Catholic Exchange: What Will We Give Jesus for His Birthday?

We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?

Whose birthday is it anyway?

To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.

Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.

In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Cardinal Virtues: Introduction

It has been a very stressful week for my family and me with multiple health scares and the ever present agony of waiting for news. I did want to start a brief series on the cardinal virtues based on a term paper I wrote for grad school. This first part is from that paper. We will consider this the introduction and next week I will begin on prudence. I hope you are having a very blessed Lent.

The cardinal virtues are essential to the moral life. Each human being is made for happiness and truth, which can only be found in God. In order to discover and live this happiness each individual must foster proper habits through the cardinal virtues. In the Christian life the assumption is that the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as well as the movement of grace, are all at work within the individual as he or she works towards the ultimate truth of God. While the focus here is on the cardinal virtues, the supernatural virtues are always at work in each Christian’s life. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance are virtues which order behavior to the pursuit and habitual response to goodness and truth. An individual cannot hope to live a moral life fixed on objective truth without the constant pursuit of these virtues in daily living. It is within the seemingly mundane tasks of daily living where the bigger moral questions are grounded. If an individual lives their private life virtuously, then those habits will spill over into public life and the moral orders of family, community, and country.

In examining virtue and calling others to its pursuit there is often a stumbling block tied to freedom. Individuals may see the virtues as a limitation of freedom and an imposition from external forces against the desires of that particular person; therefore, freedom must be rightly understood first in order to prevent this impediment. Since human beings are spiritual and bodily creatures, there is a natural order within each person at the ontological level. At the very level of being human beings are made for goodness and truth. This goodness cannot be completely blotted out by sin and concupiscence.[1] Far from limiting personal freedom, the virtues order and give direction to life. Servais Pinckaers states, “Far from lessening our freedom, such dispositions are its foundation. We are free, not in spite of them, but because of them.”[2] This means human beings are free when they conform their lives to their natural inclinations for goodness and truth. Freedom is grounded in the human desire for good, “The natural root of freedom develops in us principally through a sense of the true and the good, of uprightness and love, and through a desire for knowledge and happiness.”[3] Freedom itself must not be seen as the ability to do whatever one wants, but as the perfection and pursuit of goodness so that each person may be fully alive.

Since freedom is grounded in goodness, there must be an examination of how best to achieve this goodness. As stated before, the supernatural virtues play their essential role, but the cardinal virtues are the habits needed in daily living. The process of acquiring virtue is life-long and a slow process requiring discipline. It is to make small choices in conformity to truth each day, so that truth is the ever present reality for the individual. Pinckaers uses the virtue of courage to explain this process, “The development of courage is progressive. It is acquired far more through small victories of self-conquest, repeated day after day, than through dreams of great actions. It grows with the dogged effort to study, to finish a task, render a service, or overcome laziness or some other fault.”[4] This development of habit applies to all of the cardinal virtues, but there is a hierarchical nature to the cardinal virtues. They develop, deepen, and are grounded in one another.

[1] Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, Third Edition, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1995), 358.

[2] Ibid, 358.

[3] Ibid, 357.

[4] Ibid, 356.

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?

Falling Short and Conquering Sin

I am having one of those days in Motherhood and as a Christian when “I do the very thing I hate” to quote Saint Paul.  I have allowed little things and my own failures drag me down.  That is what the Devil wants.  He would rather I wallow in self-pity rather than ask The Lord for the strength to keep moving forward.

 
I was watching Fr. Barron’s Catholicism series on prayer (episode 9) yesterday.  We own it thanks to my parents and their generous Christmas gift last year.  I pull it out a few times a year and watch an episode.  My daughter even knows who Fr. Barron is and watched part of it with me.  She would point to the screen and say “We watch Fr. Barron”.  I was so proud.  Anyway, I digressed a bit there.  In the episode on prayer, he talks about St. John of the Cross, that great mystic.  St. John of the Cross tells us that we must free ourselves from those things that enslave us so that we can be filled up by God.  He calls this process of emptying the dark night of the senses and then the dark night of the soul.  Both order us properly to God.  I don’t know about you, but I am in major need of proper ordering.
 
It got me thinking about how right now, I really need to work towards conquering my sensual addictions: mainly food and coffee.  I have lacked discipline in this regard since I left the Navy.  I am getting older and eating poorly impacts me physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Food and coffee are meant to be enjoyed.  They are gifts from God.  However, they are not supposed to enslave us.  When we say we “need” something every single day, we are enslaved by the thing, rather than being the master.  That is the point of Temperance.  We can enjoy something as it is, but we can take it or leave it.  We do not have to have it.  We can enjoy it in the moment and then move on.
 
So, I have decided to embark on a journey through battling those things that I am physically addicted to: bread, sugar, coffee.  It is not going to be fun.  I will have a caffeine headache for a few days and crave sugar like crazy. When I get up at 5am this coming Saturday to go to my Lay Dominican meeting I will really want a cup of coffee, or two.  This will be much harder than when I gave up Facebook.  But, the question I must start asking myself is: does this make me a saint?  Does overeating make me a saint? No.  Is not eating right good for my family? No.  It’s not about me!  I am still trying to drill that into my psyche.
 
When I don’t take care of myself, I end up in a cycle of self-loathing, which I then take out on my husband and daughter.  My husband can tell when I feel like a failure because I have a short temper.  The process of holiness is not about self-pity.  We should see our failings and then fall on God’s love and mercy, praying for help and grace.  On days I fall short, I have  tendency to let it get the better of me until I drag myself back to Confession.  Like Father told me in Confession this past Saturday, holiness is a one step at a time process.  It does not happen overnight. 
 
So say a prayer for me as I embark on a dark night of the senses.  Are there areas in your life that you need to free yourself from so that you can be more open to God?