Friday, February 11, 2011

Rules for Rules Sake

So today at work, as I was simultaneously (accidentally) breaking my penance that I said I would do in order to be able to eat meat tonight, I was eating a cinnamon gummy heart and dreamily posited "do you think gelatin counts against my meat abstinence on Fridays?" My former Catholic and MS Lutheran (best friends with a Catholic nun) co-workers said that no, it did not. I googled it. It doesn't.
But it got me thinking about rules and following them just for the sake of following a rule. The meat abstinence is was actually revised in the 1970s to say that it had to be some for of penance rather than just not eating meat (except during Lent-- then you can not eat meat on Fridays). I am guessing this had to do with cultural changes that increased numbers of vegetarians as well as people who ate less meat for health reasons. It then became an idea that you could not eat meat on Fridays, or do some other form of penance. Many Catholics continue to abstain from meat, as it was easy to remember and most didn't do it anyway.
The thing about this rule-- like most things in Catholicism-- is that it's all about intent. Doing the penance is supposed to make us think, but what if you're following the rule and not thinking? We're supposed to remember the Passion and Good Friday and also be participating in redemptive suffering, but can we do that when we're just not eating meat because we're "not supposed to?" For example, down south, they have these huge fish fries and everyone gets together and eats fish and hangs out on Friday evenings. Not much of a penance, is it? My grandmother tends to opt for a ham sandwich and a can of soup on those nights. She is sacrificing her fun night out. Up here, The Hubbs and I could easily opt out and have a lobster dinner, but that is not sacrificing anything-- it's a bit lavish and decadent in the name of sacrifice. I actually find that I tend to focus more on what I am supposed to when I mess up on my abstinence or feel like it's not worthy penance.
So the question is, do you follow a rule just to follow it? Or is it more important to embody the spirit of the rule and not the letter? I think some people would argue that following the rule is important, but I think in this case, I will take the Lutherian position that the spirit of the rule is what matters. What's the use of doing something if you don't know why you're doing it, or it's not doing anything for you spiritually? If you can use the rule to bring about a positive change, then how does it matter if you're eating meat or not?
This is a rule I really try to follow, but I really try not to be scrupulous about it. I also know why I'm doing it, so I feel like there is wiggle room. But I really think this is something that can only be absolved through better catechesis all around.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I read recently that, despite what the media (secular or Protestant) might lead you to believe, there is actually a boom in vocations. That is, more and more young people are becoming part of religious orders.
I have done some thinking about this, and I think I know why: our generation needs the stability. So many of us were raised without any real religion, but rather a cafeteria spirituality that told us to be good people according to our own definitions of "good." We were made to grow up quickly, but coddled so badly to where it rendered us almost unable to grow up at all. We were told that we were the most important things in the world, and that if we got bad grades, it's because the teacher wasn't teaching to our personal learning style-- nevermind that she had 24 other students to teach as well. We were products of divorce, of single moms and dads who worked so hard to make our lives comfortable. No wonder some of us grew up, got put on anti-depressants at the first sign of adversity, blamed society at large for all of our problems and then got religion. I think some of us are just comforted by the rules and rigidity that comes with it. Catholicism, at least.
In my family (my great-grandmother's side), I had 3 great-great aunts who were nuns, a great-great uncle who was a brother, and one that was a monsignor. That's a lot of vocations for one family (even though there were 17 kids). When I was a kid, I used to want to be a nun. A lot of this stemmed from movies-- Julie Andrews was a nun, after all. But as I got older, before I shunned all ideas of God and anything that resembled Him, it was something I really thought about. It wasn't a calling, per se, but as a kid it's hard to ignore. I'm married now, obviously, so this is not an option, but I often think of those aunts of mine and think how happy their lives must have been. Modern women, women of my generation (and I would count myself as one of them in some ways) say "women should want more than that for themselves." But my great aunts had college degrees in the mid 1920's-- something very few women had back then. And some orders of nuns now are called to serve their communities through social work and teaching. But what's more, they have time to pursue the things that make them happy: learning and reading and prayer and teaching and travel. Many of them are theologians who research and write. They're academics who don't need grants!
I think our modern sensibilities are scandalized by the idea of nuns. They are so unlike the "modern woman" and yet, I think they are, in some ways, the most feminist women out there. They don't wear makeup, or worry about their hair or clothes or their weight. They can't be materialistic, and they don't worry about men! They live according to their own wills, with educations (most require you to have a BA before you can profess) and assuredness in their life choice. They don't do what society tells them to do and they aren't the woman society tells them to be. And isn't that the true definition of feminist?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rosary Madness!

Here is the second rosary The Hubbs and I made. This one is for a friend of mine who is not technically Catholic, but I think she might be more Catholic than at least a few people who attend Church at my Parish. I chose red because it looks like her, and also it is the symbolic color of the Holy Spirit. I got her a little pamphlet on how to pray the rosary, but I am looking forward to teaching her as well. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

We May Imitate What It Contains, and Obtain What it Promises

I love rosaries. My grandmother taught me how to pray the rosary one summer shortly after my uncle died in 1992. She was serious about the rosary, and still is. It's something that she gave me besides her smile and impeccable fashion sense. I have actually started to collect rosaries because I love them so much. I like old ones, with interesting beads, the kind that look like they might be worn down from years of thoughtful prayers throughout a person's life: for a good husband, a better job, enough money to buy a decent car, to help their loved ones get better, to have a healthy pregnancy, for the repose of the souls of family members who have died,  for comfort in their last days. A person's entire life could be prayed out on a rosary.
The rosary is a Marian devotion, a meditation on the mysteries of the life of Christ. I find it helps me think about Jesus and his Mother, it comforts me, and it never fails to put me to sleep. But the rosary is powerful, too. Mary has never failed to answer the prayers I have placed as intentions for a rosary, and if those answers are slow in coming, she has always given me patience and peace in the meantime.
Recently, I thought it might be fun and interesting to make rosaries. There are so many beautiful crucifixes, center medals and beads to put to together and so many saints to make chaplets for. As I have mentioned before, I am notoriously un-crafty. I have many, many creative and crafty ideas, but no real talent for their execution. So when Hubbs gave me a rosary making kit for Christmas, I was a bit nervous. Turns out, I need his help (I can't get the loops to be equal-sized) and he needs mine (he can't get the chain onto the beads), so it's a team effort. We finished it tonight, and I am hoping to make many, many more!

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.