Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cultural Heaven

So, for those of you who don't know this about me, I have a good bit of clergy in my family. Three of my great aunts were nuns (Sister John Berchmans, Sister Teresita and Sister Veronica), one of my great-great uncles was a Monsignor, and one was a Brother. Yep. Five out of the seventeen kids that made up my great-grandmother's family! That's a lot of vocations for one group!
One of the things that initially drew me back to my faith was my culture. My family is Cajun, and one of the definitions (at least originally) of "a Cajun" was that one had to be Catholic. Heck, that's part of the reason they were expelled from their homeland of Acadia in the first place. I figured, if people in my not-to-distant family were willing to die for their faith, who was I to think I was too good for it?
One of Uncle Jules' projects
In the Cajun culture, Catholicism is everywhere: from the trinity that we put into our food to the traditional Mardi Gras. Even those Friday fish fries or crawfish boils are a telltale sign of a deep-seeded faith that has slowly just become part of who we are, even if it's not always part of what we do. We even have our own Marian patroness: Stella Maris. My  great-great uncle Jules Daigle (the monsignor) made it part of his mission as a Parish Priest in Welsh, Louisiana to preserve the Cajun culture and language. He was very involved with the youth, and I am sure part of what he tried to teach them was to be proud of who they were: Cajun Catholics. Lately I have felt very close to my Uncle Jules and close to his mission. I have been praying to him to help me discern if I have a vocation in trying to preserve the culture as well. (And before any of you freak out about praying "to" my Uncle, let me remind you that we don't pray "to" people in heaven as if they can answer our prayers. We pray to them to pray for us, just like you would ask someone still on Earth, but the deceased have the added benefit of being a lot closer to God than any of us.)
July 28 commemorates Le Grand Derangement (The Great Upheaval) in Canada, and I am thinking about my Uncle and my culture a lot these days. This was the time when the English (and American colonists) went into Acadia (now Nova Scotia) and expelled the Acadians-- sending them across the country, ripping families apart. Catholicism means "universal" and I think about those Acadians, some alone, in their new "homes" going into a Church and finding something familiar and comforting. I see anti-Catholicism everywhere, in benign places that people who aren't Catholic may never even see. I think about my little culture, so misunderstood in the greater American culture today, and the outposts of who we are. I think of the new Evangelical and non-denominational Christianity, widespread across the Bible Belt, seeping into the Cajun Prairie and claiming people as the English once did, using the same vicious rhetoric against us, our culture (French) and our traditional religion. I can't help but draw parallels in the way Hispanic culture is looked at today and see a common denomination in incense, the Virgin Mary, a tendency to insulate against outside influences. I can't help but equate so much of my culture with Catholicism.
I can't speak Cajun. I can speak Provincial French (badly), and I can say a few words here and there. I grew up in Colorado, not Church Point, so I was removed from it. A displaced Cajun displaced further. It is no wonder then, that all I can preserve, in a way, of my tradition is my religion, my faith.This story isn't singular, it is echoed in the lives and words of emigrants from all over the world: Polish, Irish, Vietnamese. Spanning over hundreds of years that is what we, the Cajuns, had, and hopefully what we will always have. I know Uncle Jules is praying for that, as well. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bold and Brazen

You can purchase this shirt
Back in November, Fr. Steven gave a wonderful homily that I have been thinking about more and more. He is wont to tell stories in his homilies and is often very funny. This particular one was a story about how he had run to the grocery store still in his vestments because he had a little time before guests were coming over for dinner and needed to grab a desert, and in his rush had not changed. He was standing in the bakery section of the Safeway, in full attire, holding a fruit tart and a package of cupcakes and trying to decide what to get when he realized this man was looking at him and giving him a dirty look. Fr. Steven decided to ignore him, and go on with his decision-making. The man would not stop staring. He said he really wanted to say something, but was quite aware that it would not look good if a Catholic priest, completely decked out, holding a fruit tart turned to your average Joe and yelled “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?!” Instead, he just said “good evening” smiled, took his dessert and walked away. The moral of the story was that we should all be unabashedly Catholic. That we should not be ashamed to stick out like sore thumbs in this world of ours, to be beacons of light, or subjects of curiosity. He said it is of utmost importance because no one else is ashamed of their religion, not the Methodists, not the Mormons, and certainly not the atheists. 

That homily came at a right time for me, as I had recently gotten into a…. discussion on Facebook with a friend of mine and felt ashamed that now everyone knew I was one of those “crazy Catholics.” Sometimes I was even ashamed of being Catholic among Catholics; I struggled with wearing my mantilla at first because I thought people would view me as trying to look more pious than everyone else. I keep revisiting this statement over and over again, whenever I feel like I should bite my tongue so as not to upset or offend someone or back off of my beliefs when I come up against someone who disagrees with them. Not long ago, one of Hubbs’ co-workers (who had at one point straight-up grilled me on my religious beliefs at one of his company functions) called me a “religious fanatic” because she misunderstood something I had told her during the grilling session. Yesterday, my co-worker (who I like very much) made a comment about how practicing NFP couldn’t be good for my marriage. She gave all the worldly reasons “Isn’t it hard not being able to get caught up in the passion of the moment?” “Doesn’t your husband have a hard time with it?” “I don’t understand why you can’t just use condoms” She drew a direct parallel between NFP and my husband possibly cheating on me; she even went so far as to making me feel bad that Hubbs is more open to having a baby sooner rather than later and therefore I was denying him sex because I don’t want to have kids right now. Yikes. I didn’t know what to say. So I told her what I know. I told her the reasons behind NFP, I told her that I feel more respected, cherished and loved in my marriage than I ever did before we started using it, I told her it was a mutual decision entirely, and that Hubbs actually pushed for it more than I did in the beginning. I told her how we have a different level of intimacy because he understands all about what happens in my body now, whereas most husbands only know that their wives are on their periods and therefore can’t have sex (bummer). I felt like I did a good job stating my position and being unabashedly Catholic. I’m not gonna lie: I was totally offended. But I also felt sad that she is so of this world that she can’t even really understand, because she is too worried about her husband’s urges and whether or not he will cheat on her if she doesn’t give in to them. I felt bad about it for about 10 minutes, I really did. Then I was angry, and then I was glad that I stood my ground on it.

Is this what it’s like to be unabashedly Catholic? Do I have to defend myself against people who have issues with my beliefs? It seems so unfair, doesn't it? I’m not running around calling people out on their beliefs, asking them explain themselves, rolling my eyes, crossing my arms and saying “well, I guess I just don’t understand.” I mean, come on, anyone of any other faith system (including none at all) can put out books every single day about how Catholicism is wrong, but you tell someone about a new book coming out called “Why Catholics are Right” and people scoff as if I said “Why people actually have three ears.” But then, only Catholics had their religion illegal in this country founded on religious freedom until after the Revolutionary war. Only Catholics are being accused of allowing illegal immigration in an effort to stage a reconquista and “Romanize” America. Only Catholics are standing out like sore thumbs in a secular world and PC country. So yes, let’s be unabashedly Catholic. Let’s tell people all those “strange” things we do like not eating meat on Friday and practicing NFP and, oh, I don’t know, standing by our beliefs regardless of what people think of us and them. Some of my not-so-distant ancestors actually died for the right to be Catholic, and I am afraid someone will give me a dirty look? If the world has a problem with us, I for one will assume I am doing something right. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Selling God in Sin City

So, after our convalidation, Hubbs and I decided that second wedding = second honeymoon. Being cheap and not having a ton of time off, we decided to go to Vegas. I should add that our first honeymoon was in New Orleans, so we apparently really like debaucherous party capitals as our honeymoon spots. We ate a lot of good food, and it was really, really hot.
One thing that struck me about Vegas was the idea of "sin city." That reputation is absolutely true: almost all the 7 deadly sins are there:

1. Lust: strip clubs, escorts, scantily clad people on every corner
2. Gluttony: did someone say 24 hour all you can eat buffet?
3. Greed: "if I just put one more dollar in this machine, I will hit it big this time!"
I don't own the rights
4. Sloth: you pick: either staying up till all hours of the night and then sleeping all day, OR trying to make a fortune with the roll of the dice rather than work
5. Wrath: I got nothin' on this one... except maybe people being ticked when they lose all their money
6. Envy: Vegas is FULL of very expensive shopping, placed there to wish you could afford it, to get you to gamble more to win the money needed to purchase the items
7. Pride: exclusivity of night clubs, etc.

You would think that Vegas is a pretty Godless city, and indeed I would say it is. Probably no more Godless than any other city in America, but it's all squished into a 50 mile radius that makes it pretty much the center of everything I just listed. You only have to go about 3 steps out of your hotel to have a sin shoved in your face, literally. One night, Hubbs and I decided to go to the Bellagio to see the famous fountains. On every block, there are 2 or more people handing out flyers for strip clubs and escorts. They aren't too pushy, you don't have to talk to them and you can walk past them without feeling like they are going to chase you down or anything. But on one corner there was a gentleman handing out flyers about God.  People pretty much walked past him and didn't say anything, but there was a bit of grumbling. How interesting that people seemed more annoyed with someone speaking about his religion than being handed lewd pictures of airbrushed women. I wanted to stop and shake his hand and tell him to literally not lose the faith. Because the porn and the gambling and alcohol sells itself. They don't need people on the corners handing that stuff out to passers-by, ut I'm sure it brings in business or they wouldn't do it. But of all the cocktail waitresses in their tiny little outfits and spike heels, the Elvis impersonators, the night-shift card-dealers and acrobats in shows, this guy had the hardest job on The Strip. Now, normally, this kind of thing turns my stomach. I will admit to a slightly sick fascination with talking to Jehovah's Witnesses (the ones I used to engage in discussion with when I was in high school still bother my mom from time-to-time) and I love it when the LDS missionaries come to my door, all clean cut and not knowing what they are about to get themselves into. People standing in public areas preaching gets under my skin in a way that I can't really explain, in the same way contemporary worship music and guitar masses do. I think it has to do with that sort of thing somehow always feeling directly contradictory to my Catholic brain. Or maybe because the beliefs they usually profess are thinly veiled threats or outright bigotry. But for some reason, that night, in that sea of all of that, it seemed weirdly refreshing.
It was inspiring to see someone out there, working hard, doing what he felt was right. And I sincerely hope he never loses his hope that people can rise above what is laid out for them as a proverbial banquet and strive for something a little...higher.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Another Bright Maidens Post-- to shake up the views being posted.

Heart Grenade
I have three (count 'em) three tattoos. I got my first one on my 21st birthday, after going through what I pray was the roughest emotional period in my life. It's a heart grenade a la Green Day's American Idiot, and, at the time, I felt like it was the best symbolization of how I felt and what I was going through. It's the only tattoo of mine that anyone can see, and that's only if it's summer time and I am wearing anything shorter than a pair of jeans, and it's not very big. I got the next two within the next 6 months. One is a Flying V guitar with the words "In Love With Rock n Roll" that I got after having a dream about it and going through yet another awful break up and the third I got after a guy in a bar in Rome told me that it was bad luck to have tattoos in even numbers. She's a red-headed pin up girl named Debra Jean. Both of those are completely covered most of the time and sometimes you can see half of Debra Jean if I'm wearing a swimsuit.
I don't regret any of them, and I actually love them. Not surprisingly, though, I have the most emotional attachment still to the first one and the complicated, sometimes convoluted philosophy behind the symbol and what my poor, sorrow-addled heart felt at the time. I don't identify with the feelings anymore (thank God), but I can look back on it somewhat fondly in the way you can look back at a picture of yourself in Jr. High and know you look a little dorky but can always say "that was the style!"

People sometimes ask me what the Catholic church's philosophy on tattoos are, and I usually shrug and say "not a sin, but not recommended." The book of Leviticus advises against tattoos, and Orthodox Jews will not get tattooed. They are actually not even allowed to have them or they cannot be buried in Jewish cemeteries. This rule is not enforced in Catholicism, and tattoos aren't really talked about all that much.

When I was taking my courses for my Religious Studies degree, I took a class called Religion and Society. We had to write a paper on something that bonded people in a similar way as a religion, but wasn't one. I chose tattoos. I walked around town and interviewed random people about their tattoos and what they meant to them. Almost everyone had a beautiful story behind their tattoos. Some were memorials to loved ones, some were names of their children or beloved pets, some were symbols they felt close to: of their familial heritage, their religion, their lives over the years. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirits and anyone who has ever been to St. Peter's in Rome can tell you that temples to God are always adorned with ornaments and reminders of why we are there. Sure, there are some awful tattoos out there-- some lame and ill-advised tribal suns, Playboy bunny symbols and bad art. But there are some really beautiful ones that people feel strongly about, and feel connected to. In a world where not everyone has a religion to fall back on, they bind people to the things they feel strongly about. There are Catholics that wear scapulars, Miraculous Medals, crucifixes, saints of every shape and size around their neck day in and day out. It's an outward sign of who we are, where we come from, and hopefully where we're going. What do people without these comforts have? Tattoos: four-leaf clovers, roses for their mom, rosaries around their ankle. Religious people can have a myriad of respectful, beautiful tattoos that can bring glory to our beliefs and history. Anyone who has tattoos will eventually be asked about them and so they could even be used as an evangelization tool.
St. Padre Pio. I don't own the rights, but the artist's name is Alex de Passe.
Sure, tattoos in society might be more trendy than anything, they might still be maligned in general society, but they can't ever truly be discounted.