Thoughts from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Ch.1

As I did before with Gift from the Sea, I would like to share with you my reflections following a reading of Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, written by Pope Benedict XVI. I am embarking on this reading through our virtual book club: Well Read Mom. As before, the plain font will be quotations or direct references, the words in italics are my reflections because somehow italics seem to better represent the dynamism of my thoughts (she said, tongue-in-cheek).

The preface: The first question in exegeses is what is it saying historically. The second is how does this concern me?

“He is one among others. He is one like us…His origin marks him out as one like any other.”

If this is true of Christ, he is like me than I can look at the same questions put to him as to myself.

Chapter 1: “The Roman judge asks Jesus where he is from in order to understand who he really is and what he wants.”

Psychoanalytic theory sees this question as fundamental to answering the who-am-I question today. Identifying the moment of original drama can lead to a catharsis, a sudden release of emotion or built of tension, created through holding these thoughts in the unconscious parts of our psyche. Family systems theory follows the same thoughts but much more above the surface. I take on a role to fill out the balance in my family. Strict behaviorism sees the question of “where do I come from” as irrelevant to progress. It does not matter how I was trained, only that I have been trained. Solution-focus theory is much the same.  Cognitive theory will find some value in identifying the origin of the lesson, where I learned this irrational belief. Understanding the origin of the irrational belief may create opportunities to dispute it by find evidence or alternative explanation for what I believe about myself.

This concept is not foreign to psychology, but deeply integrated. Where do I come from…who I am…what I want. This is how I discover what is most important to me, what is most important to my clients, and what will motivate us to move forward.

The genealogy from Matthew, begins with Abraham and leads us to Jesus “is open to universality—through Abraham, blessing comes to all.”

Christ is more than an image of myself. To project that image of me and call it god is to make an idol, fashioning him like myself. God’s otherness abounds. He has a mission beyond me. Since I have no Jewish heritage in my, it is because  his mission beyond me that I am part of it at all.

The genealogy from Matthew: is the Gospel of Christ the King: the whole of history looks towards him whose throne is to endure for ever.”

Christ is king. We can be drawn close to the infant, but we must also see the man, God, the king. “We have come to worship,” (Mt 2.2) how much I need this longing in my heart, to worship someone infinitely greater than myself.

The genealogy of Luke: “Jesus takes upon himself the whole of humanity, the whole history of man, and he gives it a decisive re-orientation toward a new manner of human existence.”

“Those who believe in Jesus enter through faith into Jesus’ unique new origin, and they receive this origin as their own.

This is profound. I was young when I fell in love with Christ, but it marked the beginning for me. Isn’t that how love is? It felt like my life had not yet begun until it began in Christ. And it was a turning point. The old life is left behind and a new life, with vision, with a path, with purpose is laid out.

Everything unfolded following that new beginning. When I met my husband, the plan continued to unfold. The birth of our first child, deciding not to pursue my doctorate, to return my town of origin in order to be closer to my family of origin. It is the path laid out in the story I wrote, The Girl and Her King. I used to believe everything was a sign. Eventually I began to see that many things were just life, just reasonable consequences. I did not lose the vision that somehow a wisdom is written in through it all, that there is a cosmic purpose. It is written in Christ for all of history. It is beautiful to behold because in this meaning we find we are very, very small. History, the story, life is not determined by me and my actions, because there is something so much greater than me here. However, that Someone cared enough to write me into it, to make me part of this universal cosmic plan. God thought it more complete to have me in it than out of it. That makes me feel very good indeed.

The self-esteem movement falls short. “How do you feel about yourself?” That the answer to that question should determine my well-being is the concept of self-esteem. Real confidence comes from accomplishing real things, being successful in real tasks and real relationships. Self-worth or value comes from recognizing the truth. Where do you come from?

I can understand my feelings toward myself when I consider how I was taught to regard myself by my parents. “When a girl dresses up, she seeks to be told that she is beautiful. When a boy flails a sword or dresses up as Spiderman, he wants to be told he is an extraordinary person, that he is capable of saving the world.”  “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). God is love. The family is the school of love. Our parents are our first teachers in the truth of who we are. How fascinating it is for me to have met someone who has “high self-esteem” who does not seem to doubt herself or her beauty, because despite his shortcomings as a man, her father always told her, “you are beautiful.”

The question of who he is and where is he from are inseparably linked.

Returning to that question: where do you come from? I continue to turn this concept in my mind. The two questions are inseparably linked. I do not only come from my family. I do not only come from my genealogical tree or my cultural heritage. I come from the Church. In my baptism I became part of this great tree. But then, I do not only come from Catholic culture. I come from God. God made me. He is my father. Where do you come from? I am like Christ. He is like me. Where do you come from? I have been part of the mind of God. He knew me before I was born and established my place in history. What that will be, I do not know. I have free will and can choose to continue walking along this path. As I walk, it will continue to unfold.

Questions on suffering: why do we suffer?

We need it all. This is part of gradualism. Presentation of the Church as a haven. Heaven with angels and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one’s living in an illusion. Christianity without the cross is such an illusion.

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

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I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. And perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews.  “We welcome you to our Eucharistic Celebration.”

It’s true, but with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life and committed suicide on November 1, Feast of All Saints, rather than go through the stages of cancer. Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. With this honesty, he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.” If we recognize where suffering comes from and the goods it entails, and live our Christian faith with lively, honest hearts, evangelizing by attraction and by mercy, than I think we can make progress. What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust, “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message. With this understanding, our suffering can begin to make sense, and God-willing, a process towards healing our hearts.

All Souls’ Day Celebration

I love Halloween. I love the controversy and the conversations. For some reason, I’ve been comfortable with the macabre for a long time. Cemeteries were never creepy. Post-conversion, I thought it was beautiful to sit in a cemetery and just soak in the awareness of the souls in Heaven and the need to pray for those in Purgatory.

As a child living in the country, there was no trick or treating and how I longed for it. We dressed on our costumes, always homemade, went to mass, and went to the party after mass for games and candy. In vain my parents tried to appease my trick or treating desires, but alas, no one was home. The porch lights of those country homes were off.

Now I am married with children of my own. My mother makes the costumes and I put together my husband’s costume. Two years now we’ve done themes for him and the children. Last year, the Scarecrow, the Lion and Dorothy were represented.

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This year, Maid Marian and Friar Tuck joyfully joined Robin Hood (not pictured) for a rainy evening of trick or treating.

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Along with Trick or Treating on Halloween, on All Saints’ Day I managed to take the children on a Saints Pilgrimage. We drove to the nearest church and I explained the saints who were represented by the statues at that Church. The children seemed to enjoy it even though memories were a little thin at the end of the day. For the second time, our family hosted an All Souls’ Day Celebration on November 2nd.

The table features ghost and pumpkin cookies, chili, bratwurst, and clementine “pumpkins.”

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Of special note were the soul cakes made by my husbands. In centuries past, the poor went from door to door on All Souls’ Day and in exchange for praying for the family’s beloved dead, they received soul cakes, a slightly sweet treat (one of origins of our practice of Trick or Treating).

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The table features white, browns and orange with white mums all around.

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My husband also stirred up his “witch’s brew” in our brand new $5 punch bowl from the Hope Chest.

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The party was great fun. As the evening drew on, we built a bonfire (another tradition in All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls’ Day revelry), bobbed for apples and enjoyed some squash bowling (butternut squash as the bowling pins, likely not a centuries-old tradition).

When the sun went down, the church bells “rang” (digitally at least) and we prayed for our dearly departed:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
R. And let the perpetual light shine upon them.

All: And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

There are so many fabulous and festive traditions out there! We could have made it more macabre without abandoning Catholic culture (Sedlec Ossuary, anyone?) but this year it shaped up differently. Looking forward to next year. Restoring Catholic tradition, one party at a time!

Demanding Catholicism

I was struck by Elizabeth Scalia’s article considering the appeal of Islam and Mormonism to many Latinos who are converting from Catholicism to these other and very different religions. She asks if perhaps Catholicism is not demanding enough of its patrons. A very interesting question, indeed.

Some time ago, I posted an article on the function of mass and the overemphasis on “welcoming” as an unnecessary focus in the America church. At the end I added: One final thought: as Americans, there is also a particular benefit to owing something to Someone, because we’ve been told for so long that all that matters is what we want and the virtue of rugged individualism, but that is a post for another day.

I never revisited this topic until today when Scalia’s article struck the cord.

We have an abundance of choice in America. You may hear older Americans lament the long-passed days of there being three television channels, two types of toothpaste and one grocery store from which to stop. I searched for toothpaste on Target.com and found 186 results. However, we are not happier with more choices.

Research has shown that people on average are less likely to decide when they are given many options from which to choose. Scalia astutely points out that “when you leave people to find something ‘personally meaningful’ to do, they often settle for what is new or capricious or vapid, or all three. Or they do the easiest thing of all, which is nothing.” So what do we want?

The concern in days past was that people would simple follow the motions if given too many rubrics and commands. This can happen. However, when there are clear boundaries and obligations, it is easier to see where a person stands with his or her commitment. He has given himself to the practice and must stand by as he bears public witness in his practice.

I believe this is good for Americans. Studies tracing narcissistic leanings have found the current generation of young people is more narcissistic than previous generations. It continues to increase. Bullying is on the rise and contrary to popular belief, bullies tend to have an overinflated sense of self. The self-esteem movement has created a climate in which we receive, get what we want, because feeling good about who we are (and subsequently what we have) has become an American virtue.

Out-of-control breathing is a symptom of a panic attack. Controlled deep breathing can counteract that symptom. It has a host of other benefits, this is an obvious one. A sense of entitlement, as well as a sense that I make the rules for myself because as a narcissist no one knows what is better than me, is a symptom of a deep problem in our society. A remedy that can target this symptom, as well as provide a host of other benefits is being indebted, committed and demanded of by a higher authority.

Some find it through the military, others through family. Church life can provide it as well, but only with authoritative leaders and practices. Why would it help?

Because of our need for self-donation. Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self. A commitment to that external thing, the body of Christ, draws the person outside himself. He seems smaller in the face of something bigger that requires all of him: his time, resources, and love.

Fewer individuals than before serve in the military. More than half of American families experience brokenness. Of the families that stay together, how many practice the compelling values that link one’s heart with a lifelong strength? Rural communities in many places have given way to larger cities, anonymous apartment or suburban dwellings. More than ever, the woman or man in America can live, only associating with those she or he chooses. Endless food options, endless music or television options. We are no longer tied to this or that thing that others are also tied to out of necessity. It is those ties which help create culture. Not all of America is like this, but I find it very true in much of California. Unsavory weather links Mid-westerners together. In this part of California where the one weather ailment we experience is heat, there is less communal suffering. Many simply retreat indoors when the heat strikes.

If parishes remain strong in their traditions and revive some old traditions to feed this need, they can become a constant in the American sea of change. A sense of obligation could bind Catholics together, identifying them in this foreign land. You can find that on Ash Wednesday, the one time of year where we put our Catholicism on display in the secular world. Creating more fasting and more feasting would do it as well.

But it will have to adapt in order to oblige. Churches and the parish one is committed to are no longer walking distance. If we were obliged to pray the stations every Friday in Lent, but without the sense that it must be prayed communally at 7pm in Spanish and English, it might be more successful. If church buildings were unlocked or accessible that might help as well. I don’t know what it would be like to be part of those demands, but I think it might be at the very least interesting, if not compelling.

The additional masses some hold on Holy Days of Obligation are a must. What about stricter fasts? One meal and two snacks with plenty of dispensations does not often look like a fast. Holy Days of Obligation, which are meant to be great celebrations could hold festivals routinely at the parish. In this format perhaps people actually participate, because its free, potluck-style, and family oriented. Some cultures are better at this than others. There are people who would argue this could be more successful than attempting to reach out to particular demographics, because it is more a inclusive and natural setting.

These are just ideas. It takes a lot of work to implement them. It’s easy for me to sit here and write them, then sit back and say “that was nice.” When I wrote the piece on mothers participating in book clubs and reading literature, I had that reaction. Then a friend expected me to get one going. So now we’re doing it. I don’t know what first step forward is, but let’s look for a way to take it.

We need the Cross of Christ: making sense of suffering

We need it all, as Pope Francis’ has said. We need those who are holy and those who are very sick. This is part of gradualism. We need the presentation of the Church as a haven. Too often we see a picture of heaven with angels, clouds and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one living an illusion. Christianity without the cross is an illusion.

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard. I love my job because I feel that so often adults do not acknowledge the suffering of teenagers because it is a sort of developmental suffering compounding some very serious trials they are undergoing. They trust me because I trust them and acknowledge that when they say they are suffering, what they are saying is true.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. True. But perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews. “Welcome to our Eucharistic Celebration” and all that.

It is a celebration, a wedding feast. But with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

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Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life rather than go through the stages of cancer.

Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. He did not hide the cross, his willingness to endure it, and his desire to be free of it. That is honesty, and he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.”

What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust: “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message.

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If a doctor ignores the infection in the wound and thinks only of the wound healed, he will not adequately heal the wound. He must focus on what is bad, always with the healed state in mind. The Catholic Church is a hospital. If we are so self-satisfied, like the Pharisee, than perhaps we avert our eyes from the Cross because we are guilty of sin and making others suffer by our sin. Let us recognize the temptations we fall into, recognize that evil exists and that we all suffer, and then only can can fully appreciate the Resurrection.

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The thoughts we’re tempted to

Santa Cruz Mission chapel

Is anyone done being fascinated by our Holy Father, Pope Francis? I continue to read news outlets attempting to pinpoint him. He truly is a man of the middle road and for those who hold fast to left or right, he is an enigma, and a frustrating one at that.

I think that Pope Francis’ own words at the close of the Synod point to what he is about. And those with the ears to hear, can hear it.

He speaks of joy. Do they think he is lying?

He speaks of temptations. As much as cotton-eared so-called traditionalists want to paint him as a “liberal pope” he speaks openly about the devil and temptations. He calls out the faithful on sins so common we forget how scandalous they are (gossip) and how they destroy our efforts to evangelize by their scandal. The so-called “left” wants the Pope to be their darling, but cries against his silence at not passing sweeping legislation in a Church which is not governed that way at all.

What humors me now is how our Holy Father calls out each of these groups, and indeed all of us, in his words at the close of the Synod. Please take the time to read the full text. Here are some substantial excerpts. He speaks regarding temptations faced during the Synod. There is something for everyone here.

– One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

 – The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

 – The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

 – The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

 – The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

Let’s think about these words. There are few who are solely guided by these temptations and nothing more. Later on the Pope recognizes the good will of those involved and rightly refers to these as “temptations.” Everyone has, based on their genetics, personality, beliefs, environment and upbringing, certain temptations they are more likely to fall into than others.

Regarding the first: a logical, faithful, rigorous person may be moved deeply by a love of the Law and logic in our Church’s teaching. So they find the love of God through this path and want to share that love with others. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the second: one cares deeply and first found God through the open arms of the Church and perhaps specifically through the parish life. He was not asked questions when he arrived, but for the first time in his life experienced unconditional love. His faith is formed and his devotion to God begins. He wants others to know this great love he experienced, this love with no strings attached. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the third: she works hard. She was raised to believe that the things you love, you work for, and this is how you show your love. Her character is one of strength and steadfast dedication. When she makes a decision she sticks to it. If she falters, it means she was not dedicated or in-love enough. It is hard to understand others who cannot fulfill their commitment. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the fourth: a seed among the thorns. Perhaps he was raised and works in the secular world. Perhaps he grew up seeing another suffer greatly and never formed an understanding of the beauty in suffering and as the world believes, thinks it must be avoided. His goal is to help people, to alleviate their suffering. This motivates him in his love of God and Church. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Regarding the last: she feels so at home in the Church. She is dedicated to her parish and serves her parish before considering her needs. This is her parish. This is her faith. Perhaps she does not know a lot about the universal Church or the Magisterium, but she knows parish life and knows what it takes for a parish to be successful. Then creeps in Satan with the temptation…

Have any of these failed? No!

Are any of these terrible people who hate the Church, the world, or those in the world? No!

They face temptations, as we all do. We can probably see ourselves easily as one of those. If we don’t, I think we ought to think a little more about it. I experience and sometimes fall into the first temptation. How about you?

We should not despair. The Holy Father continued, “Dear brothers and sisters, the temptations must not frighten or disconcert us, or even discourage us, because no disciple is greater than his master; so if Jesus Himself was tempted – and even called Beelzebul (cf. Mt 12:24) – His disciples should not expect better treatment.”

If that’s not enough, here is a little more:

The is the Church, our Mother! And when the Church, in the variety of her charisms, expresses herself in communion, she cannot err: it is the beauty and the strength of the sensus fidei, of that supernatural sense of the faith which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit so that, together, we can all enter into the heart of the Gospel and learn to follow Jesus in our life. And this should never be seen as a source of confusion and discord.

If you feel confused about his meaning and his vision of the Church, please read the rest. It only gets more beautiful. The Catholic Church is a hospital for the sick. She is precise in her treatment, but can treat at any stage (On Gradualism). With open hearts, let’s seek the truth, and rejoice as our Holy Father does in the beauty of our some times chaotic unity!

The evangelization of culture: Sr. Christina sings “Like a Virgin”

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When I first saw a news article about the beloved Sour Christiana singing a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” this seemed too much to handle. I was deeply touched watching the clip from Italy’s The Voice in which she moves the hearts of the judges, particularly J-AX. It was profound.

I am a fan of religious orders engaging the world with their other-worldliness, like this brother from the CFR’s. After giving up skateboarding to enter, and not touching a skateboard for six years, he is ordered to get one and go to the skate park to reach out to the youth there. What evangelization! The article states, “after spending time within the skaters, he realized they shared a connection: both friars and skaters see themselves as counter-cultural. In their mutual rejection of worldly values, they both stand open to new paths in life.” As with therapy, evangelization falls flat if you fail to engage the person where they are. The evangelist must find a way to walk with the person in order to lead him or her.

To note the artistry of the video of the CFR. My husband noted the use of fire and water in the video of the skateboarding friar. A little baptism symbolism here? He is taking something ordinary, skateboarding, and allowing the spirit to anoint it, to bless it, to make it something holy in order to lead others to Christ. By bringing the light of Christ to the darkness, to the hovels (like Mother Teresa) of underground culture, the friar transforms his activity. Skateboarding becomes a light for those in need.

But “Like a Virgin”?

Sr. Christina says it well that for those who have not seen this song before and its associations, it can be seen as something new. Watch the video here.

To the pure all things are pure. If it weren’t for our culture. For what we know of Madonna and Moulin Rouge (my first encounter of the song, which is, I would say dirtier in its presentation than Madonna’s official music video), would we think in this way? What if it all went according to God’s plan? That virgin being a woman, a woman who has chastely kept herself and marries the man God has set aside for her. On their wedding day they come together. And at the sight of one another it is a moment of wonder, or awe, as God intended it to be. Not tainted, not dirty or risque, but pure, simple, beautiful. Whatever his past, he sees her as new. And they experience the beauty and the love of God through this most generous act.

There is something pure and uplifting when this consecrated sister sings the word “virgin.” She was right to see the beauty in the words. And when she sings them, they are something new. Through her virtue and love of Christ, the avenue of popular music is transformed. We can see a light in the darkness. And taking a song like this, frankly, from a singer like Madonna, to me is a way of laughing at the devil, saying he is powerless. Madonna has made it part of her career to scandalize and more than once in terrible, ugly ways. Now a woman in a habit sings her song and makes it something beautiful.

Transformative engagement with the modern world.

Take it a step further. What is happening for this generation of young people? For the over-achievers, they work and work and work and for what? Mark Shiffman observes the fear he sees in young people: fear of taking risks, fear of getting it wrong, fear of not making it in this world, and more deeply, a fear that in the end, all their efforts are but smoke. When you see the world you’re used to, through the eyes of the consecrated person, and then you see meaning in it, that is the light. That is evangelization.

“The Church grows by attraction,” Pope Francis said. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). They are using ordinary things to bring Christ. They are using their bodies. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn1:14). How beautifully incarnational.

The IPS Model

I thought this was important to share. This model comes out of the phenomenal graduate school I attended.

 

The Theological and Philosophical Premises concerning the Person in the IPS Model of Integration

THE IPS GROUP1 (TEXT DATE: AUGUST 15, 2014)

This text presents a Catholic-Christian view of the human person as a basis for the psychological sciences. Or more simply put, it is an overview of the main theological and philosophical premises featured in the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) Model of Integration, which proposes a view of the human person as informed by Christian faith and by reason. The text outlines and organizes the distinctive qualities of complex human nature and the dynamic human person. Its intention is to produce a richer and truer understanding of the person and thus promote more effective therapeutic interventions. An explication of the model, examples of theoretical and clinical applications of these premises, and a set of psychological premises are forthcoming.

Although this text provides theological and philosophical elements for a general model of the person, in actual practice, each human being remains unique. While interpersonal encounters disclose something significant about one’s personhood or identity, each person remains a mystery revealed fully only in the eyes of God. With this proviso, we have developed a synthetic, Christian definition of the person: The human person is an individual substance of a rational (intellectual), volitional (free), relational (interpersonal), embodied (including emotional), and unified (body-soul) nature; the person is called to flourishing, moral responsibility, and virtue through his or her state of life and life works and service; in an explicitly theological (Biblical and Magisterial) perspective, human persons are also created in the image of God and made by and for divine and human love, and, although suffering the effects of original and personal sin, are invited to divine redemption in Christ Jesus, sanctification through the Holy Spirit, and beatitude with God the Father.

1 The members of the IPS Group (Institute for the Psychological Sciences) having participated in this text include: Paul C. Vitz, Craig Steven Titus, William Nordling, Christian Brugger, Philip Scrofani, Michael Pakaluk, Gladys Sweeney, Margaret Laracy, Michael Donahue, Su Li Lee, Steven Hamel, Roman Lokhmotov, Mary Clare Smith, Holiday Rondeau.

Copyright © 2014 The Institute for the Psychological Sciences. Permission to reproduce and distribute is granted if the text is unaltered and authorship is duly noted.

On Gradualism, Evangelization, and the Stages of Change

I am so excited to hear what the news of what is coming out of the synod. The news is joyful and ripe for controversy because in this American society, we are not so good at listening. The concept is called “gradualism.” The idea is that I cannot leave sin cold-turkey. There is typically a gradual move towards a holier life.

rembrandt-prodigal-son-detail2

This is consistent with the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of the Stages of Change. Precontemplation is the first stage. While others may point out my problem, I do not see it as a problem and do not think of it. Once I realize the behavior or habit is a problem, I enter the Contemplation stage. Next comes the Preparation stage. I make plans to change. After this stage, I enter the Action stage. I now take concrete steps towards the change I would like to make. Once those steps are in place, the changes require maintenance. At this point in the stages, it is typical that after some success in maintaining the change, I falter and I fall back into my old habit. In fact this can happen at any point in the process. Whether I am aware of my failure or not, I will have to begin the stages again. However, I am stronger and each time I go through I am stronger. I am not the same sinner I was at the beginning. Once I am strong enough, I will stay in the Maintenance stage and am able to avoid the bad habit or action for the rest of my life.

All this takes time. We can consider the emphasis on graduality of returning to the moral life in terms of the TTM stages of change. Gradualism means we reach out to those in the various stages of change, not just the action and maintenance stage. It means we are merciful, understanding and sympathetic when one returns to an earlier stage, even pre-contemplation when they may justify their actions and not see their sins as a problem. We are reminded of our moral duty to care for those who may be in the Contemplation or Preparation stage. At anyone of these earlier stages, we may speak the Truth, the Law, and the individual may not be ready to act on it.

Therefore, we must take care how we are to speak. Pope Francis has pointed out the uselessness of proselytizing. It does not help to speak at people. Each stage represents a different type of soil. We may speak. The seed falls on ground and is eaten up (pre-contemplation). It falls on rocky soil (contemplation, preparation but does not move to action). It falls on thorns (action and maintenance, but falls back to the beginning). Good soil (action and maintenance, with continued maintenance.

It does happen at times that we speak the Truth and the person changes their life. We feel strengthened and desire to speak the Truth more. What we don’t see is that our action was merely one part of the whole: steps, stages, actions providentially orchestrated by the Holy Spirit to bring this soul to conversion.

I have fallen into this error. We have the duty to evangelize. But it must be evangelization of the whole person. We need to do it with a little sense.

There are four levels of communication. In the first level, the “superficial” level (basic greetings) no information is exchange. In the second level, “people, places, things.” information is exchanged but nothing personal. In the third level, I speak about “what I value.” Now I give part of myself. You can see what I am passionate about by the subject and intensity of my conversation. Lastly, in the fourth level I share “how things affect me.” Here I give you my reactions, my feelings.

If I approach a person without regard for their whole person, I may speak flippantly merely of the Law (Level 2) without mind to how the dissonance between Church teaching and the person’s lifestyle/moral decisions affect him or her (Level 4). I have sinned in disregarding his or her personhood. Proselytizing speaks about law to people. In it I do not come down from the soapbox to see whom I am speaking to.

The next issue is those medium of communication we use. My mistake was to use email. My first goal was to determine the stage of change the person was in, hoping I could help prevent her from taking the step she was preparing to take. How stupid I was. You cannot get a sense of the whole person via email. I saw she was committed to her decision. Accepting this I discerned what our friendship could look like now. The damage was done. I wrote, still over email, very matter-of-factly (Level 2) my vision of what our relationship could be. I could not convey the sensitivity I felt over email. And so I did greater injury.

Thanks be to God we reconciled, realizing how far off track our communication was because of the medium. The conversation became severely distorted because we chose to use an electronic form of communication, rather than a personal.

Something is lost in digital communication. If we had been in person, I would not have said the things I wrote. Perhaps she might have felt loved, reached out to and supported, whatever her decision. That’s certainly how I felt, but not what I communicated. What I communicated alienated her and hurt her. I might have driven her away further because of my error.

Evangelization is not a series of pressing buttons and converting people. God alone changes hearts. If we are obedient to his call and docile to his guidance, we can be part of someone’s journey. Understanding the graduality of conversion can help us to be a little more docile in His Hands and hopefully more useful to His Purpose.

Middle Class Illusions

How do American couples make it work? By working. The income gap between those on the lower rungs of the income ladder and those on the higher rungs has been increasing over time and is now the greatest that we’ve seen.

Yet we haven’t shed our sentiments about the American middle class and making it. We get educated, go to college and start looking for a mate. If you’re Catholic you may throw a year or two of “discernment” in there, which means, for some, wandering around waiting for God to tell you what you are meant to do, and for others, active exploration of the priesthood or religious life. Quite likely we all went through a little of both stages, I think.

And then if God calls you to marriage and you meet the mate of your dreams (or your greatest compatibility, perspective changes depending on your personality) then you date or court, engage, and tie the knot. My guess is that at this point it is common for both spouses to start this adventure off with two jobs, two incomes. Readiness and ability to have children varies by couple, of course.

A heavily criticized trend when the economy took a nosedive was the bad habit of Americans to live outside their means. Did anyone else out there grow up with a family that praised middle class lifestyle, saving, preparing for retirement, owning a home, not overusing credit cards? So let’s suppose you’ve played it smart, got married, and lived totally within your means. You’re achieving your dreams. It works great.

So supposing you’ve followed the standard path, the ideal path. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…

Now what? We’ve set ourselves up with a lifestyle that requires two incomes but then a baby comes. Now either it goes down to one income or one of those incomes get seriously depleted by childcare expenses…or…the extended family gets involved.

There are many different experiences out there. In my upbringing, nether the concept of the grandparents watching the grandchildren nor was one parent staying home imaginable. Paid childcare was the option that fit the image of middle class lifestyle with which I was raised. Because you have to keep working in order to save for retirement and buy your own home, right? You have to do it independently, on your own two feet, right? Owe nothing to anyone.

 

But now, as a family, we aren’t doing it this way.

For the perspective of my upbringing, we are flipping it on its head. I work half-time. My husband works half or three-quarters-time. One of us is always home with the kids. His goal is to have enough students to provide all our income. I’m not sure yet what I want to do. We rent. But we rent from my parents who bought a second home, so it’s like our home. Is this uncommon? An Indian friend tells us in his culture it’s quite common. It is not so common here, although anyone I talk to who is my age agrees its fantastic because in our professional fields at our age owning a home and having kids is a pipe dream.

How is society structured? With the nuclear family far away from the extended family, living their life, making their decisions, finding fulfillment. We move to big cities, art and culture, have one or two children and make a decision to stop there and celebrate ourselves and the life we’ve built up. It was counter-cultural to me that we should choose to come back, live in a small town and be happy. Our lifestyle isn’t possible because our life is intertwined with my parents. They are a regular part of my children’s lives.

And its’ neat.

So we are low income, but it doesn’t feel like we are because we have help and resources located within the larger family network.

For many Americans, this is impossible. Which is why I found this article by Artur Rosman so fascinating, calling parishes to step up and fill in the gaps left by absent or distant extended families through free childcare, food and monetary assistance. Tying that together with this concept of the “lying in” period of women postpartum assisted by community women or family members and the whole lifestyle, to me, makes sense.

Without this help I just can’t see how a family can raise their children and be able to see them more than just an hour or two each day and on weekends. It’s sounds difficult and painful to me.

I also grew up in surrounded by conservative Republican messages. It is hard to me to empty my mind of the criticisms of receiving free handouts. But I have to. Because I see that we are happy, terribly happy and feel a sense of balance I imagine is lacking for those who have to go the other route of doing it all on their own. I don’t think we were meant for that, but unfortunately it’s been held up as a virtue to do so. The rugged, individual, isolated American. It’s something we desperately need to learn from other cultures during those diversity seminars and celebrations.

Let’s build a better community. Let’s use the Church to do it. And let’s accept help knowing it doesn’t have to hurt our pride because it’s in us integrally to be part of a community. The middle class is a fading illusion. And the happy family? There’s still hope for that. I do believe there is. But it takes a village to make it work.

 

Postscript: please note: I am not in any way calling on the government to step in and be the extended family. If family in Washington State can’t do it, I just don’t think there’s any way strangers in Washington D.C. can do it without reducing the person to an object/number and diminishing their dignity.