Saturday, January 28, 2012

Facing Dragons

We discussed Reconciliation in RCIA a couple of weeks ago. But I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. It’s one of those Catholic things that was totally foreign to me, and I just haven’t been able to determine what my feelings about it are. I believe it’s a sacrament, and I believe what the Church says about sincere confession, absolution, penance, moral and venial sins, etc. But how I feel about it? Just don’t know. Part of the problem might be this sacrament’s big PR problem. What is it called: Penance, Confession, Reconciliation? And then, you’re supposed to go list all your sins out loud to a priest? Otherwise, you’re still in a state of sin? It sounds so depressing and embarrassing. The only idea I had about how Reconciliation worked was from movies where a character steps in the confessional and says, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” and then goes on to reflect about the personal conflict to move the plot along. I thought my biggest concern with Reconciliation was that it was an unknown: that I couldn’t really know how I felt until I did it.

But lately, I’ve realized that concern is masking the real big concern: I have to list my sins. My fear doesn’t lie in the fact that I have to say them out loud; it’s that I have to say them to myself, to acknowledge just how totally depraved I am (hey, Calvin got something right!). It’s not that I haven’t noticed I’m a sinner before. I know I sin a lot. I ask God for forgiveness and for His help a lot. But there is a difference in noting, “Hey, I did that. That was wrong. Help me not do that,” and realizing how that moment of sin fits into the big picture.

Sins are not independent. They feed off one another. They collect, and they settle in, and they start to convince you that they’re just a part of life. I’m not just a sinner (one who commits sins); I’m a hostage victim of sin. Even when I’m not sinning at the moment, I’m still a bruised person from all the sin I’ve accumulated. To go over a lifetime’s worth of sinning, and recognize just how far off the mark I am, even though I think myself a “good” person, is a big, humbling step. One that I’m not that keen on doing.

Now, before you think I’m about to go off and put on sackcloth and roll in the ashes, I’m not beating myself up about how awful I am. Because there’s hope. Christians are all about second chances. We love a good, “I did wrong. I met Jesus. Now I’m saved, and life is peachy,” testimony. We love forgetting the past and just focusing on a heavenly future. But the past is a tricky thing. It doesn’t go away just because we don’t want to think about it. A buried past will just pop up unexpectedly, ruining that peachy future. To move on from sinful past, you have to eliminate the sin. You have to purify yourself and resolve to fight even harder against temptation.

That’s where the good part kicks in. There is a second chance. There are as many chances as you’re willing to give yourself. God will always clean the slate and give you another chance. You just have to ask. But asking for such a huge thing requires more thought and commitment than that quick, “Oops. Help me not do that.” I’ve been asking myself: Do you hate your sins enough that if Christ were standing before you, with his disciples around him, you would go straight up to Him and list off your darkest crimes? I know I’d be hesitant. I’d be embarrassed. Because even though I’m a hostage of sin, I have Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t hate it enough. I have to battle sin, but I identify with some sins. I'm quite comfortable with them, and I don't want to admit to myself how wrong I am. Only in brief moments of reflection can I see how pervasive sin is and the need of destroying it and feel the desire to be clean and unburdened. Once I get angry enough with my sin, then I’m in the right frame of mind to truly repent and turn from it.

I’m still a few weeks out (probably) from making my first confession. I don’t know when I’ll go. I don’t know which priest/church I’ll go to. I don’t know if I’d feel more conformable face-to-face or behind a screen. In a lot of ways, it’s still a big unknown. And big unknowns are scary. But the knowns that I have to acknowledge and fight with myself, they’re pretty scary too.

Friday, January 27, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol.18)

My week has been pretty uneventful aside from remembering how awful I am at algebra/trig and learning how awesome Skinny Girl margaritas are, which in college terms sounds like a pretty average week. So instead of seven randoms about me, I present seven jokes about religion that make me laugh.

1. The Methodists pick you up out of the gutter.
The Baptists get you saved.
The Presbyterians educate you.
The Episcopalians introduce you to high society.
Then the Methodists have to pick you up out of the gutter again.

2. A man suffered a serious heart attack and had an open heart bypass surgery. He awakened from the surgery to find himself in the care of nuns at a Catholic Hospital. As he was recovering, a nun asked him questions regarding how he was going to pay for his treatment. She asked if he had health insurance.
He replied, in a raspy voice, "No health insurance." The nun asked if he had money in the bank.
He replied, "No money in the bank." The nun asked, "Do you have a relative who could help you?"
He said, "I only have a spinster sister, who is a nun."
The nun became agitated and announced loudly, "Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are married to God."
The patient replied, "Then send the bill to my brother-in-law."


4. Jesus was sitting by the Temple in Jerusalem one day when suddenly a crowd comes roaring down the street chasing a woman. They back the woman up against the wall and are about to stone her, screaming, "Adulteress!" Just then the Pharisees intervened, seizing upon the opportunity to trap Jesus. "So, Rabbi, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law says she should be stoned. What do you say?" Jesus kept looking at the ground and drawing in the dirt. Finally he looked up and said, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone." Everything was silent, and then one by one you could hear the stones thud as they were dropped on the ground. But suddenly a big rock comes whizzing right by. Jesus cried, "Mo-o-o-om!"

5.What did the Yogi say when he walked into the Zen Pizza Parlor?
"Make me one with everything."

When the Yogi got the pizza, he gave the proprietor a $20 bill. The proprietor pocketed the bill. The Yogi said "Don't I get change?"
The proprietor said, "Change must come from within."

6. A Jewish man was growing nervous. His son was coming of age, and his 13th year was drawing closer. The Jewish father was concerned that his young son was not well versed in the Jewish faith and wanted to better educate him before his Bar Mitzvah. The father decided to send his young son to Israel to see their homeland and study his heritage. When it came time for the son to return home, the boy came in and fell to his father’s feet. "Oh father" he exclaimed excitedly. "I learned so much while I was in Israel, but I have some bad news. While I was there I converted to Christianity" The father fell to his knees "Oh, no. What have I done?"

Worried he hurried over to his closest friend’s house. After explaining what happened to him his friend replied, "Funny you should bring this to me. I also sent my son to Israel, and he too converted to Christianity." The two friends almost in a panic decided they must immediately go to the rabbi and ask for guidance. After hearing their stories, the rabbi replied "Funny you should bring this to me, as I too sent my son to Israel, and he too converted to Christianity."

All three men in unison fell to their knees and blurted out prayers to God begging for guidance. Then God quietly replied, "Funny you should bring this to me. I TOO sent my son to Israel..."

7. Even though I'm becoming Catholic, I still love Presbyterians! And I got about 95% of these jokes.

Check out others' Quick Takes here!

Disclaimer: I find humor in friendly comparison of the cultures that develop around different denominations. Nothing is intended to put down or offend any particular denomination or belief.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

St. Francis de Sales

Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, whom I’ve chosen as my Confirmation saint.

Who? Francis was born in Savoy in 1567. He got a good education from Jesuits in Paris. Since Protestantism was gaining momentum at the time, he encountered the doctrine of predestination, which put him in a great depression over the state of his salvation. He credited Mary to overcoming this dark time. He went on to study law, and was set to become a lawyer and politician. However, he chose to dedicate his life and skills to the Church instead, eventually becoming Bishop of Geneva.

What did he do? He used his education to install catechetical instruction for children and adults so the faithful would have a stronger understanding of the Church. Geneva at the time was a Calvinist stronghold, so Francis wrote leaflets on the Church and the problems with Calvinism that he would slip under citizens’ doors. He is credited with converting thousands of Protestants. Because of his leaflets and books, Francis de Sales is the patron saint of writers and journalists. He is also the patron saint of the deaf, because he developed a sign language he used to spread Church teachings to the deaf. He is also a Doctor of the Church

Why have I chosen him? Well, he is the patron saint of writers, and he converted a lot of Calvinists, so that’s two big points already. Also, I read most of Introduction to the Devout Life this summer, when I was still going through a lot of doubts about making the leap to become Catholic. It struck me not only as a book full of practical advice, but knowledge that was relevant hundreds of years after he wrote it. And while all the saints are wonderful role models, Francis de Sales has been the only one I’ve really clicked with so far, and I think he will help me as I join the Church.

"Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly."

"True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice."

"Within the practices of religion, the Blessed Sacrament is what the Sun is to the stars; it is truly the soul of the Christian religion. It is the ineffable mystery that comprehends divine charity, by which God, truly uniting to us, communicates to us his magnificence, graces and favors.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Writer's Block

Sometimes I wonder why I bother writing at all. Every time I get what I think is a brilliant idea, I learn some saint already thought it some 600-1600 years ago. And when I think I can re-word this idea in some clear or beautiful way, well I learn Chesterton has already done that too, and he’s done it 10 times better than I could.

So I despair that I will never have a new idea or add beauty to the world. But then I realize, there are no new ideas, because the truth is already evident. And there is already beauty in the world; it’s just about finding it and acknowledging it. I’m privileged to enjoy the beautiful ideas of others and shouldn’t worry about my contribution so much as my alliance

Friday, January 20, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 17)

1. I’m getting into the swing of school. I realized I had forgotten the true meaning of being busy. But for the most part, I’m enjoying it.

2. I am not enjoying driving 45 minutes each way three days a week. Or how much gas that is costing. I could really use suggestions on podcasts to keep me entertained.

3. This school uses a plus/minus system, which means I have to make a 93 or 94 in most classes for it to count as an A (compared to the traditional 90). As someone who usually makes 91-95 in classes, I’m not liking that.

4. We received a King Cake at work this week. In case you don't know, a King Cake is a sugar-covered cake made during Mardi Gras. It is decorated with green, purple, and yellow sugar. A small plasic baby is hidden in the cake, and the person who finds it is supposed to make the cake the next year. I’m not sure why we got it so early, since Mardi Gras is a month away, but I was pretty excited. It’s made me impatient for Ash Wednesday.

5. I always seem impatient for the next season in Ordinary Time. I need to work on that, because Ordinary Time is important too.

6. I found the baby in the King Cake! In the first piece too.

7. I’m seeing a number of friends from high school this weekend, and I’m pretty excited for that!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I Love Jesus AND His Church

This video Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus has been making the rounds on facebook. For the most part, I see what the guy is saying, and while I think he's wrong on a lot of things, this isn't about pointing those out. Others have done a better job than I could anyway. Normally I just wouldn’t pay much attention to this video. But then, there came the responses like this(which I loved) and the counter-responses, and the counter-counter-responses and it stirred up a phrase that has always bothered me: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

The phrase usually said to imply that those who are religious are just mean, cold, rule-makers. I’ve heard it said with the same arrogant tone atheists use, implying that truly intelligent people would choose individualism over religion, that a truly spiritual person doesn’t need religion. The real problem with the phrase “spiritual but not religious” is that it implies it’s an either/or situation, when in reality, the two are intertwined.

If you are spiritual but not religious, what foundation do you have? You don’t pray (prayer is a ritual), you don’t read scripture (that was compiled by a religion), you don’t fast (another ritual), you don’t participate in a community of believers. How is your faith expressed without a definition of God/gods/Being or a way to interact with Him? At best, you pick and choose from dozens of religions. If you like it, you practice it, if not, you don’t. The problem with that is that you take rituals or beliefs out of the contexts of its religion and culture and form some Frankenstein monster of faith.

Along the same lines as “spiritual but not religious,” some evangelicals like to say, “It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship.” Besides the fact that I gag a little every time I hear that, I agree in part. Yes, relationship is important. But Christianity is still a religion too. The word religion even comes from the Latin “bind again” or “reconnect.” Why is religion such a bad word that even believers don’t want to use it? That’s what makes me think that it’s mainly an American phenomenon; Americans don’t like to be told what to do. We see any authority as an imperial Red Coat.

Authority isn’t a bad thing. Following the rules isn’t a bad thing. The Church exists to help people develop their relationship with Jesus. A relationship with Him requires a lot more work than a “once-saved-always-saved” statement and reading the Bible. It requires constant work at avoiding sin and asking for forgiveness when you mess up. It requires time put into establishing a prayer life, one where you talk to God and one where you don’t say anything and let Him talk. It requires spreading the faith in actions. It requires understanding the context of the sacraments, the scriptures and the Church. A relationship with Jesus requires a relationship His Bride.

The Church isn’t a democracy, but there’s a good reason for that. A democracy bends to the will of the people, whether the people are right or wrong. The Church has authority (given by Christ) to guide the people. There’s a reason Jesus used the imagery of sheep; people are stupid and like to do things (and believe things) that aren’t good for them. A good shepherd gives his flock enough room to roam and feed themselves, but he also gives his flock confinements to keep them safe.

I’m spiritual. I’ve had deeply personal experiences with God. I’m also religious. I believe God wants a community of individual believers working together, rather than a bunch of individualists. I believe God has given us confinements that help keep us safe. He’s given us tools to better understand and interact with Him. It would be foolish to reject these gifts. It would be disastrous to reject His authority.

Are there people who are spiritual but not religious? Yes, but I think their faith lacks a strong foundation. Are there people who are religious but not spiritual? Yes, but I think their faith lacks enlightenment. And they represent the stereotype the “spiritual, but not religious” rebel against.

Christianity has lots of dualism. Jesus is both God and man. We are earthly creatures but spiritual ones as well. Spirituality and religiousness should not be opposing sides; they coexist. They are two expressions of the same thing: connecting with God.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol.16)

Back to school edition!

1. I had my first two classes yesterday. (I won’t have my third until Wednesday.) Both require a lot of computer usage! I understand it’s green and efficient to do quizzes and assignments online, but I’m old school. I like paper and face to face interaction. I was able to get through college before with only a handful of classes that had online components, but I guess that’s not the case this time round.

2. I realize #1 makes me sound like an old woman, but I did just graduate in 2010, I swear! I’m just a millennial that doesn’t particularly like computers except as word processers. Which means I’m a weirdo and will one day become the technologically inept old woman I sound like.

3. It didn’t occur to me that I’ll need a calculator in accounting classes. Totally spazzed on that one until I saw the syllabus. That’s what happens when a journalism major pursues business.

4. I’m super intimidated by the math. It’s not that I’m bad at math, but it’s foreign to me. I took my one required math class in college in 2007 and then promptly forgot all I learned because I was sure I’d never need it. I’ve never had calculus, but we’re using it in at least one of my classes, and I’m nervous about that.

5. I got to campus at 7:25 in time for my 8:15 class. I had heard parking was awful, so I was scared about getting a spot. I was about the ninth car there, but after about ten minutes, the lot was filling up, so I’m going to keep going that early and just eat breakfast in the car.I am worried about my parking situation when I get off work at 3:00, drive 45 minutes to campus, and have a 4:00 class. Hoping that will work out o.k. next week.

6. I am going to try to keep blogging even while the school work starts piling up (one day and I already have six assignments due next week). I'm hoping to do at least one post a week (probably on Wednesdays).

7. I keep telling myself that my GPA isn’t going to be as pristine as it was last time, and that it doesn’t have to be. Good (not perfect) grades and employable skills are what’s important. Yet I know I’m going to have a lot of stress when things don’t come naturally to me. I’m my hardest critic.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Living Bread

Last night at RCIA we were learning about the Eucharist. (Yay!) But how do you put words into such a miracle?

To Catholics, it seems obvious to take Jesus literally when He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”(John 6:51) To Protestants, it seems obvious to take it metaphorically. I used to take it metaphorically; I mean, who would believe something as utterly outrageous as Christ telling us to eat his body and drink his blood? Even Bible literalists who believe the universe was created in six 24-hour periods don’t think Jesus actually meant that.

I only know that through my experiences I’ve come to believe in the Eucharist, and it’s altered/amplified/strengthened everything else about my faith.

Jesus’ listeners at the time asked what he really meant by this eating flesh business, but Jesus just reiterated, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54) Many walked away over this discourse, which indicates to me that they found it to be literal (and appalling).

Last night we talked about the Passover and how biblical Jews celebrated memorial holidays. The Passover memorial was not just a day to sit back and reflect on what happened; those participating in the memorial now were stepping outside of time and in communion with those that fled Egypt. And that’s what happens during Mass: we are participating in the Last Supper. God exists outside of time. For Him, all moments happen at once and continue happening for eternity. Time is malleable. In the Mass, we get a glimpse of that by transcending our own time and place and existing somewhere higher.

Another note about the Passover: the Jews were protected from the tenth plague by sacrificing a lamb and smearing its blood on their doorways. Therefore, the Passover lamb is the central dish to the Passover meal. But Christ uses the bread and wine, not the lamb. This is because He has become the Passover lamb, for Jews and Gentiles alike, and his shedding of blood will reverberate throughout the rest of time. (Animal sacrifices no longer required.)

God loves us and yearns to bring us close to Him. He augments the physical world and time so that we might imbibe Him. It’s radical. It’s utterly outrageous. It’s appalling. It’s completely true. And it’s wonderful.

Friday, January 6, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 15)

1. I’m sad to take my little Christmas tree on my desk down soon. It was a good reminder that it’s still Christmas, even though stores and radio stations have moved on.

2. School starts next week, and I’m totally unprepared. I don’t even know where the library is, and I just got my schedule sort of fixed this week. And I have to get a parking pass and ID at some point…and notebooks and pencils and textbooks… I’m way out of practice.

3. Sunday night I went outside in shorts and a t-shirt. Then Monday night it snowed. By Thursday, it was up in the 50s. Ah, Tennessee weather.

4. Hopefully, we'll get the kind of snow that sticks on the ground but not the road this winter. I love when everything is all pretty and white, but I'm still able to drive around. Just because I have four-wheel drive now, doesn't mean I want to test it on icy roads.

5. I watched the Dr. Who Christmas special this week. So. Good. Am I the only one who sees major theological symbolism in Dr. Who? Probably. I’m able to see symbolism in almost everything these days. But how can I watch a show about a man beyond space and time who is always protecting humanity and not think of God?

6. I recently discovered the yumminess that is Laughing Cow cheese, particularly the mozzarella with sun-dried tomato and basil flavor. I've made many a meal this week out of it and Ritz crackers.

7. I've been thinking about how nice we are to other people is really the truest form of evangelism. Two examples: I've known a handful of Adventists in my life, and they all struck me as really sweet people. Then I worked with an Adventist this summer, and he was alwaying pushing his creationist beliefs on me, trying to get me to read Ellen White, and telling me how Jesuits were secret Satanists running the government. Though I know he was only one person, he completely soured my impression of Adventism. The second example is a woman I see at church on Sundays. I went to school with her daughter, and that's about the extent of us knowing one another. But she always says hello and seems genuinely happy to see me there. Just the simple "happy to see you" has made me much more comfortable going to church there. If a Catholic had pushed his/her beliefs on me last spring, I can almost guarentee that I would have resisted and closed my mind to the Church. But just by being nice and open, people allow others to see the way for themselves.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012


When I hear the word epiphany, I always want to shout, “Eureka!” Because that’s what you exclaim when you have an epiphany, right? But I never really attached the holiday with the word epiphany: “an appearance or manifestation; a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning.”

Epiphany has been a documented holiday as far back as the 2nd century. Epiphany lumped all of Jesus’ early stories into one. The visit of the magi, the baptism, and the wedding at Cana. Each revealed more and more Christ’s manifestation. In the repetition of Bible stories, I’ve forgotten that it took time for people to realize, “Hey, this is Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.” Knowing the whole story, it’s hard to remember not everyone knew the outcome. I’ve heard the Nativity story so often that I forget to notice some of the more amazing details of the story, like a group of Gentiles travelling very far to look at some Jewish baby.

The Magi were scholars/astronomers from the East. Some interpretations have them as kings. At any rate, they were men who studied the stars, and they saw in the stars a sign of a new king. Not only did they believe a king to be born in Judah, but they understood him to be a king who they should go and honor, even kneel down before.

What are we to make of these strange men that appear, acknowledge Christ, and then disappear again? When in doubt, I read T. S. Eliot. In his poem, “The Journey of the Magi,” one of the magi realizes that after he has seen the Christ-child, he has to acknowledge that the world is different. He can’t go home and consult the stars or worship pagan gods and have his normal life go on. Seeing Christ changes everything about him and everything about his world. The age of oracles and gods is passing away.

Lots of traditions and symbols are heaped on the Magi. First, there are usually the extra-Christian number of three of them. Then there is the tradition that they were from the corners of the known world: Northern Europe, China, and Africa, representing the whole human race acknowledging Christ. Or they were Babylonian, so the former captors of the Jews were now bowing before a Jewish king. Then the tradition of the gifts foreshadowing Christ’s path, as Origen put, "gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God."

To me, the Magi represent that Christ came to save all of us, not just the Jews. That even men who weren’t looking for a specific Messiah could be drawn to Him and understand Him to be King. Yet whatever you make of the Magi, the point is that once you find Jesus, everything changes, and you exclaim, “I have found it!”

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Keeping the Mass in Christmas

Hey, it’s still Christmas! If I’m counting right, I think it’s the 10th day of Christmas. But you wouldn’t know that from looking around. No more houses are lit up. No more Christmas tunes on the radio. People are apologetic for “still” having the tree up, as if it was supposed to be down days ago. Christmas may have stretched out to December 30th, but as soon as New Years Eve rolls around, everyone seems to move on.

During Advent, there are always the signs from the evangelical crowd: “Remember the Reason for the Season!” and “Keep the Christ in Christmas!” Both good messages, but how about remembering the liturgical season at all? And how about keeping the mass in Christmas?

In my view, there are two Christmases: the secular and the sacred. The secular Christmas season starts on Thanksgiving Day and ends on Christmas Day. Activities center on the buying, giving, and opening of gifts. It is about being nice to your fellow man a la The Christmas Carol. In fact, Victorian England is the origin for many celebrating Christmas Day, as the American Puritans had practically eliminated it earlier in our history. Most people seem to celebrate the secular Christmas, but confuse it for the other just because they sing songs about Infant Jesus and put up a nativity scene. They’ll call it sacred, but the churches are empty on Christmas Day. I’m not saying secular Christmas is particularly bad, especially for those who don’t celebrate other holy days, but it’s found lacking compared to sacred Christmas.

The sacred Christmas has a season of preparation called Advent, and then Christmas lasts from Christmas Day to the Feast of the Baptism of Christ (Sunday after Epiphany). Advent focuses on the need of and foretelling of a savior, while Christmas focuses on how God became man in the humblest of means. There are many stories of the Nativity that need the many days to tell: the birth of Christ, the shepherds and the angels, the wise men and the star, the killing of the Innocents, the presentation at the temple. Sacred Christmas isn’t about presents or getting together with family. It’s about rejoicing over the incarnation of our God.

I’m not saying a war on Christmas exists, because frankly, I don’t think people even know about a Christmas that extends past dinner on December 25th. But as everyone else is boxing up decorations, I'm just getting started! I feel as if I'm in some bizarre time warp where my calendar doesn't line up with everyone else's. Sometimes I wish people would at least acknowledge sacred Christmas, so I wouldn’t get alien stares when I say things like “Advent,” "days of Christmas" and “Epiphany.” Or that gifts would be exchanged on January 6th, like in Orthodox countries, so everyone would still be in Christmas mode during this time. But I’m resigned to the fact that most people will continue celebrating a secular Christmas with Jesus thrown in. It’s better than nothing, but there is so much more it could be.