is coming, but He humbly and obediently does so out of love for the Father and for us all. The depth of this action is properly understood when Christ says, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” He doesn’t have to go through this. Most of us are powerless pawns, and although we may not accept the things that happen to us, we cannot stop them. Christ can stop His own suffering, and still accepts it. “A death He freely accepted.”

The second sorrowful mystery is Our Lord scourged at the pillar. This is the only event in Christ’s death that I ever heard commented on by Protestants, and that was to say “by His stripes we are healed.” This, to those I heard comment, meant not a spiritual healing, but a physical one. This, to them, meant that if we have enough faith to claim this healing, we should never suffer sickness or injury. That idea stands in stark contrast to the Catholic view of all suffering being a part of our unity with Christ. Though I find it hard to understand, this mystery tells me that in imitation of Christ, we too must take our lashes. It is not us that lives, but Christ that lives in us. His suffering has redeemed the world, and His life in us does the same when we suffer.

Then Our Lord is crowned with thorns. He is the king of kings, and he is mocked. The mockers do not see the truth, they do not give Him the respect, awe, praise, and glory that He deserves. Instead, they throw it back in His face. Christ doesn’t loose His bonds and heal His wounds, revealing His glory. He doesn’t argue with them, telling them how wrong they are and that they’ll be sorry when He shows them. He takes the humiliation. The one man on Earth who most ought to have been listened to was not. The one man on Earth who didn’t have to take it, and he did. Makes it seem a little insignificant when we are mocked and ignored.

Our Lord Jesus Christ goes on to carry the cross to Calvary. It’s the long trek in which Christ not only accepts His own death, but makes it happen. He carries it out His own death sentence, a terrible humiliation for a man even deserving of that fate, but this is God Himself. It is only in the gospel of John where Christ is portrayed as carrying the cross Himself, I’ve heard John wrote this to convey Christ’s absolute control over the event. In the other three gospels, Simon of Cyrene shares in Christ’s journey. Earlier, before all these events, Christ has told us “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) His listeners didn’t know that He would die on a cross. They didn’t know that it is the cross of Christ’s death that we must bear, like Simon. Christ has told us it is necessary to suffer humiliation and pain, to give up our own desires and stop demanding that everyone else treat us like royalty. Instead, He shows us Himself how we are supposed to live by dying, by obeying the Father’s Will, by giving Himself for others, and not just accepting but bringing about this fate himself.

In the final act, Christ is crucified on a cross. Many Christians focus on our sins redeemed by Christ’s death, but forget about the cross itself. It’s not a noble death, fit for a king. It was reserved for the worst of criminals. Yet God Himself was held high for the world to see in a slow, painful, humiliating death. Christ redeemed us, and not only paid for our sins, but gave us the way of reconciliation in Him. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21)

Through these mysteries, Jesus is revealed as loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. We are supposed to be like Christ, and the sorrowful mysteries tell us this means being loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. Though that seems like a grim prospect at times, there is an up side. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:3,4) His death is our death, His life is our life, and “[we] have been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us].” (Gal 2:20) Because we are made one with Christ in His death, we are given His life. We share His suffering so that we can share in His glory, and that glory is worth all the suffering and humiliation along the way. (Rom 8:17, 18) In fact, this suffering and death teaches us the point of life in Christ. It is imperative that we love others and live for them, selflessly as a servant. Otherwise, as C.S. Lewis demonstrates so eloquently in The Great Divorce, we will get what we want, and it will all be about us to the effect that we are utterly and hellishly alone with our desires.

Fr. Longenecker says about this unity with Christ:

“We enter into [mystery of Christ who is God revealed through his humanity] not through theological speculation alone, but through a sacramental fusion with the mystery. It enters into us and we enter into it. Christ in me and me in Christ…. The result of this sacramental transaction is ‘theosis’ the transformation of ourselves, our souls and our bodies into living icons of Christ.”

It is absolutely beautiful that our God has lovingly led us by the hand and shown us the way, has become the way, for our reconciliation with Him. Our God was not exempt from these sorrows, but instead was held to the cross by His love for us. I was familiar with the idea of “imitation of Christ”, but generally thought this meant be good and nice to people. Catholicism has taught me that the Christian way is one of suffering and submission, sacrificing our pride in humility. It’s an awesome mystery that I hope to someday not only understand better but live out in my daily death to self. I’ve already had a taste of the grace in the sacraments through Reconciliation. Tomorrow I’ll be confirmed and receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, entering deeper in to this sacramental fusion and, I pray, becoming more like Christ.


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!


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.


Lent and the Impending Rites

February 20, 2010

I know most bloggers did their Ash Wednesday/Lent posts on Ash Wednesday. Or the day after. I’m a couple days late, but that’s par for the course around here.

Because of Lent, I’ve been thinking about the nature of fasting. In RCIA, they said the main purpose of fasting is to break our attachment to created things so we can put our focus back where it should be, on the Creator. So for me, a very appropriate fast is food. I’m going to stop eating snacks during the day. I’m still allowing myself to snack at night. It may sound kind of lame to people who don’t know me, but I usually eat at least six times a day. For me, eating only four times a day is a difficult fast! I even stocked up on veggie and fruit juices to keep my calorie count (and my stamina) up. Chris has told me since I’m still technically nursing, I’m not required to fast. But I’m hardly nursing now, and I think this is a really good way to keep the purpose of my fast at the forefront of my mind all day long. If I can do it.

After all, I already screwed up fasting on Ash Wednesday. It was kinda funny, and a little embarrassing, when I was looking down at my plate of fish and rice at dinner time and realized I ate meat for lunch. I was all focused on how much I was eating, and didn’t even realize that my “just a light sandwich” (a gyro) had gyro… meat… in it. I did this last year, too, although I wasn’t the one fasting. I was trying so hard to make Chris a nice meal, and fixed up meatloaf, cornbread, and mashed potatoes. On a Lenten Friday. He refused to eat and I refused to speak to him, just for a little while until I had a chance to get over my mistake.

It’s strange that after a year of “inquiry” into the Catholic Church, there is still so much I’m not used to and haven’t experienced. Even the Ash Wednesday mass had me confused and hunting through the missal. I imagine I might feel that way a lot this Lent and Easter. There is a lot of new, uncomfortable experiences coming up. Easter is approaching. The Rite of Election is this Sunday. My first confession is soon. That definitely looming on my horizon. I think I’m more afraid of getting all the technicalities right than the confession part. I lived a long time with certain sins that are no secret to anyone, and telling a priest comes with the benefit of absolution. The hard part will be my nervousness. I want to write down my list (and bring a lighter to burn it afterward), so I don’t forget anything. I know different priests do different things, and some expect you to say the act of contrition there while others don’t. Getting all that right frightens me, but I’ll probably stumble through it like I do with everything else.

Overall, I’m eager to have the strangeness and newness behind me, when I’ll be “one of you”. I generally avoid leaving my comfort zone, and this is one big leap outside it. All done for the sake of the truth, and in effort to obey God’s will. If there’s any good reason, that’s it.


Change of Focus

February 11, 2010

New converts to anything are notorious for zealously spreading whatever they’ve recently converted to. I, like all the rest, have done my fair share of trying to convince people that Catholicism is the most reasonable choice available to mankind that ever existed. But a recent conversation with my wonderful RCIA director struck me. We noticed, people don’t convert because they’re argued into it. Although some convert because they married a Catholic and they just want to unify the family or raise the kids a certain way, other people convert because they witness someone’s faith and they recognize something authentic about it. I’m not even an exception, despite all the arguments Chris and I have had about religion. It was his faith, learning the truth about the Church, and experiencing it for myself that converted me.

On top of this revelation, I also find that I’ve reached a place where I’m tired of wasting my breath and debating with people who stubbornly insist on seeing things through their own myopic lenses, despite all evidence given to contradict their baseless attacks on the Church. I’m happy to answer questions and feel a duty to correct outright lies when I come across them, but overall I feel rather done with persistent debates. At least, that’s how I feel today 😉

What I’d rather do is figure out how to live my life as a Catholic. Right now, the biggest mystery for me is this whole suffering thing. Catholics are like no one else when it comes to suffering. They’re not masochists, no matter what anyone thinks about mortification. They don’t believe the flesh is evil like Puritans, instead they believe that everything is inherently good. Catholics see suffering as redemptive, because Christ redeemed death at the cross and with His resurrection, and redeemed suffering with His passion and successive glory. He even redeemed boring manual labor through His many anonymous years as a carpenter.

Exactly how is suffering redemptive? Well, I can easily see a few things. If our own God Incarnate is not above suffering, then neither are we. He gave a perfect example of submitting to suffering in humility through the events leading up to His crucifixion. We should imitate Christ in all things, and His suffering is not an exception. We share in His suffering so that we may also share in His glory (Rom 8:17).

Also relatively easy to grasp is that our resistance to suffering comes from the same source as our sins — our pride. Acceptance of suffering goes an awfully long way toward uprooting our selfishness, our pride, and the “right” we think we have for a “good life”. When we forget about ourselves, we don’t care about our own suffering. Christ defined love as giving our lives for each other (John 15:13), and this perfect love comes with perfect trust and no fear (1 John 4:18), and no harm can touch us (Luke 10:19). It’s not that we won’t encounter problems and pain. It’s just that when we reach this point of perfectly selflessly loving God and others, none of this temporary hardship matters. If we have no pride, suffering can’t harm us.

There’s a third, more mysterious aspect to the redemptive nature of our suffering as Catholics see it. This one is hard for me to accept, because it’s one of those hard to define issues that make Protestants gasp and accuse us of trying to earn our way to heaven and not giving Christ his proper glory. In our sufferings, offered up to the Lord, we share in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross in a very real way. We die with Him in His death (Romans 6:4), paying for and redeeming the sins of the world. I try to tell myself that it’s our mission as Christians to unite ourselves with Christ, it’s only natural. All good things we do are by God’s grace (1 Cor 15:10). All of our merit is through Christ’s merit. It is Christ who now lives in us (Gal 2:20), and we are a pencil in God’s hand. It makes sense… but I can’t see it.

I especially have a hard time seeing it when our entire household is sick for over two weeks straight. The flu, colds, ear infections — moaning and groaning ensues, not any thoughts of the redeeming the sins of the world. It all seems like a pointless hardship with no outward profit that we just have to survive. But I can see Christ in others who suffer graciously. It’s noble and good and makes us all admire them, because it’s praiseworthy. It’s good because God is in it. And that’s all that I can grasp.

If it is Christ living in me, how should I respond to suffering? He wouldn’t be whining about how hard His life is. He never thought about Himself enough to whine, merely to ask that His cup of suffering be taken from Him if possible, but surrendered to it anyway as the will of the Father. If it is Christ living in me, then nothing I go through is worthless, because Christ is God incarnate. Nothing that Christ does is worthless, even if I don’t quite understand how that applies to the mundane in my life. I do know that if everyone everywhere took this attitude, it would be beautiful.

So I think all I can do right now is just change my attitude. I may not understand it, but I can see that it is good. I can see that it is better to accept our sufferings and give them to God as a work done for Him, since all we do is done in service to Him (Col 3:17, 23-24). No less, then, is our suffering to be done for God. That would be funny, wouldn’t it? If we did everything for God, but nursed our suffering as some private endeavor, an injustice of the universe or Satan pitted against us alone? In which we think, what? That God is helpless or unwilling to rescue us?

Look at Saint Paul, as Rob has recently brought to my attention:

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand… At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their charge. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching may be accomplished, and that all the Gentiles may hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord hath delivered me from every evil work: and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (2 Tim 4:6,16-18)

Paul had hardships and physical evils. He was about to be sacrificed and everyone had deserted him, but he still said “The Lord hath delivered me from every evil work.” How can he have said that? Because he was Catholic is all I can figure. We all may suffer much in this world. The only way it cannot harm us is if we are in Christ, and He in us. Then, no physical evils can touch us. Mysterious. I’ll first work on doing it, then maybe I’ll understand it better.


RCIA Class on the Eucharist

February 9, 2010

I’ve been looking forward to the RCIA class on the Eucharist for some time, and was not disappointed. It was good stuff all around and I found my faith being built up. It’s easy to let your eyes shape your idea of things, like the Eucharist, rather than your faith, and I confess I fall into that.

We had an excellent speaker, who walked us through John chapter 6 in a humorous (yes, it’s possible) story-telling way and went through the Eucharistic prayers, emphasizing all the right points and bunny-trailing on essentials only. Like when he segued to explain that the only time Peter got anything right, Christ responded by saying it was from the Father (Matt 16:15-17). This showed that when Christ then gave the keys of heaven to Peter, it was based on the fact that God is able to reveal wisdom and work through Peter, who was by himself powerless. Which of course is an essential point when people ask, “How do you know for sure that the words written by the Apostles in the gospels were the ones Christ actually said and so base your idea that it’s literal on what he said?” The answer of course is that the Church, headed by the Pope in the seat of Peter, gave us the gospels and ensures that they were inspired, written to convey a truth they were already preaching and describing the Eucharist they were already celebrating. Christ’s authority in the Church is our guaranteer through the Holy Spirit which preserves her from error.

My favorite part was about the mystical aspect of the Eucharist. Two RCIA speakers have quoted Saint Augustine when he said “Be what you see; receive what you are.” (I think this is from sermon 272, but can’t verify it.) This saying is the disputed origin of the phrase “you are what you eat.” How fantastic is that? We are the Body of Christ. Be what you see. We consume the Body of Christ. Receive what you are. It’s beautiful and so strange. It is Christ abiding in us, and we in Him.

The Protestant world I came from had the bare bones of this when we used the phrase “the body of Christ” to refer to the church. I was taught we were supposed to imitate Christ. Although admittedly it was a great epiphany for me in college when I realized my goal in life was to be like Christ. How sad that it came so late. I was also taught that we were to be adopted sons and daughters of God. But this was all so vague and disconnected. Christ’s sacrifice was applied to forgive us our sins, we were “saved”, and that was it — straight to heaven, do not pass go. Being like Christ didn’t mean much except that it was a nice goal. Once we died, God would zap us and make us good like Him. I know there may be Protestants who have a much better understanding of unity with Christ than I did, but this is the non-descript non-denominational vagueness I lived with.

Oh boy, the Catholics take it deeper. When we are baptized, we are brought into the Body of Christ. It is then no longer us that lives, but Christ that lives in us. Then the good work we do is Christ working in us. The people we love and serve are Christ to us. The pain we suffer in perfect surrender to God’s will is the same redeemed pain that Christ suffered in His passion to save the world. Our daily death is Christ’s death on the cross. And our hope is His Resurrection and Life. Since “catholic” means “universal”, I really shouldn’t be so surprised when the Catholic Faith keeps making all these connections so that everything makes sense and fits together, but it still gets me.

Gosh, I never even used to understand why it was so important that Christ was raised from the dead, because I thought we only needed the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins! Now, I see it. Without the Firstborn, there would be no other children. We live because we live in Christ and He lives! It’s beautiful. It’s poetic. It’s the work of the master, and I am in awe of it.

Christ offers us a deeper dimension to this unity with Him in the Eucharist. He has chosen to give me His life in the most intimate manner physically possible. He has given me His very Body and Blood to consume, to nourish me, to be spread throughout my own body giving me life. Be what you see. Receive what you are. This is the mystery of the Eucharist and I’m so very looking forward to it!

The class even brought to my attention a facet of the mass I never really thought about before — the mass as a sacrifice. In answer to the Protestant objection that Christ’s one sacrifice is enough, Catholics will agree, and explain that at mass we do not sacrifice Christ again and again, we make His sacrifice present again outside of time. But the Protestant in me was still demanding justification for this belief. “Well, where did that come from anyway?” Why do we believe the mass was a sacrifice? Why do we offer the mass up to the Lord instead of just eating and drinking in remembrance, even if it is the real Body and Blood? Why do we see the Body of Christ on the cross and not just the Body of Christ? I found some rather interesting links on the subject and one good one from Catholic Answers.

Why is the mass a sacrifice? First of all, it always has been. This isn’t some strange doctrinal development coming from philosophical obscurities. The Catholic Answers post gives a good rundown of the earliest testimonies that it was indeed always a sacrifice. This would almost be good enough for me, but I still had to press the question of why. The words of Christ, “Do this is remembrance of me”, do not seem to imply a sacrifice to me. But, it seems these exact words did imply that rather strongly to the Apostles and the Early Fathers as the post explains. It says the phrase is better translated as “Offer this as my memorial offering”, because that’s how the early Christians understood it. When Christ said “This is my Body”, he followed up with “which will be offered up for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins”. He was talking about a sacrifice. Furthermore, the Eucharist was seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 1:10-11, that the Gentiles will everywhere would make a pure offering to the Lord. That satisfied me a little more than just knowing that the mass is fitting as a sacrifice.

I’ll leave you with a sermon from the Rev. Abernethy-Deppe with quotes from Saint Augustine about the beloved sign and reality, the Blessed Sacrament.


Isn’t NFP Just Another Birth Control?

December 15, 2009

My most recent RCIA class was on the subject of marriage. When we got to the bit about the Church’s teachings banning contraception, there were questions. One woman in particular asked, “Isn’t using Natural Family Planning to avoid a pregnancy the same as using birth control to avoid a pregnancy? Isn’t it just another birth control?” I so badly wanted to answer her, especially because I could see that she was where I was three years ago, but my raised hand was lost in a sea of hands and too little time. I went to find her after the class, but she had left in the middle. What I would have said to her, I can write here for everyone who asks google the difference between postponing births by birth control and postponing by Natural Family Planning.

Proponents of NFP say the ends don’t justify the means, such that postponing births or spacing children doesn’t justify birth control. They usually don’t say exactly why the birth control means is bad except to say that it isn’t open to life. But if you’re trying not to have kids with NFP, you’re not very open to life either, except to the miraculous 0.1% life that may still be conceived. So why is birth control bad? Some say if you use birth control, you’re withholding your fertility from your spouse. But… aren’t you withholding your fertility from your spouse if you don’t have sex with them when you’re fertile?

The difference between NFP and birth control is that with birth control you have sex, but change the act itself such that you deny the natural consequences of sex. When my husband presented this argument to me, telling me that contraception destroyed the natural order of the sex act, I didn’t see what was wrong with changing the natural order of things. After all, we change the natural course of diseases with medicine as best we can, and that is good. Why can’t we achieve the good of postponing births when needed through the same means? There is that difference between pregnancy and disease though. Pregnancy is a good thing for which we were designed. Disease is a malfunction, our bodies falling short of how they are supposed to work. Regardless, I saw pregnancy as sometimes undesirable, and didn’t see why we can’t interfere during that undesirable time the same as when we interfere with our undesirable medical problems.

The “natural order” of sex refers to the natural observation that sex is both unitive and procreative. It brings a man and woman together physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It also is for the creation of new life. This is what the Church teaches, and this is the natural order that they preserve with their teachings. We should not interfere with the natural consequences of sex, whether it be during a fertile or infertile time. Neither should we change and distort the sex act itself to be merely for pleasure, objectifying our partner.

Contraception changes the natural order of the sex act, and its primary goal is to eliminate the consequence of children. If we can change the nature of the act itself to avoid children, then why can we not also change the act itself for other reasons? With contraception it’s easy enough to have sex whenever you want, with your spouse, for pleasure alone. Why not have sex however you want for pleasure? With this goal in mind, there’s no reason to believe things like masturbation and pornography are wrong. When it’s used for pleasure alone, why not have sex with whoever we want, premaritally even, since it becomes merely a recreational activity with no other consequences, procreative or unitive. When we define sex by what we want it to be, not by what it is naturally, there is no objective way to determine where to draw the line. Moreover, all of these steps are extensions of the same line of thought. They all separate sex from its consequences and change the God-given order. They are all attempts for us to define what sex is instead of accepting what God has ordained.

Arguments would not have changed my mind. What has changed my mind is my experiences showing me that changing the natural order of sex leads to evil. I’ve seen the mindset that people fall into when they think it’s their right to distort sex. I’ve seen the extent people will go to in order to avoid the consequences of sex. Because of this, I’ve come to realize the wisdom of the Catholic Church’s teaching.

A breakthrough in my understanding the value of NFP came when I was battling the recently proposed pro-abortion Freedom of Choice Act. In researching things, I read up on Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood. Although much of Margaret Sanger’s work was done at a time when there was poor health care and women often died from childbirth, her work was done in the name of sexual freedom. She believed women were suppressed by men through child-bearing and that only through controlling their reproductivity absolutely could women be free and in turn lower the population and better society. In particular, she believed society would be bettered by lowering the poor and non-Caucasian population. In this, she believed that women should have “no gods and no masters” and be “the absolute mistress of her own body”. Although she thought sexuality was a weakness, she wanted to control the “negative side effects” and worked hard for sex without consequences.

Sanger believed that her most sacred goals of sex without consequences and total individual autonomy would bring happiness to us all. This is the “contraceptive mindset” and it’s alive and well in varying degrees throughout the world. You can see it in the ordinary couple who uses birth control to postpone births, because they want sex without the consequence of children. You can see it at strip clubs when men go objectify women, separating sexuality even from a partner, because they want sex without unity. You can see it in abortion clinics when pregnant and single women go to eliminate the natural consequence of sex, because they want sex without children. You can even see this attempt to change the natural order and have things the way we want it when couples use in vitro fertilization to have children. Many end up with multiples and sadly they are three times more likely to divorce. Our attempts to be our own master, have things the way we want it, and pick and choose what consequences we accept inevitably end in pain because we are trying to have our own will instead of God’s will. Only God’s perfect will entirely contains His own perfect goodness and can bring us whole happiness.

So the Catholic Church has drawn a line. Do not separate the sex act from its natural and good God-given consequences. During infertile times, there is usually no natural consequence of having a child. During fertile times, if you are unable to handle the natural consequence of a child, don’t have sex. They haven’t created these rules to make things hard on people or make them feel guilty. They haven’t created these rules to overrun the Earth with an enormous population of cradle Catholics. They have guided Catholics in these matters because there is a right and wrong way to handle our sexuality, like every other created thing. There is no Catholic corporate conspiracy motivating their stubbornness regarding contraception. It is only that they stubbornly lead Christians in God’s truth. It is a Christian ideal to surrender your self to God’s will, not to grasp at being your own master. It is Christian to accept the good consequences that God has ordained for our actions, not to try to take what we want and leave what we don’t, inevitably perverting His goodness. I’m able to accept these teachings now because I’ve seen that contraception grasps autonomy and leads down a road of avoiding consequences. I’ve seen that the contraceptive attitude is anti-Christian in nature, because the Christian attitude submits our own desires and will to God’s perfect will.

This post doesn’t address other factors that come into play with NFP, it was really only written to answer the question, “What is the difference between NFP and birth control?” The answer is that NFP does not change the nature of the sex act itself. You abstain from sex instead of separating sex from its consequences. It is the sex act itself that left intact when postponing children with NFP. That is better and more holy than dissecting sex, taking what you want, and leaving everything, including your soul, in pieces.

Now I feel I understand the reasons for using NFP, but it doesn’t always make it easier to follow through on it. Not that it’s difficult or ineffective. By actually doing it, the concerns I had about that beforehand are laughable now. I know a time will come when after we’ve had our five or six children on the menu, we’ll be “done”. We won’t want to have any more. Considering the fact that Chris and I began our marriage eight months pregnant, I know that I will not be open to life indefinitely. I know that there will come a time when I want just me and him, and that will probably be before I go through menopause. After years of practice, continuing to use NFP will not be difficult, but I know my attitude will not be right. I know that I will be using NFP with a contraceptive mentality, wanting to take control of my life and have sex without children. My intent will be selfish although the method will still be good. I pray God will give me the grace to be ready for this challenge by the time it comes, and I will do my best to accept His will in all things and to trust Him.


In the Midst of Cradle Catholics

October 19, 2009

I’ve been a member of the mom’s group at our church for a little while, and recently joined a Bible study with some of the women. We had our second session yesterday and I was struck, as I was at the first meeting, by the strangeness of being the “voice of orthodoxy” in a group of Catholics, when I’m not even Catholic yet. All of them are cradle Catholics, and it’s really strange the questions I was getting asked.

The first session, we were sharing a little of our background, and when it came to light that I was in RCIA I was asked, “What’s the difference between Protestants and Catholics?” This completely stumped me! I mean, where do I start? I muttered something about there’s a lot of differences and we even use the same words in a different way. When pressed, I gave a brief synopsis of “saved by faith through grace” meaning different things for Protestants and Catholics. What I should have said was something along the lines of acknowledging the authority of the church through the anointing of Christ on the Apostles and their successors vs. believing that the Bible itself is our only authority. The question took me too off guard though. It’s good practice for my coming out.

At the second session, I was more used as a different perspective. This time I was asked, “So why did you convert? What made you believe the Catholic Church was the true church?” The real clincher for me was that the Catholic Church possesses the authority of Christ through Apostolic succession. I got it right that time, and thought I’d said something common to the group. Until someone said, “What do you mean? How is that different than any other church?” Uh… I tried to explain as concisely as possible that Christ instituted the church at the Last Supper, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church in all truth, that the Apostles laid hands on their successors to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that there is a direct line of those they’ve ordained from current priests and bishops going back to the Apostles and Christ. I felt like I was speaking a foreign language though.

The conversation took a weird turn, in which she said she couldn’t defend being Catholic at all. Her husband is not Catholic. She doesn’t know why she should be Catholic, other than she is and she won’t be anything else. Kudos to her for sticking with what she knows is right, even if she’s not sure why it is. That was always a problem for me when I was young. If I wasn’t as clear on my reasons, people could talk me into their perspective. This woman said she’s heard something to the effect of: Catholics just trust other people to figure things out and follow along uneducated and unquestioning. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to say that obedience doesn’t equal blind following and that we have to understand the rules of the faith if we want to grow in our faith at all! At least I had a chance to tell her, when she pointed out how screwed up the leaders of the church can be, that this is one reason the Catholics have it right. Everyone’s screwed up. We can’t let people we elect direct our faith because they’re so holy and smart. They’re not good enough. Man’s best is not good enough. That is why we trust that God is able to do His will and the Holy Spirit will direct His church through fallen and faulty men. Otherwise, we are just like the rest of them.

I wonder how common this is for cradle Catholics. I worry that not everyone who lacks apologetic prowess will be as resilient as the woman I was talking to against the reasonable sounding wolves that will question their faith. It’s a real danger for people not well educated in their faith, that someone will come along, point out a few difficulties (not inconsistencies!) of belief and *poof* they’ll turn coat faster than Benedict Arnold. It’s easy enough to see how it could happen. Chris has been scouring Out of the Labyrinth, a book “disproving” Catholicism which was written by an ex-priest who ought to have known better! It contains so many just plain wrong representations of Catholic beliefs, it’s no wonder people can show them to be unbiblical and persuade believers to turn Protestant. If you don’t know enough about what the Church teaches to point out the flaws of their arguments, what defense will you have except plain old stubbornness?

Chris thinks every parish ought to have a basic apologetics course available, on top of RCIA, since RCIA really only describes Catholicism in its most basic form. It’s a good idea. Until then, here I am, explaining orthodox Catholic beliefs to people who have always believed them but don’t know why. The leader of the group says she’s glad to have my perspective, thinks converts make the best Catholics, and says she’ll ask me many more questions. I hope I can do the Church justice. I’ve already found myself having a typical over-reaction against anything that smacks of my Protestant experiences, even when they’re alright for Catholics. The Bible study is focused on the Holy Spirit, and of course, there’s a lot of run ins with charasmatic Protestantism which I usually run from screaming. I have to watch myself and try not to let the pendulum swing too far off center. So pray for me, that I will say what God wants me to say when the time comes.