Abandoning Utilitarianism to Embrace Transcendent Beauty

We live in an age marked by utilitarianism. If an item, building, or artwork does not serve some use it is easily discarded. It is also an age of secular humanism in which the person is the center of the cosmos, not God. These two philosophical undercurrents have impacted us as Catholics whether we like it or not. There is nothing wrong with a properly ordered humanism, just as there isn’t anything inherently wrong with using items for their utility. I clearly need to use a knife to cut an onion. The problem with utilitarianism is that it has come to dominate Western culture from how we understand the human person to art to religion to architecture. We do not use people, but utilitarianism tells us this is acceptable since the goal of life is my personal happiness. Beauty is of little use in this system. Beauty within itself serves no real purpose. It cannot be formed and re-ordered to my personal end, so I discard it. This is evidenced by the architecture and art of our day. It is largely devoid of transcendence and keeps us firmly, if not stuck, here on earth.

We are not at home here in this Fallen earth. We are called to come to know God and grow in further communion with Him through His Church and through His creation, but our end is not here. Creation is a window to God. It is one of the ways he communicates His beauty, transcendence, humor, creativity, and power to us. The earth is not the fullness of revelation, however, that rests with Christ. We are made for communion with God. In fact, we are made in His image and likeness, so that we could bridge the gap between the material and the immaterial. We were meant to unite the gulf between the spirit and matter. Our vocation before the Fall was to bring creation into communion with God. Through the Fall we failed and Christ had to come to complete that vocation for us. If we look at the architecture and art of the last decades, do we see our call to transcendence or do we see a desire for comfort for the things of here and now? Are we uniting Heaven and earth as Our Lord has done?

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

Leaving Bland Catholicism Behind

Anyone who has spent serious time in their parish in ministry, catechesis, other activities knows the state of catechesis within the Church. It is abysmal. The same is true for anyone who is brave, or crazy enough, to read comboxes on orthodox articles and blogs. This state of affairs is sad and frustrating at the same time. The currents of relativism and subjectivism have overtaken most of us. We all battle it, whether we realize it or not. These predominant philosophies of Western culture, connected with nihilism, are responsible for great confusion, ignorance, heresy, and disobedience so prevalent within the Mystical Body and without. We can largely thank the Enlightenment for not being so enlightening in many areas.

Yes, the issue produces anger and frustration for those who desire to share the authentic Christian life. Some of that anger is properly channeled towards the good and at other times it erupts into sinful tirades towards one another, especially in social media. I have participated in both types of anger, which is why I crawl back to the Confessional bi-weekly. In reality the worst part about the situation is that the Church herself has hidden her Light from her members. Through the darkness of certain corners of the hierarchical priesthood all the way down to the laity, relativism has distorted, twisted, and made the Faith largely meaningless for so many souls.

Conscience, which is relativism’s rallying cry, is the argument given by leaders and laity alike. This betrays a complete lack of understanding as to what conscience is on an ontological level and subjective level. It also demonstrates far too many people’s attachment to the world over Christ. I wrote an article for Catholic Exchange a little while ago on topic of conscience. We are still doing what we have done since the Fall, making ourselves into gods. This, of course, is untenable. We are creatures, not the Absolute. When we make ourselves gods we destroy ourselves, the people around us, and cut ourselves off from the Author of our very lives.

I sat at a Confirmation Mass for the high school students in my area last night. A good many of the kids very seldom, if ever, come to Mass. They are strangers to most of the parish community. They never came to Religious Education class, not that these are required if parents are properly forming their children in the Faith. Weekly Mass attendance is a basic tenant of the Catholic Faith, however. And, yet, they were presented for this Sacrament. The exact same thing happens with Baptism and Holy Communion. The Sacraments have been turned into a conveyor belt type system, with no real attachment to the vows made. At least in the Latin Church, will is a part of receiving Confirmation. If we do not open our wills to God’s grace, He will not force it into us. We are like a faucet, we have to open it so that God’s grace can pour into our souls. How many people know this? How about those in mortal sin who are dead to grace, but approach Sacraments anyway, every Sacrament except Confession?

As I sat there contemplating and watching these kids and families, I was saddened. Many actually strutted up to Monsignor for reception of the Sacrament. This is our stance now before God. We no longer understand the awesome power of Heaven and earth meeting in the Mass. Rather, we strut and swagger our way before God. How many of us, including myself, do this daily? How many of us live the danger of presumption that everyone goes to Heaven? That is not what the Church teaches. We must die in a state of grace.

The saddest part of it all, and I know because I have been there, is that far too many Catholics know little if anything about the depth, beauty, transcendence, glory, peace, power, and call of the Faith. We have domesticated our faith. We sit in bland buildings, singing bland songs, speaking platitudes that hardly resemble the real Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of Catholics, up to 70% of Catholics deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Words actually spoken by Our Lord in John 6 are completely ignored because heresy and materialism have become a norm in this area. The majority of Catholics have no idea what actually goes on during Mass. Heaven and earth meet. We participate in the Heavenly Liturgy through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I was discussing this topic with some friends of mine recently. One of them looked at me and said: “Most of us don’t know any better.” I was talking about the transcendent, Heaven on earth experience of Mass. He had never experienced the lifting of the veil to see the glory of the Liturgy with the eyes of Faith. He had never heard the soul lifting, heart-breaking, beauty of chant or truly sacred music. I realized in that moment, even with my moments of wandering from the path, I had been given the gift of seeing the Liturgy as it is meant to be seen. From wandering the great cathedrals of Europe, to my first Sacred Triduum in England, to the Sacred Triduum that brought me completely back to the Church for good at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, I had experienced transcendent Catholicism as so many through the ages had done. My childhood of bland had been peeled away and there before me was real beauty. A beauty that draws you in and takes you into ever deeper waters of the Faith. It was the Liturgy that taught me how to accept the rest of Church teaching. It was Christ’s Real Presence who helped me abandon my own desire to be god, a desire which I still struggle with daily, as a we all do.

So it saddens me to see the bland continue, the ignorance continue, and the apathy of many involved. It’s the same thing I grew up with in the 80s and 90s. In fact, we wage nasty fights with one another as we try to cling to what is comfortable, what we know. How dare we upset the apple cart? Why would we use those things from ages prior to ours, we are superior? Are we? Really? In this age of subjectivism it never occurs to people that there is actually an objective type of beauty, which the Church has preserved since her beginning. It’s harder to find these days, but it it’s there if you look. We are content to stay the same. Something very foreign to the Christian journey to holiness, which is one of development and peeling away.

All of this will still take decades to sort out. It is working itself out as new priests are ordained in my generation and the generation behind me. They see the bland and distortions just as I do. We crave more than just status quo and comfort. We desire the dangerous beauty of our Faith and the heart-ache of Home. We desire the authentic and true Faith as it has been lived and proclaimed before us. In the case of Confirmation, parents must learn that they teach the Faith to their children by their example, words, and formal teaching. If we do not teach the Faith and live the Faith our children will leave the Church in adulthood. Based on statistics over the last few decades, the number of kids Confirmed last night who will leave the Faith is stifling. We must pray for Christ to send shepherds to tend to His flock. Shepherds who can reawaken the beauty, depth, mystery, and gift of Catholicism. We too must have the courage to cast out into the deep in our own lives and to live the Faith and witness to our children and those around us.

The Peace in Leaving Facebook Behind

I have written multiple blog posts about my increased understanding that I needed to give up Facebook. I only rarely used Twitter and saw it as an overwhelming amount of information with absolutely no real human connection. It is a place to vent political ideology in 140 characters, and that largely includes Catholic writers too. Facebook was another animal. I deactivated my account and gave the password controls to my husband 2.5 months ago. I had given it up for months at a time, but always ended up getting sucked back in for some reason, so I told my husband to change the password and that I was done. I was addicted to Facebook. My overly empathetic personality pulled me too close to the train-wreck and I had to walk away.

A lot of people will say to use it in moderation, but I am not one of those people who can use it in moderation. In the beginning I would do pretty well, but before long I was sucked into conversations I didn’t need to be involved in like telling Pope bashers to knock it off and got to Confession. I am a stay-at-home mom, so I am pretty isolated for most of the week. I saw Facebook as adult interaction, but in reality it wasn’t any deep connection and it was not making me a better person. Facebook was an impediment for me on the path to holiness. My husband didn’t like me on Facebook, my daughter didn’t like me on Facebook, and I didn’t like me on Facebook.

Facebook in itself is a good. There are great gifts in technology and the material world which are goods; that does not mean they are good for everyone. Some of us have inclinations towards addictions with certain things whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, or social media. If we cannot control that addiction then we need to cut it out. If something is not helping us on the path to holiness, then we need to cut it out. It is not a condemnation of Facebook, instead it is an acknowledgement of my own personal weaknesses.

Here are somethings that have happened since I have freed myself from the clutches of Facebook.

  1. I enjoy the moment.
    Yep, that’s right. I am more present in each moment throughout the day. I am more available when for my daughter and my husband. I no longer spend hours on my phone. I don’t think of clever status updates through out the day to garner as many likes as possible. I only take photographs I truly want to save as opposed to those I would put up throughout the day on FB. Once again, I am more present in my own life. True story!
  2. I no longer worship myself on Facebook.
    Now this does not mean that I no longer battle pride, I do, daily. Facebook has the real risk of sinful pride. We post pictures of our families, our articles, or things of interest and can run into the tendency of either knowing better than everyone else or thinking we are better than everyone else. “Likes” are an homage to pride. The more likes the better we think of our pictures or updates. It’s gotten so bad that we post pictures of our meals and way too many pictures of ourselves. Vanity is rearing its ugly head in multiple generations right now through social media! If we are really honest with ourselves, we will see how pride is infecting us through our use of social media. This does not mean that there aren’t people who use social media in humility, but for most of us sinful beings, pride is a real battle and danger in social media, that is, social media centered around ourselves.
  3. I am a lot less stressed out about the state of the world.
    Let’s face it, social media is a train-wreck we cannot seem to look away from. I have been watching the news since I was 8 years old. Yes, 8. I have always been in the know and up-to-date on current affairs. It was wreaking havoc on me, but I didn’t want to admit it. I am a very empathetic person. I get sucked into the evil of the world and it is compounded by own experiences as a relief worker during the 9-11 aftermath. Certain personalities cannot handle an onslaught of the evils of the world. My leaving social media does not mean I think we should put our heads in the sand. We should be aware of current affairs, but social media is obsessed and addicted to it. We should know about it and then get on with the business of evangelizing the world and serving others in charity and truth. Obsessing and talking about current events incessantly is not evangelizing or living the Christian mission. We have to get up from our computers and serve. I think for people who struggle with anxiety and depression massive social media use is very bad and exacerbates symptoms. I say this as a fellow depressive and anxiety sufferer.
  4. I have time for important things in my day.
    We are obsessed with our smartphones! Our smartphones are a major impediment and distraction in our day. As an experiment I suggest you write down every time you go on your phone to check social media. The number and amount of time you are on your phone, tablet, or computer will be stifling. That is time we could be spending with our kids, spouses, reading books to help us in the spiritual life or even just great books, we could be writing a novel, helping people in need, focusing on a hobby we enjoy, going for a walk to enjoy God’s creation, and praying more. There are so many better things we could be doing with our time. I do those things now that I am off of Facebook for good. We have to decide which good is greater and chances are social media is not the greater good in our lives.
  5. My life is quieter.
    I know this probably terrifies some people. It terrified me when I was contemplating the final deactivation. For the first few days it’s difficult. You might feel disconnected at first, but then you come to enjoy the quiet and lack of needless distraction. You will find more peace and focus. Is it the solution to all of your problems or mine? No, but it’s a step towards peace and real connection with God and other people.
  6. I can focus on the real relationships in my life.
    If we are truly honest with ourselves we will admit that social media is not authentic connection with other people. It is the illusion of real connection. In reality it does not require any of us to step into the real lives of our Facebook “friends”. We might pray for them and interact occasionally, but we are not sitting by hospital beds, bringing needed food, money, or items to them. We are not there to hug them or have a real conversation. We do not have to truly step into the Crosses of those friends. As Christians, this is an essential element of authentic friendship. There are countless people in our lives today who need our love and support. We meet people and have them in our lives for a while, but then we move on whether physically or developmentally. I am not the person I was in high school and I barely remember most people I went to high school with, or even served with in the Navy. I wish them well, but a superficial Facebook connection does little towards our real call to charity.

There are people who use social media in moderation. I applaud those people, but I think we should truly examine our consciences in light of our social media use. How often do pride, anger, envy, lust, etc. boil up inside of us as we use Facebook? Are we truly using it to connect with other people on a real level or using it as a distraction from our own pains, monotony, or loneliness? Is it helping us grow in holiness? Are we addicted to Facebook, honestly? How are the relationships in our lives, our spouse, children, etc.? Does Facebook impact those relationships in a negative way? Do we spend our evenings on our phone or tablet while our family members sit in the same room with us doing the same thing?

We are made for happiness, greatness, and holiness. If Facebook is not leading us to sainthood we need to decide if we can cut back or cut it out. I can honestly say that I don’t miss it at all and I can see the world around me much more clearly. I pray for the people I have known and those I connected with on Facebook through Catholic circles, but my vocation calls me to people placed right in front of me.  Remember the issue isn’t that Facebook is evil, it is about whether or not it is a greater good in our lives. Pax Christi.

I am not the only crazy Catholic writer to abandon Facebook. Check out Matthew Warner’s “radical” piece on leaving FB.

 

Strange Beauty in Art and Life: The Agony in the Garden

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Today I am waiting for my dad to undergo some medical tests to see why he is so sick and whether or not it is life-threatening. Ever since I got word last week that my dad’s chronic illness was not the cause of his weakness and he is bleeding internally, I have been thinking and contemplating the Agony in the Garden.

Agony is a part of the human experience and it comes at unexpected times. My dad is only 59 and while he has had rheumatoid arthritis since he had rheumatic fever as a child, I am struggling to be ready for whatever comes next. Today we will find out why he is bleeding internally, whether it is cancer or something else. Please pray for him and for all of us who love him dearly.

So it is that we are faced with the terrible and beautiful paradox of the gift of suffering. The Agony of the Garden goes into the depths of human experience in all of its pain, horror, suffering, and death, but it isn’t the last word as we know living through this Lenten season awaiting the joy of Easter. Pax Christi.

Surprised by Beauty for Friday: Countryside

The next few days will be busy for me with papers due and reading to be done so I won’t be online much, but I wanted to put up a beauty theme because of how important I think beauty is in the spiritual life and in daily living. My husband and I have begun our search for our dream home in the country and we have spent a lot of time driving through the rolling hills and Appalachians of our area. That means the theme I have selected is: Countryside. None of these images are mine and were found on Google Images. Pax.

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Surprised by Beauty: Frosty Mornings

For this lovely Friday afternoon I am sharing some more beauty. We are expecting our first autumn frost this weekend, so the theme is Frosty Mornings. All images are from Google Images and are not my own. There were so many gorgeous options, especially from the U.K. It made me miss it. I lived there for 14 months about 10 years ago. Pax.

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SONY DSC

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Worcestershire River Avon
Worcestershire River Avon

Monday Beauty Theme: Quiet Places

The last few days have been very busy. I have been going almost non-stop. We also found out that my brother-in-law is very sick with what appears to be meningitis. So it’s been a hectic and disconcerting time. When I sat down to do this week’s beauty theme the word that came to me was: quiet. I decided to search for images that depict quiet to me, or at least I would sense quiet if I were where the pictures were taken. None of these pictures are mine and all were taken from Google Images.

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Monday Beauty Theme: Sunny Autumn Days

Monday is the day I take my daughter to the local Catholic Homeschool Co-op, so I don’t have much time for writing. Instead I thought I would post some more beauty. It has rained 9 days out of the last 10, so it has been a great blessing for the sun to come out today. The sky is a piercing blue and there is not a cloud in sight. So today’s beauty theme is sunny autumn days. I found these on Google Images. God bless.

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Wallpapers Market
Wallpapers Market

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Monday is for Beauty: The Phantom of the Opera

It’s Monday, so time for beauty. Over the weekend I took a break from my studies to watch the 2004 movie version of The Phantom of the Opera. It re-kindle my love of the musical. It is actually my all time favorite musical. When I was a kid I listened to it and sang it all of the time. The original London cast was the first CD that I ever owned. I also love the book!  So here are a few of the songs from the musical. I still have not seen it performed and I am hoping to see it next year when it is in Washington, DC. I have midterms this week, so things will be sporadic on the blog. I hope you have a blessed week.