Saint Philip Neri: The Humorous Side of Humility

We live in a world that takes itself too seriously. I would hazard a guess that many people reading this piece struggle with this taking of one’s self to seriously, just as I do. It turns out, there is a saint to help us: St. Philip Neri. Today the Church celebrates this humorous, charitable, obedient, and joyful saint. He was born in 1515 in Florence, Italy. He spent many years studying and serving as a layman before being ordained a priest. He had a profound mystical experience that led him to serve in hospitals and he felt such great love of God that he preached to the poor and the rich alike in his desire to bring the world to Him.

St. Philip developed quite a following. He founded a confraternity alongside his confessor, Persiano Rossa, called the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims and Convalescents. The confraternity served the needs of poor pilgrims who came to Rome throughout the year and during jubilee years. St. Philip was ordained in 1551 and he also founded the Congregation of the Oratory, which was a group of secular priests.

St. Philip was known for unpredictable behavior that surprised a great many people:

He seemed to sense the different ways to bring people to God. One man came to the Oratory just to make fun of it. Philip wouldn’t let the others throw him out or speak against him. He told them to be patient and eventually the man became a Dominican. On the other hand, when he met a condemned man who refused to listen to any pleas for repentance, Philip didn’t try gentle words, but grabbed the man by the collar and threw him to the ground. The move shocked the criminal into repentance and he made a full confession.

St. Philip Neri, Catholic.org

It is clear that St. Philip could see the need for different approaches depending on the situation. It demonstrated his ability of discernment and his willingness to do what was necessary to bring others to God.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

On the Cardinal Virtue of Justice

A while back I began a series on the cardinal virtues taken from a term paper I wrote for my Moral Theology class last semester. I realized in the busyness of final exams that I never finished that series. So here is the section on the cardinal virtue of justice.

Justice is seen as the preeminent virtue in the culture. The vast majority of the culture wars are centered around some notion of justice. With this in mind, it is clear why prudence must come before justice. A person cannot be just unless they know and desire conformity to the truth through reasoned understanding. The biggest stumbling block for far too many people is that the truth, including a proper understanding of freedom, must come first and then justice. If the truth is not rightly understood then great injustices arise, as is evidence through practices such as abortion. Justice itself must be properly ordered to God in order for men and women to live justly in society. “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and the common good (CCC 1807).” In order for this harmony to occur there must be a clear understanding of what is due to others.

Freedom is at the center of many disagreements concerning justice, as well as great injustices that occur. Once again, freedom is not about the ability to do whatever a person desires. Freedom is the ability to choose goodness and truth without constraint.[1] This type of morality is less concerned about fulfilling obligations and more concerned with the love of truth and goodness.[2] Justice then allows for all individuals to conform their lives to their ultimate truth, which dwells in God. Justice and prudence are ontologically and eschatologically driven, as are all of the virtues.

The order of human beings from the family level to the global level relies on justice to protect the dignity of each person. Through justice the habit of rendering each man or woman their due is fostered, not through coercion, but through a desire for their goodness and freedom, as well as within the individual who renders that due. St. Thomas Aquinas states, “Justice is a habit (habitus), whereby a man renders to each one his due with constant and perpetual will (ST II-II 58 1).” This requires a discipline of action in each encounter with persons throughout the day.

Within this framework it becomes clear that men and women have rights through a universal source. In order for something to be due to another there must be something prior to that encounter which resulted in a particular right. The grounding of rights rests in God and creation. “It is through creation that the created being first comes to have rights. By virtue of creation first arises the possibility of saying: “Something is my due.”[3] It is by the nature of God’s creation of man as “embodied spirits” where rights dwell.[4] Since the notion of “due” is a primordial concept from the beginning of creation, it is directly linked to the ontological drive in human beings for goodness.[5] For this reason the rights of others cannot overrule the truth. Thus in choosing the just due of another it must be an authentic right and conform to goodness and truth. If a person has not fostered the habit of discovering truth through reason via prudence, as well as the just due to each man and woman, the moral life will be greatly impeded if not entirely corrupted. A person who does not conform their lives to prudence and justice is doomed to error and vice until virtuous living is encountered and put into practice.

[1] Pinckaers, 359.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pieper, 731.

[4] Aquinas, 25.

[5] Pieper, 741.

A Note on Your Emails

Dear Readers,

Hello! I wanted to let you know that if you leave a comment here or email me from Catholic Exchange, I do read all of your lovely notes. Unfortunately, life does occasionally keep me from responding to all of them. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, questions, and thoughts on my writing. I pray for every person who writes to me. So if I miss you in giving a response, I do apologize. I am truly grateful for your kind and charitable words. I don’t tend to respond to uncharitable comments or emails, though. May God bless you always.

Pax Christi,

Constance

Being Too Busy Impedes the Spiritual Life

There is a trend in our thinking that can lead us to believe that we must be busy all of the time. This busyness can easily mask our own self-importance, fear of silence, over-extension, or be a sign of our own spiritual restlessness. American culture, and increasingly many other cultures, has a default setting of busy. From children to adolescents to adults, there is a drive in our culture to maintain a fully booked, or double-booked, schedule. There are sports, clubs, ministries, volunteer work, parties, and other commitments that fill the pages of our calendars. The problem is that in all of this busyness our priorities, both in the spiritual life and in our vocations, can become disordered. We can forget what is truly important and place emphasis on the wrong activities at the expense of those that are more important.

The items on our daily agenda that are the most important for a Catholic may not necessarily be what is most important in our culture. It is easy to fall prey to this mentality since it is all around us. Contrary to popular opinion, sports, clubs, extracurricular, and even ministries can become disordered if they are not properly ordered to God and our vocation of holiness. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your days, weeks, and months throughout the year.

Prayer is first.

I know this can be tough to remember. I still struggle to begin my day in prayer and to pray throughout the day. There are days when I am going through the motions of bedtime prayers with my 4-year-old and my mind is elsewhere. If we do not focus on prayer from the very beginning of our day, we are likely to fall off track. The less we pray, the more we are in danger of sin and disordered inclinations. Prayer is the number one thing in our daily lives that deepens our relationship with God. If we can attend daily Mass, then our day will be fully united to Christ in the Holy Eucharist, which gives us an extra edge in the battles that will come our way. This is not possible for a lot of people, so that is why prayer is crucial. There are many ways to pray. We can spend 15 minutes in Scripture in the morning, pray Lauds from the Divine Office, do a Morning Offering, a Rosary, or any other approved form of prayer from the Catholic tradition. The type of prayer doesn’t matter nearly as much as the habit of prayer. Our days need to be prayerful, so that we can make decisions that guide our families and ourselves on the path of holiness. There is nothing more important whether it be a soccer game, homework, or Facebook. Prayer is the most important part of our day.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Abandoning Ideology: The True Breadth and Depth of Catholicism

My reversion back to Catholicism took place back in 2009 after a few years of wandering, confusion, and self-worship. I was living in Washington, DC for an internship at The Heritage Foundation. I had decided to try my hand at conservative politics. I didn’t know it then, but God was beginning a radical change within me that would transform the way I see the world, including politics. I had left behind an unhealthy relationship (for both of us) in which I had cohabited with a man for a couple of years. I was broken and battling the Catholicism which had always been a part of my identity, even if I had wanted it on my own terms. Instead, God reached me in that brokenness through the beauty of the Liturgy and He showed me the vibrancy, beauty, paradox, and joy of Christianity.

While I was in DC, my roommate suggested that I try to go to Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It was just 10 minutes down on the red line from our Capitol Hill apartment. I was unsure. I had been attending various Protestant Bible studies and groups and my search was proving frustrating. The first Mass I attended at the Basilica, I did not even make it through and I left early. I thought I was done being a Catholic. At the time I didn’t want to fully admit to my need for the healing salve offered by Christ through His Church, but the Holy Spirit would not be deterred. Thanks be to God! For reasons I don’t remember, I ended up attending the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica that year and it forever changed my life.

My experience of Catholicism in my childhood and early Twenties can only be likened to what Bishop Barron has written about in many of his books: beige. The Liturgy, while the Blessed Sacrament was present, was not transcendent and transformative. I didn’t know about the presence of the angels and Communion of Saints in the Liturgy until I was in my mid-Twenties. That understanding also changed my view of the Mass forever. The year in which I attended the Sacred Triduum at the Basilica solidified this understanding as I could sense with the eyes of faith that the Mass was truly Heaven on earth. From the reverence of the priests, to the sacred music, to the lofty ceilings, mosaics, and stained glass, I knew with every fiber of my being that Jesus is Lord. Shortly afterwards I realized that politics was not for me and I left DC for good after 4.5 years of living there off-and-on.

Soon after I met my husband, I was finally Confirmed, and entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. We were married in a very traditional parish and two weeks later moved to our current Diocese, one which is similar to the one in which I grew up. As time went on, I started to see how even though we are of a more traditional bent, the fights between espoused “conservatives” and “liberals” is destructive. Both sides have something wrong and both can be blinded by ideology. This became even clearer to me when I began my graduate theological studies and the first thing my professor told us is there is no “conservative” or “liberal” within the Church. Those are terms borrowed from political philosophy and they form divisions. True, there are nuances and differences in theological thought, but they are not understood through the lens of political ideology.

So why are these terms unhelpful and even divisive within the Church?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

On Being a Graduate Student Theologian and a Stay-at-Home Mom

In the coming weeks, the editor at Catholic Exchange will post a podcast interview we did together that focuses on my life as a graduate theology student and a mom, as well as my increasing interesting in abandoning ideology for the full expansiveness of the authentic Catholic Faith. I will post a link when it is published. It was my first 30 minute interview, so be easy on me. ;o)

The interview did get me thinking about what it is really like being a full-time graduate student of Theology and a mom who is homeschooling her 4 year old. The biggest word that comes to mind is: sacrifice. My husband, daughter, and I are engaged in an extensive period of sacrifice of time together as a family. There are many nights a week when my husband comes home and immediately watches our daughter until bedtime so that I can hit the books or write an essay or term paper. Our daughter spends all day with me, but she still wants my attention as I trudge through St. Augustine’s Confessions one night and Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy the next, as is the case this semester with my full-time school load.

The reality is that something has to give and it does every semester. I do not get to spend Saturdays with my family right now because that is the best day of the week for me to get 6-8 straight hours of studying in. The truth-of-the-matter is that my time is divided and not so evenly. Some weeks my studies suffer and I race through material in order to understand enough to write a paper or engage in the discussion. I then come back to it when I have more time. Other weeks I barely see my family, especially in the last two weeks of the semester when term papers and final exams are due.

I am a mom, 35 years old, and will never be a great scholar. I have dreamed of a PhD or S.T.D since childhood, but there are not any programs available at present which are conducive for my vocation. Three-Five more years of study in another state would come at too much of a cost for my family. The nearest Catholic university to me with doctoral programs is 4.5 hours away: Washington, DC. I married a country boy and I promised him that I had left DC behind for good when we got married, so applying to CUA is out of the question.  God has given me a compromise. I had 3 years of Veteran’s Education Benefits left; plenty to cover the cost of my entire Master’s program. He opened up a window for me to pursue my academic dreams, but with the caveat that my vocation as a wife and mother comes first. That means using these gifts in a manner complimentary with my primary vocation. It also means a Master’s will have to be enough for now, or ever.

There are plenty of women who are called to scholarly work outside of the home. If I were younger and not a homeschooling mom, I could see it being a possibility for me and my family. And who knows?! If God does not provide us with anymore children, I may be one of those women who looks at a doctorate in her mid to late forties. For now I will focus on homeschooling my daughter and completing my Master’s degree and seeing where God calls me as a writer and potential speaker. I guess those years as a debater and debate coach might be useful down the line, God willing.

So what is it like being a graduate student theologian and a mom? It’s hard, beautiful, amazing, sacrificial, stressful, and a blessing. As is the case with all major tasks there are big sacrifices being made by my family and me. I try to spend the 3 months a year I have off of school focusing on fun activities with my daughter. My particular program at Catholic Distance University is a year round program with a month off in between every semester. With all of this sacrifice it may not make sense why we do it, but the reality is that God gave me a certain kind of intellect and he wants me to use it for His purposes. Part of that use comes from further formal study. I have no idea what God’s plan is for me after I graduate next year. In the past year alone I have been stunned to become a freelance writer, been on Ave Maria Radio/EWTN Radio twice, and been asked to do my first paid speaking engagement. I am happy with the pace right now and I am excited to see how He will use me in the mission He has set aside for me. Part of that mission is homeschooling our daughter and I am constantly learning, albeit slowly and poorly most days, that my vocation is primary and everything else is icing on the cake.

Practical Lessons from St. Athanasius

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Athanasius of Alexandria who is a Doctor of the Church, as well as a great theologian who united the Eastern and Western Churches. A great deal of his work and mission was responding to the Arian heresy running rampant in his day. In fact, the Arian heresy has proved to be one of the most virulent heresies and can be seen in various forms even in our own day.

He was born around 300 AD in Alexandria, Egypt. After receiving a quality education, he became a deacon and secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria. He worked closely with the Bishop and attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 AD. This Council focused primarily on the divinity of Christ in response to the Arian heresy which had been advanced through the Alexandrian priest Arius.

Arianism greatly threatens an authentic understanding of Jesus Christ. It teaches that “the Logos was not a true God but a created God, a creature “halfway” between God and man who hence remained forever inaccessible to us” (Pope Benedict XVI, Doctors of the Church, 14). It was at Nicaea where the Creed incorporated Greek term homoousios, which means “of the same substance” as the Father. It was the first and only term to be added with no theological or biblical link, and it pointed to the Church’s willingness to integrate philosophy and theology together into the Faith.

Shortly after the Council in 328 AD, the Bishop of Alexandria died and St. Athanasius was elevated to Bishop. Even though the Church had firmly and unequivocally affirmed the divinity of Christ, the Arian heresy raged on creating painful and destructive divisions within the Church. St. Athanasius fought hard against the heresy and created powerful enemies in the process. He spent 17 years in exile. He continued to spread the Faith in the West, as well as monasticism which he had learned from the hermit, St. Anthony, during his time in exile. After many years of suffering for the authentic and true Faith, St. Athanasius returned to Alexandria to finish out his days. He died on May 2, 373.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.