Tuesday, December 29, 2015

4 Things My Cat Taught Me About God

I moved out of my parents' house nearly a year ago, into a home I now share with my cousin and sister. With my new home came an old cat.

Ally (nicknamed "Mao" for the way her meow sounds) is nearly seventeen years old, but being a calico who is part Siamese, is small and thin and doesn't look much older than a kitten.

(And she has beautiful eyes!)

Most of my time at home is spent with this cat. I wake up in the morning, and there is the cat. I come home from work, and there is the cat. I go to bed, and here comes the cat. She also follows me into the bathroom, and has even tried to follow me into the shower a couple of times.

I've reflected a few times over the last year on the undeniable reality that my relationship with my feline friend is a great gift from God, given straight from his heart to mine. Ally brings me peace, diminishes my loneliness in the hours I regularly spend alone (which I had even living with my parents, who were both kept busy by work and sleep schedules that didn't usually match mine), and makes me feel genuinely wanted, cared for, and loved.

I know this all makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, but really? I'm actually not. I like animals, but I don't particularly obsess over them like most people titled "animal lovers" do. I really, genuinely do just love my cat, consider her a friend, and know my joy in life is enhanced for her presence in it.

For all the things this cat has done for me, I can't neglect to acknowledge the ways she teaches me about God. I know, I know -- it sounds crazy, right? But my relationship with my cat has taught me several valuable spiritual lessons, and I can't help but be aware of them.

#1 - God knows exactly when I plan to get up off the couch. Exactly.

My cat has this amazing sixth sense (is it really a "sixth" sense for an animal? I don't know...) that I hear all house cats have: she knows exactly when I'm about to get up off the couch. I'm not talking about her knowing when I'm getting up -- I'm saying that as soon as I think "I need to get up and go get this or do that," she comes and lays in my lap. Every. Time. Without fail.

Scripture says of God, "You know when I sit and when I stand." But my cat, and of course God, knows when I plan to sit and plan to stand. God knows the moves I'm going to make before I even finish formulating the idea in my mind, and he quickly moves to offer either his assistance or, like my cat, resistance.

#2 - God loves all of me, even the parts I don't like and know I need to change.
I remember one night several months ago I was laying in bed, probably crying, very upset about the fluffier areas of my tummy, thighs, etc. I struggle a lot with my weight, and some days I struggle more than others. My cat noticed I was in bed -- as she usually does -- and hopped up to join me. Immediately, she began to rub her face on my hands. "Aw," I thought, "my kitty loves me even though I have fluffy bits! She doesn't even care." It was around this time that she began kneading my belly in order to make a bed for herself.

Initially, I was upset, because I'm weird and it hurt my feelings that my cat noticed I pack a few extra pounds. But then I had a realization: she loved it. She was happy it was there. She thought it was nice.

I don't mean to say that God necessarily thinks everything about me is nice, but apart from my weight, I struggle a lot with negative perceptions of myself all around.

Believe it or not, this singular instance with a cat has reframed the way I pray about these things. Where I once despaired that God resented all the same parts of me that I do, I now have a glimmer of hope that he thinks I'm worth it, not in spite of, but even with what I think are glaring imperfections. He just wants me, even with all my quirks.

#3 - Silence does not mean God hates me

Sometimes I won't even notice my cat is hanging out with me because she is so quiet. It isn't even that she doesn't meow a lot (except when she's hungry, or to respond when I'm talking to her), she just moves so quietly. It's like she walks on air everywhere she goes. You can only hear her coming if it's the middle of the night and she wants to run up and down the stairs.

Most of us are used to not hearing God speak to us, but when we can't see him moving in our lives, we can become distressed and think he's ignoring us. Maybe he's actually just sitting there, loving us and waiting for us to acknowledge him and give him attention. And when we do acknowledge him, maybe he will simply want to cuddle. He's weird, just like my cat.

#4 - God willingly forgives, for the simple fact that he loves me

My cat hates being picked up. Go ahead -- try. She will let you know she doesn't like it, typically by an urgent "maaaaaow." But when you pick her up, she won't fight you. She doesn't wriggle or squirm, and doesn't try to jump away, even when she easily could.

She just lets you hold her, maowing though she may be.

Sometimes I have to hold her so my cousin can give her medicine. Sometimes I hold her because I just love her so much. Every time, she verbally protests. But every time I put her down, she is ready and waiting to be petted again. She wants to cuddle immediately.

In addition to this, my cat puts up with all kinds of weird things, and continues loving and cuddling us. Push her out of a room, and she wants back in. Forget to feed her, and she wants to nuzzle you (even after you've given he food!). Accidentally throw yourself down on the bed only to realize she was under the blanket and you have squished her (oops), and she scrambles out from under the blanket to lay with you.

I don't know if it's blasphemous, but this reminds me of Jesus' cross, and especially his words of forgiveness for the soldiers who put nails through his hands and feet. "Father, forgive them -- they know not what they do." Some random cat facts that go floating around include one which suggests that cats actually consider all humans to merely be stupid, oversized, extra-clumsy kittens. I believe this solely for the fact that my cat would only put up with my shenanigans if she felt sorry for me.

And that's why God puts up with me, too. Well, sort of. He feels sorry for me, but he also really, really freaking loves me. He hates my sin, but even while I'm sinning, he doesn't hurt me, and as soon as I've put it down, he wants to lavish his love on me again.

I know it sounds stupid, but I really do better understand all of these things about God because he put this cat in my life.

So, here's to you, Ally Mao. May the Lord grant you seventeen more years (mostly because I can't imagine my life without you).

Friday, December 25, 2015

Whom Shepherds Guard and Angels Sing

Merry Christmas!

I have particular fondness for Christmas music -- more specifically, Christmas hymns. One of my absolute favorite Christmas songs (and favorite songs of all time) is "What Child is This?" It captures, for me, the rich simplicity of one of the most extraordinary events in human history. The  lyrics to this song are deep with meaning and soaked in the reality of Christmas. Verse by verse, a story is told which is penetrated by awe and wonder at something small and unimpressive. Latter verses of the song, which are often unheard because artists seem to enjoy repeating the first verse over and over again, tell of the cross and the wise men and the Virgin and her lullaby. But the first verse -- that same first verse we all know by heart because we've heard it so many times -- is about something seemingly less important than the wise men bearing gifts, irrelevant in comparison to the cross of Christ and his Mother.

What Child is this who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?

Shepherds. The song begins with a question -- who is this baby that angels are singing for, and why are there dusty smelly shepherds standing around?

It is easy, as people who have heard the story over and over, to take for granted that Jesus' first visitors in this world were shepherds. Although it is unfair to say that the shepherds are ignored (they're a central element of any nativity scene or Christmas play), it is true that the significance of their invitation to and their presence at the nativity of our Lord is terribly overlooked. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives:

"...perhaps [the shepherds] were not living only outwardly but also inwardly closer to the event than the peacefully sleeping townsfolk. Inwardly too, they were not far from the God who had become a child. What is more, they were among the poor, the simple souls whom Jesus would bless, because to them above all is granted access to the mystery of God. (cf. Lk 10:21f) They represent the poor of Israel, the poor in general: God's first love."
That the shepherds were the first to visit the newborn King is no accident. According to God's plan, it seems that it was wholly intentional that the first to lay eyes on Jesus in the flesh were poor people, living simple lives, up in the middle of the night, tending to the vulnerable and the fragile. In fact, we know it was God's plan that the shepherds themselves be invited, specifically, to adore Jesus Christ on that first Christmas night. They didn't happen upon him by accident -- they were urged to go see him by an angel of the Lord. And the angel imparts, to them and to us in the eternal words of Sacred Scripture:

"Do not be afraid."

"I bring you good news...for all people."

"Today...a Savior has been born to you."

"He is the Messiah."

Following the angel's greeting, a "multitude" of angels appear, singing praises and glorifying God; though the Son of God is born into a world which rejects him, he remains Lord of the heavenly realms, Master over the angels who adore, love, and worship him. They pour out their perfect praise in honor of his birth. This is no ordinary baby -- this child is the Son of a great King who sends his heavenly servants to tend to him and sing for him and bless him and announce him to the world.

And the world, that night, to whom his birth was announced was the world of the poor, the simple, and the afraid. The good news of great joy, news of a child blessed of highest heaven come down to the lowest of the low, comes first to those most in need of it.

This, this is Christ the king,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring him laud

The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

So you're not feeling very Christmasy

It's that time of year again! With only days left until the long-awaited December 25th, your heart of hearts may be echoing Cindy Lou Who's song in the now-ancient Jim Carey retelling of The Grinch: "Where are you, Christmas?"

They say it comes with getting older. Children have a natural wonder at Christmastime, infused with the magic of Santa Claus, Christmas break, and the allure of Christmas music and presents. Children love Christmas. So why don't adults?

With absolutely zero expertise to back me up, I posit that adults hate Christmas because adults don't celebrate Christmas. Adults stress about out-gifting each other, money, time, parties, planning meals, and working overtime. We become frantic at midnight on Black Friday, and the chaos and running around don't stop until December 26th (or, for some of us, until after that last post-Christmas Christmas party). By Christmas Eve, our energies are spent and our wallets are exhausted. To add, we've probably eaten way too many cookies.

What was lost between childhood and adulthood? Where did Christmas go?

Friends, Christmas didn't go anywhere. We did.

But we can go back.

On December 24th, some 2,000-and-something years ago, a humble carpenter was leading a donkey on which his tender wife sat, as pregnant as she would ever be. They were concerned about money, and taxes, and not seeing their families for a long while. They hadn't had a moment's rest since they set out on their journey, and they were cold and tired.

Near the middle of the night, they finally came upon Bathlehem, where they were required to go by a government mandate. Their sighs of relief were short-lived, however, as they couldn't find a single place to stay; there was not even a spare room at the inn.

In the throes of exhaustion and desperation, our humble carpenter sets his sights on a stable built into a cave. He leads the donkey carrying his wife and unborn son inside, where he begins to unload whatever necessities they will use for the night. And just when he thinks they can finally rest, as fate would have it, his wife goes into labor.

Having just walked more miles than he can recall, leading an animal and worrying about his little family, the humble carpenter makes his young wife as comfortable as possible in a darkened cave lined with hay and dirt and animal feces, then gets down on his knees to help her deliver the Savior of the world.

But this Savior doesn't come with riches, or food, or a soft place to lay their heads; he doesn't even come with clothes for himself. His mother wraps him in her shawl. And now, faced with the added weight of an infant who poops and cries and needs to be fed and burped and held and hushed to sleep, suddenly, everything is right in the world.

In the distance an angel appears to shepherds tending their flocks -- to you and to me, busy with our lives and our jobs and our anxiety. "Fear not!" the angel beckons. "For to you this day in the city of David has been born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

As if foreknowing our hectic schedules and restless nights, the angel doesn't add, "You will find a party with plenty of appetizers and a few movies for the kids to watch. BYOB." He doesn't say, "Each of you bring a gift at least $25 in value but not exceeding $30." He doesn't say, "Go over your list one last time."

He says, "You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothing, lying in a manger."

This is Christmas.

There isn't anything wrong in the slightest with our holiday traditions. Presents and lights and candy and family are all wonderful things. But without an understanding of why we celebrate the way we do, and who we are celebrating, they become not traditions but chores.

If you're tired, overworked, poor, and stressed for time this Christmas season, listen. Do you hear it? The heavenly hosts sent from heaven above to welcome God's own Son to the world he made. Can you smell the straw? Can you feel the dust? Do you see the small Light flickering in the darkness?

Bring your sighs to Mary, your work to Joseph, and lay them down before their Son.

If you can't feel Christmas, read the Bible. Read the prophecies of old, especially in Isaiah, and the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. Familiarize yourself with the desperation of Israel, and finally with the hope of the Messiah, who comes for you. To relieve you of your burdens. To save you from your sins. To spare you the agony of a monotonous, mundane existence and offers you instead a life worth living -- an abundant life, a participation in his own.

Listen to Christmas carols. Adults hate Christmas songs. We don't hear the words. Pray with the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, What Child Is This, and all the rest.

Simplify. Christmas is among the most extraordinary events in human history: God-made-man come down to earth. The King of Peace enters our world and sleeps. His earthly beginnings are simple. Christmas is extraordinary in part because our Savior proves himself simple.

Make your way back to the manger in Bethlehem. Brave the torrents of rejection, anxiety, and fear. Take your family to the cave; sit in the quiet and soak up the surprising reality of the Savior. A baby. In rags. In a barn. Asleep in a feed box.

Make time for peace this holiday season. Celebrate peace. Celebrate love. Celebrate Christmas.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Stealing From The Poor

Dorothy Day once said, "If you have two coats, you have stolen one from the poor."

The Gospel reading for the third Sunday of Advent this year reveals where she likely got this idea. John the Baptist says, more or less, the same thing when asked what should be done to prepare for the coming Messiah: "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise."

We're used to hearing some of what we should do to "prepare the way of the Lord." We're told to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls. I remember last Advent, local parishes came together in an agreement to hear confessions one extra day a week in order to offer more people the chance to come back into the Church before Christmas. We are encouraged to pray. We're offered daily devotionals. And if you've never been to daily Mass, I encourage you to go during Advent -- it is an enormously peaceful time wherein one can nearly taste the anticipation of Israel as she awaits the Savior.

These are all very good and just and, as far as preparing our hearts for the Lord, necessary. But as we enter the Year of Mercy, we would do well to recall the works of mercy, which consist both of spiritual and corporal works. In preparing our hearts for Advent, we ought not neglect to prepare our homes, our families, our lives, and our communities

John the Baptist, echoed emphatically by Dorothy Day, teaches us that we should be doing far more than preparing on a solely spiritual level; we should be preparing the way of the Lord on a very practical level in the physical reality we live in.

This particular reading is challenging to me, because I wonder if I realize the implications. We are not called to be thoughtful with our belongings -- we are called to be generous with them. This is especially difficult for me as someone who is lucky if I manage to get by each month, let alone have a little extra. But John doesn't only refer to money. He refers to material possessions and to food. Do I do all I can with my own resources to see that those in my community who lack clothes and food don't go without for my sake? Following the sentiment of Dorothy Day, what have I stolen from the poor?

This is something I'll be taking to the more dusty and darkened reaches of my prayer closet, the oft-unused corner where I actually ask God what he wants me to do with the many gifts I've been given. I wholly expect this to become painful, in light of Mother Teresa's pattern of life: that love gives until it hurts and then gives more. I simply need to remember how much more it might hurt to be living outside this winter with no coat and no food.

Please join me in praying about this if you're able. And if you're not, please pray for me to discern and do God's will in my life right now.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Innkeeper

I wish I could slow down.

I wish life as it is allowed me what I so fervently desire: a peaceful, prayerful Advent. I am naturally restless. I am inclined towards deliberate busyness, because I thrive when I am distracted from my anxious thoughts. I overwhelm myself with things I can control to keep from being overwhelmed by things I can't. Every morning I wake up early enough to do a thousand things, and find myself resetting my alarm so I can sleep a little longer, because I am truly exhausted. Every evening I find myself desperate for my bed, and once I'm in it, I don't get up for anything. My bed is the only place in the world where I am not rushing, not plotting, and not doing. My bed is where I go at the end of my endlessly busy days to take solace from the world I've created for myself. My bed is where I let myself relax, because by night time I have no further will to fight the urge to slow down.

There's a song I heard a couple of years ago which resonates with me on a deep level. It's called "Rest," and it's by Jason Gray. It is a reflection offered from the perspective of the Innkeeper, whose life is hectic and fruitless. It recalls the night he met at his door a young couple and had no room for them, except his own bed, which was his. It recounts the yearning for peace and solitude, interrupted by the distant sound of a baby crying. It gives me chills.

It is my life.

A reading of the Gospels may leave us with the impression that we are given little to no information about the Innkeeper in Bethlehem, but I am of the opinion that each of us actually knows the Innkeeper rather intimately and personally. His habits are our habits and his ways are our ways -- because he's us.

Think about it. The God of ages, the God of Israel, the Messiah promised of old, has come to the earth in the flesh! And he is turned away. We have no place for him, in our societies nor in our lives. The best we can offer is a barn in a cave, and we actually think this is an acceptable substitute for room and board. OurDivine  Spouse comes to meet us, and we can't even let him into our beds, let alone our homes. Instead, he finds his repose in the manger where we feed our animals.

Our Savior comes to us in the ultimate gift of generosity, and finds himself wrapped in rags in a barn on a cold, bitter night, while we sleep as soundly as our fears will allow in a world we still surrender to the reign of our anxieties.

I wish I could slow down, but would I? Will I? I have time for Jesus. I just don't use it for Jesus. I have a place for him to stay. I just don't let him stay there.

The Church offers Mass everyday, sometimes multiple times a day depending on the parish. I have access to the sacraments whenever I'm willing to make an appointment. I have several Rosaries. I have prayer cards. I have a Bible.

It's as if the Church comes to my door, ready to give birth to all I've ever wanted and needed, and I turn her away because I don't have room in my schedule.

I wish I could slow down. But the only one between me and my wish is me.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


This is my first Christmas "by myself," by which I mean that it is my first Christmas that I won't be living with my parents. I live in the basement of a home I share with two other people, and I've strung lights across the ceiling, hung stockings above the heater, and smothered a tiny little Christmas tree with what one might consider "too many" or "not enough" ornaments, depending on if they agree with me or if they're wrong (you can never have too many ornaments).

For the first time ever, I got to put together my own Advent wreath. It's simple, the way I like things to be. Next to it sits a small statue of the Holy Family, and next to them, a wooden plaque which reads "Simplify Christmas, Celebrate Christ" sits atop a 200-year-old Bible I was gifted by a friend.

Since I put the Advent wreath together myself for the first time this year, it uses five new candles. I've been rotating which purple ones get lit to conserve them, but as of yet the pink and white candles have never been lit.

Today as I was lighting two purple candles for the Second Sunday of Advent, I felt an urge to light all the candles to see what it will look like. That urge was quickly smothered, though, by the desire to wait. Anticipation is what Advent is about, and I'll let my anticipation for seeing my wreath in its simple glory remind me of that.

In the moments during which I stood and thought about this as I watched the two tiny fires burn, I recalled that my mere weeks of waiting to light a few candles are hardly even a shadow next to the thousands of years during which mankind awaited the Messiah. I read recently that each Advent candle represents a one thousand year period in the story of the chosen people in the Old Testament -- from Adam and Eve to Abraham and to David and beyond. If you need something to give you pause next time you light an Advent candles, think about that!

This anticipation for them was not so simple as mine, as I stood waiting for weeks to pass to light a candle or two. These centuries for the people of YHWH were inundated with strife and suffering: cast out from Eden, enslaved in Egypt, exiled in Babylon. These years were wrought with murder, adultery, rape, slavery, war, and jealousy. They faced natural disasters, famines, culturally accepted violence, and racism. We must never take for granted the "darkness" referred to in the prophetic hope of Isaiah towards the Christmas we now celebrate: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light."

Though the Scriptures tell the tales of Israel's repeated infidelity, the people of God in the Old Testament staked their identity on their covenant with God, and placed their hope in his promises. These were a people hopeful for the future of their children and their children's children, whose hope was inherited from their ancestors who took it from their ancestors. This was not a person waiting to light a candle; this was a collective people spanning thousands of years waiting for light to come into their world.

I think back on these people and wonder what their lives looked like, what they prayed for, how they prayed. The stories we hear in the Bible are often extraordinary, but sometimes they are ordinary. These were people who awoke every morning and endeavored to provide for their families and drank water and had dirty feet and sweaty faces. People with babies and children and grandchildren and grandparents and cousins and friends and neighbors. For all the times their stories were penetrated by the fire of God, their lives remained ordinary. For thousands of years. Just like ours do.

And we're waiting, too, aren't we? The centuries since Christ's Ascension are wrought with murder, adultery, rape, slavery, war, and jealousy. We face natural disasters, famines, culturally accepted violence, and racism. Advent is for us, too. Just as the people of God in ancient times forgot their covenant and replaced it with other gods and other worldly things and pagan rituals, we, too, forget our covenant with God and replace him with new gods and new things and distracting habits.

For all the times our world has been penetrated by the fire of God, our lives remain abundantly ordinary. We are tired, we're stressed, and we're ready for a Savior.

May Advent renew our hope that he is coming.

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices."

Sunday, November 29, 2015


"O, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."
Bethlehem was small. In spite of being both the birth place of King David and the place he was crowned king, its status among the surrounding clans of Judah was apparently rather insignificant. The prophet Micah foretold to Bethlehem, however, that in spite of its littleness, it would be the place from which an everlasting king for God would come.

Bethlehem as a city still exists today. But when I think of Bethlehem, likely because I am influenced by the Bible stories I've read and the songs I've heard, I think of a quiet, simple, dusty town -- jaded, yearning, and restless. I think of figures such as the innkeeper and David's family, who lived there -- simple people belonging to a simple time and a simple town.

But, whatever we think about Bethlehem -- whatever we project onto it from our interpretations of Scripture and Christmas carols -- whether we think it was truly dreamless, quiet, darkened, still -- we know of one thing for certain:

Bethlehem hadn't the slightest idea about what was going on inside its own walls.

And so, when I think of Bethlehem, I think of myself. Occupied and busy with the mundane things of life which suck my soul dry and leave me stubborn and selfish and starved. I hear the Christmas carol that tells the story of Bethlehem and its deep and dreamless sleep and I hear the story of my life, with the exception that I am hardly ever still and have trouble sleeping. I have strange and vivid dreams at night, but when I'm awake I don't think much about the future because it stresses me out. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I have no dreams, and what dreams I do have, I keep to myself for fear of exposing them to the hostile world around me.

And yet, even in the monotony of daily living, when I'm distracted by myself or my work, when I'm not paying attention, and when I've shut the world out from my eyes closed tight, Jesus comes to me here. Even if at first I don't recognize him and tell him I don't have a place for him, Jesus comes to me here. Even if all I have to offer him is scraps and straw and the bitter cold of a winter night, Jesus comes to meet me here. All my hopes and all my fears are met in this tiny, fragile baby -- and especially, in a tiny, fragile host. "Bethlehem" means "house of bread," and the Eucharist which first took his place in a tabernacle of hay and rags now takes his place in my life by the kiss of the Holy Mass.

And even when I miss him, even when I'm not paying attention, even when I reject him, Jesus is working for me in my life. He is quiet and slow and patient, not wanting to disturb me or what I consider more important than him in a given moment. But even while he is not waking me from my distraction or shaking me from my selfishness, the impact of his simple presence in my life is dramatically reshaping my entire destiny -- just as he changed the whole world that first Christmas in Bethlehem.

This God who went from riches to rags by a deliberate act of the will condescends to find a bed made for him in a feed trough by his impoverished mother and her betrothed; she wraps him in rags and holds him tight against her own shivering humanity. He is greeted by shepherds straight from the field, with dirty hands and faces, with their animals in tow. He is guarded by a carpenter, a man who only days before packed up the family God commanded him to take for himself and traveled to this Bethlehem, where he found no place to house his family besides a stable in a cave.

Surrounded by all this -- by animals and their feces and dust and straw and wood and rock and rags and the cold and the stench and the strangers -- this baby changes the world. He emerges from the womb and for the first time God is naked and cold and vulnerable. He opens his eyes and for the first time God's gaze is met by the gaze of a human. He cries and for the first time God's voice pierces the ears of those unprepared to hear. His mother feeds him and for the first time we see God dependent on a human being for sustenance. The Unmoved Mover squirms. The Uncaused Cause is born.

This Christ, this anointed of God, is greeted by angels' songs in a town that doesn't notice. In this sleeping town, God takes hold of the world in order to conquer it, with ten little fingers and ten little toes. Years will pass before this baby becomes a man strong enough to carry the cross, and with it the weight of the world's sin. In the meantime, the uncreated Son of God rests in the arms of his mother. And for the first time, God is rocked to sleep.

"How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given as God imparts to human hearts the blessings of all his heavens. No ear can hears his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Hope of the Cross

The only thing that has ever helped me make sense of suffering and tragedy is the image of Christ crucified.

There is something in the idea that stops the proverbial bleeding in my heart when I consider that God condescended to wear our suffering and death so close to his heart that his heart burst. And it is from his open heart that blood and water gushed -- the life of God poured out on the dirt and sin and agony of all the world.

From the cross, Jesus drank bitterness. From the cross, Jesus' sweat and blood soaked his nearly shredded flesh. From the cross, Jesus felt within his being the agony of being apart from God, so deeply that it brought him to cry out in yearning and questioning.

"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" I've said it so many times in my life. I've said it about myself and about others whose suffering I can't myself process.

But there is an odd comfort in knowing that Jesus himself said it for me. What he felt from the cross was the weight of my death, and what he cried from the cross was the cry of my heart.

It is almost an unspoken intercourse between the Creator and his creation. God saw the depths of our sorrow and desperation, and elected that he would not see us suffer for no reason, even though the death and sadness which entered the world were through sin and not through his decision. He determined that he would bring us, as he intended from our creation, to the heights of his glory, his joy, his goodness, and his beauty.

But he knew that in order for us to share in his majesty, he would himself have to share in our agony.

The cross is where our misery collides with God's mercy. The cross is the mark on our infinite plains of suffering where God has set himself as a sign of hope and resurrection.

We can try to process our suffering apart from it, to move forward away from it, but if that were possible -- truly possible -- God would not have had to die.

My hope is founded in Christ alone, because of his cross. And because of his resurrection, I can know that even death and suffering will not have the final say.

Friday, November 6, 2015


It is difficult to explain the experience of a High Mass prayed in an old church with ceilings stretching toward heaven and walls lined with reminders of the beauty and richness of our faith. It is especially difficult to explain it as a relatively new experience -- as one I'm not yet quite familiar with, having only been twice to a High Mass, one of those times being an especially confusing Palm Sunday service.

For starters, I don't know any Latin. Well, I know a little. By which I mean that I know enough to chant myself through the Tantum Ergo and remember vaguely what each line means. But as far as Latin Masses go, I'm lost, even with the aid of the booklets provided. Additionally, I'm unfamiliar with this form of the Mass; I can attend a Novus Ordo in any language and know what's going on, but at a Latin High Mass, my guess is as good as the guess of a random passerby on the sidewalk outside.

But nonetheless, the experience is one of a deep and reverent pause. Time taken away from the ways of the world and given to something greater than myself; something perhaps confusing, even frustrating, but invigorating all the same.

The exact details of the High Mass are all but foreign to me, but the feelings of uncertainty and frustration in prayer are two things I am fluent in. Just as the high ceilings stretched toward heaven can't help but retain and send back the chants and prayers as echoes against the great stone walls, the heights of my stone heart -- and thus, my prayers -- can only reach so far. My existence is a cracked, old, dusty piece of human desperation; every act of praise and lamentation extends only so far as the steeple of my mind, caught up and trapped in the great hollow ceiling of my thoughts. The walls of my body are covered with scars reminiscent of the Way of the Cross, and the Saints who assist me on my journey take their stationary places inside my world where they keep idle watch over my soul.

I sit and hunger and listen and yearn and close my eyes and try to focus on the things I can't interpret anyway.

And He sings over me. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Just as the priest offers prayers for my soul before the tabernacle in a language I don't know, in a quiet voice which I can't quite hear, God in heaven sings a song especially for love of me. Where my praises are trapped and my heart is stoic and my life and faith a mystery to those outside my walls, God's song for me finds flesh in a tiny wafer of bread; what I try to complicate, God has made simple.

The Catechism says that "Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely." (CCC 102) How true this is, also, of the Mass. This one Word, this singular Utterance of the Father -- Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate -- is himself a language I have yet to understand, but the effectiveness of his grace does not depend on any of my capacities. It depends only on him and his being sung, taking his place in the heart of my heart and resounding through the echo chambers of my failing human condition.

My silent shouts are met here with the eternal whisper which shaped the cosmos. I am made whole without knowing it; new without feeling it. God takes his repose in the uncertain chaos of my being.

And here he remains, singing his inaudible song, echoing silently against the limits I place and the walls I build, proclaiming peace to a heart which only speaks unrest.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Little Saint of Great Mercy

Yesterday, I had the privilege of traveling to Belleville, IL where the remains of St. Maria Goretti were available for veneration at the Cathedral of St. Peter.

I took with me several rosaries I had collected from friends and family members who wanted them touched against Maria's casket, along with a rosary of my own. While in the very long line, my friend Dani bought me a copy of a photograph titled "The Mother and the Murderer" of Maria's mother and Allessandro Serenelli, who killed Maria. I touched the image to her casket as well.

Here's some background for you:

St. Maria Goretti was murdered at the age of 11 after resisting the attempt to rape her by her neighbor, 19-year-old Allessandro Serenelli.

Initially told, with a blade to her throat, that she would die if she resisted, upon refusing she was stabbed nine times and left to die, unconscious, on the kitchen floor of her parents' home. When she woke up, she managed to crawl across the floor to the door, which she opened to begin crying to the outside world for help. Unfortunately, Allessandro was the only person who heard her pleas, and he returned to stab her again an additional five times before returning to his own home.

When she was found, still alive, she was taken to the hospital where she underwent surgery in hope of saving her life, without any anesthetic. She offered the pain she experienced for the conversion of sinners, and when she was told she couldn't have any water because it would only leak out through her horrible deep wounds, she offered her thirst for sinners as well -- in remembrance of Jesus on the cross, who also was not permitted any water.

Her last words were, "I forgive Allessandro Serenelli, and I want him to be with me forever in heaven."

Serenelli was sentenced to 30 years in prison, where he spent many of his days, true to the patterns of many sex offenders, blaming Maria for everything that had happened, insisting that if she had only done as he told her, she'd be alive and he'd be free. While in prison, however, Serenelli experienced a profound and massive conversion to Christianity, which he entirely attributed, through his whole life, to a vision he had of Maria coming to him to give him a white lily for each time she was stabbed, eventually telling him she forgives him.

Allessandro was eventually released from prison, and returned to Maria's home to apologize and beg forgiveness from her mother. Maria's mother is said to have told him, "God forgives you, Maria forgave you, how can I not forgive you?" following which she embraced him and considered him like her own son.

The story of St. Maria Goretti is one which has touched millions. Though she is often painted as the poster-child of the struggle for purity, her veneration and Sainthood are due to her extraordinary act of forgiveness, the model of which inspired her mother and even her murderer for the rest of their lives. And if you ask me, it is entirely inappropriate to consider an 11 year old victim of attempted rape a model of purity, simply for the fact that had she given in, she would not have been guilty of impurity -- she would not have been guilty of anything, she would have been an 11 year old girl who had been the victim of the obscene and horrific crime of rape.

With all that said, I, too, find myself moved by Maria's story. I can't hide, however, that I find myself equally troubled by it. Though not a victim myself, several of my close friends are rape survivors, one of them when she was only nine years old. Some of them have forgiven their attackers, and some of them have not been able to. It is a situation which ought to evoke a deep and compassionate sympathy from everyone, as it is an assault which deeply wounds a person in a great number of ways and marks a certain change in the pattern of their lives, thoughts, self-image, and relationships.

And Maria's story is disturbing. She was, I can't say it enough, a child, attacked in her mother's kitchen with a blade to her throat and told if she didn't give in she would die. There is no doubt that it took extraordinary bravery to still refuse Serenelli's advances in the face of certain death, but even if she hadn't refused, she would not have been any less pure, any less a child, and would only be "less innocent" in the sense that her quiet childhood innocence would have been horribly violated in an irreparable fashion.

While I am surely touched by the story, I am also fascinated by it -- captivated by the forgiveness of her mother, who in my mind had to have been crazy; shocked at the piety and devotedness with which a murderer and sex offender could live out his life after prison, a man who in my mind is difficult to see as anything short of insane.

But perhaps that is why, in the midst of all this chaos, I am so touched by the example of this little girl, whose childlike grace afforded her the capacity to find it in her struggling heart to not only forgive her attacker but hope to spend an eternity with him in heaven.

I am taken aback by this marvel of compassion in the same way I am taken aback by the image of Christ beaten and bloody on the rocky ground, stripped naked, stretched across a cross, and crying out: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

Mercy in the face of sin is a comfort to me, and brings joy to my faith. But mercy in the face of tragedy is perplexing to me, challenging to me. It puts my faith through the fire and asks an uncomfortable question: does God command me to love and forgive even in instances such as these?

Intellectually, we all know the answer is a resounding yes. But in practice, in our heart of hearts, in our flesh and in our spirits, it is an undeniably difficult matter, and an unavoidably difficult question.

St. Maria Goretti, pray for us, especially that we may be even more deeply inspired by your model of forgiveness, which the Church sees fit to venerate for the inspiration and compassion it will evoke, if we allow our inner selves to struggle against the invisible God and eventually find that he, and his ways, are grace.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Woman's Worth Does Not Depend On Her Virtue

I'm sure you're familiar with the creation story: God made the light and the dark, God made the earth and the sky, God made animals and man, and then God made woman. John Paul II stressed that God created mankind as "the crown of creation," being that we were created in the image and likeness of the Triune God who created us for the sake of loving us. (Dies Domini, #11) This nature of our being, the Imago Dei or the "image of God," is the source of our great and irrevocable dignity as human beings, a dignity we share and enjoy equally as men and women. It is this very dignity which compels God to look at all creation which he deemed "good" and distinguish man and woman as "very good."

This dignity, which is intrinsic and immutable, remains with us from the moment of our creation at conception and forever into eternity. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and we do not cease being made in his image when we fail to live up to the degree of dignity we each inherently possess. Our dignity, though perhaps more difficult to observe and realize, remains with us even after the Fall, even when we sin, and even when we are humiliated or behave in ways inappropriate for God's children. It remains with us as the eternal character of our identity, precisely because God's love and desire for us remain with us eternally. In fewer words, our dignity is irrevocable because the love of God for us is irrevocable.

This simple reality is why it is not only incorrect, but damn near repugnant, to base a woman's worth on her practice of virtue. Now, it would require turning a blind eye to state that men and women deal equally with the issue of purity being preached to them, or are equally criticized for their manner of dress or the length of their clothes. And, in fairness, it would require an astounding amount of ignorance to claim that men dress immodestly as often as women. However, while this may be justification for discerning methods of promoting reverence for the body in a way specific to women, it is far from justification for diminishing or devaluing the irrevocable Imago Dei present to us in each woman.

It seems to be a subtle inclination more than an outward claim: that women and their worth as persons or as partners are inherently linked to their manner of dress or the manner in which they conduct themselves. Concepts such as purity and modesty are not merely more frequently addressed to women, they are increasingly considered women's issues. The distinction, at face value, may seem arbitrary and irrelevant; however, when purity and modesty are isolated as feminine virtues in our minds we can be certain we have lost a deep and necessary respect for purity, modesty, and women.

Of course, there are those who will say that purity and modesty are not strictly feminine virtues, and they are correct. These virtues extend to men and women as demands on our dignity. What I'm referring to is a particular attitude towards women which seems to permeate what I lovingly refer to as "the modern modesty movement." (I know, I am so clever, with muh creative alliteration.) I sincerely doubt that most people who promote this perspective realize they are doing it, let alone do it to be simply malicious. However, this does not free us from the burden of bringing our understanding of human dignity and women to a higher and more virtuous degree in light of the understanding of the Imago Dei we have as the Church of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate as Man.

So, what exactly is this attitude I'm talking about? Well, it's difficult to pin down. As I said, it is more of a subtle inclination -- an implication of a woman's worth being based on her virtue -- than an outright claim most of the time. Some examples which come readily to my mind, though, are two particular concepts I encountered as a teenager: the "pie theory" and the "rose theory" (which I have cleverly named myself!).

The "pie theory," a straightforward name probably granted it by someone incredibly stunning and wise, states very basically that premarital sex/dressing immodestly are akin to having a whole pie (yourself) and giving pieces away to random passersby. So the story goes, by the time you're married and have found the perfect husband to whom to give your pie (I am aware, as you may be, of the unintentional 21st-century eroticism contained in the word "pie," but let's move on), there remains either only one or two pieces, perhaps half the pie, or maybe even some crumbs. Hubby dearest, naturally, is extremely disappointed, and obviously very hurt, because he was hungry and you gave his pie away.

The "rose theory" is one I remember quite vividly from an experience at the women's session during one of my Steubenville retreats centuries ago when I was like 15. I am still unable to put a name to exactly what it was I felt at the time, but it was not a resounding sense of agreement. The speaker took a girl on stage and gave her a rose, then proceeded to name off sins against chastity and modesty after each of which she would pluck a petal off of the rose and toss it carelessly to the ground. This was supposed to be some sort of metaphor for the gift of ourselves; someday a man will come along who will want you to give him your rose and you'll only have a stem left, if not a hideous and tattered three-petaled rose. How sad.

Though I never experienced it, another "theory" I've heard described to me involves chewing bubblegum. It's really pretty direct: no one wants a piece of bubblegum someone else has already chewed.

The obvious implication in ideas such as these is that a woman's worth -- her value, her dignity -- are based on her choices in life. Whether she has remained chaste, whether she dresses appropriately, and especially how many partners she's had along the way. The extreme flaws in these metaphors, however, are not only miscommunications on the part of a woman's worth, they are damaging. To tell a woman that her value is both directly linked to how much a man is pleased with her and how virtuous her life has been up to this point, diminishes the great gift she is in and of herself and disregards the face of God present in her very being.

As stated above, the innate dignity of a woman is in her being created in the image of God. This is an immutable reality which cannot be taken away, no matter how many pieces of pie or rose petals find themselves somehow separated from her. Because all people bear the image of God in their very being, a prostitute is equal in dignity to a consecrated religious; a porn star equal in dignity to a virgin on her wedding night. (see the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #144)

So, why do attempts to teach purity and modesty to young women so typically hinge on their value to men as women? The answer, I think, is very simple: human beings have a desire to be pleasing to an "other," and in our current society (and societies of the past) young women are known to stake a great measure of their dignity and value as persons on whether a man finds them desirable or worth fighting for. This desire is incredibly easy to exploit: we see it everywhere, from clothing commercials, to makeup commercials, to the covers of magazines, and even in the super-fun sleepover quizzes found in preteen magazines.

That we, the church, have taken to similar methods to get young women to "buy our product" (which, in this case, is the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ) is deplorable. The inexhaustible treasury of the Church contains within itself all the grace and mercy needed to calm and quiet the human spirit's aching and yearning for affirmation and love, and we resort to pies and roses.

Why not just Jesus? It is Jesus --  not pies, not roses, and not bubblegum -- who reveals to man and woman their powerful dignity as beings created in the image of God. The human desire to be desired and wanted and loved and valued is offered total satisfaction in the heart of Jesus, who looks on human beings with "a gaze of joyous delight. This is a "contemplative" gaze which does not look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already been achieved." (Dies Domini, #11) The "achievement" spoken of here is not a human achievement, but the achievement of God, who created man and woman in his own image, and delights in that simple fact. When Jesus adores us, he adores us for who we are: his beloved.

Women are created in the image of God, the same God who created us for the simple sake of loving us. This dignity granted us is not something that changes over time, or something that can be traded off or given away or cut to pieces or torn to shreds. This dignity is permanent, the very character of our existence. Our value as women is eternal,. and no measure is appropriate by which to account for our worth apart from the love of Jesus who willingly suffered and died to redeem us and draw us to himself.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pope Francis is in D.C. and I'm sitting in my kitchen eating bagels

I love to travel, and Washington, D.C. is by far my favorite place in the world. I would live there if I could, but right now, I can't. I love the history, I love the buildings, I love the sites, and I love marching arm in arm with my friends and fellow activists on the mall every January for the rights of the preborn. I would be there all the time if I could be, but I can't.

And that's why I'm sitting in my kitchen eating bagels and screwing around on Facebook.

I'm on the verge of tears, partly because I'm so upset I'm missing such a historic and monumental moment in the U.S. today with the visit of Pope Francis to personally address our nation's leaders, and partly because I'm so moved that he even deigned to come to visit. His words are powerful and each further word I read has me choking back admiration and awe.

I'm sad that I can't be in D.C. or Philly (a beautiful city I also love -- especially for its wide availability of food truck cheesesteaks), and I'm sad that while my Holy Father is in my home, so to speak, I'm a few minutes away from getting ready to go to work, after which I'll do homework, after which I'll go to bed and cuddle with my cat. The pope is in my country, and I'm at home in my pajamas.

But, I think that's more than okay. I think, more than the pope would like to see me show up at literally everything he appears at to take pictures and shriek "I love you!" louder than I did at the Fall Out Boy concert I was at last year, he would want me to wake up, run errands, go to work, come home, do homework, and go to bed -- he'd probably even like for me to cuddle with my cat.

The pope isn't just here to speak in D.C. -- he's here for the World Meeting of Families, and I have a family. I have a household. I live with my cousin and my sister and two cats and a dog. And God is here in the midst of it. My mom is texting me right now, and God is there, too. God is at work waiting for me to show up and do what needs to be done today, and waiting for me in the fellowship of my coworkers. God is waiting for me to get home so I can do homework while he listens to me complain about it. God is waiting for me to go to bed and cuddle my cat so I can talk to him about my day -- which I'll consider very mundane and he'll consider very extraordinary. And I'll wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.

And that's good. That's holy.

I think.

As disappointing as it feels, I don't need to travel to Washington, D.C. and see the pope in order to witness the work of Jesus in my life or in my country. Because the truth is, Jesus is in my life and in my country as much as I allow him to be. It would be awesome to see the Vicar of Christ on earth doing what he does this week, but I don't lack anything for not being there. Because I have Christ himself, here with me, doing what he does this week and every week: loving me as much as I'll let him.

And now I'm going to get ready for work.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hero Paul Gosar Stands Up To Radical Liberal Stereotype PosterBoy "Pope" Francis

Today, Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona stood atop the hill of social media with an eagle on his arm and a tear in his eye as he announced to the world that he will be bravely boycotting the Papal visit to the U.S. later this month, giving the following reason: Pope Francis apparently plans to only talk about climate change, rather than addressing the issue of abortion or the ongoing Christian massacre in the Middle East.

Amid uproarious applause for the representative, "Pope" Francis, whose technical authority is ambiguous at best in a world where we have Fox News and politicians to tell us what it means to be a Catholic, snidely snarled, flipped his bangs out of his face, and went back to downvoting pro-life posts on Reddit.

Francis, who just yesterday dyed his hair purple and had the sides of his head shaved to better match his new lavender "This Is What A Feminist Who Loves Abortion And Hates Christians Looks Like" t-shirt has, to date, never ever ever ever ever said anything condemning abortion or urging a response to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Ever. Except maybe a few times.

But those times don't matter! Because several unnamed media outlets on some unnamed authority have declared that "Pope" Francis only cares about climate change.

"If we don't do something about climate change," said the "Pope" recently, "The atmosphere won't be appropriate enough for kale to grow. THEN what am I supposed to buy at Whole Foods to carry out in my reusable bags to my Prius?!"

Horrible. What a filthy caricature of liberal media propaganda THIS pope is.

Thankfully, Representative Paul Gosar is standing up to this hippie liberal "pope" who thinks we should care about the earth and also hates babies. Can anyone possibly deny the #bravery?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Things Some Christians of the Internet Still Think About Homosexuality (Alternatively Titled: The Time I Accidentally All The Comments On A Facebook Post)

Oh boy.

A few days ago, I stumbled across a picture in my News Feed posted on the public page of a certain Catholic figure I won't name, because you either already know who it is or you don't and either way it doesn't matter.

The picture was a celebration* of "Straight Pride," dolled up with the following: "It's natural, it's worked for thousands of years, and you can make babies." (*"celebration" is a word I use loosely here because I really don't think it's a celebration, rather a passive-aggressive tongue-in-cheek method of making a statement, but I digress)

Now, let me give you a little background here. "Straight pride" isn't some new concept to me, or something I've never heard before. I've heard it, or at least, the notion of it described, easily a hundred times in my life, and each time was as annoying as the rest.

It's annoying for a number of reasons, but the comment I left on this particular post was, I think, pretty straightforward:

"Respectfully, I am not sure if this is in good taste. I understand the point, but I think it easily and bitterly comes across as "we're better than you" and does nothing for the service of the Gospel.

Also, let's not forget that Jesus does not call us to be heterosexual, but to be faithful. I am not sure what the notion of "straight pride" does besides usurp language in order to repurpose it for distance and exclusion.

I am also concerned that it may fly in the face of many couples struggling to conceive.

So, I guess, all in all, I'm not entirely sure what purpose this is going to serve, except to perhaps make people feel isolated or further justified in their anger."

I wasn't hoping to ignite the ensuing debate. I wasn't hoping for 500+ likes. I wasn't trying to make a scene. That was an accident.

I simply wanted to explain my concern, and noticed that the particular person in question did not have a messaging feature on his page, and so, I expressed my concern in a comment.

And so began the apocalypse. Or something. Which brought us here:

Things Some Christians On The Internet Still Think About Homosexuality

(1) That homosexuality is a choice
I was, honestly, surprised how many respondents to my comment were convinced that this is reality. I like to pretend we no longer live in a world where this archaic and blatantly unfounded notion exists, but every now and then it pops up and slaps me in the face.

I am not sure why people insist this must be so. I am not sure what about their faith it upsets to consider that homosexuality is simply a condition some people find themselves in. I am not sure what prompts them to somehow twist the Bible to back their position (hint: this never works).

All I know is that this idea is not only wrong, its continuation is hurtful. We live in a time when some parents are forsaking  their own children for the simple fact that they are attracted to members of the same sex; during a time when some young people feel isolated and struggle with a deep internal conflict as they wrestle with their own homosexuality; and unfortunately, during a time when some turn to suicide or otherwise destructive behaviors to help numb the pain of feeling so different and unwanted.

The sooner Christ's followers can admit that no one would choose a life like that, the better. Fortunately, also in today's world, many people with same-sex attractions are finding that their parents accept and love them regardless, probably because they understand that attraction is not something a person can control or choose.

(2) That Jesus wants gay people to become straight
This seemed to be the predominant response disagreeing with my comment. Many took note of my statement that "Jesus does not call us to be heterosexual, but to be faithful."

I was told by at least two commenters that my attraction to women would go away if I simply read the Bible hard enough. Unfortunately, there are people with same-sex attractions in existence today who believe this. And they try it. And when they fail to find relief from their attractions, they feel hopeless and alone. Some of them feel worthless. Some feel that God has abandoned them. These experiences do not seem to matter to people who wish to use their false interpretations of the Bible as blinders behind which to hide from real people in the real world.

Several people noted that God commands us to "be fruitful and multiply." On this note, I agree. There seemed to be some confusion; I never once endorsed same-sex relationships. In fact, in the replies which followed my comment, I repeatedly stated that same-sex romantic relationships are sinful and I do not agree with them. However, this did not seem to be enough. Certain respondents will simply not be satisfied until every homosexual has not only placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ and become a faithful servant of him, but, in addition, reproduced. Why they wish to apply this verse to homosexuals and not other people who are for whatever reason unmarried, lifelong celibates is beyond me.

Most confusing to me, I was told by at least one person that I am living a lifestyle God abhors simply because I wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, do homework, read a book, and go to bed, all the while finding myself attracted to women rather than men (and so probably going to hell). The attraction itself, according to an argument he refused to disavow, was an abomination and a lifestyle I am choosing, definitely associated with some degree of sexual deviancy. Which leads us to...

(3) That literally every person attracted to members of the same sex is a sexual deviant in deep need of repenting for the shameful sin of experiencing attractions.
It didn't seem to matter how many times I or others explained that simply being attracted to members of the same sex does not necessarily mean one acts on their accompanying desires. Nope -- EVERY homosexual, apparently, is guilty of being a super perverted megasinner.

I am not sure why. I personally could not follow the train of thought. It made no sense. I wish I could explain it to give a fair presentation of the view. But I can't. It made no sense.

(4) That being attracted to members of the same sex is a sin
This is the one I found most troubling. What terrible state is the Church in America in when so many Christians are so poorly schooled in basic Christian theology that they cannot conceive the difference between passive experiences and acts of the will?

Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a passive experience. Being attracted to someone is something that happens to us. Acting on that attraction is something we do. The difference is important, not only as it regards homosexuality, but the whole of the Christian life.

A few further comments
As Christians, we must stand firm in our belief in the sanctity of marriage as God intended it to be, and I am not saying we shouldn't. God created marriage to be between one man and one woman -- in fact, he created our sexual difference as men and women for the purpose of giving us the gift of marriage. His intention behind marriage was to give us an image of the Trinity, and of Christ and the Church. We are created in the image of a Trinitarian God who is Love, and called to imitate a God who gives himself up to create new life in us, and in marriage, two unique persons come together in such a way that their love ignites ecstasy, embodies unity, and speaks a life-giving language, imitating God.

It is for this reason that homosexuality is regarded by the Church as "disordered." This is not the same as saying it is disgusting or embarrassing or something to be ashamed of. Very bluntly, it simply means it falls outside of the order -- in this case, of the order of our sexuality. God created men and women to 'fit together,' if you catch my drift, and that is simply how God chose to order our sexuality.

To find ourselves outside of this order is not some heinous crime, however. It is, in fact, only one among millions upon millions upon millions of manifestations of disorder. Every single person experiences some variation of disorder. We are fallen people, all of us, regardless of who we are attracted to.

However, none of this does away with the struggle and isolation many homosexual persons experience as a result of these teachings. We must always remember to be kind and generous and loving. We must always remember to be patient with one another, and bear one another in love. One of the most important aspects of these virtues is listening, and trying to understand. Ask people questions. Try to see where they're coming from. Please.

Because, I guarantee, telling someone they chose something they know thy didn't choose, and that they're displeasing to God and going to hell for it, is not doing service to the Gospel.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I just watched Colbert interview Joe Biden and I am horrified

Ever since Stephen Colbert interviewed Vice President Joe Biden last week, my boyfriend has been telling me to watch the interview on YouTube. And I've been meaning to, but I've been busy.

I finally watched it today, and I was horrified. I am horrified.

Colbert asked Vice President Biden hard questions about his recently deceased son, about his faith, and about staying hopeful in the face of tragedy. The Vice President serenely shared stories of his son, explaining that he was a better man than he is, and spoke of how he has such a great support from his family. He spoke of his faith as an essential element of his life, how he prays the Rosary, goes to Mass, and, though he struggles at times to hold on to it when life is hard, he treasures his religion deeply.

And I am horrified. I am horrified at myself for how many times I have judged this man. I am horrified at how many of those times I've felt I was in the right to do so.

I am sure we have all heard what a bad Catholic Joe Biden is as a result of his being pro-choice and supportive of same-sex marriage. And we could talk about what the Church expects of public officials as it regards these particulars.

Or we could talk about my sin. Or yours. The reasons I'm a bad Catholic, or perhaps the reasons you might be. Or, you know, maybe not.

Often when celebrities have their dirty laundry brought out and hammered against the loft of mainstream media for all to see, somewhere inside I am thankful that my sins are not known to the public; I sympathize. But I can't recall a time I've extended that mercy to Joe Biden. And shame on me for that.

Shame on me because while he may sidestep the non-negotiable instruction of the Church, he holds the faith of the Church very dear to his heart. I've been there. I am there, often -- I need a Savior because I'm imperfect, because of how routinely I choose the world over Jesus. So Joe Biden's love for Jesus and His Mother finds itself in conflict with other beliefs he holds; that doesn't make him different from me. If anything, it makes him more like me; I often remind myself of St. Paul, and not the glorious, wonderful St. Paul, rather, the 'why do I do what I don't want to do?' St. Paul. I sin. Joe Biden sins. And our Mother the Church is equally concerned for the both of us.

We're all trying to figure this world out, and we're all stretching for the hand simultaneously nailed to a cross for us and extended in love and hope to us. There is no great chasm between Joe Biden and myself. There is, rather, a chasm between my sinfulness and God's glory; and the Vice President finds himself there with me, not apart from me, or below me.

He and I are both travelers on a journey through a scattered and fallen world. And, sure, maybe he is a bad Catholic. But how dare I ever speak of him as if he is a bad Catholic compared to me. God help me.

I appreciate Stephen Colbert's interview with Vice President Biden, and while I would never vote for the man for a multitude of reasons, I am desperately thankful for the humanity I witnessed in a simple recording of a simple late night interview. He is humble, generous with praise, and willing to admit he doesn't have it all together. In at very least those three respects, he is a better Catholic, and better person, than I.

But, I don't think he would think so. As he said in the interview, quoting a lesson his mother strived to teach him: "No one is better than you; but you're better than no one."

Monday, September 7, 2015

In Defense of Extravagant Liturgy

I would not consider myself a radical traditionalist. I am an avid fan of Vatican II, Pope Francis, and, quite honestly, 'the Francis effect.' I would, also, not call myself a traditionalist, because doing so might offend my traditionalist friends who so devoutly and admirably attend with great zeal the extraordinary form of the Mass to receive Communion on the tongue while kneeling. I think these are beautiful gestures, and that this devotion is particularly beautiful and rich with grace and love for God and fervor for His Church. I am simply content not veiling while attending the Novus Ordo form of the Mass to receive Communion in the hand (for reasons related to my anxiety -- I understand that even the Church would prefer I receive on the tongue, and I would if it were not for my anxious sensibilities). I am not a traditionalist, to the understandable dismay of many.

That said, I must with great urgency admit that something is severely lacking in contemporary churches.

I love visiting beautiful, old Catholic Churches. I especially love visiting cathedrals. They tend to be incredibly ornate, which is a special treat in the 21st century post-70's-church-building era. In fact, very recently my boyfriend and I found ourselves on an adventure in the countryside, and the only thing which kept us from breaking into a closed down old Catholic Church was the fact that my conscience would not allow me to break into God's house, even if at present it is more of a retirement home for Him. We peered through the windows into an exquisite temple, though the outside appeared a very simple white-painted dusty country chapel. It was small, but extraordinary -- the stained glass windows, the elegance of the architecture, even down to the plain wooden pews. Everything in this building was obviously something turned toward the glory of God -- even though everything was simple.

And that's the thing: even simple can glorify God. But simple does not mean mediocre.

Take a trip with me, if you will, to the Old Testament. Specifically, the time of Solomon, whom God ordered to build a Temple for His honor. God gave instructions for the construction of the Temple, and Solomon built it accordingly. Solomon decorated the interior of the sanctuary with gold, gold, and more gold; with huge (15 feet tall) statues of cherubim, also covered in gold; with massive doors and tall windows; with beautiful walls and even beautiful floors. (1 Kings 6)

No one who entered would think this a mediocre place with mediocre purpose. Everyone would be struck with awe. This place was extraordinary. It was the house of God, and there were no doubts about the worthiness of God for all attempts at splendor.

This is not to say that God requires complicated, necessarily expensive homage. But His house should be beautiful.

His Temple was beautiful because people had reverence for the presence of God. And, as Catholics, as "completed Jews," so to speak, I very firmly believe our churches should be beautiful, too. And I want to be clear: simple can be beautiful. Remember the simple white country chapel from earlier? There was nary an icon, but simply the visual of the interior design drew the heart to something greater than the mediocrity of life, something more beautiful than the world in which we find ourselves.

The local Newman Center in my city has a beautiful chapel; its walls are plain white, yet lined with reminders of Whose house we find ourselves in. There are no attempts to modernize the Gospel. The focus is God.

And I think that might be something that's missing in several contemporary churches. And this is not restricted to the visual aspects of the church; it extends even moreso to the attitude of the liturgy. I have attended reverent liturgies in the middle of the woods, and I have attended confusing and distracted liturgies in beautiful cathedrals.

Perhaps we have forgotten, in our attempts to make the liturgy more welcoming and human (both of which are very good things!), what the liturgy -- rather, Who the liturgy -- is about.

Sacrosanctum Concilium puts it this way:

"Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs; in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members.

From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree."

Because the liturgy is above and beyond the normal practice of life, shouldn't it follow that the way it happens, and our behavior within, go above and beyond what ordinary life demands?

As completed Jews, we no longer have the bread of the presence -- we have the presence of the Bread of God. The reverence shown by the Israelites for the Temple and the Presence therein should not diminish with us, but grow. Jesus, God Incarnate, dwells physically and spiritually in our midst. This should be the whole focus and goal of our churches and our behavior and attitudes within them.

I must add a note that there is a fair criticism to this line of thinking. If the Mass is truly about God, why am I so bothered by how it happens, or what liturgical abuses occur? And the answer is that I'm bothered because I'm weak. I'm human. I can't focus on God if the very place and event I'm attending isn't itself focussed on God. I try. And I try to remember it isn't about me.

But that is hard when everything around me is about me. What I can win in a raffle. What my community is proud of this week. And these aren't bad things. But they also aren't the focus of the liturgy.

Now, I don't want to step on any toes. If you are offended by something I've said here, please point out any flaw you perceive in my thought process. I'd love to talk about it, and if I need to be corrected, for the love of God (literally) please feel free.

But, all I'm saying is that God is beautiful, and His house and the manner of worship directed toward Him should be, too.