Stub: W.B. Yeats on Old Stories

“These folk tales are full of simplicity and musical occurrences for they are literature of a class for whom every incident in the old rut of birth, love, pain and death has cropped up unchanged for centuries, who steep everything in the heart; to whom everything is a symbol….They have few events. They can turn over the incidents of a long life as they sit by the fire. With us, nothing has time to gather meaning.”

-Introduction to “Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland,” edited by W.B. Yeats

More on this coming…maybe sometime soon. For now. I enjoy the quotation, especially “the old rut of birth, love, pain and death.” It reminds me that things are not new; they are just new to me.

And I appreciate the value of turning incidents over slowly. Time has a value all its own.

 

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Freelance: Mother Teresa, New Saint, Championed NFP

motherteresa_clinton

From my Truth and Charity Forum piece

She testified to the effectiveness of NFP, though it involves a break from Western reliance on artificial intervention: “So clear – those people in the street, those beggars – and I think that if our people can do like that how much more you and all the others who can know the ways and means without destroying the life that God has created in us.” There is no excuse for westerners, she proposes.

Further, NFP is consistent with the Church’s teachings on chastity and the importance of self-mastery: “The other day one of them came to thank and said: You people who have vowed chastity you are the best people to teach us family planning. Because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other.”

Mother Teresa’s remarks place natural family planning abstinence in continuity with the celibacy vows of priests and religious sisters and brothers. The Church calls all people to chastity, to integrate their desires with appropriate love of self and others.

Seen in the light of a consistent call to self-giving, her excoriation of abortion is not a “dogmatic” scourge upon women that her ideological detractors claim it to be, but a call to see the value of the person in a places, at all times, even within the womb. It is perhaps surprising that the nun renowned for caring for the aged and dying used her fame to speak for the other side of life, those still being made inside their mothers.

She saw the West as suffering from its own type of poverty, a poverty that could not see the value of human life. Her work and her words in their own ways testified to great worth she saw in each person, and she instructed those who would listen to do the same: “I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there” (1979).

More at: http://truthandcharityforum.org/though-criticized-mother-teresa-chastised-politicians-championed-nfp/

What do you think of Mother Teresa’s critics?

3 Principles for Pro-Faith Education (From T&C)

A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.

Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.

To see the elaborations; visit here

“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”

Nature:

“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.

natureLater this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”

Art:

“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”

Love:

“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/3-principles-for-pro-faith-education-in-the-modern-age/

What did you think of this? What would/did you share with your children? Where did they/do you want them to go to school?

The Good of Doubt

When I was in college, I felt compelled to find an answer to moral relativism and nihilism, a search which led me to Catholic faith and the moral philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and Alasdair MacIntyre. (With some over-zealous missteps thrown in too).

Later, another paradox imposed itself on my consciousness: I believe the Catholic faith is true. I also believe that my faith calls me to love all persons. Not everyone is a Catholic. How do I love and respect those who disagree?

After some soul searching and reading, the answer appears that we love a person precisely by respecting his or her autonomy and ability to reason and seek truth. We propose, but leave conversion to the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we approve of all actions; it does mean that we love a person despite disapproving of some of his or her behavior. After all, all of us have areas of repeated error.

This process of questioning and reconciling two seemingly disparate truths goes on through out our entire lives, I think. At least it applies to the part of our lives where we think about things, which I hope will be most of my life.

Many if not most believers will go through a period (or periods) doubt throughout their life in the faith.

It isn’t bad or weird or wrong. It is an invitation to further study, to the potential deepening of faith. I believe that every person has his or her own set of essential questions: existential quandries that make or break the possibility of belief.

Continue reading

Yellow Day: Fighting the Dark Side in Real Life

Characters with dark backgrounds, who have experienced loss, abuse, alcoholism, or who simply live with a disability are around us more often than polite conversation would lead us to believe. And such characters populate Yellow Day, a new film opening Christmas for teens and their parents that plunges unafraid into the darkness of our fallen world with the fresh hope of the light, Jesus.

The stories of a young man and woman who meet through chance in a locked church unfold interspersed with “the good man’s” search for his love at Camp Grace on the Yellow Day, a retreat camp founded by a wealthy philanthropist to support and uplift children who suffer in different ways; young people with disabilities and who suffer from abuse are featured prominently. Yellow Day, like the real-life Camp Grace, focuses on celebrating life, forgiving those who have hurt us, and finding courage to carry on despite deep pain. In so doing, it offers chance to approach dark realities with compassion for one another.

The film’s creator, Jeff Galle, explained that after working in entertainment and performance for 16 years, he grew a good deal in his own faith and “wanted to be a part of something that expressed different values than what I saw in the marketplace. I wanted to make a quality film that provided kids and parents something they could discuss together. It’s a film with weight to show that entertainment can be more than just a distraction and that within the family space, we can confront issues that are difficult.”

Yellow Day showcases tough situations through flawed but good characters who receive help and love at Camp Grace and grow from it. John, the “good man,” seeking his true love, at one point explains that “You asked me who the good and the bad man is. Honestly, I think we’re all both. But we should always try to move ahead, towards the Yellow Day.”

Continue reading

Book Review: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

3690This is a good, terrifying, tragic book. It is good because it takes sin very, very seriously and portrays with painful realism a society suffering from both material and spiritual poverty in revolutionary Mexico. It takes place in the early 20th century when the Communists had taken power and the Church had been reduced to less than a handful of wandering, rogue priests.

The main character, an unnamed such priest with an alcohol problem is one of the most captivating characters in literature, a broken man who clings still to holiness and is therefore able to bring little pieces of goodness to others.

But this is not a novel to read lightly. This is a book for people who need to feel pain, real human pain. If life has become numb, if you have forgotten your blessings and need to read about hardship, sacrifice and endurance against all powers of hell, this book is for you.

Like the Brothers Karamozov by Dostoevsky, the hope offered amid the tragedy is slight, but it is there. And sometimes it is the only thing in the world left to hold onto.

Greene writes with all the flair of the early 20th century Oxford-trained writers such as T.H. White, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” (Part I, Chapter 1).

“The world was in her heart already, like the small spot of decay in a fruit.” (This refers to the priests reflections on his own illegitimate child)

“Oh,’ the priest said, ‘that’s another thing altogether – God is love. I don’t say the heart doesn’t feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn’t recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us – God’s love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn’t it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.”

This is a good description of how frightening and painful the love of God can be. It’s not some sappy syrup, it’s more a purifying fire, and it is hard not to run from.

So, do I recommend this book? Maybe. It’s for adults; it has weighty themes and did not mean much to my sister who was assigned in high school. But if you are at the point where you’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all, then read this book. If you want a laugh, pick up something else.

[Confession: I did not read this entire book, but I did read most of it and I read all the sparknotes.]

Three Pieces on Understanding Traditional Marriage with Respect for All Persons

I have written a lot on this in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage. The first essay was part of my Faith Objections Series which I hope will go some of the way to explaining the Catholic position in an understandable, respectful way. The second two essays are responses to a scholarly paper from 2001 that sought to defend same-sex marriage from within the Catholic tradition. Part I is about how marriage is not a prerequisite for living a happy life. Part II is about the importance of the biological activity involved in understanding the morality of an action. All of these appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum of Human Life International.

Faith Objections: Why I Still Believe the Church’s Teachings on Sexuality

“All people, regardless of the desires they experience, are called to chastity, which is the integration of a person’s desires with his or her vocation. “Under charity’s influence, chastity appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness to his neighbor of God’s fidelity and loving kindness” (2346). All persons are called to develop friendship especially and the control over oneself that comes from ruling our own desires reasonably. Some hear the word “chastity” and think that married people get a “free-pass” for anything sex-related. But those of us who are married know well the call to embrace life-giving sexual relations, and that to space children, frequent abstinence is required. Chastity is a struggle for every individual.

“Yes, then, to someone who feels same-sex attraction, chastity requires celibacy. Indeed, the practice of celibacy has always been held in great esteem in the Catholic Church; it is the way of priests, nuns, and monks. Pope Emeritus Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, said in 1997’s “Salt of the Earth” interview and book, that:

“The renunication of marriage and family is thus to be understood in terms of this vision [of the value of children]; I renounce what, humanly speaking, is not only the most normal but also the most important thing. I forego bringing forth further life on the tree of life, and I live in the faith that my land is really God….In this sense, celibacy has a christological and apostolic meaning at the same time….The point is really an existence that stakes everything on God and leaves out precisely the one thing that normally makes a human existence fulfilled with a promising future” (emphasis added, Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth 195).”

Whole article here.

Answer to McDonough Part I: Marriage is not a Prerequisite for Happiness

“He may be right about Stoic friendship, but the Catechism does not mention “stoicism” nor “indifference,” and McDonough presents no further evidence that Catholicism teaches such indifference for homosexual persons. In contrast, I find it far more likely that the friendship referenced in the catechism is that precisely detached, therefore unconditional, love that MacIntyre describes. Such a friendship could forego sexual expression despite its the strength of desire precisely because it is not self-seeking and because it realizes that such sex is not a gift at all and achieves no natural end. This is the view that many self-titled gay Catholics have taken up, the call to radical friendship.

“Further, a life partner is no guarantee of happiness, as McDonough presents the matter. No human being, not even a spouse, can fulfill all the needs of the human heart, and when we look to spouses for that much support, we err. We hurt ourselves and our spouses. Only by looking to God for fulfillment can we actually grow closer together. This second way, of looking to God, is completely available to homosexual persons, as it is to all persons. And it is a path equally open to those in married or celibate vocations. In short, looking to God for fulfillment is Christian life, and it is open to all.

“We can best explain Catholic teachings by recalling that happiness is not limited to marriage, nor is it taught that marriage is better than celibacy or virginity. In fact, the opposite is true.”

Whole article here.

Answer to McDonough Part II: Biology Matters

“It is true that some married couples do not naturally beget children, but their relationship is still defined by the conjugal act. It is unacceptable to intentionally exclude the fruitful type of act from sexual expression simply for the sake of desire. This is why contraception and homosexual acts are opposite sides of the same coin. Sexuality, in a very common sense, biological way, is ordered to procreation. To phrase it simply: babies, who are necessary for the continuance of human society, only get made through one type of human action….

“Overall, McDonough wants to take up MacIntyre’s theories in Dependent Rational Animals in order to create a framework of love and marriage that could include same-sex couples. But in applying this framework of peacefulness and receptiveness, McDonough avoids the question of the physical actions committed and their acceptability. Using “love” too-loosely, without concrete application to reality has been all-too-common in the gay-marriage debate and McDonough does this too. Without reference to actual reality, there is no grounding for truth or goodness whatsoever. So if we are going to take truth or goodness or any ethic seriously, we must have recourse to biology and the natural law proceeding from it. That does not mean that we ignore or reject the subjective experience of individuals. The Catholic tradition embraces all individuals but always clings to the truth that ultimate fulfillment and peace come from God alone.”

Whole article here.

Whelp, there you have it. I hope the reader isn’t too offended and that we can at least always agree on mutual respect if not mutual understanding.

Thoughts: Did you ever change your mind on the question of same-sex marriage? What was the deciding factor? Has this helped demonstrate that opposition needn’t be based in hatred? What matters in determining social policy or truth? What is needed to have a sincere conversation?

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome!

“Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” The Reason Christ Is Not Being Rude to His Mother at the Wedding at Cana

I don’t often do biblical commentary posts, but this exchange from the Wedding at Cana had troubled me ever since I read it years and years ago. But this thought came to me recently about explaining it, and my husband said I should write it down, which is saying something. I offer an explanation and then a re-telling that might resonate more with modern listeners.

We all know the story of the Wedding at Cana; it is where Jesus does his first miracle; he famously turns water into wine. But there is a difficulty, on a surface reading, it really seems as though Our Lord is blowing off his mother. “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” he asks.

John 2:1-5 reads: On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus response to Mary in this translation sounds like a rhetorical question to our American ears, as though he does not actually mean it. It can seem like Christ is assuming the answer in the question and saying instead: “Your concern has nothing to do with me; it isn’t time for me to reconcile the world yet.”

Such a reading is troubling. Our Lord seems snippish and disrespectful. However, from what we know of the Faith and the rest of the Gospels, there is no good reason to believe that Our Lord is being insincere or rude.

How, then, can we read it in a way that makes sense with the whole of the Faith, a way that is true to the person of Christ Jesus, which is how the Faithful are meant to read Scripture? We can read it instead with the understanding that he truly means each of the words he speaks. On such a reading, he is sincerely asking Mary to explain how her concern affects him; he sees that she is worried, and is sitting there, giving her the space to make a request of him. In short, he is presenting the opportunity for her to intercede because he loves her and sees that she is upset.

Such a reading would mesh well with what we know about Christ’s divine and human knowledge. Continue reading

Published in Soul Gardening Journal: My Home is My Monastery

[Editorial Note: Now that this essay has come out in the Summer 2015 edition of Soul Gardening Journal, I am republishing it here]

“Removed from temporal concerns.” That is how life goes for monks and nuns of religious houses. I’ve always been attracted to that, perhaps romanticizing their lives at times. As a mom, I sometimes lament that this quiet calling is not mine. Even before I became a Catholic, I admired monks and nuns in their picturesque cloisters praying and working gently with a devotion to last a life time. There is something compelling in their ascetic life of reading, gardening, praying, working and other past times that deeply resonates with human nature and makes it appear (and actually be) so fulfilling.

Now, of course, like all ideals, I’m sure the reality is much more fraught and difficult than the pastoral picture in my head of monasticism. Still, when I visited Ireland and the stone, beehive shaped huts of the monks on the Skellig Isles, their radical commitment to holiness and simplicity struck me and continues to inspire me.

Sometimes I wonder about the possibility of truly attaining holiness in my relatively comfortable, middle-class, American life. Somewhere inside, I harbor the fallacy that the religious life is better or holier than the life of a layman. I’ve even written about wanting my house to be like a monastery: a place of peace where people grow in love of the Lord and His goodness. I envied the reprieve that religious men and women have from worldly concerns.

Well, here’s a revelation that struck me today: my home is not like a monastery. It IS my monastery.

And just like the messy reality in the lives of actual monks, my life is pretty messy.

But my home IS the place where I pray and work (ora et labora, the central tenets of the Benedictine Rule). It is the place where I serve my family and where I aim to raise up children of God.

And while I envied the “reprieve” from worldly concerns, it turns out that I have that too—in an unexpected way.

You see, one day I was complaining to my darling husband about my annoyance when my little sister said to me “you’re such a mom,” because the implication was that moms are “messy, pudgy and uncool,” a trifecta I invented myself (how flattering, right?).

Of course, many moms are beautiful, fit, put-together and chic, but I am not. In my uncharitable self-analysis, I reasoned that I am messy because I have toddlers and babies sloshing food and pulling my hair out of ponytails all day; I am pudgy because I’ve carried two humans in my abdomen (on separate occasions) and have not quite recovered yet; I am uncool because I have little free time to spend consuming pop-culture.

Grilling my kind-hearted husband, I asked him “How do you see moms? Messy, pudgy and uncool?” He thoughtfully responded with a phrase that held more meaning than I first understood: “No,” he said, “In moms, I see women who are removed from temporal concerns.”

Wow. “Removed from temporal concerns.” He did not mean that I don’t have to worry about food preparation, dirty diapers or crumb-covered floors. Those are very temporal. (At least I hope they won’t be in heaven). What he meant was that moms are removed from that deadly worldly striving of constantly trying to get ahead, get noticed, and “make it” in secular terms of success.

Instead, moms embrace sacrifice. We give of ourselves for the sake of those in our charge. And in my case, I spend so much time chasing my little boy, cuddling my infant girl and cleaning up in between it all, that when I get free time, it is a precious tiny moment that I typically do not use to say, browse Youtube or catch up on the latest movie releases, TV shows or hit songs. So more and more, I am starting to miss pop culture references that my younger siblings or single friends make.

But this is what my husband meant when he said I was removed from temporal concerns. Those negative attributes I associated with my “mom-ness” (messy, pudgy and uncool) come about precisely because I am living a life without substantial concern for outward appearance. Consider the adjective “messy.” Now, this isn’t meant to excuse laziness or to say that looking nice is bad or inappropriate. Rather, the point is to make an analogy between the sometimes unkempt clothing of a mother and the religious habit. Both are humble forms of dress that send the message that the wearers primary concern is elsewhere and that his or her clothing is a tool for work, not an instrument to impress others. (Again, mothers have many occasions to get dressed up—even for the return of the husband from work. This is just meant to say that in reality, I do not dress as stylishly as I did before I had children and that there is a valid reason behind it).

And “pudgy” because even a mother’s body is put into the demanding service of others. The last adjective is “uncool.” Like monks and nuns, a mother’s time is spent so fully in service that trendy entertainment and “cool stuff” tends to get squeezed out of the schedule. While sometimes I wish to see the latest superhero movie in theaters, generally, I’m OK not knowing the top 40 billboard list.

And this, I think, is the biggest reason that my home is my monastery. As I care for my babies, husband, friends and the home itself, all the noise from the outside world slowly filters out. Like the monks, I remain in my abbey. I perform works of service and small works of love. I am reprieved from worldly concerns: we are in the world but not of it (for this season, at least, of having young children).

I can’t say I know as much about religious life as I ought to, but I’m starting to think that my family’s little suburban homestead is not so different from the serene convent.

Charlie Hebdo: Distinguish Respect for Others and for Life

My latest from the Truth and Charity Forum:

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/distinctions-regarding-life-religion-and-charlie-hebdoo/

There is a time and a place to discuss the differences between religions and even advance Catholic claims to subsistence in requirements of salvation. That is the purpose of interreligious dialogue. It is a work of charity and even of evangelization.

We gain little by demeaning all of Islam because of the radicals. Such a tactic may very soon work against Christians, whom the secular culture is starting to view as radicals in ourselves. I hope that by distinguishing between hateful, violent terrorists and the ordinary lives of the Muslim faithful, we will also teach others to distinguish between the true message of love and salvation offered by Jesus Christ and some of the more twisted versions out there.

We do not want the angry secularist to say, “See, all you religious people are violent and hateful.” We want to live in a culture where the earnest atheist can speak with respect to the earnest Christian and the earnest Christian can speak with respect to the earnest Muslim. This is an application of the Christian truth that all men are created in the Image of God.

So in regards to Charlie Hebdo, we can mourn. We can protect our citizens. But we should not fall to the level of the attackers and let them turn us into people as hate-driven as they are. A sincere and respectful environment is the only way to witness to the truth of Christ and proclaim His message as we are called to do.