Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let's Keep Mary in Merry Christmas

I have a confession to make. I am hopelessly devoted to the Virgin Mary. I am! I ask for her intercession all the time, I have a t-shirt that says Mary is My Homegirl (and I can wear it reverently), my house is decorated (and thus, very blessed) with icons of her, and I have not one, but TWO key chains with graced with her likeness. I am one of those people who is more likely to think "what would the Blessed Virgin Mary do" than "WWJD?" This is why I have to be Catholic. Even if someone came to me and said "hey, it has been PROVEN that Methodist is the correct religion" I might just have to go to hell. Seriously. Because for me, Mary is where my heart lies. I have lately been really struggling with going to Mass. Aside from all the kids and the annoying habits of the parishioners (like making the orans posture BACK at the priest), spiritually, I really get nothing out of it. I think it has a lot to do with not being able to take communion, and probably because I left the Church just at the time that mass started to lose its wonder, so I remember feeling something when I went to mass. But a couple of weeks ago for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I couldn't WAIT to go to mass, because I knew it was going to be all about Mary! I couldn't wait for the homily, or the songs, or just to look at the statue and see her and reflect on how awesome she is.

I can almost hear all the Protestants grinding their teeth. But she is awesome. Because she was human. I think that a lot of Catholics and non-Catholics alike never take that into account. Sure, she was without sin, but she was still just a person like you and me. Jesus suffered, yes, but he was God. He knew what was waiting for Him, He knew that it would be hard, but then He would resurrect and be in heaven for all eternity. Mary had to take that on faith alone. And she still had to give her son up to the mission she knew He had, watch Him be ridiculed and called a blasphemer, and ultimately die a horrid, grisly death. Then she was left alone on earth with no one but John and a whole bunch of people who probably thought she was nuts. Can you imagine?

When I was younger and feistier, I used to hate the idea of the Virgin Mary. I hated that Christianity only gave us one woman and she was impossible to live up to. And if you were Protestant, you didn't even really get her to live up to. Now that I am older, I understand more of what is being shown to us through Mary. She has to be impossible to live up to. We aren't really supposed to live up to her anyway. She's a symbol of all the goodness we are capable of if we just have faith. Mary had other plans. Some traditions hold that she had been a temple maiden and sewed veils  before she was married off and the Angel Gabriel came to her. But she didn't let her own plans get in the way of God's will for her. She didn't hesitate or say "why me?" She just said yes. And, as much as a vast majority of Christians would like to try, we can't ignore her. Jesus may be the gift of Christmas, but that doesn't mean that Mary is just the pretty paper to discard. She's not God, she's not divine, (and NO, we do not worship her); she was just a person who God had very big plans for and who chose to accept those plans because she had faith that everything would turn out okay for her in the end. And doesn't that make her a pretty amazing example?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Offer It Up!

Hope everyone is having a great Advent. I missed Gaudete Sunday because I needed a mental health day. This is something I may need to tackle here. But that's for another day. In the meantime, I guess I just have to go to confession.

There are a few really cool things about being Catholic. Fish fries on Fridays, sparkly rosaries, an entire Heaven full of Saints to attend to our problems, a whole host of Marian apparitions to call on and be devoted to... but one of the very best things about being Catholic, I think, is a little thing we like to call redemptive suffering. As Catholics we like suffering, because it allows us to be closer to Jesus. Jesus suffered for our sins, but we still sin, so we still suffer. But the suffering ultimately is something good because it can shorten the penalty for our sins or the sins of others when we offer it up. Suffering also shows that we can accept God's will (think of Mary seeing her son tortured and mocked and killed-- she had to accept God's will even though it probably really sucked for her most of the time). In any event, I like redemptive suffering. Because I am one of those people who suffers. A lot. For instance, when I was going to the Other Catholic Church, every time they did some annoying, contemporary guitar mass crap (clapping during the Alleluia for example), I could offer it up! Obnoxious drivers? Offer it up! Inevitable minor injuries (paper-cuts, hitting my shins on my desk at work)? Offer it up! In fact, when you are as critical and snarky as I am, you find a LOT of ways to spring souls from Purgatory. Heck, just going to an awful movie about teenage vampires is an exercise in redemptive suffering. I know I am being glib, but I really do like that Catholicism gives us a reason to reflect on our sufferings and try to use them for something good, rather than just complaining or trying to fix everything all the time. That's not to say that we should be passive, but there is some peace in being able to accept that you are going to suffer sometimes and that there is a reason for it, and good can come from it and it will most likely pass. I've even heard it said that people who have very chronic physical or mental illnesses do all their suffering on Earth and will be able to go straight to Heaven. Most of the Saints suffered in some way, some of them like Mother Teresa suffering a horrible Dark Night of the Soul , but still doing what she believed was God's will for her. That is noble, and that is really beautiful. 

It's hard for me sometimes to not have doubts. Especially when I spent the vast majority of my spiritual life doubting and searching for truth. But I have to remember that this, too, is suffering. And there is no need for me to cause myself suffering by being overly scrupulous or having too high of expectations. Not when there are a couple more horrible teenage vampire movies yet to see. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hey, Marty! No cuts!

Always willing to find something to offer up, I, the least crafty person in the world, have decided I want to make my very own Advent wreath! The horror! Admittedly, there is nothing super crafty about a store-bought wreath with some store-bought purple and pink candles and maybe some ribbon. The most strenuously crafty part of this would be the floral wire (or zip ties?) that I may have to use to attach my store-bought candles to said store-bought wreath (I had a good friend recommend that I just put votives in glass cups and place it on top of the wreath. She's going to be a lawyer, I always knew she was smart.) In any event, in order to find out how to embark on this penitent Advent activity, I did the Google to find some good instructions. I came upon this website that makes the claim that Martin Luther single-handedly made the Advent wreath popular. Now, I have done some more research and can't find anything that claims he didn't do this, or that Pope Gregory the Great invented it or anything like that, but let's just say that I have a sneaking suspicion this isn't true.

One of the things I am learning about being Catholic (or openly Catholic, now that I have "come out"), is that a lot of people think they know things about the Catholic Church that simply aren't true. Even Catholics. But I am also finding a good number of Protestants of whom I could say the same thing regarding their religion. Now, I have a degree in history. And religious studies. And I'm a Catholic. So one thing I am pretty sure about is that the Catholic Church is The Original Church. It's hard to argue it, considering that there was no such thing as a Lutheran until 1517  (he probably never fixed the hole in our door, either) or an Anglican until 1547, or dozens of other religions until sometime-- and 95 Theses-- later. But there is an unbroken record of Popes spanning back to the first century. But time and time again I see and hear these things from Protestants about how Catholics ADDED books to the Bible (rather than Protestants taking them out) or how there was an Apostate and all the "real" Christians died out until some angel that was never named in the Bible showed up in the 19th century and showed us all the light. Mental gymnastics notwithstanding, I find it very hard to take this stuff seriously. I know the Catholic church makes claims that, to some ears, sound pompous and elitist (this post I'm sure sounds wonderfully uncharitable), but it makes my head hurt. It's HISTORY. Cold, hard fact. That doesn't mean that you have to accept the theological, liturgical or authoritative claims of The Church. But you certainly have to realize that WE wrote the darn book, we invented the Liturgical calendar (therefore the Advent wreath would have been kind of pointless, regardless of who "invented" it). I know that a lot of Protestants want nothing to do with the Catholic church, but you have to give credit where credit is due. And I promise, if I find anything that can tell me definitively that Martin Luther actually invented the Advent wreath, I will give him the credit for it. But I might only be willing to admit that he did it while still a Catholic monk....

Edit: the Reverend Ken Collins seems like he's not a douche. So, I'm not hating on him at all. Anyone who has the mental clarity and audacity to faithfully and openly live out their Christian faith is good in my book. It's very hard to to do and even harder to do charitably. I should know.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Will I Get a Lump of Coal, Otherwise?

So last night I dreamed about standing in line to go to confession. Literally, just standing in line to go to confession. The thing about it that was weird was that it was in this Eastern Orthodox church and I knew this (I guess) because the church looked a lot like St. Mark's in Venice and also because the priest had on a black cassock and some serious headgear. All I can really remember about the dream was that I kept thinking that I needed to remember to tell him that I was from the Latin Rite and make sure it didn't make a difference.

There is typically a pretty strong emphasis on penance during Lent, but I have been thinking about something Fr. Stephen said in his homily on Sunday and I think there should be more at Advent as well. I know we have penance services here, but I think that's more because they have them twice a year. Anyway, I tend to be one of those people who puts a lot of mental stock into the beginning and end of things. For example, I would never start a diet or an exercise regimen or anything on say, a Wednesday. I would start on a Monday or the first of a month or on my birthday or something. So it seems to make sense to me that maybe we should ready our souls for the symbolic coming of Christ as a testament to our overall readying for his ultimate coming. Besides, having sins on my soul, as I have learned, makes me tired, or cranky, or just generally unhappy, and I can see that going to confession at the beginning of Advent might make the whole stress of the secular Christmas holiday a bit easier to deal with. But confession, the ability to be reconciled and wiped clean, is one of the greatest gifts we have been given as Catholics, and what better time to celebrate this than this season of giving?

So maybe my subconcious was telling me something. I guess I better find out when those penance services are....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"God Doesn't Require Us to Succeed; He Only Requires That You Try"

My darling husband (who deserves all the props in the world for his support) suggested I start this blog with "a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step" because I really didn't know how to start it. Truth is, I still don't. I can't really give you a conversion story (or reversion, as it were), because I don't feel like I have completely converted. I'm still in the middle of it, really, or even closer to the beginning. No road to Damascus, no Tim Staples style wake-up, even. Just me, trying to grasp at something and, as usual, struggling with about a million questions. So I guess here's a brief background: I'm writing this blog because I was born Catholic. And no matter how much I tried to deny it, no matter how much I jokingly referred to myself as "recovering," I still prayed the rosary when I couldn't sleep, still crossed myself when I passed a church and still fasted every Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Catholic Church followed me thought my life, looming like one of those dark Medieval paintings in the background of everything I did. I stopped going to Church at one point because I decided I had too many questions that had no answers-- but I never stopped actually trying to find the answers. Mary brought me back, as she has brought so many people back, when I was trying to prove her and the Church wrong. And somewhere I decided that I needed comfort, stability, faith more than I needed answers. And suddenly, just like that, answers began to show themselves. But I still struggle. In all honesty, it's the struggles, the stumbling blocks that are bringing me here. The things that, if I don't put them somewhere will most likely cause my head to explode. Maybe someone else will find some answers, too, or someone to relate to (it's hard being surrounded by people to whom "it's a mystery" is a viable answer.) But at the very least, I won't keep my husband up at night with all my incessant questions about chapel caps being anti-feminist, how the whole Original Sin thing really worked and why I can't knowingly attend at Society of Pius X church when I just want to see a Latin Mass. At the very least, maybe now we can all get some sleep.