Catholic Exchange: On Being Human and the Need to Wonder

I stood on a cold, frosty afternoon looking out the window at my daughter playing in the snow. She was bedecked head to toe with winter gear to protect her from the bitter wind, a wind she hardly noticed. Her fuchsia snow pants insulated her knees from the icy snow and she sat contentedly eating snow. She examined each handful before placing it in her mouth. She was struck by the uniqueness of each new handful. As I watched her, I was drawn into her wonder. I was struck by the obvious joy of that moment for her.  I realized in that moment, children often have their priorities in order, while we adults grasp at all the wrong things.

A pile of dishes was awaiting my attention, textbooks for my graduate courses sat opened, reminding me of work to be done. My elliptical machine, cold and mechanical, stood in the living room corner as an oppressive force of health and fitness. My mind was running with an endless list of things that must get done. And yet, I stopped to see what my daughter was doing in our backyard on a bitter cold winter afternoon. She had been begging me all morning to go outside and I made her wait until it hit 25 degrees. I have grown soft living in Southwestern Virginia; away from the arctic subzero temperatures of my upbringing in Montana.

I couldn’t help, but stop. There she sat, engrossed in wonder and serene contentedness. The very same serenity that alludes so many of us in adulthood with our deadlines, duties, and responsibilities. I realized that my daughter’s work was probably much more important than what I felt bound to complete in a begrudging sort of way. She was examining the secondary causes of God’s free and self-emptying Creation. I stood watching her examine each snow crystal before she placed it in her mouth. I entered into her wonder, her total giving of self to the moment. How could I not be drawn in along with her?

She did not feel the cold or complain about the weather the way we adults often gripe. Instead it was an opportunity for joy, play, discovery, imagination, and love. It was a moment for her to experience God through the beauty of His creation. She was living the good, the true, and the beautiful. How often do we brush off our child’s excitement over something seemingly mundane? How often do we miss out on the opportunity to enter into their wonder and joy of discovering something new for the very first time, or even the twentieth? How much do we ignore that God calls us to fully live in the present? Our children teach us the presence of God, but we pay little attention.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholic Exchange: Genesis: Is Catholicism at Odds With Science?

There is a battle raging in our culture between science and faith. This battle is centuries old, as various philosophers and theologians have sought to divorce faith and reason. The Catholic Church has stood firmly in the middle of this battle, calling for a ceasefire. Faith and reason are meant to go together, not be torn asunder. One of the primary issues is based on erroneous interpretations of the Genesis creation account, which scientists rightly point out do not comport with reality.

The error in question is based on biblical literalism. This belief, which came about post-Reformation, is the idea that all of Scripture is to be taken literally (except John 6) and that includes the six-day creation account. This has never been the Catholic reading of Genesis precisely because the Church acknowledges that Scripture is a library of complementary, but different, genres; all of which are divinely inspired. Bishop Robert Barron elucidates:

Once of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text which he is dealing. Just at it would be counter-intuitive to read Moby Dick as history or “The Waste Land” as social science, so it is silly to interpret, say “The Song of Songs” as journalism or the Gospel of Matthew as a spy novel. In the same way, it is deeply problematic to read the opening chapters of Genesis as scientific treatise.

Bishop Robert Barron, Vibrant Paradoxes: The Both/And of Catholicism

Scripture and science will never be at odds as long as both are properly ordered to truth. Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who is the Archbishop of Vienna and well versed on the science-religion problem, remarked:

The Catholic position on [scientific creationism] is clear. St. Thomas [Aquinas] says that “one should not try to defend the Christian Faith with arguments that are so patently opposed to reason that the Faith is made to look ridiculous.” It is simply nonsense to say that the world is only 6,000 years old. To try to prove this scientifically is what St. Thomas calls provoking the irrisio infidelium, the scorn of the unbelievers. It is not right to use such false arguments and to expose the Faith to the scorn of unbelievers.

Christopher T. Baglow, Faith, Science, & Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge, 27.

If we are not meant to read the creation account in Genesis literally, then what was the intention of the inspired author?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

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.

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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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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Epic Pew: Laudato Si and 17 Practical Ways to Embrace Stewardship

Summer time has been busy, so my writing has been focused on the three Catholic websites I am now a contributor for. I will return to regular blogging when things slow down a bit and I get through my final exam for Theology of the Church. Today I am writing over at Epic Pew:

The Catholic Blogosphere has been on fire since Pope Francis promulgated his second encyclical, Laudato Si. The best thing that you can do is read it for yourself. When it comes to Church documents, it is much better to read the document yourself, rather than relying on the analysis of someone else. The worst thing a Catholic can do is rely on the analysis of a secular media organization. Temperance and stewardship are nothing new to an authentically Catholic way of life and go all the way back to Genesis. Here are 17 practical and easy ways to incorporate temperance and stewardship into your daily life.

1. Buy things used

I know that recycling has become more and more popular over the years. Why not establish a self-imposed recycling system in your house? Buy cars, clothes, furniture, lawn items, etc. used. My husband and I have been doing this for years. It saves us money and it gives things a longer life. Consider how much money you lose the minute you drive a brand new car off the lot?! Buying used is also fiscally smart.

2. Grow a garden

I am not saying that you have to get crazy like my husband and I are about gardening. Our garden is literally bigger than our house. Our goal is to really offset our produce needs through fresh veggies and canning. There is nothing like a tomato ripe off the vine in your own backyard. It tastes amazing! It is a taste you cannot find at the grocery store. Pick up a couple of 5 gallon buckets and plant some tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, kale (this is a great producer for months!!!!), or any other veggie you like. Your garden can be big or small, low maintenance or high maintenance. Not only is gardening good for your body, it helps us connect with God through His creation.

3. Hunt

We save a ton of money by supplementing almost all of our red meat with venison. It takes a little getting use to if you are die hard beef fan, but it is leaner and highly versatile. You can save even more money if you learn to butcher the deer yourself. It also reminds us of what a blessing the meat is that God provides for us. If you don’t like to hunt, then find a friend who does and offer to offset the cost. We hunt for many of our friends.

4. Shut off the electronics every now and then

In our highly connected world, this can be a difficult request. I struggle with this one, but in actuality, my struggle points to my addiction to my iPhone or laptop. We need to step away from the virtual world in order to pray and serve the people around us. Shutting off electronics not only cuts down on electricity, it cuts down on the ways we block one another out through a focus on the virtual rather than the actual.

Read the rest over at Epic Pew…

Catholic Exchange: Theology of the Body Changed My Life

Today I am writing about my reversion and Theology of the Body over at Catholic Exchange.

I was raised in a Catholic home. My parents taught me that sex was reserved for marriage, but that was the extent of the discussion. They never explained why it was reserved for marriage. It was merely a “don’t do this” statement and left at that. I don’t blame them. In fact, the majority of Catholics do not understand the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and the human person. What many don’t know is that Saint John Paul II devoted many of his Wednesday audiences, 129 to be exact, from September 5, 1979 to November 28, 1984 to the topic of human sexuality and the human person. He gave us a roadmap to navigate a culture that has completely lost its understanding and purpose.

When I was 28 years old, I finally started to understand God’s plan for me, including in marriage and sexuality.  I spent a few years, for all intents and purposes, outside of the Church. I would go to Mass at times, but really I worshiping at the altar of self and was living a life of relativism. I thought that I knew better than God. Truth be told, I was miserable, but it took me a few years to break free of the sinful cycle that I had dropped myself into.

Six years ago I met my husband on the online dating website CatholicMatch.com. We had both fallen away from the faith in our Twenties and had decided that we wanted to find our way back, to include marrying a practicing Catholic who wanted to submit to the Church completely. It was not as easy as we thought it would be, and we fell multiple times. Thank God for the Sacrament of Confession! Our parish priest at the time suggested that we attend a Theology of the Body seminar three hours away. He knew that we were on the fast-track to marriage and wanted us to fully understand the Church’s teaching. That seminar changed our lives and brought about our full reversion and obedience to all the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Friday’s Beauty Theme: Birds

Beauty is one of my favorite topics and it has a profound impact on my Catholic faith, so I have decided to keep the Beauty Theme going on Mondays and Fridays unless I am being published at Catholic Exchange or another website. In a world marred by suffering, chaos, and confusion, I enjoy looking over sites that showcase the beauty of Creation amidst the brokenness of the world. I’ll come up with a catchy title eventually, but for now I will stick with “Monday’s and Friday’s Beauty Theme”.

The older I get the more I enjoy watching the birds in my yard. It’s 5am here and I can hear them singing to the soon-to-be rising sun. Every year Red-Headed Finches move into my hanging baskets to have babies. There are eggs waiting to hatch in one of the baskets of geraniums now. So for for some beauty and wonder today, I scoured the Interwebs for images of beautiful birds. I hope seeing images of the beauty of God’s Creation brings you closer to Him. There were so many beautiful options that these are just a few that I found. I think that hummingbirds are my favorite. God bless.

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Mumma duck leading the family. Nikon D1x file
Mumma duck leading the family. Nikon D1x file

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Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) adult, perched on stem beside flowering dogwood, U.S.A.
Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus) adult, perched on stem beside flowering dogwood, U.S.A.

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Mass is Boring?!

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It is something that many Catholics hear often from others: “Mass is boring”. Their reasons for feeling this way are varied: the Homily, music, tradition, to the movements of the Mass themselves, bore them. If there is something we Catholics know how to argue about and disagree on it is the Mass. I have no desire to jump into the “Liturgy wars”. I have plenty of my own opinions that are my own and not universal and I am no fan of Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte music, but those fights accomplish little and continue to muddy the waters for those Catholics who really do not understand the Mass. In fact, I would argue that the number one problem for those Catholics who are bored at Mass is that they just don’t understand what exactly is going on during the Liturgy. In my mind, it is impossible to be bored at Mass if you truly grasp what is unfolding. So, I want to briefly explain the Mass from a theological understanding without getting too deep, so that I bore people who do not share my love of reading Church documents and the Summa.

When God created the Heaven’s and the earth, he made everything in a free act of love. This action, referred to in theological terms as exitus, is God sharing of Himself. In this sharing, God intended that His creatures would return to Him in love and worship through charity and faith. This is referred to as reditus. This essentially means that the created order is meant to return to God. Theological terms can be fun, right?! The first thing for us to keep in mind is that we were created to return to God in love and admiration. This is what we were made for. God wanted to share Himself with us and wants us to return to Him in that love. Pretty simple!

Now, how exactly does God want us to return to Him? Yes, there is a clear answer. He desires our worship through the only acceptable sacrifice, namely Christ’s Crucifixion and our obedience. On the night He was betrayed, Our Lord began a new Passover, so that His body (yes, His actual body) could be left with the Church that was to be founded by Him and led by Peter. Jesus was fulfilling His mission as High Priest in that He would become the new Paschal Lamb that had been sacrificed through the Levitical priesthood. He did this through the establishment of the Holy Eucharist and by His Paschal Mystery. He was the new sacrifice and he made a total act of obedience to the Father that we are to emulate. In fact, His sacrifice transcended the previous sacrifices of the Jews because Christ being both God and man he entered into the veil of the Holy of Holies. Meaning, he brought the sacrifice of Himself before the Father in Heaven for His people. Pretty amazing stuff! The Old Law had a prescribed liturgical form and sacrificial ritual that had been commanded by God, beginning with Abraham. Christ completed that ritual through His own Crucifixion and established the New Law, which is what most of us are familiar with in the Catholic Church.

How is this connected to the Mass? Well, the Mass as we know it today was formed over centuries of tradition. The Holy Eucharist has been celebrated from the very beginning of the Church, as is evidenced by the writings of the Early Church Fathers. The actual rites have undergone changes here and there, but the reality has been the same. The purpose of the Mass has always been the same. First, we are living what St. Thomas Aquinas called the virtue of religion. When we go to Mass we fulfill our purpose in life to give right worship to God. Remember how I explained reditus? The Mass is our return in love to the Most Holy Trinity. Second, we offer sacrifice. The Mass is often referred to as The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that is because Christ commanded that we offer sacrifice to the Father through the Holy Eucharist. Third, we are entering into communion with the actually body of Christ through our reception of the Holy Eucharist. Let’s look at each of these points individually.

First, by virtue of our Baptism and entry into the visible structure of the Church (membership in the Church) we are called to worship and glorify God. The largest action of charity we make in our lives is to attend Mass. It is there that we return to the Father in thanksgiving for all He has given us and seek reparation for our sins (we do this in the Sacrament of Penance too). This is also why the Mass is not about us. That’s right, the Mass is not about me or you. It is not a time for the choir to perform a concert, for me gain recognition for my working in the parish, or for the priest to dazzle an “audience”. The Mass is entirely about the Mystical Body gathering together to praise God, offer sacrifice, and move deeper into communion with Him. This is even more crucial in understanding when we realize who precisely is presiding over the Mass and who is present with us during the Liturgy.

Second, the Mass is the sacrifice offered by Christ on Calvary. No, we do not re-crucify Christ. Rather, we offer the glorified Body of Christ present in the Heavenly sanctuary, which is made present on our altars. The priest offers the sacrifice in the two forms of bread and wine. That is because in the Old Law, sacrifice was bloodless flesh separate from the blood. In a sacrificial understanding they must be separate. This does not mean only receiving the precious Body is invalid. The flesh contains the blood and Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity in its entirety. It just must be separate during the sacrificial portion of the Mass. Now there are differing schools of thought on my next point, but I am Thomistic in my school of Theology. Thomists would say that it is Christ Himself presiding over the Mass and offering sacrifice to God. That’s right, Jesus Christ Himself offers our Mass. He offers Himself to the Father along with the Mystical Body of Christ, through the visible ordained priest. Mass isn’t so boring anymore, is it?! Not only that, by virtue of the reality of Heaven reaching our altars, the Church Triumphant, the souls and angels in Heaven are also present. There is an invisible company of witnesses present at every single Mass. It’s incredible!

Third, Christ left His body, under the guise of bread so that we may reach out and touch His body that was broken for us. We enter into an intimate union with Christ that unites us body and soul to Him every single time we receive Holy Communion. He is physically with us for the 15 minutes or so it takes for our body to digest the consecrated host. Christ loves us so much that He wants nothing more than to be united with every aspect of what makes us human. So when someone asks you if you have a personal relationship with Christ you can reply that you have the most intimate relationship with Him by virtue of the Holy Eucharist. This is one of the key issues that separates us from our Protestant brethren. Our churches house the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. The King of the Universe dwells in our Tabernacles and waits for each one of us. That is how He always wanted it to be and that is why He left us His body in the Holy Eucharist.

This, in a very short blog post, is what we participate in when we go to Mass. The Mass is not where we are entertained. The Mass is where we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ. It is where we offer our love and devotion to the God who made us and died for us. It is where Christ reaches down and physically touches us in our brokenness. It is where we can unite our own sufferings to His. The Mass is quite literally the most important thing that we do in our lives. The next time you are at Mass meditate on what is actually going on. Approach the Holy Eucharist as if you were bowing down before the King of Kings, because that is precisely what you are doing. It is quite impossible to be bored at Mass when you know what is taking place.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper and Edward Sri’s A Biblical Walk Through the Mass.