punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lest We Forget What Pride Actually Is

Pride is the deadliest of all the seven deadly sins.

We seem to have forgotten this lately.

I came across a timely post from the Archdiocese of Washington, and, in light of current social trends, one paragraph defining pride, worth reading and re-reading, intrigued me:

Pride is the sinful refusal to recognize anyone or anything greater than us, to whom, or to which we owe reverence and obedience. Modern man has not only abandoned God, but even natural law. In Original Sin Adam said, “I will do what I want to do and I will decide if it is right or wrong.” Thus he refused submission to God. Modern Man extends this concept beyond God’s law, even to reality itself. In this attitude, there is no reality outside himself to which he must conform himself or to which [Man] woes any allegiance. In abandoning natural law, modern man increasing says that reality is what he says it is. Reality no longer matters, all that matters is what I think or feel. *

What's interesting is how the mainstream media portrays 'pride' as something healthy and favorable to people, when, as the quote above reveals, precisely the opposite is true. As June 2011 concluded, it found itself dedicated to a specific variety of 'pride.' I don’t feel I have to mention which variety explicity because, in essence, all pride is equally destructive no matter how flamboyant or celebratory we’ve become of different displays of hubris.

But isn’t there such a thing as healthy pride, you may ask? Such as in the face of an accomplishment or when one pays homage to their nation, ancestry or ethinicity?

In those cases, it’s not really pride (e.g. “I’m so proud of you, family member X …” or “We come from a long line of proud So-and-Sos…) at all. But since we must use language to express the combination of satisfaction, joy and gratitude for an earned success as well as the respect, reverence and humility experienced with ‘honoring one’s roots,' we tend to distill these concepts down to the current banal usage of the term ‘pride.'

If you look closely, however, in those cases there is a recognition or an acknowledgment of being blessed that does not self-aggrandize but which gives credit where credit is due: to the One who gives us our talents, history, nation and family.

Of course, it still remains possible to become disordinately proud when one succeeds, such as when one attributes all success and personal merit to oneself. There is also a way of overemphasizing the importance of ancestry, race and nationality, such as when one considers it their primary identity and starts to conform their entire lifestyle to it rather than to God's will for their lives.

In other words, the subjugation of God’s law as well as our obligation to observe it, to something as dramatically miniscule as ourselves and our personal desires is the essence of pride. Whether contemptuously driven to turn away from God (as in the case of Satan) or simply due to the pull of our fallen nature, the prideful person succumbs to the temptation to consider themselves as the ‘master’ of their own lives rather than acknowledge a higher power and Authority.

This is why when St. Thomas Aquinas writes about pride, he calls it the beginning of all sin after Sirach 10:15, Pride is the beginning of all sin. He explains why:

…pride regards sin as turning away from God, to Whose commandment man refuses to be subject, for which reason it is called the "beginning," because the beginning of evil consists in turning away from God...We must therefore say that pride, even as denoting a special sin, is the beginning of every sin. I-II q 84 a2 c.

In other words, pride is the disposition by which all evil, all 'turning away from God' (i.e sin) becomes possible if not probable. Pride, therefore, can rightly be called the deadliest of all the deadly sins. And so, when our culture as a whole does an about-face from the Truth, instead of admonishing the sin and educating the sinner as we should, we celebrate it and them. And why not? Since we’ve already made ourselves our own Gods, why shouldn’t we spend time honoring ourselves and then punish those who don’t do likewise? The Washington Archdiocese post further elaborates on what happens when we become entirely self-focused:

In severing his relationship with God, and even with reality itself, the human person can turn in almost entirely on himself and be unreachable. He becomes hardened in his self-enclosed thinking and will only admit data and people who conform to his stinking thinking. As time goes by, almost nothing can break through this wall of pride. Scripture says, For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools….(Rom 1:22-23).

I just want to repeat one line of this quote which really struck me: "[He] (the prideful person) will only admit data and people who conform to his stinking thinking." Intolerance, from this perspective, becomes the most immediate and natural offspring of pride. Today, however, we so often hear the term 'pride' and 'tolerance' mentioned in the same breath together that it's now a forgone conclusion that the two are somehow complementary. And yet this spurious claim of compatibility between the two, once properly examined, emerges as inherently fraudulent, as neither tolerance nor pride, by their very natures, can coexist together. Pride can only ever admit to ways of thinking that do not threaten or challenge it, and then persecute any that do.

The foolishness and heresy committed by the Ego who considers itself the source of all truth is rampant and robust in present times. Why? Because we’ve forgotten what pride actually is, and, as such, have become a prideful society. We now throw parades for pride and dedicate full months of the year to it. Imagine that, waving flags and marking our calendars for what amounts to both the root and vehicle of our own self destruction. And yet you don’t need to spend too much time trying to imagine it; I hear it gets great media coverage by all the major networks these days.

*Msgr. Charles Pope. There Comes a Day When Our “No” becomes Permanent: On the Mystery of Iniquity and the Stubbornness of the Stiff-Necked. http://blog.adw.org/2011/06/there-comes-a-day-when-our-no-becomes-permanent-on-the-mystery-of-iniquity-and-the-stubbornness-of-the-stiff-necked/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=there-comes-a-day-when-our-no-becomes-permanent-on-the-mystery-of-iniquity-and-the-stubbornness-of-the-stiff-necked

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is June Too Early to Start Thinking About Christmas?

My daughter ran up to me waving a book in her hand. It bore a Christmas tree on its cover.

“Mommy! Read me this!” came the shrilly, yet, adorable command.

“Sure, princess. Are you sure you want to read about Christmas?” I asked. It’s June and I didn’t think I’d be reading about decking the halls for another few months.

My daughter didn’t flinch, “Yes, mommy. You read me this book. Then it will be Christmas and then you're supposed to buy me presents.” She plopped down next to me in all expectancy of both being read to and for receiving the presents she’s supposed to get come Christmas time.

Amused, in part, I still grimaced internally, “Oy, and so it begins,” I thought.

Rather than try to reason with the three year old, in the end, I decided to set a goal: this Christmas our family will do something other than presents! But then I wondered if the decision wasn’t too premature. So I eased up a little: okay, maybe one gift per kid, from us, their parents. But what was I going to do about everyone else?

My family has always belabored the idea that asking other people not to buy gifts for your children is rude. One individual in particular took it as a personal assault insisting that to do so was somehow limiting their ability to express their love for a child fully. Considering this history my anxiety level rose, “Oy, and so that begins too, “ I mused uncomfortably.

And yet, there I was, or rather, here I am, caught between two important realities: my kids have too much stuff and other people, family in particular, really love my kids. The solution?

I thought of three potential ways of going about this quandary. First, I considered starting the Christmas letter with: “Dear friends and family: as our family grows, the two bedroom apartment keeps refusing to do so. As such, for the kids, please send cards/ gift cards or cash (we do accept Paypal) only and we, the responsible adults, will know how best to use your contributions for them throughout the year.”

No? Too blatant, perhaps?

How about placing a huge St. Vincent De Paul donation bin outside our door at the start of Advent? “Look at our new family goal for Christmas this year!” I could declare auspiciously to everyone who visited. Hm…it might serve to drive home the message that we are trying to live more by having less. But some might still see it as an opportunity to make up or compensate for our material charity by buying us new 'stuff.' Dang, goodness defeated by goodness, again!

Okay, last plan: take a mini-vacation during Christmas. Nothing deters people from shopping for you more than realizing you aren’t going to be there wildly ripping paper the day of. I don’t know why this works so well, perhaps they become slightly miffed at not being invited, but they tend to keep the shopping and food preparation to a minimal until you return. And by then, the frenzy is over and people can again rationally remember that the holiday is not about materialism.

Of course, in the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder if I’m just jumping the gun and worrying about the commercialization of Christmas too early. What do you think? Too soon? Or is it ever?

For certain, I have less than six months to coax my little girl into a different mind frame. I did try to spin the little incident into something containing more Christian sentiments. “Abby, did you know the Christmas is Jesus’ birthday? Maybe we should give Him presents?” I suggested, but her little mind was set.

Sigh. Then again, it is June. Pass the sunscreen and blow up the kiddie pool and her little world is complete again!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

When Good Priests Leave, Families Grieve

I have to admit that in this post I am borrowing a page from John Corapi’s own work; an audio series entitled “The Father’s Love.” Three Father’s Days ago (or three years back) I ordered copies of this set from Santa Cruz media and gifted them to my husband, brother and father. One talk in particular focused on the attack on the family coming in the form of an attack on the priesthood.

“An attack on the priesthood is an attack on the family.”

“Strike the shepherd, scatter the sheep.” I can hear John Corapi’s fiery voice resounding within my mind as I write this.

And now he’s left the priesthood, and the announcement, made on Father’s day weekend, has sparked an array of reactions, predominantly negative. But how is the ‘average’ Catholic household to express the sense of loss we may feel in this case, where we now grieve the departure of a good priest? No, a great priest. One of the best.

Simply, we do so by remaining faithful to our vocation as families. The truth is, life still trudges on for us on the domestic frontlines doesn’t it? I’m not trying to sound the victim, please don’t misunderstand, what I mean is that we are truly used to priests ‘going away’ in current times, aren’t we? On a parish level, we consistently experience the rotation of priests in and out of their diocesan or religious order assignments. And while we miss them when they leave, we also welcome their replacement with open arms and hopeful hearts at the prospect of having our children baptized by them, our receiving absolution, and, of course, the Eucharist from them. But not so commonplace is having to say goodbye to a priest because he leaves the priesthood. The shift from having an “M” rather than an “F” before the lowercase “r” is a more difficult one for people to wrap their heads around. We grieve even in that circumstance much the way one mourns a leader stepping down from office or retiring. In this case there will be no replacement surfacing in the same capacity. Ever. How could there be? There will never be another Fr. John Corapi; the "Black Sheep Dog" or any other title won't ever attain to the same reverence vested in the former.

Not that I think that Corapi is claiming that his new emergent identity is on the same level as a priest. A sheep dog functions differently to the shepherd and that's probably why he chose it. However the emphasis on his new role as an auxiliary herdsman of the flock, a role entrusted to that of the canine variety, augments the great gulf existing between the two vocations: as a layman, he will never be a priest again much the way a sheepdog will never and can never be the shepherd.

And so it will take some time for my family to ‘get over’ this news; there is some grieving we have yet to do. But not too much more of it, I’m hoping.

Families who attempt with humility to abide by the Faith tend to be resilient units of grace and so we will indeed move on with life as we always have. We must because there is still just so much living left to do. And so the ripples of sudden change go the same way as gradual change: they fade with time, the great equalizer, and eventually the landscape looks much the same as it did before any disturbance occurred.

We are grateful for John Corapi and always will be. Whatever the future of his ministry as a laicized priest holds, we pray that he will remain faithful to the Church he loves and defends so eloquently. We still need good priests, the life of the Family depends upon it, and so I can only end this post with the same verbal exhortation that concludes the aforementioned audio series (and can’t you just hear the passionate enjoiner in your mind?):

“Pray for your priests. Love your priests because your priests love you. God bless you. “

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Does "It Get Better" for Christians?

The “It Gets Better” campaign aims at convincing LGBT teens that life spent openly gay can comprise complete happiness filled with the usual accouterments of human flourishing such as committed relationships, children and social acceptance. It does so in an attempt to deter teens who struggle with sexual identity from harming themselves due to despair over their sexual orientation (or they might say, ‘intolerant’ views of that orientation) and from losing hope over living fulfilling lives.

But while no-one wants any teen to lose a sense of their inherent dignity, or be bullied for any reason, it is just as potentially detrimental to LGBT teens for the media to allay the risks of living an active homosexual lifestyle for the sake of showing youth what their lives ‘could be’ and that ‘it gets better’ for them as time goes on. Statistically speaking, it does not get better with regards to health.

To neglect to inform teenagers of the disproportionate health problems prevalent within the gay community neither genuinely affirms their intrinsic human worth nor is it particularly compassionate. The media’s hush-hush approach to this topic for the sake of political correctness actually destroys many lives needlessly. If we truly love our gay brothers and sisters, the message should be the one of the Church: love yourself enough not to engage in detrimental behavior.

But Christians are lambasted, absolutely lambasted for this message and by the same bully-pulpit media who preaches absolute and unquestioning acceptance for homosexuality.

And so I must ask: since it is getting better for homosexuals (apparently) is it also getting better for you if you are a Christian? The following questions may help us discern an answer:

• In this day and age, do people view Christianity in a more positive light or a negative one?
• Is the media currently making a point not to “offend” Christians by including Christian-sensitive content in their broadcasts?
• Are there coalitions and watch dog groups set up to make sure that Christianity is always spoken of positively on college campuses?
• Do safeguards exist to make sure that one is not discriminated against for being a Christian when applying for a job or career?
• Are our judicial courts tenaciously upholding the right of Christian organizations to adhere to their religious principles as they provide public services such as adoption?
• Are the consciences of Christian medical providers, psychologist and pharmacists being respected or forcibly violated through legislation?
• Is “Christian tolerance” being encouraged in anti-bullying programs?
• Is there a curriculum in public schools fostering knowledge and respect for the tenets of Christianity starting in kindergarten?
• Are Christian parents given the right to withdraw children from class units whose content conflicts with their beliefs?
• Can government judiciary buildings display the Ten Commandments without fear of being sued for blurring the so-called separation of Church and state?
• Are Christian organizations allowed to engage in the democratic process without being blacklisted and vilified as “phobic” or fearful about something?
• Are Christian students being allowed or forbidden to mention Jesus in valedictorian graduation addresses?
• Are people ever fired from their jobs when they utter anti-Christian slurs?
• Have Christians been allowed to run TV ad spots promoting their “agenda” with the same frequency as opposing ideologies?
• Can our political campaigns count on financing by the Hollywood elite?
• Do we have a designated Christian-pride month yet?

The answers to the above questions speak for themselves. It most definitely is not getting better for Christians, at least in a worldly sense. But happiness, for us, is viewed rather differently than it is by the media. It’s not in amassing temporal goods and social acceptance, it’s about living according to God’s law, of which natural law also partakes. Only when we do so can our lives and those of our gay brothers and sisters be truly fulfilled.

Therefore, Christians do believe it does gets better for them, we just may not be able to see and measure it in this life. And thank God for that, I say. If it were measurable either by popular opinion or favorable court decisions, then how empty a “good” or “better” it would be.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bringing Children "to the Sidewalk"

In hardly any other instance is the contrast between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death more evident than when families bring their children to pray outside an abortion clinic.

In my family’s case, the difference between the two ‘cultures’ is only intensified by the fact that the area’s largest abortion clinic sits right across the street from our YMCA. It’s hard to describe how surreal the close proximity of two such disparate realities actually is.

On any given day, the YMCA holds camps, swimming lessons, child-care and classes that ring of the uplifting sounds of life. There, children laugh, play and learn. It is a place so full of energy that visiting is like plugging yourself into a health-outlet so that you leave more fully alive than when you came.

But not fifty feet away, quite the opposite is happening. Next door, at America’s number one abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, reign the sounds and sights of tears, brokenness, silence and death. There, many children are being denied the opportunity to ever know life outside the womb while children just across the way are experiencing the goodness it can contain.

And so one morning each week, after crafts and fishy-crackers we all board the Nichols mobile and head across the way ‘for a walk’ (that’s all my little progeny really understand at this point). The beauty is that my kids don’t cease being kids on that sidewalk.

I try to imagine the viewpoint from the staff inside the clinic as they sit ‘protected’ by a bullet proof facade, security cameras and metal detectors while just outside their windows stand those very threatening ‘conservatives’ with their strollers and children who are busy playing Ring around the Rosy, hop scotch, tag, sharing snacks, and waving ecstatically to the police who come circle the block at the clinic’s request.

Little else rivals the very compelling irony of this picture: where the so-called champions of ‘quality of life’ have become the purveyors of death, while the supposed opponents of ‘women’s rights’, who happen to mostly be women, along with their children, are busy doing all the living right outside their doorstep.

I tell you, the ‘different sides of the line’ caricature, perpetuated by the media, of the heroic staff of Planned Parenthood sitting harangued by those bully right wingers falls apart once you are actually there. What you see speaks for itself: outside their clinic, children are living, and inside they are dying.

The parking lot alone presents an eerie portrait. It is full of people (mostly minorities) sitting solitary in their cars presumably just waiting for someone to come out of the clinic. It’s quite the opposite of what happens at a hospital, isn’t it? Family and friends generally remain in the hospital waiting rooms to support you during things like surgeries and child birth. Not so at Planned Parenthood. The “support” is only as close as the distance between the building and the parked car (in many cases it’s just a drop-off and pick-up arrangement). Occasionally someone will get out of their vehicle to come talk with us, but for the most part, they stay put.

But they can still hear the kids. It would be hard not to.

There are strong opinions widely circulated about this but I consider bringing the kids to the sidewalk a good, Christian witness, and that’s why I bring them. The rare individual will still verbally abuse us despite their presence, but, this may be a reaction to how the kids, just by being there, drives home the reality of what happens to unborn children behind the high walls of Planned Parenthood. The juxtaposition of their beautiful innocence against the walls of an organization founded on racism and blood money is one that society needs to see and really spend some time contemplating. It is their presence on the sidewalk which reminds us how we all started, and hopefully, how we can be again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Combatting Popular Culture with NFP Part 1

The calumny leveled against the Church’s teaching on artificial contraceptives usually stems from either: a.) a general lack of knowledge or denial of how contraceptives work (or, I should say, continuously fail) and b) ignorance of Church teaching and the theology behind it. From my limited experience as a speaker about the morality of Natural Family Planning, I have to say that just a little clarifying information about either typically appeases all except for the most cantankerous objectors.

And so, enter my sister and I. She’s a nurse, I’m a theologian (in training), we both practice NFP with our spouses and between the two of us, in the course of an hour, we cover the science and reason that support the rationality behind Church teaching on sexual morality. It’s a fitting ministry for any Catholic wife and mom to undertake and I wish more did so!

We’ve gotten pretty good reviews from the couples so far, and have not yet encountered any blatant hostility. With the next engaged couple retreat coming up I find myself again contemplating what it is that we NFP speakers (following Holy Mother Church) are actually asking of the couples in our talk; what we are inviting them them consider about human sexuality and God’s plan for their marriages.

On one hand, we are asking for a lot. In an hour, we’re encouraging them to buck the trend of popular culture, rethink their opinion of the Church’s teaching and go against what they’ve been taught and have probably practiced for some time.

On the other hand, we are asking for very little. In fact, all we are ultimately asking for is what people already do in other corners of their lives: practice self -restraint along with some observations of temperature and physical signs and that’s it!

What? Are you suspicious that it’s too simple? Why?

I can tell you very plainly, why: because it is that simple. One of the most negative aspects of human nature is that we tend to complicate things. Pharmaceutical companies know this and firmly invest themselves in nurturing our anxieties about health and fertility - and it gives them great financial returns, indeed! For we, the easily ruffled sheep, go out and buy, buy, buy our peace of mind with a product (contraceptives), even as we say bye, bye, bye to our health in the long run.

And yet, scratch but a little of the placid ‘I’m in control of my body’ surface and you discover that peace of mind is impossible once you know the risks associated with taking birth control. And yet many people don’t know the facts – for some couples, our talk is the first time they hear how hazardous contraception is to health!

Combatting Popular Culture with NFP Part 2

What continues to boggle my mind is this: how it is that we live in an age of such ubiquitous accessibility to information and yet people still do not properly educate themselves on the dangers of artificial contraceptives.

Women who have given up the pill with whom I have spoken often indicate that they got started on it believing that they were choosing a ‘necessary evil.’ At the time, they were also ignorant of any other effective option, and ultimately, they had been misled into believing it to be a good thing, or at least not so evil, after all.

Deep down, though, they knew something was wrong. But our popular culture made it easy to believe that they were doing something responsible, and so they just ‘conveniently’ didn’t look up the facts which would have told them that they were putting themselves at risk for various health problems, not the least of which is breast cancer.

This indicates yet another negative about human nature: that we are completely capable of living in denial over the consequences of our actions, that we can live insulated in our social bubbles comfortably away from the truth, and that, rather than stick out, we’d rather opt to go along with whatever is culturally mainstream, even to our own detriment.

Ironically, that same culture which abhors any notion of the ‘oppressive’ and ‘conniving’ Catholic Church having any input into what consenting adults do in the bedroom is the same one that says, “Here, ingest, implant or inject these chemicals into your body, stick that device here, place that barrier there and then enjoy!” Really? Is this what people would rather do than hold out for completely natural sex which requires abstaining for a brief* time each month? Is this the extent of how enlightened we’re supposed to be now about sex? Depressing, if that’s the case.

But there is a better option – one that sadly has been relegated to darkened rooms of retreat centers or living rooms of faithful Christians (and even ecologically conscious hippies!) who spread the good news about NFP one couple or group of couples at a time. But that is changing slowly with greater documentation on the effectiveness of NFP and more complete training for healthcare providers.

And so in our talk, my sister and I make it a point to just stick to the facts and then exhort couples to entertain a healthier option for their conjugality. Simple, right? Yes. And no.

It’s not so simple, as the topic carries with it a freight car sized load of emotional baggage. It’s hard to brush off the truth and I’ve seen couples greatly moved by it during the retreat. Like I said at the beginning of Part 1 of this post, people sometimes come not knowing the complete picture either with regards to the science of birth control, or the reason behind the Church’s teaching. They only know the party-line of a culture that beleaguers the Church with accusations of being everything from archaic to misogynist in its stance on moral and sexual ethics.

And yet scratch a little bit into her surface, spend some time investigating her reasons and you find a very holy and wise Mother; a Church that is truly passionate about our health and families in a consistent and holistic way. This I believe is the gift that Natural Family Planning offers all of humanity and I know, I know, that out there in that darkened gym of engaged couples, hearts and minds are listening.

*brief = 6-10. In some cases, a couple of days more, as each monthly cycle is different. That leaves 15-20 other days of the month! (And the national monthly "coitus average" is 8!)

Monday, June 6, 2011