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.

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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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…

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.