Catholic Exchange: Truly Living as the Mystical Body

Many of us live in cultures in which seeking help from others is frowned upon and viewed as weakness. We are told we should be able to go it alone and we define strength as one’s ability to do everything themselves. It should become readily apparent that this type of thinking is diametrically opposed to Catholic thought. First, we are created to be completely dependent on God. Second, He gave us the Church, His Mystical Body, as a guide on the journey. Third, within the Mystical Body are our fellow sojourners on the path to holiness. We are meant to walk together. We are united by the power of the Holy Spirit to our Head, Jesus Christ. This unity means that when one member of the Body suffers, we all suffer at an ontological level.

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26

To echo St. Paul, we are not meant to go it alone nor are we meant to appeal to some disordered understanding of individualism as we go through the battles, trials, and sufferings of this life. We are meant to come together and to walk the path to Calvary together.

The reasons many of us do not seek help during trials may vary. I think many of us are infected with the idea that we are supposed to be able to do it ourselves, as our culture tells us. I also think it comes down to pride. We use the excuse that we are a burden to others, but really it boils down to our own pride. We don’t want to have to ask other people to help us. We want to be able to do it ourselves. In reality, many aspects of our lives require help from our fellow members of the Mystical Body. This is especially true in periods of immense suffering and trial. Here are some things we need to think about in realizing our need to turn to the Mystical Body for help.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Saint Philip Neri: The Humorous Side of Humility

We live in a world that takes itself too seriously. I would hazard a guess that many people reading this piece struggle with this taking of one’s self to seriously, just as I do. It turns out, there is a saint to help us: St. Philip Neri. Today the Church celebrates this humorous, charitable, obedient, and joyful saint. He was born in 1515 in Florence, Italy. He spent many years studying and serving as a layman before being ordained a priest. He had a profound mystical experience that led him to serve in hospitals and he felt such great love of God that he preached to the poor and the rich alike in his desire to bring the world to Him.

St. Philip developed quite a following. He founded a confraternity alongside his confessor, Persiano Rossa, called the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims and Convalescents. The confraternity served the needs of poor pilgrims who came to Rome throughout the year and during jubilee years. St. Philip was ordained in 1551 and he also founded the Congregation of the Oratory, which was a group of secular priests.

St. Philip was known for unpredictable behavior that surprised a great many people:

He seemed to sense the different ways to bring people to God. One man came to the Oratory just to make fun of it. Philip wouldn’t let the others throw him out or speak against him. He told them to be patient and eventually the man became a Dominican. On the other hand, when he met a condemned man who refused to listen to any pleas for repentance, Philip didn’t try gentle words, but grabbed the man by the collar and threw him to the ground. The move shocked the criminal into repentance and he made a full confession.

St. Philip Neri, Catholic.org

It is clear that St. Philip could see the need for different approaches depending on the situation. It demonstrated his ability of discernment and his willingness to do what was necessary to bring others to God.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

Catholics Must Say “No” to Ideology

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There is a disconcerting trend that I observe daily in social media. It is that many Catholics have mistaken their ideology for authentic Catholic faith. This is most typically combined with a misunderstanding of the ordering of politics in regard to the Faith. Many place their political leanings or personal preferences before the Church. This is greatly anti-Catholic, undermines our ability to communicate effectively, and hampers our ability to evangelize the world.

What is the Church? The Church is the visible sign to the world of the reality of the Blessed Trinity. It is Christ’s body made present through the ordained priesthood and sharing of the worshipping community most realized in the Eucharistic presence. In that sign to the world the internal reality of the life-giving Holy Spirit is at work. When we publicly rebuke Satan and enter into Baptism we are not joining an institution. We are joining a communion of believers who are “one body” due to the physical breaking of Christ’s body on our altars. We agree to enter into the mysteries of Christ’s life and death as we descend into or under the waters of Baptism. We are cleansed of our sins and we put on a new man, or as St. Cyril discusses in Lecture 20 of his catechetical series, we are clothed in a new garment.

What are the implications of our Baptism? First, the Catholic understanding of the Church is greatly anti-individualistic. What many Catholics in our country fail to grasp is that rugged individualism is diametrically opposed to Catholic identity. This is one of the many reasons so many Catholics do not understand Pope Francis. They are viewing the Church with an American lens, rather than through authentic Church teaching and history. We are members of a monarchy and a communion. It isn’t just a community, it is a communion that is connected and conformed to the Blessed Trinity through the glorified, crucified, and risen Christ. That means that nothing we do is done in isolation. It means that our very lives belong to Christ first and our neighbors second. The Church is the realization of Christ’s command to love God above all else and our neighbor’s as ourselves. We literally live that commandment in the life of the Church.

The Church’s understanding of communion, does not take away the unique dignity and gifts of the individual person, however, there is a proper ordering of such gifts. Any gifts or mission that God gives each of us stems from our life within the Church and they are meant to be used to further bring the world to Christ. We are representatives of the Church and Christ’s mission to the world. We never act in isolation or separate from our identity as a Catholic. We belong to the visible structure of the Church by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation. We all partake in Christ’s mission of bring the world in conformity to the Blessed Trinity.

This has far reaching implications for how we interact with the world. All that we do should point towards the eschatological end of all people, namely that we are made for Heaven. When we fall into the trap of ideology, we greatly hamper this call and misinterpret and misrepresent the Church. In fact, it can blur our thinking and proper understanding of good and evil. I saw an article this morning that was so grossly misleading about the situation with Bishop Finn that I saw nothing but ideology. Bishops make mistakes and sin. He made some really bad decisions. We must be able to reason through situations, rather than always assume they oppose our ideology. He did not resign because Pope Francis is on the hunt for “conservatives” (this is ideology in the Church, politics are not theology), rather this Bishop mishandled the sex abuse scandal in his diocese and had to resign.  This is reality. We pray for him and those who were harmed in the process. If we cannot see this situation for what it is, then we have fallen into the danger of ideology.

This is an issue throughout the Church and is not reserved to circles who put their “conservative” ideas before the faith. This has been a major issue on the more Left leaning side since they cannot abandon their desire for sexual freedom that is diametrically opposed to both revelation and tradition. People who support the grave evils of abortion, contraception, and attacks on marriage have placed their own preferences and ideology above Christ and the Church. That is why a satirical site can write an article that this ideology seeks to remove Christ from the Blessed Trinity. Satire is always close to the truth.

Heresy is a partial truth that is taken as the whole. This is the danger of ideology. When we connect ourselves to an idea and make it the yardstick for all of our beliefs we very quickly fall into heresy. The Church is the balance between competing extremes. She has always walked a tight-rope in a world that prefers extremes to truth and reality. If we want to walk this tight-rope then we must live our lives with a clear understanding of our Baptism and the communion we are members of.

First, in our lives we are being conformed to the Blessed Trinity.  That means our lives are united to the mysteries of Christ’s life and death; meaning the Cross. We are asked to sacrifice and give completely. That means abandoning ourselves to what Christ and the Church teach. It means that we are obedient even when we don’t want to be or a teaching is hard. The great internal mystery of the Cross is that Christ gave himself in total obedience to the Father. This is what we are called to. Our sacrifice is an internal act of obedience to the Holy Trinity through our external actions of charity and sacrifice.

Second, we must place the Church first. The Church is a 2000 year old body and her teachings are vast. We must, in humility, accept that we are not the Magisterium. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very soul and life of the Church. That means it is God who is acting in her teaching. We do not know better than God. It is crucial that we abandon our ideology if it contradicts the teachings of the Church. Humility is one of the ways we are conformed to the mysteries of Christ.

Third, we must not publicly declare that our ideology is representative of the Church’s teaching. We need to be absolutely sure that we know what we are talking about when we engage in discussions about the Church. Our political leanings, no matter which party, is not fully in line with Catholic social teaching. In fact, both parties in the U.S. contradict social teaching at some level. Of course, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, etc. supersede certain teachings by virtue of their gravity. The point is that no political party in the U.S. is Catholic and we should not delude ourselves.. In fact, while the American experiment has been a great one, there are many aspects that are in opposition to the Church. I already mentioned that individualism contradicts the idea of communion.

Fourth, we have an obligation to our neighbor. This is what Pope Francis is getting at. By virtue of the communion we are members, we have an obligation to care of the poor, persecuted, and suffering. It is not something that we leave to political powers. It is up to me and you to care for the “least of these”. That means we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and figure out how we should be serving our local community and family.

Fifth, the Church’s moral teaching is clear, concise, and available for all to read. Study it and know it. If you are struggling with a certain teaching then pray about it and seek guidance from an orthodox priest. We are not above the moral law and we must learn that love means obedience, even when it is hard. Christ submitted in obedience to death on a Cross in love of the Father. Do we really think that sexuality or our individualism is greater than that sacrifice?

Sixth, the Church is large and it is much larger than our ideology. Pope Francis’ decisions are complex, as are actions in dioceses, and Magisterial offices. When a Bishop or somebody else resigns it is not always because of whatever ideology you subscribe to. Pray and trust. We must all be mindful that we are not misleading other people by our words and actions.

We are Catholics and that means we are members of something greater than politics or ideology. Politics serve their purpose, but in subordination to our theology. We must live our lives cognizant that how we represent the Church can harm others and ourselves. If we are going to publicly share our faith (we are all called to share the Good News), let’s make sure we know what we are talking about. We have the greatest gift to offer the world: The Holy Eucharist. By virtue of our Baptism, we get to touch the broken and glorified body of Christ. We get to eat his body in order that we may be spiritually in communion with him and united in a physical reality in which God uses our senses to reach us. We must engage the world through the eucharistic communion that we are united in through the Mystical Body. THAT is our center. It is love Himself who is on our altars. We have the answer to the pain of the world. We have the answer to the meaning of life. It is time for Catholics to abandon ideology and return to the mission: Bringing the world to the glory and charity of the Blessed Trinity. We must say “no” to ideology.

The Shock and Awe of Becoming a Contributor for Catholic Exchange

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I learned a few lessons yesterday as I began my contributor relationship with Catholic Exchange. The story of how I ended up writing periodically for them is one that I can only look back at in wonder. A few weeks before I was asked by the editor to become a contributor, I had emailed a good friend of mine and told him that my writing goal for this year was to get a piece published on Catholic Exchange. I had seen on their editorial page that they take submissions, as do a whole host of other Catholic websites, some of which I am waiting to complete my Master’s before I write more scholarly submissions. My friend thought it was a great idea and wished me success. I had set the thought aside as I began to prepare for final essays and exams for the January semester. Then something completely unexpected happened.

I read Catholic Exchange articles throughout my week because their focus is on deepening the Catholic faith of their readers and inviting others to investigate the greatness that is Christ and His Church. I happened to see an article that stopped me in my tracks in that the title was a theological error. For some reason I felt compelled to write a theological response on my own blog and share it on their Facebook page and in the comments section.  I didn’t expect a response and had written it so that readers could see a theological argument in response and study the subject more. I will not re-hash my post here, as it was quickly corrected by the author and editor. What happened next greatly humbled and amazed me. The editor contacted me to tell me a correction had been made and asked if I wanted to become a contributor for the website. I was stunned and over-joyed. This was a site I read regularly that I felt truly represented the Catholic mission to the world in its refusal to fall strictly into polemics. They are striving to help us grow in holiness. After a few years in polemics, I had found their website and had seen what type of writer I truly wanted to be.

I was exhausted from the battles that Catholics wage with one another constantly over every minute detail. I see that parts of social media are tearing the Mystical Body down rather than lifting it up. I contemplated this last night after having survived my first day as a contributor for a major Catholic site that reaches hundreds of thousands of people.

Honestly, I was stunned by the level of support and sharing my piece generated, as well as the other amazing authors at Catholic Exchange. I saw that thousands of people were reading and sharing the articles from yesterday. It made me wonder, do sites focused on polemics generate this kind of buzz? I looked over a few of the major Catholic political sites and saw very quickly that they are not nearly as popular. While this was an anecdotal and small pool of research, I could see that people are thirsting for the authentic Catholic Christian message. Yes, polemics are interesting. I still sit back and watch the arguments on my friends’ social media pages, but arguments don’t quench that thirst. Messages of hope, reflections on Scripture, the lives of the saints, and deepening of theological understanding feeds the soul in social media and in real life. The world is noisy and places like Catholic Exchange invite their readers into the silence of God. That is precisely why they are so popular. They are feeding Christ’s sheep.

My experience of joining them as a contributor was one of deep humility and shock. I struggle with pride, intellectual pride, and God completely stunned me with this direction in my writing. I quickly discovered that this is one of His tools for teaching me humility. I was nervous when my post was published. I was worried that I had made unintentional errors, and I actually did. They were quickly fixed. As a natural debater, I learned that I don’t have to respond to every comment posted. In fact, I really didn’t want to engage in debate since that is not the goal of my writing these days. I merely want to share the beauty of the Catholic faith with others and let God do the work. So while I responded to a few comments on my article yesterday, I realized very quickly that I didn’t need to and that is how I will keep things in the future unless any major questions arise. I want people to offer fraternal correction when necessary and I will happily contact the editor to make sure my mistakes are fixed, but I want my writing to help with silence and peace, not turn into fights over minutiae. So this natural born debater learned to trust and let things go. If the editor has approved my piece, then it is fine. Both of us are orthodox and never intend to lead people astray.

To write for a large website is to offer yourself up to the readership. It is to trust that God is using the talent he has given me to serve Him, not myself. I write because I want people to deepen their love of the Blessed Trinity. I am also human and I have to fight pride daily. There is a real danger of pride in being a writer. We can lose sight of the mission, but I see now that God is using this to teach me humility. I don’t like every writer that I read, so it is impossible for everyone to like my writing all of the time. People will tell me such and that is a great reminder to be humble and serve God, not myself. It is also deeply humbling to see so many people using this website to grow in their Catholic faith.

As a writer and a student, I tend to walk forward in fear and trembling. This is what we all should be doing, but I am amazed at what God has done with me in the past few months, especially as I go further into my Master’s program. I am learning so much and it makes me want to share it with others. I am growing in wonder and amazement as I delve deeper into the truths of Christ and His Church. I will even be teaching high school theology online this coming fall for Kolbe Academy Home School.

Yes, my primary vocation is wife and mother. That is the greatest gift, but I am thankful that he is using me precisely in my vocation. I can teach and write from home. He is fulfilling that deep intellectual yearning that He gave me, but also keeping me firmly planted at home with my daughter and husband. What a tremendous gift! The last few years have been hard. I suffered three miscarriages, post-partum depression, and a long period of refinement in the furnace of suffering, as one of my Confessors called it. The grief was painful and I was constantly reminded of Christ on the Cross. Through all of that suffering Christ has conformed me more closely to Himself that I may serve Him in charity, truth, and humility. So here I am in awe of what He is doing in my life. I hope you have a great weekend and a blessed Easter season.

Social Media and Illusions of Granduer

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Social media is a great tool. We can connect with old friends and meet new people. It’s a place to interact and it’s nice for moms like me who are a bit isolated as they raise their children. I have observed and experienced a rather disturbing trend, however. That is, because we have our own social media pages and interactions, our opinions and feelings on a specific matter either must be voiced or must be submitted to without discussion.

When I read an article by someone who is formally trained or who works in a specific field, I take into account their expertise. It does not mean that I agree with them, but it is something I consider. Whenever I read an article or blog, I always read about the author so that I can get a feel for their background and knowledge. If I am going to disagree about something, I want to consider the source of the first argument.  This is not how most people see it, though.

I have tried to discuss articles or issues with various people and it always devolves into ad hominem attacks. I try to get people to stay on topic and they won’t or can’t. This is a universal problem. It is not just “liberal” or just “conservative” it is also throughout the Church. There is a very strong anti-intellectualism that has crept into our culture and into the Church. Instead of being knowledgeable on any given subject, we believe that we can make uneducated opinions at will based on our emotions. The evidence or arguments, no matter how sound, do not matter.

This is a break down in an understanding of how truth is conveyed to the senses and in its essence. Once mind-object agreement is no longer the norm, it becomes perfectly acceptable to live in a dictatorship of self. What I mean is that when we become the ultimate source of truth and not reality, things become incoherent and irrational. Unfortunately, what this has turned into is an inability to discuss things rationally and logically. It also creates an environment that is suspect or hostile to intellectual pursuits and within the Church creates a breeding ground for either clericalism or relativism depending on the situation.

First, we need to accept and know our own limitations. There is a vast array of subjects that I do not know enough about in order to form an opinion or share any insight. There are certain subjects, even theological subjects, in which I struggle with emotionalism. Once again that is a limitation within myself that I must accept. If I cannot control my emotions on a specific topic, then I need to avoid a discussions on it until I can. I have improved a lot in this area, but I still do it every now and then.

Feelings are not a sound reason for forming an opinion. Feelings are tied to the passions and can result in automatic, not rational, responses to specific items. When confronted with, let’s say, a theological argument that is formed by reason and that is based on acceptable theological tradition, we cannot respond with I don’t agree because I “feel” this way. No. Feelings are not a valid response to reason. In order to disagree with say, St. Thomas Aquinas (which is perfectly acceptable on certain matters, but I would do so with humility), we need to be able to provide another theological school of thought in response. Your feelings and my feelings do not change reality or a sound argument.

When feelings become the deciding factor in policy decisions, theological decisions, or other areas of our lives, things get ugly. When we are no longer ruled by reason and correct thinking, our feelings become a force of power that subverts those who do not agree with our particular emotional state. This is happening at an alarming rate in our culture. Decisions are being made that have nothing to do with sound or right judgment, but have everything to do with how people feel. This is not just a problem in our culture, it is an issue within the Church.

In the past couple of years, I have encountered a very destructive form of anti-intellectualism within the Church. People say we should move towards Protestants, well yes and no, but anti-intellectualism is something that we cannot borrow from certain (not all) Protestant sects. The Catholic Church is where faith and reason are united on their journey to God. A Catholic told me yesterday that theological study was pharasaical. I was flabbergasted, but not surprised because I left a group recently that focused on a false sense of piety in place of sound intellectual understanding within the Church’s tradition.

The problem with anti-intellectualism is that it works hard to control those who have intellectual strengths. A strange power struggle erupts. Not everyone is called to study theology or philosophy; however, we are called to respect and understand the gifts of other people. Anti-intellectualism comes with an overinflated pride and sense of self that is based on emotion and not study. It is the opposite of the person who has vast knowledge, but uses it in the service of self. Both are inherently wrong.

The individual who referred to me and another friend as Pharisees because of our theological knowledge had no business being on a thread that was discussing Thomistic thought. Rather than accept their own limitations they decided to engage in emotionalism that devolved, as it always does, into ad hominem attacks. They could not respond theologically, so they attacked the people who could. Once again, we need to know and accept our own limitations. If we do not know Thomistic theological and philosophical arguments, then we shouldn’t respond until we do. This is common on other threads as well. I see it often in comment sections.

Here’s the reality, just because we have an opinion does not meant that we should or need to offer it to people. If we, myself included, cannot add to a discussion with insight then it is better that we stay quiet. The Internet is not the place for us to share our ignorance with the world under the guise that we have a right to share our opinion. The Internet is not where I go to have my feelings validated.

I got myself into a discussion last week that I knew I should stay out of. I could not argue the position with sound reason, because of my own personal experiences that still have an emotional hold on me. I also have little patience for presumption. When we are discussing issues with people, we need to stay on topic. I do not know many of the people who I discuss ideas with on social media and that means that I cannot assume anything about them as persons. That is why it is crucial for discussions to keep to the topic at hand. The minute they go off track, I leave.

There is an amazing amount vitriol and venom that we spew at one another on a daily basis in social media. A lot of it could be avoided if we accepted our own limitations, control our emotions, and work on humility. The world does not need to know all of my opinions, especially the ones that are not properly formed by reason. This goes for me, as well. I need to accept that there are certain topics I need to stay away from at the present.  Can you imagine how our interactions would change if we focused on humility, intelligent discussion, and charity? Social media does not make us gods of our own domain. Rather, it is an opportunity to connect with people all over the world and to share sound ideas. Not everyone is expected to engage in discourse at the doctoral level, however, any person should know the difference between the topic at hand and personal attacks. Let’s all consider how we interact in social media as we go through this Holy Week. God bless.

Cinderella: Christ and the Church in Art

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I can’t say that this post will be a review per say. It will be my musing on my experience of the movie and the Christian dimensions of the original fairy tale.  Of course, I know the story. Almost every little girl, at least in the U.S., was introduced to Disney’s version of Cinderella at a young age. The fight of good and evil is even recognizable in the innocence of childhood. And while many would say that the “happily ever after” is the reason little girls love it, I would say that there is more to it than that.

The character of Ella is one of outer beauty, but an interior of strength, courage, goodness, and love. She serves tirelessly and while she has her moments of weakness, she continues on. The newest adaption captures the utter goodness in her at the moment when she is about to give up, an “old beggar woman” asks for some milk. She immediately responds through virtuous action, action that is so infused within her through habit, that she serves this woman in the midst of her own sorrow. It is then that the fairy godmother reveals herself and Ella, in her gentle way, scoffs. But, she accepts the gifts joyfully when she realizes the fairy godmother is who she says she is. Even though she has not had much goodness done to her in recent years, Ella opens her arms wide open to the gifts bestowed upon her. Her own servant’s heart makes it easier for her to receive love.

There was one moment of the film that struck me very deeply. After Cinderella has danced and spent time with the prince, she flees. We know that this is because it is midnight and the spell will be broken by the final toll of the bell. The prince’s right hand man remarks that the prince had to choose “the one who flees” and the prince smiles. The Christology of that moment stopped me and nearly reduced me to tears. Cinderella is actually the story of Christ the Bridegroom (the Prince) and his pursuit and love of the Church (Cinderella). The deep spiritual truth of that moment has stayed with me even hours after the film, and it will stay with me.

Christ chooses all of us and we flee. Even those of us who are baptized into the Mystical Body, flee His love every time we sin. God woos us and we flee in shame and fear. Shame is a by-product of the Fall. We are constantly struggling against the shame that is brought about by our sin. God chases after us, beckoning, and calling us back to Him. He tenderly caresses us upon our return. Within the Confessional, he binds our wounds and restores us to the grace of our Baptism. No matter how many times we fall, he is constantly calling us back to Him.

Christ’s love for us has repeatedly been equated to a courtship in Scripture and Tradition. The desire and fire of passionate love is a common image for God. In fact, the Song of Songs is about God’s love for us. This is often misinterpreted by people, but it really is about God’s love for us through the imagery of romantic and erotic love. The same is true in the story of Cinderella.

Cinderella runs from the prince out of fear and shame that she is not good enough. She is a common girl. That is why when she finally comes forward to try on the glass slipper, she asks the now King to take her as she is, even in her lowly state. A sign of the virtue of humility. The King obliges and offers her the same humble request, that she will take him for who he is, even as a monarch apprentice, turned king. This moment not only demonstrates the humility required within marriage, it demonstrates the Church’s relationship to the Bridegroom who has given himself entirely to us. Christ emptied himself completely on the Cross in the greatest act of humility and his love is realized and reciprocated through the Church.

While the Christology was with me throughout the movie, the cinematography and costumes were breath-taking. I have been a Kenneth Branagh fan for decades and I could see his touch everywhere in the movie. The costumes, the banter, the style was so similar to Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. I fully expected him to end with a Shakespearean (given his background) style wedding, but he did not. He kept to simplicity and beauty, but showed the absolutely gorgeous wedding dress selected for Cinderella. Modesty is beautiful!

What really was truly a gift was the beauty. The entire movie is beautiful. This is so lacking in our culture anymore. The entire movie is a sensual experience in the way art is meant to be. It draws us into goodness and joy. The imagery caused wonder and awe, even if some of it was CG. It didn’t matter. The beauty was constant throughout the movie.

The beauty is contrasted with the darkness and cold of the stepmother, who inevitably breaks against the stone of goodness. The movie calls those who see it to embrace beauty, kindness, and goodness. I left wanting to know why there are not more movies like this one? Why has art so lost its way? I would say it is because it has lost its center, who is Christ. Even if Branagh meant to tone down the Christology of the Cinderella fairy tale, it was impossible to do because of the sheer beauty of it all. As I have written here before, we see God in beauty. Good woos us through beauty and this movie will do just that. I just might have to go see it again in the theater. God bless.

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Do I Want To Be Right or Do I Want To Be Right?

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Last night I had an experience that I am not used to. I got a “B” on one of my graduate essays. I have not had anything except “A” grades on my writing assignments since high school.  Yes, I got an “A” on all of my papers in undergrad. To add insult to injury, my professor proceeded to re-write half of my essay. I was stunned. I felt rather dumb. I may have cried a bit from wounded pride. I proceeded to tell my husband that I got hammered on my most recent essay. He assumed that meant a “D” or something. My program requires a minimum of 80% to stay in the program. He laughed and pointed out what I already knew: I needed a lesson in humility and my professor, who is also a priest, just gave me one. He also told me (he has a Master’s degree) that graduate school is not easy and it shouldn’t be, so a “B” is a good grade.  I am still learning to accept that wisdom.

This opens up the question: Do I want to be right all of the time, or do I want to get the information right? Am I more interested in pride or am I interested in the truth? The reality is that High Scholastic sacramental theology is tough. It is hard to understand and even more so, when I lack a BA in philosophy.  So I am learning things backwards by running back to what reading I have done on Aristotle and trying to apply it.  I had an in-depth conversation with my Dad, who was a philosophy major, on causality.  He’s got 40 years ahead of me in study.

Some of my errors were that I missed parts of the material and some of it was me trying to figure out how this professor wants things formatted.  Any graduate student will tell you that half of the game is figuring out precisely what each individual professor is looking for on each assignment. But, more importantly, while there was red font all over my computer screen when I looked over my essay, I knew my professor cares enough for me to get it right. He re-wrote sections I missed in order for me to have the correct answers. This is not a professor on an ego trip. This is a priest-theologian who takes the truth very seriously and who wants me to do the same. Words matter and he pointed that out by crossing out some of my verb choices.

So, yes, I am humbled. This is not undergrad and this is not an easily mastered subject. In fact, theology and philosophy take a lifetime and even then the answers don’t come until we are standing before the Beatific Vision. This made me think about our interactions with others within the Church. What happened to me is something that we all need to think about. Do we want to know the truth, the actual truth, or do we want to cling to our own notions of the truth?

In my Fundamental Theology class, we spent a week focusing on the vocation of the theologian and our obligations to Holy Mother Church. Much to my surprise, *public* disagreement, even on points that are not irreformable is prohibited for theologians. They can get together in private to discuss concerns or theological points, but publicly voicing disagreement is unacceptable.  The reason being that the Magisterium is the ultimate authority and it is not our place to publicly disagree.  Many theologians help the Magisterium make decisions and clarify positions, but the ultimate authority rests on the Pope and the College of Bishops.

My question then is why has social media turned into such a place of dissent? Everyone thinks they have a say or opinion and that they have a right to share it publicly. Discussions are good and noble, but it should never appear that our personal opinion or ideology supersedes the Magisterial teaching authority.  We can scandalize the faithful and non-believers by passing off our own version of the Church instead of the truth.  Do I want to share the truth or do I want to share my ideology?

Before we go mouthing off about various topics, we should make sure that we know what we are talking about.  I am a big proponent of the autodidact, however, in these matters there needs to be a guide. We need to make sure that we are not deluding ourselves in our reading or fitting our ideology inside of the Church.  Think about that the next time you engage someone. I thought I had done well on my essay, and then my professor, a learned guide, showed me just how wrong I was on this topic.  How often are we wrong to the detriment of others?

Abandoning Disobedience

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I have been watching the Charlotte Catholic High School controversy with a mix of concern, interest, and finally frustration. I know the priest in charge there and he is a wonderful priest. They are blessed to have him, even though, they cannot see it. I am also a Lay Dominican, so a Dominican in the news is of importance to me. Both Fr. Kauth and Sister Jane Dominic have studied in Rome. The latter has a doctorate in Sacred Theology. I cannot remember Fr. Kauth’s full studious background, but I have attended multiple Masses of his when he would stand in for the priest who married my husband and me. I no longer reside in that Diocese, but I watch it in the news because I know there are very holy and orthodox priests coming out of that Diocese. It may be hard to believe it in light of what has happened here, but the young priests in that Diocese are great lovers of Christ and His Church.

More brilliant minds than I have written extensively about this incident. You can read about it here and here. I merely want to write about a couple of things that have come to mind as I watch this situation on unfold. First, I want to talk about humility and obedience. This is a core problem with situations like these. Many Catholics have fallen into the trap of relativism and follow the secular age while sitting in the pews. They profess the Faith from one side of their mouths while undermining it from the other side of their mouths. Second, I want to talk about the weight of our personal Cross. In our culture it appears that more emphasis is put on the crosses of individuals that have to do with sex. This is a byproduct of our culture’s obsession wtih sex.

So let’s begin with humility and obedience. As Catholics we are called to be obedient to Christ’s Church. When we profess the Nicene or Apostles’s Creed at Mass on Sundays, we are saying that we fully accept everything the Church teaches from the divinity of Christ, to papal infallibity, to social teaching. The end of the Creed states our belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”. Since this profession of faith is a part of the Mass, it can become robotic. But, do we really think about what we are professing. Credo, “I believe”. Do we really believe? or are we perjuring ourselves in the Real Presence of Our Lord? This is something every one of us should think about.

I spent some years living in disobedience to the Church. I thought that I knew better. I listened to heterodoxical people, rather than my own conscience and catechesis. I knew better. When I finally underwent a major conversion five years ago I realized that my pride and sin had gotten in the way. I realized that I could not possibly know better than 2000 years of sacred tradition, as well as Holy Scripture. Who am I to say that I know better than Christ and His Church? When we are disobedient, we are playing God. The teaching of the Catholic Church is Christ’s teaching. It is not of men, it is of God. Do you know better than Christ? This is a part of what is going on right now. Eden is playing out within the walls of the Church, as it has since the beginning. Some of us choose to follow God, some of us choose to follow ourselves. Whenever we sin, we choose ourselves. This is hard to swallow, but it is the beginning of true conversion.

We live in a country where individual liberty is prized above all else. We are the masters of our own destiny. No one can tell us how to live, not even the Church. That’s fine and good, but it is not a Catholic understanding of freedom. Freedom is the ability to what is right. There are billions of people on this planet who do not have that freedom. Look at China’s forced abortion policy. As Catholics it is God who is the Master of our destiny and that destiny is supposed to be Heaven.

The simple truth is that if we want to follow Christ then we must be like HIm and submit in love and obedience to the Father. That means following Church teaching even when it is hard, even when it is brazenly counter-cultural. We need to stop letting other people tell us what to believe. The Church’s position on issues of our day is not “hateful, bigoted, or homophobic”. It is based on authentic love and understanding. It is based on God’s desire for all people to be saved from eternal damnation. The Church is in the business of saving souls not racking up popularity points. To truly love is to desire the salvation of our neighbor and ourselves.

Second, we need to begin to understand that suffering is a part of the Christian life. Suffering is an integral part of the Catholic understanding of this earthly life. Christ told us to pick up our cross and follow Him. That means all the way to Calvary. Something that people need to think about is that being Christian is to die to self. It is to be crucified in our daily lives. Avoiding suffering is a secular (and some professed Christian groups) goal. Ours is to learn to accept and embrace our crosses so that Christ may sanctiy us and bring us further along on the path of holiness. The meaning of life is to become a Saint, it is not comfort.

This is not some type of sado-masochism. It is understanding reality. Every one of us will suffer. Every one of us will have crosses to carry. We cannot avoid suffering because we cannot avoid the inevitability of death. We do not choose sickness, natural disasters, or even terrorist attacks. Suffering is a part of the human experience. It is universal.

In our culture the sexual sins are seen as too big of a burdern to overcome. The idea that someone who struggles with same sex attraction should be chaste is unimaginable to them. This cross is somehow worse than others. This is false. The crosses we are given are used by Christ to help us grow in holiness. I have no doubt that same sex attraction is deeply difficult to bare. That it comes with periods of loneliness, despair, and pain. Contrary to what many contemporaries think, most of us who support traditional marriage have had friends who profess to be gay. Some of my friends have embraced the gay lifestyle and others have chosen the Catholic path. I am going to say something that is very unpopular, this cross is no heavier than other crosses. Some people are chronically ill whether it be physically or mentally. Some people cannot have children, or like myself have lost babies. Some people live in abject poverty. Some people live in countries ravaged by war and violence. Some people have been abused in some way. The fact of the matter is that ALL crosses are hard. All crosses will cause us to stumble. Christ fell 3 times under the weight of the Cross and our sin. In the final analysis we must choose to allow Christ to help us with our Cross and use it for His purposes, or we can cast it off and choose the ways of this world. We either choose God or we don’t, but if we don’t, then we are to blame for the consequences.

Being Catholic, being a follower of Christ is not easy. It is deeply difficult. That is why we are called to be faithful and not perfect. The goal is perfection, but we are not there, yet. If you are sitting in the pews and think that being Catholic is easy, I would suggest some serious time in Scripture and discussion with a holy and orthodox priest. Our Lord was crucified for preaching the Truth. What makes us think that we can escape the same fate? What makes us think that Christ did not mean what he said about following Him? Love is the Cross. Total self-emptying. That means working to abandon those sins we hold on so tightly. I have some that I cling to. It means saying “no” to a culture that would lead us on the path of evil. It means professing the Truth no matter what and at times doing as Sister Jane Dominic has chosen to do in the Charlotte incident: dusting off our sandals and moving on to the next souls in need of salvation. If hearts are hardened, they will not hear the Truth, so we must seek those who will hear Him. We desire all be saved, but they must make the choice. That choice comes with humility, obedience, and an acceptance that crosses are a part of the journey. God bless you on your journey.

 

Veiling and the Real Presence of Christ

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I got an excellent lesson from Our Lord in humility and following His will for me this past Friday.  My husband and I attended a University of Notre Dame Chorale concert at a local parish.  It was extraordinary and my first experience of culture since I had my daughter 2.5 years ago.  It was the type of music that makes the soul soar.

As we were heading to the concert, I took out my chapel veil to place around my neck.  My husband asked me why I was going to wear it.  I said that the concert is to be held in the Sanctuary.  The Presence of Christ does not change just because it is not Mass.  Our Lord asked me to veil in His Presence and that includes concerts.  My husband understood.
We both noticed that, even though, the majority of the attendees of the concert were Catholic, the vast majority did not even genuflect towards the Tabernacle as they entered the pew.  This church, which is really a cathedral, has the Tabernacle front and center.  It is adorned with candles and angels.  You cannot miss it.  As we went to leave, the same things happened.  Everyone filed out as though they were at a Concert Hall and not in the Presence of the Holy of Holies.  My husband and I were both stunned.
I don’t know what Christ’s purpose is in asking me to veil other than for my own need of humility.  Perhaps he also wants those of us who do veil to remind others that He is Present: body, blood, soul, and divinity, in Catholic sanctuaries.  This is a sharp contrast from our Protestant brothers and sisters.  We take Jesus at his word in John 6.
My husband and I ended up attending Sunday morning Mass at this same parish, it is not our home church.  It turned out that Monsignor preached on the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  How fitting! This filled me with great joy and it was a welcome Homily considering the staggering statistics that 70-80% of Catholics do not accept the Church’s infallible dogma that Christ is fully present in the Eucharist.  We are not ingesting a wafer.  We are eating (gnawing is closer to the original text) on the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.  We are united body and soul more perfectly to Him.  What a great grace!  What strength we are given in being allowed to receive Him bodily.  We must always remember His Presence when we enter a Catholic Church.
At times it can be difficult for me to veil.  I become self-conscious, but veiling is how Christ eats away at my pride.  So if there is ever an event in a Catholic sanctuary, I will be veiled.  You can count on it!
My daughter was trying my veil on yesterday.
My daughter was trying my veil on yesterday.

Wherein I Rant About the Treatment of Priests by Some Members of the Laity

There is something that is going on in many Catholic parishes that I find disturbing.  It is something that I have noticed the more I get involved in the Church.  It is an utter lack of Christian charity towards our priests by some members of the laity.  Priests are attacked for pretty much everything that they do.  They are scrutinized constantly.  The Mass is too long, it is too short, the Homily is too long, the priest preached on orthodoxy, the priest preached on contraception, divorce, abortion, or gay marriage in line with what the Catholic Church actually teaches, there should be women on the altar during Holy Thursday even though it is a liturgical violation, the priest does not use gender neutral speech, the priest takes too long with the Eucharist, he uses the Eucharistic Prayers I or IV which are too long, he is asking too much of the altar servers, he is not friendly enough, he is too friendly, he is changing things, he is too young, he is too old.  Are you getting the picture?  If they are a Catholic priest, every aspect of them has been examined and criticized by someone.  This is especially prevalent for the new orthodox priests coming out of the seminary.

 
There is a major lack of humility and charity by these folks.  I myself have opened my mouth when I should not have and the priests were charitable enough to correct me.  I am appalled by some of the things that are said and done to our priests.  Are we Christians or not, because we are not acting like it.  Here are some things that might help us to remember our place.
 
1. The Church is a MONARCHY, not a democracy.  The priest is the head of his parish.  He makes the ultimate decisions.  He uses pastoral, liturgical, and other councils to guide his decisions, but when it comes down to ultimate authority, it is his.  Vatican II did not change that.  While Vatican II did work to end clericalism that had developed, much out of necessity (the majority of people were illiterate, giving huge responsibilities to priests), it still upholds the priest’s authority.  As long as the priest is not doing anything heretical or heterodoxical, when he makes a choice, we must submit in obedience. Period.  It’s a great spiritual lesson.  We all must submit in obedience to God.
 
2. Humility.  I don’t know about you, but I do not have the philosophical or theological education that an average parish priest undergoes in seminary.  I have heard outright heresy from the pulpit and that should be addressed by the Bishop, but in the majority of cases, they know what they are talking about.  Part of the reason I am Catholic is because  I trust the Church’s 2000 years of history, tradition, writings, etc. to be the truth, because I am not the one who decides truth.  If a priest preaches on something that you have chosen to be disobedient on, it is on you, not him.  Contraception, abortion, gay marriage, IVF, embryonic stem cell research, divorce, etc. are all authentic doctrine of the Church that we are required to submit to.  If you don’t like the priest preaching the Truth then you need to set up a meeting with him so YOU can come to the fullness of truth.  Pray hard for conversion.  You can yell or send nasty emails to him all you want, it is God’s law, and his job is to bring us to the fullness of truth.
 
3. He gave up his life for us.  I told my junior high students this past Sunday, that being a priest is to give up one’s life to serve us.  They are dedicated to bringing Christ in the Sacraments to us.  They are our spiritual fathers.  They deserve our respect, prayers, admiration, and love.  I don’t care if they are 27 or 101, it does not matter.  They have all laid down their lives for Christ and His Church.  None of us have a right to be uncharitable or mean-spirited towards them.
 
4. Put yourself in his  place.  Rather than be responsible for his own small family, a priest has decided to be responsible for hundreds, even thousands of people.  That is a tremendous burden and a tall order.  They do their best to serve all of us.  They cannot make everyone happy, which is why they rely on Church teaching and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).  Chances are when the priest makes a final decision, it is based on research and study.
 
It is time for the bickering to stop.  I  know that this is difficult for us Fallen creatures, but part of the journey to holiness is to learn how to work together in Christian community.  At the parish level, the priest is the head of our community, not you, and not me.  The next time you are at a meeting, practice the virtues of humility and charity.  They will get you much farther than any sin possibly could.  And more than anything, say thank you to your priest.  I cannot even tell you how unbelievably thankful I am for our priests.  God bless all of our priests.  St. John Vianney, pray for us..