Sunday, July 31, 2011

Catholic bloggers, this one's for you!

Fellow Catholic bloggers: If you have ever thought of giving up your blog in frustration*, there are some pretty important people who think you should keep going. Like, oh, these two men:

Blessed John Paul II
The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. --  Message for the 36th World Communications Day (2002)

Pope Benedict XVI
Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea facing into the deep with the same passion that has governed the ship of the Church for two thousand years. Rather than for, albeit necessary, technical resources, we want to qualify ourselves by living in the digital world with a believer’s heart, helping to give a soul to the Internet’s incessant flow of communication. (2010)
Is that enough to keep you blogging? I thought so! And the wonderful Brandon Vogt has published a new book just for us, which will help us build upon what our beloved popes (and other great Catholics) have said:

The "New Media" is all the social networking stuff we use now, such as blogs, facebook, podcasts, YouTube, mobile media, Twitter, interactive websites, etc., and The Church and New Media features chapters by many New Media innovators, each tackling a different aspect of how best to proclaim Christ's truth across the digital continent.

Some of my favorite chapters in the book:

Fr. Robert Barron, priest and intellectual, discusses the "Digital Dialogue With the Unchurched". I need to watch his YouTube videos from beginning to end, to learn the basics from this master of reasoned debate. Among other things, Fr. Barron describes in his chapter what he calls "the four YouTube Heresies":

The Meaning of the Word "God"
Biblical Interpretation
Religion and Violence

As someone who has found all four "heresies" in the comment boxes of my own blog, I found myself nodding in agreement as he discussed each one, particularly Scientism. I'm flying by the seat of my pants most of the time, but Fr. Barron is a true and learned philosopher. Some have described the Bubble comboxes as a "battlefield", but what happens on this blog is nothing compared to the resistance, hostility and attack that Fr. Barron encounters. And yet, he responds in charity and truth, with logic and clarity, every time. I want to be like him when I grow up.

Jen Fulwiler's chapter was another favorite, a) because I adore her, and b) because her story is a the quintessential tale of conversion via the New Media.This influential woman of God would not be Catholic today if it were not for her encounter with Catholic blogs. Let's be honest: Catholic blogs and websites may be the only places most folks will encounter authentic Catholicism and not simply the "mainstream" media's caricature if it.

A personal anecdote which illustrates the point: One of our regular commenters, a high school senior named Chelsea, lives in what she has described as her "lovely little liberal bubble", where she has never encountered anyone in her real life who is pro-life or unashamedly Catholic. She came to my blog after seeing a small link on a liberal blog that intrigued her: A liberal person had become an orthodox Catholic. As she puts it: "And I clicked on it, then another, then another." She ultimately landed in the Little Catholic Bubble, where she encountered Catholic people engaging in reasonable discussions who were not "apologetic" about being Catholic.

In her words:
Through this, I have learned just about the last thing that you would expect a Quaker girl from Jersey to learn about and respect: The Catholic Church and its ideas. And you know what? I understand it more now, and I honestly do like some -- not quite all -- but some of the ideas.
Non-Catholics need not worry, as Chelsea would be the first to tell you that she is not converting. ;) But how gratifying to know that by encountering faithful Catholics through some easy blog clicks, Chelsea has been able to get a clearer, more positive picture of the Catholic Church. Remember, bloggers: You never know who's reading and how they're being affected by your words.

Anyway, there is so much more to Vogt's book, and if I had room, I'd go through each chapter. (For example, I appreciated the frank discussion of a pet peeve of mine: all the horrible and ineffective parish websites out there! Parishes, get on board the New Media train! You don't want to lose people when they stumble across your ugly, cumbersome site! And on a high note, I was so impressed to read how Texas A&M's Catholic Center has used New Media to become the largest campus ministry in the nation! Lauren and Lisa, I know you are proud of your fellow Catholic Aggies!)

The complete list of the featured contributors and topics is as follows:

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap. with the book's Foreword
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan with the book's Afterword
Brandon Vogt on “the digital continent” and New Media’s benefits and dangers
Fr. Robert Barron on engaging the secular online world
Jennifer Fulwiler on blogging her way from atheism to Catholicism
Marcel LeJeune on using New Media to connect young adults with the Church
Mark Shea on the benefits and perils of blogging
Taylor Marshall on using New Media to unwrap ancient truths
Fr. Dwight Longenecker on ecumenical dialogue through New Media
Scot Landry on New Media in the diocese
Matt Warner on New Media in the parish
Lisa Hendey on growing online community
Thomas Peters on faithful online activism
Shawn Carney on how the world’s largest pro-life movement was built using New Media

Lest you think anyone is out to make a buck here, 100% of the royalties from the book will be used to establish school computer labs and computer literacy training throughout the Archdiocese of Mombasa, Kenya. So even in buying this excellent book, you are helping your brothers and sisters in Christ in the developing world.

And please, even if you don't buy the book, be sure to check out the amazing list of resources designed to help every Catholic (including priests and parishes) navigate the New Media, here. In fact, the entire website is worth your bookmark!

So, dear bloggers, when your family or friends gently tease you for the time you dedicate to your blog (what, that only happens to me?), please remember (and remind them!) that your efforts are fully supported and encouraged by Mother Church!

(Well, so long as your efforts are balanced, and so long as you are not addicted, which is another topic in the book… ha ha ha….)

Happy blogging!

*This happens to me, oh, about once a week!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

21 years! And how we've changed….

Today is our 21st anniversary, and I still can hardly believe that so much time has passed! On our milestone 20th, I dedicated a whole post to that beautiful day in 1990 (when most of you were still in Pull-ups).

To wrap up NFP Awareness Week, I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you where we were then, and where we are now. 

Back then, I was content to begin married life on the Pill, and my husband and I were set on having two children, three at the most. Why? Well, because that's what society told us was acceptable. The thought of thinking for ourselves never crossed our minds. Having more than two or three kids? It just.wasn't.done.

After we quickly had our three children (so that we could be free to have fun and travel in our forties… ha ha ha!!!), we were ready for my dear husband to undergo the knife and destroy his reproductive capabilities. Because, again, that's just what responsible people do, right? We had no qualms. 

However, something temporarily stopped us from going ahead with the vasectomy (that is a story in itself), and our subsequent reversion/conversion to Catholicism stopped us permanently, which means our fertility wasn't permanently stopped. Whew! 

Long story short, we have welcomed five more children to our family since then (all boys!), and we can't imagine life without them. We also have one soul already with God.

If there is one message I want to send clearly to all, it's this: The fact that we have eight children is not an indication that NFP does not work. On the contrary, it has worked beautifully for us, and our children came when we expected them. No, the reason we have eight children is because understanding the truth and meaning of human sexuality changed our hearts. We went from being closed to the possibility of new life in our marriage, to opening those doors wide. It was a freedom in so many ways and on so many levels that turning back is unthinkable.

When you see NFP couples with a houseful of children, please don't make the mistake of thinking "NFP fails!" Like blogger Second Chances' husband says

"The best part of NFP is that after you use it for a while, you realize you don't want to use it anymore :)"

And consider Jen Fulwiler's observation regarding her first encounters with NFP couples:

"Instead of seeing pregnancies as precarious, once- or twice-in-a-lifetime events that require extensive planning and hand-wringing, they seemed to see pregnancy as a natural part of married life." 

And as the wonderful Fr. Frank Pavone says:

"Love leads to life; it does not close it off. Love welcomes life; it is not afraid of it. Love and life go together because they are two aspects of the one God." 

NFP may start as a dutiful obligation on the part of some newly convinced yet still-fearful couples, but when we put our trust in God's promises, it ends in a transformation of hearts, souls and marriages, for the glory of the One who is both Love and Life.‎


Happy Anniversary, honey!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Just Curious: Your first memory!

It's high time for another edition of Just Curious! This time, I'd love to hear about your first memory.

My first memory, as far as I can remember (ha ha!), is from when I was about three years old, or perhaps I had just turned four. I was playing hide and seek in my house in Michigan with my older sister and a little boy who was a friend of the family. I was hiding under a bed. We were days (maybe weeks?) away from moving to another state, and it's about the only memory I have from Michigan. It's a hazy memory, not even in full color, but a pleasant, happy one. The house seemed very big, but I know now that it was actually quite small.

One other memory from around this time is of my mom making me macaroni and cheese.  :)

Your turn!


Thursday, July 21, 2011

You're such a hypocrite! Or maybe not….


When one of our regular commenters, Mary, mentioned that her friends on the left viewed "hypocrisy" as the worst of sins, it gave me pause.

First, I have long known that the word "hypocrite" is misused generally, and misused against religious folks in particular: "Look at those self-righteous Christians! They are no better than anyone else, they sin all the time, preaching one thing and doing another… hypocrites!!"

The word "hypocrites" in this context never made sense to me. Are we sinners who are falling all the time? Yes. But "hypocrites"? No. It just didn't sound right.

So, in responding to Mary's comment, I looked up the definition of "hypocrite" online, and up popped something from Wikipedia, which is worthy of sharing [all emphases mine]:

Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.

Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of "hypocrisy" in Rambler No. 14:
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself. 

Those who hold "hypocrisy" as the worst of all sins (which it isn't) should work to get the definition right and apply it correctly. There are certainly lying frauds in every religion and every walk of life (these would be true hypocrites!), but chances are that most people do hold their beliefs sincerely and wish to do good, even when their efforts fall scandalously short.

It seems to me that the benefit of the doubt should always be extended, and that the kindest reaction one can have to someone falling short of a professed standard is sadness at his fall, and hope for his redemption, not a sneering accusation of "hypocrite!" at the perception that his actions do not match his stated beliefs.

Speaking for myself and other faithful Catholics I know, we might be sinning, but we don't want to be. And we don't lower the bar or excuse our behavior because Catholic morality is "just too hard" or unrealistic in today's world. We pick ourselves up, get to Mass and confession, and try again with the help of God's grace. 

It's a slow and laborious road to holiness, so much so that when we finally get to the point where our actions perfectly match our deeply held beliefs, we will already be in Heaven. 

Until that point, please consider that we aren't hypocrites, only sinners.


Monday, July 18, 2011

From "awesome" gay lifestyle to Catholic: Marie's story

I am very grateful to a reader of the Bubble, a young woman who wishes to go by the name of "Marie", for writing her personal reflections on the issues of gay marriage and true love.


“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Whenever I discuss my position on gay marriage with people, I’m usually asked, “Why does it matter as long as they’re happy?”, “What’s wrong with love?” or “What do you have against gay people?” It’s hard to briefly answer these questions without getting into a philosophical and theological discussion, but I’ve come to notice that if you ever have the time and your debater has the patience to listen, do it. It can help.

In answer to the questions, I want people to be happy, and I also don’t see anything wrong with love. More importantly, I don’t think I can hate gays considering that during a very important part of my life I was actively living an “awesome” gay lifestyle. I had a hot girlfriend and partied as if my wallet were a basket of fish and loaves. I loved her endlessly, even if my love confused me and led me to sabotage our relationship. I knew she was the one I would spend my life with. Yet something said no. It was Christ calling my heart. I finally answered and gave in, but it wasn’t easy.

I’ve been asked before why I would pick Catholicism as a convert when there were more “friendly” religions out there. My response: I didn’t choose to become Catholic, Christ told me I was Catholic. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."(i) Faith is not about picking and choosing. If that were the case, I’d choose not to believe. But my heart clears up the conflicts that my mind has.

I have a few friends that are gay. I use to have a lot of friends that are gay but I lost most of them when I decided to let go of lady-loving attractions and pursue my real purpose in life, which I felt was more likely connected to my relationship with Christ. They felt I was trying to be something I wasn’t and that I was judging them. Honestly, for a time I was. But I realized that by God’s grace alone I had walked away from where they were. I was not a better, smarter person because I had said yes to God. In fact, I was humbled to realize that more was expected of me now because I was no longer blissfully ignorant. I knew I could never go back, no matter how tempting.

I’ve always been attracted to men, which would label me as bisexual, but I think that sounds selfish. (It kind of says, “I just like everything out there so I’ll take it how I can get it.”) So am I gay? Am I straight? Still don’t know. Do I believe that you can “pray away the gay”? Nope. I believe you can pray to have the humility to handle the desires and behaviors that come with being gay, but it’s hard to stop loving someone just because you’re told that you shouldn’t love them.

Gay people do not choose to whom they are attracted, nor with whom they fall in love. As a heterosexual person, if you looked at your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or fiancĂ© and said that you were just going to stop loving him or her at this exact moment, how successful do you think you would be? Not gonna happen. You'd likely fall into a deep depression and obsessively pine away for your love to come back to you. You’d scream “WHY?” and ask God for strength. As a woman who has fallen in love with another woman, this is a testament to what I dealt with upon finding my faith and relinquishing the evils of my life regardless of how innocent and pleasurable they seemed.

My purpose in writing is not to defend homosexual marriage and acts, because I’d then have to try and persuade myself. Instead, I just want you all to realize that the gay desire for marriage and acceptance is misguided, but it truly stems from love. They carry a cross that you do not know. Please understand that the anger and bitterness that comes from the other side is rooted in suffering. How can suffering be so closely tied to love? Ask Jesus, He suffered because of love. It’s unbearable to be told that you shouldn’t feel what you feel but yet not have the free will to change it. It’s surreal to have the feelings that you do but yet not be able to express them. Who would purposely choose to be gay? Seriously. Being gay may not be a choice, but living the lifestyle is.

The root of this fight is not about sexuality or equality, it’s about love. Everyone wants to be loved, to feel love, to express love and to give love. The difference extends to the origin of that love. As human beings, we love on a physical plane, yet are called to something greater. It can be hard to grasp this if you don’t understand the difference and unity of love – eros, philia and agape.

Eros is the love between man and woman that is neither planned nor willed but somehow imposes itself upon human beings. Philia is the love of friendship, akin to the relationship of Christ and the disciples. Agape is divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. It is the love of God, grounded in and shaped by faith. They all are the essence of God, as He is love. The problem is that man has taken these gifts and has chosen to maintain the separateness of them instead of unifying. “An intoxicated and undisciplined eros is not an ascent in ecstasy…but a fall, a degradation of man.”(ii) The love between a man and a woman has become worldly and broken, creating a disordered union between eros and philia, and a complete division from agape. That is homosexual love. It is still real. It is still love. But it is not love in its full, true being. It is a fascination for the great promise of happiness, but because it has lost its proper unity in the one reality and true nature of love, it is impoverished and loses its truth.

So here is where I ponder: How did we get to this point? How did the beauty of God’s most precious gift become reduced to a mere commodity of sex and pleasure? How did marriage become a debatable issue of rights, desires, and benefits? Why is the societal hot topic “gay marriage” when real marriage has been broken? “To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I gained the enjoyment of the body of the person I loved. Thus I polluted the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence and I dimmed its luster with the slime of lust.”(iii) Thanks, St. Augustine... 1,600 years later, you took the words out of my mouth. Man, gay and straight, has fallen victim to disordered love. This is why the issue right now may appear to be a fight about sexuality, equality, and freedoms, when truly it’s about love. Until man unifies the fullness of love, there will always remain this struggle between those who know and those who don’t want to know; there will be no purification or healing.

So please, “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”(iv) However, with this armor please never stop loving and praying for those against you in this battle.

i Pope Benedict XVI, DEUS CARITAS EST, 2006
ii Pope Benedict XVI, DEUS CARITAS EST, 2006
iii The Confessions of St. Augustine
iv Ephesians 6:14-17

Related post: "Gay, Catholic, and Doing Fine"


Friday, July 15, 2011

Quick Takes!

1. Steve's guest post is now the most-viewed post on this blog (by far). Yes it is humbling that the most popular post on my own blog is not mine, ha ha! No, seriously, I am happy to cede that position to others. In fact, Monday's guest post is sort of the female version of Steve's, and it blew me away.… Stay tuned.

2. I was finally able to read my friend Devin Rose's new book, If Protestantism is True, from cover to cover (or the Kindle equivalent of that)! It is an easy read, and it so clearly lays out that the Catholic Church is the Church of history, and that her doctrinal and moral teachings throughout the centuries are unchanging. Protestant readers have been impressed by how charitably Devin discusses contentious matters. Any Protestant reading the Bubble should also be reading Devin's book and/or blog.

3. Speaking of good books, I've had a few readers request that I create a permanent blog page with my book recommendations. I have been meaning to do just that for some time, so look for it in the next couple of weeks, God willing.

4. Every time I try to describe International Planned Parenthood's Exclaim! (their new document on the "sexual rights" of children), the only words I can think of are "vomit-inducing". If you have the time to wait for the pdf to download, you can read it for yourself and feel like vomiting, too. Why isn't the sexualization of children a crime? Planned Parenthood's entire existence is an offense against innocence, on so many levels.

5. Switching topics now from filth to purity: If you have ever been curious about a cloistered nun's Profession of Vows, check this out, from the Passionist Nuns of Saint Joseph Monastery in Kentucky:

The pictures of this mystical, spiritual marriage just take my breath away! Look at the the new Bride of Christ's face: She is glowing with grace and peace and joy! It is a peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace that the world cannot give. Deo gratias!

6. To any Phoenix residents reading, 1st Way of Maricopa County is in desperate need of baby formula and diapers (sizes 3, 4 and 5). If you are able to bring in any such donations this summer, they would be most grateful! The support they provide for women in crisis and their unborn children is amazing. God will bless you abundantly for your generosity to 1st Way.

7. I just really like good quotes:

"The modern habit of saying, 'Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me' -- the habit of saying this is mere weak mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon." --G. K. Chesterton

Thanks to Jen for hosting!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Truth: Exclusive? Catholics: Arrogant?

We've talked about the notion of objective Truth before, and some folks just plain don't like it. It's exclusive and arrogant, they believe, to speak of a "truth" that is unchanging and to which we should submit and order our lives.

So, are they right? Is Truth exclusive?

Well, yes. It is exclusive in the sense that it cannot compromise with error. The minute that Truth is mixed with error, it is no longer true, right? It becomes erroneous. So yes, Truth excludes error, by definition.

Sorry, Error, you are not allowed to co-mingle with Truth! {Error slinks off, indignant….}

But in another sense, Truth is not exclusive, for it is available and accessible to all. Everyone is invited on board the Truth Train! Welcome, all mankind! The Truth is here for you to embrace! After all, Truth is the end for which we were all made.

But isn't it arrogant to claim to have the Truth?

Well, it depends.

For example, let's say that I am sitting here in the Bubble, fashioning and spouting my personal opinions all day long and claiming those opinions as "truth" to be held by all. Yep, claiming to be the source of Truth would be arrogant or worse. For sure.

But let's say that I am sitting here in the Bubble, stating that "1+1=2" is a truth to be held by all. Not my opinion, nothing I thought up on my own, simply something I received and am passing on. I don't think that such a statement would be arrogant, nor should it be perceived as such.

Or if I present "rape is immoral" as a truth to be held by all. It's not a novel idea that I graced the world with, and it's not my own personal morality imposed on others. Again, I don't think such a statement would be arrogant.

And yet when Catholics state other objective, universal truths, we are sometimes perceived as arrogant by our detractors simply because we claim those truths as true. However, just as with "1+1=2", or "rape is immoral", Catholics are not inventing new ideas, and we are the source of exactly none of them.

When I speak the truths of the Faith on this blog, I am merely passing on something I've received from the Church. When I present doctrine or morality as true, none of it is my personal opinion or my brilliant insight. I can take credit for none of it, nor can any other Catholic.

Maybe, then, it is the Church who is arrogant? After all, who is the Church to claim Truth?

Well, the Church is also simply handing down what was given to her. She was given the Truth by Jesus Christ -- Who is Truth. In the way that a teacher is commissioned to hand on the truths of mathematics, the Church is the teacher who is commissioned to hand on the truths of faith and morals. She has been given the legitimate authority to do so by Christ, and in doing so she is lovingly, dutifully fulfilling her mandate, not preening in arrogance.

In fact, there is one thing that goes hand in hand with proclaiming the Truth, whether as a pope, a bishop, a saint, a theologian, a layman or even a housewife blogger: A recognition that we are no better, and probably worse, than everybody else.

St. Paul the Apostle, one of the greatest saints of all time, said this:

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. -- 1 Timothy 1:15

And St. Paul gently admonished the rest of us Christians:

Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.  -- Philippians 2:3

The only proper response to discovering and receiving Christ's Truth is not arrogance, but utter humility; not the exclusion of non-believers, but an extended hand of inclusion.

When I fail in this regard, please call me on it. For the times I already have, please forgive me.

"…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
Jesus Christ, John 8:32


Friday, July 8, 2011

Post-vacation Quick Takes, and blogger meet-up!

Let's dive right in, shall we?

1. There is nothing like spending the Fourth of July on an aircraft carrier with 3,500 other patriots while your baby break dances to classic American rock:

No, he didn't fall. He is doing the baby equivalent of break dancing.

He later rushed the stage and had to be escorted by Daddy from the scene (the lady in white was loving this!):
[click photos to enlarge]

Oh yes, my little one, we will be keeping a good eye on you in coming years!
Heh, heh, heh...

2. For those of you who remember the holey soap, you will appreciate this update. For those of you who don't remember the holey soap, please go here and get caught up on the back story. We'll wait. 

Okay, everyone done? Good.

So this year, the waste reducing exfoliating cleanser is still being used at our hotel (I had hoped it was a fad). After the second day of post-beach showers and I see this:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B
Wide shot
The next day, the pieces had been removed by the maid and replaced with a brand new bar! I'd say at least 80% of the soap was tossed. So much for "waste reducing"! Give me that old-time, conservative (literally) bar soap anytime. And if I could keep my incandescent light bulbs, that would be great, too.

3. Am I the only woman left in America who does not have a tattoo? I do not want a tattoo. I do want to laser away these spider veins, though. So, I think I want the opposite of tattooing.

4. Nothing in the world is better than a blogger meet-up!! Yesterday, I had the absolute pleasure of spending the afternoon with Nicole from Mom and Then Some, and JoAnna from A Star of Hope (also a contributor to Catholic Phoenix)! Girls, am I right that we could have talked for many more hours?! Here is a shot of us, in front of the Danya-inspired drapes first seen in the last Quick Takes:

JoAnna, Nicole, Leila

5. The following will take exactly 33 seconds of your time. It's worth it. It's the massive haboob that hit Phoenix while we were gone. You won't believe your eyes. I've never seen anything like it, and I'm glad I missed it:

And yes, the word "haboob" makes me laugh.

6. We've had some intense discussions about gay "marriage" recently, and homosexuality in general. Keep your eye on the Bubble in the coming days, as I will publish two posts offering a fresh perspective. One is from a young gay man, the other from a young bisexual woman (who has come out of a long term lesbian relationship). You don't want to miss them.

7. I just really like this:

"Why I am a Catholic" by (former atheist) G.K. Chesterton, 1926
The difficulty of explaining "why I am a Catholic" is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, "It is the only thing that. . . ." As, for instance, (1) it is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth, as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. (5) It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man, even the respectable man. (6) It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside, working through wills and not laws; and so on.
For the rest of the essay, go here.

Thanks to Jen, for hosting!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What I Never Learned, Part IV: Why it had to be Jesus, and why He had to die

Years ago, I sent out some "catechesis emails" to interested friends and family. They, like me, never really learned much in Catholic religious education and CCD classes (I was catechized in the 1970s and '80s). What I wrote was pretty basic stuff, and I thought some of the Bubble readers might like the overview. 

Previously, we talked about how painful it is for a soul to be separated from God, and that all of life is really a search for union with the Trinity (even though many souls are not consciously aware of what they are longing for).

From the beginning, God’s people have tried to “make things right”, attempting to heal the rift that has existed between God and man since that first sin in the Garden of Eden. The primary means to that end has been offering sacrifice.

Sacrifice is, by definition, a giving up or offering of something precious. In Old Testament days, before Jesus came, the people offered sacrifices to God in order to show them that they loved Him, to thank Him for His many gifts, and in order to make up for their sins. The thing being offered was always burnt or destroyed, to show that it was being given back to God completely. It was also the best that the person had to offer; for example, farmers would offer God the “first fruits” of their harvests, and a shepherd would give his best lamb.

Then, as today, the sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God was one offered with a pure heart, out of true love.

We've talked earlier about the nature of love, about how love must be freely given and freely received, how love must have an object, and how love is always fruitful. I will now add that true love is always sacrificial. Think of our own relationships with our family members and loved ones: We sacrifice for them, i.e., offer ourselves and our lives for them, out of love.

In the Old Testament, we often see the people offering the bloody sacrifice of animals, where the blood of an animal would be shed, then its body burnt. After a while, in Moses’ time, priests were appointed to offer the sacrifices on behalf of all God’s people.

Note: While God’s chosen people (the Hebrew people, also known as the Israelites) were offering all those sacrifices to God, the pagans were busy offering sacrifices to their false gods as well. This is natural, not surprising. Remember we said that God has left His “thumbprint” on each person’s soul, a distant “echo” of Himself? Everyone, on some level, knows that we are separated from God, and that sacrifice is needed in order to make up for our sins. Unfortunately, there were occasions when the pagans sacrificed human beings to their gods, which of course the true God never requires!

But getting back to the Hebrew people, the purpose of all these elaborate, bloody, ritualistic sacrifices was a deep longing to make up for Adam’s sin and to “build a bridge” back to God. In reality, all those millions of sacrifices were pointing to, or foreshadowing, the only Sacrifice which actually could build a bridge back to God, namely Jesus’ own offering of Himself on the Cross.

Think about it, and try to follow my logic here: To make up perfectly for the sin of Adam (i.e., to reconcile God and man perfectly), man’s sacrifice would have to be perfect. Yet, how could sinful man offer a perfect sacrifice when he himself is imperfect, and when the gift, no matter how good, is imperfect as well? The answer is that he couldn’t; it is simply impossible. Only God, Who is perfect, could provide a perfect sacrifice. So we humans really had a problem. Those millions of animal and other sacrifices just couldn’t reconcile us completely, perfectly, with God. We were still lost.

But remember! God had a plan for reconciliation all along. “In the fullness of time,” the Second Person of the Holy Trinity -- the Beloved Son -- came down from Heaven and became man. He became one of us, while remaining fully divine (thus, sinless).

Jesus alone could represent both sides!

Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross was the perfect offering, the likes of which no other man could present to the Father. As true man, Jesus is able to act on behalf of all mankind. As true God, the Sacrifice is utterly perfect, therefore completely acceptable to the Father. Jesus, as both Priest and Victim, offered Himself, out of pure love, in atonement for all of our sins.* His Sacrifice of love was so powerful, so beautiful, so complete, that it unleashed a torrent of grace upon the earth, which washed away the sin of Adam and redeemed the whole human race, reopening the gates of Heaven.

Perfect Love reconciled Heaven and earth, God and man.

*Why yes, this does sound like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!

Next, read Part V: Jesus as the "Lamb of God"

Monday, July 4, 2011

Guest post by Stacy: Is there an eclipse of reason in education?

Thank you to the lovely Stacy Trasancos, at Accepting Abundance, for today's guest post!

Eclipse: “Absence, cessation, or deprivation of light.”
Reason: “To think something through.”
I never knew what a parochial school was until our kids entered a small private Catholic school about six years ago. I had no idea about the history of the university and no clue what the “Ph” in Ph.D. really meant even as I proudly appended the title to my name. Then I became Catholic and my eyes were opened. 
I grew up in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s and I remember that history class was a joke, usually taught by a coach with more important things to do, and although I loved learning, it seemed the ultimate end in all classes was to make good grades. Why? So you can go to college. Why? So you can get a job. 
When I taught high school in Texas in the 1990s it was the same. Teachers had to submit lesson plans for specific state-directed objectives. Grading had to reflect a bell curve and students had to pass standardized exams. Funding and grades were the metrics to show that people were learning. Why? College and a job. The cultural message was also that women could be anything a man could be and so they should not settle for baking cookies and just being a housewife.
When my own daughter started Kindergarten in Pennsylvania, I began graduate school; I was living out the “get a job” mentality. I thought it was great that my daughter could get bussed off to school for “free” and I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was no different when my son started school in 2000 in Virginia. I even availed myself of the school lunches and after-school programs so I could work long hours at my VIP job, which I worked my whole life to achieve. 
Then in 2004 I began conversion to Catholicism, and little by little life started making more sense. For one, I realized children matter much more than careers. We began homeschooling in Massachusetts and continued for four years. As I changed, I also started to understand learning and education in a new light, not as something to get a job but as something to complete yourself, to know yourself, to understand your world.
When my daughter wanted to go back to public school for her junior year so she could experience a senior year graduation, we let her. She took the state standardized tests and maxed out the score. She made good grades. She was even inducted into the National Honor Society, successful by all objective measures. Then in April, after she had nearly completed her whole junior year, an administrator called to tell us she could not graduate the next year because she needed 24 credits to graduate. They literally wanted her to go to high school for four years and graduate at age 20. Needless to say, she got her GED and quit. We pounded on the school board for two years and got the senseless rule changed, but that experience really landed home the idea that public school is not about learning, but about an over-reliance on numbers and money. 
Eventually my son, weary of three baby sisters, wanted to end homeschooling. My husband suggested parochial school, and that’s when my eyes were fully opened. To enroll, the parents had to bring the student for an interview. The building was 100 years old and walking into it felt like stepping back in time, in stark contrast to the city’s new $50 million vocational high school that appears to be a glamorous shopping mall. Anyway…
When we met the principal, she showed genuine interest in my son and his spiritual development, in our family as a whole, and in introducing us to everyone else. The school was much like homeschooling, only in a bigger family. He started the next day because he said he wanted to, and so the principal even gave him uniforms from the recycled clothing closet to spare us a hasty trip to the uniform store.
Six years later we are preparing for the fifth child to enter that same school. It is a much fuller experience than what I experienced in four different states as a student, a teacher and a parent over the span of nearly 30 years. It’s not so much that it is a Catholic private school as it is the approach Catholics in general take towards education, wherever their kids go for instruction. 
The education is basic, chalkboard style “learn-to-take-pride-in-your-work” and “you-get-what-get-and-you-don’t-get-upset” kind of stuff.  It is practical, solid and no-nonsense, grounded in reason and wisdom. The children read the classics, learn to sing and dance, and being rude is a serious offense. Everyone is expected to take care of things, including the old building (which is paid for). The teachers spend as much time educating the children about moral responsibility as they do teaching them how to read, write and do arithmetic. 
I’ve never known a single student who dropped out or graduated unable to read, and the teens actually look me in the eyes and open doors for me when I visit. They engage, and can speak about a range of issues. The baby in my arms is usually grabbed and passed around by giggling adolescent girls and curious boys. 
Sure people will say that the school is excellent because it’s private and there’s lots of money. Nope. I dug up some numbers regarding the cost. The state spends four times as much to educate a single student as we do. It is worth noting that many students at our school are not Catholic or do not have the money for tuition. The Church welcomes them anyway with whatever they can afford, and Catholics share the rest of the bill.
In the US, Catholics educated 2.1 million students in the 2009-2010 school year with our own 10 billion dollars, thus saving the American taxpayer over $22 billion dollars in education expenses. The average cost per student was $4,800. The public schools spend over twice this much, $10,400 per student. And even though we educate kids at less than half the cost, Catholic education stands head and shoulders above every other form of education that we have in this country. The national Catholic school graduation rate is 99.1% of high school students.  Of these graduates, 84.7% go on to college, compared to 44.1% of public school graduates. 
Regarding the university, well, I’ve learned that is a Catholic idea too. In the words of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, a university is a “place of teaching universal knowledge.”  The word comes from the Latin word “universitas” which means community, corporation, totality – universality. Catholic means universal, whole, united, too. Catholics are big on wholeness and unity!
Catholics, in medieval times, started the first universities to pass on knowledge. The earliest universities were developed under the aegis of the Church in Western Europe.  It was only later that the state took over education. Just like I’ve met impressive children with Catholic educations, I’ve met impressive college graduates, too, from traditional Catholic universities, at least half of whom are young women either happily raising a family or looking forward to it. The men and women are versed in the richness of history and the classics, and they present themselves with a sense of dignity and propriety. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Catholic-educated child refer to me by my first name.
As to philosophy, although most college students today don’t know what that word really means, the classical meaning of the word dating back to ancient Greece is a “love of wisdom.” In early universities, all reasoned discourse and knowledge was philosophy. Education is supposed to be about answering ultimate questions, the search for a worldview, the search to know the important things in life that we need to seek and to strive for as human beings.  It is the development of the self in relation to what has come before, what comes after and all that exists in the present. 
Comparing the truncated, superficial (and expensive) education in our country today with the ancient wisdom of the Church leaves me with the ominous sense that education in the US has experienced an eclipse of reason. I wonder how long it will take people to realize that, just like love, when knowledge is pursued without seeking higher transcendental ends where we are eternally responsible for our actions, the result is never satisfying or sustainable. An economic system can only sustain so many people making grades for the sole sake of getting a job, people who do not possess the foundation of understanding and wisdom to know why they should work in the first place, or what truth they are working toward.

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”   Fides et Ratio


Friday, July 1, 2011

Quick Takes, including a dramatic home makeover by Danya!

I'm away from the computer for a few days, but yippee for being able to schedule posts in advance!!

1. Okay, this is the best thing ever. A while back, I lamented that my house never looks as pretty as the other blogger ladies' houses. I have always oohed and aahed over the "before" and "after" pictures of their home interiors, while being stuck with no taste and no talent of my own. Well, lucky for me, I have a friend named DANYA!!! Yes, our own dear Danya has done something for me that I could never in a million years do for myself. And she did it out of love. Are you ready for this? Here is a "before" picture of my living room:

What house full of boys would be complete without pink walls?

And now, after Danya and her beautiful daughter worked their magic on a shoestring budget, I have my own "after" pictures! Ta-daaaa!!!

Have to add one more, because Jesus is in it (over there on the left!), overlooking the peace and tranquility of at least one room in this house!
I am relaxing just looking at these pictures.

I mean really? Who else but Danya could make pink walls work? If you think that's amazing, you should see the photos from the baby shower she threw for me a year and a half ago. I thought it was a royal wedding reception!

Now, she is not done yet, as there are still some touches to add. A couple of glowing lamps, and a large, round mirror over the armoire ("rose window" style!).

Bottom line? Danya, you are the bee's knees, sister!

2. Since I am away from the blogging world for a few days, I asked the wonderful Stacy at Accepting Abundance to write a guest post. She was kind enough to accept, and her post on education, a subject she knows well, will run on Monday.

I won't be able to follow the comments, but I thought I'd throw out this interesting story, which sticks in my craw to this day: I was on an internet forum a few years ago (so what if it was a Clay Aiken fan group???), discussing educational choice with a staunch supporter of the NEA and the public school system. She kept talking about money, money, money, as if that were the answer to the problem of educational decline. I told her that my children attended a tiny private Catholic school which was housed in an old public school building, in a bad neighborhood, with no indoor toilets for the kids (the parents were in charge of cleaning the restrooms each week!). There was no library, no auditorium, no sports fields. The kids sat in mismatched desks and never saw a computer in a classroom. And yet, without all the "necessary" bells and whistles, my kids were getting an excellent and complete education, at a cost per student which was thousands less than the state was spending per student in public schools.

Do you know what this lady said to me, after I described the state of our school?

She called me a liar!

Seriously, I could not believe it! I still don't believe it! I politely asked if she were kidding, and she said it again! Oh, my. I know, I'm still bitter. But I knew then that some conversations are just not possible.

3. Speaking of liars, how about that Planned Parenthood? They are at it again, those crazy kids, and they are good! Check it out, here. If only the media would call Cecile Richards out. Ah, a girl can dream. Indiana residents, I hope you are all over this!

4. In the "eclipse of reason" file, from Sweden:

Those poor kids. 

5. Speaking of gender roles as "societal construct", how do the proponents of a gender-neutral world explain the difference between the lesbian culture and the gay male culture? They are very, very, very different cultures. What accounts for that, if (as we have heard on this blog) there is no essential difference between men and women? Of course, most of us realize and expect that gay men would be different from gay women, because (drum roll)... men and women are essentially different. Even when they are gay!

6. I challenge any reader, left or right, to listen to Dennis Prager on the radio for one week. He is Jewish, conservative (grew up very liberal), thoughtful and respectful, and utterly brilliant. I don't agree with everything he says by a long shot, but I am always edified when I hear him discuss matters of religion, politics, philosophy and society. If you like the discussions in the Bubble, you will love his show.

7. Finally, have a wonderful Fourth of July weekend! May God bless America! And speaking of that, check out the amazing, faith-filled lyrics to some of our nation's most patriotic songs, here. I remember learning them in my public elementary school. Do they still do that anymore? If not, remember to teach your kids these national treasures!

Thanks to Jen, who's enjoying her babymoon, for hosting!