Catholic Exchange: Christ and Marriage in a Time of War

I have been watching the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere for a while now. About a year ago, some friends and I organized a grassroots campaign to raise awareness for their plight, as well as raise money for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). We called the project Help Nasara in honor of the Arabic ن (pronounced “noon”) painted on people’s houses in Syria and Iraq to identify them as Christian so that they could be forcibly converted, live in dhimmitude, or face martyrdom.

It can be difficult for those of us who live quiet and comfortable lives in the West to comprehend or even ponder the unspeakable terror and violence these people live with every single day. It is not something we have experienced and we can easy fall into an “it’s over there” mentality. For Christians, however, this is not a correct understanding of the Mystical Body. These Christians are not a “them” they are in fact “us” in a very real way. We are all united in communion with Christ as our head. They are our brothers and sisters in a way that runs deeper than blood, but that is also bound in the blood of Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our blindness to them is a great dishonor to the Church and to them. While most of us cannot run to Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, the Ukraine, or other regions; we can pray, fast, raise awareness, and give alms within our means. We can also pay close attention to their witness because they are teaching us, and the world, something truly profound.

Last Friday I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when a posting of three pictures caught my attention. They were photographs of a wedding at St. George’s Church in Homs, Syria. The church was completely bombed out. There was no roof, no windows, no altar; there were only bare stone walls still standing. One of the pictures showed the surrounding buildings which were also bombed out and reduced to rubble in areas. What caught my attention was the picture of the couple standing before the priest to be joined in Holy Matrimony.

There is no doubt that all in attendance have lost much during the Syrian Civil War that continues to rage on today. Many have lost family, friends, homes, churches, and nearly everything. The couple themselves have probably lost much, and yet, there they stood in hope. Rather than despair and focus on what has been lost, they have chosen to stand up and come together in conjugal communion, even if it is only for one day. I could see the face of Christ clearly in their witness. It is truly an awe-inspiring witness to the true definition of marriage, to the Blessed Trinity, the love Christ has for the Church, and the power of the Cross.

God has constantly referred to His love for His people in marital language. The Jewish people were His Bride and often they were “adulterous” when they gave into sin and idolatry. The covenant God has established between His people and Himself is the basis for the theological understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage and the reason the Church teaches as she does about the nature of marriage. A man and woman coming together is to mirror the communion God has established with His Church and the communion that is in Him through the Blessed Trinity.
Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

What does the World See in Us?

Saint-Peters-Basilica-interior

Summer is a good time to focus on other projects, so I have been writing articles, but not blogging much. Here is my first blog in a while:

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what the world sees when they see a Christian or the Church? Based on the Internet alone, which is where so many people interact with one another, both believers and non-believers, what do you see? As a Catholic, I see fights about the Liturgy, Church teaching, sexuality, marriage, the Magisterium, and I could go on and on. Most of these fights are not grounded in authentic teaching and Tradition. Most of them, including in myself, come down to pride or a lack of obedience. Liturgical battles stem from our inability to separate ourselves from the Mass. We can’t even for one hour conceive of a place where we are not the focus. The Mass is about my self-expression, is the creed I hear. No. The Mass is the sacrifice that Christ gave us on the Cross, which is now given through His glorified Body. He gives us this sacrifice which is our oblation (only because He gives it to us) to offer to the Father until the end of time. It is also the spiritual food that is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ that he offers us through no merit of our own, but by virtue of the grace He gives us. Do you see my point? Everything is from Him. Everything.

We fight about Church teaching on the Interwebs because technology, while good, gives us a sense of power and that we have a right to share our brand of the Church with people. We are so convinced of our own brand and that it is the correct one that we are even willing to ignore Magisterial documents and teaching to our own detriment. But, the worst part is, that we drag others down with us because of our self-righteous belief that we have it right.

The first semester of grad school, my professor harped on precision of language. Why? Because those who are formally trained (I am not talking about arm-chair theologians with no training who are all over the Internet) have the ability to lead mass amounts of people astray if they do not write and speak in utter precision. Most members of the Laity do not have an advanced understanding of the Faith. That is fine. Not everyone is called to advanced study. God gives each of us different gifts, but for those of us who have this call we have a duty and an obligation to teach only as the Magisterium teaches and to defer to our Bishops and the hierarchy on all matters of faith and morals and those things that require religious assent. This gift is to be guarded and we are to be responsible stewards lest we lead others astray.

For those who are not formal theologians, humility. We must be willing to know our own limitations. I would never presume to argue with someone with a PhD. I would want to learn from them, but unless it is blatant heresy such as denying the divinity of Christ, theological arguments have so many nuances that I would easily get lost, even as a graduate student. So, if you are a catechist, don’t presume to know as much as you think you know. Even with semesters of formal schooling in Theology under my belt, the only thing I know for sure is just how little I actually know. So if you are going to spread it on the Internet, use Church documents and theologians as sources, not your own opinion and be honest about your own background and limitations.

We are leading people astray and it matters greatly. It is very easy for human beings to set themselves up into camps. Within the Mystical Body, this is destructive and flies in the face of the communion that we entered into at our Baptism. I am not in the Francis camp and you are in the Benedict camp. Pope Francis is our Pope. He is the visible sign of unity to the world and the head of the Church. It’s time to get over it and move on. If you think he is really that bad, read some Church history.

Christianity is in decline in the West at a startling rate. The culture is ready to push us to the fringes while screaming “bigots” at all of us. Now is the time to come together and focus on holiness and bringing the world to Christ. There are over 33,000 denominations of Christianity. What does that tell the world? It tells them that we are irrelevant and that we can pick and choose what to believe. It is time for Catholics to rise and be a point of stability and unity for the world even when the Church shrinks. People are watching our example. All of us have the yearning in our hearts to be loved and to find meaning. That meaning is in Christ and the Catholic Church. We cannot show that to people if all we do is fight and bicker.

The Church teaches as Christ has commanded her, so regardless of our personal ideology, it is what Christ says that matters. How can we lift up this broken, suffering, and fallen world if all we do is scream at one another? We don’t seem very hopeful if all we can do is rant and rave at, and about one another. So knock it off! There are souls at stake and as members of the laity, we have an obligation to bring the world to Christ. That is our mission. Read Chrisitifideles Laici if you don’t believe me. Our lives, whether it be at our work or in our families, is how we bring the world to Christ. In our holiness and sacrifices for others, we bring others to Christ. Not in screaming at people from our keyboard.

All of us have the same mission: holiness. How can we better grow in holiness? We must live lives of virtue, prayer, and frequent reception of the Sacraments. If we have questions about Church teaching then consult a priest or theologian. Read the Catechism, but don’t become a know-it-all in the process. Remember the Catechism is the extremely abbreviated form of the Church’s teaching. The biggest thing we all need to do is focus on humility. Remember who gave us grace and remember how little we know in the face of the Beatific Vision. Pax.

Catholic Exchange: Learning Prudence from Miscarriage, Post-Partum Depression, and NaPro

Two and a half years ago after my last miscarriage, I decided to stop and visit a priest friend of mine who had recently been re-located from our parish. During our visit, he told me something that I had not even considered, nor wanted to consider. It was simply: “Constance, God may only want you to have one child.” He had been our parish priest through two of my miscarriages and he had been the priest to come see me when, unbeknownst to a great many people, I wound up an in-patient at a psychiatric hospital just weeks after having my daughter because I had severe post-partum depression and anxiety. My anxiety was crippling and I could barely function. My priest friend was seeing something that I just didn’t want to see at the time and that is, God has given me a Cross and I need to decide how to live with it and that means making prudent decisions while also trusting in His love and plan for my life.

A couple of months after that visit, a Natural Procreative Technologies (NaPro) physician introduced herself to me. She had heard through the grapevine that I had experienced repeated miscarriage and she was confident that she could help me. I was stunned and had a bit of hope after 2.5 years of devastating losses. She ran an extensive battery of blood tests on me and discovered that I have very low estrogen and progesterone levels. In fact, she told me she was shocked that I had even gotten pregnant to begin with. She prescribed me HCG shots to give myself four times a month in the second half of my cycle. The progesterone corrected immediately, but the estrogen did not and she wanted me to go on estrogen. I wasn’t comfortable with that at the time. We were not actively trying to get pregnant because I was battling post-partum from my recent miscarriage in which I had hemorrhaged and required emergency surgery. Estrogen comes with a one page warning of cancer risks. While that may mainly mean women in menopausal years, it gave me serious pause. My doctor and I decided to wait to use it until we were looking to get pregnant.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Catholic Link: 7 Things I Didn’t Fully Understand Before Parenthood

Each of us has a vocation from God and mine happens to be marriage.

My husband and I got married nearly five years ago and I was pregnant with our daughter four months after we got married. That means my husband and I went into parenthood right away and both of us have learned a lot in the four years we have been parents. Parenthood is a journey as these parents will tell you.

Read the rest over at Catholic Link…

Catholic Exchange: St. Benedict and the Benedict Option for Today

If it wasn’t clear before that the culture of the West is opposed to the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church, the recent decision to legalize “gay marriage” in the United States made it quite apparent. The decision was decades in the making and cannot solely be blamed on the homosexual agenda. It goes back to contraception and no fault divorce, both of which have eroded marriage in profound ways over the decades. For Catholics, much of it is due to dissent from Humanae Vitae by clergy and laity, as well as an abandonment of moral teaching. The question for Catholics today is: Where do we go from here? The reason we need to ask this question is because there is little doubt that we will be pushed to the fringes in the coming decades. Our moral understanding and focus on Christ means that we are in opposition to the world. Christ told us:

“I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword…” Matthew 10:34

The world has always been in opposition to the Good News. The world crucified God. The Church has been set against the world since her founding by Our Lord, and that was no different during the life of St. Benedict whose feast day we celebrate on Saturday, June 11.

St. Benedict is most widely known for his rule and as the “Father of Western Monasticism”. He lived circa 480-560 and his influence on the world was great. Even though his rule was not the first, it was the most widely used in the west for centuries. St. Benedict’s rule was comprised of several rules which could be applied to a variety of monasteries and locations. His rule’s primary emphasis was on: moderation, the integration of prayer and work, and the socialization of the monastic life.

Once monasticism was introduced to the west by St. Athanasius, it spread quickly. By the time St. Benedict composed his rule, monasteries were in Africa, France, and even Ireland. Monasticism preserved much of Europe during the Dark Ages when there was much tumult and chaos. It was through monasticism that manuscripts were preserved, as well as art, architecture, and music were developed. It was here that culture survived and lived for many years. St. Benedict could not have known how great of an impact his rule would be on the west. Blessed John Henry Newman said of him:

“St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time, or by any rare specific, or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often till the work was done, it was not known to be doing…Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully copied and recopied the manuscripts which they could have saved. There was no one who contended or cried out, or drew attention to what was going on, but by degrees, the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, and abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning and a city.”

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…

Epic Pew: Laudato Si and 17 Practical Ways to Embrace Stewardship

Summer time has been busy, so my writing has been focused on the three Catholic websites I am now a contributor for. I will return to regular blogging when things slow down a bit and I get through my final exam for Theology of the Church. Today I am writing over at Epic Pew:

The Catholic Blogosphere has been on fire since Pope Francis promulgated his second encyclical, Laudato Si. The best thing that you can do is read it for yourself. When it comes to Church documents, it is much better to read the document yourself, rather than relying on the analysis of someone else. The worst thing a Catholic can do is rely on the analysis of a secular media organization. Temperance and stewardship are nothing new to an authentically Catholic way of life and go all the way back to Genesis. Here are 17 practical and easy ways to incorporate temperance and stewardship into your daily life.

1. Buy things used

I know that recycling has become more and more popular over the years. Why not establish a self-imposed recycling system in your house? Buy cars, clothes, furniture, lawn items, etc. used. My husband and I have been doing this for years. It saves us money and it gives things a longer life. Consider how much money you lose the minute you drive a brand new car off the lot?! Buying used is also fiscally smart.

2. Grow a garden

I am not saying that you have to get crazy like my husband and I are about gardening. Our garden is literally bigger than our house. Our goal is to really offset our produce needs through fresh veggies and canning. There is nothing like a tomato ripe off the vine in your own backyard. It tastes amazing! It is a taste you cannot find at the grocery store. Pick up a couple of 5 gallon buckets and plant some tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, kale (this is a great producer for months!!!!), or any other veggie you like. Your garden can be big or small, low maintenance or high maintenance. Not only is gardening good for your body, it helps us connect with God through His creation.

3. Hunt

We save a ton of money by supplementing almost all of our red meat with venison. It takes a little getting use to if you are die hard beef fan, but it is leaner and highly versatile. You can save even more money if you learn to butcher the deer yourself. It also reminds us of what a blessing the meat is that God provides for us. If you don’t like to hunt, then find a friend who does and offer to offset the cost. We hunt for many of our friends.

4. Shut off the electronics every now and then

In our highly connected world, this can be a difficult request. I struggle with this one, but in actuality, my struggle points to my addiction to my iPhone or laptop. We need to step away from the virtual world in order to pray and serve the people around us. Shutting off electronics not only cuts down on electricity, it cuts down on the ways we block one another out through a focus on the virtual rather than the actual.

Read the rest over at Epic Pew…