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.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Alternatively Titled: I Am the Literal Worst, but Jesus is the Literal Best)

I know several people who go to confession at least once a month. I know others who go once a week. I even know someone who goes semi-weekly.

When I learned this about each of them, I immediately felt inferior. Not because they said or did anything to make me feel inferior, but because I know them. I know they're good, holy people. I know they strive every moment of everyday to live for the Lord Jesus and the mental image I have of each of them is one of someone holy to the core.

And I am just the worst.

Granted, I also go to confession at least once a month. Sometimes, I go every week. And sometimes, I go more than once a week. But, and I'm sure if I asked my friends I mentioned above why they go so often, they might say the same thing: I don't go because I'm holy, I go because I'm a sinner.

I am an awkward person, and I have an anxiety disorder. I thrive in organized, categorized efficiency, but the awkwardness of confession usually throws me for a crazy turn. I tend to forget the formulas and proper rituals. I almost always forget to begin "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned." And I kick myself when I'm saying my penance after confession and realize I forgot to say I was sorry for all my sins.

But here lately, it's been really easy to remember to say how long it's been since my last confession.

Because I'm usually saying "My last confession was a week ago," or, once this month, "My last confession was four days ago." And I need the priest to know how much I am the worst.

Now, you may say, "Oh, it can't be that bad. Most people commit the same sins all the time, or whatever. You know? Like... Also, haven't you heard that old cliche? There's nothing you're going to tell a priest that he hasn't heard before? There's nothing you're going to say that's going to be the worst thing he's ever heard?"

But, allow me to extend a great big jolly "You're welcome!" to you all, dear readers, because I am that person. I am the person the priest has gawked at and said, "You did what? Could me what that means?" Because he had literally never heard it before and literally had no idea what the words coming out of my face meant. I am the person to whom the priest has said, "Come closer, I want you to hear this," as he leaned in closer before adding, "This is very, very bad. I want you to be aware of how particularly serious what you just confessed was." Two different times, with two different priests. I'm telling you; I am that person.

So, naturally, when I know my super holy friends go to confession so often, it makes me feel kind of small and stupid and horrible. Because, as a theology student, I know that the graces of confession are what help us become holy. They're probably so holy because they frequent the sacrament so often, not in spite of that fact. Meanwhile, I'm over here violently flopping all over the floor of Catholicism frustratedly trying to pull myself up to my feet and wipe the dirt off my face so Jesus won't be embarrassed.

You can understand why this might be intimidating.

BUT! I actually love going to confession. I've come a long, long way since those first few confessions several years ago when priests were probably scarred for life by my teenaged antics. I'm at that comfortable point in my life where, like every average Catholic, I'm just confessing the same things over and over again, while the priest nods and pretends it isn't totally frustrating to have me back, again, to say the same thing I said last time. I tell him I've been so angry. He nods. I tell him I've been so hateful in my heart. He nods. I tell him I've been gossipy and rude and downright malicious. I rattle off about how I'm impatient and stubborn and lazy and whatever else I've been since four days ago. He nods. He encourages me to pray for people instead of being mean. And then, every time, the most amazing thing happens.

It hits me, hard, every time I go to confession. The Gospel is preached privately, to me, personally, from the heart of Jesus Christ Himself through His minister the priest.

"God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins."

Whoa. That is, seriously, the entire Gospel. That is Genesis to Revelation. That is the epitome of the Church's teaching, study, and concern, for 2,000 years. That is the Gospel, and that is Jesus speaking those words through His priest. That is grace. That is what it means to be Catholic. That is what it means to be loved by God.

If you've been to confession lately, you've probably heard it. Maybe it registered with you, and maybe it didn't. It gets me every time, though, and the words alone are enough to flood my soul with peace. The first time I went to confession after coming back to the Church, and heard -- really heard -- those words for the first time since what seemed like forever before, I was overjoyed. I was also crying, because of that line in the standard Act of Contrition that finds its way into every confessional: "I have sinned against You whom I should love above all things." But, that's a whole different story. It was those words of that priest that day that shook me to the core. "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins."

And, as if that isn't amazing enough, it's followed up immediately with: "Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Sometimes, a priest will follow that much up with, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever. The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace."

This is such a personal, intimate sacrament of healing and embracing Jesus.

It is so difficult to explain to our Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic the joy and intimacy with Jesus that comes from confession. It is so difficult to explain to them that the priest is there because Jesus is there, and that Jesus is there because the priest is there. And it is impossible to truly put into words the overflow of grace which accompanies one as they leave the confessional.

If you haven't been to confession in a while, or if you just haven't been in four days, I highly encourage you to go tomorrow evening. Tomorrow is Saturday, and most parishes offer the sacrament of penance on Saturday evenings.

To find parishes and times for the sacrament near you, go to: