Saturday, March 28, 2015

Poor Pilgrim


I recently found a prayer card stuck in a book. I have lots of prayer cards stuck in lots of books, so they pop on me pretty regularly. This one had a cut out of a painting of the nativity. The animals are looking on as Mary lays Jesus in the manger. Joseph is sitting nearby, looking terribly exhausted. On the back is a prayer related to Christmas and the Holy Family, but some of the words are so beautiful, they transcend the liturgical season.

O Blessed Mary and dearest Joseph, allow me to journey with you to Bethlehem. I am a lowly pilgrim making my way to the center of history, the center of the universe: the birth of Christ the Lord…Time will stand still, forever divided by the entry of the Creator into His creation…He who is Light from Light now sees with eyes of flesh that star’s gentle lumen. My heart is prostrate before Him and I have but one sorrow: I am poor, bereft of fitting treasures for this newborn King.

Sometimes during Christmas, I get distracted by the cute baby and the sheep and the soft glow of candles and starlight to really consider the weight of the Incarnation. But Holy Week is heavy, and now the Incarnation is at the forefront of my mind. God didn’t just come walk among the humans; he became human, to reach out to us in a personal, intimate way. He made friends, he got hungry, he experienced the range of emotions and temptations we do. He died. He lived in a physical, temporally linear form so that we might understand him. To follow Christ is indeed to make pilgrimage to the center of history, the center of the universe.

As Holy Week begins, we walk the most difficult and most beautiful part of that journey.

Monday, March 9, 2015

St. Frances of Rome


Today’s saint on my calendar caught my eye because of the name Frances. But wait, a woman Frances! I was already on board. Frances of Rome was born into a noble family in 1384. She wanted to become a nun, but she was married off to a nobleman. She prayed to God to stop the marriage, but her confessor challenged her, “Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or because you want God to do your will?”

Her husband Lorenzo Ponziani was reportedly a good and loving man, even though Frances was unhappy living the social life of Roman nobility. She and her sister-in-law dutifully attended to social functions for their family, but also served in prisons and hospitals, helping the poor and needy.

The family suffered from the civil unrest in Rome during that time. Their house was raided, Lorenzo was attacked, and their son was kidnapped. Frances opened up their own as a hospital. With Lorenzo’s support, she started a lay order called the Oblates of Mary for women who lived in the world but were dedicated to helping the poor.

When Lorenzo died, his last words to Frances were, “I feel as if my whole life has been one beautiful dream of purest happiness. God has given me so much in your love.” Afterward, she moved into a house of widowed Oblates. I really love that Frances is a good example for both married and religious women. St. Frances of Rome died in 1440. Her feast day is March 9.

Friday, March 6, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 100!)



1. I got up this morning, after writing five hours then sleeping five hours. Except for my 15 minute lunch break (which was not enough time for a full episode of The Andy Griffith Show), I wrote for 12 hours straight. My brain doesn’t work so good anymore, and I’m pretty sure my contacts are drying out. Thesis crunch time sucks, especially when I can’t stress-eat any meat.

2. I’m wondering if I should take up drinking coffee, even though I don’t like the taste or smell. I just need more caffeine than soda.

3. It didn’t help that weird weather fronts are giving everybody sinus headaches. There was a 45 degree difference between Wednesday and Thursday.

4. There wasn’t really a particular healthcare issue this week, but I did see this. Surprisingly, people tend to forget that pro-life is a broad topic (pro-birth, pro-natural death, pro-nonviolent resolutions, pro-healthcare).

5. I remember looking up lesser-known presidents back on Presidents Day. Apparently, that prompted this from Amazon yesterday:

6. Fun fact: Queen Victoria thought Fillmore was the most handsome man she had ever met. I get it. He sort of looks like a Baldwin brother.

7. Now I’m off to bed to dream of Easter, when my thesis is hopefully completed and Jesus opens up heaven. Those two things are currently tracking about even on excitement levels for me.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Colbert Catechism


This video has Stephen Colbert talking to Fr. James Martin about the faith. I like how Colbert is serious and knowledgeable about his faith in public without being pushy about it; he’s a good example, and this is a good video.
I liked the questions Fr. Martin asked, so I answered them for myself.

What are you giving up for Lent?

I didn’t give anything up this year. Instead, I’m reading the Catechism. I want to also read another book about faith (since the first one didn’t pan out). I want to had a regular Chaplet of Divine Mercy as well. But, as usual, I’m in third-week-of-Lent slump, so these are more of goals than practices.

If you had one thing to say to Pope Francis, what would it be?

I really have no idea. I’m tempted to say I’d ask for a job, but I know I wouldn’t actually do that. Maybe ask for book recommendations?  

Who’s your favorite saint?

Francis de Sales. My confirmation saint, a Doctor of the Church, awesome writer to the laity, massive converter of Calvinists—what’s not to like?

Favorite scripture passage?

John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Favorite hymn?

“Be Thou My Vision.” “What Wondrous Love is This” is in the top five though!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lenten Literary Snob



I recently wrote about how I’m reluctant to reread Mere Christianity and why I’m picky about what books I do read. Sure, it’s a form of self-censorship, but like a diet, one should be careful about what one consumes. This started at the beginning of Lent. I decided to read a book someone had given me last year, part of the “taking something up” and focusing more on matters of faith during this season. I won’t name the book for obvious reasons. A lot of people I knew had read it, recommended it, talked about how good it was. Most of them were cradle Catholics, and I felt that the book was covering a lot of themes I had covered not too long ago in RCIA, so I put it on the shelf and didn’t think much of it until it was time to take something up this Lent.

By page three, I was already not into it. The way the relationship of the Father and Son were depicted didn’t seem right, and the analogy for the crucifixion was either poorly written or an atonement theory I would disagree with (the fact that I’m not sure which is no good). But multiple people said it was good, so I tried to keep reading. Ultimately, I didn’t get far. It wasn’t wrong. But I certainly took issue with the tone and direction. Even though it was geared to young adult Catholics, I wasn’t the intended audience. I felt like the author was speaking to someone two seats over, helping some other person on a completely different part of the journey. I never found a full sentence I didn’t want to reword. 

Finally resigned that I was not going to read this book, or least that I was not going to read it to gain any insights, I checked the author bio on the back. Surely I should have done this first. The author is a motivational speaker for big businesses, who also happens to be Catholic. His Christianity/Catholicism/religion in general isn’t mentioned until paragraph five, whereas a list of his big brand clients makes paragraph three. The entire bio is a mess of big red flags. It also explains the jargon, poor writing, and lack of theology in the introduction and chapter that I did read. 

The lesson here is to read the author bio first. Actually, the fuller lesson is that a source matters. Books from a university, from a theologian, and from a motivational speaker are going to be radically different, even if they address the same topic. It’s good to know the background, culture, and biases coming from an author, and it’s good to know the background, culture, and biases with which you read that author. When I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, I know the Tarzan books are going to be incredibly racist and pro-colonialism. Reading them doesn’t make me racist or pro-colonialism, but those are two good reasons not to read them. I’m able to recognize the author and culture’s biases and suspend the judgments for the sake of the 100-year-old adventure story. I am less inclined to suspend my criticisms when it comes to writing about the faith. This book feels shallow, self-help with a dash of celebration of culture. 

The author’s bio makes me even less inclined to continue. Faith is a paragraph one identifier, especially when the book is about said faith. I don’t need a paragraph five Catholic to tell me about my faith. Perhaps it gets better further in, but I don’t think I will ever know. I’m snowed in with Hugo and Dickens and Eliot plenty of others who never try to speak on Catholicism (ok, Hugo speaks on it, critically), but who will move me closer to God than that book will.

This turned into a ranty criticism. (I actually edited some of the ranty out.) A lot of people seem to like the book, and if it helps them in their relationship to God within the confines of the Church, then great. Clearly for me, it just made me argumentative. So there is no reason to continue with it. I can self-censor. I can control what material I put before me. I can start something, change my mind, and chuck it. I can reject something based on an author bio or who publishes it or what biases it holds.

I’m disappointed I didn’t like the book. I wanted to like it. I wanted to find a new book that really talked about my faith, particularly a book written contemporarily. I liked that it was popular; I wanted to talk about it with others. But now I just feel left out. Again. A little cultural nomad who loves Jesus, loves the Church, assents to the dogma and doctrines joyfully, but still feels that she doesn’t understand how Catholics are. But maybe it’s not just Catholics. Maybe I just don’t understand people. Maybe I’m merely still that nerdy girl who is more comfortable being a literary snob in my glasses with my Wishbone fan club membership (real thing) and stack of books wondering what on earth other people think about all day if they don’t read.