Friday, January 24, 2014

Being Catholic 2

Being Catholic for me has mostly been a solitary journey centered around the Liturgy of the Hours & the Rosary. In the Liturgy of the Hours, I daily encounter various hymns, Psalms & writings of the Church Fathers. In the Rosary, I encounter the life of Christ in 20 separate "scenes". Occasionally, I'll "fulfill my obligations" & make it to Mass & confession. But honestly, I find it hard to take the Church seriously in matters of obedience because leadership seems out of touch with God & each other half the time, not to mention the people.

When I pare away the hierarchy of Rome & the sensational "mythology" of the saints, when I take what the media & the non-Catholics have to say with a grain of salt & focus instead on Christ crucified, I'm much more at ease with my faith. I don't think being Catholic is about my relationship with the magisterium or my attendance at Mass. Its not about my affinity (or lack thereof) for Mary or the saints. Its not about defending my chosen expression from the criticism of outsiders. Its about my relationship with Jesus.

I want to make it clear that I don't advocate for "disobedience". I happen to agree that the priesthood should remain male. I don't however, agree that celibacy should be the hard & fast rule. I agree that abortion is wrong. I don't think I'm totally on board with the Church's view of contraception within marriage though. It seems cruel & controlling. I think if something gets in the way of my loving God & loving others as Christ loved me, that thing, whatever or whoever it may be, will get left behind. And, I've discovered, there are many Catholics who feel the same way... not that its right. While I don't advocate for disobedience, I do advocate for caution, wisdom & discernment. Not every sheep is a sheep & not every shepherd is the Lord's...

Being Catholic 1

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, but didn't feel I could truly write about what "being Catholic" was like if I wasn't attending Mass regularly. But is that all that constitutes being a Catholic?

I hear a lot about the corruption of the Magisterium, right on down to the priesthood. I hear a lot about the misogyny & tired old ways of the Church. I hear about the evils of contraception, abortion & homosexuality. But most of this, I hear from the media.

From the pulpit, I hear about Jesus, the struggles of His disciples, the need for forgiveness & loving one another (a.k.a., "social justice"). Sometimes the homiles are meaty, other times, not so much. I definitely don't hear about what the Church teaches in the Catechism. I don't hear much about confession, & I certainly don't hear anything about Mary or the saints unless its a special feast day. Sometimes they're mentioned briefly in the liturgical prayers somewhere. If I want to know anything about being a Catholic, I have to go hunting for it. And I do. Some folks are hard core fire & brimstone. Others are all about the grace, man. Me, it looks like I prefer to toe the middle line. 

From the non-Catholic consortium, I've become familiar with the misconceptions that we worship Mary, the saints, the Eucharist. The idea that Catholics believe they're really consuming the flesh & blood of Jesus must be downright horrifying. News flash: Many Catholics don't actually believe it either. Dare I forget to recall that the Pope is the Anti-Christ & the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon? The arguments are always the same & it seems there are plenty of proofs for both sides of the coin. *Yawn*

I don't worship Mary & I usually forget to acknowledge the saints. I believe the Eucharist is the Body & Blood of Christ, but I'm not sure we should keep it to ourselves & keep barring other Christians from the table. When I first became a Catholic, I loved the simplicity, symbolism & organization of the Mass. That hasn't changed... but tell me I have to go under pain of sin, well, that kind of pisses me off. I know about keeping the Lord's Day & not forsaking gathering together, but to tell me I HAVE to "or else" is another story.

To be continued...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lost Connection

I had the radio on for background noise this morning & started thinking about the past... What was life like before the internet, tv & movies & telephones? What was life like before microwaves, cars & radios? Some might venture to say it was a lot harder. But was it? Maybe compared to what we have now, sure.

But think about the life of an average person a little more than a century ago- what did they do to entertain themselves? Did they sing while hauling in wood for the stove? Did they play instruments, read poetry or classic literature together? Did they invite their neighbors over for dinner & drinks to  discuss the day's news? How many more "real" people did one encounter from having to go to the same general store, the same butcher, the same doctor, druggist & blacksmith year in & year out? How much more in touch were they with their communities? Did they pray together? Attend services together every Sunday? Were their children born in the beds they were conceived in? Did grandparents exist & die in the same house where grandchildren grew up? Was silence as threatening then as it seems now?

Families tended to stick together back then... everybody had a role to play. To get anywhere, you had to walk or own a horse. Things that take us moments now could take people hours to do then. They were also more physically fit. Generations of people in the community were known to one another. News was heard by word of mouth, telegraph or newspaper. Entertainment was centered on human interaction- people shared with one another their homes, food, talents... They went out to the theater to see comedies & plays. A "concert" to them was a trip to hear the symphony or local quartet. They dressed up to go out & wouldn't think of yelling at the performers unless they were at a sporting event...

Today, you could say families still stick together- via skype, phone, email & visits once a year. But its not quite the same as flesh & blood breathing the same air every day. You could say we still hear news on the internet, tv, newspapers & by word of mouth- in fact, how cool is it to know anything that's going on anywhere, at any time?! But its not quite the same because there are so many sources to choose from... Who can you trust? You may as well be inviting a stranger off the street to take care of your children. We still go to theaters & concerts, but not without some kick ass speakers, smoke & lights to keep us entertained... We experience life through filters now- tv, computer, even cell phone screens all serve to disconnect us from the source. We filter sounds through headphones or the hustle & bustle of activity around us. Our senses are bombarded. Where can you interact with another human being these days without the din of background noise or the influence of modern technology? Even home can be distracting anymore. 

What has the lack of quiet & communal human interaction done to us thus far? And what are the kids of this generation going to experience when they're our age? Will they crave silence & connection? And how will they satisfy that need if we obliterate those things from practice & memory?!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Modern day Annunciation (Or, the 1st Joyful Mystery)

Imagine you're just sitting in your house, minding your own business. Maybe you're engaging in a mundane task like washing dishes, folding laundry or balancing your checkbook. You're a single girl, you've got the day off work & you're not expecting to see anyone for hours. Maybe you just sat down with a cup of coffee & its time to relax with a good book. You're calm & all is calm around you. You allow your ears to focus in on the birds outside. The sun is shining & a warm, gentle breeze passes through the screen, teasing through the curtains ever so slightly.

You raise the cup to your lips & savor the sweet, dark liquid. All of a sudden, there's a voice behind you: "Hi!" it says. You lose your grip & spill your coffee all over the table. Your heart is racing. You're afraid to turn around. No one should be here. Is the front door locked? Where's your phone?! You feel a little panicked. You don't recognize the voice. Slowly, your shift in your chair & look behind you. Its hard to see the figure outlined against the blinding light. "Hi!" the voice says again. Its a male voice. He doesn't sound threatening. What does he want? You lift your arm up to shield your eyes.

The voice calls you by name now, tells you you're highly favored & that the Lord is with you. What is this, some kind of joke? Did you finally win the mail order sweepstakes? Maybe some religious looney just escaped, looked you up in the phone book & you're his first victim. Great, you think. What a way to go. You try to remember that self defense acronym: Solar plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin... The voice steps into view. You lower your arm. He's so... sparkly. And then you realize this is no man. Its an... an angel! No way, you think to yourself. Your face goes pale & you suddenly wish you could hide.

"Don't be afraid", says the angel. He tells you again that you've found favor with God. Were you looking for favor?  You don't remember asking for anything specific, except maybe that one thing... Before you can engage your internal dialogue further, the angel continues, "You're going to have a baby & name it Jesus". "Whoa, hold on now", you say, "I'm single & I believe that love waits, you know... I've never even been with a guy in that way. How am I supposed to get pregnant?!" Your mind is spinning. The angel looks you in the eye & tells you the Holy Spirit will "overshadow you" (He's gonna what?!) & the child conceived in your womb will be holy. "Wait, like HOLY holy?" you ask. The angel continues, "He will be the Son of God".

The moments following cover you like heavy molasses. Why you? When will all this happen? What will life look like if you say yes? Can you say no? But you find that mere seconds have passed when you suddenly utter the words that  surprise even you: "Ok. Let's do this".

Your "ok" corresponds to Mary's "Yes". Did she say yes because she was scared? Did she say yes because she wanted fame? Or did she say yes because something within her told her that God had given her this purpose in life? Did she feel worthy? Did she feel excited? Humbled? The more I think about it,  I can't help but imagine her fiat involved more resignation than enthusiasm. After all, who was brave enough to say no to God? And who was brave enough to dare think they could take care of a child on their own back in that day, let alone the Son of the living God?! What would Joseph think? Surely he would be outraged & leave her. They were betrothed at the time, but he could've called the whole thing off. In fact, he wanted to when he heard the news. We don't read anything about what Mary must have felt or what was going on in her head during this encounter or after. We only read that once she consented, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. She conceived in her womb the Son of God, who she would name Jesus. We also read that Joseph, while notably disappointed, was quickly reassured by the very same angel that all this was of God.

And the fruit of this 1st Joyful mystery?  Humility.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Today it occurred to me that obligation doesn't necessarily equal grace, even though the Church tells me that I receive grace by fulfilling my obligation to attend Mass each Sunday. The Church tells me I receive the grace of absolution by confessing my "mortal" sins to a priest. Under pain of sacrilege, I can't partake of the Eucharist until I fulfill this obligation. The Church tells me the Eucharist brings grace & is the source & summit of my faith, but I'm only obligated to partake once a year, during the Easter season (after having confessed my "mortal sins" of course).

I don't want to be obliged to go to Mass every Sunday. It feels like blackmail. You do this, you get that. While my failure to fulfill my obligation as a Catholic "legally" bars me from the Eucharist, I don't feel the need to stand in line on a Saturday afternoon & "confess". Logically, I can't bring myself to believe its a sin. But it seems missing Mass is likened to betrayal. Christ the King sends His invitation to come & celebrate His presence with His people. To refuse is to reject Him, like the subjects of His parables did. Yet how can the Sunday obligation truly be equal to grace? I look across the proverbial fence line of my Church's restrictions & see Christians of all denominations engaging in communion with Christ & each other... most, it seems, have open communion where all are welcome, regardless of sin or piety. Why aren't all welcome to partake at the Catholic Mass when they choose? The Church says its because we're to celebrate the memorial of Christ's sacrifice together on the Lord's Day, Sunday. They say the Eucharist is the actual Body & Blood of Christ. To eat & drink unworthily (that is, with sin on one's soul) brings condemnation. To reject obligation (confession to a priest, attending Sunday Mass, etc.) is to reject grace. To reject grace is to reject Christ & thus, to sin, which brings condemnation.

Why does Paul say there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? The Church seems to say if you are not baptised, instructed & confirmed as a Catholic, you are NOT in fact, in Christ. If you have unconfessed sin in your heart, if you have not fulfilled your obligation, you are also apparently not in Christ because one can't abide in Christ & also in sin. They say Protestants, Evangelicals & even Muslims are our brothers & sisters "in Christ", yet they're barred from partaking of the Eucharist with us. Is there a double standard here?!

The Church uses John 20:21-23 to substantiate the requirements of forgiveness. It says Jesus commissioned the Apostles, "sending" them into the world as God had sent Him. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (NRSVCE)  But was He speaking only to the Apostles & their successors? Or was He speaking to us all, with a nod toward the prayer He Himself taught us: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."? Why would anyone retain the sin of another & refuse to forgive them? Why, indeed. People do it all the time. Was Christ teaching that in order to be forgiven of our sins, we need to confess to a priest? Did He teach that the Church is the sole gatekeeper of grace, of what is sin & what is not? Is it true that forgiveness can only be doled out by an authorized human representative of the faith? Frankly, it sounds a little absurd...