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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.

Related Posts:

Love and war

Allergy fog post: In which I commiserate with Elisabeth Leseur, ramble a bit about duty, and toss in a strangely relevant anime quotation

 

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I’ve mentioned before what an inexhaustible treasure trove the Divine Office is–because, of course, it is a prayer of holy scripture.  No matter how many times you pray it, no matter how many times you read a particular passage, there will always be something that speaks to you in a different way or at a louder volume than before.  It is always new and fresh.

This morning, while praying the Canticle of Zechariah, which is part of every day’s Morning Prayer, I was especially struck by this stanza:

This was the oath He swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship Him without fear,
holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life.

It reminded me of the true meaning and nature of freedom. These days we confuse freedom for many things: license, self-rule, individualism. A right to do whatever we want and to decide for ourselves whether we are doing right or wrong, good or evil. Today, it sometimes seems that we hear more about freedom from religion than freedom of religion. Freedom from God–freedom to be our own masters.

What folly! We our own masters? That was the trap into which Satan seduced our first ancestors, and has that been some sort of smashing success? For Satan, sure. But we are still burdened and fragile creatures, and declaring independence from God and religion have never improved matters. Quite the opposite, in fact–you have only to glance back at the 20th century to realize that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till I’m dead: we don’t get to be our own masters. If we declare ourselves free of God, then we become Satan’s slaves. That is the default. There is no void in power that we can fill ourselves. There are too many more powerful things–either good or evil.

But, we can choose whom we will serve. That is the basis of all freedom. It is inalienable to human beings, an intrinsic part of who and what we are. That is how God made us. Satan can never give us freedom, much less can he weave it into our very persons. So, to reject God is ultimately to reject true freedom.

In our world, where religion has become so despised, and where being holy and being righteous are usually the unpopular, counter-cultural things to do, we must remember that we are still free. We are still free to worship, and still free to do what is holy and righteous. No slaves are we who serve the Lord! When we bow before Him, we are raised up. When we submit ourselves to Him, we are infused with full human dignity. When we obey His decrees, we are liberated.

It doesn’t matter whether we are despised or mocked. It doesn’t matter whether we are silenced or imprisoned. It doesn’t matter if we are tortured or killed. We are still free as long as we seek and worship God, and we cannot be enslaved by anyone. This is the truth to which all the martyrs have testified. This is the truth that causes Christianity to flourish the more when Christians are persecuted. This is the truth that sustains us through every kind of hardship.

In fact, this truth is much better realized and understood in places where human freedom is seemingly lacking most. I think of China, India, the Middle East. Here in the West, and particularly in the United States, where freedom is more or less taken for granted, we have lost sight of freedom’s significance and of its very meaning. And while there may be much less blood-martyrdom here, we are every bit as imperiled as those who are in prison and in danger of torture and death.

So the message is a universal one which must be proclaimed ever and everywhere: Dare to worship! Dare to strive for holiness! You are free!

I set out some time ago to write a post in response to a rather widespread conception that Catholics are “anti-gay.”  Because I know, and love, more than a few people who identify themselves as gay, this issue strikes close to home for me.  But as I thought about it, I realized that my attitudes toward gay people and the gay lifestyle are really no different from my attitudes to other people and lifestyles.  So I am going to speak more generally.

As a person with a very clear position and principles, I am naturally going to be “anti” other positions and principles that are incompatible with my own.  This is not me being close-minded or prejudiced.  The same thing is true of anybody who has a clear position and principles–and I should think and hope that that would include all of us.  So, I am against the gay lifestyle, as well as the lifestyle that many heterosexuals live in our society–lifestyles that involve extra-marital sex, artificial contraception, infidelity, divorce,  an overall cavalier attitude toward marriage, an unwillingness to have children, and, far too often, abortion.

I am against these things because I am for different things: chastity–which for the unmarried includes total abstinence from sex–purity, modesty, fidelity, life-long marriage, openness to children.  I believe that sex is not just a pleasurable activity, nor is it a right, but rather it is a privilege and responsibility that is integral to marriage and family, and hence, to the preservation of society.  I believe that the natural complementarity of man and woman should be respected.  I believe in the equal dignity of man and woman, although they differ in ways not only external but internal.  I believe it is a grave evil to divorce sex from its natural result–the procreation of children, and an especially grave evil to violate a child’s right to life once they have been conceived.  There are acceptable means for a couple to exercise some control over when they have children, and there are acceptable means for a parent who cannot or desires not to be a parent to have the child taken care of by adoptive parents.

All of these beliefs are based in the teachings of my Catholic Church.  I believe these teachings to be correct.  In many cases, I have come to these beliefs through great personal thought, examination, and yes, struggle.  For a number of years, I lived an unchaste life.  I had the same attitudes toward sex and marriage that so many of my age-mates have.  I didn’t see anything wrong with artificial contraception or even abortion.  I didn’t see anything wrong with the gay lifestyle or any other.  And these attitudes didn’t change over-night.  But they did change the more I studied, examined myself honestly, and seriously, open-mindedly considered the alternatives taught by the Church.  Gradually, I came to see the goodness and soundness of those teachings and decided that I wanted to embrace them and live by them for the rest of my life.  Note that this process came about largely by use of my reason–not by supernatural revelation or some numinous “faith.”  At that point, I couldn’t easily be persuaded by such things.  And I didn’t have to be.

So yes, I am against certain things.  But it’s because I am for certain things.  Catholicism isn’t all about saying “no, no, no.”  That’s a popular caricature.  But for every “no,” there is a “yes” to something else.

And let me also say that just because I am necessarily against certain things, I am not against people.  Even if I think people believe in very erroneous, harmful, sinful things, that doesn’t mean I hate them for believing as they do, or that their freedom to believe as they do should be violated.  After all, I am a sinner too, and chances are that at some time or another, I have held the same erroneous, harmful, sinful beliefs as anybody else.  I feel complete solidarity with my fellow man.  And I learned that too from the Church.  I learned that every one of us is a child of God.  Every one of us is a sinner.  Every one of us was redeemed by Jesus Christ.  Every one of us has the possibility of sainthood.  Every one of us has the possibility of spending eternity in Heaven, with God and with each other. Fundamentally, we are all very much alike.  We all have will and freedom.  We all have bodies, minds, hearts, and souls.  We all have a natural inclination to seek out and do good.  We also have a fallen nature susceptible to evil.

So understand that if, in my weakness, I lash out against a person or group of persons, if I treat anybody unlovingly or unjustly, if I act angry or disgusted or hateful toward anybody… it’s because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic.  I’m a sinner, not a saint (yet).  My God and Church must not be blamed for my faults.  To the contrary, my God and Church urge me to acknowledge, repent of, make reparation for, and ultimately overcome my faults.

So let us return to the “anti-gay” example.  Are Catholics anti-gay?  If by anti-gay you mean I am against the gay lifestyle, then I would answer “Yes, insofar as it is incompatible with my beliefs as a Catholic.”  But if by anti-gay you mean I am against gay people, then the answer is “No.  No matter how much I may disagree with or disapprove of somebody’s beliefs or lifestyle, I do not hate that person.”  If by anti-gay you mean that I am against homosexual people, the answer is a double no–“No, I am not against any person,” and “No, because homosexuality in itself is morally neutral.”  People are not defined by sexual orientation, but by how they live.  I have known homosexuals who are practicing Catholics just like I am, and they strive to live their lives by the same principles I do.  They strive for sainthood and Heaven and struggle against sin.  I know that the gay lifestyle gets a lot of attention, but it is not by any means the only lifestyle lived by homosexual persons.

With all of this said, however, I will say that there is one sense in which the Church may understandably be thought to be especially prejudiced against gay persons and the gay lifestyle.  I have heard the question asked, “If the Church doesn’t care about how heterosexuals have degraded marriage and family, then why do they spend so much time preaching against gays?”  I’ve heard this question asked by homosexuals and heterosexuals, Catholics and non-Catholics.  I ask this question myself.  It does seem to me that many of my fellow Catholics, both clergy and laity, spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy worrying about how the gay movement is threatening marriage and family, while not seemingly worried about cohabitation, fornication, divorce, artificial contraception, and abortion–among other things–that run rampant in society, and within the Catholic Church.  The fact is that the gay lifestyle, and particularly gay marriage, are only the very latest errors to seek normalization from society and the Church.  A whole succession of others have effectively been ignored, and in the eyes of some, divested of their wrongness and sinfulness.

I think the Church must get back to preaching against all the many other errors and sins that have brought about ruin to marriage and family, not to mention the disheartening situation of single Catholics who are seeking suitable spouses.  I do have hope that this will happen, especially with the “JPII generation” growing up and exerting more influence, proclaiming the Theology of the Body, and giving assent, rather than dissent, to Humanae Vitae.

[Apologies in advance for any lack of coherence in this post.  It’s big-time allergy season, and I’ve been rather head-swimmy lately.]

I am still reading Elisabeth Leseur’s diary; the copy I have is My Spirit Rejoices: the Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief, published by Sophia Institute Press in 1996.

Rarely has my soul felt such affinity with another as it does with Mme. Leseur!  Sometimes, in reading her diary, I almost feel like I’m reading my own.  It’s strange, but in reading her self-expressions, I find expression for myself also.  I often feel that she has captured in words things that I wish I could capture in words.

But just as often, however, and perhaps more often, I realize that these words are the words of a far wiser, stronger, more mature soul than my own.  They convict me of my own weakness.  But never in a scolding way… more in an encouraging, exhorting way.  She says to me, “You can overcome just as I have by the grace of God.  You are not as weak as you think.”

Here are some excerpts I came across this morning.  They are from her entries of December 1901 and February and March 1902:

It is a suffering from God, which I offer to Him, that among all the beloved friends surrounding me, I should have no one to whom I might open my heart in saying to him or her, “Look,” and who might understand and help me.

But perhaps to hear one’s ideas and beliefs perpetually criticized, to know them misunderstood, to have prejudice and ignorance against one, is to some extent to suffer persecution for justice’s sake.


A bad spell for more than a month: bodily fatigue, domestic troubles, and, worse than that, a kind of sadness and moral apathy, a lack of the fervor and inner joy that God has sometimes given me so abundantly. And yet not for one moment has my will ceased to belong to Him; duty has cost me dearly, but it has not ceased to be duty.

… Many things to reform: pride, the tendency to delay in getting to work, to let days slip away; to allow myself to be invaded by outward excitements.  And yet I have an immense need of calm and of interior life.  God alone knows what difficulty I sometimes have in overcoming certain physical and moral miseries in order to arrive at that complete possession of myself, at that Christian serenity that nothing can disturb.

I have a great task before me, and nothing human to help me fulfill it.  Perhaps one day I shall have the great joy of seeing my faith, which is my whole life, understood and shared by those and by him whom I love so much.  As it is, all that my soul holds of desires, fervor, and tenderness much remain enclosed within itself and poured out only before God.  Whatever suffering this entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me.  Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.

When I read these passages, I could feel and recognize and understand the sufferings Elisabeth must have been experiencing.  That loneliness and isolation from others, that helplessness to reach them, and that malaise that tends to flood in as a result.  The fact is that such difficulties are part of a Christian’s life.  We are in the world, but not of it.  Many of our loved ones, unfortunately, are perfectly content to be of the world.

Not long ago, I was trying to tell a dear loved one about difficulties I was having in my life, specifically about difficulties I was having in persevering in my faith.  This was somebody who does not share my faith, but to whom I am very close otherwise.  Somebody I deeply trust and can generally talk to about anything.  But when it came to matters of faith, I felt like there was such a brick wall between us!  I needed so badly to share my experiences with another person–but even the closest and dearest could not understand or empathize with me.  It was like a sword through the heart!

Her response, which is only logical for someone who does not understand and share my faith, was simply:  “If it is so difficult, then why don’t you give it up?  Find some other way of living that will make you happy and put you at ease.  Why waste your time and energy on something that doesn’t make you happy and that causes you so much pain?”

At the time I was utterly nonplussed in trying to respond to that.  To explain why I couldn’t simply give up on my faith even if it wasn’t easy to live with at times.

An analogy crossed my mind: that of giving up on a spouse or close relative or dear friend when he or she became difficult to live with–even if the difficulty was fleeting.  But then I realized that in our society, people seem pretty comfortable with doing just that!  Summarily giving up on others when things stop being lovey-dovey and happy-clappy.  Abandoning duty in favor of comfort.  All you have to do is look at the ruined state of marriage and the family to see how such ideas have permeated our society.  And if people are quick to give up on other people, then they are even quicker to give up on God and the faith!

I realized how vastly different were the worldviews of this dear person and myself.  And in the end, all I could do was cry to God.  Cry to Him and at the same time reaffirm my dedication to Him–my duty to Him.

Elisabeth often writes of duty.  Duty to God, and on account of that duty to God, duty to other people and to society as a whole as well.  Perhaps the most pervasive problem with our society is that it has lost all sense of duty.

Coincidentally (if there is such a thing as coincidence), this evening I was unwinding with some food and watching some anime.  I’m in the middle of the series Samurai Champloo.  And at one point, one of the characters utters this line:

When duty goes out of style, the world will be nothing but darkness.

I think it’s a very fitting summary for my above ramblings, and so I will end on that note.  :)

One of my Lay Dominican sisters gave me this wonderful little bitty book called The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life by Father Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP.  It’s basically a brief outline of his larger works on the spiritual life.  I highly recommend it!  I find it very easy to read and to understand, but also challenging and inspiring.

I thought I would share a couple of excerpts that have stood out to me and pertain to things I have been pondering lately.

Such are the inexhaustible riches of the spirit that they can be the property of all and yet satisfy the desires of each.  Indeed, only then do we possess a truth completely when we teach it to others, when we make others share our contemplation; only then do we truly love a virtue when we wish others to love it also; only then do we wholly love God when we desire to make him loved by all.  Give money away, or spend it, and it is no longer yours.  But give God to others, and you possess Him more fully for yourself. (pg. 2)

I find this passage to be an excellent reminder of how important it is to evangelize.  To not keep God and our faith hidden away, but to proclaim them joyfully, passionately, and unabashedly.  I know how difficult it can be.  Being an evangelist is not a popular thing in our society.  We don’t want to offend anybody or hurt anybody’s feelings.  We don’t want to be unpopular.  But if we truly love and believe in our Lord and our faith–how can we hide it away and deny it?  How does that make us better people?  How does it serve our fellow man?  How does it testify to the enlightenment and civility of our culture?  How does it give God the honor He deserves?

I’m sorry if my love of God and Church upsets anybody–sorry not because it’s my problem, but because it’s such a shame that there is such immaturity and inability to live harmoniously in this pluralistic society of ours.  Oddly enough, I manage to get by just fine, without throwing any hissy fits, whenever I find myself bombarded by the evangelization efforts of the many different belief systems that exist in this country.  I’m cool with it.  I may argue against some of the ideas, but I have no problem with people expressing them.  I expect the same courtesy in return.

But whether I get that courtesy or not, I must evangelize.  Not only because I’m a Dominican with a special charism of preaching and the motto about sharing with others the fruit of my contemplation.  No, I must evangelize above all because I love God and the faith, because they enrich my entire life and being, and because I have no right not to share them freely with others.  We mustn’t hoard nor waste these riches of the spirit.  We must share them generously and gratuitously, just as God shares Himself with us.  It is the duty of every Catholic, no matter what their state or walk of life.

Here’s another excerpt, from the introduction of the book:

… [We] are apt to forget that the most sublime and most vital truths are precisely elementary truths, deeply studied, prayerfully considered and made the object of supernatural contemplation.

[The footnote here reads:]  The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, which we shall quote often in thesepages, is a case in point.  Read at the age of twenty or twenty-five, it may fail to bring home the doctrine which it expounds, seeming, as it does, to emphasize only elementary truths and making little appeal to the sensibility and the imagination.  But when it is read at a later age, and with a maturer judgment, it is seen that the elementary truths which it contains are expounded in a manner which is very profound and sublime, and at the same time with great sobriety.  (pg. x-xi)

This struck me in the context of a discussion I had with my theologian friend, Mark Armitage, about what theology is all about and what it really means to be a theologian.  (Mark shares some thoughts on the topic here and here.)  I was complaining that today people think that all there is to being a theologian is earning a degree from a school, and that theology is just another academic discipline.  All too often, these paper-based theologians are quick to dismiss all previous theologians–including the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and all the many canonized theologians–because we know so much more now than they did then.  Which I guess you would think if you only regard theology as an academic thing.  But what of the intense spiritual lives of those Saint-theologians?  What about the prayer, the devotion, the meditation, the contemplation, the discipline and obedience, the striving for Truth and personal sanctity?  What about these sources of knowledge and understanding?  If the aim of theology is knowledge of God, how can theology be merely academic?  How can one be a true theologian without a strong interior life?

Mark shared with me Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s distinction between “theology on the knees” and “theology at the desk.”  I think that is a great way of summarizing the difference between many of today’s theologians and those whom they dismiss.  This dismissive attitude also has to do with the academic milieu, in which careers are built upon novelty and innovation.  And it has to do with the general “hermeneutic of rupture” we find almost everywhere these days–it’s simply fashionable to break with the past and with tradition.  Whereas we used to think it good to stand on the shoulders of giants, today it is considered better to slay the giants and be some sort of rebel hero.

Getting back to that little excerpt from Father G-L, I think he makes the point that in order to really grasp the truths of God and our faith, we have to be willing to dwell upon them, to patiently ponder them, and to pray over them, to ask for supernatural guidance and understanding.  We must not look upon even the most elementary truths with arrogance–we must never imagine that we have already exhausted them, or that they are boring and out-dated, or that we are too sophisticated for them.  To do so indicates intellectual and spiritual immaturity, and we will never arrive at those “most sublime and most vital truths.”  Instead, we will go running around with sledgehammers, tearing down those truths in desperate search of the Next Big Thing… which, in reality, will usually be merely the latest re-hashing of some very ancient error.

Instead of going broader in our pursuit of Truth, we need to go deeper.  And we do that by living out our faith and growing more intimate in our relationship with God.  Theology is not just something to study, it is something to live out.

I can’t believe that tomorrow is the last Sunday of the Church year!  Next Sunday it begins anew with the First Sunday of Advent.

The Solemnity of Christ the King can’t help but be tremendously powerful.  One can’t help but be moved to humility and awe before the King of Heaven.  On this day, of all other days, I always feel as though a veil has been lifted from my eyes.  I see Christ as my King, God, and Creator, and I see myself as His creature, created out of nothing, entirely dependent upon Him.  And although I feel like a speck of dust before Him, I rest secure in His love, His goodness, His graciousness, His generosity, and His peace.  I know that it is by and for Him that I exist at all.

Today in Mariology class, we spent most of our class talking about the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  Going into the class this morning, I was completely unaware of what riches were there to be mined from this single dogma.  Of course, it is about Mary and God’s singular extraordinary grace upon her, but beyond what it tells us about Mary is what it tells us about God and His very special love for every single one of us!  He wants to be in a special, intimate relationship with each of us just as He did with Mary.  Like Mary, we are each unique persons, with our very own role in God’s creation.  He loves each of us as completely and particularly as if we were the only person in the universe.  What He did for Mary is a sign of the tremendous love and power he offers to each of us.

And our professor pointed out something very important: human beings don’t come into the world on their own, and then God looks down and says, “Oh, here’s another one… Hm, am I going to love it or not? Maybe I’ll decide once I see what kind of creature it is and how well it behaves.”  That’s not how it is.  We come into being because of His love.  His love brings us to life, and it sustains us in life.  His love is a given, and it is a completely free given.  How we respond to it is up to us (because love must be freely given on our part as well).

This Solemnity of Christ the King is a wonderful opportunity for us to recognize and respond to His love.  To reaffirm that He is indeed our King–our King who loves us and gives us our being.  To reaffirm that we choose to be His subjects–subjects full of dignity and freedom and love given in return.  There is no humiliation, no degradation, no oppression, in being subject to the King of Heaven.

And yet so many people in our world reject and despise Him because they hate the idea of being subject to a King.  That’s almost as true of this country as of all of the more blatantly secularist nations of the west.  For all of the United States’ famous (or infamous) religiosity, we Americans tend to be intensely independent, individualistic, and self-autonomous.  You don’t have too search too deeply to realize that much of the religion in this country is really about being prosperous in this world.  At best, it is often confined to Sundays, holidays, and church walls.  Over 230 years after obtaining our independence as a nation, “King” is still a four-letter word in this country.

And because we are all part of this world, it can be very tempting to just go along with that.  But we mustn’t.  The truth is, there is no such thing as life without a king.  Rejecting the true King does not free us.  It only makes us subject to other “kings”–be they rulers of nations, heads of corporations, media moguls, pastors of feel-good mega-churches, or our own flaws.  “Kings” are a dime a dozen in this world, and they all play right into the hands of the “king” of Hell.

Make no mistake: the devil is the only one who benefits from us not serving Christ the King.

So, on this holy solemn feast day, let us make a radical declaration, not of independence, but of dependence.  Let us declare with all our hearts, “I am a subject of Christ the King, the Source of all life, love, and freedom–and of no other!”

And then–here’s the really challenging part–let us pledge to live every day of the upcoming new year as if we really meant it.

I loved this Sunday’s Gospel reading so much.

[Jesus and His disciples] came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, He began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, He placed it in their midst, and putting His arms around it, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in My name, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but the One who sent Me.”

Mark 9:30-37

What struck me most was that Christ didn’t just pull in the poor child to stand before Him and the Apostles, but rather, He brought the child to Himself, “putting His arms around it.” The RSV translation expresses it as an even more personal and intimate action, thus:

And He took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in His arms, He said to them …

(For one thing, it refers to the child as a “him” and not an “it”!)

Today the image of Christ embracing and holding a child in His arms is sweet and often very sentimental.  But as our priest taught us today, it was a very significant gesture and a very significant message. In the society in which Jesus and the disciples lived, children were essentially nobodies. They had no rights and no inherent worth. They were completely dependent on others, and their care was generally left to women and/or slaves. For a man to take a random child, not even his own child, and embrace and hold the child, and to do so in the company of other men, would have been quite out of the ordinary.

The portrait that paints in my mind is not sweet and sentimental, but rather, compelling and challenging.  I see Christ holding the child lovingly and protectively, but looking out at us with a keen gaze and a gleam in His eyes that says, “This child is precious to Me… how are you going to treat him?”  (I tried in vain to find an image that matches the one in my head.)

Christ was doing something no other man would do. He was showing the Apostles a new way. A way of loving service even to the smallest, the poorest, and the weakest. Loving service, not power.  That is what He was demanding of them.  It’s what He demands of His disciples today as well, and especially of the successors of the Apostles, our bishops and priests.

Doesn’t this passage have so much to say to us today? I look around at our society and at the Church, and I see lots of people who really need to hear Christ’s message and see His example. There are plenty of people who regard the priesthood in terms of power that should be up for grabs for everybody. There are also lots of people who regard children as objects, as commodities, to be used or disposed of as desired. There is a belief that getting stuck with a child is one of the worst things that can happen to a person. Conception of a child is considered a highly disruptive and undesirable side-effect of sexual pleasure. Pregnancy and childbirth are considered crises–pregnancy as an illness, childbirth as a medical procedure. There are plenty of wealthy, healthy, young married couples who would rather have dogs than children. Or, at their most generous, will only have one or maybe two children.  In short, we regard the natural blessings of sexuality, fertility, and family-rearing as things over which we can, and must, exert our own power.

This is the world we live in.  It’s all about power and putting oneself first.  These attitudes are found within the Church as well as in society at large.  Basically it’s as if Christ never walked the earth, or never taught us how to live.  I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to be depressed and discouraged by that!  For all the claims that we are so much better and more enlightened than our ancestors, we certainly haven’t lived up to it.  I say “we” because I’ve done my fair share of upholding those common attitudes.  I decided a few years ago that I can no longer support them.  I pray that I can make amends for them in this life (otherwise, I feel I shall have a long and severe season in Purgatory).

I pray that this Gospel passage got through to even a few people this Sunday, that it may prompt some serious examination of themselves and the world in which we live, and indeed that it may prompt some true and deep conversions.  And I pray that we who have heard it will do our best to carry it out into the world through our words, our actions, and our lifestyles.  We mustn’t let Christ’s life and message be in vain!

Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan recently spoke to the Catholic News Agency about challenges facing the Church in the U.S.

Notice what is the first challenge he mentions:  instability of marriage and family.

“That’s where we have the real vocation crisis,” he remarked, noting that “only 50% of our Catholic young people are getting married.”

“We have a vocation crisis to life-long, life-giving, loving, faithful marriage.  If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church,” Dolan said.

I just want to say thank you and amen for shining a spotlight on the crisis of marriage in the Church and noting the relationship between the vocation to marriage and religious vocations.

I’m not sure where that 50% statistic comes from or who it includes.  I’m sure some of that 50% are entirely rejecting the Church’s teachings on sex, marriage, and family in favor of the secular world’s Unholy Trinity of fornication, cohabitation, and artificial contraception.  Some have probably been traumatized by their parents’ divorces and see marriage as something doomed to painful, life-shattering failure.  Some are probably just too immature to think about things like commitment and responsibility.  Some my age have already been married and divorced.

And then a small number of them are probably people like me: faithful Catholics who honor the holy vocation to marriage and indeed desire more than anything to fulfill it–but find it nearly impossible to meet eligible people who would make suitable spouses.  That is, people who actually share our values and beliefs.

In any case, the state of marriage and family within the Catholic Church is pretty much as messed up as in the secular world.  And our bishops and priests don’t talk about it nearly enough.  We need a major wake-up call.  Without strong marriages and families, we’re soon going to be lacking more than religious vocations.  We’re going to be lacking Catholics, period.

On a somewhat related note, I’m very close to signing on with Ave Maria Singles.  It seems to be the best hope for unmarried Catholics who are actually faithful to the Church and actually want to get married and raise faithful Catholic families.  The more I think about it and hear about it, the more I am drawn to it.

From Father Z:  “The Problem With Toning Down the Rhetoric – And Why We Probably Won’t Do It”

It reminded me of this Sunday’s scripture readings, and the wonderful homily our deacon gave, about the challenges and trials of the prophetic mission we all receive at baptism–and what happens when we neglect that mission.  Why, asked the deacon, is it practically taboo to speak of God in public?  Or why is there public outcry when Pres. Obama swats a fly, but silence when children are killed in the womb?  It’s because the prophets have disappeared.  Their voices have fallen silent. And those prophets are you and me.  Every single baptized Christian.

On the other hand, when we do speak out, we often find ourselves in a situation similar to that in which Lord Jesus found Himself in this Sunday’s gospel.  He was visiting His hometown, surrounded by family, friends, and neighbors, all the people He had grown up with.  And they reject Him.  They don’t believe in Him.  They scoff.

It’s not so different when some of our fellow Catholics tell us to quiet down about abortion, to stop being “single-issue” Catholics, or even to give up the pro-life movement altogether because it’s already lost.  Those who should stand with us instead stand against us.  Those with whom we already have so much common ground to share distance themselves from us.  Those who should encourage us scoff at us.

Never mind all the opponents we have in the secular world.  There’s more than enough opposition among us!  And it’s not because some of us need to tone it down.  It’s because too many of us care too much about feeling safe and comfy and all respectable in the eyes of the world to exercise our prophetic voices.  They may sincerely think that they are preserving some kind of peace and harmony, seeking common ground and dialogue with society.  I understand these things.  In fact, I’d be a bold-faced liar if I said I didn’t struggle with them myself.  But I do struggle, because I know that the easy, smooth, popular way is never the right way.

I think I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Catholics have no safe, comfortable place in this world.  We will never be popular.  The sooner each of us realizes and accepts this, the more at one we will be as Catholics. The more we will share genuine common ground.

Speaking of which, lots of those people out there who talk so much about common ground and dialogue and tolerance would actually prefer that we Catholics vanish from society, disappear from the public square, never to be heard from again.  They want to do whatever they want, without any response from us.  Oh, I’m not suggesting they want us dead (though that has been the case before at various times and in various places), but they do want us silent.

That’s the way of the world.  No Catholic can choose that way.  It’s not an option.  It goes against everything we stand for.  It goes against the way our Lord and King took.  It goes against the way the prophets of old took.  It goes against the way all the Apostles took.  It goes against the way every single Martyr and Saint has taken.

No.  We have to take our role as prophets seriously.  Especially when it comes to the defining issue of our time, which is undisputably abortion.  The Church has consistently taught the evil of abortion.  But she has never been faced with it on this scale.  It out-scales every other social justice issue combined.   Every future generation of Catholics is going to look back at the Church of today and remember us for how we did or did not deal with the abortion issue.  They are going to judge whether we succeeded or failed… or even tried.  How do we want them to remember us?  Think about that for a moment.  If we truly represent the Culture of Life, we have to think about the future; not taking the future into consideration is a trademark of the Culture of Death.  It may sound silly or even arrogant, but I want to be thought of well by future Catholics.  Honestly, if I may say so, I wouldn’t mind being canonized!

That’s what I mean by the “defining issue of our time.”  It will define us.  It’s the great trial for us now.  The great battle right now.  The great crucible.  It’s not going away.  And it’s not going to make the secular world fond of us.  We have to take it very seriously.  We have to speak and act seriously on it.  We have to be willing to put ourselves on the line for it.  And we have to not allow ourselves be swept under carpets or hammered underground.  Not by the secular world, and not by other Catholics.

So, I’ve been covering my head at Mass since 2 April.  I had intended to cover my head only when attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form, but before too long, I started feeling “naked” without my veil on!  So I’ve been wearing it pretty much at every Mass.  And actually, I’ve been wearing whenever I am in the church, be it for Confession or solitary prayer and meditation or something like that.  I’m not sure if that is the proper protocol, but it seems like the right thing to do.

Wearing the veil has influenced me very positively.  Having the veil on in church, bracketed by the acts of putting it on when I enter the church and removing it when I exit the church, has heightened my awareness of where I am, why I am there, and with Whom I am there.  It seems like such a simple thing, but the extra little signals it provides are very powerful.

These little signals say very clearly: “This is more than just a fancy building.  You are more than just a casual spectator.  You are here for a reason and for a Person.  You are here to encounter Him, to adore Him, to worship Him, and to give yourself completely to Him.  This is a sacred place and a sacred purpose.  This is something truly extraordinary, and it demands and deserves a certain decorum, a certain focus, a certain self-possession and self-giving, and also a certain receptivity.”

Can wearing a piece of cloth on your head really “say” all this?  I know it may sound strange, but it is so true!

On a simple, physical level, the veil can literally help block out distractions.  We always underestimate our peripheral vision and just how much our eyes and our brains suck in from it!  When I have my veil on, all I see in my peripheral vision is white lace.  I focus more on what is ahead of me: the altar, the tabernacle and Crucifix, the missal or prayer book, or whatever it is that I need to focus on.   It is really quite calming, and enormously helpful.  It quiets my mind.Virgin Mary by Sassoferrato

On both a personal and cultural level, it makes me feel more feminine, more modest, more humble, more dignified, and altogether more beautiful.  We smart, modern Westerners still associate the veil with all of these things, largely because we associate the veil with that most splendid, pure, and beautiful paragon of womanhood, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We see her and think of her as The Veiled Lady.  She may not always be portrayed wearing a veil, but in the West when we see a veiled woman, we recognize her.  If an artist wants to evoke Mary, even if it’s in a horrid, sacrilegious way (as we see all too often), they do so with a veil.

Why do brides wear veils?  Is it not because they crown them with that radiant aura of purity, sweetness, quiet dignity, and beauty that we still admire so much as a culture, even though our society is largely devoid of it?  When I wear my veil, I feel that aura about myself.  And I feel as happy as any bride!  Actually, probably happier, because I don’t just wear it for one day of my life.

It makes me feel more like a daughter of the Blessed Mother.  Not that women who don’t wear veils are any less so.  But for me, it makes a much stronger connection and identification with her.  It makes it real.  That is something I have needed and desired for a long time, without really realizing it.  I want to be more like her, I want to be closer to her.  In doing so, I feel more in touch with myself as a woman, and particularly as a Catholic woman.  It helps me realize my worth.

I also understand why the veil has traditionally been part of the religious habit of consecrated women, even in more modern times (provided we’re talking about consecrated women who actually wear habits… but that’s a topic for another post).  It sets them apart in the eyes of the world, but it no doubt benefits them as well, helps them to set themselves apart for God.

Interestingly, I have not yet worn my veil to Mass at our Dominican priory.  The main reasons are the simple, physical ones mentioned above, together with the different layout of the priory chapel.  Whereas in my parish church, all the seats face forward to the sanctuary, the priory chapel is set up like a choir, with the altar at the far end, and the seats facing each other across an open central area.  I don’t have any problem with that, but… it would be more tempting to focus on the other worshipers or on the wall opposite me rather than on the altar which is off to the side.  If that makes sense.  I do see ladies with veils at the priory.  I’m just not sure how it would work for me.

I suppose it is different for different women.

I feel like there was another point I wanted to make… but it isn’t coming to me right now.  Oh well, I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic in the future!  Feel free to share your own head-covering stories, questions, etc.!

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St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!
(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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