Blog Template Theology of the Body: April 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010

Books for Babies

My favorite blogger in the whole world is Mrs. J at More Water. She is my oldest friend, and a dearest friend, and she celebrates God's sheer goodness every time she writes. Because I've always known her to be a guru of English literature, I asked her for her top recommendations for beautiful and edifying books for babies and children. Here it is...

For Babies, 6months-12 months

Anything by author Lois Lenski

Pat the Bunny

Usborne Touchy Feely books

The Toddler Busy Bible

Matthew Van Fleet: Tails, Alphabet, etc.

For Toddlers, 12months-24months

Jane Yolen's rhyme books:
Dimity Duck
How do Dinosaurs...
Here We Go

Karma Wilson, The Bear Snores On (and others in a series)

Margaret Wise Brown, The Runaway Bunny
The Wonderful House

Iza Tripani, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, How Much is that Doggie

The Snowman

Bow Wow, a First Book of Sounds

Eric Carle's Caterpillar, Cricket, Ladybug,
We're Going on a Bear Hunt

Martha Alexander, Poems and Prayers for the Very Young

The Jesus Story Book

Margaret Wise Brown, Barbara Cooney, Christmas in the Barn
Hush Little Baby

Winkin Blinkin and Nod, illustrated by Cooney

Tasha Tudor, The 23rd Psalm, First Prayers

Barbara Cooney, Miss Rumphius

Christina Rosetti's Children's Poems

Wonderful Children's Illustrators:

Peter Sis
Barbara Cooney
Trina Shart Hyman
Lois Ehert
Lois Lenski
Garth Williams
Karen Katz
Jan Brett
Martha Alexander
Eloise Wilkin
Peter Spier
Gennady Spirin
Arthur Rackam

For Older Children:

Black Beauty
The Secret Garden
Anything by George McDonald
Beatrix Potter
The (original) Velveteen Rabbit

Other places to find good books:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lurkers All

When I first started blogging a few years ago, it was a fun thing to post a lurker alert, so let's do it again! If you are a reader of this blog, I would love to hear from you. I've turned the comments on for this purpose- and if you have any recommendations for improvement of this blog, please share them!

Nice to meet you...

Ecumenical Acumen: A Beautiful Sermon and a Surprising Twist

These reflections by Fr. Ray Ryland were passed on to me via Marcus Grodi's March 2010 newsletter.

The question is, how are we Christians to be united in our Lord Jesus?

Not only does Jesus will that His people be one- He has provided the means by which they can be one- indeed, the only means.

In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church XVIII, we read 'Jesus Christ...set up the Holy Church by entrusting the apostles with their mission as He Himself had been sent by the Father... He willed that their successors, the bishops... should be shepherds in the Church until the end of the world... in order that the episcopate itself... might be one and undivided, He put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him He set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion.' And so, as successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff is 'the perpetual and visible source of the unity... of the bishops of the whole company of the faithful.' soon as someone breaks with the papacy and starts his own denomination (like Martin Luther and John Calvin) that denomination starts to break apart... there is no end to that proliferation. There are at least 39,000 separated denominations in the world today. And several hundred new ones are being created every year.

(Thus) the goal of the Catholic Church's ecumenical endeavor is quite clear. As the Decree on Ecumenism XXIV states, 'this holy objective (of the Church's ecumenical efforts) is the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ.' Repeatedly in her magisterial statements, the Church makes it plain that the Roman Catholic Church is 'the one and only Church of Christ.'

The Catholic approach to overcoming Christian disunity is unique. The Church declares that Christian unity is not something to be achieved, but something to be 'the unity of the one and only Church, which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning. This unity...(exists) in the Catholic Church, as something she can never lose.' (Decree on Ecumenism IV)

...We Catholic need what many Protestant can offer us... (they) have much to teach us about personal witness and evangalization... (yet) so long as they remain apart from the Catholic Church's communion, they will always be hopelessly divided... they can never know Christ on His terms until they allow themselves to be drawn into the communion of Christ's one true Church, (so that they can) listen to and obey Jesus Christ speaking to them directly through His Church."

Edit: Check out this April 22 article in Christianity Today, which describes a recent attempt at the Wheaton Theology Conference to get the bottom of Protestant Christian divisions, which the author rightly lumps together as "schisms." I like that kind of clarity. Even more striking is the article's report of a statement made by N.T. Wright, celebrated Pauline scholar and current Anglican episcopal figure. Within weeks of reporting his retirement from that position, Wright responded to loaded questions at the Wheaton conference by stating that "nothing justifies schism." Could Wright's decision to leave his schismatic position in Anglicanism be related to this astute and proper claim? It might be interesting to watch what happens.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dallas Ordains Two Bishops

Monsignor Mark Seitz and Father Douglas Deshotel were ordained as Assistant Bishops for the Diocese of Dallas yesterday at the beautiful Cathedral Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

It was glorious; I turned down my invitation as a 3OP postulant, and instead joined the standing room only crowd outside of the Cathedral, which was really the best place to be. We stood in the sunshine, surrounded by the sounds of drums, clapping, and dancing, and watched the procession enter the sanctuary. As they passed by, we were just feet away from the sixty+ young seminarians who followed behind the crucifer, Archbishop Jose' Gomez, Cardinal DiNardo, Bishop Ferrel, and hundreds of diocesan priests. The crowd outside freely called to their favorite priests and applauded their pastors and confessors as they passed. It was an amazing congregation; there was the little Indian priest who valiantly offers daily Mass and two daily confessions at the chapel of St. Jude for the workers and homeless downtown, there was Msgr. Zimmerman, who presides over one of the wealthiest parishes in the world, there was Fr. Roch and his fellow Cistercians, wise and kind, and our own pastor, Fr. John, who cares for over six thousand families and remains cheerful about it.

Working at home yesterday afternoon, I listed to Bishop Ferrel's homily over the radio and was struck by his clarion call for the ordinands to devote themselves to their own prayer and study of the Scripture, so that they might better preach the Gospel and assist the laity, their revered co-laborers in Christ's mission in the world. In turn, the new suffragan bishops addressed the faithful before giving their first espicopal blessings, and they thanked their families most of all for teaching them to love the Church, unconditionally.

Truly, we are blessed here in Dallas by the presence of two such holy men to represent Christ our Shepherd to the hundreds of thousands of Christians in Dallas who need their leadership. Praise be.

Monday, April 26, 2010

St. Bridget

St. Bridget was a fourteenth century wife and mother who mourned the early death of her husband and then moved to Rome for a life of religious devotion, taking her children with her.

She is especially interesting to me because she vividly honored the Church's understanding of her nuptial union with Christ, and in conesequence, St. Bridget was an avid defender and promoter of the Church's practice of indulgences, which I spend most of my time thinking about. Some excerpts from her recorded Visions and Prophecies are very striking; while obtaining indulgences as “the compendium to heaven because of the indulgence that the holy pontiffs have merited by their prayers,” Bridget was partly responsible for the decision of Pope Clement VI to proclaim the 14th century indulgence granted in the bull Unigenitus, in which the Pope definitively lays out the Scriptural basis for indulgences as proceeding from the copious merits of the Passion of Christ. Bridget also believed herself to be instructed by Christ in a vision to request the promulgation of an indulgence associated with the Church of St. Peter’s in Chains in Rome, for the benefit of the cloister of the Blessed Virgin in Vadstena, Sweden, and her language can be construed as reflecting the idea of a dower; speaking to the Pope, Christ utters as follows:

"Now I want you not only to confirm (an order that should be founded) by your authority but also to the it the strength of your blessing, for you are my vicar on earth. I dictated it and endowed it with a spiritual endowment by granting it indulgences." (Prophecies Chapter 137, page 565).

Bridget’s personal quest for the “spiritual goods” of indulgences was confirmed by visions and interior locutions which confirmed their efficacy and the authority of the Church to grant them; in particular, St. Bridget reported a vision in which Christ and the Blessed Mother “assured Bridget of the efficacy of the Church’s ministrations…(and that) a pope who is without heresy possesses full and complete authority to loose from God through his succession to Peter.” Just as Shaffern points out that Bridget’s endorsement of indulgences flourished when the “spiritual vanguard of the later medieval centuries… represent a great flowering of mystical ecstacy,” which included the explicitly nuptial spirituality of St. Catherine of Sienna, the rubric for Bridget’s confidence in the Church’s indulgence grants emerged from her personal, cultural, and spiritual understanding of the meaning and implications of the Church’s espousal to His Church. In the first place, Bridget makes clear her affirmation of Christ as the “husband” of the chaste member within His espoused Church in her Prophecies and Revelations, (in which she also refers to indulgences at least twenty-seven times); so espoused by responsive love, the chaste soul must be purified by the acts of reparation associated with indulgences, and receives her spouse’s “rewards.” As Christ speaks to the soul in Bridget’s account,

"I have chosen you and taken you to myself as my bride in order to show you the ways of the world and my divine secrets… you are mine by right because of this great love of yours, and I will provide for you because of this…it is the obligation of the bride to be ready when the bridegroom wants to celebrate the wedding so that she will be properly dressed and pure. You purify yourself if your thoughts are always on your sins… the bride should also have the insignia of her husband on her chest, which means that you should observe and take heed of the favord and good deeds which I have done for you… how lovingly and sweetly I redeemed you when I died for you and restored your heavenly inheritance to you- if you want to have it… I bought back the inheritance (for you) which (mankind) had lost because of his sin… but if you, my bride, desire nothing but me… I will give you the most precious and lovely reward." (Prophecies, Chapter 2, page 4)

These spousal promises are immediately connected to the need and means of penitence which are provided as an aspect of the spousal covenant in the same chapter:

"Therefore, as you have sinned in all your limbs, so shall you also make satisfaction and penance in every limb. But, because of your good will and your purpose of atoning for your sins, I shall change my justice into mercy by foregoing painful punishement for but a little penance. Therefore, embrace and take upon yourself a little work, so that you may be made clean of sin and reach the great reward sooner. For the bride should grow tired working alongside her bridegroom so that she may all the more confidently take her rest with him.
(Prophecies, Chapter 2, 5)

These personal revelations which St. Bridget received are encouraging to me as I complete the third chapter of my dissertation (a milestone, I've heard); but what is more important to me as I prepare for the birth of my baby is the fact that St. Bridget took her daughter with her on almost every indulgenced pilgrimage that she was given. I've had several appointments to share with various local groups on the theory and practice of indulgences, and by God's grace the audiences have been warmly enthusiastic about the topic; and while I've long gotten over any stage fright regarding this controversial topic, what sobers my heart more than anything is the prospect of succesfully handing the same ideas on to my most important audience: my children. How in the world can I help them to see the beauties and importance of what the Church offers, in a frequently misunderstood practice? How will I be able to teach them about this practice while avoiding the mercantile reduction of the doctrine, and instead promoting a vision of their authority to participate with Christ in the redemption which He gives, and in the rescue of poor souls from their own woundedness?

What St. Bridget instantiates, and sucesfully at that, given that her children followed her, is the fact that an indulgenced life, a life lived with the general intention to offer satisfaction for our sins in honor of Christ's all-sufficient offering of Himself, cannot be a life of calculation. It must be a life of charitable trust in the Church which Christ gave us, of humility before the world as we live out our testimony precisely by affirming our sinfulness and our need for mercy, and of mission as we offer our little acts of worship to rescue those who are still imprisoned by their sins and brokenness.

And for anyone who tries to hand these ideas on... as with obtaining indulgences and passing their understanding on to others, there can be no other reliance but on the fact that God alone will "give the increase" for the little efforts that we plant every day on our way to join Him in Heaven (He wants us to be there even more than we do).

St. Bridget, pray for us.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Natural Family Planning: Theology of the Body in Action

To many people, the phrase “Natural Family Planning” brings to mind the archaic and inaccurate methods of determining fertility, such as the rhythm method. Significant research has resulted in a complete reworking of the old methods into a combination of rules that have yielded a 99.9% rate of effectiveness when followed correctly.

As a volunteer Teaching Couple trained and certified through the Couple to Couple League, we present the Sympto-Thermal Method of Natural Family Planning. In this modern method, husbands and wives practice fertility awareness by charting and interpreting the daily-observed universal signs of fertility. Previous cycle history is also incorporated in this method. Natural Family Planning can be used to achieve or postpone pregnancy throughout all fertile years, including postpartum times and premenopause. Women with irregular and long cycles can also employ this method. Recently, some doctors versed in Natural Family Planning have been able to make reproductive health diagnoses with the observations charted by their patients.

The Couple to Couple League’s class series model consists of three monthly classes, approximately two and one half hous in length. During each monthly session the science, theology and particular details of the Sympto-Thermal Method of Natural Family Planning are explained. Elective classes for postpartum and premenopause, in addition to update classes for couples who learned Natural Family Planning many years ago, are offered frequently. Answers to individual questions and chart interpretations are also available on a consultation basis. Taught in the context of the Theology of the Body, and its exhortation to love divinely as God loves, Natural Family Planning respects the innate dignity of both spouses by encouraging the complete acceptance of each other - including their fertility - as “one flesh.”

Couples who live out Natural Family Planning have reported numerous benefits including: stronger marriages, better communication between spouses, and a monthly ”second honeymoon” period following times of abstinence. The Sympto-Thermal Method of Natural Family Planning is also less costly, more effective and because it is 100% natural, lacks all of the unpleasant side effects contributed to other readily available methods of family planning. Finally, in situations where pregnancy is intended, Natural Family Planning is instantly reversible and can be utilized to aid conception.

Unlike other methods of family planning, Natural Family Planning is morally and ethically acceptable in the eyes of the Catholic Church. In his Letter to Teachers of Natural Family Planning, Pope John Paul II states that Natural Family Planning “supports the process of freedom and emancipation of women and peoples from unjust family planning programs which bring in their sad wake the various forms of contraception, abortion and sterilization.” With this freedom, Natural Family Planning fosters a shared responsibility between spouses regarding the spacing of their children and family size. This virtuous application of each couple’s fertility knowledge is “Responsible Parenthood.”

For more information or to sign up for an upcoming class series visit the Couple to Couple Leagues website at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ecumenical Acumen Excursus: The Church Triumphant and The Ecumenism of Return

A few posts ago, I wrote about contemporary ecumenism's resistance to a so-called triumphalism in the Catholic Church; this seemingly bad attitude of the Catholic Church would become most blatant in the Church's assertion that Christ's members belong with her, with His body, and those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of being separated from her- whether by birth into a non-Catholic family or by misguided personal decision- should return, for their own fourishing, and for the realization of the Church's universality in a world which so desparately needs it. Modern liberal ecumenists would like to forget or downplay the fact that the above really is something like what the Catholic Church believes and proposes about herself, but there is just no getting around it: the Catholic Church wants YOU, always has, always will, and she does not think that you properly belong in a separated, denominated Christian community that does not, cannot enjoy the fullness of Christ.

What about seeming assertions to the contrary? There are statements a'plenty by non-Catholic ecumenists (who like to put words into the Church's mystical mouth) that deny that the Church holds forth an "ecumenism of return;" there are even comments by Catholic spokesmen and women that might seem to imply the same thing. And well they might. The thing to keep in mind is, regardless of the eloquence of "
mainstream RC ecumenical literature -from Congar to Bea to Willebrands to Kasper, and many others, including Pope John Paul II," (if I may quote a resident liberal ecumenist), even regardless of off-hand remarks made by Cardinal Kasper or the Holy Father himself, the Church is not run or defined by the despotism of ad hoc remarks offered in eloquent commentary. She has been entrusted with the mission of making disciples of all nations by Christ Himself, and taking that call seriously, the Church issues her official teaching only with great care, reflection, and consensus.

There is a hierarchy of proposals in the Catholic Church; there are dogmas which are proclaimed with infallibility, given the Holy Spirit's promises to guide His Church; there are encyclicals which propose definitively, and which require the religious assent of the faithful as an exercise of faith, hope, and love; and then there is midrash, which can be taken up or left behind by the faithful in good conscience. And when a Catholic responds to modern ecumenism, he will properly represent the Catholic tradition only when he responds within the bounds and context established by the Church's explicit and authoritative statements on point (on the other hand, this would not be the case if the Catholic respondant referred instead to a hodge-podge of personal midrash, selected according to to his own personal whims de jour).

In other words, even the seemingly accomodationist commentary of the highest Vatican official in an address to those who are persistently separated from the Catholic Church does not diminish or posit an official contradiction to the definitive statement on point:
“… the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it…” (Pope Pius XI, Encylical Mortalium Animos (#10), Jan. 6, 1928).

The same sentiment is affirmed in the definitive statements of Vatican II; Lumen Gentium VIII (1964) insistst as follows:

"This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity."

Even the beautiful encyclical Ut Unum Sint of John Paul II (1995), which liberal ecumenists like to tout as a rebuttal of Catholic "triumphalism," refuses to equate schismatic and defective "ecclesial communities" with the fulness of Christ's Catholic Church, to which every Christian is called; God's plan of gathering all Christians into unitiy is identified as the particular prerogative and vocation of the Catholic Church, such that she cannot be identified as one disparate community among many to be gathered into a nebulous consensus; (V) the encyclical holds that the unity bestowed by the Holy Spirit "does not merely consist in the gathering of people as a collection of individuals, but rather is a unity constituted by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and hierarchical communion," which the Church identifies as fully present only within her body (IX); the encyclical affirms that the Catholic Church has alone "been preserved in unity, with all the means with which God wishes to endow his Church, and this despite the often grave crises which have shaken her, the infidelity of some of her ministers, and the faults into which her members daily fall." (XI) We could go on, but we can conclude just as well with this striking paragraph XIV of the same encyclical:

All these elements (of grace present in separated Christian communities) bear within themselves a tendency towards unity, having their fullness in that unity. It is not a matter of adding together all the riches scattered throughout the various Christian Communities in order to arrive at a Church which God has in mind for the future. In accordance with the great Tradition, attested to by the Fathers of the East and of the West, the Catholic Church believes that in the Pentecost Event God has already manifested the Church in her eschatological reality, which he had prepared "from the time of Abel, the just one". This reality is something already given. Consequently we are even now in the last times. The elements of this already-given Church exist, found in their fullness in the Catholic Church."

In short, the "triumphalism" of the Church's definitive self-understanding is not really triumphalism at all, though it is understandable how a liberal ecumenist might resort to that accusation when feeling whiny; rather, the Church is merely willing to recognize that the will of her Lord does not return to Him void, and that in as much as His Word has gone forth into all the world, the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is Christ's present gift, ready to be found by all those who seek her in obedience to Christ.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Catholic's Biblical Problem with "Private Interpretation" of "All-Sufficient" Scripture

In the first place, those who promote the idea that the individual believer exercises sole authority over his own Bible fail to notice St. Paul's explicit statement to Timothy that it is the Church of the living God- not the Canon which it produced and protects- which is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).

Secondly, those who argue that St. Paul "commends himself to the conscience" of his audience fail to notice that Paul commends *himself,* and his repeated claims to personal apostolic authority, to the consciences of his audience (II Corinthians 4), while he continually rebukes them for adopting alternative teaching based on their private judgment. (I Timothy 1, II Peter 2, Colossians 2, etc.)

Thirdly, the proposal that St. Paul "encourages private interpretation" explicitly contradicts the mandate that there is NO private interepretation of/by the prophets (II Peter 1); rather, "the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets," within the apostolic community (I Corinthians 14)... and all of this within the Church, which the Holy Spirit inaugurated in the persons of the apostles, to the be the fullness of Christ which filleth all in all (Ephesians 1), wherein we submit to one another out of the fear of the Lord (Ephesians 5).

Finally, it is perhaps most important to keep in mind that if private interpretation is the order of the day, then Christians will never believe and confess the same thing, as Paul urges in I Corintians 1:10, nor will they ever be one as Christ Himself commands in John 17; and to presume that each and every Christian is sufficiently responsive to the Holy Spirit to make accurate and true interpretation of the Scriptures every time is to flirt with the heresy of Pelegianism (or Montanism, which is even more fun)

For the Protestant proposals that the believer stands as his own authority over his Bible, I Timothy 3 is pretty clear about the criterion for those who resist the authority which God has set in place. It is the "spirit of antichrist" described in I John which attempts to divide Christ (and His Scriptures) from the Church, His visible Body in the world, the fruit of His coming to us in the flesh, not between the covers of a holy book.

"As the depositary and guardian of Scripture (the Church) is the diffusion point for its illuminating power, which alone can make our history intelligible. And thus she leads us to Christ, by many ways which all converge. In her, God makes Himself continually visible to the eyes of those who see wisdom." - Henri de Lubac, Splendor of the Church 46.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Down with The Times, Up with The New Yorker

Although I have been pretty down on the media lately, let today's post demonstrate just how nuanced yours truly can be...

First, kudos to the truly elegant and informed New Yorker magazine for recently casting Catholic religious life in a positive light; a recent article features the celebrated fashion designer Brunello Cucinelli, who along with his wife, has for a long time been a friend and supporter of the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, where American vocations are flourishing. Towards the end of the article, the writer explains Brunello’s fascination with things Benedictine and in particular with the work of the monastery, and even offers many good quotations from the monestary's abbot, Fr. Cassian. You can find an abstract of the article here, which describes how "the next project he (Cucinelli) hopes to undertake in Solomeo is the construction of a “sacred park” in the hilltop woodland... (described in) a visit to a monastery in Norcia, where Cucinelli’s 'spiritual father,' Father Cassian Folsom, resides."

...But now, more characteristically, the bad news from the American press.

Today's New York Times marked the 5th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI by asserting that the sexual abuse scandal is "growing" and is "quickly defining his papacy." Furthermore, the pope has "alienated Muslims, Jews, Anglicans and even many Roman Catholics." Yikes. Although their own responses often need to be taken with a grain of salt, the Catholic League rebuts as follows- and I found it worth repeating:

"In point of fact, the scandal ended about a quarter century ago: the timeline when most of the abuse took place was the mid-60s to the mid-80s. The only thing "growing" is coverage of abuse cases extending back a half-century, something the Times has contributed to mightily. To say his papacy is being defined by old cases may be the narrative that suits the Times, but it most certainly is not shared by fair-minded observers.

... (nor is it) correct, as the Times says, that the pope attempted "to rehabilitate a Holocaust-denying bishop," rather he attempted to reconcile a break-away Catholic group which unfortunately had as one of its members a Holocaust-denying bishop. (As for) Anglicans unhappy with the pope's outreach, the disaffected in their ranks represent an embarrassing chapter for them, not Catholics.

The pope can be justly criticized for missteps in governance and communications, but to paint him as a divider is a cruel caricature being promoted to hurt him, in particular, and the Church, in general."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blessed Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin

She was the mother of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux. She gave birth to nine children; the five daughters who survived their infancy all consecrated their lives entirely to Christ. Her canonized daughter still leads the Church in the contemplation of the face of Jesus and the sweetness of His love.

In my imagination, Bl. Marie is second only to the great Eliza Vaughan, a recent hero of mine.

I have recently been sternly instructed by my baby's priestly godfather that I am in no way to presssure to him or her about a religious vocation; I, in turn, solemnly promised that whenever tempted to do so, I will simply take the little one out for ice cream. Of course my husband and I have prayed for vocations for our children. On a very human level, there is probably no greater mark of inspired parenting than the succesful gifting of a child to the Church, and the Church is in great need of the vocations to priesthood and religious life which my husband and I did not receive. We were called to each other, and to the celebration of Christ's love in our little home, and as we prepare for the birth of our child, I will be adding to my prayers for my child's vocation (whatever it is) that I will simply do my part to surround him with God's own love, in every way, at every time, in every place. That is the making of a saint, after all- the formation of one who is made able to love in the way that he has been loved first.

... by the way, have you heard about the new film entitled "Babies: The Movie"? It looks wonderful... what a gift to our baby-suspicious culture. The producers echoed my thoughts here at their conclusion of the preview: "...parents, doing their best, in many different ways... so long as there is love, everything will be fine."

Blessed Marie, pray for us and for our babys' vocations.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Saint Monica

St. Monica is one of those maternal and spousal saints who taught her child to pray really well; she then prayed for her child faithfully throughout his variegated life of bumping into Love, and ultimately she was graced by joining him in a legendary vision of the glory of God.

She was a faithful wife in an unhappy marriage, but she was able to exercise a veritable apostolate amongst the wives and mothers of her hometown. She also pursued her wayward son Augustine from city to city until he was baptized by Ambrose, and found his rest in "Him who was higher than his higest and more inward than his inmost self." (Augustine, Confessions III)

St. Monica is the patron saint of married women and of wayward children lost to addictions, but she is also an excellent exemplar of what contemporary Catholic theologians call the dual aspect of the Church; like her Lord, who is both human and divine, the Church shares in these two realities simultaneously, being at once both the Mother who intercedes for her children and the wayward children who require that intercession. She is both mystical, visible and involiable whole, and a myriad of sinful members within her.

St. Monica is often depicted as one who wept for the sins of her child; and I think that this depiction is apt for the tumult in which Catholics find themselves, in light of the recent media reports of sex abuses and the allegation of negligence in the Church's hierarchy. Surely we will weep for those who have sinned, for those who have failed in their pastoral responsibilities, for those whose faith will falter because of the errors of others, and for ourselves, who will be implicated by their reputations. And just as surely we should weep for those in the media who ought to be careful of the truth, but who instead sell their vocations for messes of scandalous pottages based on rumors.

The point to recall is that just as St. Monica persevered in her maternal intercession for her child, just as the ontological bond between them was unaltered by Augustine's flirtations with sexual sins and heresies, so the Church remains who she is towards us all- the spotless bride of the Lamb who cares for her sinful members. Henri de Lubac puts it beautifully in The Splendor of the Church:

"Whether in the eyes of God or of man, it is not righteousness which is the test of membership of the Mystical Body, that is, the Church. Infidels of good faith and good will, even Christian dissidents... are only ordered to her by a certain unconscious desire and aspiration, and cannot be called her members in the full sense of the word. Sinners, on the contrary, continue to be truly part of her, provided they have not denied her; indeed, as we well know, they are a vast majority. Although they do not live according to the Gospel they do still believe the Gospel, though the Church, and although this bond is not enough to constitute the Church it is enough, even when stretched to its utmost, to keep them her members- though they may be infirm, arid, putrid, or even dead members. The Church extends to them a patient toleration. Even the best of her children are themselves never any more than in the way of sanctification... thus it is that the Church which we are must say daily, as with one voice and without exception, "and forgive us our trespasses... every day she must call upon the power and the pity of Christ, for each day in this world is day of purification for her and each day she must wash her robe in the blood of the Lamb." Splendor, 115-116."

St. Monica, pray for us.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Divine Mercy for Souls Who Do Not Believe

Today the Church asks that God shed "the rays of His grace" on those who have yet to believe in and extol His mercy.

One of the most consoling passages in Scripture for me is the assurance that the very heavens declare the glory of God, and their light has gone into all the world (Psalm 19); there is a light which has enlightened everyone (John 1). There is excellent support for this Biblical idea in the unassuming defense of the Christian faith that is offered in the most surprising corners.

For instance, it was the French sociologist Emille Durkheim (1858-1917) who originally proposed the familiar refrain against our faith that religion is humanity's created device, by which humanity can meet its needs by forming the community and society that it craves. Primal people want and need to be together; so they form various religions to provide a sense of social cohesion and moral responsibility. A sense of religion provokes communal consciousness and common emotions, which enhance a sense of group identity and establish the group itself as a worthy, 'sacred' reality. Furthermore, necessary societal expectations are framed and protected as the will of the gods. In reality however, it is the human community that is really "god," and it is the community- not a real divinity- which humanity ultimately "needs." In Durkheim's words, "the sacred is nothing more nor less that the human society (with its authority and beneficence) transfigured and personified." In another instance, Durkheim explains: "Society determines, while religion is the thing determined. Society controls; religion reflects." The essence of Durkheim’s theory of religion is that society is the all-pervasive force from which religious beliefs have evolved.

It was Mircea Eliade, the Romanian father of modern Religious Studies (1907-1986) who answered these reductionist claims by asserting that the religious experiences of human beings matter, and that on the evidence of the human experience of a personal and real God, theories such as Durkheim's become indefensible.

First, Eliade pointed out that the religious longings of humanity tend to be universally the same, regardless of time and place, whereas social needs are transient and socially conditioned, and their solutions are widely diverse; thus it is the former reality of the universal human sense of the sacred that points to something truly transcendent and real in human experience. In particular, the universal prevalence of mythic atoning savior tropes and myths of an eternal return pointed to the Christian story as the best manifestation of the sacred.

Secondly, Eliade reminded the world of the gross elitism of Durkheim's claims. Durkheim spoke as a Frenchman of the nineteenth century, for whom everything was political. As such, he could not purport to speak truly for the millions of complex and spiritual human beings who had their own account of what religion really was, and knew for themselves what they meant by the reality of the sacred. Eliade proposed that we actually listen to the claims of faithful people. Rather than imposing Western reductionist structures upon personal accounts of the sacred, Eliade held that a more authentic account of religion should be derived from the stories of simple people who claimed to have encountered God.

In short, Eliade might democratically suggest, "how do you know there is a God? - Listen to the people who worship Him."

More on my hero Eliade here.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Divine Mercy for Devout and Faithful Souls

On the days following Easter, the Church prays the novena of the Divine Mercy, celebrating our total reliance on our Savior. We have prayed on the first and second days for the souls of sinners and the souls of priests and religious; today we give thanks for the lives of the devout and the faithful, and we ask God to protect them.

My husband and I have a favorite priest, Fr. Roger Landry, who perhaps exemplifies dynamic holiness better than anyone we have ever known. Fr. Roger recently passed on the news that a miracle experienced by one of his parishioners, and attributed to the intercession of John Paul the Great, was being showcased on an episode of 20/20. Of course we watched the program, which also highlighted miracles attributed to St. Damian of Molokai and Fr. Emil Kapuan. We were amazed at the respect with which these stories were reported, and we were amazed by the honest, beautiful and strong faith of those who shared their stories. Like the heroes who had prcedeed and interceded for them, the devout and faithful souls who had been granted the grace of healing simply responded to the needs of their present circumstances in immediate ways which honored their Savior.

For some reason, their stories reminded me of St. Augustine's mandate that holiness is acheived closest to home, in the cares and concerns that are nearest to us, since it is those which are God's gifts to make our souls devout and faithful.

"All persons are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. For, suppose that you had a great deal of some commodity, and felt bound to give it away to somebody who had none, and that it could not be given to more than one person; if two persons presented themselves, neither of whom had either from need or relationship a greater claim upon you than the other, you could do nothing fairer than choose by lot to which you would give what could not be given to both. Just so among humanity: since you cannot consult for the good of them all, you must take the matter as decided for you by a sort of providential lot, according as each one happens, for the time being, to be more closely connected with you."

- St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana I.28.

Monday, April 05, 2010

St. Faustina of the Divine Mercy

"You have given to me your trust, your good work. And now give to me what you alone can give to me- your sins and weaknesses."
- Plain and simple. In a lot of ways, this humble Polish nun accomplished within the Church's theology that of which Martin Luther had only dreamed.

It is fitting that in the days immediately following Easter, the Church plunges into the depths of the divine mercy which Christ won on His cross for a prolonged swim. It takes nine days; consequently, this blog will be following the novena of the divine mercy through this special season.