Friday, May 24, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 67)

1. I’m officially a grad student! I’m signed up for classes and everything.
"What are you going to do with that?"
For now, study something I care about rather than dread getting out of bed each morning. I’ll let the rest sort itself out. (But seriously, I hate that question. Just be happy for me.)

2. Slightly related, I’m leaving for Northern Ireland and Scotland Tuesday. I’m looking forward to a month of studying the roots of Appalachian immigrants. And a part of me (my hair) is excited about fleeing from the hot humidity.

3. Movie plug #1: I saw The Great Gatsby last week. I thought it was a great pairing of director and story. It was over-the-top and at points shallow, which I think is the point.

4. I have a weird love for F. Scott Fitzgerald. He’s the only American to make my favorite authors list, even though I never really like his novels while I’m reading them; he always wins me over by the last sentence. Seeing The Great Gatsby made me want to read some Fitzgerald, but unfortunately, I’ve lost my copy of This Side of Paradise. (Paradise lost.)

5. Movie plug #2: I saw Star Trek Into Darkness last Friday. I went in with low expectations, but was pleasantly surprised. In Trekkie form, I can point out a lot of holes. But while in the theater, I really enjoyed it, and I already want to see it again. I don’t mind the heavy homage to Wrath of Khan.

6. My biggest problem with Into Darkness is that it made me want to watch Wrath of Khan, but to watch Wrath of Khan, you need to watch the TOS episode “Space Seed.” And with the tribbles in the movie, I also want to watch “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and if you watch that, you need to watch the DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations.” It’s a deep Star Trek spiral.

7. Best image I saw all week:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Have you been saved?

“Have you been saved?” Given that I’m in the Bible Belt, I actually haven’t been asked that often. I think I give off a “don’t-try-to-convert-me” vibe. After all, the Catholics got me without anyone ever asking, offering, inviting, or trying in any noticeable manner (I won’t discount the prayers of saints). I was first asked, “Have you been saved?” in middle school. As an ill-prepared 11-year-old, I responded innocently, “From what?” Fortunately, my questioner was also an ill-prepared 11-year-old, not ready to give me the full-on Gospel spiel, so I dodged that evangelism effort. By eighth grade, I knew what was coming, so my stock answer was, “Yes, 2,000 years ago” accompanied by an eye roll. That’s the thing about middle schoolers; they’re ready to talk about adult topics, but not ready to go into nuance or context or sensitivity.

This week, Pope Francis made some statements that got way misinterpreted. The pope spoke about how all humans, regardless of belief, were created in the image of God. We are all called to truth, beauty, and goodness. He urged everyone to do good together and work toward peace. The sticking point was when he mentioned that we were all redeemed by Christ. People took the word “redeemed” and turned that into “everyone gets into heaven.” Bad theology abounded.

This just in: Pope still Catholic.

Christ died for everyone; the gates of heaven are open. Mankind is redeemed. Salvation, however, is individual. Each of us must accept the gift Christ gave us. Theologically, redemption and salvation are not the same. I, by the simple fact of being part of humanity, am redeemed. Christ died for me whether I acknowledge his act or not; God loves me whether I believe in him or not.

My salvation is a bit trickier; it is not something I assert with as much certainty. If asked today, “Have you been saved?” my stock answer is, “I’m in the process of being saved.” I don’t believe I’ll be saved until I’m holy up in heaven. I’m not that concerned about it; salvation isn't earned. All I can do is continue to deepen my relationship with God.

At first, I was upset that the pope’s words were misconstrued and then blown so out of proportion. Like there isn’t enough misunderstanding of Catholic beliefs already. This just looked like something else to throw onto the “no, we don’t worship Mary, blindly do what the pope orders, condemn gays to hell, or hate science” pile of things to constantly explain. But then I realized it was an opportunity to explain Catholic beliefs about how Christ loves everyone and how we can all agree to work together peacefully. And maybe the discussion will change a few hearts, and how can I be upset about that? Perhaps this is an opportunity to draw people into the faith and show them the love of Christ.

Pope Francis’ remarks ended with a mention of St. Rita, the saint of impossible things. Sometimes it seems impossible that people will take the time to listen and understand what is being said. It seems impossible that people can stop arguing long enough to actually come together and do good works. It seems impossible that people can be converted in this age of sound bites and skepticism. But nothing is impossible. God's love makes the impossible possible.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

50 Days Later

Pentecost is fifty days after Easter. It marks the liturgical transition from Eastertide to Ordinary time, and it marks the early Church’s transition from following Jesus to stepping up and taking the lead. Last week was the feast of the Ascension, when Christ’s resurrected body left. I’m sure the apostles felt some sort of loss all over again. There is the awe of the miraculous and divine, but there is also the pragmatic questioning: “Now what?” Now, the burden was on them to spread the Gospel.

I’ve been numb for most of Eastertide, experiencing neither height of miraculous awe nor depth of pragmatic questioning. Going through the motions and feeling not much more than okay. But I know the burden in on me; if I want to feel anything, good or bad, it is my responsibility to bring my faith to the forefront, to challenge myself, to go out and do something.

Like most Christian traditions, there is a Jewish parallel. Shavuot takes place seven weeks after Passover and commemorates the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Where the Hebrews were freed from Pharaoh, the Christians were freed from sin; where the Hebrews received the Law, the Christians received the Spirit.

Shavuot was also the Day of First Fruits because it was the first day of the year people could bring their harvest to the temple. And I look back at the past fifty days and see no fruits for me to offer. Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the establishment of humans taking on the responsibility to build up the kingdom and draw others to Christ. It’s where the work really begins. Maybe it’s the awakening I need to get out of this rut. It’s time for me to get active, to produce fruits, to be on fire again.

Friday, May 10, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 66)

1. I sort of disappeared for a couple of weeks, but now I have a few free days before I leave to study abroad, so hopefully I will get back into the writing rhythm. I’m glad to finally be done with this semester and this major. I don’t really know what I’ll be doing this fall, but I’m ok with that right now.

2. I’m participating in my first novena this week, starting today and going to Pentecost. I’ve been lacking in the spiritual discipline department, so I’m looking forward to this.


4. I made a list of all the movies I want to see that come out between now and July 3. I have lots of trips to the theater in my future.

5. I also made a list of all the books I want to read this summer. I’m really good at making book lists and really bad at following through. If I make a list of seven or eight, maybe I’ll get two read.

6. I need to make a list of podcasts for plane rides, because books are heavy, and I refuse to read books on electronic devices.

7. Hmm, three points on this list are about list-making. It’s either very meta or very obsessive-compulsive. List-making is how I avoid actually doing things, so it’s easy to tell that end-of-semester and yet-to-hear-from-grad-school stress is getting to me. (I didn’t even get into my packing list(s), my grocery list, my “songs and movies to purchase when I have money” list, or “things to blog about when I have the time” list.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Humanae Vitae aka Let's Talk about Sex

One of the things I really appreciate about Catholicism is that is always has a reason for believing the things it does. Of course one can disagree or dismiss Catholicism’s claims, but you can’t say the Church isn’t consistent. I recently read Humanae Vitae, which addresses the Church’s stance on sexual issues. (I’ll be using lots of quotes, because I think the text explains itself well.)

Humanae Vitae was a response to concerns of rapidly increasing population and the rise in the use of birth control. The council, which included married couples, addressed the issues. The result was the encyclical given on July 25, 1968 by Paul VI.

The crux of the Church’s stance against artificial contraception is her views on marriage as a sacrament. A sacrament bestows grace. Just as it’s important for baptism to use the Trinitarian formula, it’s important for marriage to be carried out in a certain way. 

Marital sex. Marriage is a sacrament, different from natural pairing. As a holy institution, marriage is meant for a husband and wife to represent the union of Christ and His Church. Love sets no boundaries and is therefore, open to life. “This love is above all fully human, compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive.”

Part of marriage is creating a family and raising children responsibly. “With regard to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

“The Church…teaches that every martial act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”  Intent plays a role in the issue of contraception. Artificial birth control is condemned as a means of preventing pregnancy. However, some women need to take birth control for other medical reasons. If she is taking it for a medical reason, and that results in her being unable to conceive, it is not wrong. The intent was health, not contraception. In the same way, Pope Benedict XVI said that it could be moral for some to use condemns to prevent the spread of AIDS. If unmarried people are going to have sex, it would be better to try to prevent disease than not.

Consequences of birth control. It’s pretty clear that the Sexual Revolution would not have happened without the Pill. Less risk enticed more people to have sex outside marriage. “Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”

When people separate the idea of sex=children, they see sex as a means of pleasure only, and sexual partners are reduced in value. “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.” Now, there have always been people who have sex without regard for their partners, and there are people who use birth control who care a lot about their partner’s needs and emotions. I think this quote paints a black and white where there is a lot of gray. But at the same time, there is truth in it. Consequence-free sex doesn’t exist. There are power-struggles, emotions, diseases, pregnancy (even with birth control). But birth control and the prevailing culture sell the false idea of consequence-free sex. People think they can do whatever feels good and not get hurt. It’s simply a lie.

Self-discipline. Discipline is part of being human; we have control over our animal instincts. We are expected to control our diet, our interactions with others, our selfishness. Discipline over sexual matters is just another part of human discipline. The Church demands chastity from everyone. For some, that means lifelong celibacy; for others, it means abstinence until marriage. But chastity doesn’t end once a couple is married. Sex within marriage is pure. But chastity also includes fidelity, keeping the mind pure, avoiding pornography, and treating your spouse as an equal.

It is made clear a number of times that no one is pretending this teaching is easy, or that it will be popular, even within the Church. “We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples.” There is special concern for developing countries, where poverty and poor medical care make limiting children important. The Church wants to find ways for couples to remain chaste in their vocation of marriage while still being responsible and healthy.

Science. The encyclical encourages scientists to continue research of fertility, but urges research particularly “in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring.”  The Church isn't scared of science. Science is morally neutral; it is what humans do with the results that has moral implications. It is emphasized again that “there can be no contradiction between two divine laws –that which governs the transmitting of life and that which governs the fostering of married love.” 

Thoughts Really, this encyclical reinforced what I already suspected. This isn’t an outright condemnation on birth control, but for married Catholics to reject birth control. If you’re Catholic and unmarried, don’t have sex. If you’re Catholic and married, don’t use artificial birth control. If you’re not Catholic, well the Church still thinks it’d be better for you to be chaste, but she is silent. The issue of birth control within the Church stems from how the Church views life and the sacrament of marriage. Other cultures view marriage, sex, and life differently. And that’s why I’ll explain and defend the Church’s beliefs and stance on the issue, but I don’t really have a problem with non-Catholics using contraception.

However, I do believe that the consequence-free sex culture is damaging. I also think current culture is damaged in ignoring celibacy. I wish it were addressed as a viable option. So while I try not to hold others to Catholic standards, I do think the Church’s standards are beneficial for everyone.