I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.
In a Fallen world where suffering abounds: What is the Christian answer to suffering and uncertainty? What is it we have been given in the face of pain, sorrow, uncertainty, and agony in our lives and the world? The answer is the supernatural virtue of hope. The Christian life is one lived in hope, no matter what happens on a personal or global level. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us of this gift:
“Spe salvi facti sumus”—in hope we are saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.
Spe Salvi 1
Not only are we given hope, but “trustworthy hope” because hope comes from God. It is true that the road to holiness and communion with the Most Holy Trinity is arduous. There will be periods of intense suffering from external and internal factors largely outside of our control, but in the midst of that suffering hope sustains us and propels us forward. If we keep our eyes fixed in hope on Christ and our eschatological end, then the pain is worth the effort necessary to attain our goal, which is God. We must live in hope and not despair no matter what happens around us or to us.
Where does our hope rest?
Our hope does not come from the material world or the powers of this world. Our hope rests in Christ. While the Paschal Mystery has renewed creation, and brought about the salvation of mankind, men and women must still battle sin and suffering in the pursuit of holiness in a Fallen world. Pope Benedict XVI states: “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.” Definitive hope rests with God, not in the temporal order. We live hope in the temporal order, but hope does not come from this world.
One of the major struggles in Western society is based on a secular humanism that promises to lift mankind out of suffering through the use of reason. Due to the sinful and free nature of man, we cannot rely on the hope promised by human beings alone. This is also the danger of those who look to the state for all of the answers to human misery. No system based on reason and sinful human beings can completely free humanity from suffering, sin, and death. Only Jesus Christ can fulfill those promises.
A little over a week ago I reactivated my Facebook account after a year away. I have one of those personalities that gets easily sucked into the news feed. I have been watching the news since I was 5 years old, so old habits die hard. My problem is I become immersed in it. It isn’t good for me or people like me. I knew this a year ago and it is still true today. I am deactivating my account and trusting that God will provide for our adoption through His ways.
I went back on because social media is an invaluable tool in running an online fundraising campaign. My husband and I discerned that we need to humble ourselves and begin an online fundraiser to help us pay the astronomical costs associated with adopting a child, or Lord willing, children. I built our fundraiser and then I reactivated my Facebook account to share it. Upon my first scroll through the news feed I could see why so many of my friends have come to me saying they left Facebook for good. This election cycle has brought out the absolute worst in people on all sides.
The problem with the war being waged in social media is that many Catholics are involved in the constant battles and nastiness. It is true that we are called to take an active role in political life; however, it is hard to tell the difference between believers and non-believers at present. Christ tells us in the Last Supper account in the Gospel of John. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So my question for people is: Can people tell we are disciples by our love for one another? Can they tell our love for others? Christ commands us to love our neighbor. The constant fighting, offensive and overly simplistic memes, and the dehumanizing of one another accomplishes nothing except Satan’s desires for division. And there is a lot of division.
Fear and ideology have blinded so many that common sense has been lost. Catholics are forgetting that there are in fact laws, principles, and virtues to follow. Things are so upside down that a priest can commit sacrilege on an altar harming the pro-life movement while Catholics applaud this abuse of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and violation of the dignity of the dead. Catholics keeping throwing around mortal sin, without fully understanding moral theology or Catholic Social Teaching. The blindness to Clinton’s radical pro-abortion agenda and her constant apathy towards the dignity of the human person is ignored by her supporters. Trump’s waffling and indifference on pro-life issues is supposed to convince me that he is the great harbinger of the culture of life. In reality they both subscribe to intrinsic evils, are are wholly unreliable, corrupt, and bullies. I couldn’t buy the arguments of either side in the cacophonous din.
In full disclosure I have never voted for a Democrat because of their radical abortion agenda and the fact that faith is not divorced from public life. What I do see on both major sides is a lost sense of the good and how fear has come to rule the day; any and all scare tactics can be used to elect someone is the claim of the ideologue. We can do anything as long as she isn’t elected. This is false and immoral.
I just voted–and in full disclosure–I didn’t vote for either major party candidate. For the first time in my life I wrote someone in. I went with the American Solidarity Party. I walked out without the slightest tug at my conscience. I don’t agree with their call for single-payer healthcare, it violates the principle of subsidiarity and eventually the other three principles of Catholic Social Teaching in practice, but I didn’t have to choose between Moloch and Ba’al, as someone put it so well on Facebook. I could not stomach (I actually felt sick to my stomach) voting for either candidate, so I said a resounding “no” to the evil of both candidates. That is what I decided to do based on my conscience, which is properly ordered to the Catholic teachings on faith and morals. Others may arrive at a different conclusion and still be in line with CST.
I don’t expect people to agree with me, but I am fully within my right as a Catholic and acting in line with Catholic Social Teaching. My conscience could no long accept the consequential argument of the lesser of two evils. The “lesser” part kept on tripping me up this time around. I couldn’t see much of a distinction between the two. We reached the point–I knew we would soon after I plugged my nose to vote for McCain and Romney–when my conscience couldn’t do the mental gymnastics anymore. While folks from either side may not agree with my decision, they are required to respect it, which is the problem on Facebook these days.
There is no respect for others and a total dehumanizing and labeling of “other”. I have been accused of committing a mortal sin because I did not vote for Trump. That is the argument of an ideologue. I commit a mortal sin by abstaining from evil? It takes astonishing mental gymnastics to reach that conclusion. An example where this might actually fit might be: I vote for Clinton because she is for partial birth abortion. That violates the moral law and Catholic Social Teaching. Let’s try to keep our facts and theology straight.
The use of “other” to separate people has been in use since the Fall and it is always dangerous. It is used to take away the dignity of another group of people; to forget that they are human beings made imago Dei. The memes demonizing both sides does this task quite easily. Anger, fear, and the irrational are fueled and the volatile situation we now find ourselves in becomes reality. Social media provides an endless onslaught of real-time information, much of it false, anti-intellectual, offensive, or overly-simplistic. Yet, we ingest it and share it en masse without the slightest nod to prudence.
Fear is the word of the day. Far too many people are worried that if she gets elected the world will come to an end. There will be open sacrifices of the unborn on altars around the country, all Catholic Churches will close on Inauguration Day, and the apocalypse is upon us. The problem is, this isn’t an exaggeration of what I have seen. It reminds me of the scene from Ghostbusters where they talk about the End Times as they wait for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Fear is not a reasoned response to evil. Fear makes people do, say, and think stupid things. Yes, stupid. I think stupid things when I am blinded by fear. I will freely admit it. There’s a reason Christ tells us to hope and not fear. I can understand a reasoned argument in favor of Trump, but I do not accept the argument based on fear that if she wins the end is nigh, so I must vote for Trump. I don’t vote for one because of the other. That isn’t a sound evaluation of the candidate as he stands. We are called to use our God-given reason, not succumb to fear of the unknown.
There is a tremendous lack of hope right now, which is the antithesis of the Catholic understanding. Catholics live in present history, but also in the past and the future. There has never been a perfect time in human history since the Fall. Horrors, evils, torment, and intense suffering have always been a part of our experience. Even in that pain the joy of the Paschal Mystery renews all of creation and us. We now dwell in the hope of entering into communion with the Most Holy Trinity. We live in the hope that God will use us in His divine plan. We are called to transform the temporal order within our sphere of influence. Yes, vote, but our system is completely broken. We have to start from the ground up and evangelize the culture. It’s the long view. It’s the Catholic view. We don’t obsess in impending doom. We transform the culture where we are and come what may, even if it is martyrdom. Our eyes must always be fixed on Christ and not the storm:
Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea.When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.t once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
People who come across us in social media or in person should be able to see that we are Christ’s. We share our political affiliations–if we have any at present–in hope and joy that no matter the outcome, Jesus Christ is King now and forever. We do not rant in irrational fear. We do not overlook evil and call it good. We do not dehumanize others. No matter who is elected this evening, our mission remains the same: to become saints. We can’t do that if we are blinded and attached to ideology. We cannot become holy if we harbor any hatred in our hearts. We cannot become holy if we wallow in fear. Admitting things are broken is not to give up. It is to reassess and figure out how to begin anew. That has been our job in every age. The culture collapses and we are there to pick up the pieces. We cannot pick up those pieces if we are screaming, ranting, or posting obsessively about politics in a doomsday manner.
Fellow Catholics, does our social media presence point to Christ? Is it filled with hope and joy even in the midst of suffering? I am very open about my own pain, grief, and suffering, but I also walk firmly with Christ by my side even as sobs engulf me. Vote today, trust, become holy, love others (including those you disagree with), and ask God for your mission in transforming the culture.
Read these to get started:
P.S. Sometimes it is very hard to tell the difference between sinful anger and righteous anger. Do we know ourselves well enough to tell the difference? Most of us are not developed enough in the spiritual life to truly know the difference. We need to be careful for the sake our souls and the people around us.
My five year old daughter started First Grade yesterday. We have been homeschooling for a year. Kindergarten was very relaxed because I didn’t want to force her too quickly into a rigid school routine. She was interested in starting some school at three and became very interested at four. To my delight, not so much surprise, she breezed through Kindergarten and was ready to jump into First Grade early. The reasons we homeschool are vast. Some of these reasons include: religious conviction (this is the biggest), conscience issues, intellectual rigor, immorality within the culture, and the desire to go at our daughter’s pace.
Thankfully, we live in a state where homeschooling is respected and we live in great freedom. We do homeschool under a religious exemption and I applied under Virginia state code with my local school board using a variety of quotes from Popes and other Catholic resources. The great gift of the Church’s 2000 year history! It makes finding resources easy. Our exemption was granted with no trouble at all. It is very difficult to argue conscience of homeschooling with a Catholic because the Church has made it very clear that it is the parents’ right and duty to school their children in the manner they see fit and which will lead their children to Heaven. That latter part can be something we forget at times.
Part of homeschooling is to focus on going at the child’s own natural pace. My husband and I knew from birth that our daughter is smarter than both of us combined. While this does invoke some level of pride in us, some good and some bad, having a very smart kid comes with interesting problems and times of great comic relief. There’s nothing quite like your child pointing out your errors from a very young age. In fact, yesterday I was on the phone with my husband explaining to him a situation in which I felt powerless. When I hung up the phone, my daughter said to me: “Mommy, only God has power.” I was momentarily stunned into silence and then told her she was absolutely right.
Since I am a newer homeschooling mom, I try to read a lot of different books by veteran homeschoolers. I have read books on unschooling. I have read books on classical education of which I am a fan. I have read books on discipline and the need for tight schedules. I have read books on monastic living within the domestic church and the list goes on and on. These books have been helpful to a point, but really they tend to point to the author’s individual preferences over any universal necessity or practice in homeschooling. There is a need in day-to-day living and the spiritual life to instill discipline from an early age. Even though I was in the Navy for 6 years, I still struggle with discipline. One of the real difficulties is finding books that fully apply to us. I can learn a good amount from a mother with 10 children, but her situation is drastically different from my own. Homeschooling an only child comes with great blessings and difficulties that differ greatly from a large family.
First, I do not have older children or younger children who my daughter can learn from throughout the day, weeks, months, and years. Many of these moms discuss the great gift of learning from siblings, of which I have no doubt, but at this point it is God’s will for us to have only one child and that may remain. I do not know. We are looking into adoption, but just like my fertility, these things are entirely up to God. So the gift of a large family is wholly unhelpful to me and at times is painful for me since one child was never our plan. In all honesty, It makes it hard for me to want to attend a Catholic homeschooling conference since all of the speakers seem to have 6-10 children while the rest of us with one child or small families, through no fault of our own, are not represented in the speakers. My other friends who homeschool one or two children feel the same way.
Second, since it is just my daughter and me, there are times she is going to get tired of me and there will be burn out.There will also be burn out for me. Let’s be honest, homeschooling is something we are called to and it is by the grace of God that we are successful and survive. This is precisely why I cannot express enough gratitude and extol the blessings of our local Catholic homeschool coop.
Mondays are Coop day and while it is exhausting and crazy, it allows my daughter to be in a classroom with other kids of a variety of ages–I might add. She learns from other teachers on a whole host of subjects, many of which I do not do at home. This year she is learning Art, Italian, Classroom Concepts, as well as two programs we are doing at home, Harcourt Science (I am her teacher at Coop for this) and Classical Catholic Memory (CCM). She learns from me at home four days a week: Reading, Math, Religion, Science, Spelling, Writing, Art Appreciation, and CCM (a memory program that includes Latin, Religion, History, Science, Math, Poetry, and Geography each week). Coop gives her the opportunity to spend time with friends and to communicate with a wide age range of people from 3-18, as well as adults. There are over 30 kids in our Coop. Each Monday, she spends all day with other kids and moms and we both get a break and guidance as we go through this homeschooling adventure.
This year’s journey has only just begun. She seems to enjoy learning, and because it is just the two of us, we are done for the day by lunchtime. I am sure we will hit bumps on the road frequently. There will be days she isn’t as interested or a topic is a bit of a struggle. That is when we can take our time and down shift or up shift depending on her needs. Her being ahead allows for flexibility in future years. If she hits a subject in junior high or high school that is difficult for her, then we can take two years if we need to. She will graduate at 16 based on where we are now, but homeschooling her means that we can move her back to 18 if we need to. The point is to stay at her pace, so that she can foster a life-long love of learning from a very early age rather than become frustrated by either being ahead or behind. Pray for us. Like I said, no homeschooling family would ever pretend that it is an easy road. It is deeply difficult and one completely dependent on God, but it is rewarding, and in my view, the most assured (there are no guarantees, we can only do our best and rely on God’s grace) in keeping our daughter on the path to holiness in later life.
My family and I just spent 5 days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was my first visit to the islands. It is an absolutely beautiful area. My husband and I are not big on the most popular beaches near us such as Virginia Beach, Myrtle, or Hilton Head. We don’t like crowds. The nice thing about the OBX is there are miles and miles of beach, which helps to minimize crowds and make for a peaceful vacation. While we were there my daughter and I perused a couple of the beach stores. She wanted a souvenir and needed some new sunglasses since she had left hers at home by accident. While we were in one of the stores, my daughter found a Frozen bathing suit that she really liked, a two piece.
In my early Twenties, I gave into the predominant culture that says women need to show off their bodies. This was further driven by the fact that I was in the military and in peak physical condition. I worked out 6 days a week and while I do the same thing now, vanity is always a struggle that must be fought against. I dressed modestly, but smartly back then. I never had any desire to wear short skirts lest I be stuck pulling them down all day and I also never had any interest in tops that showed a lot of cleavage. I am outdoorsy, so I had a more Eddie Bauer or L.L. Bean look to me than anything else. I still do. That is my Montana upbringing influencing my style choices.
When it came to going to the beach with my friends, I ended up choosing a bikini with short board shorts. It was what everyone else had bought on our shopping trip and I decided to join in. In reality, I felt self-conscious and realized any male attention I was drawing was not the kind I was ultimately looking for. I remember quite clearly trying to hide in the waves as much as possible on the crowded Ocean City, MD beach. Plus, nobody mentions that string bikini tops get knocked off by the waves, so that creates it’s own battle and embarrassment.
Flash forward 15 years and I now see why I felt so uncomfortable. Women are beautiful creations of God. Paintings, sculpture, and all mediums of art have portrayed the wonder of the female form. There is something good, mysterious, and alluring about the female sex. The problem arises when we distort that beauty and turn it into lust. The culture preaches lust and sexy over beauty. The skirts these days stop just below the butt and the tops leave very little to the imagination. Prom dresses look more like swimming suits than gowns. All of this tells our daughters that sex is the only way to get a man. It also doesn’t allow them to be comfortable in their clothes or their own skin. Watch teenage girls these days. They spend a lot of time re-adjusting their clothes because they feel self-conscious with so much skin showing.
Men are visual creatures. There is nothing wrong with admitting this fact. Ask any man and he will admit this truth. Men are drawn to the female sex because God made us as their helpmate and for the propagation of the species. We are meant ‘to go forth and multiply.’ This call has of course been sterilized, no pun, by the contraceptive mentality of Western culture. This is part of the reason women have been reduced to an object and told that being sexy is a requirement. We have not been freed by post-modernism. Instead we have been enslaved and reduced to the sex object we supposedly were fighting to avoid.
A woman should desire to be beautiful, body and soul, to a man; not an object of lust. Sexual desire is a healthy and even holy aspect of marriage. Sexuality is a gift from God and in no way should it be viewed with derision. Any thoughts that sex is dirty or wrong comes from Puritanical views of human sexuality that are diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. Sex is holy, period.
We need to teach our daughters that modesty is beautiful. If they want a man to see them as a person, then they cannot dress in a manner that is meant to incite lust. That is hardly just. Women cannot claim that men should learn to control themselves when we are intentionally trying to insight desire in men who are not our husband. We have an obligation to protect our brothers in Christ and to not be a near occasion of sin for them, but it is more than that. We should be respecting ourselves as unique creations from God who are meant to complement men. We are shrouded in mystery because of our ability to be co-creators with God. A woman can be beautiful in a bathing suit that is meant to complement the features of a woman, rather than show as much as legally possible. A knee length dress shows off the natural curves of a woman more than the shortest skirts. I tend to hold to the rule if I can’t genuflect in it then I am not wearing it.
I can’t explain all of this to my 5 year old right now. She doesn’t understand why I told her we don’t buy two piece bathing suits, except a tankini that covers as a one piece. We will have these discussions as she matures into a young woman, and often. I plan to tell my daughter that modesty reveals her dignity and beauty to men. I am not saying frumpy. I am saying modest. She can save sexy for her future husband. There will be plenty of time for that when marriage comes, if that is the vocation God calls her to in adulthood.
It is time to teach our daughters that they are beautiful gifts from God and that is how men should view them. We need to stop being a part of the problem and treat our brothers in Christ with the charity and respect they deserve. We’ve bought into the lies of our culture. Let’s abandon those lies for the beauty of our Catholic faith and the true dignity of men and women.
Fortitude is the cardinal virtue which aids most in perseverance in daily living. In the Christian life, fortitude is tied to the willingness to be martyred for the Faith. It is not a desire for martyrdom, but rather, a willingness to conform one’s life so closely to goodness and truth that they are willing to die rather than go against truth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions (CCC 1808).” Once again it is clear how the cardinal virtues build upon one another. Prudence guides the individual to a reasoned conformity to truth, justice gives others their due, and fortitude fosters the habit of confronting and persevering in the face of evil and suffering.
Fortitude plays an important role in the moral life. If a person cannot choose to defend and live truth regardless of consequences, then they will fall into error, sin, and vice. Human beings will suffer in this life and fortitude provides the needed habit in overcoming, confronting, and living through periods of trial. In the latter, it may even mean giving up one’s own life. Pieper states, “Fortitude presupposes vulnerability; without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude. An angel cannot be brave, because he is not vulnerable. To be brave actually means to be able to suffer injury. Because man is by nature vulnerable, he can be brave.” Fortitude is to accept this vulnerability, but to summon courage despite pain and suffering. Fortitude provides strength in the face of persecution when others may steal one’s property, livelihood, freedom, and very life. It does not mean searching for martyrdom or persecution, but it means being prepared when those moments arise.
 Pieper, 1758.
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. This type of morality is less concerned about fulfilling obligations and more concerned with the love of truth and goodness. 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.” It is by the nature of God’s creation of man as “embodied spirits” where rights dwell. 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. 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.
 Pinckaers, 359.
 Pieper, 731.
 Aquinas, 25.
 Pieper, 741.