Catholic Exchange: Raising Daughters Like St. Elizabeth of Hungary in a Disney Princess World

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. St. Elizabeth was born on July 7, 1207 as the daughter of Hungarian King Andrew II and Gertrude of Merania. While still a young child, Elizabeth was betrothed to marry Ludwig IV of Thuringia, who was a German nobleman. She was sent to the court of Landgrave of Thuringia to receive her education at 4 years of age. During that time her mother was murdered and Elizabeth turned to ardent prayer in order to find peace and hope.

Elizabeth married Ludwig IV in 1221. She deeply loved her husband and the couple had three children. Two became members of the nobility while the third entered into religious life and became the abbess of a German convent. Throughout her married life, Elizabeth was deeply dedicated to prayer and charity towards the poor. Her husband supported her religious work. She lived a simple life of penance in devotion to works of charity. She used the abundant blessings God had given her as royalty to serve others in charity.

St. Elizabeth was greatly influenced by the Franciscan friars who arrived in her kingdom around 1223. She took up their austere practices in dressing simply and feeding hundreds of the poor bread daily. Both she and her husband were known for their great dedication to the poor in their kingdom. Elizabeth also treated the sick when illness ravaged the kingdom. Her husband was struck with an illness and died in 1227. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth devoted her life to celibacy and lived a life mirrored after a nun. She spent the rest of her days in ardent love and service of God and neighbor. She died at the age of 24 on November 17, 1231.

St. Elizabeth is one of many saints who was a member of royalty. Most parents of daughters discover very quickly the female fascination with princesses and queens. Disney has spent decades marketing off of this interest among young girls. Beauty, gowns, crowns, princes, and castles dazzle young girls as they twirl around their homes decked out in their finest. I remember being quite astonished at how quickly my daughter became enamored with Disney princesses at 2 years of age and she still is to some extent at 5 years old.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Lie of Cohabitation

Today I want to write about a topic that is of increasing popularity in our culture: cohabitation. I myself know this topic all too well because I lived it for 2.5 years. Before I met my husband, I lived with a man who was not my husband. In that time period I worked hard to twist and distort a lie into truth. I tried to make an untruth which I knew to be false, into a good. It was a battle I waged and thankfully lost. I lived with this man without the slightest real desire for marriage on either of our parts and when marriage did come up it was only to assuage the ever increasing guilt I felt and to try to right the error of my life. God did not leave me in my sin, thanks to His abundant mercy, and thankfully, God had better plans for both of us.

Our culture has convinced itself that living together outside of marriage is perfectly natural. In reality, it is anything but natural. It causes great separation, division, and harm to the dignity of the parties involved. While parties who cohabitate may love one another on some level, they are inherently in a disordered arrangement that denies the very dignity of the two people involved, the good of the two involved, and violates God’s designs for men and women. Cohabitation by its very nature does not resemble marriage. Cohabitation is to will sin on one another and to remain separated from one another. Here are some reasons why the marriage and cohabitation are not the same thing and why cohabitation is so destructive:

Cohabitation is not a we. It is still two individuals.

Oftentimes, as was my own case, a man and woman in a romantic relationship decide to live together to save money. Other reasons are it is socially acceptable or a trying out period. I will get to the latter in a bit. When two people decide to live together it is not a coming together into a union. Instead much of the time it looks like a roommate situation which also includes fornication and the use of contraception, both of which are gravely sinful and can kill the soul by cutting the two people off from God. Property is still his and hers, money is still divided, and mentally the two people are not one. God is often a distant idea or He is twisted into a “loving” Father who accepts all of our behavior. Cohabitation cannot bring about a union of two people because it lacks the promise and covenantal relationship of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Cohabitation also lacks the central involvement of the Most Holy Trinity within the relationship.

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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?

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Things to Remember in Reading Commentary on Amoris Laetitia

Once again, as happens with every document Pope Francis writes and promulgates, there is a mad rush to make commentary on Amoris Laetitia. I won’t comment on my thoughts on prudence and taking time to prayerfully read a document first before unleashing fury all over the Internet. I myself have not had time to read the document, but I have read the last two, and the responses in social media have all been the same. Some people panic, others misread, misuse, and turn them into ideological weapons, some provide insightful thoughts, and many don’t even realize the Pope wrote a document in the first place.

AL is the wrap up document of the contentious Synod on the Family. As happens with Synods, the Pope writes an Apostolic Exhortation or other papal document as a type of summation and wrapping up of what was gleaned from a particular Synod. This is not encyclical, motu proprio, or bull. There are no juridicial changes, doctrinal changes, or amendments to Canon Law within its pages. So from that knowledge alone people should put their pitchforks down and take a step back on all “sides”.

There is an obsession with this Pope that I have not observed in my short 35 years on this earth. It betrays a complete lack of understanding by the media and a lot of Catholics as to the role of the Supreme Pontiff. Hanging on his every word seems to be creating a disordered obsession with him in which people are turning to sinful anger or sinful license. I will address this issue at a later date. My only point now is there is a major need for balance. Here are a few suggestions in reading commentary on AL.

  1. The Church has always been divided by factions, sin, division, heresies, and calls to conform to the world. The Mystical Body is given life by the Holy Spirit, but it is lived through sinful men and women, including those who have fallen into relativism (no this is not pointed towards Pope Francis, so don’t read into it in that manner).
  2. Most of the great theologians of the Church have in fact not been Popes. Think St. Paul, St. John, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Athanasius, etc. The last few decades the Church has had a springtime of Popes who excel in philosophy and theology. This isn’t the norm throughout the ages. The Church is filled with individuals with different gifts. That means not every bishop or cardinal is a great theologian. You cannot compare the intellects of Francis and Benedict XVI, for instance. They differ in approach, understanding, and gifts from God. Do not read Francis’ documents in the same manner as B16’s. Francis is not a systematic writer, like his two predecessors. Yes, this poses challenges during this age of social media.
  3. Ignore secular media coverage. The secular world reporting on Catholic affairs is like asking a person who only speaks English to translate Chinese without ever having studied the language.
  4. There are ideologically driven Catholic writers all over the place. Keep that in mind when reading commentary. There will be those who say divorced and re-married can all take Holy Communion now (this is false) or those who say this Pope is the worst in our history the world is coming to an end (also false). Be leery of those sowing seeds of division. Division is a sign of sin and ideology.  Caution is fine, division and sinful anger are not.
  5. Prayerfully read the document for yourself. If there is something that seems unclear or confusing, pull out your Catechism or read other Church documents, Familiaris Consortio for instance, to help clarify things for you. St. John Paul II really is a go to source for understanding marriage and family life in a theological and philosophical manner. Yes, his phenomenological approach can be difficult, but many orthodox sources have made Theology of the Body more accessible for the Church.
  6. Yes, modernism is a heresy within the Church today. It will take decades, if not centuries, to root it out. Study Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, and Arianism if you want to better understand the longevity and virulence of certain heresies. It is clear that individuals within the hierarchy and the laity have fallen prey to the Siren calls of modernism and relativism. What I mean by modernism is the idea that the Church must conform to the world, mainly Western culture. The constant battle for the Church is to avoid turning a small truth into the whole truth. For instance, human sexuality and marriage are gifts and we are sinful human beings, but this is not the entirety of our faith. The Faith rests in the glorified Christ in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is the life of the Trinity that is our end, every other aspect of the Faith must be seen in light of the Triune communion.
  7. The Church survives and continues on while we sinful creatures do our best to destroy her with our sins, including institutional sin. Keep your eyes fixed on Christ and the mission of holiness. Do not allow commentary rob you of joy and peace.
  8. Take a break from social media if you feel sinful anger coming on. There is no sense falling into sin by reading comboxes and commentary that is not meant to lead others to truth and the Faith. What we think is righteous anger very often is, or becomes sinful the more we allow it to consume us. The Passions are difficult to control, so walk away.
  9. Yes, ambiguity in language is frustrating. There has been ambiguity in this papacy. It’s okay to acknowledge the frustration, but it’s not acceptable to turn to sinful anger. Pray for Pope Francis, the Church, and the world. Pray that the light of the Holy Spirit may bring souls into the Church and true conversions.
  10. Keep living the mission. Our mission, sealed in our baptism is to live the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices of Christ in order to bring the world into conformation with the Blessed Trinity. That is theological speak for living holy lives, loving and serving one another, and fixing our eyes on Heaven. You and I have very little control over what happens in Rome or how things are received by the world in media. All we can do is live the mission God has given us. Each us has a unique mission for the Kingdom. For most of us it is to live our Faith within our sphere of influence, wherever that may be. For some it is a pulpit or social media platform that reaches millions, for most of us, it is simply to lead our children to God and our neighbors. Let’s all keep things in perspective and live our mission.
  11. Be prudent in discussing these matters with others. Don’t advise others in a manner that could lead them to sin or you to sin. Most of us are not experts and even with a graduate level education in progress in Theology, I realize daily just how little I know or understand about it all. Prudence is the least sought after virtue, and yet, the  most important. I struggle with it too. A LOT!
  12. Look for the good, beautiful, and true in the document and incorporate it into your life. Any ambiguity can be answered in light of Tradition, so breathe. Yes, it is disconcerting to see the Faith disfigured and distorted by those who turn AL into ideology, all we can do is share the truth, pray, and fast.

May Our Lord bless you and give you the peace that surpasses all understanding throughout this Easter season. Pax Christi.

What is Conscience?

In the United States it is a presidential election year, which means the word conscience will be thrown around in Catholic circles and in the culture. At times the use will be correct and other times it will be wrong as individuals fall victim to a desire for the subjective and an abandonment of objective truth. Conscience is an ontological reality for human beings, which means that conscience is part of our experience and nature. God has given us an intellect and a will. Our conscience gets information and processes it through the intellect and then decides on a course of action, which is the will. It’s important for us to understand precisely what conscience is and is not, our responsibilities in conscience, and our conscience as it relates to God and the Magisterium. I do not have time to give a thorough account, many books have been written on the subject and the Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the topic, but I want to briefly explain this much maligned word and aspect of our nature.

The West has fallen prey to a “dictatorship of relativism”, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls it. Conscience has become a catch-phrase and excuse for all sorts of behavior including intrinsic evil. It is up to the individual to set truth according to the clarion call of relativism. The problem, besides the obvious moral chaos that ensues, is that this subjectivism ignores the ontological reality of mankind. God made human beings for goodness and truth. Internally within the very depths of our being, we are ordered to love God, choose goodness, and live in truth. That truth is set by God as the Creator of the universe and of all human beings. He has placed that truth within us, even as we battle concupiscence.

In his book, Values in a Time of Upheaval, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI composed a series of essays on the state of the world. He devotes an entire section to the topic of conscience which has taken a prime of place in moral theology. He explains and clarifies what conscience means and what it does not because he sees a great danger of relativism even within the Church. He gives a stunning and beautiful portrayal of the two levels of conscience. He refers to them as: anamnesis and conscientia. Anamnesis is the ontological level of conscience, Benedict XVI writes:

Accordingly, the first level, which we might call the ontological level, of the phenomenon “conscience” means that a kind of primal remembrance of the good and the true (which are identical) is bestowed on us. There is an inherent existential tendency of man, who is created in the image of God, to tend toward that which is in keeping with God. Thanks to its origin, man’s being is constitutively in keeping with God, is not a knowledge of articulated concepts, a treasure store of retrievable contents. It is an inner space, a capacity for recognition, in such a way that the one addressed recognizes himself an echo of what is said to him. If he does not hide from his own self, he comes to the insight: this is the goal toward which my whole being tends, this is where I want to go.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Values in a Time of Upheaval, 92.

Since we were made by and for God, there dwells deep within us the desire to live our lives in conformity to the good which is God. We are able to recognize what is from God and our own eschatological goal of Heaven. This of course can become blinded by sin, confusion, error, and our own will, but this interior reality is always present and the consequences are grave when we ignore this part of ourselves.

Conscientia is the act in response to a judgment in relation to the desire for good within us. According to St. Thomas Aquinas this act occurs in three stages: recognition (recognoscere), bearing witness (testificari), and judgment (iudicare). It is possible for an individual to not recognize a moral decision and to block their own will to the truth. The risks of doing this are great, as is evidenced by a history full of debauchery, violence, blood, and war. At times it is ignorance or disorder that leads a person to error and this can be corrected through a proper formation of their conscience and a realigning to God. A mistake in judgment is much easier to resolve than a person who has deadened themselves to their own ontological orientation to goodness.

What is the Church’s role in conscience?

Since human beings already have the natural capacity to do good within themselves, Jesus Christ the Logos, came to further clarify the truth which can be disordered within us by sin. As material and spiritual beings, we needed God to reach down on our level to fully teach us and guide us to Him. The danger of error is an ever present reality for mankind. We easily deceive ourselves and it is through Christ and His Church that we are given the clarity we need, so that we can always be pointed towards our eschatological end and our ontological desire for goodness. The conscience itself must find truth and dwell in goodness in order to retain its dignity. The Church guides us in the proper formation of our conscience. Truth is freedom.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: St. Padre Pio’s Unification with Christ

I am going to be honest. The saint whose feast day the Church celebrates today both fascinates and intimidates me. St. Pio of Pietrelcina, also known as Padre Pio, was born the son of two peasant farmers on May 25, 1887. His given name was Francesco after St. Francis of Assisi and at the age of five years old he made the decision to dedicate his life to God. His family was devout. They prayed the Rosary nightly, attended daily Mass, and abstained from meat three days a week in dedication to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Even though his parents could not read, they made a point of memorizing Scriptures and shared them with Pio and his siblings. His mother reported that he could see and speak with Jesus, Our Lady, and his Guardian Angel from a young age. This was so common in his life that he assumed that everyone could do the same. He was reported to have experienced heavenly visions and experience ecstasies in his youth, as well as throughout the rest of his life.

At a young age Pio expressed a desire to be a friar. He had great interest in the Capuchin Order, but discovered that he needed more education before they would accept him. His father arranged for him to have private tutoring so the he could meet the academic requirements of the Order. In 1903, at the age of 15, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin friars at Morcone and on January 22 he took the Franciscan habit and the name Friar Pio, in honor of Pope St. Pius I, whose relic was in the Santa Anna Chapel at Pietrelcina. It was then that he took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and committed to living the evangelical counsels.

After seven years of study and a period of severe illness, Pio was ordained to the Priesthood in 1910. A few years later World War I broke out and he was drafted into military service. He assigned to the 10th Medical Corps in Naples. His service did not last long, however, due to his poor health. It took a few years for the Italian military to figure out that Pio was too sick to serve and he was finally declared unfit for service in 1918.

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Catholic Exchange: Loving God through the Magisterium

One of the great struggles for many Catholics, especially in the West, is the hierarchical structure of the Church. We are called to submission and obedience to the Church. These are, of course, pejoratives in much of our culture, so many view the Magisterium and hierarchy with disdain, suspicion, and hostility. Some of this is a result of the sinful nature of men and women. The sins of the Church are on public display and so we blame the source instead of the person. While it may be understandable, it is incorrect to do so. The Church’s hierarchical structure is a great gift that was begun by Our Lord Himself. We must learn to separate the sins of men from the Church herself.

One of the great theologians of ecclesiology in the last century was Henri De Lubac. He was a French Jesuit and a masterful theologian. He was Hans Urs von Balthasar’s teacher, another great theologian of the last century. Henri De Lubac gives a clear, concise, and loving explanation of the Church in his book, The Splendor of the Church. De Lubac shows his great love of the Church and invites his readers into a passionate encounter with her, including the hierarchical structure of the Church. He also gives a vibrant explanation of why obedience is absolutely necessary in the Christian life. All that we have been given is from God and all that we have must be returned to God.

It is God himself, giving himself to us in the first place so that we may give ourselves to him; insofar as we welcome him into ourselves we are already not our own. This law is verified in the order of faith more than anywhere else. The truth that God pours into our minds is not just any truth, made to our humble human measure; the life he gives us to drink is not a natural life, which would find in us the wherewithal to maintain itself. This living truth and this true life find foothold in us only by dispossessing us of ourselves; if we are to live in them we must die to ourselves; and that dispossession and death are not only the initial conditions of our salvation, they are the permanent aspect of life as renewed in God.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange…