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This is sort of a follow-up to my last post (“In praise of good men”).  As I said in that post, I have looked to men to show me who I am, inside and out.  I know that probably sounds horribly out-of-date and anti-feminist.  But it’s true.  I learn things about myself from men that I don’t learn from women.  Sometimes I have learned horrible, poisonous lies.  But more often, thanks be to God, I have learned wonderful things.  I’ve learned what I want, what I expect, what I am worth.  And so I want to share some of these things.

Do you want to know what I want as a woman, especially from men?  It’s really not complicated.  I just want to be treated as a human being.  A thinking, feeling, free-willed, dignified person.  An esteemed partner, equal in dignity, although different in many important ways.  Not an object.  Not some thing to be used.  Not only body or soul, but both together.

That shouldn’t be so much to ask.  Actually, in the United States, in the 21st century, I’m surprised I must still ask it at all.  But I must, now more than ever: Treat me as a human being, not as an object!  Respect me.  Be truthful to me.  Be loyal to me.  Give me a little of your time and attention–and not only when it serves your own purposes.  Treat me justly.  Until these demands are met, authentic feminism has far to go.

It’s not that I expect any man to be perfect.  What sort of hypocrite would I be if I expected anybody–male or female–to be perfect, when I know full well that I am not?  I don’t expect perfection.  I only expect striving for perfection.  I only expect people to try their best.  To have the guts to apologize, to make amends, to accept responsibility, to get up and start again.  And to be generous enough to give me a chance to make things right when I mess up.  I don’t like to write other people off–and I really don’t like to be written off by them.

Another one of the most important things I have learned (partly from men) is to ask myself often: WWMD–What would Mary do?  If I expect men to strive to be like Christ (and I do), then I also expect myself to strive to be like Mary.  Humble, pure, faithful, trusting in God, self-giving, steadfast, gentle, nurturing.  A virtuous, holy woman.

I know I’m not there yet.  I know my weaknesses.  My passions are still a bit wild and my appetites a bit untamed.  But I have grown to the point where my anger is quickly overcome by love and compassion, and my baser impulses are soon cast into shadow by purity.  And I am always striving to become a truer, more vivid image of her.

One way in which I feel I am most like the Blessed Mother is that I am the kind of woman to whom nobody should fear to entrust their heart.  If there is one virtue in which I excel, it is absolute loyalty to those I love.  In fact, this trait of mine has often led me into worlds of heartache whenever the loyalty and love have not been returned.  But, also like the Blessed Mother, I am not afraid nor squeamish when it comes to pain.  I am not afraid to risk myself for others.  I am not afraid of having my heart pierced with swords.  Pain can always be offered up for a greater good.  Love gives me courage.

I want more, ever more, love and courage and virtue, both in myself and in others, particularly men.  I want to never give up.  I want never to be given up on.  I want to admire, respect, support, and esteem, and I want to receive the same in return.  I want to treasure men for who they are, and I want to be treasured as the woman I am.

Is that really too much to ask?

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A kind reader and correspondent of mine, Mark at Joe versus the Volcano, has encouraged me to read the work of the great 19th-20th century Dominican theologian, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP. I’ve slowly and gradually begun to read his The Three Ages of the Interior Life, which is available online.

Well, actually, I’ve only just begun reading the introduction–but have already have found lots to think about! Below is an excerpt from the 2nd section of the intro, called: “The Question of the One Thing Necessary at the Present Time.” (The “one thing necessary”–a phrase Christ uses with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:42–is the interior life, which Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says “consists in hearing the word of God and living by it”; “the life of the soul with God”).

The “present time” for Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange when he was writing this work was the late 1930s. As we know, Europe was approaching what was to be a horrific catastrophe. However, as I read, I kept thinking to myself, “My goodness, this could have been written this morning!”

This section caught my attention by its talk of “the seriousness of life.”  I’m a pretty serious person.  I think one thing that defines a mature adult human being is a certain awareness and observance of the gravitas of life–and certainly the gravitas of religion and the spiritual life.  I would consider being serious a virtue.  Of course, I’ve also been accused of being a dour, joyless, uptight, crotchety hag.  I’m not sure when that became the definition of “serious.” Is it really so awful to ponder what is most important and deserving of devotion?

Without further ado, here is Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, with some reflections of mine interspersed.

Without God, the seriousness of life gets out of focus. If religion is no longer a grave matter but something to smile at, then the serious element in life must be sought elsewhere. Some place it, or pretend to place it, in science or in social activity; they devote themselves religiously to the search for scientific truth or to the establishment of justice between classes or peoples. After a while they are forced to perceive that they have ended in fearful disorder and that the relations between individuals and nations become more and more difficult, if not impossible. As St. Augustine and St. Thomas have said, it is evident that the same material goods, as opposed to those of the spirit, cannot at one and the same time belong integrally to several persons. The same house, the same land, cannot simultaneously belong wholly to several men, nor the same territory to several nations. As a result, interests conflict when man feverishly makes these lesser goods his last end.

I think of the modern Church as I’ve found it so often today: entertaining liturgy, no reverence at all, no talk of the Cross of Christ nor of the need for us to carry our own crosses, no talk of sin and repentance, no Confession lines, no whole-hearted devotion.  Replacing all of that tends to be so-called “social justice” activism that is divorced in some way (or in many ways) from Catholic moral teaching and obedience to the Church Magisterium–most often at the expense of unborn children… because what are they going to do, fight back?

I think also of the dreadful insistence on “tolerance” which actually means, “Hey, Catholic Church, you have to tolerate me no matter what I say or do or think or believe or how I define ‘Catholic,’ and if you don’t then I get to scream at you for being a bunch of backward, intolerant bigots.  I mean, how dare you stand up for absolute truth and for your own sense of identity!  And if you even think the word ‘excommunication,’ you’ll only prove yourselves to be medieval fossils.”

Related to the insistence on tolerance are the insistence on relativism and an indifferentism that favors just about everything and everybody except the Church.

The Church is discriminated against in the name of non-discrimination.  The Church is wronged in the name of justice.  And it’s done most often by people within the Church–it is what they have chosen as their serious mission in place of a serious Catholic faith.  Like the material things Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange mentions, the Church as a human, earthly institution, cannot belong to more than one group of persons at the same time.  It either belongs to Catholics, or it belongs to non-Catholics (even if they call themselves Catholics).  Until it belongs either to one or the other, interior strife and chaos run rampant.  There is nothing but division.

It is very ironic that dissenters scoff at the notion of the “institutional Church” (for them, a code phrase for the real, faithful, orthodox Church they despise).  In reality, they are seeking to steal the institution for themselves, to ensconce themselves as the institution, as the face and the voice of the Church on earth.  To once and for all have their definition of “Catholic” win out and be universally accepted.  “God?  Bishops?  Ordained priests?  Pious laypeople?  Who needs them?  We are church. [sic]  Like it or leave.”

One often feels that they have very nearly succeeded today.  “Oh, yes, there are still a few people who blubber over crucifixion, obey the pope, consider abortion the greatest evil ever, hate sex, think only men can be priests, and pray the Rosary.  But they’re just crazy extremists.  Pay them no mind.”

St. Augustine, on the other hand, insists on the fact that the same spiritual goods can belong simultaneously and integrally to all and to each individual in particular. Without doing harm to another, we can fully possess the same truth, the same virtue, the same God. This is why our Lord says to us: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Failure to hearken to this lesson, is to work at one’s destruction and to verify once more the words of the Psalmist: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.”

True unity, true justice, true tolerance can only exist where there are shared spiritual goods.  In contrast to the false tolerance mentioned above, the Church embraces a true tolerance based on shared beliefs and absolute truth.  There is a genuine diversity within the Church.  In addition to the various liturgical traditions, there are individual people of all races, nationalities, ages, states in life, political viewpoints, socio-economic status, sexual orientation.  What binds us together as one Church is our belief in and devotion to “the same truth, the same virtue, the same God.”  What unifies us is our common goal of worshiping, knowing, loving, and serving God and seeking the kingdom of God.

This common ground is built into the Catholic Church via Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium, and of course the Holy Spirit’s rule and the discipline of infallibility He exerts over our human leaders where the faith and morals of the Church are concerned.  When this spiritual common ground is abandoned and Catholicism is put up for grabs and torn to shreds like a piece of meat by various contenders… when the spiritual common ground ceases to be the most important, most serious part… then we get the chaos described above.


We conclude logically that religion can give an efficacious and truly realistic answer to the great modern problems only if it is a religion that is profoundly lived, not simply a superficial and cheap religion made up of some vocal prayers and some ceremonies in which religious art has more place than true piety. As a matter of fact, no religion that is profoundly lived is without an interior life, without that intimate and frequent conversation which we have not only with ourselves but with God.

What comes to mind here is the sometimes hotly-debated notion of “active participation” in the Mass by the laity.  Some claim that the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite by its nature engenders active participation, as opposed to the Extraordinary Form, which by its nature stifles active participation.  This claim is only true if “active participation” means exterior actions, such as speaking words and singing songs and shaking hands with your pew-mates.  Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is saying that such exterior actions by themselves are meaningless, “superficial and cheap.”  They do not by themselves constitute “a religion profoundly lived.”  They may or may not be an indication of a religion profoundly lived.  What constitutes a religion profoundly lived is the interior life.

In my experience, both forms of the Latin Rite can inspire, foster, and deepen the interior life.  Both forms can also stifle it.  The difference lies not so much in the liturgies themselves.  The difference lies chiefly within each and every one of us.  How willing are we to dedicate ourselves body and soul, exteriorly and interiorly, to worshiping God?  That is, how serious are we about worshiping God?  If we worship half-heartedly, lazily, and without seriousness, which liturgy is used at the Mass isn’t going to matter one bit!

This is what it comes down to, dear ones: It comes down to each of us asking ourselves questions.  How seriously do I myself take practicing the Catholic faith?  How seriously do I take God?  How seriously do I take the Mass?  How seriously do I take orthodoxy?  How seriously do I take the institution of the Church?  How seriously do I take the tradition that has been handed down by the Holy Spirit through men?  How seriously do I take unity with my fellow Catholics?

We all take things seriously.  Our souls are driven by meaning, purpose, and importance.  We either take the truly important things seriously (which I think happens only when we take a serious attitude toward life in general), or we take lesser and even foolish things seriously.  Such as flawed notions of tolerance, for example.

Let’s get serious and make the right choices.

Pope Benedict with monstranceI’ve been thinking about the Eucharist a lot lately, between the recent celebration of Corpus Christi and some other things that have come up.  Nothing defines Catholicism more fundamentally than our belief in, and reverence for, the Eucharist.

So, what does it mean, this “Eucharist”?  This is not a question that should be asked only by non-Catholics.  It should also be asked and meditated upon often and deeply by Catholics, because it is the “source and summit” of our lives as Catholics.

One thing I have found helpful since the time of my reversion to the faith is this definition from Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary:

EUCHARIST: The true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine, in order to offer himself in the sacrifice of the Mass and to be received as spiritual food in Holy Communion. It is called Eucharist, or “thanksgiving,” because at its institution at the Last Supper Christ “gave thanks,” and by this fact it is the supreme object and act of Christian gratitude to God.

Although the same name is used, the Eucharist is any one or all three aspects of one mystery, namely the Real Presence, the Sacrifice, and Communion. As Real Presence, the Eucharist is Christ in his abiding existence on earth today; as Sacrifice, it is Christ in his abiding action of High Priest, continuing now to communicate the graces he merited on Calvary; and as Communion, it is Christ coming to enlighten and strengthen the believer by nourishing his soul for eternal life. (Etym. Latin eucharistia, the virtue of thanksgiving or thankfulness; from Greek eucharistia, gratitude; from eu-, good + charizesthai, to show favor.)

See Also: SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR

SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR: The Eucharist viewed as the body and blood of Christ, which are offered on the altar in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Also the Eucharist as reserved on the altar for adoration by the faithful.

Pope Benedict offering MassThis definition of “Eucharist” has so much in it.  I love the way Father Hardon describes it as a three-fold mystery (much like God Himself is).  I remember reading this definition for the first time several years ago and realizing with some horror that in my whole life, I had never really understood the Eucharist.  If I had, I really don’t think I ever would have left the Church!  These years later, it still gives me plenty of food for thought.

If anything, I had always heard “Eucharist” used as a synonym for “Holy Communion.”  Nothing more.  That’s an error, and I can tell you that it’s still being made.  This conflation of Eucharist and Communion can have serious consequences.  It can lead to the abandonment of adoration and the dilution of the doctrines of the Real Presence and of the Mass as Holy Sacrifice.  Without the Real Presence and the Holy Sacrifice, Communion means nothing!  And neither does Catholicism.

There’s no reason to be Catholic if Communion is just a bread-and-wine party… which is what it logically must become if we lose sight of the full meaning of the Eucharist.  Catholicism is much too difficult to bear unless in Communion we are receiving the “true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine,” unless Communion “is Christ coming to enlighten and strengthen the believer by nourishing his soul for eternal life.”

Without the Real Presence, adoration really is just “cookie worship.”  And Catholics are all a bunch of lunatics sharing in one huge mass delusion.  And if Christ isn’t the one truly acting in the Mass as our High Priest, then the Mass is just a show with some guy in some fancy anachronistic get-up spouting a bunch of hocus pocus.  Oh, but those crazy Catholics think they’ll risk hellfire if they skip a single Sunday!  The ordained priest has no purpose whatsoever if he is not acting in persona Christi.  He’s just another one in a wide variety of Christian ministers–namely, the crazy one who gave up everything to gain some kind of magical powers over bread and wine.

Maybe that’s all over the top, but not by much.  When you think about it for just a little while, pretty much everything about Catholicism becomes absurd and grotesque if we don’t understand the Eucharist.  It becomes a real live Jack Chick tract.

Pope Benedict giving first CommunionCatholics must understand the Eucharist in order to understand ourselves and to be authentically Catholic.  As opposed to being heretics, protestants, and/or people who mindlessly do and believe things without knowing why.  Being Catholic doesn’t mean being mindless, and it definitely doesn’t mean not asking “Why?”.  The long and venerable tradition of Catholic meditation and contemplation has been built upon ordinary Catholics asking questions.  To some extent, I’d say all prayer is based on asking questions.  The development of our theology and doctrine has been fueled by burning questions.  Christ said, “Ask and you shall receive.”  God blessed Solomon because all Solomon desired was wisdom.  God similarly blessed St. Thomas Aquinas because all Thomas desired was God Himself.  God does answer, He does give wisdom, and He does give us His very Self, when we ask.

Let us ask often to understand the Eucharist in all of its great mystery, power, and glory.  Let us ask to understand it as our Lord and King truly with us on this earth.  Let us ask for the faith and understanding to adore Him, to bear witness to His Sacrifice, and to receive Him into our bodies and our entire lives.  And let’s do it in that order.  Let us place ourselves before Him, let us open our hearts and minds before Him, let us bend our knees before Him, before we even think of receiving Him.  He will give Himself to us.  Let us also give ourselves to Him, mind, heart, soul, and body.  He is far more deserving to receive us than we are to receive Him.

I just felt like saying that!  :)  Because it’s true.

I’ve been going through one of those phases when I find myself besieged by lots of things which, individually, seem pretty trivial and silly.  It’s amazing how quickly things can overwhelm me and tip my world off its axis.  I get a kind of tunnel vision that only sees the negative in things.

But you know, there is always a way out.  I am never trapped.  Yesterday, when I’d just about reached the end of my rope, I went to church, went to Confession, attended Mass, and received Holy Communion.  And I came out of church as a completely new person. As usual, the priest was able to help me put things back in proper perspective and remember how very good the Lord has been to me.

I’m still amazed at the simple and yet profound power found within the Church.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why I ever left her.  I don’t know what I would do or where I would be without her.  Truly.  I shudder to think.  And when I think of all the people out there who are without her, whether by choice or not, my heart goes out to them.  My heart wants to go out and embrace every one of them and draw them home!

God Himself is there.  Love and Life are there in all truth and purity, goodness and beauty.  Oh, if only all souls knew what and, more importantly Whom, they could find in a Catholic church!

Our society is increasingly trying to shut God and Church out of the public square.  I hate to see that happen.  But if, or when it does, hope won’t be defeated.  Hopefully, many people begin to realize what and Whom they are missing.  And hopefully they will seek Him out.  And when they do, they ought to find Him in our midst.

This is the time for Catholics to unite, to be of one heart and mind, to truly be one Body.  This is the time for us to get serious and hold fast to our tradition.  This is the time for us to embrace our identity, even if it sets us at odds with some.  This is the time for us to say, “Here we are, and we want you to come and find your home with us!”  This is the time to remove all the bushel baskets and let our light shine into to the world, so that people may give glory to God.  The beacon of the Church will attract enemies.  But it will also attract seekers of goodness, truth, and beauty.

As I can testify from my own personal experience, God miraculously transforms bad things into good.  The more darkness and evil are in the world, the more light and grace come to be.  Time and time again, it proves true!

Let us not fall into that awful tunnel vision that sees only bad.  Let us remember: God is so good! And if we have trouble keeping sight of that, let us avail ourselves of what our Church offers us–nothing less than God Himself!

good-shepherd-glassMy Lenten Lesson for this year was to be sheepish:

Not in any bad sense.  Just trusting more in our Lord’s mercy.  Putting myself in His arms.  Not chasing after my own designs so much.  Being more genuine.  Being more humble.  Seeing in greater clarity my weak humanity and all its struggling and suffering… and not freaking out about it as if I’m supposed to be some other creature.  Just today alone, I’ve come to realize that sometimes I think I’m supposed to be God–I’m supposed to be the infinitely strong, mighty, wise, and merciful one–to the point where I don’t feel like I need to turn to God or entrust myself to Him.

I guess there’s something in all of us that craves to be in control at times.  I know I can be a control freak now and then.  But that’s not who we are, that’s not how we’re made. We don’t thrive that way, nor do we learn anything.  We need God to be God, and us to be ourselves.  We need to be the rescued wayward sheep at least sometimes.

I had a feeling that it was going to be challenging, and it has been.  But I feel it has been a success!  It’s hard to go through and enumerate all the steps in the process, but I do feel I’ve learned and changed.  I have put myself more in God’s hands.

It has taken some discipline, but in disciplining myself, I feel I have been much kinder and gentler to myself.  If that makes sense.  To put it another way, I’ve always been my own harshest and most unreasonable critic.  When I am able to just put myself in God’s hands and look to Him for my needs and for solutions, I always find that He is infinitely gentler and more forgiving than I am to myself.  The same is true with other people, even.  When I look outward and when I trust God and others, I find so much more love than when I look inside myself.

This Lenten Lesson was partly about learning to see myself more the way God does, and the way other people do.  And treating myself more the way I would treat others.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about laxity.  This isn’t about letting myself slide or take license.  It’s just about compassion… happiness… not agonizing over things to the point where it’s really hard for me to appreciate how good life is, how good God and other people are to me.

Most of all, I feel like I have received a great deal of healing this Lent.  You know, the last several years have been so hard and brought about so much change… not all of it good.  Even though I can’t help it that my fiance died, even though it was so completely out of my hands and my control… being single and alone again has been such a huge, painful blow to me, to my confidence and to my sense of my own identity and value.  It has made me self-reliant in a positive way, but it has also turned me inward on myself to a very unhealthy and unhappy degree.

I think it has left some chinks through which some remnant of my old feminist and atheist attitudes have seeped back into me.  There’s been this nasty little voice saying,  “You don’t need a man.  You don’t need anybody.  And you definitely don’t need some god in heaven.  All the power you need is in you.  You are in control.”  And it ignited in me some awful need to overcompensate for my loss and cope with all the change.

I guess some part of me still found that more attractive than accepting the truth of the matter, that sometimes I need somebody greater and more powerful than me to help, to provide, to heal, to comfort, to control, and to fight for me.  I need to be carried sometimes.  And that’s not a put-down of myself, nor is it self-pity.  It’s simply the truth.  And right now, that Somebody is God.  My parents and other relatives and friends and Church communities help a lot too!  But mostly, it’s just me and God.

Not me or God (as that nasty little voice would have me believe).  But me and God.  He has blessed me with many abilities and strengths… and weaknesses.  Most of all, He has blessed me with Himself!  When I accept and receive Him, I also accept and receive my self.  He gives me my self in all authenticity and truth.  He looks upon it with love, and that makes me more capable of doing the same.

I still have lots of questions about how to be myself and exactly who that is right now.  About how I am different than in the past and how I’m still the same.  I have things to learn about how to interact with people too.  Lots to learn and explore.  There is nobody who can give me more answers than God can.  Nobody knows me or my questions better than He does.  I don’t even know how to ask them–but He knows what they are.

So I need to keep on building upon my relationship and partnership with God.  And with other people too–because they will always be part of my life and who I am.  I know God uses us to help each other.  But honestly, after almost 4 years, nearly everybody around me either 1) doesn’t realize all I’ve been through, or 2) assumes that what happened then no longer affects me, that I am “over it,” not to put it too bluntly.  I don’t hold that against anybody.  There’s no way they could still be as aware of my difficulties as I am.  But that’s why I say it’s mostly just me and God for now.

The Lenten Lesson has helped me see how close He is to me, all the time.  And that He is there for me.  I don’t need to try to shoulder anything alone.  I don’t have to accept the little voices that lie to me and try to build walls between me and Him.  I now recognize them for what they are.  And I no longer want anything to do with them.  I just want Him.  And I just want to be whole and live well, with as much happiness as possible.

Not happiness as defined by the world, but happiness as defined by my soul’s relationship with God.  Whether it is the relationship between Father and daughter, Shepherd and sheep, King and subject, Teacher and student, Master and handmaid, Creator and creature, there is no shame in it.  God’s love and devotion gives it worth.  And that is where happiness is born.  That is where our selves are most true: in His love.

(Image is a detail from a photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

I remember something Mark Shea said at one of the talks he was in town a little while back.  He was talking about falling in love as something that hits you like a bolt out of the blue, and then you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what the heck happened.  (I can’t recall his exact words, but that was the gist of it.)

At the time, I thought, “That’s sort of how I feel about my re-conversion to Catholicism, and falling back in love with God and the Church.”

Lately, I’ve been having these moments of near-panic when I stop and take a few harried breaths and ask myself, “Oh good heavens, what am I doing here?!  And who is this person I’ve become?  Are you kidding me?  How on earth did I come to this?”

Now let me tell you what all of this does NOT mean: it does not mean that I am having second thoughts about being Catholic, or that there is anything I would rather be.  Or at least–it means that even if there is something I would rather be, I’m not going to give in to it.

I’ll be honest.  Sometimes I’d rather be comfortable.  Sometimes I’d rather be super popular and maybe famous.  Sometimes I’d rather be selfish.  Sometimes I’d rather float along with the mainstream.

But I can’t and I won’t.  Because I have met Truth, Goodness, and Beauty–I’ve met Love, Mercy, and Devotion.  I’ve met them, and I’ve been compelled, consumed, and radically transformed by them.  And that’s–for lack of a better word–bewildering.

It’s bewildering that I believe that bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.  It’s bewildering that I believe that this same Jesus Christ is both God and man and suffered and died for the sin of Adam and all of us and then rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven… and yet still unites Himself intimately with us when we eat the transubstantiated bread.

I know it’s true.  I don’t doubt for an instant that it’s true.  But it takes me aback all the same!

If you’d told me about 4 years ago that I’d believe these things, I would have said you were out of your ****ing mind.  Only a lunatic could believe such hocus pocus drivel.

But the glorious mysteries of Catholic doctrine and divine Truth aren’t the only bewildering thing.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a strong isolation wrapping itself in around me.  Isolation from our world.  Isolation from our society and culture.  Isolation from people I care about.  Even isolation from parts of myself.  My faith, my beliefs, my values… these have been cutting a great swathe between me and other people and things.  A great feeling of aloneness and distance has come over me.  A kind of separation.    Not anything negative–not hatred nor anger nor any such thing.  Not loneliness, either (which is not the same thing as aloneness).

It’s really hard to describe, and while I greatly dislike being vague, a lot of it is too personal to air publicly.

I mentioned some of the issues to a friend, who replied with Matthew 10:34-40:

Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it. He that receiveth you, receiveth me: and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.

I have read and heard this verse.  I’ve thought on it and assented to it.  But now I feel like, for the first time, I am being called to live it.  Intellectually, I was pretty sure that this time would come.  And now it has.  And that is something altogether different.

What am I doing here?!

I could harrumph and turn the other way.  I could just pick and choose what I’m going to believe and how I am going to live my life.  I could choose the smoother, wider path.  I could define Catholicism however I wish.  I could do all that and more.  So many other people have.

But I keep seeing the face of Christ, His eyes gazing directly into mine, and I hear his His voice:  “Will you also go away?”

I see Him, my Lord and King… my God who humbled Himself to be a man and to pour forth His own blood til death… my Lord who strangely, wonderfully remains close not only in spirit but in flesh…  He who created and maintains the universe, He who governs and provides, He who alone is supreme and sovereign… and He asks me whether I will go or stay!

And I realize there is only one right answer.  What can I really do or say, except to echo St. Peter:  “Lord, to whom shall I go?  You have the words of eternal life; and I have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”

Who is this person I’ve become?

A Catholic, a Christian, a disciple, a subject, a devotee…  Bewildering.

Oh.  All of these seemingly self-evident and non-surprising realizations.  All coming about at once.  I feel like I am at a threshold, a turning point, a break-through, a spot where the rubber hits the road.  I don’t feel trepidation about it.  I assume it’s just “one of those Catholic things” that comes along in all our lives.  Just part of growing and becoming a more mature Catholic.  Gosh, I feel a little like an adolescent again!

I’m sure that in another four years, I’ll probably look back at this and snicker at how dumbstruck I was and how it was really nothing compared to what would come about afterward.  Who knows what I have to look forward to?

The important thing to take along with me is this:  As long as I am at my Lord’s side, I am where I want to be and who I want to be.  Without Him, I am nothing, and nothing matters.  I would rather be in a desert with Him than in luxury without Him.  I’d rather walk in His footsteps than sit pretty on a worldly throne.

One of my Dominican fathers, Fr. Aidan Nichols exhorts English Catholics to speak out and take action against secularism and bring their country back to its Christian roots.  We Americans are in a similar situation, and should pay attention as well!  Here’s a summary, with my emphases and comments.

Theologian calls for Catholics to “mobilise” against secularism

Renowned theologian Fr Aidan Nichols has called on Catholics to make their voices heard in public bodies like Parliament, the BBC, Ofsted and the Human Rights Commission at a time of growing secularisation.

Delivering the Craigmyle Memorial Lecture for the Catholic Union this week, Fr Nichols said it was important for Catholics to “mobilise and react in a positive way.”  [We need to do something, even if it is just to hold our ground.  We can’t just let ourselves be sildenced or pushed out of the public square.]

However, he stopped short of suggesting that Catholics should take their protests to the streets.

“I am not in favour of public protest movements or civil disobedience,” he said. “To go down that road risks bringing the law in general into contempt,” he said.

He did not rule out, though, individuals deciding they could not abide by a particular law on conscience grounds.

He called on young clergy and young active laity to use new media technology such as the internet to communicate their faith to the wider community.  [We’re on it, Father!]

Addressing the question of how Catholics should respond to the growing influence of secularism in society, Fr Nichols warned of the disintegration of the nation as a whole if its Christian narrative was lost.

He said secularism was far more of a challenge to Christianity in England than Islam, and he attacked the dangers represented by a “soft atheism that seeks to privatise the public space so that religion has no part to play”.  [This has definitely been happening in the U.S. as well.  Sen. Biden is a good example of somebody already in public office who doesn’t believe in bringing his Catholic faith to bear.  He implicitly tells other Catholic Americans to keep their faith to themselves as well.  Not the kind of example we need.]

Fr Nichols warned of the dangers of secularism coming together with utilitarianism, quoting the example of Lady Mary Warnock’s recent call on people in mental decline to see it as their “duty to die”, and drew attention to the recent legislation that forced Catholic adoption agencies to consider placing children with parents of the same sex as examples of how far the national discourse has strayed from its Christian basis.

“Catholic spokespeople were seen as lobbying for an exemption, yet the Church was protecting the moral ethos of the nation,” said Fr Nichols.

He identified developments such as devolution, membership of the European Union and migration as factors effecting the traditional national identity of England.

Previously its identity had been very much drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition. “English people need a narrative,” Fr Nichols said, adding that it was bad for the mental and physical health of the nation not to have a joint shared narrative.

Looking back, he regretted what he regarded as the dilution of the Church with ecumenism, though was quick to state that he was not advocating either Catholic tribalism or a return to the 1950s.  [We need to get back to the real meaning of ecumenism and away from the compromising indifferentism we’ve fallen into.  Let’s dialogue with others–but do it without ceding our Catholicism… or worse, being ashamed of it.  Ecumenism doesn’t mean being weak or doubting our own positions.  It doesn’t mean turning ourselves and our faith into Play-Doh to be squished and molded.  If we really stand by the Truth our faith claims, we need to show it.]

He called for a refocusing of Catholic institutions in areas such as education and healthcare.

Story: Paul Donovan

That must have been a terrific speech.  Catholics today need this kind of exhortation.  As a group, we need to get our voice and our confidence back.  We need our Catholic identity back–we need to be dedicated to it and express it freely.  It is critical, not only for our own well-being and dignity, but for our country and our fellow man.  If we trust in God and believe in our faith, we have to show it and stand by it, through thick and thin, regardless of what others think.  Everybody stands up for their own beliefs–the secularists and atheists certainly do–and so must we.

Lay Catholics have a really important role to play… the secular world is ours, and we interact with it in a way that our clergy and religious can’t. We carry the faith and represent the faith in the secular world.  We are on the front lines of engaging secularism.  That is a huge job and a huge responsibility, which the Church entrusts to us and for which the whole world relies on us.

I’m always mystified when I see something like this, or any other instance where laypeople hanker after Holy Orders and clerical roles.  I’m mystified because there is already so much work for the laity to carry out.  And when laypeople busy themselves with trying to become the same as clergy, it means they aren’t busying themselves with what the Church needs them to do.  Maybe they are genuinely ignorant of what the Church asks of them–that’s one more reason why we laypeople need to get out and talk and show what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be laypeople.  We need to show not only the world, but our fellow Catholics too–it can’t hurt!  But often, those people are actively working against the Church, and shifting an unfair burden to their fellow laypeople.

The Church believe in us; we need to believe in her. And those who can’t believe in her, those who insist on trying to change her or harm her, need to seriously and honestly reconsider their status as Catholics and stop dragging the rest of us down.  We need to pray for those people, but we also need to tell them to get on board or else leave the ship.  As always, I’m not talking about people who are struggling with the Church… heck, we all struggle with the Church sometimes.  There’s a huge difference between someone struggling with the Church and somebody who doesn’t bother struggling any more and instead just wants the Church to bow to them and their demands.  HUGE difference.  Where the latter are concerned, we need to take a strong stand.  Not just the clergy, but all of us.

Related posts:

More public treachery from a “Catholic” politician

“Womenpriests”

At National Review Online, Father Thomas D. Williams, LC gives a wonderful commentary on Nancy Pelosi’s claims to be both ardently Catholic and in favor of abortion, and why our bishops and other Catholics have responded so strongly.  He starts by stating something very basic and very important that can sometimes get lost in the modern world: namely that words mean something.

You are unlikely to ever come upon a group called Mohammedans for Polytheism or Environmentalists for Seal Slaughter. A Muslim who espouses a multiplicity of deities has, ipso facto, placed himself outside the Muslim confession. Polytheism is not an Islamic thing. An environmentalist who patronizes anti-ecological activities is not an environmentalist at all, but a subversive. This is because the monikers “Muslim” and “environmentalist” mean something; they carry with them a series of necessary consequences. Certain terms — like “Muslim” and “polytheism” — simply can’t be squared, and combining them is nonsensical.  [Nearly anybody would find those examples laughable, and yet when dissenters call themselves Catholic, people tend too often to take them at their word, and scoff when Catholics stand up for our own identity. There’s something very wrong with that.]

The recent ecclesiastical backlash to Nancy Pelosi’s unfortunate remarks on Meet the Press should have surprised no one, least of all Speaker Pelosi herself. Her attempts to squeeze abortion rights into Catholic moral teaching were no more credible than trying to pass apartheid off as a legitimate goal of the civil rights movement. The bishops — some seven have weighed in on the matter so far — had no choice but to speak out.  [Imagine! Catholic bishops speaking out about Catholicism! This is what we Catholics need and want from them! But some people have a problem.]

I’m pretty sure most Catholics have been up against this problem: people think that they can identify themselves as a Catholic, define for themselves what that means, and presume to impose their self-definition on us!  Hence we find things like “Catholics for Choice” and “Catholic Womenpriests.”  Hence we single Catholics searching for Catholic spouses often find ourselves dealing with people who identify as Catholic and yet are all for cohabitation, pre-marital sex, and artificial contraception.  To a Catholic, those are oxymorons.  They violate the very meaning of “Catholic.”  They can be maddening to deal with!  And Catholics have recently been responding very strongly to such violations, such as Rosemary Radford Ruether being touted as a Catholic theologian when it is obvious by her beliefs that Ruether is not a Catholic.  To be fair, though, Ruether is not the first false Catholic theologian, and won’t be the last, and Nancy Pelosi is only one example of the false Catholic politician.  It doesn’t matter how strongly these people feel that they Catholic, and it doesn’t matter how many other people may consider them Catholic.  They have placed themselves beyond the definition of what Catholic means.  If that offends them, or if they disagree, that doesn’t change the reality, it just means they are out of touch with reality.

The title “Catholic” presumes a whole string of basic beliefs, succinctly laid out in the Apostle’s Creed. Catholics believe in one God, creator of heaven and earth, in Jesus Christ his only begotten son who became man, suffered and died for us, rose from the dead on the third day, and so forth. Along with this canon of doctrines, Catholics also embrace a body of moral teaching (summed up tidily in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) which governs their understanding of right and wrong, what is pleasing to God and what offends Him. [Ultimately, morality is defined by God, not us.]

From the earliest days of Christianity, Jesus’ followers distinguished themselves from those around them both by their doctrinal beliefs and their moral code. [Both/and!] The earliest known work of Christian antiquity outside the New Testament is called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, known also by its familiar Greek appellation, the Didache. This catechetical manual makes no bones about what it means to be a Christian. It begins with the stark admonition: “Two ways there are, one of Life and one of Death, and there is a great difference between the Two Ways.” Included in the explanation of what it means to love one’s neighbor, as part of the “way of life,” first century Christians read the words, “Do not kill a fetus by abortion, or commit infanticide.” Such has been the consistent teaching throughout the history of Christianity and no amount of political posturing will change that.

The most disturbing element of Speaker Pelosi’s comments, however, was not her historical fudging, her disingenuous misrepresentation of Catholic moral teaching or her implicit adoption of cafeteria Catholicism. It was her insouciant dismissal of the moral significance of abortion. She said that in the end, it didn’t matter when life begins anyway. Her exact words were: “The point is, is that it [when life begins] shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.” [For a Catholic to say such a thing is absurd.  For Catholics, the right to choose is a given, innate to our humanity.  What we do with that choice is at the heart of moral life, and supporting abortion has no place in a Catholic’s moral life.] No matter when human life begins, a mother’s right trumps a baby’s, and that right includes the choice to destroy the child. This is irreconcilable not only with Catholic morality, but with the most basic natural ethics.

Speaker Pelosi can campaign for abortion all she likes, but to do so as an “ardent, practicing Catholic” is to invite a stiff correction. Americans still value truth in advertising, and know that words have meanings. [Yes!  Somebody understands his fellow citizens and gives us a little credit!  Bless you, Father!!!] “Catholic” means pro-life.

I think we could reasonably go so far as to say Catholic means pro-choice too, given the important role that choice and free will play in our faith and in our everyday lives.  We believe that God Himself gave us the “right to choose” as part of our human nature and human dignity, and He doesn’t then turn around and violate that right.  So the popular claim that Catholics would seek to violate it is ridiculous.  Denying that we all can, and must, choose our own actions is not an option for Catholics.  The problem is when people regard choice as some kind of trophy that trumps everything else, including morality.  They divorce “right” from “responsibility,” whereas Catholics also see it as a huge responsibility: to choose good and avoid evil. (There’s that pesky both/and again!)  Failure to choose good and avoid evil can convict us before God and man of mortal sin–a state in which we are out of communion with God until we seek reconciliation.

What it comes down to is this: anybody who wants to choose abortion is free to do so… but nothing can change the fact that they are choosing evil.  The choice, in itself, does not constitute a good. That’s something that “pro-choicers” don’t seem to get.  And that no lawyer or judge can make it right just be making it legal.  A Catholic cannot abide by a law that tries to legitimize an evil act.  If it comes to us being civilly disobedient, even if it comes to us being punished, then so be it.  If we believe what we believe, then we have to put ourselves on the line for it, just as so many Catholics before us have–even to the point of giving their lives.  Clearly, Pelosi and lots of other Catholic politicians are not willing to do that.  They are too much like Richard Rich and not enough like St. Thomas More.

So, my dear readers, if you are Catholic, keep standing up for your own identity!  If you are non-Catholic, please show solidarity with your Catholic loved ones and fellow Americans!  All of us need to understand that not everybody who’s called Catholic really is Catholic, and we need to demand that they be honest with us and not expect us to just go along with their delusions.

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