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Blithely browsing my Facebook feed, I came across astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s 8 books every intelligent person should read. I’m always interested to read these kinds of lists. I always presume knowledge and expertise, as well as good will, on the part of the book selector. Boy did I bomb out on this one.
Here is the first item on the list:
1.) The Bible (eBook) - “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”
Seriously? That’s the only reason to read the Bible? Any book list that begins with such a potshot at the Bible is an automatic and complete FAIL. It’s such an ignorant, dishonest, and arrogant statement that I can not possibly let it slide.
First of all, if the Bible’s adherents were so eager to be told what to think and believe, then why did they resist the Romans (and other powers before them) to the point of enduring torture, death, and all out genocide? They could have easily saved their skins and their way of life by just offering incense to the State Gods to appease their oppressors. They didn’t. Why is that?
Secondly, the Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky saying “Here, this is how you have to think and act and believe. Do it or die.” Rather, the Bible–not one book, but a diverse collection of books–came about over centuries and centuries, growing up from the thoughts, insights, religious beliefs, life experiences, and aspirations of a people. The Bible was a result, not a dictator.
It’s a full, rich body of literature, comprising everything from historical chronicles to songs, apocalyptic literature to erotic poetry. It’s full of profound wisdom, brutal honesty, a magnificent comprehension of human nature, and glorious artistry. And if the human writers, and we who have followed, have believed that their inspirations came from God, then fine–respect it and assume that they and we are sincere in that belief, even if you personally don’t believe it.
But whatever you do, if you care about being regarded as intelligent, don’t hold up a book you obviously don’t know or understand and misrepresent it to make yourself look superior.
Any true striving for knowledge requires humility and liberal-mindedness–they are required, not optional. Tyson betrays his lack of both, right from the beginning. And I bet there are lots of people who will gladly take his word for it. Hopefully there are also people who will take his recommendation and find out for themselves the true value of reading the Bible, be they a detached scholar or a religious believer.
Tyson concludes by saying: “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”
Come now, sir, for that to be true, the list should have included at least one classic work from the Greeks, Romans, or Medievals. Machiavelli and Sun Tsu are the best you can offer? Western Civilization is neither impressed nor amused, Mr. Tyson.
I think I am something of a rara avis among women. I like war stories. I like hearing about people’s experiences in the military. Not to say that I don’t shudder and shrink at the brutality, the inhumanity, the pain and death and trauma. But I like being amazed and humbled by the realization that people have been willing to put themselves in the way of those things for the sake of country and countrymen, to stand between those horrors and the rest of us. Sometimes I hear people dismiss or disparage soldiers because war is such a tragedy, such a shame, such a burden. They don’t consider that if it weren’t for soldiers, then all of us would be more directly impacted and imperiled by war, and we would all be forced to fend for ourselves. War is never a thing to love or desire or be proud of. But the soldiers and other people who suffer and endure and even sometimes overcome in extraordinary ways… these are people to be respected and admired and grateful for. They are heroes, every one.
I know this probably sounds like a post for Veterans Day or Memorial Day. But these thoughts shouldn’t be reserved for just certain days. I think them often. They inspire me. They motivate me. They instruct me. They drive me. They help me to remember that life is precious and a very dear price to pay. They also encourage me in the spiritual life, the spiritual war, the Good Fight as St. Paul called it.
This is a war that we are all in the midst of–some are officers, some are foot-soldiers, some are pilots, some are special forces, some are spies, some are medics, and some keep the fires of home and camp burning. We too can be heroes. Even if all we can do is stand our ground and declare where our loyalty lies–in this fallen world and even more fallen society, those things alone can be radical and heroic. And like all soldiers, we put ourselves between the enemy and those who cannot or will not defend themselves. We usually do it without any recognition or thanks–nor do we mind such things; we sometimes do it to the derision of those we long to protect. This is what life is like in the Church Militant, the Church on her long march Heavenward.
I sometimes fear that the Church and Christianity (never mind the rest of our society) have become too soft, too self-indulgent, too complacent, too undisciplined, too indolent–and God knows I’ve been my share of it all, much to my shame and regret. We all have chinks in our armor, after all, and the enemy is very subtle and slithery and knows just how to get though to us. But I fear that too many of us have forgotten altogether where we are and what we’re meant to do. We’ve forgotten our duty. We’ve gotten so fixated upon false, watered-down notions of peace and love and tolerance and niceness and upon feeling good at all costs without the least concern for being good. We count our own opinions, emotions, and preferences as far more important than doctrine, reason, and obedience. We give more loyalty to moral relativism than to the natural law inscribed upon every human heart.
We’ve seen the results of this. We’ve seen the Church splinter from within. We’ve seen unspeakable tragedy and scandal shake her down to her very foundation. THE enemy and those who serve him point and say, “You see? I knew you Christians and your Church were rotten to the core. You hypocrites! You oppressors! You can’t even save yourselves much less than the whole world. Give it up! Cast off the shackles. Forget about your so-called sins and your so-called virtues. Be nice to everybody and otherwise just do whatever feels good. Go with the flow and get a life!” They say this as if the Church herself and all of her loyal adherents were the source of all the misery and humiliation. In fact, it is because some people within the Church have persistently and remorselessly done exactly what the enemy would have us do!
What serves the enemy most is serving ourselves. Loyal service, on the other hand, demands that we lay ourselves down, set ourselves aside, and when necessary let ourselves be nailed to the cross! Generosity is at the heart of all loyal service, be it in an earthly military or the Church. Generosity steels our courage and discipline. Generosity ignites faithfulness, obedience, and charity. Generosity enables us to be selfless.
And so, one of the most helpful spiritual practices I’ve found recently (via my confessor, who always seems to know me better than most anybody, even though he never sees my face) is this Prayer of Generosity, traditionally attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who knew a thing or two about service and obedience:
Lord God, I want to love You, not that I might gain eternal Heaven nor escape eternal Hell, but simply because You are my God. Teach me to be generous. Grant me to give to You and not count the cost; to fight for You and not mind the wounds; to toil and not to look for rest; to labor and to ask no reward, except the knowledge that I serve my Lord and my God. Amen.
Such simple words to pray. And such difficult words to live by! But pray, and it will be given, often beyond our wildest expectations. I have found this simple prayer to be very powerful. Transformative, really. Exactly what I needed to call forth the heroine in me and keep me from straying from my duty, which is to serve God and my fellow man, and to reach Heaven, my true Patria. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I just want to say that I am honored to be part of the Church Militant. I am honored that God and Church would entrust such service and duty to me. And I pray I never completely let them down. I pray I can stand firm until the Good Fight is finished.
November is by far my favorite month of the year. It’s sort of bittersweet, but that is why I like it. The darkness lengthens, the trees turn, the air becomes chilled. And yet there is a special light and warmth as well. The warm hues of autumn leaves and gourds and chrysanthemums. The golden tone of the slanting sunlight. All the abundance and togetherness and festivities–not to mention smells and tastes–of the Thanksgiving feast. Wearing sweaters and fleecy pajamas for the first time in months. I appreciate and cherish these things more with each passing year!
I turned 36 this month, and that too was bittersweet. On one hand, I feel disappointment because my life at this age is nothing like how I always hoped and anticipated. I thought that surely by this time, I would be married and have at least a couple of children and a house all our own. Maybe I would even be able to leave the workforce to tend to the home and educate the children. I fully expected to be living a normal, respectable, successful life. But things have not turned out that way. In some ways, I feel like I have not made any progress at all from where I was ten years ago… only I’ve lost people and things that made up so much of the joy I had ten years ago.
But I’ve also gained important things: faith, maturity, and wisdom. And the older I get, the more I cherish the important things and the less I care about unimportant things, such as what people think or say about me, or how the world measures what is normal, respectable, and successful. The older I get, the more content (but not complacent) I become. And that is very liberating!
Also this month was Election Day in the United States, and it included the biggest election of all, the presidential election. I did my civic duty as a voter, and did so proudly and gratefully. But on the whole, I don’t put too much stock in government and politics. There is no form of worldly government that can make me entirely secure and confident. There is no form of worldly government that can make people happy. Happiness and security and confidence come from the heavenly kingdom and its Lord. This is not to say that the election didn’t impact me. It impacted me in that it revealed, yet again, how very polarized this nation is. No matter who won the most votes, nearly half the nation was going to feel defeated and frustrated and defiant. That’s not a good thing, and I don’t envy the president one bit. I also don’t much envy those who put him in office, for the burden of what happens in the next four years is going to be largely upon them.
But as for me, I shall continue doing what I always do and putting my trust and hope where I always put them, in my King and my God. My citizenship and good standing in His kingdom will always come first. Funny how folks in this country used to be suspicious of Catholics and say that Catholics could never be good Americans because they give their primary allegiance to the Vatican. The Vatican?! Boy, they didn’t know the half of it! They thought much too lowly and safely and mundanely of us. For we Catholics don’t just give our primary allegiance to another worldly kingdom, but to a completely otherworldly kingdom. We Catholics are far more bold and radical than our fellow citizens have ever given us credit for. The rather ironic part is that our allegiance to God and His kingdom actually entail being loyal and responsible to our earthly homes and leaders (or at least their offices). In the spirit of true charity, we love and serve our nation and respect our leaders out of love for God and Heaven. To adapt the famous last words of St. Thomas More, “I am the Republic’s good servant, but God’s first.”
November increases my tendency to wax poetic and philosophic.
For now, I am going to put aside my computer and go fix myself a nightcap of hot chocolate blended with a little tot of whiskey.
Several times in the last few months, I have heard others say that Christians are living in a fairy tale, out of touch with reality. Incidentally, this has happened with the same few months that I have been struggling very hard with pretty much everything–including my faith and spiritual life. I’ve managed to bite my tongue lest I blurt out a less-than-charitable response to that ridiculous claim.
But allow me to set the record straight here: Christianity is no fairy tale. And it doesn’t take some deep philosophical/theological/spiritual treatise to explain why that is so. I’ll tell you why it is so, and that is because if it were a fairy tale, my life would be a heck of a lot easier.
It’s pretty telling that while I have heard more than a few people claim that I’m living a fairy tale, I have yet heard anybody explain to me exactly what part of my life resembles a fairy tale, and what part of my life is out of touch with reality. Face it, I do everything that everybody else does every day: I work, I pay bills and taxes, I sit in traffic, I eat and sleep, I buy groceries, I vote, I obey laws, I like being with friends and family, I like having fun, I long for happiness. I share in all the joys, drudgeries, and responsibilities of life. And sometimes I really struggle–I get tired, I get sick, I get injured, I get broke financially, I have times when absolutely nothing seems to go right, I get depressed, I get discouraged, I lose my temper, I lose hope. All the things that “normal” people do, I do too.
Only, I also do more–I also live a Christian life. I also try to fulfill responsibilities and offer service to God, my Church, and my fellow man that are above and beyond the civil, human, personal duties and services common to us all. And you know what? The Christian life isn’t some kind of fairy dust that makes all the other things go away or get easier. In fact, it sometimes makes them more challenging, more urgent, and more complicated. It adds a new layer to everything. It demands that I think more critically and deeply about everyday life and what actions I take.
Far from supplanting my life in the “real world,” my Christianity demands that I take it more seriously and enter more deeply into it. I have to follow Christ. Which means I have to be charitable to everybody, not just the people I like, and at the same time I have to be willing to take a stand and tell people things they don’t want to hear, things that might even make people hate my guts and the guts of my stupid, out-of-touch religion. And I have to struggle with all of that too.
So, say what you will about Christianity, but it’s not a fairy tale, it’s not removed from reality, and it’s not easy. In fact, life without it is often far easier. I’ve lived with it and without it, you know, so I am able to make the comparison. To be concerned only for the here and now and the people and creatures at hand is far easier than to be beholden to an eternal, transcendent God. To worry only about being nice or compassionate or tolerant is far easier than to be bound by the demands of true charity. To treat Sunday like an extension of Saturday is far easier than to treat it as the sacred Lord’s Day. To be able to hem and haw and adjust one’s beliefs and morals according to what is popular in society or what is easiest in a given situation is far easier than to stand firm with absolute truths no matter what.
Christianity is not an escape from, or replacement for, the “real world.” Rather, it’s a whole additional world that overlays the “real world”–and in fact is like a super-real world where everything takes on a new light and new significance. And my life–my little ol’ life–is supposed to encompass both of them! That’s not the kind of fairy tale I would write for myself, folks! I’d be some kind of crazy masochist if that were the case. But I’m neither crazy nor a masochist–nothing in my nature or conduct would give evidence of that.
So, with all of this said, why am I a Christian? The answer, again, is simple. I’m a Christian because Christianity is true, good, and beautiful. It is everything that is worth striving and fighting and suffering for. It is not a fairy tale, but rather is an epic reality that calls the most ordinary of persons–such as little ol’ me–to be heroic, saintly, and above all genuine–to be more, not less, of a real human being. It makes me better and more complete than the person I was when I did not live a Christian life. It makes me care more about what is important than what is easy. It’s really that simple.
A blessed Fourth of July to my country and fellow citizens! This day marks the birth of the United States as a free nation, determined not to suffer tyranny any longer. It is a nation founded on the belief that man is free by nature and by the dignity bestowed upon him by his Creator.
Of course, like all human endeavors, the reality has not fully lived up to the ideal. Many of the same men who declared that this was a free nation and that all men were created equal were also slave owners. The nation was less than a century old when a massive civil war broke out, bringing extreme misery to people on both sides. People who came here from many other nations in search of relief from poverty, famine, war, oppression, and other forms of distress and injustice often found themselves suffering from the very same things after they’d arrived here. From the beginning of this nation right up until this very day, some people have been less free and less equal than others. Of course, this is not only the reality of the United States; it is the reality of the entire fallen world.
But there is another reality both in this country and in this world. A reality made up of saints and heroes and leaders and peacemakers and ordinary people winning everyday victories over afflictions great and small, public and private. Mercy, justice, charity, steadfastness, resourcefulness, cooperation, humility, gratitude, grace, steadfastness, reason, ingenuity–these are some of the countless threads that make up the fabric of this reality. And while this reality may seem more feeble than the other, though it may at times seem non-existent, this reality has in fact underlain all of human history. While it may be difficult to discern among immediate circumstances, we will always find when we look back that it stretches away in a great swathe. Oh, it may be battered and torn in some places, but in others it shines forth radiantly and completely intact.
What condition it will be in moving forward is for us to decide. We always have a choice–always–which fabric we will lay down. In times when other people are intent to impose the more dismal reality over us, even if they are able to do so in a very powerful way, even then, we still have a choice! We have the choice to strive to overcome it! The Founding Fathers were not wrong about man’s freedom and dignity. They are ours by nature, and we exercise them every time we make a choice which path we will follow and every time we choose to stand against adversity!
It doesn’t matter if we be in chains or in prison, if we be poor or hungry, young or old, rich or poor, male or female–we still have our freedom and dignity. Race doesn’t determine it, nor ethnicity. No circumstance in this world determines it. Our own choices and deeds determine it, and the eyes of our God, who alone can see clearly what is occurring inside a person. A man may appear to others to be utterly worthless, defeated, and a failure–Christ appeared that way as He hanged dead upon the cross. But it wasn’t true of Him, and it needn’t be true of us. Because of Him, even death itself is nothing but a final obstacle to overcome!
Let us declare our independence from the harsh ways and harsh circumstances of the world–we may not be able to change them, at least not on the surface, but we can nevertheless declare independence from them and refuse to serve them. Let us declare our independence from the Tyrant who seeks the deception, degradation, and eternal ruin of our souls, and from all who have chosen to serve him. Let us declare our independence from all that troubles, tempts, misleads, and holds us captive. Let us strive to become saints, heroes, leaders, peacemakers, and victors no matter what happens or who tries to exert power over us.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are free to us all. Nobody can give them to us or take them away from us. We have only to choose them and strive for them.
So, it seems that the United States federal government’s health care legislation has many of my fellow citizens all riled up. Personally, I have no idea what the legislation actually says or how it will play out–does anybody fully know?
It does trouble me, though. What troubles me is that many Americans seem to be under the illusion that the government is a charitable organization and that health insurance for all will translate into quality care for all. I fear that the reality is going to be harsh.
And yet, I can hardly blame anybody. An enormous void has grown in our society–a void of true charity, created with the breaking down of religious communities and religious identities and the shift toward pure secularism. The disintegration and now near-extinction of true charitable organizations such as Catholic hospitals.
And for all our anxiety and protests about having what’s left of our religious identities and charities and liberties squelched–we pretty much have only ourselves to blame. We’ve neglected them for decades, opting to go with the flow of secular society, forgetting all that our ancestors have contributed, buying into the revisionist history that claims religion has never been a force for good in society.
What we–and our country–have lost will only be restored by a trial by fire, and probably a very lengthy one. Pray and fast, brethren. Pray and fast. Start right now. And for Heaven’s sake, let’s stop complaining about the government and start taking responsibility and getting our own houses in order!
Governments come and go, rise and fall, try to replace religion and fail miserably. Sooner or later, it will once again be the Church that is filling the void of charity, striving to meet every human need and protect every human right. Let’s start preparing for that day sooner rather than later.
Yes, this is another thrilling post about my relationship with men. The topic that has been foremost in my mind lately. Writing about it preserves my sanity–and also, perhaps, helps other women. Sisterhood is sooo important at times like this!
Anyway, you know what drives me up the wall? When a man who knows I have taken a liking to him, and who I thought felt the same for me, tells me he “just wants to be friends.” And is then mystified or offended when I say, “Um, no.”
Now understand, I have plenty of male friends. But they are not “just friends” as a substitute for some other kind of relationship. As if to say, “I know you want a relationship with me, but I’m not going to give you the relationship you want–oh, but I’ll allow you to be my friend.” Right, because it is so darn friendly to hold an unrequited love over a woman’s head while you go merrily and live happily ever after with someone else.
None of my proper male friends would be so inconsiderate and selfish to me. The difference with a proper male friend is that the friendship is mutal and two-way. It doesn’t only benefit him or me. It benefits us both. That is a requirement for any friendship, is it not?
I refuse to substitute anything else for it. I refuse to have anything to do with a lopsided, one-way relationship. I have more true friends than I can ever count. I don’t need half-way friends. And I definitely don’t need a man to treat me like I’m just one of the guys whom he can call up and hang out with when he isn’t with his lady love.
Again, it’s not that I don’t enjoy male friendship. Actually, I tend to get along extremely well with men. I drink whiskey, I read Patrick O’Brian, I play video games, I like watching sports (sometimes). But I still expect to be appreciated and liked for who I am–and that includes my womanhood.
So, Mr. Just Wanna Be Friends, focus on your girlfriend and/or on your real female friends. If you want “just friends” then for heaven’s sake, go meet some other men–leave me out of it.
E5 is a wonderful ministry of Christian men praying and fasting for women on every first Wednesday of the month. “E5″ refers to Ephesians chapter 5, about how spouses should give of themselves completely to each other, husbands in life-giving sacrifice and wives in trusting submission.
While the men pray and fast on the first Wednesday, women are asked to pray to receive the prayers and the graces gained by them. In addition to being receptive to the prayers and graces, I think I shall offer prayers for men in return: prayers of thanks to the E5 men for their sacrifices; prayers of thanks to God for the E5 men and for the fact that there are still men in our world who are willing to follow Christ even to the point of sacrificing themselves; and prayers that all Catholic men be willing to do so.
Of course, I will be praying especially for my future husband, that he be, or become, that kind of man. As a single woman, I am painfully aware that such heroic men seem to be very scarce. But I often wonder if that necessarily has to be the case. I think that society, and even the Church, have failed to call men to heroism and to hold them up to the standard of being Christ-like. We have failed to expect greatness from them, and they have failed to expect greatness from themselves. I have been as guilty of that failure as anybody. I think it is one of the rotten fruits of so-called feminism.
But I do believe in men, and I do believe in the power of prayer. So I am sure that something good will come of my prayers. Are any ladies with me?
Just a few months ago I seriously started looking for a relationship with a man again. This is the first serious effort I’ve made since losing my intended husband 6.5 years ago. And, as you may have gathered from some of my recent posts… to say the least, things have not been going very well!
I don’t know if I’ve just had the bad fortune of running into lousy men, or if I am just so rusty with interacting with men that I have been making my own lousy mistakes, or if the rules have changed drastically in the last 6.5 years. Maybe it’s just that I am 6.5 years older now, and decades more mature than a person my age should be.
In any case, it has been so hard not to get utterly discouraged and fall into despair. Yeah, it’s only been a few months, but I’ve gotten quite a few fresh wounds in this short time! My spiritual life has been pushed nearly to its limits as I struggle not to lose hope and patience and trust in God.
However, I have also found great comfort in God and the Church–particularly the Communion of Saints. I have found some novenas that are said to bring wonderful, even miraculous, assistance in finding a spouse:
Currently, I have just completed the Novena to St. Jude–since finding a decent man and potential husband does seem like a rather impossible cause.
I also pray each day this prayer to St. Raphael the Archangel.
In these and in my daily Divine Office and Rosary, and each time I go to Mass, I pray that I will soon meet a good man to be my husband, and that in the meantime, I will devote myself to growing deeper in love with God and to preparing myself to be a good wife and mother, with the Virgin Mary as my role-model.
I also pray for all the other single Catholic women who are also longing for a good husband and marriage and children.
I offer prayers for my future husband and children and ask that we all be together as a family soon.
I pray very hard for all the single men out there, especially Catholics, that they will fervently and steadfastly and courageously pursue the vocation of marriage and be open to loving women, no matter how many times they may have been hurt or rejected.
I pray that all of my own wounds from the past will be healed so that I can give myself whole and healthy and happy to my future husband.
Overall, I am just trying to put God first in my life and trust that He will richly provide for every need and desire I have. I am trying to be mindful of, and very grateful for all that He has given to me and done for me, to focus on the blessings I have, rather than focusing on what I lack. And I am trying to always remember that I am His daughter, and He is my Father. He loves me, and I love Him, and from that love springs all others.
Whenever I ponder love, I am brought back to this quotation from the film, Diary of a Country Priest:
Priest: We did not invent love. It has its order, its law.
Countess: God is its master.
Priest: He is not the master of love. He is love itself. If you would love, don’t place yourself beyond love’s reach.
Words to live by.