Tag Archives: Catholicism

Making Up for the Past

My Catholic past is rather checkered. I was baptized Catholic as a baby in the church where my parents were married. My dad’s family is not Christian; my mom’s has been Catholic for generations. I went to a (non-Catholic) Bible preschool, then on to public elementary school. I attended Sunday School until my mom got tired of dragging me out of bed to catch the bus every week. I went to all the CCD classes I needed before my First Communion without ever setting foot in the church until First Penance and the rehearsal.

When we moved to Germany and it was time for my sister’s First Communion, my mom discovered that I had to attend 7th grade CCD before I could join the 8th grade Confirmation class. Luckily, I was in the 7th grade at the time. We started to attend Mass again (always the Saturday Vigil, because we’ve never been morning people). On my Confirmation retreat, I went to confession for the second time–ever–and fell in love with God again.

When we moved back to the U.S., we stopped attending Mass. I missed going to church, but not enough to do much about it. In the year before Ryan’s First Communion, I started college. I did a lot of stupid things during that time, including wholly unworthily receiving the Eucharist at the Mass where Ryan (whose name means “little king”) played a king during the Gospel pageant. That same year, my dad joined RCIA.

Being in church again reminded me of the peace I’d felt there before. Jesus started calling me out of my relationship with my boyfriend and back to him. It took months, but on Ash Wednesday during my freshman year of college, I recommitted myself to chastity, received an absolution that was four years overdue, and returned to Holy Mother Church.

When I hear about people who’ve been to Mass every Sunday of their lives except the one where they had chicken pox, dads who left seminary to marry moms, and families who celebrate name days with special dinners, my heart aches. I wish so much that I could have had that kind of spiritual upbringing. I don’t blame my parents, per se. It really was an ordeal to wake me up on Sunday mornings before I started sacrificing that for the Lord. So now, I have to make up for lost time. I have to learn prayers for the first time that my peers have known since grade school. I have to wonder whether my family even bothers going to church when I’m not home to make them feel obligated (which, of course, they are).

There are signs, though, that my catch-up efforts aren’t in vain. I don’t know much about the saints at all, for example. I love St. Cecilia, my Confirmation saint and the first whose story I really got to know. St. Frances of Rome, my first annual patron saint, is buried in the Church of St. Cecilia in Rome. My middle name is Nicole; I used to live in Germany, where St. Nicholas is widely venerated. My birthday is August 30, the old-calendar feast day of St. Rose of Lima, my second annual patron saint. And finally, next year’s annual patron, St. Wolfgang, is another beloved German saint who was a noted teacher. Even after all this time, God’s sense of humor still amazes me.

Hearing from the Halo

BustedHalo a great site that puts a lighter spin on spirituality. It’s run by Paulists, so there’s a large Catholic presence, but I really like the balanced, “seeking” way it treats other faiths as well. (Except for that article about the alleged religious sister who loves The Vagina Monologues….) Plus, I won a signed copy of James Martin’s A Jesuit Off-Broadway!

There have been some exceptional interviews lately. The Faith Between Us, by Peter Bebergal and Scott Korb, details the personal religious journey of the two men, who sought to be a Jewish mystic and a Catholic priest respectively, but found meaning else. Says Korb:

I was sitting there with my stepfather in the days before he died and he said to me, “Look, you have to take care of your mother when I’m gone.” And that became my Christian inheritance, and that became my experience. My stepfather was a very devout Catholic and for him, his experience was that his own afterlife didn’t seem to matter to him in the moment, but only that we—his children—would take over where he left off in taking care of my mother.

I think this moment is less about his stepfather’s focus on this world instead of the next, and more about his focus on leaving his family secure because he knows he’s going on. In that moment, heaven wasn’t as important as making sure his family would be okay. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t thinking about heaven like “a very devout Catholic.”

For twenty years of my life I was sure that I knew how to be a Catholic, that I knew how to live as a religious person, and that meant to be as disciplined as I could and to develop an eating disorder and to decide I wanted to be a priest because I thought that that was what God wanted—was for me to be lonely my whole life. And that’s not to say that I think that priests are lonely. That’s to say that in my perception of the priesthood I was lonely and I wanted to make loneliness—as I say in the book—my vocation.

I can understand this. A lot of times, I fear that I’m too legalistic in my practice of Catholicism. What it is, though, is that I just like living my faith that way. I like following the specific practices and traditions that have come down through the centuries. It’s comforting for me to do the same things at every Mass, every day. There’s no one single way to be Catholic (though I think his self-described “Catholic atheism” pushes it). Some priests (and laypeople) do well in the silence. Some crave activity and live fellowship. The apostles were all very different men, after all.

The magazine also featured an interview with Braddigan of the band Dispatch, which I think I’ve heard of in passing. Clearly, I need to pay more attention, because he is so profound and eloquent.

I think a lot of people identify with Christianity or any faith for that matter as a kind of external clothing. Something you were born into, a tradition, something that stays on the outside and it is in this box and then your life is in this box. People tend to approach their lives like there are the three or four boxes that.

[…] I don’t really understand exactly how as an athlete and as a musician and as a person who loves the Lord—how can I put all that stuff together. He said “You just live one life. You are never supposed to believe that ministry was over here and maybe church is on Sundays and your work Monday through Friday and your vacation…it’s one life and who you carry inside you internally, Christ, the Holy Spirit, this light that the Lord talks about that can’t be hidden…that’s your greatest gift.”

Later, he quotes St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” Braddigan really understands that faith is not something you can relegate to a box to check and a place to go on Sundays. Faith gives us life. Faith is life.

AP Musings about Mormons

Another news story caught my eye today, this time from the Associated Press: “Theology divides Mormons, evangelicals.” It reads like a beginner’s guide to the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) church. I’m not a fan of Mormonism, but I know they favor the practical application of faith in everyday life and big, loving families, which I like.

The biggest concern people have about Romney in the Republican race is that he’s a Mormon. I always thought it was just their lack of familiarity with Mormonism. It seems to me to be more of a question of practical faith.

Another concern for some: that Mormon church presidents are held out as prophets with revelatory power that can alter the church’s direction and beliefs.

Said [Richard] Mouw, “That notion that things can just get changed is scary for a lot of people who worry that a church with a very strong authority center could influence a public leader by suddenly getting a new revelation that has an impact on public policy.”

This reminds me of what they used to say about JFK, that the pope would control the U.S. Thirty years later, they fear the LDS church leader will do the same. I don’t think either is true. It’s a pity that JFK didn’t live long enough for us to see more of his faith in action.

According to data gathered by the Pew Research Center (which has a great website), only 53 percent of people have favorable feelings towards Mormons; 76 percent towards Jews and Catholics. Clearly that 76 percent does not spend much time on college campuses.

Catholic Update

Zenit reports that a pontifical council is working on a code of conduct for Catholic evangelization. This could be a very good thing. Catholics aren’t great at evangelizing. We don’t have the rapid-fire Bible-quoting abilities of evangelical Protestants, and we have a ton of social prejudice to overcome. I hope this code will give more guidelines and suggestions than restrictions on how to spread the gospel of Christ.

My own spiritual life has been pretty great over the summer. Working all day meant that I couldn’t go to daily Mass. Only when I was denied that part of my day did I realize how much I missed it. This week has been great for Mass; I’ve gone every day since Saturday. These past few weekdays and last Saturday were at the Shrine, because I held onto my car and Fr. Kyle took one last vacation before the semester starts.

Just tonight, I filled my second spiritual journal. I’m glad to have finally worked through it; I picked a bad notebook and had been writing on every other page just to use it up more quickly. I rarely reread my entries later, and I have no intention of letting anyone else ever see them, but it helps me a lot. I can process my thoughts more clearly when I have to write them out, word by word, in cursive. Spiritual journaling forces me to mull over my thoughts in a slow but remarkably productive way.

I’ll be glad to have my “normal” life back once school starts. Daily Mass, endless hours at the CSC, and my wonderful community of faith bring me so much joy.

A Few Sots in Our Lot

T. O. at LAMLand relays a priest friend’s story about old Catholic habits that die hard. I guess it goes to show how much the Church ingrains itself into our lives. No matter how hard you try to fight him, God will get to you. Once a follower, always a follower.

Fr. Bill, when I emailed the post to him, replied, “Who’s to say the man wasn’t still a Catholic? We have a few sots in our lot.” It takes all sorts.

On the Assumption

Once again, I emerge from a huge span of time spent without blogging. Happy Feast Day. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the hardest theological dogmas of the Church to understand and explain. We have enough Marian love to defend, and then we come upon a feast day (a solemnity, no less) smack dab in the middle of summer Ordinary Time, devoted to something most Catholics have never realized they don’t really understand. Judging by the attendance at the Assumption Vigil Mass at St. Mark’s last night, that lack of understanding leads to a lack of caring about showing up for the Holy Day of Obligation, and therefore a lack of falling into mortal sin.

I see the Assumption like this: Mary is our model of humanity. Jesus was, of course, human and divine, having two natures inseparable from each other. Mary was completely human. She wasn’t God or even godlike. But she was as close as any of us can hope to be. Mary was a perpetual virgin, perfectly chaste from her very first days. She was perfectly obedient, always eager to follow God’s will and resistant to disobeying him, so she was without sin. She died, as all humans do, but instead of her body falling into corruption and decay while her soul moved toward the final judgment, she was immediately taken into heaven. Her humanly perfection extended beyond her death. She did not rise into heaven on her own, like Jesus, but she was taken there by Jesus. Glorious in her heavenly body, she reigns over heaven: Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Basically, if any of us have a role model (other than Jesus), it should be Mary. I can only hope and pray to be as obedient and loving as she was.

I’ve been reading a book of excerpts from B16’s writings that Father Bill gave me last semester. Today’s excerpt is from a book B16 wrote while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger about Marian theology, Daughter Zion. In it, he writes that our human mortality, the ability to die, is caused by “the usurped autarchy [self-rule] of a determination to remain within ourselves.” Our self-centeredness led us to sin, which brought death into the world. Mary died, but was whisked away into immortality because in her “the innate propensity to autarchy is totally lacking…there is the pure dispossession of the one who does not rely upon [herself]….Instead, the whole human being enters salvation.” Mary didn’t care about what she wanted, only what God wanted. By denying herself, she gained everything.

A Spiritual Educational Philosophy

The Holy Father gave an address to a convention of the Diocese of Rome. (Why is it not an archdiocese?) Seeing ZENIT‘s title for it (“There Is Talk of a Great ‘Educational Emergency'”) immediately drew me in.

This is an inevitable emergency: in a society, in a culture, which all too often make relativism its creed—relativism has become a sort of dogma–in such a society the light of truth is missing….

So how would it be possible to suggest to children and to pass on from generation to generation something sound and dependable, rules of life, an authentic meaning and convincing objectives for human existence both as an individual and as a community?

For this reason, education tends to be broadly reduced to the transmission of specific abilities or capacities for doing, while people endeavour to satisfy the desire for happiness of the new generations by showering them with consumer goods and transitory gratification. Thus, both parents and teachers are easily tempted to abdicate their educational duties and even no longer to understand what their role, or rather, the mission entrusted to them, is.

Yet, in this way we are not offering to young people, to the young generations, what it is our duty to pass on to them. Moreover, we owe them the true values which give life a foundation.

However, this situation obviously fails to satisfy; it cannot satisfy because it ignores the essential aim of education which is the formation of a person to enable him or her to live to the full and to make his or her own contribution to the common good.

As a teacher, a godmother, a Confirmation sponsor, and a Catholic, I find this fascinating. My classmates last semester who graduated in May had to interview for admission to the master’s degree program. Vanessa mentioned that, during the interview, she was asked what her (English) teaching philosophy is. (Mine is that all people love reading once they find the right book.) Thursday on Life on the Rock, a former Notre Dame football coach insisted that football prepared his players for life. After Remember the Titans, I can understand that. My task as a teacher isn’t just to get my students passing test scores, but to help them understand literature and language, why they matter, and their significance in their lives (and not get fired in the process). All the popular movies about great teachers (Stand and Deliver, Music of the Heart, and more recently, Freedom Writers) have little to do with test scores. Those teachers changed their students on a personal, relational, spiritual level. The Holy Father is talking about an educational philosophy.

An essential priority of our pastoral work [is] to bring close to Christ and to the Father the new generation that lives in a world largely distant from God.

In practice, this guidance must make tangible the fact that our faith is not something of the past, that it can be lived today and that in living it we really find our good. Thus, boys and girls and young people may be helped to free themselves from common prejudices and will realize that the Christian way of life is possible and reasonable, indeed, is by far the most reasonable.

I experience this every time I encounter Catholic youth. Our task as Christians is to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). The youth are part of those nations. I even experience it when I talk about faith with fallen-away or non-Catholics. I love Christ so much, with every part of my being, that I am bursting to share him with everyone I can find.

This is what makes me want to try teaching Catholic school. Is it possible to be too Catholic for public school?

Knowing that B16 and JPII were both teachers explains their grace at relating faith to education. It also gives me hope that my teacher’s mind will help me as I make up for a good decade of lost catechesis in my own life.

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