An Obsession with Papal Politics and the Cure

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

I see it often and in all circles inside and outside of the Church. In fact, it is a major part of what ails our culture. It is the total focus on now and an ignoring of the long view. Now is important. How we live our lives now, each day is the slow process of our sanctification, but when all decisions are made with the now in mind, there are disastrous results.

Catholics have always taken a long view and that is because we have an eschatological (theological word for last things) end in that we are to waiting to be re-united with Christ. We have a history of waiting. Our eyes should be firmly fixed on Heaven, while we walk our journey in “fear and trembling” by grace. We have a long history and the Church has survived against great odds that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

A lot of the battles the Church has within the culture have to do with a focus on what feels good now. Humanae Vitae was largely rejected at the time because people, clergy and laymen, could not see the long-term effects of birth control on demand that Pope Paul VI saw. They also ignored the long standing tradition on this topic and the fact that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from doctrinal error. Instead, what mattered is that the Sexual Revolution was happening the Church needed to get on board. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Church’s mission, which is the salvation of souls.

I see the same lack of understanding when it comes to Pope Francis. Truth be told magisterial authority is complex, so I see where some of the confusion comes from and since I am new to the theology of it all, I will wait until I am more adept before I explain it. What I can say is that celebrity Popes is a relatively new phenomenon that has gained traction due to technological advances. St. John Paul II had a dynamic personality and he used media to help bring down the Soviet Union. This served a great purpose. What we have now, however; is an almost obsession with the office of Pope. I have seen some people deny the last 2000 years of history claiming he is the greatest Pope we have ever seen and none of the others matter. Pope Francis would be quite upset to hear this, I am sure. I have seen others describe him as the worst Pope in history, as if a few of the nefarious individuals tied to the Borgias and other influential Italian families throughout history were nothing compared to our current Pope. Then there are people like me think he is a holy man who is leading the Church and I will submit to his authority in love and obedience. He is serving within the great tradition of the Church.

The point is that tunnel vision of history creates conflict and then we end up committing the same mistakes over and over again. Pope Francis, for instance, is not concerned about himself. He is trying to share the Good News with the world, which is a part of his office. As faithful Catholics, our obligation is to submit to his ordinary and, if used, extraordinary magisterial teaching authority. We do not have to love his personality, or agree with his tactics on everything, or how he phrases things off the cuff. The Pope is not God and a lot of Catholics need to be careful that they are not engaging in papal worship. I have seen a great many conversations that give me pause and cause me concern. I feel the same way about those folks who make their living attacking the Holy Father. Reality is somewhere in the middle, and anymore, that is where I try to stay planted because that is where the Church is planted.

What we should be doing is pointing to the Holy Father’s mission in light of the 2000 year history of the Church. He is the Vicar of Christ on earth following in St. Peter’s footsteps. He is showing others to Christ. We can use his words to share the Gospel with others. When we focus too much on him, the message gets blurred. And, quite frankly, we need to just ignore secular media reporting on him. A lot of people would have a lot less stress if they stopped trusting or reading secular news on the Church. It is impossible for people outside of the Church to understanding the workings of the Church. To them we are just another big institution with a charismatic man at the head. He is a politician in their eyes. They do not see that we are the communion of the Mystical Body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit is the life of the Church.

We are members of a living history. A history that has survived worse times than now. The Church has always been foreign in this Fallen world. She is the beacon of hope leading to the Holy Trinity and the world will hate and revile her for it. It is important that we live our lives today. We cannot turn our heads focusing on the past, but we can live out our shared and living history in order to focus on the goal, which is Heaven. We can use the vast knowledge and theological understanding given to the Church in order to evangelize the world. The truth of the Good News continues to deepen and grow in understanding through the living history of the Church.  The Church is more than now, she is the summation of what was, what is, and what will be.

I have found that those who are focused on papal politics or an obsession with pelvic issues are lacking in study of history. The Church has always been embroiled in battle, today just happens to be about sex, in the past it was Christology, Mariology, the concept of the Church, etc. Don’t get too caught up in it all. Yes, serve and fight the battles, but do so in trust of Christ and his working. I would say, from previous experience, make sure that you are waging a holy battle. Do not do so because of an impulse reaction of rage or anger. So much of social media is driven by impulse and anger. Pray, fast (I am still working on this), and live the Gospel.  Our high pitched yelling at others does nothing, but enliven the Enemy.  Share the truth, but be prepared for people to ignore it, and in those cases pray.  Share the Good News knowing that we will probably suffer, that is what Christ promised. Live the Gospel, in the end, that is all we can do. I hope your Lent is very blessed.

c35d3ac8762dc809edd4ae9d55413689

Cinderella: Christ and the Church in Art

54db6c5aabcd32906da3cf56_cinderella-disney-costume-vf

I can’t say that this post will be a review per say. It will be my musing on my experience of the movie and the Christian dimensions of the original fairy tale.  Of course, I know the story. Almost every little girl, at least in the U.S., was introduced to Disney’s version of Cinderella at a young age. The fight of good and evil is even recognizable in the innocence of childhood. And while many would say that the “happily ever after” is the reason little girls love it, I would say that there is more to it than that.

The character of Ella is one of outer beauty, but an interior of strength, courage, goodness, and love. She serves tirelessly and while she has her moments of weakness, she continues on. The newest adaption captures the utter goodness in her at the moment when she is about to give up, an “old beggar woman” asks for some milk. She immediately responds through virtuous action, action that is so infused within her through habit, that she serves this woman in the midst of her own sorrow. It is then that the fairy godmother reveals herself and Ella, in her gentle way, scoffs. But, she accepts the gifts joyfully when she realizes the fairy godmother is who she says she is. Even though she has not had much goodness done to her in recent years, Ella opens her arms wide open to the gifts bestowed upon her. Her own servant’s heart makes it easier for her to receive love.

There was one moment of the film that struck me very deeply. After Cinderella has danced and spent time with the prince, she flees. We know that this is because it is midnight and the spell will be broken by the final toll of the bell. The prince’s right hand man remarks that the prince had to choose “the one who flees” and the prince smiles. The Christology of that moment stopped me and nearly reduced me to tears. Cinderella is actually the story of Christ the Bridegroom (the Prince) and his pursuit and love of the Church (Cinderella). The deep spiritual truth of that moment has stayed with me even hours after the film, and it will stay with me.

Christ chooses all of us and we flee. Even those of us who are baptized into the Mystical Body, flee His love every time we sin. God woos us and we flee in shame and fear. Shame is a by-product of the Fall. We are constantly struggling against the shame that is brought about by our sin. God chases after us, beckoning, and calling us back to Him. He tenderly caresses us upon our return. Within the Confessional, he binds our wounds and restores us to the grace of our Baptism. No matter how many times we fall, he is constantly calling us back to Him.

Christ’s love for us has repeatedly been equated to a courtship in Scripture and Tradition. The desire and fire of passionate love is a common image for God. In fact, the Song of Songs is about God’s love for us. This is often misinterpreted by people, but it really is about God’s love for us through the imagery of romantic and erotic love. The same is true in the story of Cinderella.

Cinderella runs from the prince out of fear and shame that she is not good enough. She is a common girl. That is why when she finally comes forward to try on the glass slipper, she asks the now King to take her as she is, even in her lowly state. A sign of the virtue of humility. The King obliges and offers her the same humble request, that she will take him for who he is, even as a monarch apprentice, turned king. This moment not only demonstrates the humility required within marriage, it demonstrates the Church’s relationship to the Bridegroom who has given himself entirely to us. Christ emptied himself completely on the Cross in the greatest act of humility and his love is realized and reciprocated through the Church.

While the Christology was with me throughout the movie, the cinematography and costumes were breath-taking. I have been a Kenneth Branagh fan for decades and I could see his touch everywhere in the movie. The costumes, the banter, the style was so similar to Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. I fully expected him to end with a Shakespearean (given his background) style wedding, but he did not. He kept to simplicity and beauty, but showed the absolutely gorgeous wedding dress selected for Cinderella. Modesty is beautiful!

What really was truly a gift was the beauty. The entire movie is beautiful. This is so lacking in our culture anymore. The entire movie is a sensual experience in the way art is meant to be. It draws us into goodness and joy. The imagery caused wonder and awe, even if some of it was CG. It didn’t matter. The beauty was constant throughout the movie.

The beauty is contrasted with the darkness and cold of the stepmother, who inevitably breaks against the stone of goodness. The movie calls those who see it to embrace beauty, kindness, and goodness. I left wanting to know why there are not more movies like this one? Why has art so lost its way? I would say it is because it has lost its center, who is Christ. Even if Branagh meant to tone down the Christology of the Cinderella fairy tale, it was impossible to do because of the sheer beauty of it all. As I have written here before, we see God in beauty. Good woos us through beauty and this movie will do just that. I just might have to go see it again in the theater. God bless.

ChristKingCrownOn.14393925_std

Cinderella: Child-like Innocence, Christology, Beauty

Today I will not be writing much. Instead I have found some pictures as a feast for your eyes to instill wonder. Here in a couple of hours I will be taking my daughter to see Disney’s most recent Cinderella. It is directed by Kenneth Branagh. I have been a fan of his since junior high and his Much Ado About Nothing is still one of my favorite renditions of Shakespeare’s play.

Based on the reviews I have read, Branagh keeps to the original story and does not bring cynical neo-feminist ideas into the film. The fairy tales are enduring because they ring of truth and they cannot be conformed to the whims of the age. This is most fully realized in the Brothers Grimm tales that have an underlying Christology. You can read a wonderful review and explanation of symbolism on Fr. Barron’s website here. In fact, that review made me want to see the movie all the more.

So my daughter will wear her Cinderella dress and we will go enjoy the 2 hour film that focuses on good and the desire Christ has for each one of us. I thought I would post some images that I found in a Google search. Some are from the movie and others are beautiful castles that can be found around the world. Movies like Cinderella help us to recapture our child-like innocence, as well as remind us that God made man and woman for one another. Enjoy! Happy Feast of St. Joseph!

lily_james_as_cinderella-wide

cinderella-2015-wallpapersCINDERELLAj0438676Prague-castle-Czech-Republic3beautiful-ancient-castle-on-a-hill-305189Beautiful-Hohenzollern-CastleNeuschwanstein-Castle-GermanyRomanEmpire7

Are Human Beings Incapable of Change?


“Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.” – Summa Theologica, Part 1, 1:8

aboutUsVineyard1LG

There is a phrase that is popular in our culture. I hear it in music, TV, books, and other media. It is the phrase, “People never change”. Is it even possible for that to be true? Time is change. The phrase is fatalistic and makes assumptions about other people that we have no ability to make. I understand why people feel this way, especially in romantic relationships that go bad. I think that if we were to dig deeper, this expression really is our frustration that we cannot control other people. We can’t change people. God’s sanctifying grace, united to our free will, changes people.

We are fallen creatures who are deeply wounded by sin. Notice that I said “wounded” not destroyed or helpless. After our Baptism, we must wage a serious war with sin while being infused with grace. It is through our battle with sin and periods of suffering that we are conformed to Christ in his Paschal Mystery. It is there that we are prepared for the Heavenly Sanctuary. We are called to be like Christ and that means the often slow and painful process of dying to self.

Human beings, due to concupiscence, get themselves into a lot of trouble. We have a tendency to take a good and use it improperly. We abuse the good. For Catholics, the material is not evil. We misuse something and then we sin, that item never becomes evil within itself. For instance, wine is a good that has been made by human hands through working the earth. It is meant to be enjoyed. When we drink to intentionally get drunk we have abused it and fall into the sin of gluttony.

Let’s take the drinking analogy further. Let’s say someone we love is an alcoholic. They refuse to stop drinking, that is, they refuse to change. In our minds they will never change and we may tell them so. Our obligation is to try to get them help. If that does not happen, then we fall on our knees and leave it to God. We cannot change them, but God can. This is deeply difficult because we have to watch a person destroy themselves; but we will destroy ourselves in the process if we keep trying to will them to change. We can’t. We must learn to rely on God, even if it is a long and arduous process.

The reason I don’t like this expression is because it sounds fatalistic. It is to look at someone and say they are beyond hope. No one is beyond hope. God has brought about the conversion of some of the hardest of hearts. Saint Paul, anyone? Rather than say that people are incapable of change, we need to focus on the grace God gives to perfect our nature. We need to be more focused on our relation to God and others. As a Christian I do not get to wash my hands of people. I may have to end relationships, but I should still serve those people in fervent prayer.

Truth be told, I have a very long memory. I dream about people that I have not seen in decades, some of whom have hurt me. Some of the people are from my childhood. I have no obligation to these people relationally. I wouldn’t even know how to find most of them, but I pray for each one if I remember that I dreamed about them. I don’t know where my prayer and God’s grace will meet in that person. The same goes for the people we deem beyond help. God doesn’t deem them beyond help and neither should we.

It is easy for us to forget that Christ died on the Cross for every human being that will ever live, even the ones who will turn their backs on him. He knew that they were capable of change if they would accept his love. We need to pray that those people accept this gratuitous gift.

The path to holiness is a long and arduous one for most of us. There are saints who race ahead of us to show us the way, but for most of us, it takes our entire lives and possibly some time in Purgatory. There will be periods in our lives where we will progress rapidly and then there will be times when we cannot even see the changes. As my Confessor told me recently, progress is all subjective and I cannot know the true depth of my progress, only God knows. As long as I am trying to walk the Christian life each day, even on the days I fail, then there is progress of some sort.

We may never get to see the change that occurs in other people. There are countless people who will come in and out of our lives. We don’t know how God is working in them or in us. People with addictions and deep seated sins come to Christ often. I think it is time that we stop focusing on our need for control and stop being fatalistic about our attitudes towards other people. With Christ anything is possible, even the conversion of stone hearts, even the conversion of the people we think are incapable of change. The process is not on our terms, it is on God’s and we need to keep that in mind in our dealings with other people. I am not the same person that I was 6 months ago and, more than likely, neither are you. Continue to allow God’s grace to work in you in order to persevere on the journey. It is arduous, but Christ is our guide and we are walking with our fellow members of the Mystical Body. Lenten blessings to you!

The Need for Wonder

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”

G.K. Chesterton

I have written a bit about beauty and how God woos us through his secondary causes. Today I want to write about wonder. The two go hand-in-hand. Wonder is something that children do quite naturally. The world is new, so every new, and even old, discovery leads the child to excitement, joy, and wonder. As adults we can have a tendency to look at a child’s wonder in apathy. We may scoff internally that it is only a rock, flower, worm, or tree. It is something that we have seen numerous times and so it bores us. Who has it right? I say the child.

In Fundamental Theology we learn that the theologian uses a variety of things to study God. It is described as three concentric circles. The outer layer is Everything. Yes, everything. Anything in the universe can provoke theological study, insight, and a greater understanding of God. Catholicism marries natural theology (that God can be known through reason in a limited capacity) and Revelation (what God has revealed about Himself through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). The contemplation of a tree, for instance, can lead to a deeper understanding and love of God. The next circle is Sacred History (or Tradition). The Church has been around nearly 2000 years, so there is a deep pool (hence the name of my blog) of knowledge that can be used to grow in a deeper understanding of God. In the very center is Sacred Scripture. The Word of God to us. Throughout our lives we will travel between all three of the circles.

Theologians tend to have a natural capacity to wonder. In order to desire going deeper in knowledge of God there needs to be an element of awe and desire to know more; however, this capacity can be cultivated by all Christians with practice. The primary barrier to wonder is distraction. If we are too busy and lost in our thoughts or tasks all of the time then it is impossible to see the world around us. This is the same if we do not take the time to study our Faith and Sacred Scripture. We cannot wonder at God if we do not spend time with him.

Why do we need wonder? Wonder increases our capacity for joy. It connects us more deeply to God. That wonder should come quite naturally during the Mass at the consecration and when we ingest and gnaw (literal translation from Scripture) on Our Lord. The face that Christ left himself as food for us to unite to him body and soul on this side of the veil, should incite deep awe and wonder. It is very easy for these things to become robotic. That is why we have to form a habit of wonder. We will not always have warm fuzzy feelings. Emotions are unreliable and ever shifting. Our faith is rooted in the love and grace of the Blessed Trinity, not our moods. There are days we may “feel” little, but we can still wonder.

How do we cultivate this habit? I will admit that wonder comes pretty naturally to me. As I said in my post on beauty, it only takes a tiny flower or a pretty cloud to stop me most days. I think that the habit begins with gratitude and learning to pay attention. We have to look up from our iPhones and watch the things around us. We need to watch our children play and see how they wonder. My daughter can teach me more about wonder more than anyone else I know. So the first thing is: Look up.

The next step is to figure out what things make us wonder. In the beginning it will be difficult to wonder at things that seem mundane. The brilliant GK Chesterton was so adept at wondering that the tiniest thing brought him into a state of wonder. I want to live like that and while I am well on the way, I have a ways to go. What is it that makes you stop in awe? Is it some aspect of nature? Flowers, trees, grass, mountains, ocean, rivers, desert, snow, sunsets, stars, etc. The possibilities are vast. Figure out the things that incite wonder in you easily.

Once you figure these things out, start to pay attention. Intentionally seek them out while you are out doing your daily tasks. Perhaps take a lunch break, even if only 15 minutes, outside. Go for a quick walk. Stop by your parish and spend 10 minutes with Our Lord who is reposed in the Tabernacle. Even if you are stuck at your computer, try using a search engine to find beautiful pictures to wonder at. Some days I search out pictures related to the season and others I look for the beautiful cathedrals of Europe or the Holy Land.

Another way to instill wonder is to upset the apple cart, so to speak. Change your routine every now and then. Have dinner outside or at a park. My daughter and I have picnics on our living room floor during the winter.

Wonder also comes from gratitude. Foster a deep sense of gratitude. This is something that I am working on too. If we are thankful, then we are more likely to pay attention. When we are upset or ungrateful we tend to put our heads down and fold our arms. Try to think of things you are thankful for each day. It can be the simplest things, like your morning coffee and the steam rising, or eggs sizzling on the stove. It should be the obvious things like family and friends. You will find that when you pay attention to the little things you are thankful for, the more you will begin to wonder at those things that seemed mundane.

Today make an effort to wonder. Step outside, even if it is cold, and look for something to marvel at. I am an avid gardener, so each day I check the progress of my bulbs. The tulips are halfway up, the daffodils are set to bloom, and the crocuses will bloom any day now. I love watching God work.

Yesterday I made a concerted effort to take the day off from studies. I am 2.5 weeks from the end of this semester. I have two more papers due and then final exams. It is crunch time and I will spend long hours studying until Easter. It was 76 degrees here yesterday and glorious. I went with a friend to the park with our kids. My daughter found shells near the river and I discovered a mussel shell in the river. I had never seen one in a river before! I was excited and so was my daughter. When we got home I looked up a video of a live mussel for my daughter so she could see it move. She understood that the shell had been an animal. There aren’t words for her excitement!

After our park adventures we played outside until dark. My husband had to fix his truck, so my daughter and I played in the dirt. Then the most spectacular sunset happened. It started off a pink, blue, and purple and then it exploded into orange. We laid in the grass and watched the most beautiful peach wispy clouds float by. As dusk descended, two bats started flying overhead in search of food while squeaking at one another. My daughter had never seen a bat before, so we watched them for a bit. My husband was happy to see them because we have a vegetable garden and bats keep the bugs down.

I intentionally took much of yesterday off from my routine and studies in order to wonder alongside my daughter. In doing so, I was able to contemplate the deeper mysteries of God and enjoy being a mother. My daughter is not bored of dirt, sticks, and flowers. She sees them as amazing tools and fun. She is the one who stoops down to pick up a tiny purple flower to put in her hair. She is the one who pointed out to me that the tiny purple flowers blooming our grass had “disappeared” at sunset. I was able to explain to her that they close when the sun goes down and will open at sunrise. What an incredible working of nature! If we want to cultivate a deeper understanding and love of God, then we need to pay attention to his beauty and allow ourselves to wonder as children do. There is a reason Christ calls the little children to himself. The children are paying attention. Are we? I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.

**I hope sharing my wonder helps you. I am in a constant state of wonder through my studies and the world around me. God bless.

P.S. Not everything needs to be a picture. Put the phone down and just watch the beautiful sunset. :o)

We are NOT Called to be Angels; We are Called to be Fully Human

Crucifixion-Renaissance-Oil-Painting-ACS01617

I have always, even before I began formal study, had a theological pet peeve related to human beings and the angels. Somewhere down the line, human beings got the idea that we become angels when we die or that we are to be angels. I would have to study it further to understand where this error started. Perhaps it really began with the cherubim depictions of babies that are so popular that convinced parents that their children who have passed on became cherubim? I am not sure. I can understand this error within the secular culture which assimilates all manners of heresy due to their lack of the fullness of truth. It logically makes sense for things like this to occur. It is not understandable for it to occur within the Church.

This morning I saw an article posted on one of my favorite Catholic sites that focuses on inspirational pieces, that stopped me cold. The title was: We are Called to be Angels. I stopped and stared at it. I was concerned, and frankly a bit annoyed (I am still working on that holiness thing), and so I opened the article. It discusses a bit of conjecture by St. Anselm on the human being as a replacement for the fallen angels. I can’t say the title fully reflected the content. Although, the author did not inform readers that saints have all sorts of conjectures that may or may not be accepted by the Church. This is where error starts and runs rampant. The article has already been shared hundreds of times. The title is a complete theological error and misleading.

We are not called to be angels. We are called to be human, more clearly we are called to be fully human as we conform ourselves to the Blessed Trinity. Our anthropological (theological buzzward) orientation to God is that He created us in His image and likeness in order to serve and become like him. This is not what he did for the angels. Angels are pure spirit, with no body. Speaking of conjecture, I have heard it suggested that Lucifer chose not to serve God after the Incarnation was revealed to the angels (this is conjecture). In equating us to the angels, Christians lose their incarnational understanding. God became man and has invited us to share in His Divine life. The union of body and soul, our humanness, matters. God acts in our world towards us to serve our human understanding. The Church is a combination of the material and the spiritual. It is not either/or, it is both.

This is most fully realized in the sacramental life of the worshiping community. The internal realities of grace are fully realized and expressed through the external actions of the Church, that is, the sacramental sign-action. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas equates all of the sacraments with various actions and periods within a human being’s life (see the Summa on various Sacraments). Baptism is re-birth and the washing away of sins as the individual publicly declares their desire to be conformed to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to become a member within the public life of the Church. Water, which is the “matter” in this sacrament, is a means of cleansing and washing for the human person. God uses those things that will impact our in order to bring out the internal realities of sanctifying grace. The sacraments are the most concrete union of body and soul that we have on this side of eternity, most especially in the Blessed Eucharist.

So, what am I getting at? Our bodies matter. We are not pure spiritual beings. The fact that Christ became man matters. When we change our anthropological understanding of ourselves all kinds of heresies begin to take hold. In fact, heresies like Gnosticism which hold that material is evil, become a serious problem. That heresy has been around almost as long as the Church.  God made us human, both body and soul, and he sanctifies us through that reality. It is also in our body-soul reality that we are sanctified and conformed to the Blessed Trinity. We are called to be united to Christ’s passion. That can only occur through a bodily unification with the soul, since Christ suffered in His body (and soul).

It is true that we can be like the angels in their obedience, charity, glorification, and service to God. In that way, we most certainly should pray for the grace to be like them. I am a huge proponent of the intercession of my Guardian Angel. My daughter knew the Guardian Angel prayer by the time she started speaking and it is her favorite prayer. In fact, a great peace washes over her at night as she prayers it, knowing that Our Lord has given each one of us a great spiritual being to guide and protect us through his will.

I just want to remind Catholics that there is a very real serious threat of dualism and a misunderstanding of the human person in our culture that we can absorb. And while the article in question was about a Catholic saint. It is important that we have a grounded theological understanding before we tackle conjecture from the various saints. St. Anselm posited that human beings are to replace fallen angels in Heaven, but that does not mean that we become angels. The title is misleading and wrong. It is a very important distinction and that word replace can cause a lot of confusion for Catholics. As my professors are always telling me, ‘precision in language is crucial’. We resurrect at the end of the Parousia, in our glorified bodies. It is not just our spirit, nor are we called to be like purely spiritual beings. We never become angels. Our intellects are incapable of reaching that of the angels and we were created to be human beings. Angels and men are both beautiful aspects of God’s awesome creative power and love. We are called to become the highest form of a human being as God perfects our fallen nature and the angels are called to be the highest form of angel.

***UPDATE: Please be sure to read the comments in order to see the clarification from the author of the original article. I am appreciative that he took the time to clarify.

**UPDATE: The editor of the Catholic online magazine has contacted me and said the title has been adjusted and the content has been clarified in relation to Church teaching. It was an accident. These things happen. :o)

angel423_Guardian_angel

*If I have made any theological errors and you happen to be a theologian, instead of a lowly grad student like me, or you are a grad student, please feel free to correct me. I never want to preach or teach in error. It was not my intention to eviscerate the author of the article either. He is not a theologian. I merely wanted to point out that our words and teaching, even as a layman, matter.* My professors are constantly telling us that “precision of language matters” and I think the article in question is a very good example of why.  God bless.

Down Shifting: Properly Ordering Family and Study

This semester has been a bit of a challenge for me. The challenge is balancing family and full-time studies. Being a full-time graduate student is a lot like working full-time. Not to mention that my entire program is online. I seldom interact with my professors. I am essentially teaching myself theology and philosophy with the school keeping track of my progress. I get feedback on papers, but none on tests. Our online discussions are not live and many professors are very hands off. That means the only piece I get from them is their lecture, which I read each week. This is not an attack on the school or my professors. That is the idea behind online studies. We are to be largely independent and it takes a certain type of student who can learn this way. I enjoy it and it gives me the freedom that I need for my vocation in life.

What started to get to me this semester is that my family is suffering by the rate at which I am doing the program. My goal was to finish all studies in 2 years and then the comprehensive exams and thesis within 6 months. I feel like I barely see my husband right now. He works 11 hours a day and then takes over for me so that I can study until bed time. Our weekends are based on my workload.  For instance, I have a term paper to write tomorrow and an essay on Sunday.  All due by Monday. I have to do it this way because we schedule my big projects and tests for the weekend. I am not a night owl and I stop retaining information if I try to study too late.

I really dislike missing out on family activities on Saturday. My husband has taken our daughter to the museum, park, library, on errands and I miss them. I love my studies and I knew they would come with sacrifice for all of us. I just started to wonder if my breakneck pace is necessary. It is through the summer. I go full-time to make the most use out of my VA benefits. They expire in September, but the whole program will be paid for with all of the benefits I receive by August. The VA has a set amount based on my enlistment contract that they pay me. All the extra money is going to a savings account for use on future tuition bills.

I sat down with my husband last night and asked him what he thought about the pace. I had seen a mother from my church at the store and she mentioned her surprise that I was full-time with a 3 year old. She didn’t know how I was doing it. And I started to think, neither do I. Is this necessary? I can have both worlds, but it doesn’t have to be in such a hurry. I am studying for the pure enjoyment of studying, not because I need my Master’s degree in two years. It loses its enjoyment when it turns into superficial memorization for tests and papers. I know how to play the game and get good grades, but that isn’t the goal. I want to learn this material.  Some of it is extremely complex. I am still wrapping my head around the Thomistic idea of required perfect contrition in the Sacrament of Penance or the theology of sin. It’s amazing to study and I really enjoy it, but in my rush, I don’t have the time to truly understand it in the depth that I desire.

My husband said I should go part-time starting in the fall. We can sacrifice 1/2 of my last VA check so that we can balance things better. He is exhausted. I am exhausted and our daughter is struggling with me being so busy. Reading Chesterton last night really helped me too. He pointed out how the culture does not order things properly. I am not a utilitarian means to an end. I am a unique human being with dignity and my daughter is the most important job God has given me. That does not mean that God doesn’t want me to study. He gave me these intellectual gifts for a reason. It just means that He wants me to slow down and so does my husband.

I have a tendency to race forward with things. This is one of those areas where I am still learning prudence. When I was in high school, I took Geometry freshman year even though my parents encouraged me to take Algebra again. I didn’t want to be “behind” in the Math requirements. But, I am not good at Geometry or Trigonometry. It was a miserable battle that stemmed from my own pride. I honestly didn’t start understanding Math until I was in undergrad in my mid-Twenties.

The point is that I don’t want to take something that I love, namely, theological studies and turn it into a rushed torment. I don’t want my family to become a burden to me as I poorly balance everything. Regardless of what our culture tells us, sacrifices occur when a mom divides her attention. This is not a judgment on people’s choices. It is a reality that we need to be aware of. Once we are aware, then we can make educated decisions that are best for our family and our goals. But, our family comes first. My husband and daughter are more important than my Master’s degree. I am going to say it again: My husband and daughter are more important than my Master’s degree. That is not what our culture tells us, but we need to be strong and ignore the lies. It doesn’t mean that my studies are unimportant, it just means that they are lower on the list. They are rightly ordered, but below my family.

Summer will be busy with my final full-time semester, but at least we will all know that things will slow down in the fall. I am looking forward to it. I can spend time with my family and enjoy my theological studies. That’s the whole point. I am the one who decides whether or not to stress out my family and myself in this whole process. I can rush, or I can down shift and take it slow. I can walk out of my MA having mastered the material, or I can walk out having passed a bunch of tests and papers. The choice is mine and I choose my family and my love of study. My daughter turns 4 this year and I will blink and she will be 18. These years are a gift and I need to be present during them and not focused elsewhere all of the time. So my choice is merely one of balance and proper ordering and in doing so, I get to enjoy all of the gifts that God has given me. Have a blessed weekend! It’s Laetare Sunday this weekend. Easter is so near!

Recommended Reading:
The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism by David Fagerberg (if you are new to Chesterton this is a great place to start)
Orthodoxy-GK Chesterton
The Everlasting Man-GK Chesterton