The Dangers of Isolationism and the Need for Holy Guides

In the past few weeks I have come into contact–both in person and in social media–with people who have felt the need to lecture me on their individual learning in areas of the Catholic faith. I stepped in at a Catholic bookstore when a man was telling a woman in full communion with Rome that she should go to SSPX Masses. I tried to explain to him that we shouldn’t be encouraging people to wade into complicated areas with a group that has not been fully rectified with the Church. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made progress in that area, but not nearly as much as this gentleman believed.

He then went into a tirade about how he had read all sorts of things and knew more than I did, even after I tried to tell him that I am in fact a theologian who has studied the documents of Vatican II quite a bit, because he had launched into an attack on those documents. The discussion was futile. It was like talking to a brick wall. He knew better than I did and that was that.

I’m sure he does know more on some things than I do. Everyone does. However, he demonstrated a weakness to me that is very common in the line of thinking of that particular crowd. This is true in both social media and in person. I can attest that the hostility many of us face from these folks online is just as prevalent in person, which I must admit, took me aback quite a bit. The weakness is a form of turning in on oneself.

Fr. Chad Ripperger, an exorcist and FSSP priest has warned this particular group of people, who are of a more traditional strain–as in only the Latin Mass, all else is invalid, Vatican II is wrong, etc.–that a martyr complex or persecution complex is destructive. This is precisely what tends to present in these circles. The rest of us–apparently myself included–are the enemy who is keeping everyone from the fullness of Catholicism. I personally veil in the Novus Ordo and I prefer a balance of English and Latin in the Mass e.g. Sanctus, Mysterium, and Agnus Dei. I’m not a fan of the banality of Marty Haugen, Dan Schutte, and David Haas. Those are merely my preferences, however. In the end these decisions are up to the individual priest and the bishop. We can’t allow our disagreement with certain choices to trap us in anger. I’ve done this before and it causes nothing but harm.

The danger I see is that far too often these folks read or study in isolation. I rarely see appeals to Sacred Scripture or Magisterial teaching, ether that or they cherry-pick documents. Whenever someone tries to explain the development of doctrine, as articulated by Blessed John Henry Newman, it is discarded. I’m not entirely sure these folks realize that Christology, for instance, took centuries to develop and is still developing in certain areas. The psychological dimensions of Jesus Christ are being examined by many theologians at present, as an example.

These people often focus on their own abilities to understand things. It’s a focus on “I” read this or “I” know this. It is often predicated upon a private revelation they studied, which is a good as far as it goes, but private insights and revelations are not Magisterial teaching and are not binding on the faithful. If I have a private experience of God, you are not bound to follow what He has revealed to me. You aren’t even bound to believe that it happened to me.

If the Church approves a private revelation, then we can at least trust that it does not contradict the Church’s teachings on faith and morals and it is a safe message to incorporate into our spiritual lives. We must always keep in mind, however, that our faith is not entirely encompassed in the message of Fatima, or the still not fully approved apparitions at Mejugorje, or any other private revelation given as a great grace to the saints. Our faith is understood through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. The three legged stool if you will. Once we unhinge ourselves from one of these legs, the stool will topple over.

There is nothing wrong with being an autodidact. Every faithful Catholic should have a regular habit of studying great spiritual works. Most importantly, all Catholics should be spending regular time praying and reading Sacred Scripture. Issues arise when we do so in isolation without ever seeking guidance from others, especially orthodox learned priests, theologians, teachers, spiritual friends, or catechists. We are made for communion with one another. This means that we should take our studies and what we learn to other people. This offers us the opportunity to humbly accept correction–I am corrected on a regular basis, as it should be–and to make sure that we are not in fact erroneously understanding something.

Spiritual teachers are an indispensable aspect of the spiritual life. It’s for this reason that priests receive formation from other priests, theologians, and philosophers. It is why theologians are required to undergo years of study under learned and trusted teachers. We need to balance our self-study with discussions and learning with other people. This includes those who may not be book-ish, but whose simple faith is a guiding example to us. I learn a lot from my husband who never cracks open a work of theology.

If we have fallen into protectionism, isolationism, anger, or vengeance then we are desperately in need of guidance. There are some people who have become so blinded by their anger at the Church that they relish the day they think when it will come burning down. Not only is this anti-scriptural, it’s to fall into the trap of sinful anger and wrath. These are traits that are quite common in certain circles. If we find ourselves pulling away from the Magisterium, for instance, then we have put ourselves in danger. We are then heading towards the same mistakes of the Reformation. We place ourselves above Our Lord in thinking that we know better than He did when He gave the keys to St. Peter.  We somehow know better than 2000 years of Church Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

If we believe that we can ignore an Ecumenical Council, then we once again are in danger. This is one of the reasons I urge people to read and study Church history. Far too many people think only with our current age in mind without being able to put it into the much needed wider context of the whole history of the Church. Periods after Ecumenical Councils are notoriously rocky. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI even said it takes 100 years for a Council to be fully implemented correctly. This period in history is not somehow significantly worse than others. The heresies may be slightly different or old heresies have found prominence again. There is not a golden age of Catholicism where everyone was leading holy lives and our leaders were all pristine saints. The Early Church faced division and violent martyrdom. There’s a reason the saints are held up as pillars of light to emulate in our dark world.

This practical understanding does not in any way excuse the sins of the hierarchy and the faithful. It is in fact possible to understand on a practical level the weaknesses of human beings and to be righteously angry in the face of great evil. The former is simply to understand how Fallen men and women work through their salvation with Christ in fear and trembling, often in a very broken, weak, and sinful way. The path to holiness is to battle the sin that lies in our own hearts and to be purified. That cleansing process takes a life-time, and even then, we may still need much time in Purgatory. That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious consequences when we choose grave evil.  It doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be very real consequences for when members of the hierarchy cause great scandal or that measures shouldn’t be put in place to prevent such scandals. There absolutely need to be! It’s important to remember that Christ Himself spoke frequently of the realities of Hell.

I simply mean that at a practical level, we do have to keep in mind that the path to holiness is a constant battle with sin, temptation, weakness, character defects, other people, the world, and the Enemy. I’m not a saint, yet. Are you? It’s not an easy path and anyone who says it is hasn’t fully understood that the Cross and the Resurrection are a package deal. Often those of us who focus on other people’s sins–we all do it–do so in order to avoid looking at ourselves. If we spend most of our time looking outward, then we are avoiding the very real work required interiorly and it is work. This is also something that needs to be done with knowledgeable, holy, and orthodox guides.

If we truly want to change the world and the Church, that is not going to be accomplished by ranting at other people both in person and in social media. In fact, that type of aggressiveness does more to harm our mission than to help it. If we truly want to transform the world and bring people to Christ then we must be actively pursuing holiness. That means a willingness to conquer the darkness in our own hearts and wage the intense battle that is required of us to do so. We have to stop focusing so much on the evils out there to the point that they rob us of peace. We can’t fight the battles out there if we haven’t fought the battles within our own hearts. Do we see the plank in our own eye? In the end we will persevere because it is Christ who fights with us and for us. With Him all things are possible. Even the most hardened of hearts can become radiant and holy. We must remember that this cannot be accomplished in isolation. We rely on Christ and His Mystical Body to succeed. We cannot walk the path in isolation.

 

 

I Have No Desire to Be an “Expert”

Our society is filled with “experts”. There are experts in politics, medicine, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology, business, and the list goes on and on. An expert is someone who seems to know everything that needs to be known about a particular discipline. This should immediately put us on guard. Anyone who thinks they know everything that needs to be known about a subject, clearly knows very little. Humilitas is the hallmark of the wise. This is how we have been given the Socratic method.

Socrates is told by his friend Chaerephon that the oracle at Delphi told him that Socrates is the wisest man in the world. Socrates’ first question is: How can this be? How could he be the wisest man in the world? He is even more perplexed because the oracle cannot lie. So he goes on the mission of engaging with other philosophers and “experts” to discover the truth of the oracle. He quickly learns that most philosophers or sages of wisdom held themselves up in high esteem. They do not see their own limitations in knowledge or practice of what they teach. Socrates acknowledges his own limitations, and so, the necessity of humility in attaining wisdom is born. In this humility, Socrates proves to be wisest, precisely because he does not consider himself to be so. He recognizes that truth and wisdom are never fully exhausted. We must first come to know our limitations and then we can proceed on the journey towards wisdom and truth.

The expert is the exact opposite of Socrates. The expert holds up their knowledge as superior and ultimate. We watch news programs and are inundated with experts. The primary goal of all of these experts is to tell us how to think. How often does a self-purported expert tell people to study the matter in question for themselves? True, I am not going to delve into quantum physics at this point in time, but the opportunity is open to me should I decide to learn at least the basics.

G.K. Chesterton lamented the dawn of the age of experts. He saw immediately that it creates a power struggle and make us intellectually lazy. The expert removes our own responsibility in learning. We no longer consider whether or not what is presented comports with reality, which is truth. We are all called to be philosophers, or seekers of truth (Fides et Ratio). In fact, we are all naturally philosophers, that is what Pope Saint John Paul II meant. Every single person asks the question “Why?” on a regular basis. Why am I here? Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have a purpose? Is there an after life? And the list continues on.

When we abdicate our own natural inclination to search for truth and wisdom, we leave ourselves trapped in a type of adolescence where we wait for other people to tell us how to live, act, vote, or understand a certain discipline. As Catholics, we submit to Holy Mother Church, but that is because we have learned through faith and reason, that Christ established the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who gives her form (life),  and that the Church will guide us ultimately to truth. Our job is to swim into the depths and plunge deep into the truth of the Most Holy Trinity through the Church.

I do not write because I am an expert. Theological study has revealed to me just how little I know. If that is not how a person responds to graduate level work in the expansive mysteries of our faith, then they are doing it wrong and they missed Socrates’ lesson. In fact, every good theology program requires the reading of Plato’s, The Trial and Death of Socrates. Humility is a requirement of any good student of truth. That doesn’t mean we do not battle intellectual pride. That is a great temptation for any student, including the student who labors at home in the autodidact fashion, rather than through formal study at a university.

There is a very real and tempting danger in academia to desire the position of expert. I know that I have fallen into this trap at times. There is great power in knowledge, but it must be harnessed and ordered to the good, the true, and the beautiful. My desire for self-gratification is not a properly ordered understanding of the knowledge God has given me, nor the intellect He gave to me. I did not create this intellect. I did not create the truths I study. I did not create the universe. I merely share in a limited fashion what belongs to Him.

My purpose as a writer is to open up the world to my readers. We are sojourners. We are on a journey towards truth together. Teachers, writers, artists, etc. are not meant to be “experts” we are meant, first to be students ourselves, and second, to point the way in whatever limited way God allows us to do so. When I write, I want to point towards the ultimate Source. I want my readers to jump into the deep. I want you to open up great works of theology, literature, philosophy, Church documents, Church history, art, etc. Sure everyone’s intellect is different, but that does not mean we cannot learn something, even if we walk away somewhat baffled. We should all walk away feeling small and unworthy in the face of great mystery.

There is nothing more complex or humbling than studying the very limited theology we have on the Trinity. Upon reading treatises–what few there are–on the Trinity our brain should hurt, and yet, our souls should soar. Terms such as procession, filiation, circumincession, spiration, paternity, relations of opposition, and tota simul are enough to make a person’s head spin. They only scratch the surface of the great mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

When we read an article or a book, we should look to the author as a guide and fellow traveler. We do not hold them up in some supreme place and presently halt our own thinking and philosophizing. Instead, we should mull around what the author is saying and truly come to understand within ourselves what is being said. In the case of Church documents, there may be times we are quite literally wrestling with God, as Jacob did. We all wrestle with God and we all lose, but we become closer to our true selves as we allow God to deepen our understanding of Him, even in the struggles.

When you read my work, no matter where it is found, never think of me as an “expert”. I want you to go read the resources I provide. I want you to learn more than me. I want you to swim deep into the truth. There are so many great teachers in world history and I only play at it. I am formed by my teachers: Aquinas, Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Justin Martyr, Benedict XVI, John Paul II. These are only a few in a very long and ever expanding list. Take my 1500 words and allow them to point you towards your destination: truth. That’s it. I want you to pick up the books I have read. The documents I study. That’s where I want you to go. The last thing I want is for you to think my 1500 words are good enough or the end of the story.

We live in a culture of instant gratification. We think 1500 words is good enough. It’s only good enough if we do not desire truth. It is only good enough if we want to remain trapped in mediocrity or to never try to understand why we are here.  If you read one of my articles and do not desire to plunge into the depths, then I am failing you as a writer. God bless you on the journey….

No, an Essay on the Internet is Not Enough

I have mentioned this before, but I am going to discuss this topic again. A person cannot know everything about a topic or an author based on 1500 words. We live in an age of immediate gratification. Far too many of us want short answers to complex questions and we make the mistake in thinking that an essay on the Internet is going to give us the total picture or explain complex realities to us. If we want to truly understand a topic then we have to do the work and study it on our own.

Writers who write for national/international blogs or news magazines have a word limit. Depending on the site, the editor imposes a word count that is considered ideal for their readership. Catholic Exchange, where I have been a weekly contributor for nearly 18 months, tends to shoot for 1500 words; however, the editor is lenient with me and has allowed me to hit close to 2000 depending on the topic. The Federalist on the other hand is definitely more interested in keeping to a strict 1500 word count and their editors shorten pieces to fit their readership. That’s the job of an editor.

This word count limitation makes sense. We are writing essays, not books. Most people get bored or tired reading long articles on the Internet and are less likely to finish reading one in its entirety if it drones on. The Internet by its very nature is a place of short, pithy, and introductory explications. It is the medium of books to go into further detail on a particular topic.

This is important to keep in mind when reading any author’s essay on the Internet. I commonly receive complaints that I missed this topic or that, or that I didn’t give a thorough explanation on an issue. How could I? My job as a writer on the Internet is to provide an introduction or a short explanation of complex topics. I also have to keep to one topic at a time. I obviously missed all of the other topics outside of my scope.

I published a piece on Fides et Ratio, a 130 page encyclical. I am not positive, but it may be Pope Saint John Paul II’s longest encyclical. The aim for my essay was to help Catholics see that resources, vast resources, exist inside of the Church to help us confront the claims of agnostics, atheists, and other interlocutors in the culture. I was not giving a thorough reading of the encyclical. To do that I would have to write a book and, quite frankly, I introduced the encyclical because I want people to go out and read it. It is hyperlinked in the article I wrote and above.

The Internet is a great tool for gathering information. I use it regularly as a writer and a graduate student, but in order to delve deep into a topic I have to read books, many books, on different topics. There are no quick, short, easy answers to complex questions. My essay on FR wasn’t even meant to be taken as a response to atheism and agnosticism. You have to read FR or the Catechism to begin to understand the Church’s teaching on faith and reason. I cannot possibly provide the necessary arguments to scientific or philosophical questions in 1500 words which would prove satisfactory to our critics. Instead we must study our resources, learn the arguments, and use them in proper mediums.

Not to mention that, in my experience, those interlocutors who communicate in comboxes are more interested in ad hominems and assumptions than serious intellectual inquiry and honest intellectual discussion. My atheist friends are much easier to engage in discourse in person without the temptation to incivility that is prevalent on the Internet today. That is why I dealt with the one troll in the article by suggesting they study the Catholic understanding first and then come back for discussion. I was encouraging honest intellectual inquiry, something that is vastly ignored in the new and arrogant atheism. I read atheist philosophers to understand their position. Atheists need to read actual Catholic sources first before they can engage in intelligible discussion. You can’t debate a position you have not studied.

This is the problem, though. People think that it is possible to get the entire answer in 1500 words or less. The Internet runs the risk of making us intellectually lazy. We want immediate answers and gratification, rather than doing the work that is needed. Nobody is expected to embark on the path of a theologian or philosopher if it is of no interest to them, but it is possible to study the basics in order to develop enough of a grasp to respond when questions arise. St. Paul tells us we must be able to give account for our joy. We cannot do that if we are ignorant of what our Faith teaches us.

My husband and I had heated discussion about this last night. He was complaining about the lack of fire in Homilies and how theologically minded priests tend to bore the parishioners. I guess because I study theology, I greatly enjoy the deeper Homily. My husband wants to hear more about living the mission and the fear of Hell. Fair enough. There is a dearth of Homilies on the Last Things and many have devolved into the current heresy of moral therapeutic deism. I agree with him, but I disagree with him that this would be enough to help people respond when they go off to a secular university.

A relationship with God, I prefer communion to relationship because of its ontological implications, is crucial and foundational for the Christian. If we do not love God, then we cannot grow in holiness and work towards our eschatological end which is to be united in communion with the Beatific Vision. This is all well and good, but our relationship with God cannot be our justification in the face of rationalism, reductionism, materialism, nihilisim, relativism, scientism, and utilitarianism, all of which are prevalent systems in our culture. The answer “I have a relationship with Jesus Christ” is not going to satisfy the scientific atheist, not mention that it oversimplifies greatly what it means to be a Catholic. Instead we must appeal to the reasoned arguments of our tradition, most widely laid out by St. Thomas Aquinas and other saints, or the recent work of Pope Saint John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as well as the whole host of orthodox theologians at our disposal through a plethora of books.

Yes, there has been a major break down in catechetical development over the last 50 years, chances are, even longer. My experience of CCD classes in the 80’s and 90’s can be summed up in one word: felt. God gave me a dad who is a philosophy major with a profound love of Aristotle and Aquinas, which inflamed a love of learning within me at a young age. For that I am eternally grateful.

We must acknowledge that the Church suffers from self-inflicted wounds. This is an area in need of serious attention, but we also must come to accept that it is our responsibility to learn the faith. It is not our priest’s or the religious education coordinator’s, it is ours. All of the documents we need are on the Vatican website, in the Catechism, or in Scripture. Not to mention that thousands upon thousands of books have been written over the last 2000 years to guide us on the journey to holiness. We must take responsibility for our faith and not pass the buck elsewhere.

As parents, it is our duty to pass down the Faith. We will all stand before God some day and have to give account for what we did with the children He gave to us and whether or not we taught them the Faith while they were young. If we don’t know the answer to a question, then we find it. Children learn to pray, give, attend Mass, and live lives of holiness from their parents first and everyone else second. The catechist at our parishes cannot possibly teach our children holiness in one-hour a week, nor should we want them to. If our children are not living the faith or interested, then we must look to ourselves. Now, when they are adults they make their own choices. As long as we do the best we can, the rest is left up to prayer and fasting.

Reading blogs, essays, and articles on the Internet is a worthwhile pursuit. We learn news and new information from a wide variety of sources. We connect with the rest of the world in an instant. While it is a good, we cannot fall for the trap of thinking we can know everything we need to know about a topic or an author in 1500 words, or worse, when we only skim an article and then comment on it or email the author. We all skim at one time or another.

The Internet is a great place to begin, but we must be willing to enter into deeper study through books and documents that go into greater depth. You cannot understand FR in its depth and beauty from my 1500 word essay. You have to read it for yourself. You won’t be sorry and even if some of it is confusing, you can at least begin to understand the basic arguments. While Pope Saint John Paul II was a brilliant philosopher and complex thinker, many of his Church documents are widely accessible in understanding. May God bless you on the journey of growing in deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity through the use of both faith and reason.

Epic Pew: 11 Great Catholic Scientists

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I recently became a contributor for Epic Pew and today is my first piece, which is a collaboration. In honor of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, we wanted to remind people that the Church is a great contributor and lover of the natural sciences. Of course, the Church does not make pronouncements on science, as that realm is left to scientists, but she is a great contributor.

When it comes the Catholic Church and science all we tend to hear about is the Galileo affair. St. John Paul II apologized for various aspects the Church’s handling of Galileo, but it is a lot more complicated than post-modern scientists like to let on. Galileo is a way for Rationalists to assault faith. It is to paint the Church as anti-science and superstitious. To be sure, there are some Christians who are anti-science, who have accepted a false concordism. That is not the Catholic Church’s position. In fact, the Church has its own scientific wing, namely the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which not only welcomes the work of Catholics, but people of many faiths, including atheists. For now let’s abandon this tired narrative and look at 11 groundbreaking Catholic scientists, many of whom were priests.*

Read the rest over at Epic Pew.

Abandon Ideology for the Good News: The Test is Coming

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You will notice a trend on my blog that I am becoming increasingly anti-ideology. This is because I am observing a steep descent into ideology in our country and within the Church. Not the Church herself, but the people within it. This is largely destructive and causes division. Ideology is a type of heresy. It is to cling to a notion of something as ultimate truth, when ideology is typically our own blindness and proclivities. I had two experiences recently that continue to fortify my anti-ideological stance. First, I saw a National Review article recently that justified the killings of two civilians in a drone strike on the Afghan-Pakistani border in January. The moral gymnastics of the author made my stomach turn. The far Right has become a war-mongering machine and it is deeply disturbing. There are times when war is the final and just response, but not always. The killing of civilians is always deeply tragic and it is all the more tragic that no warning was given to these men or attempt at a rescue and the intelligence was bad. For both sides of the political spectrum in our country, “collateral damage” is a matter of statistics and numbers and matters little. This is a disturbing slide into a further dehumanization of others. I saw this from Congressional aides when I interned at The Heritage Foundation.

On the flip side we have the ideological Pacifists, notice I said ideological. The Church has a long history of rightly ordered Pacifism, just as she has a tradition of Just War. These two seeming opposites are united under a fully formed understanding of justice. The ideological Pacifists cannot comprehend that war is sometimes the only option. They also seek to vilify members of our military, of which I was one. They say heinous things about Veteran’s even to the point of denying the necessity of the Church’s presence in a war zone or within the military. They cannot separate the war from the soldiers and the individual consciences of each service member, which is precisely what our last couple of Popes have done. The Church has not agreed with the past two wars, but has left the choice to serve up to the soldier. While I am with the Church on war, I did serve under President Bush for the Global War on Terror. There were things that I supported at the time for which I have sought absolution through Confession, but the people who serve in our military are not psychopaths, sociopaths, or any other name that is given to them. They mean well and have a desire to protect our country. It is easy now to forget how tumultuous the time was following 9-11. I know, I worked as relief worker following the Pentagon attack. Fear and chaos does not always produce the best results. This mitigates circumstances a bit.

This is just two examples on opposing extremes that I have observed recently. This is also apparent in the “pelvic issues” as people try to do moral gymnastics around both Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Since ideology blinds us it hurts ourselves and the people around us. It inevitably puts us in a judgment seat, based not on our faith, but on our desire to conform others to our own beliefs. This is a great danger to the Church. As the secular culture encroaches more and more on our freedoms, it is essential that we make sure we are not a part of the problem. I am not trying to beat a dead horse. I am trying to warn people that we need to re-focus on what is important and that is bringing the world to Christ, not ourselves. I was an ideologue for a few years. I conformed my politics into my limited understanding of the Church. I could not see the whole. It created great tumult in my soul.

There will come a day very soon when we may be asked to give account for our faith and we will be mocked and derided for it. Our faith cannot depend on ideology, it must be centered on Jesus Christ. If our ideology wins out, then we cannot possibly survive the test that will come our way. The secular attacks on the Church will continue to grow and become more virulent. Now is the time to arm ourselves with holiness through prayer, Scripture, frequent reception of the Sacraments, and true study of the Faith. Those are what will help us should we have to undergo the test. While I have my own theories on how bad it will get, what is certain is that Catholics will become increasingly more marginalized. That will be difficult. It is not easy to say “no” to the prevailing culture. It is not easy to lose family and friends because we cannot agree to the sexual ethics of our culture. We cannot stay strong if our faith is an empty shell that is propped up by our own ideology.

I am not saying that we should not be involved in the public square, but we need to be prepared for our ability to participate to shrink greatly for a while. Honestly, we need to evangelize if we want to change the culture. This is the history of the Church. Our ability to operate in public waxes and wanes. There have been times of great persecution. There are times of great persecution upon the Church now. We are united to those Christians who are dying in the Middle East, Mexico, and in other places of the world. The Mystical Body is a communion that makes us a part of the same body as them. We suffer with them albeit not physically at present.

The most concerning aspect of ideology is that it cuts us off from one another. It causes alienation and anger. I lost my temper at a completely nasty comment made about service members and its implications. I later apologized, but ideology is hard to combat. It is irrational and it automatically invokes an irrational response in others. We have to learn to control our emotions because we will confront virulent strains of ideology in the coming years, much worse than the two examples that I listed above. The best way for us to control our emotions is to re-focus on Christ and to prepare ourselves for whatever may come. If we rest in Christ and His Church, rather than our own power, then we can calmly deal with the attacks that come. It won’t be easy, and like St. Peter and the other Apostles (except John), we may run for a bit, but if we continue to persevere and focus on Christ then we will make it to the end.

As Catholics we must ask ourselves what the purpose and goal of our lives is as revealed by Christ. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? The answer should be to follow Christ even unto Calvary. This is the horrifying, yet freeing, truth of our faith. When we are baptized we agree to enter into the mysteries of His life, including His death. Most of us will not be asked to be martyred physically, but most of us will suffer some form of persecution, even if it is locally from family and friends. We all suffer within the Mystical Body when others around the world are persecuted. There is no isolation within the Church. No one suffers in isolation.

Ideology may be fascinating and create arguments, but it causes more division than peace and conversion. I have never been a Pacifist precisely because of the vilification of Veteran’s of which I am one. I am no longer a war-mongerer because I could see the horror of war up close through friends and family during my own service. I know from a few years of sexual relativism that the lies of the libertines do nothing but hurt and kill the soul. I know the joy and beauty of the Theology of the Body. The more I learn, the more I come to the center and desire to walk the tight-rope of the Church. She is the answer to the extremes of the world. She has the whole truth, not just the part we latch on to.

I am sure that this topic will come up again on my blog because it is so important for the coming times. There is such freedom in abandoning our preferred ideologies. We are less angry. We don’t make other people as angry. We grow deeper in our understanding of the Church and Christ and we are able to focus on the life of holiness. I encourage each of you and myself, to look into our beliefs and make sure they are properly ordered to the Church. Let’s make sure that we are not vilifying other groups of people. This even means our enemies. Yes, they do evil and we must confront evil, but if we dehumanize others we very quickly run the risk of becoming like our enemies. Ideology is the quickest way to dehumanize another group of people by making them the “other”. Even in times of battle we must live as Christians. We pray for our enemies, pray for peace, and most especially, pray for the conversion of the world.

Down Shifting: Properly Ordering Family and Study

This semester has been a bit of a challenge for me. The challenge is balancing family and full-time studies. Being a full-time graduate student is a lot like working full-time. Not to mention that my entire program is online. I seldom interact with my professors. I am essentially teaching myself theology and philosophy with the school keeping track of my progress. I get feedback on papers, but none on tests. Our online discussions are not live and many professors are very hands off. That means the only piece I get from them is their lecture, which I read each week. This is not an attack on the school or my professors. That is the idea behind online studies. We are to be largely independent and it takes a certain type of student who can learn this way. I enjoy it and it gives me the freedom that I need for my vocation in life.

What started to get to me this semester is that my family is suffering by the rate at which I am doing the program. My goal was to finish all studies in 2 years and then the comprehensive exams and thesis within 6 months. I feel like I barely see my husband right now. He works 11 hours a day and then takes over for me so that I can study until bed time. Our weekends are based on my workload.  For instance, I have a term paper to write tomorrow and an essay on Sunday.  All due by Monday. I have to do it this way because we schedule my big projects and tests for the weekend. I am not a night owl and I stop retaining information if I try to study too late.

I really dislike missing out on family activities on Saturday. My husband has taken our daughter to the museum, park, library, on errands and I miss them. I love my studies and I knew they would come with sacrifice for all of us. I just started to wonder if my breakneck pace is necessary. It is through the summer. I go full-time to make the most use out of my VA benefits. They expire in September, but the whole program will be paid for with all of the benefits I receive by August. The VA has a set amount based on my enlistment contract that they pay me. All the extra money is going to a savings account for use on future tuition bills.

I sat down with my husband last night and asked him what he thought about the pace. I had seen a mother from my church at the store and she mentioned her surprise that I was full-time with a 3 year old. She didn’t know how I was doing it. And I started to think, neither do I. Is this necessary? I can have both worlds, but it doesn’t have to be in such a hurry. I am studying for the pure enjoyment of studying, not because I need my Master’s degree in two years. It loses its enjoyment when it turns into superficial memorization for tests and papers. I know how to play the game and get good grades, but that isn’t the goal. I want to learn this material.  Some of it is extremely complex. I am still wrapping my head around the Thomistic idea of required perfect contrition in the Sacrament of Penance or the theology of sin. It’s amazing to study and I really enjoy it, but in my rush, I don’t have the time to truly understand it in the depth that I desire.

My husband said I should go part-time starting in the fall. We can sacrifice 1/2 of my last VA check so that we can balance things better. He is exhausted. I am exhausted and our daughter is struggling with me being so busy. Reading Chesterton last night really helped me too. He pointed out how the culture does not order things properly. I am not a utilitarian means to an end. I am a unique human being with dignity and my daughter is the most important job God has given me. That does not mean that God doesn’t want me to study. He gave me these intellectual gifts for a reason. It just means that He wants me to slow down and so does my husband.

I have a tendency to race forward with things. This is one of those areas where I am still learning prudence. When I was in high school, I took Geometry freshman year even though my parents encouraged me to take Algebra again. I didn’t want to be “behind” in the Math requirements. But, I am not good at Geometry or Trigonometry. It was a miserable battle that stemmed from my own pride. I honestly didn’t start understanding Math until I was in undergrad in my mid-Twenties.

The point is that I don’t want to take something that I love, namely, theological studies and turn it into a rushed torment. I don’t want my family to become a burden to me as I poorly balance everything. Regardless of what our culture tells us, sacrifices occur when a mom divides her attention. This is not a judgment on people’s choices. It is a reality that we need to be aware of. Once we are aware, then we can make educated decisions that are best for our family and our goals. But, our family comes first. My husband and daughter are more important than my Master’s degree. I am going to say it again: My husband and daughter are more important than my Master’s degree. That is not what our culture tells us, but we need to be strong and ignore the lies. It doesn’t mean that my studies are unimportant, it just means that they are lower on the list. They are rightly ordered, but below my family.

Summer will be busy with my final full-time semester, but at least we will all know that things will slow down in the fall. I am looking forward to it. I can spend time with my family and enjoy my theological studies. That’s the whole point. I am the one who decides whether or not to stress out my family and myself in this whole process. I can rush, or I can down shift and take it slow. I can walk out of my MA having mastered the material, or I can walk out having passed a bunch of tests and papers. The choice is mine and I choose my family and my love of study. My daughter turns 4 this year and I will blink and she will be 18. These years are a gift and I need to be present during them and not focused elsewhere all of the time. So my choice is merely one of balance and proper ordering and in doing so, I get to enjoy all of the gifts that God has given me. Have a blessed weekend! It’s Laetare Sunday this weekend. Easter is so near!

Recommended Reading:
The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism by David Fagerberg (if you are new to Chesterton this is a great place to start)
Orthodoxy-GK Chesterton
The Everlasting Man-GK Chesterton

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

B-Grade

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?

The Need for Conversion: Catholic Sexual Ethics

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I have decided to add another post into my current series on Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and “gay marriage”. In a perfect world, all of us would fully assent to Church teaching before we professed to be Catholic. We would still sin, but all of us would, at least intellectually, assent to infallible teaching in love obedience, and humility. We would not put ourselves in grave danger by ignoring Church teaching and blatantly doing the opposite. For many of us, that just is not the case. It may be because we have never fully understood that, as Catholics, we are required to submit to Christ and His Church, including the hard teaching. A lot of priests and catechists have led people astray on this point over the last 50 years. Somehow our own conscience has begun to supersede the Church, in a nod to Descartes and the rampant relativism of our day. This is false, but is prevalent within the Church. I have done it in the past myself.

First of all we need to ask ourselves if we have really encountered Christ. Are we actually converted to Him. Are we ourselves evangelized? Is Christ the center of my life? Do I love Him more than anything? This takes a lifetime to do. Do I want His will over my own? Do I believe that the Church is headed by Christ, not men? Do I understand and believe that the Church’s teachings are in fact Christ’s? Do I believe that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, not a symbol? That is our starting point. Can I honestly say that I love and want to follow Jesus Christ? Then the rest comes into play.

I think that many people are ignorant of the Church and her teaching. They go to Mass on Sunday and think that is enough. They rely on their grade school level catechesis and think that is the end. There has not been as much emphasis on adult education until recent years. And even when these programs are available, the same 20 people show up. Many people do not think, or even realize, that study of the Gospels, Church documents, lives of the saints, etc. is a lifetime endeavor. I think many parents, in a striking similarity to the dominance of public education in this country for the past 150 years, think that religious educators, like myself, are responsible for teaching their children the Faith. This is also false. Parents are the first teachers of the Faith. I just help out.

Many families do not even pray outside of Sunday Mass. I have been astounded over the years as a catechist at the lack of prayer in family homes. I guess it should not surprise me, because it was not prevalent in my own home growing up. Once again, I think that families do not realize that being a Catholic is an all encompassing way of living. It makes us “not of this world, but the next”. We are planted here on earth, but Heavenly pursuits are our aim. It takes a lifetime to let go. Prayer begets prayer. The more we pray daily, the more we desire that prayer and union with God. Prayer leads to conversion.

Church teaching on sexual ethics in the face of an over-sexualized culture such as ours is hard to swallow. Mainly because people do not take the time to understand, or even teach (including way too many priests), the beauty that is God’s plan for the human person, which encompasses Theology of the Body. Most of us are told don’t do XY and Z, but never told why. As someone who abandoned Church teaching and lived with a boyfriend in her mid-Twenties, I can tell you that the WHY matters. So does orthodoxy. If you tell me you ignore Church teaching on one issue, then why should I not ignore others? This is the dictatorship of relativism that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned about. From the outside looking in, if you blatantly ignore it, then why shouldn’t I, is a terrible way to evangelize. This is how I felt back then. I am examining my own example in the past here. If I don’t fully live the Church’s call and her teaching, then I cannot evangelize. People want examples not words.

Conversion takes time. It takes prayer and it takes the Sacraments, especially Confession. I know. Constance, are you bringing up Confession again? I cannot tell you how important Confession truly is for the soul and for our path to holiness. Think about it this way. Blessed John Paul II who is about to be canonized went to Confession at least once a week. Many of the saints went daily. They are saints and feel the need for that frequent of Confession. I am not nearly a saint, so how often should I be going?! OFTEN! The Church’s requirement of once a year, except for mortal sin (it must be Confessed right away), is a minimum. I personally cannot go more than two weeks without needing Confession, and I am not even dabbling in the mortal sin arena these days. Not everyone is like that. Some people need monthly or bi-monthly. Figure out what is best for you, but go more than once a year. Take your kids to Confession!

Conversion may take serious prayer and many discussions with a priest. For me it was an “ah-ha” moment at a Theology of the Body seminar and a realization of my own incoherence at claiming to be Catholic, but ignoring Church teaching. Once I understood, I was all in. I still struggle at times. I have had three miscarriages, so it can be hard for me to want to get pregnant again. Using NFP is not easy, but it is the only option in line with God’s plan, until things stabilize for me. As hard as it is, I want to learn to live in line with God’s will, not my own. So I embrace it through the difficulties and fears.

We also live in a culture that thinks that marriage is about “me” and that is why no fault divorce and “gay marriage” are two sides of the same coin. If marriage is about “me” and not children and God’s plan for man and woman, then anything goes. Why limit it to just two people? What about inanimate objects? A woman married a bridge last year. Or why not marry myself, which is becoming popular? We live in a society that puts “me” and my desires at the center of all things. This is diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. I am not the center of all things, Christ is at the center. My husband and daughter are more important than I am. Sure I have to take care of myself, but my wants and desires are not primary. This is a major struggle for me in my sinful nature.

That same over sexualized culture makes things like pornography and promiscuity normal. Books like 50 Shades of Grey, Anne Rice, or certain romance novels convince women that they are not committing the sin of pornography when they actually are. Women are not as visual as men, so books are the preferred pornography. Reading about S&M could not be anything, but pornography. Anymore, rated “R” movies tow the line of pornography with graphic sex scenes and many wives see no harm in their husband’s Playboy subscription or occasional dabbling on the Internet. Pornography violates God’s desire for us because it makes human beings into objects of our own lust. Regardless of how we intend to watch or read something, sexual responses are a part of being human. Even if a character is fictitious it is meant to invoke lust in us. I will get more into this when I write about Theology of the Body at a later date.

Here is the crux of it, being Catholic is hard. Following Christ is the hardest thing we will ever do. No one said it would be easy, least of all Christ. Many of us in this country feel safe and secure, as if no one would ever attack us for our Faith. First, this is ignorance of American history and the Catholic Church and second, it ignores Scripture. We are promised persecution by Christ Himself. Being Catholic is “weird”. I personally love that weirdness, but it can be hard for others to swallow. Look at it this way, I am even weird in Catholic circles these days.

Here are some examples: We do not watch shows like Modern Family or anything that is meant to support the “gay marriage” agenda. Not because I do not like gay people, I love them and have had gay friends, but because I know the intent is to indoctrinate me. We do not watch rated “R” comedies anymore because they are sexually vulgar and mock our understanding of the human person. I do not read popular fiction, especially those which I know are pornographic. I know that Disney has jumped on the “gay marriage” band-wagon. I pray at Planned Parenthood. I boycott companies that support abortion and “gay marriage”. Church functions and requirements supersede all secular engagements in my week. My child will not play sports on Sundays. I read Catholic items before secular. I see the world as a Catholic. The Faith is the center, the very life blood, of my life. It makes me weird. I am okay with that. It is one of the many reasons I am a Lay Dominican. That is how Dominicans live. I am not a saint, but that is my goal, God willing. It should be every Christian’s goal.

Pray for conversion daily. We all need God to ‘help us in our unbelief’ in one way or another. Read up on what the Church teaches. Study the Faith. Pray about the Faith. Being Catholic is to delve into the deepest of oceans and then go even further on to Eternity. It would take so many lifetimes to take in the richness of the Faith. Talk to an orthodox priest. Let Him tell you the truth and help you reach that point of conversion. Find a good spiritual director who knows and loves the fullness of the Faith. Put Christ first in your life. Radical things will begin to happen.