Friday, June 26, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume XVII)

I'm linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum to bring you seven quick takes from my world this week.


This is going to be a really busy weekend, and I'm already gearing up for it.  Tomorrow starts with my "graduation" ceremony from catechist training, which is exciting.  Followed by several music obligations for my husband, followed by a dinner party we were invited to.  I'm excited about the dinner party.  It's with church friends, and I have been hoping to get closer to some church people. We would even like to host the same group in the future, so maybe we could discuss it Saturday and make it a regular thing.  We also have a friend in town, who we will see on Sunday.  Along with mass, laundry, and weekending.  Thankfully next week is a 2.5 day work week for me.  


I have been feeling really nostalgic lately about friends from the past.  I realize that college will never come again, and yet, I consider my long-term closest friends to be from college.  We will never be all in the same place at the same time, with less responsibilities, less at stake than our current mortgages, marriages, and children.  I feel some regret and remorse for my choices in college.  At the same time, I miss those friends, and we now only all get together when someone gets married, or one-on-one when time and travel allow.  So, whenever someone comes to mind out of the blue, I make sure to pray for them.  I figure there is a reason they are on my mind.  I also make sure to text them or reach out in some way.  I did that yesterday, and a friend of mine thanked me for a conversation we had 5-6 years ago.  He's gay and was dealing with family rejection at the time.  He was struggling with "can I be gay and still be a Christian?"  I honestly don't remember what I said to him at the time.  I do know that I thought (at the time) that nothing was immoral about being gay.  I thought that if you couldn't help who you were attracted to, then you shouldn't be asked to be alone your whole life.  If it's not a choice, how could it be right or wrong?  I related it to me being rejected by my family for my Catholicism.

My views have changed since then, in that I see that some are called to chastity and celibacy.  It's difficult, but not impossible.  It is a heavy cross to bear.  And, the natural law reveals the meaning and purpose of our bodies and sex.... however, what would I have said if the same conversation happened now?  I don't know.  Of course you can be gay and still be a Christian, I definitely still believe that.  I think I would try to be as supportive as possible to the person.  Maybe speaking on a philosophical level, I could talk about the natural law behind relationships, etc.  But, on a personal level, I would try to love, validate, and support.  It really brought me to tears when he told me how much he appreciated our conversation those many years ago.  I feel so conflicted about my gay brothers and sisters, and my Catholic faith.  Which brings me to...

SCOTUS ruling.

The Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex marriage is lawful in all 50 states now.  I believe that gay couples should absolutely have the right to benefits, insurance, hospital visits, etc.  But, is that relationship a marriage?  I don't think it's the same.  And, not because I don't believe in equal rights for all, but because I believe that the anthropology of marriage and the natural law tell us that the committed relationship of a man to a woman, resulting in children, is unique among all relationships and beneficial to children.  It's not about consenting adults, it's about what's best for society and children.  I foresee that this ruling may cause people, institutions, businesses, etc. who believe in "traditional marriage" to be jeopardized because it will be considered discrimination against federal rights.  Religious rights, the separation of church and state, and many other things will have to be considered.

I don't want to be a paranoid person.  I know and love so many gay people.  I just feel so torn.  This year, I have started reading Joseph Sciambra, who spent years in the gay lifestyle, even getting into starring in porn.  He has since had a reversion to Catholicism, and he advocates that we should not be "compassionate" when someone comes out, but rather encourage them to be celibate, let them know there is another way of life, and warn them of the dangers of that lifestyle (particularly for gay men). I don't know that I would have the courage to do that, and after talking to my gay friend yesterday about our past conversation, I'm glad it meant so much to him, but I still don't know if I did the right thing.  I don't want to lead others astray, and yet, I have so many of my own issues that I shudder to think that someone would come to me for "advice," especially when it regards faith and morals.

One thing my priest told a gay man on his deathbed from AIDS, who had been raised Catholic: You thank God for all that you have been given.  To the extent that your relationship has been from God and pleased Him, be grateful.  To the extent it did not, or offended God or was wrong, repent.  In all things, throw yourself on the mercy of God.  That's the only hope any of us have.

God have mercy on us all.


Speaking of me being a truly horrific example of faith and morals...I really hit a low point yesterday. I was going on too little sleep for too many days in a row.  I am not a morning person.  The 1.5-2 hour commute each morning is inevitably stressful.  Then, I work in an office of cubicles.  There's no silence or privacy, which goes against my INTJ nature (emphasis on I) and extremely sensitive hearing.

So, yesterday, one of my loudest co-workers, who literally narrates her day (she has a phone conversation, then tells you all about the conversation, she does a task, then tells you all about the task she just did, etc.)...well, she was laughing and giggling like a hyena for at least 2-3 hours (from 8 AM to 10/11 AM).  She was telling some sort of story, then she was watching something online that was funny, on and on.  God bless her, she grates on my every last nerve, even on a normal day.  I know that this is my issue, but yesterday's noise from her in particular seriously made me rage-y.  No other word for it.  Forget road rage, this was cubicle rage.

I found myself mouthing some obscenities in my cubicle, despite listening to some music and white noise to cover up her 2-3 hours of extra noise-making.  Then, I found myself going to get a third cup of coffee...while flipping her off.  Yes, this is true.  Now, I did it in a way that only I could see.  It gave me some sort of sick satisfaction to express my frustration.

But, then I sort of scared myself.  What is going to be the tipping point that makes me actually flip her off or actually yell out obscenities in the office?  Is this how these things happen?  I could feel how out of control I was.  I could feel how irrational this anger and reaction was.

I think I need to go to confession.  I also need to sleep more and take responsibility for myself.  I need to be in as healthy a place as possible, mentally speaking.  And I need to do whatever it takes to stay in that bubble of happiness.  

Do you think God intentionally put my cubicle next to the two most annoying and loud people in my office on purpose?  Am I supposed to learn patience from this?

Lord, have mercy.  And St. Therese, please pray for me!


I often say that the longest journey in my life, and the most difficult and ongoing struggle has been moving from my head to my heart.  Life is all about the heart.  We are meant to live from the heart.  What matters most is not how much we know, but how we treat people - not how much theology we have learned, but what it does to our lives.  As my priest says, when we read a Bible story or learn something new, ask yourself, "So what?" and "Now what?"

Well, I love learning.  I'm very logical and rational by nature (ignore what you learned about me in #4).  I went to college, then graduate school for the majority of my 20s.  I read non-fiction theology books constantly.  And yet, what difference does it make in my life?

Our Wednesday night young adult group at church discussed Mary and the saints this week.  We went round and round about the dogmas concerning Mary.  One very vocal person openly admitted that she struggled with them.  She wasn't having it when I tried to say Mary is the New Eve, or Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant.  Those teachings really help me understand the perpetual virginity and immaculate conception.

It saddens me when Catholics don't accept Catholic teaching.  It makes me think they are more vulnerable to attack from Protestants or others.  And I really feel that Mary is a gift, not just a superfluous doctrine.  Why else would Jesus have bothered from the cross,  as one of the very last things he said, "Behold your Mother," and "Behold your son"?

But, after all our discussion, I came away thinking, "So what?" and "Now what?"  I believe all this stuff about Mary, the Saints, Jesus, etc.  But, what difference does it make in my life?  How has my heart changed since becoming Catholic?  Is it all theology and no heart?

Upon reflection, I really think I am going to start doing lectio divina.  It's a process of contemplating scripture, reflecting upon even just one word.  I want to approach it in a more Ignatian way, placing myself in the stories, seeing things in a different light.  Perhaps then, it will make more of a difference to me.  Not just to my head, but to my heart.

My brain is full, and my heart seems empty sometimes.  I really want that to change.


Is anyone else as shocked as I am that July is next week?!  Where has this year gone?  It's almost halfway over!  Time is flying, and it seems that the older I get, the faster it flies.

~7 ~
Mormons, and Catholics, and Protestants...oh my!

I have an ex-Mormon friend who has left the Mormon church due to their stance on gay marriage and women's ordination.  (In case you live under a rock, the Mormon church is against both.)  She was raised Mormon, convinced her husband to become Mormon, is a 7th or 8th generation Mormon, and her young children attend a Catholic school as of this year.  Lately, she has taken to all forms of social media to drive home the point that Mormons and Catholics in particular do not support the equality of women.  She sees them as similar, facing similar issues, and in need of reform.  They are the only two Christian groups she ever mentions.  

I have to say, this stings quite a lot.  I feel like she is an outsider to Catholicism and doesn't understand what she is saying, even though her kids attend Catholic school.  As someone who grew up in Evangelical / fundamentalist / Calvinistic / Reformed circles, I find that camp to be much much more degrading to women than I have ever found the Catholic Church to be.  In fact, there is no comparison.  What often happens, in my observation is that Catholics and Evangelicals, and sometimes Mormons, will land in the same place on a given issue, such as gay marriage or women's ordination or abortion.  But it is usually for very different reasons.  While the conclusion might be the same, the reasoning behind the conclusion is very, very different.

I have a theory that the extremely liberal secular world and the extremely fundamentalist world have a strange thing in common - the disregard for the body.  The fundamentlists do this because the "spirit" is so much more important and elevated.  Everything is a "spiritual" problem to be handled with Bible verses and more submission or devotion.  The body and its needs are ignored, practically seen as evil, and an enemy to our "true" selves.  Secular liberalism is not much different.  The body is good and celebrated, in so much as it involves pleasure and hedonism, whether it be of a sexual or gluttonous nature.  The body and gender differences are mere ornamentations, societal constructs.   The body is good, but it's subject to our minds - if we think we are one gender, we are.  If we want to change or mutilate it, we can.  If we want to exchange any sort of activity with any other adult, it's meaningless and allowed.  It was easy for me to jump from my anti-abortion, Bible-thumping Christian upbringing, right into the Sex and the City, pro-abortion, gay-accepting college years and beyond.  My view of myself and the body virtually did not change.  If you reject the Bible, and Protestants are Sola Scriptura, then you summarily reject those beliefs that were only explained by the Bible.  If you don't see sex as sacred, but just forbidden due to stupid rules, then it's not that big of a leap.

All that to say, that it really grates against me when I hear my friend compare Mormons to Catholics. We have an entire philosophy, outlook on life, cohesive theory of morality and theology that Protestants and Mormons do not have.  We have the natural law, standing alongside Biblical tradition and interpretation.  We have faith and reason.

I had to come full circle, from rejecting all I was taught growing up, to rejecting the alternative I embraced.  I have come to accept abortion and gay marriage as "wrong," which lines up with my parents' beliefs, and yet, now I am at that place for completely different reasons.  I don't like to be lumped in with the Sola Scriptura crowd, or the anti-historical Mormon Church, which does not embrace faith and reason, and which has virtually no historical leg to stand on.  (Sorry, to my Mormon friends, that's how I see it.  It doesn't mean that I don't think you are a Christian if that's how you see yourself, just that the historical claims of Mormonism are untrue.)

I feel we are entering an era in which our faith is being challenged in new ways.  We must understand our beliefs deeply.  We must live humbly and mercifully.  We must make sure our own morals and actions are loving and upright.  And, we must pray to say or do what we might be called to do, especially on a personal, one-on-one level with others who may disagree.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

One of my favorites, Micah 6:8


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Lenten Update

Yes, I am aware that we are approaching the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time...but I finally finished my Lenten resolutions last weekend.

I had gone through my closet and gotten rid of some things back in January or February.  We had our priest coming over in February to bless the house, and in an effort to tidy up quickly, I tossed the donation bags in my trunk.  They weren't quite ready to be donated because some of the things needed to be tossed, and only some could be donated.  Also, I was sure there was more to add to the pile.

And there they sat, in my trunk, for the last 4+ months.  I couldn't use my trunk to transport groceries, suitcases, or anything else.  I didn't/couldn't find the time to really go through the stuff one more time until last weekend.  And, so....without further ado, my Lent of 2015 was finally accomplished after 40 days of Lent, 50 days of Easter, and 13 or so weeks of Ordinary Time in June.

Better late than never, I guess.  I will try to refrain from some self-judgment and hatred.  There were mitigating factors (a plumbing emergency the week the priest came over, finishing up the final of 5 UTIs at the time, unexpected dental surgery in April, 3 trips for work and personal reasons in April and May, natural disasters in the area in May, and generally being busy all the time), but I digress.  

I will also add that just this week, I was surprised to hear on Gretchen Rubin's Happier podcast that clutter is one of the "foundations" of building a happier and more productive life.  The other foundations are getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, and eating well.  I could have guessed the first three, but clutter?!  This is such a great motivation to stay on top of the clutter and banish it forever.

I go through purging phases, which my husband calls my "Franciscan" phases, and they often provide a sense of psychological relief.  There have only been a few regrets in my purging phases.  And, yet, it's time to do it again.  I have way too many books, way too many t-shirts, way too many unpaired socks, etc.  And those little things really do affect the day-to-day negatively.  It's not just me, it's science!

So, once again, in an ongoing effort to simplify, I will be going through my closet, the study, the guest room, etc.  Then, there is all of our CD and sheet music collections.  It's really overwhelming to think of it all, but I know that if I can make some really big progress, I can just maintain after that. There is no "done," it's ongoing, but I'm hoping to make big headway nonetheless.

There's been a lot of buzz about The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, which I have not read.  But, I understand the concept, and I really want to change my life, get some magic, and tidy up.  I already have a pretty strong sense of tidiness, discipline, and rules I follow.  I've read lots of summaries and "hacks" of this method, and I plan to do my best without purchasing another book.  I will keep my progress updated on the blog.

But until then, three cheers for me finally finishing Lent!

Hip hip - hooray! 

Hip hip - hooray! 

Hip hip - hooray!  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Self-Affirmation and Healthy Self-Love


I'm a very loyal person.  I don't trash-talk my friends behind their back.  If we are friends, I consider us to be friends, no matter how long it's been since the last interaction.  I feel a strong sense of duty when I think of those I love.


While I have to be diligent to keep this in check, I am a hard worker.  I'm an overachiever.  If I say I'll do something, my word is good.  I'd rather not let you down.  (I'll pick myself to let-down before anyone else...working on that too).  But, if there's someone you need to get the job done, it's me.  That is, if I'm committed to a cause.  The choice of whether or not to commit to something is where I have to be careful, because if I'm all in, I'm all in.


I like to think I'm aware and sensitive of other's needs.  One thing I strive to do is to respect all.  I am not the most expressively emotional person (INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs system), and yet I'm sensitive to how others feel.  I may not be able to connect with you emotionally, but I hope that I treat all with respect, so as not to cause distress.  I think I'm able to tell how others take comments, so I am careful to convey them in a way that is most helpful (I think, I hope).  This mostly applies to work, where I gauge how another person might react, and I hope to communicate in the most effective way, especially when delivering correction or criticism.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Part of healing from my childhood is learning a healthy self-love.  It's very difficult and ongoing.  What might seem normal to others is a challenge to me.  I feel selfish when I take care of my basic needs (sleep, eating).  I have a hard time with boundaries, as in - I tend to do everything to the max, over-commit, and feel guilty when I can't "do it all."  All of my siblings also struggle with this.  I worked 2 jobs for 7 days a week for almost a decade.  I was a double major undergrad and graduate student.  I lived life at 110% for so long that I'm recovering from my 20's in my 30's...not that I didn't enjoy some of it, but there was so much pressure to be all things to all people.  I'm over it.  My husband is good about encouraging me to take care of myself.  He doesn't judge when I spend all of Saturday in my bathrobe, reading a book, watching movies, resting, napping, literally doing nothing.  He encourages me to listen to my podcasts, read my self-help stuff, or indulge in what feeds my soul.  It's me who still judges this behavior, but I try to do it anyway.  

Anne Lamott has a suggestion that you think of yourself in the third person when considering obligations, rest, etc. "Anne Lamott is resting today,"  or "Anne Lamott can't come to the phone."  Gretchen Rubin talks about treating yourself like a cranky toddler - sleeping and eating are top priorities.  Others have said you should treat yourself like an Olympic athlete.  Would you advise an Olympian to stay up late, drink too much, not exercise enough, etc.?  No?  Well, then don't allow yourself to do those things either.  Mother Teresa's daily routine shows plenty of time for prayer, rest, and taking care of the poor.  I heard Leila Lawler on the Fountains of Carrots podcast talking about how our strengths are our weaknesses, and our weaknesses are our strengths - there aren't two separate columns.  I like that.  It's the idea of the fatal flaw or the Achilles' heel.  Your strengths can get out of balance and become a weakness.  With awareness, your weakness can become a strength.  

When it comes to self-love, there is narcissism, there is the phony pride of self-loathing, there is the false security in self-esteem.  And, then, there is a healthy self-love, knowing you are beloved of God.  Knowing you have particular strengths and weaknesses.  Taking the whole picture, and putting it into perspective.

All of these examples show that balance, self-care, and a healthy sense of self-love (not really the same thing as self-esteem) are needed.  I came from such an extreme opposite of perfection-based love that I have to be really careful about this, and I'm still learning.  Even when I participate in self-care and self-love, I still feel really guilty for doing it.  I'm hoping someday to be able to love and take care of myself without the mean voices in my head screaming judgment at me.  I'm hoping to see self-care as a way to reach my goals, rather than my goals as a way to destroy my health and sanity.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume XVI)

I'm linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum to bring you seven quick takes from my world this week.


The New Evangelization.

Jim Gaffigan has a new TV show coming out.  You can watch the first episode for free online, it's pretty funny.  There's an interview with Jim and his wife, Jeannie, about how they integrate their Catholic faith with the show.  I also heard Jeannie on Catholic Answers Focus, which is a podcast.  I think the Gaffigans are good at presenting their faith as a reality of their life, without being preachy or weird religious types.  Yes, they have tons of kids, but they live in New York City, and they are not out of touch with society.  He is known as being a "clean" comic, but he's still funny.  I think they do a good job of walking the fine line between actually funny and authentically "family friendly."  Usually, family friendly is code for not as funny Christian comedy, but I think they break the mold.  I don't want to hold them up as poster children, especially if that's not what or who they want to be (the free episode of his show somewhat addresses this).  They are just living their lives, but I appreciate that they wouldn't change the show to be less Catholic, it's just part of their life.  One take away from the article in First Things was the phrase, "We don't have that experience," when confronted with anti-Catholics or ex-Catholics. This is a way of acknowledging that it was the other person's (presumably negative) experience in the Catholic Church, and yet, that's not the experience we have had in the Catholic Church.  I gotta remember that for future interactions with anti-Catholic Protestants, anti-Catholic secularists, and anti/ex-Catholics.  Let them say what they have to say, and you can respond with, "That hasn't been my experience" and share what has been your experience.



I've been really hit with an onslaught of WAY too many gray hairs the last few months.  I went from having some gray hairs to having at least 50/50 gray versus color at the root.  I have tons of very thick hair.  Coloring at the salon has been very expensive, and I don't know how I can keep that up for the next....20....or so years(?) every 4-6 weeks.  I'm already older than my husband, and yes, I have a little bit of a complex about it.  I was asked if I was his mother on our honeymoon...that's another story. (We are only 5 years apart.)  I need to look at least reasonably in the ballpark of his age.  Plus, I don't feel like someone who is old enough to have as much gray hair as I do.  Coloring it myself doesn't look so great, but that's what I'm left with.  Doing "root touch up" kits doesn't cut it either, as I've got to cover the whole head of hair now.  I'm a brunette, so the grays really pop, I'm wondering if some of them have just skipped gray and gone straight to white.  I'm not really wanting to highlight and go lighter so that the grays will blend, I want to be a brunette, but I don't know if I can pull this off.  My husband has even offered to help me color my hair.  He doesn't care one way or another about what my hair looks like or what color it is.  This is all on me.  I also heard about a powder that has some color in it for root coverup between appointments.  I may give it a shot.

Getting old ain't for sissies!   


Out of Touch.

My big boss at work is a little bit difficult to deal with.  Partly, he triggers my issues with authority because he reminds me of my father.  He's the nicest as*hole you'd ever meet.  He's nice to your face, and trash talks everyone behind their back.  He's extremely emotional and reactionary.  He's a micro-manager.  You know, all the things one wants in a great boss.  ::sarcasm::

Anyway, this week he was complaining about some new construction that's about to happen near our building.  It's going to change the view out of his corner office.  It also might change his parking situation, which is currently a space about 50 steps from our front building door.  All this complaining was done to me.  My cubicle with no window, no door, and no real walls overlooks...another cubicle.  My parking situation is half a mile or more away from the office, which takes 10-15 minutes to walk in weather of all varieties or 10-15 minutes to catch a bus.  I'm on a waiting list that is a few years long to be in the parking lot he's complaining about.  

I guess it strikes me as out of touch to complain to your subordinates about losing your office window view to some temporary construction and losing your convenient parking space temporarily so that others (like me) can eventually park closer to the building.  It's like when my millionaire friends were discussing with me a couch purchase that literally cost more than my entire wedding - out of touch and not appreciated.

I have to remember that when people get under my skin like this, that I am bringing bigger issues to the table (problem with father figure/authority).  Also, I am bringing somewhat of an expectation of perfection to the table.  He's a flawed person.  I need to spend more time in prayer about this.  It's just frustrating.



My ongoing dental surgery is still not finished.  I've been to three "final" appointments now.  The final implant didn't fit twice, and one time my gums were still too swollen to complete the procedure.  So, I'm two more weeks away from the fourth "final" appointment.  I've been there 7 times now, maybe 8.  It's getting really old.  However, I want it done right.  I've missed so much work for it that I'm now in the hole for time off.  I've been really disappointed with this dentist's office.  As soon as this procedure is over, I'm shopping for a new one.  Just the sound of the dentist's drill sets me on edge now.  I hate going there.  I was hoping for some dramatic weight loss, since I haven't been able to eat on one side of my mouth for 2 months such luck.


Natural Disasters.

We have been hit with some major rain and bad weather lately.  It reminds me of how grossly unprepared I am for such things.  I was never a girl scout.  We did go out and buy some bottled water and non-perishables, but seriously, what would we do if disaster struck?  We depend so much on the grocery store (packaged foods) and electronic means of making our lives work (ATMs, debit cards, etc.) that I really don't know what would happen if there were a large scale problem for an extended period of time.  I need to be better prepared.  We dodged a bullet this time, but where do you learn such skills?


The Pope.

Papa Francesco came out with an encyclical about ecology, the environment, and human relations to the created, natural world this week.  You can read the full text for yourself here.  What strikes me as irritating is that our media and our Protestant friends need to remember that the Pope is the head of the universal church.  He is not making a political statement regarding American politics.  (And, is climate change disputed as a "political" issue in other countries, or just here?)  He is looking at the whole picture (once again, another wonderful reminder that Catholic itself means "pertaining to the whole.")  He acknowledges that we affect the natural world around us, and that our actions have consequences.  We need to treat all created life, especially human life, with dignity.  We cannot ignore biology (ahem, birth control and NFP) for our advantage.  It will catch up to us.

Go read it for yourself.  Be prepared to answer questions about papal infallibility also.  There is so much confusion and twisting of words and meanings.  There is so much misunderstanding of Catholic teaching, whether it be about the Pope's role or about the environment or about the Eucharist.  We need to be informed and ready to explain when needed.  Unfortunately, I know some fringe Catholics who regularly suggest that the Pope is the anti-Christ.  This encyclical is used as an example to say he encourages pagan earth worship.  Just read it for yourself and make up your own mind.  If you're so concerned about a false leader, pray for him!  He needs it!     

Here's a nice synopsis of what the encyclical does and does not say.

Why Catholic.

Last week, I wrote about 7 reasons I remain Catholic.  Elizabeth Scalia's original post, calling Catholics to answer the question, "Why do you remain?" has generated a lot of thoughtful, profound responses, very interesting to read.  See for yourself by following her on Twitter or looking at her Patheos blog, and consider answering that question if it applies to you!  You can also search Twitter for the hashtag #WhyRemainCatholic, to see lots of responses.  I've only posted mine on this blog, so as not to link my semi-anonymous blogging to my real Twitter and online presence.  But, I'm loving the discussion.      

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As we end this week and enter the weekend, let us all remember in prayer the victims and families affected by the Charleston shooting, as well as our Muslim brothers and sisters, as they enter into Ramadan. 

Sometimes, the only prayer that seems at all helpful in sad or desperate times is, 
"Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and on the whole world."

Friday, June 12, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes on Why I Remain Catholic (Volume XV)

This week, instead of seven quick takes, I'm listing seven reasons why I'm still Catholic.  I'm linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum.

Elizabeth Scalia has started an online discussion asking Catholics - why do you remain Catholic? Her blog at Patheos has generated lots of responses throughout this week.  I thought I'd take a stab at it myself.

First, let me preface this by saying that, I've only been Catholic since 2006.  It's been almost a decade, but that's not a long time in the grand scheme of things.  Consider that my viewpoint is like talking to a 9-year-old in the faith.  On the one hand, I've done a lot of reading and thinking for a "9-year-old," on the other hand, in this short time of only 9 years, I feel like I still don't know much, and I also have experienced the temptation to leave the Catholic faith, yet I remain.

Here are 7 reasons why I stay Catholic:


The Saints. 

We have it all - from great artists to manual laborers.  We have men, women, and children of every race, nationality, and epoch.  We have a patron saint of nearly any cause (here's just one index to prove it).  If you need inspiration or someone to relate to, the Catholic Church puts forth an example in the faith for you.

One thing that frustrated me as a Protestant was that there was a huge gap in the so-called heroes of faith between the time of the Bible and the present day.  Protestants rely on sola scriptura (Bible alone) for their theology.  While I read books about the women of the Bible, there was something sorely lacking.  We don't know a lot about these women of the Bible, we don't know their daily life, and many of them were Jewish, not Christian.  One, prominent woman, The Blessed Virgin Mary, was basically ignored by Protestants.  And then there were thousands of years of silence with maybe one or two women to hold up as examples of Christian women between the Bible times and the present day.  I love the Lord Jesus, but he wasn't a woman.  He didn't live in the modern times or have a job at an office or children.  But, the Catholic faith reminds us that there is a saint who can relate to almost every aspect of your life.  And, relying on their intercession as part of our family is a wonderful thing.  We declare who is in heaven, not who is in hell.  And they are on our team!

I had a dream about Mary that was a catalyst for bringing me into the Church.  I was prompted at the death of Pope John Paul II to become Catholic.  (I was confirmed one "liturgical" year after his death - he died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, 2005, and I was confirmed on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, 2006).  I discovered St. Faustina and the Little Flower, who have both provided me guidance and inspiration.  There is no longer a gap in my life between our examples of the faith in the Bible and our modern day world.  If you're ever feeling spiritually "dry," and can't connect to the Trinity or to the Blessed Virgin Mary, then look to the saints for another inspiration.  I love the saints, and I rely on them for intercession, guidance.  I'm part of a huge, loving family that I never knew about before.


The Magisterium. 

I know outsiders, including some Protestants, think that Catholics are brainwashed sheep who don't think for themselves.  They just blindly follow the pope or their priests.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

On the one hand, I would love it if more Catholics were obedient to the Magisterium.  There wouldn't be such public scandal and embarrassingly bad examples of Catholics.  On the other hand, there is room for dissent, and I wish people would engage with Church teaching deeply - not just blindly accept or ignorantly reject it.  We are not asked to accept things hook, line, and sinker, with no thought on our own part.  And yet, when confirmed and when we receive communion, we say that we are in union with all that the Church believes, teaches, and professes to be revealed by God.  When it comes down to it, lots of things are discipline or tradition (small "t"), not dogma or doctrine.  What we are asked to believe is a somewhat short list, but it affects all of our lives.

There are some teachings I struggle with.  But, there is great relief knowing that I don't have to reinvent the wheel.  I get frustrated when I hear Protestants struggle with certain beliefs.  I think - someone has already done that struggling for you!  And there are thousands of years of wisdom behind the conclusion - going all the way back to the apostles!  As a Protestant (at least my brand of it), we were basically taught to read and study the scriptures for ourselves and find a church that "taught the Bible."  (Of course, the only "real" Christians were the ones who "taught the Bible" just like our church did.)  When the inevitable disagreements between your interpretation and the pastor's interpretation of the Bible occurred, you had to decide - was this essential?  (who decides what is essential or non-essential, anyway?)  if essential, should you confront the pastor, leave the church, or start a new church?  It was always a feeling of insecurity.  (This probably differs in mainline denominations, where you sort of know what you're going to get.)  We had our beliefs, but further study or a really good preacher could possibly even prove those beliefs wrong with the Bible.  You look down the street and see 5 different churches preaching 5 different versions of the gospel.  Which one is true?

The Magisterium is a relief to me.  I struggle to understand and accept the Church teachings sometimes.  But, I find there is great wisdom in them.  I have learned that a lot of the struggle is rooted in pride and in the Protestant habit of thinking I knew better than the whole church.  I figure, if The Church is right about the Eucharist and Reconciliation (some of my favorite teachings), it might be right on the other stuff too.  And, if it comes from a place of love - the ideal - what would be best for every human - then, I can understand the teachings better.  It's a high bar, but we do have the grace to live it.  It ultimately comes down to the question of authority.  Who has the right to speak for God, to interpret what Jesus really meant?   The Church.  Would Jesus leave behind such confusion as we have now?  What did the Church do in worship and believe before the Bible was codified?  Who decided which books went in the Bible and which books didn't?  Could it be that God not only left a deposit of faith, but kept it alive and continues to guide it by the Holy Spirit?  I believe, yes.  And, that isn't a static book, but a living organism, known as the Church.  Made of flawed humans, yes, but given divine authority to help us lay people sort it all out.  

Here is a good article about why doing even what the minimum of what the Church asks of us will help you lead a better life.

In this age of ethical dilemmas, sex reassignment surgery, gay marriage, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction, and so much more, it's nice that the wisdom of the Church can guide me, using the Bible, tradition, the wisdom of natural law, and the Holy Spirit.

NFP and Theology of the Body.  

Although these teachings are often criticized, misunderstood, and difficult to accept, I believe that they have saved my soul.  While outwardly practicing Catholicism early on as a new Catholic, I was still inwardly sinning big time.  I thought that NFP was for people that wanted countless kids, and I had never heard of Theology of the Body.  I didn't know that contraception was a class 1 carcinogen, nor did I consider sex outside marriage, masturbation, or homosexual sex to be sinful. These topics were never mentioned in my RCIA class, and if they were, it was either in passing, or I would have figured I could pick and choose which Church teachings I wanted to follow (and those wouldn't have been included).  I figured everything was fair game, sexually speaking.
Interestingly, though very much related, this was the period in time during which I was most tempted to leave Catholicism.  I had been Catholic about 3 years by that point when the pull was strong.  It was too conservative for me.  It was hard for me to defend church teaching on sexuality to my gay and straight friends (in fact, I didn't bother defending it; now that I do, it's still hard).  I was surrounded by secular friends, not one Catholic friend, and probably not one practicing Christian friend at the time.

After a few years of this destruction, I was shaken out of my selfishness by a podcast I heard with Rosalind Moss (now, Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God).  It was a call in show, and she basically answered a question about marriage to say that, regardless of your station in life, your call is to be as unselfish as possible.  I realized that was not how I was living, and it began the chain of events that turned me around.

I never would have been able to swallow the NFP teachings a few years after this change, if I hadn't had a crash course in Theology of the Body beforehand.  For once, even though it was difficult, I understood why the Church taught what she did, thanks to Christopher West and Theology of the Body.  It made way more sense than the near-gnosticism I found in both Protestant and extremely secular/liberal viewpoints.  The body wasn't bad, nor was it solely for pleasure, nor was it meaningless.  Sex wasn't bad or naughty, nor was it inconsequential or a commodity to be traded between consenting adults.  Theology of the Body put the why behind the what.  Combined with the grace of the sacraments and the common sense of natural law, I was finally able to see the full picture of Catholic teaching and embrace it.  I finally was willing to give God's way a try with my whole self, not just abstaining because it was the right thing to do, but understanding the reasoning behind the moral teachings and embracing all of it.  I really "got it," and I have been extremely blessed as a result.  Come to find out, NFP is actually pro-women and pro-marriage.  It makes the marriage stronger. The most education I got on the female body, I got it in the Catholic Church!  Rather than masking problems with the pill, NFP teaches you to know yourself and puts sex in the right context.

Thanks to God's grace, I am a fully practicing Catholic, including being open to life and practicing NFP at the moment in our marriage.  I hope someday to be a parent.  I also have changed my mind on other sexual issues too.  I understand the context that sex should have in marriage and society.  I understand it is possible, though difficult, to live out a life of chastity or celibacy.  I know that great healing and wholeness comes from doing things the right way.  Now that I've had this awakening, the world seems extremely anti-child, anti-woman, and pro-death to me.  I notice this all around me, and I pray for healing in that area.

Thank God for a Catholic husband who is open to NFP too.  If it weren't for these teachings, I honestly think I'd still be single, I'd be married to a non-Catholic, I'd still be in mortal sin by either contracepting or sexual activity, or I'd possibly not be Catholic anymore at all.  I was right on the verge of leaving when I came back again to Catholicism through God's grace.  Confession came first, then Theology of the Body and natural law, and finally NFP.  Embracing these teachings has helped me stay put because, for once, the human condition is explained with reason and love.  Difficult, yes, but God gives us grace.

(Yet another connection/shout out to JPII.)


Eucharist and Reconciliation.

It's hard to reduce what these two sacraments mean to me in a few paragraphs on a blog.  But, chiefly, they are the reasons I am a Catholic.  God's grace and presence have never been so real to me as they are in these two sacraments.  Even if I struggle with other teachings, find the homily boring, can't stand the music at mass, or any other complaint - God is coming to us in these sacraments.  As our priest reminds us, all sacraments are about God's action and our reception.  They aren't about us doing or achieving something.  We have to receive the gift.

Confession (and counseling) has been one of the most helpful and healing things in my life as it relates to recovery from an abusive childhood and recovery from my own mistakes and bad choices.  God is really, actually there in the sacrament of reconciliation.  Even if I don't know the priest.  Even if I'm in a hurry.  Even if I'm "only" confessing venial sins.  God shows up, every time.  I can't even really explain it.  And, it's not always an emotional reaction, but frequently it is.  I know that God is reaching me through the actions and words of a priest, He is breaking through to my daily life and reminding me that there is wholeness, love, and healing, if I will just show up to meet the Divine Physician.  

And, the Eucharist...what can I say that hasn't been explained by many others who are more intelligent and articulate than I?  Many years before becoming Catholic, I was convinced by John 6 that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist.  I started going to churches that had weekly communion, yet, was he always there?  I believe, yes, to some extent.  But, there is something different about the Catholic Church.  And, call me crazy or illogical, but I can feel it.  I can tell when I walk into a church whether or not the Eucharist is there.  I feel something different in Catholic Churches than I do in other churches, even the most high-church/liturgical Protestant ones in existence.  God is really there, in a most precious and present way.  It may come from logic or experience, but I know that I know that I know that it is really God in that Eucharist.  And, come what may, I don't think I could ever turn my back on that.

"Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." - John 6: 68

(Peter, speaking to Jesus, after many followers left Jesus when he explained that the Eucharist was his body and blood)



(Tradition - pardon me, just singing from Fiddler on the Roof...Tradition).

Okay, now that that song is in your head - tradition!

Why does tradition get such a bad rap in some circles?  It is pitted against the Bible, as if our traditions undermine the truths found in scripture.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a child, I always longed for tradition, both in our religious life and family life.  In our Protestant church, Christmas was celebrated on the Sunday closest to December 25, not on Christmas day.  There was no Advent leading up to it.  There was no Lent or Holy Week leading up to Easter.  Jesus was celebrated as being "risen" long before Easter Sunday.  (Yes, I realize he is eternally risen in heaven.)  Jesus' birth and "Joy to the World" were sung long before Christmas day.  Some years, we would do the Good Friday readings on Good Friday.  Other years, we didn't.  Sometimes, they would get out a cross once a year around Easter (there were no religious symbols in our church), but sometimes they didn't.  There was no longing, no waiting, no anticipation.  Everything blurred together.  Christ was always risen, and yet, the emphasis on the great suffering he endured before rising was not ever focused upon.  Jesus coming as a baby was never anticipated, he was already here, so to speak.  The role his mother played in the incarnation was virtually ignored.  

Even in our family life, I always longed for there to be a tradition, an order, a family "thing" I could count on.  I wanted us to always put up the Christmas tree after Thanksgiving, or to always exchange Christmas gifts at a certain time in a certain way (Christmas Eve at midnight or first thing Christmas day).  I wanted to always cook/eat certain meals like ham at Easter or boiled eggs.  I wanted a culture to go along with our doctrine.  But, aside from birthday cake most years and a Christmas tree eventually getting put up, there were no solid traditions in our family.  But for whatever reason, I did long for it.  I heard of my friends' family traditions, and I wanted something similar.  I wanted an identity to latch onto.  I remember when people would ask what church I went to, it was hard to answer.  This was the Bible belt, and Baptist, Methodist, even Wesleyan were understood responses.   But, we didn't have a youth group.  There were almost no other kids our age in the church.  When I said "non-denominational," it wasn't the mega-church, charismatic type.  I always felt like I "didn't belong."  I just wanted to be a part of a group with recognized beliefs and traditions, not the fringe fundamentalists that we were.  I would usually just say "Protestant" to try to convey a more laid-back rendering of our true beliefs.  We were even protesting other protestors!

It's hard to be a Catholic convert in this respect.  I have no idea what a Catholic culture in the home looks like, and yet, I want to establish it for myself and for any future children we might have.  This year we had an Advent wreath and then left our Christmas tree up until Epiphany.  We also made a small area our home altar and change the table runner to match the color of the liturgical seasons.  It's a start.  I want to celebrate feast days that are meaningful to us.  I want to light candles and pray for our deceased relatives on their birthdays or anniversaries of death.  I want to pray the rosary.  I want to do it all and be a real Catholic.

As human beings, we have so many rich traditions that help us celebrate all occasions - face paint at a football game, cake on a birthday, rings at a wedding, champagne at the New Year, on and on...  And yet, when it comes to our faith, many are hesitant to add "man-made tradition" onto religious practice.

However, if you know the meaning behind these rituals, it just makes the experience that much more rich.  The holy water at the entrance to church reminds us of our baptism.  The way we cross ourselves reminds us of the trinity and the hypostatic union.  The colors of the vestments remind us of where we are in the liturgical year.  The incense reminds us that our prayers rise to heaven like incense.  The plethora of saints and cultural customs provide us with other reminders, depending on any devotions you may have (we like St. Joseph in the Italian style a lot, for example).

Connecting to these traditions help give a certain rhythm to my life that was lacking before.  There is dying and rising again.  There is discipline and fasting, followed by rejoicing.  There is anticipation and then arrival or fulfillment.  Our senses are all involved, not just our brains, in the Catholic faith.  I love the sights, sounds, smells, touch, and taste of our faith.  Everything from the Eucharist itself, to the oils of anointing to the braided bread of the St. Joseph's altar table can remind us of our faith, if we let it.  We don't have to be holier-than-thou weirdos with no human element to our lives and saint wallpaper at home.  And yet, we can transform our daily traditions by infusing them with the rhythm and the great truths of our Catholic faith.  This is yet another reason why I love being Catholic.  


Liturgy, The Arts, Music.

Recently, Mark Judge, a Catholic artist, made headlines because he said he was leaving the Catholic Church due to the lack of patronage of the arts.  I fully understand that sentiment, and I know exactly where he's coming from.  I wish he hadn't left the Church over that reason, but I understand why he did.

Yet, looking over the course of history, the Catholic Church is a patron to some of the greatest art, music, and architecture ever made.  We are experiencing a new evangelization when it comes to apologetics and understanding our faith.  I'm waiting for the day when that zeal and creativity comes to the arts.  My husband and I are both musicians, and it can be frustrating to attend church sometimes.  I long for Catholic Churches to be the most beautiful ones with the best music, vestments, liturgy, etc. of all.  However, even if they are not, Jesus shows up.

As a classically trained musician, you must study music history.  To study the music of the past (especially in the Renaissance), is to study the music of the Catholic Church.  We learned the mass parts, we we learned their place in the liturgy, and we learned some of the most well-written church music that has stood the test of time when studying music history.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if the church were a haven for or a patron of the best artistry of our time?  I know in our city, we are trying to bring high quality music and arts to churches, via performances/concerts/events.

For me, to study music history and learn about the Catholic Church was just another way for it to come alive for me, before the theology was there.  I realized that the "history" I had been taught in my church growing up was flat out wrong.  We were taught that there was an underground "Protestant" church that had the "real truth" in opposition to the Catholic Church.  In fact, we know about non-Catholic sects from that time because the Catholic Church would respond to some of the popular heresies.  If there were an underground church, what was Martin Luther protesting, then?  Why couldn't he go to an already-existent church?  All that to say that many fundamentalists (and specifically Baptists) are taught a flat out wrong view of history that does not acknowledge the Catholic Church has been around all along, and that the Catholic Church in fact pre-dates other forms of Christianity.  In studying music history, this was apparent, along with the rich history and tradition we have of the arts in our church.

On a somewhat related note to the rich tradition of the arts and liturgy in our church, the words of John Henry Cardinal Newman come to mind, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."

So be it.  (Amen.)


And finally, why do I remain Catholic?

It's not any one thing.  I can tell you what makes me want to leave - child-molesting priests, bishops who cover up child-molesting priests, the perception that we are anti-women, anti-gay, and anti-science, bad music at mass, stuck up people who think they are holier than thou.  I could air a long list of grievances, as I'm sure all Catholics could.  However, we are a family.  A broken, messed up family, with a divine source and guide.  When you consider the scandals over the centuries in the Catholic Church, I would think that any other institution would have failed by now, if it were merely human.  I don't like to be perceived as ignorant or backwards. (I don't think Catholics are, I think our teachings are just misunderstood.)  I don't like an abusing priest any more than I like Hitler.  One victim is one too many.  Some Sundays, the only thing I "get" out of mass is the Eucharist - the rest is like enduring a penance.  Not to mention that my family has rejected me for becoming Catholic and has told me I'm deceived and going to hell.

For many, many reasons, it would be much easier for me to just stop being Catholic - to take a pill or use condoms, to be able to accept things that are politically correct, to live however the heck I want, to please my family members.  Being Catholic has made my life exponentially harder, there is no doubt.  But it is true, and it is worth it.

I am fortunate to know many, many faith-filled Catholics, to have encountered several awesome priests, some of them life-changing.  I have also experienced the flaws and faults of our church, but by God's grace, I hope not to go anywhere else because Jesus is there in the Church and in the Eucharist.  (No, that's not the only place Jesus is, but He is there.)

I stay because it's true.  I stay because God shows up on the altar, week after week, no matter how bad the music or the homily is.  I stay because I have a family of saints, centuries strong, that stand behind me.  I stay because it makes sense and explains the human condition.  I stay because it is the only thing that has helped me rebuild my messy life.

"Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life." - John 6: 68

Happy Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Day in the Life

I thought I'd do a run-down of a typical week for me.  I'm curious what our daily routines look like.  How are we all so similar?  How are we different?

Monday through Thursday
wake-up (reluctantly, after hitting snooze a gazzilion times)

get dressed and ready for work; pack lunch; take breakfast to go

drive to work whilst eating breakfast, doing makeup, and fighting traffic; it takes one
hour on a good day, usually more like 1.5 hours, sometimes up to 2 hours or more

get to work, settle in; have two cups of coffee; check email; review to do list; realize it's
10 AM, I am somehow an adult with a job who somehow made it to work, and I need to get to work
(around 10 AM, I finally, really wake up)

work, workity, work, work
(I basically do a computer-coding type of job in a higher education setting)

I take a lunch around 1 PM because it makes the remaining hours of the workday go
faster; I usually read a book while I eat; if it's not terrible weather, I eat outside, and I almost always end my lunch break with a 10-20 minute walk and call my husband to check in and say "hi"

more work, workity, work, work; usually around 4:45 PM, I hit an inspiration to
get a bunch done before leaving the office; make a to do list for myself to note where to start when I get back to work tomorrow

commute to my car from the office and then to work out facility;  change clothes at work out facility, which is closer to my office than it is to home (this is in an effort to not only be healthy but to avoid traffic - yes, it still takes an hour to get there, even though it's "close" to work)

work out (this is if I'm being good); it's only available Monday-Thursday for me

drive home (traffic is usually not as bad by this point); call my husband on the way
home and make dinner plans; eat a snack (I'm usually starving by now);
Wednesday nights, we sometimes go to the young adult group at church from 7-9

eat dinner with my husband; take out the trash, do dishes, get the mail, do laundry, other fun tasks at home; otherwise relax and hangout together

at some point, I become so tired I can't get off the couch, but I realize it's bed time;  I usually shower at night; we sometimes hang out more in bed (ahem), not just that, but we might watch a movie or a TV show or just talk before falling asleep - it's the only time of day I see my husband, really

somewhere between 10 PM and midnight, we fall asleep

same exact schedule as Monday-Thursday above, except that I leave work at 5:00 PM to drive home instead of work out; that takes usually 1.5-2 hours, then we commence our dinner/hanging out/date night

depending on my husband's schedule, we will wakeup anywhere between 6 AM and 8 AM on Saturdays; he is busy on the weekends, so I wake up when he does to see him, before he starts his day of teaching or gigs; Saturdays are different from weekdays because we cook breakfast together and get a chance to enjoy it together (with coffee, of course) before the day starts

while the husband gets to work, I continue to lounge around in my bathrobe; I may or may not go back to sleep for a few hours; I'll usually shower, make a to-do list, and blink a lot before starting the day on a Saturday; the week really starts to catch up with me by this point

it seems like the to do list is never-ending; if I'm up for it, I will usually work in the study or the guest room or do some deep cleaning of the bathrooms and/or kitchen; if it's been a rough week, I might just sit around and read or relax

the husband is finished teaching or gigging, usually by this point; we will make dinner together or go out for dinner; we might go on a date or get out of the house to do something fun on a Saturday night

(bedtime rituals are the same as the weekdays)

my husband plays at church on Sunday mornings; this is our only morning to "sleep in"; while he gets ready, I usually make breakfast and we eat together; if I'm really on the ball, I will also be getting ready and go to church with him - otherwise, I stay in the bathrobe

hubby plays at church service, and sometimes I tag along; if I stay home, I'll usually clean the kitchen and the living areas, watch religious videos or listen to religious podcasts or do religious readings; I'm not sure how to "keep the Sabbath" because I definitely do "work" on Sundays, but I try to have God in mind more on Sunday than any other time I do those tasks

my husband sometimes has to teach on Sunday afternoons, if so, it'll usually be in this time frame; I usually take a shower and run some errands at this time; if I go to the night service instead of the morning service with him, we leave by 4 PM (he will go twice if that's the case, and come with me)

commute to church, mass at 5 PM, commute home; alternatively, we will make dinner plans, go to the grocery store for the week, and do stuff around the house

hang out, eat dinner, relax by watching a movie or something; it's usually at this time that the grim reality of the weekend being over sets in for me; husband is usually exhausted by Sunday night after a busy weekend, and I get the "Sunday evening blues"

normal bedtime routine commences, we fall asleep so we can start all over again

Friday, June 5, 2015

7QT: Seven Quick Takes (Volume XIV)

I'm linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum to bring you seven quick takes from my world this week.

Air Conditioning. 

Thanks be to God for modern day luxuries, such as air conditioning.  You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone...  Well, we went to bed Monday night, thinking it was a little toasty inside, but thinking nothing of it.  After all, it's June and warming up.  The thermostat was set, and the temperature inside was just a few degrees warmer.  Well, Tuesday, we realized that it had stopped cooling the house.  It was 85* inside even though the thermostat was set on 71*, and after flipping the breaker box, the AC still didn't kick on.  Thank goodness for generous in-laws who offered their guest bedroom to us.  And also, thank God that the fix was just a part repair, not a system-wide breakdown.  It only cost us a few bucks, a few days at the in-laws, and a little inconvenience, but we are back in business.  With all the other bills and craziness going on right now, I don't think we could have handled a several-thousand-dollar repair.

Family Wedding. 

I was really excited last weekend to go to a family wedding.  I love my cousins, and it was good to see some new little faces in the next generation coming up (first cousins once removed, I believe).  I guess it's hard to put into words the level of zealous preachiness that pervaded the ceremony and the reception, especially from those family members in my parents' generation.  I'm assuming 99.9% of the people there were already Christian, but nonetheless, the "gospel" was "preached" most of the time.  It wasn't really about the couple or the wedding ceremony.  It was about the "gospel," mixed in with a frat-bro type of pastor who asked us to "give them a round of applause" several times.  There was literally not a cross in the entire "church."  And their sanctuary was also the basketball court - intentionally - they aren't in a building phase or anything.

While, I appreciate the sentiment of trying to present Jesus to people, I have to agree with Dr. David Anders (see his website, Called to Communion here), that lots of Protestants have a zealous ignorance about their faith and beliefs.  Sadly, they think they have the full truth.  At least my relatives think most other "Christians" are wrong or suspect, with Catholics at the bottom of the list. They think you're most likely not saved, and that it's their job to preach to you.  Forget honest conversation or benefit of the doubt - you're a sinner on your way to hell, and we're here to tell you the "good news."

Honestly, having been away from those circles for years now, it struck me as cult-like in the level of manipulation and the lack of nuance.  It was very black and white.  Now that I'm "out" as a Catholic, the family is very cold to me (not my cousins, but my aunts and uncles and parents).  I avoided being alone with certain people because I knew a confrontation about my beliefs was inevitable.  On the one hand, it makes me glad I got out.  I can spot the veering off course and manipulation more quickly than when I lived it.  They will quote a Bible verse, then jump to an odd conclusion that seems out of context.  It honestly made me feel even more secure in my Catholicism.  We have centuries of wisdom behind us.  We don't depend on the whims of our frat-bro pastor.  We love all and never dismay of God's mercy.  I need to remember to have mercy for my fundamentalist family who summarily drive me nuts and don't seem to show God's love at all.  Just preachy, cheap grace - a simplified gospel that is very self-righteous.  I hope I don't sound like the pot calling the kettle black.  It's just that Catholicism was founded by Jesus Christ, not a guy that read and interpreted the Bible in a new-fangled way.  It's not my opinion.  It has survived by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there's no other way it would have survived.  It makes sense to me.  

It was also somewhat hurtful to me that my parents participated with so much enthusiasm and joy at the ceremony.  Tons of cheesy smiles, "amens," and hand-shaking.  It's the complete opposite of how they behaved at my wedding, because, even though I'm their own daughter, not a more distant relative, it was a Catholic wedding, and they had to make known to everyone that they were unhappy - starting with their faces.  I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was hurtful nonetheless.  It's a constant test trying to deal with them.

Label Maker.

Gretchen Rubin (one of my favorite authors, who now has a podcast as well), mentioned anecdotally that a friend of hers said, "Now that I've cleaned out my fridge, I realize that I'm ready to apply for a new job."  [I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of the story.]  For me, now that I've purchased and used this label maker, I feel like I can conquer the world.

Seriously, though.  I purchased it a few weeks ago, which led to cleaning out the hall closet and labeling shelves.  Then, I dove into finishing the kitchen/wedding gift rearranging (which involves shelf-liner, getting rid of duplicates, and a trip to the Goodwill donation center).  Once I accomplished that, I tackled the PILE of mail and junk that has accumulated in the study (on my side) for the last several weeks and months.  I also bought some more shelves for my closet when I realized the "piles of stuff" system was really not working, and labeled them.  Then, I reorganized and labeled the pantry.

I am free this weekend, and I look forward to (seriously this time) finishing all these little nagging projects and seeing them through to completion!  I go through minimalist phases (as my husband calls them, Franciscan phases), but I am looking for a long-term change here.  Simplification, organization, and less stuff to deal with all sound like a great idea.  Less to maintain, less laundry to do.  I feel like I have been living unconsciously.  I was so sick off and on after we got married (repeated UTIs).  Then I recently had a dental surgery, which is still not finished.  But, I'm finally feeling more optimistic and energetic - maybe I can do stuff besides sitting on the couch.  And the label maker is the reason why!

P.S. I have had to resist the urge to label EVERYTHING - wall, door, fridge, sink, etc.  I love you, label maker.  

Why Catholic?

Elizabeth Scalia is asking people to respond to the this: "Why Do You Remain Catholic"?
See more here.  Lots of fascinating stories.

I will be answering in a separate post about Why I Am Still a Catholic.  If you fit that description, you should too!

Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner.

I have tons of gay friends, I guess from having a background in the fine arts in which (for whatever reason) a high percentage of the men are gay.  I know several guys who are drag queens (which is very different from being trans).  I personally know one person who has had a sex change (male to female).  I mention this because the trans community is often lumped together with the gay community in the sense of "LGBTQ."  (Most male-to-female trans persons are attracted to women and don't consider themselves gay.)

Part of my conversion and re-conversion within Catholicism has been a change on my beliefs toward sex, homosexual acts, and the body in general.  I used to think that anything goes - it was all about consent and self-respect and freedom.  I thought being gay was like the colors you liked - you couldn't help it, you were just born like that, how could we possibly ask someone to be alone forever because of something they couldn't change?  Similarly, I thought that once I got married, I would be open to life, and before that, it was all about living my life and not being a religious freak.  I wasn't hurting anyone, and everyone I knew was having sex outside of marriage and/or contracepting.  How could I ask my gay friends to be celibate, when no one I knew was celibate (gay or straight)?

Well, fast forward a few years, and something changed.  I had a wakeup call.  I realized that I was living a very selfish life - not just sexually, but all around.  I went to confession and cleaned up my act.  I started on the path I'm on now - trying to live truly what I said I believed.  I also ended up hearing Christopher West speak on Theology of the Body, which brought it all to life.  Theology of the Body and natural law explained the why behind Catholic teaching on sexuality.  It made so much sense to me.  It was difficult, but healing.  It came at just the right time, right before we got engaged and then married.  During marriage preparation, when learning about Natural Family Planning, I was actually open to it and became convinced of its truth, rather than dismissing it summarily.  (See a summary of my conversion story in four parts: I, II, III, IV.  Parts III and IV deal mostly with this part of the conversion.)

All that to say, about 10 years ago, I would have 100% supported someone like Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner.  I would have thought it was inconsequential and that any criticism would have been judgment.  Now, I recognize that gender dysphoria is actually a disorder that is STILL listed in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM), the tool for professional counselors.  It may go the way of homosexuality, and eventually be discarded as a disorder, but it's still there.  From what I understand, a small percentage of the population is born between sexes as a hermaphrodite.  Any confusion can be resolved by chromosomal testing, making the body match the chromosomes.  Others believe they are in the "wrong body," and most grow out of that at a young age.  For the remaining people who don't grow out of it, this is a disorder that can be treated.  Our society is not prone to treat it, but rather to encourage the person to have gender reassignment surgery.  The suicide rate for trans people is extremely high, and the success rate of the surgery, long-term, is extremely low.  To me, this is akin to encouraging a schizophrenic person who believes he can fly to having surgery that affixes wings, rather than dealing with the underlying issue.  We are conforming our bodies to fit the reality in our minds (even if it's disordered or delusional), rather than encouraging treatment for this type of disordered thinking.

To be clear, I believe Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner should be respected and treated with dignity.  I don't think this is something that should play out in the public eye, as if she's some sort of freak show.  At the same time, she is being made the poster child for this process.  What if she regrets the decision?  Will she have the freedom to change her mind?  I worry for her.  And the "Christians" who have taken to social media to quote Bible verses at the heathen world do nothing to support the truth.  To me, it boils down to natural law, the whole person, healing and freedom on all levels - not just licentiousness.  I view this type of procedure as a form of mutilation, and I feel sorry for Caitlyn Jenner.

There is another way.  We don't have to live according to all of our desires and feelings, even the disordered ones.  We also don't have to condemn others.  We can pray for their complete healing, being made in God's image.

Here are some articles:

statistics regarding sex changes

a man who became a woman, then reversed his decision


I am very close to one of my nieces.  It absolutely broke my heart to move hundreds of miles away from her a few years ago.  We remain close, but it still hurts.  I was thinking of my own beloved Auntie, who passed away when I was a senior in high school after a brutal battle with aggressive breast cancer.  I remember once saying that she was sort of like "one of us," that is, a teenager.  I couldn't really put my finger on why I loved her so much.  So many did.  She was one of those people whom everyone thought was their best friend.  A great listener, the life of the party, wise, normal, funny, welcoming.  She could relate to me, across the generations.  But, she related to almost everyone.  

As I contemplated my relationship with my niece and my relationship with my aunt, I realized that one of the reasons she meant so much to me is that she respected me.  That's what I meant by "she's one of us."  It's not like she, a grown woman, acted like a teenager when she was around teenagers. It's that, even when I was a child and then a teenager, she respected me as a person.  She treated me like I mattered, like my opinions mattered, like my likes and dislikes and desires were interesting, worthwhile, to be respected.  She treated me as equal in dignity to herself and others.  That was very different for me.  It stood out among my adult relationships.  My parents emphasized "respecting your elders" and "authority."  Women were not equal to men.  Children were not equal to adults.  We were to be seen and not heard.  Our opinions, needs, and preferences were not important or respected.  Being a female child was the lowest end of the totem pole, and until you were married, you were considered a "child" (under your father's authority).

It may have taken more than 15 years of reflection, but it finally dawned on me that the chief way my aunt showed love to me was by respecting me as a person, when so many others told me I wasn't to be respected.  There were many other ways, big and small, that she showed love.  However, underneath it all was a sense that she believed I was valuable, lovable, worthy of respect.  She listened. She validated my experiences and viewpoint.  She didn't judge.  It was such a gift to me, a gift I'm still un-wrapping.

So, from here to eternity, thank you, Auntie.  I hope you're rocking in heaven with some of my other friends, and I hope to see you there someday.  I love you.  


That's all I got.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Daily Life, Daily Bread

There's a truth proposed by many a spiritual giant that the most profound way to live out our vocation is to do it in small things, in ordinary activities of daily life, and in the mundane.  It is through faithfulness to the small things, done with great love, that we see that life is mostly made of those smaller moments.  We can begin to offer them, even our smallest actions, back to God.  And we can find God, right where we are.  Rather than seeking a grand "spiritual experience," we can transform and be present to God, even in our mundane lives.  I don't know about you, but my life consists of traffic, work, emails, dishes, laundry, mowing the lawn, and figuring out dinner.  Every now and then, it's also about kissing my husband, enjoying nature, and Eucharistic adoration.

Life is in the small things.  God meets you there.

Below are some inspirational quotes that really all point to this truth.

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." - Mother Teresa

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." - Luke 16:10

"God is the God of the living.  So look for God in your living, in your daily life.  God awaits you there.  You have only to notice."  - Fr. James Martin (reflecting on the gospel of Mark 12:18-27)

"After the ecstasy, the laundry." - Jack Kornfield

There is a common Buddhist teaching about washing your bowl.  The following quote comes from this website:

"Zen is not about doing or reaching towards something special or mystical.  It is down-to-earth and practical, about doing what should be done in this moment. - even if it is an ordinary, routine and so-called mundane task.  When we look for something extraordinary, we have forgotten that the extraordinary enlightenment arises from taking care of the ordinary.  To focus on doing what is appropriate in each moment with an 'ordinary mind,' that is not cluttered or distracted with the unnecessary is Zen practice."

"When something wonderful comes our way, it is good to do the dishes." - John Tarrant

And from one of my favorite saints, The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux emphasized over and over that it is only through small things that we find God and live out our calling.

"In my little way, there are only very ordinary things."

"Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness."

"My little way is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute self-surrender."  

"I do not have any other means to prove my love to you, but to throw flowers, that is to let no little sacrifice, no look, no word pass, to take advantage of all the littlest of things and to do them out of love..."