Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The example of saints

I worked with someone awhile ago who was agnostic, or at least that's what I labeled him as. He once related a story to me about his son asking him if there was a god, and how he had to tell him that no one could know. Something along the lines of "out of all the religious traditions of the world, who am I to decide which one is right?"He attended church sometimes and liked the tradition of it, but that was all he was willing to commit to. I wonder if that wasn't an excuse to do what was easiest--just not decide on God. And I can understand that, a little, as a person who dislikes making big decisions. Life can be easier when one chooses to not decide on God, at least in the immediate sense. If we can't know if there is a God, then there's a lot of gray area in terms of right and wrong. A little more moral scootch room to move around in, a nice place where private, personal conviction is the only moral code to follow.

I told my coworker, basically, that his position was flawed, trying to point out the ways we can think objectively about any religion. This was hard to do, I didn't feel prepared to stump for my religion on the spot. I wonder if I had known more about the lives of saints back then if my comments to him would have been different. As a Protestant, I knew nothing about the saints, except the ones who were in the Bible, and we certainly didn't call them saints. I think if you know something of the lives of the saints, it becomes harder to write off God as undefinable, because the saints are another powerful, often recent (or current, in the case of those whose bodies have not decomposed) witness to the reality of Christ. These people certainly did not worship an undefinable God; they weren't enduring suffering, performing miracles, receiving visions, or devoting their lives to an unnameable God or a vague cause they felt peace pursuing. Many died painful deaths precisely because they knew this God so exactly they were willing to give up human life in order to be with Him, unfettered by sinful nature.

I think it's safe to say that the witness of Christian saints is unparalleled among other religions. They have saints as well and certainly people who do not know Christ have done saintly things with their lives, but not quite on the same scale. Because the saints' lives are so unique, they present questions to non-believers and believers alike. How could someone live such a life joyfully? By what power did miracles happen? Why would they choose the life they did? Either they were liars, merely deluded, grossly misrepresented by history, or they were on to something real. The saints are one more layer of evidence that confronts the world. Because faith doesn't exist in a vacuum, belief is really only belief when it results in action, and that's what the saints represent: follow-through. They illustrate what can result out of loving Christ. Ideally, every Christian has this element of visible faith, but c'mon, we're not all going to be canonized.

And, just for fun, some of the stories I've come across and would like to remember:

Saint Lawrence
: A deacon in Rome, who, when required to turn over the wealth of the Church to Rome within three days, quickly gave away as much as possible, and then rounded up the poor, weak, and suffering and presented them to the prefect as the true treasure of the Church. Grilled to death in 258, reportedly crying out "I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other."

Saint Jean Vianney: Priest, lived a life of charity and mortification; allowing himself 2-4 hours of sleep a night and very little food, for the last 10 years of his life he spent up to 18 hours a day hearing confessions. Died in 1859, exhumed in 1905 and body found to be incorrupt, still on display in the Basilica at Ars (France).

Saint Catherine Anne Emmerich: Augustinian nun, often lived in the supernatural realm, experiencing ecstasies and visions throughout her life. Received the stigmata from 1813-1818.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Quotable Monday

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends"

-Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968, pastor, civil rights activist, 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Does voting pro-life matter?

I used to wonder if it really mattered if I voted pro-life or not. Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and doesn't appear to be slated for overture anytime soon, so abortions will continue regardless of who is in office. I questioned whether or not legislators could really make much of a dent because abortion is held as an inalienable right for women in this country. But honestly, these were vague questions that I never really took the time to seek serious answers to and until fairly recently, I wasn't persuaded to vote for or against anyone based on their position on abortion. Recently, I finally started compiling a list of pro-life legislation enacted under President Bush, partly because I wasn't paying all that much attention to it while it was happening, and partly because I wanted to prove to myself that it does matter how I vote. This is, after all, the position my church takes and I said I agree with everything she teaches when I became Catholic. I was surprised at how extensive President Bush's record is. It would take me days to wade through, and my list would be pages and pages long were I to include every pro-life appointment, policy position and actual piece of legislation.

I think this list helps to illustrate that it does matter whether you or I vote pro-life. Other opinions aside, you have to hand it to President Bush for repeatedly staking out a strong moral position for the sanctity of life and against abortion throughout his presidency. Perhaps this type of legislation is under rated because often the people who benefit the most are too small to be interviewed, but I am grateful for the impacts of actively respecting the sanctity of all human life because I believe this has to be a good thing for all of society.

Since taking office in January 2001, President George W. Bush:

January 2001, Reinstated Mexico City Policy, limiting funding to international NGO's that support or perform abortions

April 2001, Applied Hyde funding restriction to RU-486 (abortion pill), limiting federal funding of medical abortions

May 2001, Appointed pro-life diplomat John Klink to State Department

August 2001, Limited federal funding of stem cell research to existing lines (about 60)

November, 2001 Opposed human cloning

November 2003, Signed Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, ending gruesome practice of partially delivering fetus, crushing its skull and vacuuming out brain. Ban was upheld by Supreme Court in April 2007

April 2004, Signed Unborn Victims of Violence into law (rules that when a pregnant woman is attacked and her unborn child is injured, perpetrator may be charged as harming 2 victims)

March 2005, Endorsed UN vote to urge the end of human cloning

September 2005, Appointed John G. Roberts (conservative) as Chief Justice US Supreme Court, replacing conservative William Rehnquist

January 2006, Appointed Samuel Alito as US Supreme Court Justice, filling position vacated by leftist Sandra Day O'Connor and tipping the courts' balance to conservative

September 2006, Vetoed embryonic stem cell bill, limiting federal funding on research with stem cells

May 2007, Vowed to veto any legislation that weakens federal policy abortion restrictions

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What are you doing May 3rd?

There's an organization looking for one million people to pray the Rosary with the intention of an end to abortion on May 3rd, 2008. You can pray the rosary individually wherever you are from 9-10 am Eastern time, and registering only requires one click of the mouse at: Saint Michael the Archangel Organization, One Million Rosaries For Unborn Babies.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Quotable Monday

"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."

-Mother Teresa, 1910-1997

Saturday, April 19, 2008

He's my Pope

I've been hanging out at You Tube watching videos of the Pope's visit, and I especially like to watch the ones of the excited crowds waiting for the Pope to appear. They sing, they chant, they play drums, they cheer, some run after the 'Popemobile'. I don't think I had any strong opinions on the Pope when I was Protestant, but I didn't understand how Catholics could get so excited over one man. He seemed akin to the British Royalty; in high stature but no one really knows for what purpose . But now I get it. There's something about watching the videos and reading news coverage that makes me feel ownership in the Catholic faith. It's made me realize that I understand the sentiment of the people trying to run after the Pope's car. The Pope may be an ordinary man; his office is anything but. He's the successor to Saint Peter, which is pretty amazing when you stop to think about it--Jesus appointed Peter head of his Church on earth, and here in front of us today is the 265th person to hold that very same office. The Pope is a living, breathing link to Christ himself.

I went to pray in the chapel at church yesterday, and there was a wedding rehearsal going on in the sanctuary. The musicians were belting out Mendelssohn's Wedding March, complete with trumpets and organ (that's the one they always use on TV for the recessional). It all seemed very grand and stately and made me think that when Christ returns, there will be some loud music, there just has to be. How could he come back quietly? How could he be received quietly? The Pope is but a shadow of Christ, but I get the noise of the crowds, the willingness of people to travel long distances just to see the Pope. He's a connection to Christ that can be visibly seen, and it's natural to want to make some noise, have a celebration over this link to heaven. As people would cheer for Jesus--although I'm not sure that's the right word--they cheer for the Pope.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Benedict XVI's words to America

Links to what the Pope has been saying during his current visit:

Homily, Holy Mass (Washington Nationals Stadium, 4-17-2008)

Address, Celebration of Vespers (National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 4-16-2008)

Address, Welcoming Ceremony (South Lawn of the White House, 4-16-2008)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Unwrapping Liturgical Time

I've been pondering why living in Liturgical Time feels like such a blessed addition to my life, and I think it's partly because, in order to appreciate the way things are, we have to understand the way they have been. Following the Liturgical calendar unfolds the story of salvation throughout the year, so there are times when we 'live' an event that has came and gone long ago--the annunciation, the birth of Christ, his passion, his resurrection. All Christians celebrate the resurrection, since it is central to being Christian and is the reality we live, but I haven't seen a universal value as strong as the Catholic one on celebrating the events leading up to the resurrection. One could ask, why would I drag myself through the muck, so to speak, of focusing on the agony of Jesus' death, when he has triumphed over death (his, and ours) once and for all? Some are offended at the re-creation of Christ's paschal sacrifice during the Mass. It may seem morbid, distasteful, or just altogether too solemn for Christians to celebrate every week, who are supposed to be, overall, joyful people.

But there is something about participating weekly in Christ's sacrifice that keeps the central act Christ has done for us close to the heart, and I think living Liturgical Time has the same effect. We are reminded of all Christ has done..."the kingdom of God enters into our time." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1168). I have found that as a Catholic, I feel more joyful on Easter Sunday because I have spent Lent in mourning. There has been physical solemness in my life as I have tried to be more spiritually disciplined, penitential, and focused on imitating Christ's total surrender long ago. Reliving the way things were facilitates a true celebration of the way things are when Easter finally comes. Furthermore, I am enabled to celebrate an entire Easter season rather than one single day because I find I enjoy the fruits of my Lenten penance especially during Easter season since they are so fresh. I have grown closer to God, and have more reason to actually be able to think of myself as living an Easter season.

In addition, Liturgical time mirrors reality, anticipating the future as well as looking to the past. By living a well-rounded year of spiritual seasons, we are reminded that the nature of life is always thus--full of ups and downs. For each individual, the final chapters of our own salvation stories have not been written. Who knows what the future holds for each of us--while we can have confidence that we will be with Christ and his Church victorious in heaven when we die, we have no way of knowing what pain and trials we will have to endure in order to get there. We are told to be imitators of Christ, granted on a mini-scale since we are not offering life to others from within us. But we are all called to take up our cross, the die to ourselves, and ultimately to physically die and rise again in Christ. There is no comfort zone we can relax in as Christians, expecting to have an easy life of happy blessings continuously raining down from heaven --our life is simply not our own. Liturgical time helps keep the tendency to believe this isn't so at bay, just because each month is not our own. We are following the Church calendar, and when it says to fast, we fast, despite any inconvenience that may come from conflicts with our personal life (within reason).

I was reading about the Liturgy of the Hours in the Catechism, and came across this passage describing its purpose, which I think also applies to the Liturgical Calendar, "This celebration, faithful to the apostolic exhortations to "pray constantly," is "so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God." (CCC 1174). We have a Catholic calendar on the wall next to the computer, and I am often struck by how different it feels to have a calendar full of religious dates, and to pencil in Holy Days of obligation on our other calendar. It's still very novel to me, religious time overlapping with dentist appointments and play dates. It's a really good thing, this mingling of holy time with the everyday. I'm glad I discovered it.

Quotable Monday

"If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."

-Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 1929-1994

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's pronounced An-yoos?

Ever since I started attending Mass, I've been wondering what exactly the words are to the Agnus Dei, and how to pronounce them. I finally looked it up today, and found my attempted singing had been way off:

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,
(Ahn-yoos Deh-ee, kw-ee tolis pec-cah-ta mun-dee)
miserere nobis. (2x)
(mis-eh-ray-reh naw-biss*rhymes w/hiss)

Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,
(Ahn-yoos Deh-ee, kw-ee tolis pec-cah-ta mun-dee)
dona nobis pacem.
(dough-na naw-biss paa-kem)

(Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,
have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who take away sins of world,
grant us peace.)

(From my reading of the pronunciation guide in A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin, John F. Collins, 1988 The Catholic University of America Press)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


It's hard to stand outside the abortion clinic praying each car that pulls in will not go through with procuring an abortion, only to repeatedly be ignored. Most people going in will not even look at the sidewalk counselors. At times I find it hard to believe that there's much purpose in the my prayers and in my presence. It feels like it should be easier to defeat evil than it is if God has given us what he says he has...his spirit and power. It's frustrating when it seems that God allows evil to happen all too often.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm praying wrong, akin to my son's feeble attempts to master sweeping. Of course, he can't handle the big, adult sized broom, and only manages to aimlessly swipe the floor every so often. That's how I feel sometimes, that I haven't figured out how to use the tool of prayer very well. It's made for a purpose and can bring about miracles, but something seems wrong when what I'm praying against happens over and over and over.

Last week I was standing outside the clinic feeling rather powerless, my anger over the situation coming to a head. I asked God why it is so difficult and rare for his kingdom to triumph on earth, at least in front of my eyes, and I started to think how limited my vision is. It struck me that I may never physically see the result of my prayers for others, but that doesn't render them ineffective. I can't know what sort of spiritual dynamic may be changing in the lives of the men and women who enter the clinic because people like myself are standing in prayer for them. They may go through with the abortion, but their hearts may be changed in some small or large way because we have asked it to be so. I felt encouraged to pray that God would raise up people from the staff and clients to speak out against abortion, if not today, then someday.

Hope is something no Christian should be in short supply of. Hope and the lack of hope is one of the main differences between the lives of believers and non-believers. Jesus is hope, the message of the gospel writers is one of hope, of pressing on towards the end goal of eternity with the creator. Without God, the best advice on life goes something like...deal with it, and always look out for number one. But oh how things change with faith in a merciful God. I have a friend facing a difficult situation who wrote in an email, "How tragic if I, an ambassador of the King of Life, a vessel of His hope, were to give up and let go of my hope so easily." She's right. I'm outside the clinic once a week asking people to take a chance on hope, to do something they have deemed much too difficult, to bear a child. It is tragic if I give in to the same despair and lack of hope--I know that God is GOD. He's always doing something, even if I am blind to it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The art of being

If people are usually defined by what they do, then motherhood has taught me the art of being. In this context, I refer to 'being' in opposition to achieving. I thought I could dash out this post, but I've had to stop writing twice because booga bear is wide awake and complaining about it. He's currently sitting on his dad's lap having a snack, an hour and a half past his bedtime, so my thwarted attempts to finish this post fit nicely with what I'm trying to write about: slowing down my expectations.

It seems that people assign value to others by quantifying that individuals' level of output. Doctor? Saves lives=valuable. Plumber? Fixes pipes=average. Elderly lady next door? Watches a lot of QVC and goes for a walk twice a week=insignificant. I've been reading quite a bit about the loss of recess time in US schools because a lot of parents (and administrators) seem obsessed with giving their kids as much structured academic time as possible in order to ensure their child's future success. 90% of fetuses diagnosed with down syndrome are aborted- I would presume largely because people are afraid of the things these children would not be able to do.

Full time motherhood certainly slows down output, unless we're talking the number of lunches made, clothes washed, and books read. So many times throughout the day, my son interrupts my plans. He points out his stuffy nose that needs to be wiped yet again, he brings me his shoe that has fallen off, it's time for him to sit on the potty just as I'm sitting down to dinner. It goes on all day. And it's not miserable, but it is an adjustment of expectations. I'm happy to do a lot of it, but it's not remarkable what I do with my time. Beyond the health of my child and I and the bond we share, there's not a lot of "achievement" going on in my house.

I've written before about how I've spend a lot of time worrying that my life didn't have enough purpose. I always equated purpose with meaningful activity, and maybe for others what matters is their bank account's accrual from each month's paycheck, or how many days off they have to travel. But motherhood has taught me that it's okay to slow down, or at least to slow down my expectations of what I should be accomplishing with my life. (Because as any parent knows, kids do not bring about the life of leisure). I can just live and be myself and take care of my family, and God is not any less happy with me than if I were deeply involved in some grandiose cause. Although it can be hard to separate the two, my value does not come from what I do or achieve in life. If God had set up things that way, then people disabled in any way would be worth so much less than the ones who have nothing to overcome. So for now, I'm just going to keep working on being. There's a lot to learn.