Monday, April 29, 2013

St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena was born March 25, 1347. From an early age, she reported saw visions, starting when she was five or six. She became a tertiary Dominican when she was sixteen. The visions continued, and she underwent the “spiritual espousals” in 1366. Spiritual espousal is a mystical experience in which a person is mystically married to Christ and experiences his sufferings more intimately. After this experience, she moved back in with her family and cared for the sick and poor. She went for long periods of time with no food except for the Eucharist, which clergymen and her sisters warned her was unhealthy. In 1375, she received the stigmata.

People were enamored by her visions and warm personality. In 1370, she went into a long trance in which she had a vision of heaven, hell, and purgatory. After this vision, she got more involved in the politics of her region. She wrote to Pope Gregory XI, asking him to leave Avignon and reform the papal states; during a visit, she made such a strong impression on him that the pope did indeed return to Rome. She also supported a crusade, hoping it would unite Christendom and keep Italy from a civil war. Her letters and writing recorded her mystical experiences.

In 1378, she was summoned to Rome, where she spent the rest of her life working for Church reformation and helping the poor. As her strength drained, she prayed that her body bear the punishment of the world and serve as a sacrifice for the unity of the Church. For three days, she endured a mysterious pain but endured it with delight. She died April 29, 1380. She is a Doctor of the Church and the patron of firefighters, nurses, and those ridiculed for their piety.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Today is the Major Rogation. It is a day of prayer for protection from disasters and for a bountiful harvest. Basically, it’s the original Earth Day. The word “rogation” comes from the Latin for “to ask.” The observance comes from the Roman festival Robigalia that was held on April 25. The festival included an animal sacrifice for grain crops. The Church coopted it, replacing animal sacrifice with prayer and fasting (although it is no longer a day of fasting).

The Minor Rogations occur on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension. They were created in the fifth century following a series of earthquakes in France followed by a fire burning down the Dauphine’s palace. The bishop called for three days of fasting to pray for the end to the disasters. Like the Major Rogation, the minors were marked by prayer and fasting. Farmers used to have priests bless their fields during these days.

It seems the focus of these days would be to pray to a wrathful God who would send natural disasters as a show of power or punishment. While I don’t see God or natural disasters that way, I think there is still something we can get from rogation days. We can firstly pray for crops and those who work to feed us. Secondly, it’s humbling for us to reflect how powerless we are to nature. We like to think that we can control everything, but nature is always stronger. Disasters, disease, and age are unavoidable. But we can try to lessen the suffering, to help those affected, and to be good stewards of the creation God gave us.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Trying to Make Sense of the Senseless

The bombings at the Boston Marathon were horrific. The first pictures I saw were of the cleared area, and I was struck with just how much blood was everywhere. It was immediately clear that a lot of people were greatly injured. I’ve tried to avoid the more graphic pictures. I zoned in and out of media coverage.

The third week of April seems to be ripe with tragedy for America. First Boston, then ricin scares, then the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, then the violent stand-off with Boston suspect one and the door-to-door hunt and capture of suspect two. The anniversaries of Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine, and Virginia Tech are all within the same week. The Revolutionary War began April 19, 1775. There is something about the season that is violent. In times of crisis and uncertainty, I see two questions come up again and again: 

1. Why would God let this happen?
Some people say bad things are just part of God’s plan. That makes it sound like God has an evil plan, or at least a plan that doesn’t mind some evil. But God’s plan isn’t for evil or violence; it is for us to be reconciled to him. We have been given the choice. We are free to come to God or to reject him. God does not force us to love him; a love without free will isn’t true love. God allows us that freedom, that choice, even when we majorly mess up. While suffering exists on an individual level, it is also communal. We are in a fallen world. The veil is torn and the gates are open, but the world is still imperfect. We still must experience suffering, either of our own doing (moral evil) or by nature (natural forces, disease, etc). That is the state of the world. All we can do is continue to move toward salvation and reduce evil when we can. We must help one another along the path.

2. Where was God?
I think people ask then as a way of really asking the first question. They have the idea that if he didn’t intervene and stop this, then he wasn’t here at all. But of course he was there. He is always with the suffering, weeping for them and bleeding out for them. He was with the many who have died, the hundreds who have been injured, the thousands whose lives were turned upside down. He was even with the bombers, weeping over their misguided beliefs, their irrational anger, and their rejection of love. He was there in the fear and the hurt and the confusion and the sorrow and the rage. He was where he always is: with us.

I think it is important in dark times to remember that things are not 50/50. Evil is never as powerful as good. Evil is an absence, an emptiness, a nothing. In the end, good will triumph and all suffering will cease. All shall be well.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fear and Death

The Seventh Seal
I don’t fear death.

I’m not saying that as some brave proclamation. It’s just a fact about myself that I recently realized when I heard others speak about their fears of death. I don’t fear death.

I thought it had to do with my view of hell. I believe in a hell, but not a devil-ruled torture room. I didn’t grow up around threats of fire and brimstone. I had assurance that if I didn’t abandon God, God certainly wouldn’t abandon me. Therefore, I don’t put much thought into hell because I’m not going. But I’ve started to see that others’ fear of death isn’t necessarily related to views of hell or heaven. People actually fear death.

I don’t particularly want to die, but it will happen at some point. I hope when it does that it’s painless and that my apartment is clean. I’d like to have some of my writing published, and I’d like to die after my parents so they don’t have to lose their only child. But other than that, I don’t mind dying. It will happen. Dying is a part of life. What is there to fear? I really don’t know. Is it pain? Being forgotten? Becoming non-existent? The unknown of the afterlife?

Even if I had no hope of heaven, if I believed that nothing happened except that my body decayed into dirt, I would not fear death. I am a blimp on the story of human history. I enter, I try to do some good, and I exit. I think that is significant and beautiful enough. Whether I’m remembered in 100 years or not doesn’t affect me. I certainly hope I’m not vilified, unable to defend myself, but if I’m forgotten, that’s alright. Lots of wonderful people have been lost in history.

But as an added bonus, I don’t think I’ll cease to exist when I die. I don’t know how much of my individuality will exist. I don’t know how consciousness will work. I don’t know what it’s like to be in the presence of God and saints and angels. There is a lot that I don’t know, but I don’t need to know. I’ll find out when the time comes. Knowing won’t change my plans. I just believe that I’ll move on to another form of existence. Death is a conclusion, but it’s not the end. It’s like fearing graduation; the transition is daunting maybe, but necessary, and much less scary if you treat is as an event for which to be prepared.

Death comes, and although I don’t know the when or the where or the how, I do not fear it. I worry about what I can control. I fear hurting others. I fear failure. I feel lost opportunities. I fear staying silent in the face of evil. But I do not fear that which I can’t control, a part of being alive that I share with all of humanity. Life is a journey of vulnerability and richness and pain. And it is fleeting. Death is just part of the journey.

“There is no man who is master of the breath of life so as to retain it, and none has mastery of the day of death. There is no exemption from the struggle, nor are the wicked saved by their wickedness” (Ecclesiastes 8:8).