Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reflection on 40 Days for Life

We are more than halfway through the 40 Days for Life campaign.  If you don't know what that is, go here:

I get the daily updates and devotionals for the campaign, and though there is not an abortion clinic or a 40 Days vigil near where I live, I try to reflect and pray using their devotion every day.  One thing I noticed this time around was the variety of faiths being represented in the devotionals.  There have been Baptist preachers, Presbyterian pastors, Lutheran, and I believe Jewish.  I know that all these different faiths have participated before, but this is the first time I have seen such a variety actually writing the devotionals.

I am amazed when I look back at how 40 Days for Life started.  I had a very small, almost indirect, part in that first 40 days. I was a freshman in college at Texas A&M, and I learned about it through our campus student organization Aggies for Life.  I wore the bracelet and I prayed a few hours on the sidewalk.  Little did I know what a powerful fire was sparking.  Now when I read about the history of 40 Days for Life, I just can't help but praise God for his grace.  Just a few strong-hearted people sitting around a table decided they would try it, and look where it has gone!

Really and truly, they have sparked a revolution in the pro-life movement (coinciding with--yes, another God thing--the expansion of Live Action and their undercover videos that have exposed Planned Parenthood for its lies and helped to reduce funding, and all the incredible pro-life laws passed with encouragement from Americans United for Life).  I don't think I am prejudiced when I say Catholics have tended to be the sole outspoken voice against abortion through the decades.  But now, with this resurgence of passion for the pro-life movement, we have ecumenical movement.  People of all different faith backgrounds, and even atheists, are coming together to fight this war.  How beautiful is that?

Those on the other side of the argument probably despise 40 Days for Life because of their success in simply standing and praying.  We give no reason for people to throw insults at us or try to demean us because we are simply present and encouraging.  I'm sure that's infuriating.  But perhaps the most infuriating thing that 40 Days for Life does is save lives.  I don't mean that most pro-choicers want babies to be killed (although I would argue that Planned Parenthood as an organization does because that means they make more money).  Many pro-choicers want abortion to be rare but always a "safe" option.  But when 40 Days for Life prevents a woman from choosing abortion (according to their records, 6,749 babies have been saved), and a child is born, how can they argue against that?  And it's not just that a baby is saved, but so many reports demonstrate the relief these women who choose life feel, and how they have been helped through their struggles by pregnancy help centers.  To fight against an organization that saves both the actual life of the child and the emotional/social/psychological life of the mother would be anti-human.  Could they really say that they wish 40 Days for Life hadn't been there and the baby would have been aborted?  Is that really better?

We can argue the philosophy, the prioritization of rights, even the "viability" of the child.  We can argue about a woman's choice over her own body.  But when a woman makes the choice for life, when life wins out over death, we can't argue (not unless we truly believed some people deserve not to live, or would be better off not living, regardless of the woman's choice.  And if that's the case, then we are in very different territory than simply reproductive rights.).

So 40 days for Life is a simple concept:  stand peacefully at vigil and pray.  Maybe even fast.  Be there for women when they feel most vulnerable.  And, through it all, bring many, many faiths together fighting for the cause of life, and save the lives of children and women!  Do it all through, with, and in Christ.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shame, the Purifier

I read something interesting in the YouCat Youth Catechism today.  It was a clarifying way to describe Purgatory.  On "Question 159: What is Purgatory?" This is the response:

When Peter had betrayed Jesus, the Lord turned around and looked at Peter: “And Peter went out and wept bitterly”—a feeling like being in purgatory. Just such a purgatory probably awaits most of us at the moment of our death: the Lord looks at us full of love—and we experience burning shame and painful remorse over our wicked or “merely” unloving behavior. Only after this purifying pain will we be capable of meeting his loving gaze in untroubled heavenly joy.

Suddenly Purgatory makes even more sense.  When we die and meet God face to face, and are assailed by God's infinite love, we will suddenly become acutely aware of our iniquities, how we have failed him.  We will see ourselves for what we are as sinners.  The floodlights will come on.

And because God is perfect love and we long to be with him, we will feel ashamed.  This pain is what will purify us.  This rightful shame will melt away the stains of our sins, just as a fire purifies silver of all its stains until it shimmers perfectly.

If we did not feel this shame over our past sins that have stained our soul, then we could not enter heaven.  If we did not have our sins purified, we could not enter.  After all "Nothing unclean will enter it" (Rev 21:27).  God grants us forgiveness because of his Son's sacrifice and because we ask for it but, as with any wrongdoing in the world, even after we ask and are granted forgiveness, the results of that sin remain until we repay the wrongdoing.  If I break my sister's toy, I can tell her I am sorry and she can forgive me, but the consequence of that sin, a broken toy, is still present until I reconcile with her by repairing it or purchasing a new one.

And so, when Peter sinned by denying Christ, he had to repent.  He had to cry and feel the pain of remorse because he knew the shame of what he had done.  He suffered, his own purgatory, and thus he was healed.

Our own Purgatory will likely be painful, though it is a sure sign that we will reach Heaven.  It will be painful because we will feel so utterly remorseful in the sight of God.  Remorseful, because we love him.  ("Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." (John 21:15) )  But, in that moment, we will know perfectly God's love for us, and we will feel love for him as greatly as God intended.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Harden not your hearts"

"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." (Psalm 95: 7-8)

This is a Psalm commonly read during Lent.  I've heard it so many times and each time, I always thought it was a funny thing to say.  Of course if I heard God's voice I would not turn from him!  If he spoke to me, his voice pouring down from heaven, why would I harden my heart against him?

This year it finally hit me.  A while back, my husband asked me why God couldn't just speak to us in no uncertain terms.  Why couldn't he simply send us his booming voice down out of the clouds?  Then we would listen.  Then we would know what to do.  But the truth is, because of our hardened hearts, we wouldn't recognize him no matter what he did.  After all, he walked the earth as one of us in Christ Jesus, and still many didn't recognize him.  Even after the miracles Christ did, people refused to listen to him.  Psalm 95 continues, "Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert.  There your ancestors tested me; they tried me though they had seen my works."  (Psalm 95: 8-9)  These people simply refused to believe in God, to trust his works.  No matter what God did, they always asked for another sign. Their hearts were hardened against him and they would not see Truth.

If we ask God for a sign; if we beg him to "do this for me" so that we know he is real or that he loves us, we commit the same sin.  (For example: "If God is real, why wouldn't he end suffering?")  We are hardened against him, and no matter what, we will not see the truth.  Many atheists and agnostics have hardened their hearts so completely to God's voice that they outright refuse to see him in the world.  They will not see his hand in nature, his work in the miracle of life; they try to explain away true goodness in people with mere science and philosophy.  God has even given us the miracles of the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the incorruptible bodies of saints, Eucharistic miracles and more, and so many call them a conspiracy of the Church or some scientific phenomena we do not yet understand.

Often, it becomes a point of personal pride for those most hardened to, without consideration, just brush "the religious" off as superstitious or even part of something that causes all the pain the world.  Some of the more tepid non-believers simply refuse to enter a conversation, being perfectly content in their simple life of no expectations, firmly believing that they are good people; they don't need religion.  For them, there is no point in hearing the Truth of God's voice, because they are happy without it.  (Ignorance is bliss, right?  A hardened heart is an ignorant heart.)  Of course, we must keep in mind that God alone can break hardened hearts, and we must continue to pray for them and continue to speak to them because one day they might listen.

But enough about them; what about us?  Hardening your heart can be as simple as not listening or not wanting to admit when you hear the truth.  Have you ever argued with someone who was like a brick wall?  No matter what kind of points you made or truth you spoke, they would have none of it.  They simply set their jaw and disagreed no matter what.  Sometimes we do that to God.  Sometimes we hear a message of his, whether it be in the Homily, or from a friend, or even from some situation we are thrown into, and we refuse to listen.  It's as if he never spoke.  We make our hearts solid rock fused from our prejudices, our comfort zone, our pre-conceived ideas about what is right, and we don't let any Truth that speaks otherwise penetration that stone.  Sometimes we come at Scripture that way, reading into it something that confirms what we've always held as true simply because we don't want to hear what it's actually saying.

For example, one of the biggest messages most Catholics have hardened their hearts to is the message against contraception.  Many Catholics are too caught up in their comfort zone of a "fail-safe" way to prevent pregnancy that they will not listen to the Church's Holy Spirit-guided teaching.  Oh sure, they claim that they have read and listened and it just doesn't make sense or it's just not right for them at the time, and they feel at peace with their decision and so on and so forth.  After all, they are good people right?  How could it really be wrong?  ("It's only a condom; I'm not causing an abortion or anything..."  "My doctor says this pill can't ever actually take a life...")  Really, many couples just won't allow the truth of the teaching to enter their hardened hearts because they are afraid it will shake their world.  (I don't intend to go into the fully teaching on contraception here, but I challenge all who question it to read what they can again and again, pray about it, and truly open their hearts to it.)

Of course, there are many other small ways we all harden our hearts to God's voice.  We refuse to stop and help the homeless person holding a sign on the street corner, chalking it up to our personal safety or our good judgment against the person's character.  I get angry at my husband, telling myself that I have every right to be, that he was clearly in the wrong and needs to be told so that he won't do it again.  Little things every day speak to us with God's voice, and we simply choose not to recognize it.

God's hand is in our world more then we think.  We must soften our hearts each and every day to listen to him.  Let us not become so hardened that God would say of us, "Forty years I loathed that generation; I said "This people's heart goes astray; they do not know my ways.'" (Psalm 95: 10)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why could the Apostle's see Christ's wounds in his Resurrected, glorified body?

I am going out on a limb here with this one.  This is purely based on my own thoughts and not on any scholarly learning or specific theological knowledge.  So please take this with a grain of salt.

When Christ rose from the dead, he appeared, ate, and drank with the disciples in his resurrected body.  Catholics believe that his and our resurrected bodies are flesh and blood but they are glorified bodies, meaning they are incorruptible and free of suffering and pain.  So why did Christ's resurrected body still have the scars from his Crucifixion?  Why was Thomas able to place his finger in the holes in his hands, and his hand in the wound in his side?  Why wasn't he "made perfect" without any remnant of his suffering?

Here is my very off the cuff answer:  In Christ's suffering, he was glorified.  In his perfect sacrifice, his perfect laying down of life out of love for us, his perfect uniting of his will to the Father's, he was glorified through the Father.  In other words, his wounds are a physical reminder of his greatness.  God himself died for us, and in that action he is given all the glory.  Christ was made perfect through his suffering (Hebrews 2:10), through his great sacrifice.  His resurrected and glorified body is as perfect as it can get.

One might ask herself to remember the moment of highest glory in her life, the moment where she felt she achieved true greatness.  I suppose some might remember winning some meaningful award or being recognized for some long-toiled over achievement.  But I think many would remember the moments when they performed a significant sacrifice for the good of someone else.  Perhaps it is when a women labors to give birth to a child, or when someone helps a homeless man to find work, when someone gets a heartfelt thank you from a needy person after working long hours in a soup kitchen, when a sidewalk counselor rescues a woman and her baby from abortion and sees that they have the resources they need, or when parents watch their children get married and know their long years of teaching have paid off.  These moments of greatness, these moments of glory, are what they are because of the loving sacrifice it took to get there and the powerful result it achieved.  And the signs of that sacrifice, the wounds, the scars, the memories of hard work, make that glory all the more powerful.  Being born into a certain bloodline doesn't grant true glory; sacrifice does.

Now, of course, Christ is perfect and glorious simply because he is God, the Creator of all.  But he shows us his glory in the powerful message of the Cross, in his laying down of his life for us.  The wounds in his hands and side are signs of his great Love.  Christ's glorified body is his Crucified body, Resurrected.  The marks of that body are altogether glorious.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Relativistic Christ?

It's amazing to me how much this culture of relativism has infiltrated our society.  This idea of "what's right for you is right for you; what's right for me is right for me" has overrun the world.  We are told that tolerance is best, diversity is always a good thing, and we must not judge.  I even read an article recently describing a sex workshop at Yale in which students were taught to "respond with 'understanding' and 'compassion'" to those who may have participated in unnatural (yes, that's right, I called it what it is--unnatural) sexual activities such as bestiality, taking payment for sex, and incestuous fantasies. ( Have we reverted back to barbarism?

But the thing that bothers me the most is how much this relativism has entered into the Christian realm.  Even Christians of the best intentions have fallen victim to the fantasy of a relativistic Jesus.  We've all heard it said:  "It doesn't matter what denomination you are; as long as you believe in Jesus you're saved!"  And then of course, there is the challenge, "Well how do you know what you believe is right?  What about what I believe?  Religion doesn't matter.  All that matters is a relationship with Jesus."

Well, it's true, Jesus does want a relationship.  But it goes much deeper than that.  God is Truth.  There can only be one Truth; otherwise Truth wouldn't exist.  (It's worth pointing out that the statement "everything is relative" contradicts itself because the phrase assumes as objective law that everything is relative, but if everything is relative, there can be no objective law; therefore it's premise "everything is relative" could not be true.)  The Jesus of the Gospel didn't go around sanctioning everything; in fact, he turned everything people knew on it's head.  He forgave sins, but he first acknowledged them and told them to "sin no more."  He rebuked his disciples when they spoke against his plan.  He was absolutely not tolerant of sin and excess (as shown when he angrily drove the money changers out of the temple.)  While he believed in diversity with regard to gender and ethnicity (speaking to the Samaritan woman for example), he was clear that he chose people of diverse background so that they all may be one in their beliefs (See John 17:20-23), not that we simply may coexist.  And while it is clear that we must not judge the hearts and souls of one another, it is also clear that we must admonish and teach one another as we also pay attention to our own actions (Col 3:16, Luke 6:41).  How can we do such a thing and walk in right ways if we are so busy tolerating everyone else and their actions?

Jesus established the Twelve and he made Peter the leader, the Rock.  Why would he have done this if he did not plan on speaking the Truth, the whole Truth to the generations to come?  It was already made clear that he desired his Church to be one, so why would he have intended the Church to split into thousands of differing sects teaching often contradictory things?  Certainly this is not the truth that he intended.  Jesus is not relativistic.  He is Truth itself, and Truth cannot be contradictory.  There can be only one True Church.

Finally, a quote from Pope Benedict XVI:  "A Jesus who sanctions everything is a Jesus wihtout the cross, for such a Jesus would not need the torment of the cross to save mankind..."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Love Story

I have often been asked by non-Christians (and many Christians, too) why we believe that Jesus had to die for our sins.  Why would a God who is almighty require his only Son to suffer and die in a very painful way to save only those who would choose to follow him.  Why wouldn't he simply snap his fingers and save the world, or, better yet, just let everyone get to Heaven.  After all, he loves us unconditionally, right?

Well, the short answer to this question is that we can never fully understand God's ways.  His ways are infinitely above our ways.  Of course, this answer will do nothing to assuage the skeptic, so here is a longer answer:

First of all, God is just.  God is Truth and God in Love, so it follows that God must be just.  Would it be fair to the woman who was raped to have her killer get off scot-free simply because the judge was feeling particularly kind that day?  What about the mother who lost her daughter to a murderer?  No, to let the guilty go without punishment is not only unfair, but plain wrong.  God cannot do anything wrong, because he is all that is good, so he must treat us, who are all sinners, with justice.  (Of course, here is where we get into the argument of "Well, I am good person whether or not I believe in God, so, if he exists, he would let me in to Heaven anyway.  Why do I need religion?"  We all have done wrong in our lives.  Sometimes the guilty simply choose not to admit their guilt out of pride and therefore sink further into it.)

Secondly, God is merciful.  His mercy is plainly shown in his love for us in giving us his only Son to die on the cross for us.  We had an unfathomable debt to pay (we sinned against God Almighty, an infinite being), and therefore our debt could only truly be paid in full by a divine being.  So, in God's great justice, he required our debt to be paid, and in his great mercy, he allowed it to be paid by his Son, God Himself.  His mercy extends to us every day when he offers us forgiveness for each and every sin if only we ask for it.

Of course, we must ask for it.  This is an extension of God's justice.  If a child hits his sibling and is completely unrepentant, would his father be right in ending his punishment knowing that the child has learned nothing and will likely do it again?  Or must a father continue to teach his son, to plead with him to see the error in his ways and correct it?  Then the full forgiveness can be extended.  By the same token, if someone has spent time in jail for murder, and shows good behavior and a repentant attitude before his time is up, he may be eligible for parole.

Finally, and probably the most important:  God is Love.  As I mentioned before, we cannot begin to fully comprehend God's ways, and he most certainly could have chosen a very different way to save humankind.  But the thing that strikes my heart the most is this:  in God's great plan, he showed us how much he loves us, like no other story in the world can tell.  We are human; God is divine, and yet, in his great love for us he chose to lay down his life for us.  God, the infinite being, the great I Am, the one who is being itself, died for us.  When we were sinners (Romans 5:8), when we were liars, and thieves, and murderers, and adulterers, when he knew we wouldn't stand up for the unborn, we would fail to feed the hungry, we would be greedy, and lustful, and lazy, we would deny the truth of God, he still died for us.  He died for Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Bin Laden.  He died for many who still would not choose him, and this gave him great sorrow (the Agony in the Garden).  We killed God, and he allowed us to do it so that he could show his incredible love for us--his masterpiece of creation--us poor little creatures who have the great grace to be loved by Love itself.

Since the beginning of language, we have been captivated by the great love stories, stories of kings and battles and love that endures.  We understand in the depths of our souls that laying down one's life for another is the give of greatest love.  This story is a part of us, and the archetype of it all is Jesus Christ, God himself.  No other religion has a story of greater power and love.  No other religion has an omnipotent God who is yet full of such humble love.  The King stepped down off his throne to be a martyr for his people.  How else could God have told his story?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Blogging for Lent

While I have read that many people have decided to quit blogging for Lent, whether it be because they want to spend more time in prayer or blogging has become a distraction, I have decided to start blogging again. I suffer from the perpetual "writer's block" condition in which I feel compelled everyday to be a writer, to express that which rests inside of me, to work out in the written word these ideas about Christ and his Church that swim in my head, while at the same time neglecting to actually physically write, because I am too tired, I am uninspired, I am not in the right mood to compose anything of value. In other words, I set my expectations to a goal that I consciously remind myself is achievable but subconsciously find daunting and difficult. I find excuses not to write because I am afraid that it won't be good enough. As long as the promise of writing remains in my head, as long as the future of a completed work remains untried yet still a possibility, I can maintain a level of anticipation, even pride, in what I tell myself will come in the future. After all, the proverbial blank page is full of promise. Of course, as I am now finally admitting, if I do nothing but think of the future, the promise of the empty page remains, well, empty.

Now that I contemplate this reality, I wonder if this same fear of incompetence is partly what made me steer away from writing as a possible career so many years ago. As a child, I always wanted to write; my mother has drawers full of my childish tales and poetry. I even entered a few contests in my junior high and high school years. But when the time came to choose a career path, I went a route that no one would have expected: I chose to be an Architect. I won't say that I regret this decision (through my studies I have learned much more about the world that only buildings), but there has always been a longing in me to come back to writing, not as a hobby (which I have kept, though not consistently), but as an effective instrument of speaking a Truth that I have come to know through my faith. I was one of those children who was always expected to do well in school, to be at the top, and striving to be really good at something (or, perhaps ungraciously, to beat other people at something) became more a mode of operation rather than a series of goals. There was a part of me that wished to step away from this sometimes imprisoning system when I decided to study architecture; this was a subject to which I had never been exposed, and it required quite a bit of creativity and subjective interpretation, not the objective rule-based system of science, math, and grammar I could so easily grasp. I was almost destined to not be at the very top of the spectrum of designers. Perhaps this was a relief to me, to be rid of the pressing expectation, or maybe simply the challenge of it was thrilling.

But, the truth is, a career in writing would have achieved many of the same things. Literature involves the study of philosophy and theory (often following the same path of architecture), is inherently creative and subject to opinion, and would most certainly be a challenge to my normal rule-based way of thinking. But, I now realize, writing was too personal, too close for me to risk failure. My desire to be at the top of a subject so dearly important to me prevented me from committing. A fear of being mediocre, simply adequate, or, even worse, of realizing that it would be impossible to meet my dream of being published, infiltrated my conscious decision-making and guided me toward something more "sensible," something I knew I could make a career with as long as put forth my normal strong work ethic. I wanted something that was interesting and worthwhile, and yet something I felt comfortable laboring at day to day without feeling the need for it to be the very best 100% of the time.

This, of course, is not to say that I have a desire to be the best writer anyone has ever known. In fact, I wouldn't mind if no one who read my work ever knew my real name. I simply have come to know that writing--more accurately, expressing the Truth--is so utterly important to me that I have trouble facing that it will fall short. Even as I write I become disappointed in the inadequacy of my own words to describe not only how I feel but the truth of the world. Of course, I will never be able to have adequate words. Only the Word himself can truly express the Truth. But he uses us as his instruments to bring other to him. And if I simply sit still and do not use my talents (no matter how mediocre they are) then I will be useless, empty, and utterly unfulfilled.