Christ knows we are capable. Why don’t we?

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend about self-confidence and self-doubt. The world is full of individuals who have tremendous amounts of doubt in their abilities –  its both sad and disheartening. We are products of our surroundings and our upbringing, which can be both good and bad. Children raised in a home with unconditional love and given the opportunity to thrive grow up to be loving and confident adults. Those raised in homes with little to no love and made to believe that they are incapable of achieving certain things or that its not worth it to try because the obstacles are insurmountable are the victims of a great injustice – they are taught not to be confident. Worse, they are taught not even to try and never have an opportunity to feel the satisfaction of success. Conversely, there are those children out there who are coddled to such lengths that they never experience the opportunity to fail. From the heartbreak of failure comes learning.

We learn best when we don’t achieve our goals. Watching the London 2012 Olympics is a beautiful example of this idea taken to its extreme. The men and women from around the world who have travelled to compete in London are the best of the best. They have achieved their goal of competing at the very top of their game. They didn’t, however, get to London without some degree of failure along the way. Listening to the stories of the athletes, time and time again we hear the idea that someone barely qualified or someone had lost several races prior to their local qualification. These athletes have learned from their failures. They have felt the heartbreak and pain of not succeeding. They have taken that experience and used it to modify their training or their performances such that they might instead succeed the next time.

Aside from being struck by the sheer number of athletes who very publicly professed their Christian faith and thanked God first in their post-win opportunities to speak, it was inspiring to see cross after cross around an athlete’s neck or see them make the sign of the cross before competition. The idea that these Christian athletes would be successful or that many of the athletes would be Christian makes perfect sense. I had never put two and two together before and thought about the idea that as an athlete one needs to believe in their ability to push beyond seemingly insurmountable odds and push themselves to their fullest potential in order to achieve their goals. One has to believe that within them exists the ‘perfect’ athlete, but they have to work to find that deep within and that it is by the grace of God that they are able to identify what is required to bring that perfection to the surface. Making the sign of the cross before competition or thanking God first after competition is a recognition that it is God who gave them the ability and that it was through His graces that they were able to find it within and work to express it to its fullest.

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. – John 15:16

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about going to hear Matthew Kelly speak. He told a beautiful story about Michelangelo carving David from a slab of imperfect marble.

When asked about the statue, Michelangelo noted that he had not carved David, but that God had helped him chip away the excess stone in the block of marble so that David could be revealed – but that he had always been present inside the stone.

Christ knows that within each of us is our own beautiful self – just like David inside the block of marble. Doubting that beautiful self exists is a doubt that God did not create us in His image, which – in turn – suggests that we think that God is somehow imperfect.

God doesn’t make junk.

Our faith in God as infinite love and infinite perfection is a pathway to our believing in ourselves and our own abilities. While we may not be able to create the universe or exist across all space and time, we sell ourselves short by suggesting that we can’t do something or we can’t try something. It is our worldly upbringing and those with whom we surround ourselves who convince us that we are something less than what God created us to be. If one believes in God as all-powerful and that He created us in His image, then it is not a stretch to believe that we too can be powerful and capable human beings if we take the time to stop and pray for God’s graces in helping us to find those gifts and talents within.

Let us today and everyday take time to pray for those who have been negatively impacted by those around them such that they may open their heart to God’s graces, find that beautiful self within, and trust in God to be there with them as they find the courage to move forward with the God given gifts they have received.

Why are the ‘secrets’ of the Eucharist ‘secrets’?

Once a month, I lead a discussion for a group of women who wish to come together to share and deepen their faith. It was never really intended to be a ‘book club’, but our discussions have largely been based upon a monthly reading. We’ve read ‘He and I‘ and this month we read ‘7 Secrets of the Eucharist‘ by Vinny Flynn. We had read it for our meeting last month, but had a guest speaker at last month’s meeting, so we decided to carry over our discussion on ‘The Eucharist’ in order that we could discuss this wonderful little book.

What struck me as I was reading this book is ‘Why the secrets of the Eucharist are secrets?’ Its not as though these are ‘secrets’ in the sense that these are little known facts being intentionally hidden by a select few. The secrets are things that we really *should* know in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the gift that we have in the Eucharist. The ‘secrets’ are really the things we either keep ourselves from realizing, or have never had the beauty of someone share them so that we may deepen our understanding.

One of the keys to bringing the soul into a faith filled union with the Eucharistic Lord Jesus is the virtue of humility.

For me, one of the most profound and thought provoking statements of the book is the one noted above. Of course, it makes perfect sense – but how often do we stop and ponder our own humility? How often do we do so in a world that rewards those who bring themselves to attention for achieving almost nothing and fails to recognize the virtue that exists within those who quietly achieve great things that change the world.

Flynn goes on to note the ‘The Emmaus Problem’ in which the Apostles fail to recognize the true identity of Jesus until

‘at the breaking of the bread’ their eyes are opened, and they recognize Him (Lk 24: 13-35)

As a convert, the most difficult concept for me to grasp was the idea of ‘transubstantiation‘. Flynn’s discussion of ‘The Emmaus Problem’ spoke to me in a very particular way in that I recognize fully that I continue to try and understand the concept with my head. But, how does one understand ‘The Mystery of Faith’ with one’s head? It cannot be grasped. I am constantly reminding myself of needing to understand with my heart.

The first mystery talks about the Eucharist as being ‘Alive’. I’d never thought of this before. I’d never thought of whether it was a ‘dead’ or ‘living’ Jesus and what that meant. Truthfully, I felt like a bit of a nitwit when I read the bible passage at the end of the chapter.

I am the living bread… Whoever eats this bread will live forever… Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. Jn 6: 51, 57

I had images of Homer Simpson running through my head saying ‘Doh!’. How did I miss this? I’ve only been fortunate enough to receive the Eucharist since December of 2007, but did I really miss this *the whole time*! It wasn’t, however, until I read the whole book and was reminded of other ‘secrets’ of which I was already aware that I realized why Christ was ‘Alive’ in the Eucharist – it is because He lives in Heaven and when we participate in the Mass we are invited into the presence of those in Heaven through the lifting of the veil. Of course – it makes perfect sense. If the Eucharist is the presence of Christ as He exists in Heaven – then the Eucharist *has* to be ‘Alive’. It makes sense… but why am I just now learning this?

‘The flesh of the Son of Man, given as food,’ explains Blessed Pope John Paul II, ‘is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection.’

With this in mind, it is easy to see why Flynn takes significant time to reflect upon the importance of being prostrate in either our bodies or our minds – or both.

Flynn goes on in the second secret to note that ‘Christ is not alone’. How many times when we receive the Eucharist do we hear ‘Body of Christ’ or ‘Blood of Christ’ and think ‘Yep – its the Body of Christ’ or ‘Yep – its the Blood of Christ’, but we forget completely that Christ is only one element of the Holy Trinity. So where Christ is present, so too are God and the Holy Spirit also present. Also, we forget that Christ – in His perfection – cannot be ‘divided’. Hence, His body and blood are fully present in the Eucharist under both species which is why we are in full communion upon receiving either the consecrated Host or the Precious Blood. Flynn also reveals the presence of Heaven during the Eucharistic Liturgy as revealed in the Book of Revelation. A nice summary (albeit somewhat antiquated website!) can be found here and also here.

Time and Space for God is what exists under the 'arc' - it is not limited by linear time or man's concept of space.

The third secret ‘There is only one Mass’. In order to fully understand this aspect, one really needs to understand the first two secrets – they build on each other. The concept of this secret is the idea that God exists across all space and time and that time, for God, is not linear or chronological as it is for us. This is a concept that many seem to struggle with, but somehow my ‘warped’ brain seemed to understand. Two elements that helped me to understand this were asking – if God created the Universe, why would He be constrained to linear or chronological time. We, as humans, live on a chronological time scale and (save for some Saints who were able to bi-locate) can only be in one pace at any given time. God, however, is all encompassing and it would seem almost insulting to box him into the same concept of space and time limiting him to the notion that He can only be in one space and in one point in time. Realizing this, I was able to visualize the idea of a line representing the ground in which we stand and also the linear time scale, and a person (you, me, whomever) at a certain point in time. If it was our names that Jesus whispered on the cross, wouldn’t God be able to be at any point in time that He wanted to be and also at *ALL* the points in time that he wanted to be? With this is in mind and the idea of being invited to be in the presence of those in Heaven from the second secret, it becomes easier to contemplate the idea that when we attend Mass, we are stepping in and out of one Mass.

With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 2 Peter 3:8

The Mass is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ – not a ‘memory’ of it, and not a ‘recreation’. At the Mass

the once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross, which is always present before the Father in heaven, is now made present on our time and place – p. 43

Even more astounding

We sit there in our parish church, locked in the confines of our own time and place, thinking that we’re joining our priest in offering our own particular Mass. But, in reality, Christ is inviting us to enter in, beyond the veil, so that He can lift us up, out of time and into the Eternal Now, into the very sanctuary of heaven, where He leads us into the presence of the Father (See Hebrews 10:19-21)

The awareness and belief in this – in and of itself – is absolutely mind-blowing to me.

In the fourth secret, Flynn asserts that the ‘The Eucharist is not just one miracle’. I have to confess that I didn’t fully grasp this the first time I read this book. One of the women in our group the other night noted that she thought that perhaps Flynn had *really* wanted to have ‘seven’ secrets and could only come up with 6, but then struggled and came up with this idea. She wasn’t quite sold on the idea. After some reflection on the first three miracles, she and I both came around to the idea that if you looked at everything that was taking place during the Mass – it became easier to see that there were, truly, several miracles involved.

Secret 5 was a good reminder – ‘We don’t just receive’. We are invited to participate in a relationship with Christ.

How can we receive such a gift in a merely passive way? Yes, Christ is doing something. But part of what He’s doing is calling to us, inviting us to respond to His initiative in an active way.

We receive innumerable graces through receiving the Eucharist, but we are also called to enter into communion, or to be in ‘union with Christ’. Being in union with Christ means that we are called to be like him, to love him, and to actively participate in our relationship that He and I share.

In Secret 6 we learn that ‘Every Reception is Different’.

…there is an absolute relationship between how I receive and what I receive. – p. 71

Flynn brings into the discussion the passage from 1 Corinthians that is often used to help Catholics explain to our Protestant brothers and sisters why only confirmed Catholics may receive of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. As Catholics, we believe that the Body and Blood of Christ is present in the consecrated hosts and wine, as such, we also believe

Whoever eats of the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself. 1 Cor 11:27-29

For years before my confirmation, I attended Mass with my husband and would quietly sit in the pew while the rest of the Mass attendees went to receive the Holy Eucharist. There were times that I did feel ‘excluded’ wondering why I couldn’t receive. As I began to learn more about the faith, I began to understand that its not an ‘exclusion’ with the intent of keeping one from receiving – but rather a concern over the soul of the recipient. For one to attend a Catholic Mass where, through the Priest, the hosts and wine are consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ and *not* believe this but still receives the Eucharist calls into the idea that one ‘eats and drinks judgement on himself’. Of course, this opens a pandoras box of discussion regarding the significant number of Catholics that receive and still don’t believe in the true presence of Christ and those who knowingly participate in sinful acts and continue to receive – but that’s well beyond the discussion here. The scripture makes it clear that we are not to judge and that instead those who do so ‘eat and drink judgement on themselves’.

What Flynn does note is that

If when I receive, I’m not desiring this special sacramental union with Christ and trying to get rid of anything in my mind or heart that is blocking it, I gain none of the sacramental effect that Christ wants to give me. I’m still receiving the sacrament, but I get none of its fruit.

and more specifically

My spiritual disposition before, during and after receiving the sacrament will determine whether the sacrament will produce good fruit in me (in varying degrees), have no effect at all, or result in my condemnation. – p. 76

This seems entirely fitting if we review the secrets until this point. They truly do build on one another and are intertwined.

The final secret is the one that opened my eyes in a significant way – ‘There is no limit to the number of times we can receive’. Someone will say, ‘But the teachings of the Church say that we are not to receive more that twice in one day.’ This is true of the number of times we are to receive ‘sacramental’ communion. We can, however, also receive ‘spiritual’ communion.

…we can also receive spiritually through our desire for the sacrament, uniting our hearts to the Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist. – p. 84

When we receive sacramentally, it is ideal for us to also receive spiritually – to be in full communion with Christ body, heart and soul. There are, however, times where we are unable to receive sacramentally, but can still be fully united with Christ which is known as ‘spiritual communion’. Flynn does, however, make it clear

Spiritual communion is not a substitute for sacramental Communion, but a very real anticipation and extension of its fruits.

Throughout the day we may have thoughts about Christ – moments of reflection and contemplation, moments of prayer etc… Why not turn those moments into moments of spiritual communion where through our thoughts and prayers we express our desire to be with Christ. Flynn brings examples of various Saints who lived their lives in perpetual ‘spiritual communion’ – a long shot for a wife, mother of two who works part time and tries desperately to keep up with her blog! St. Catherine of Siena noted a vision of Christ holding two chalices and saying to her

In this golden chalice, I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice, I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me.

While perpetual spiritual communion is not likely in the cards for this blogger, there is no reason I cannot make a conscious effort to be in spiritual communion at various points throughout the day. During my morning prayers, after blessing the food at meals, during prayers with my children, even while doing the laundry – I can make a point of saying a little prayer and acknowledging my belief and desire for the sacramental Eucharist and my desire to be in communion with Christ. Flynn notes

Frequency is much more important than duration, because the more you practice spiritual Communion, the more it becomes a habit, a natural instinct to unite yourself with God.

All these ‘secrets’ are beautiful and insightful contemplations on the richness of the Eucharist as the Mystery of Faith. I fully appreciated my RCIA experience, but I wish we had the opportunity to spend more time discussing the Eucharist in the level of detail and on the level which Flynn outlines in his book. But then I ask myself, ‘Would I have been ready to hear and understand these things at that time?’ Perhaps not. Thankfully though, God placed this book in my path along this point in my spiritual journey so that I could not just read the book, but begin to contemplate the beautiful mysteries within and appreciate them each and every time I receive the Eucharist going forward.

‘What does some old man who in Rome who has never been married know?’

Apparently, a lot. Consider this statement by Pope Paul VI regarding the widespread use of artificial contraception:

“Careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”

Keep in mind that this was written over 40 years ago. I have to admit that I haven’t yet read Humane Vitae – perhaps its time. Very powerful.

The importance of ‘Yes’.

Yesterday – Monday, March 26 – was the ‘Feast of the Annunciation‘ in the Catholic Church. Its the day when, we believe, Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother, Mary. Traditionally, the Feast is celebrated on March 25 unless March 25 is a Sunday – where it is celebrated the next day.

Some believe that Christ was born in October, but there is an interesting piece here which talks about the validity of Christmas as December 25 – falling exactly nine months after the Annunciation.

So where did the date of Christmas originate? In 386, St John Chrysostom preached a sermon linking the date for Christmas to the date of the Annunciation. He does so in a way that suggests that this was already an established belief. The date of the Annunciation was based on a Jewish tradition that the world was created on March 25, or Nisan 15, according to the Jewish calendar.  The Jews also believed that a great man would die on the same day as his conception. The early Christians (who were of course Jews) therefore concluded that Jesus had been conceived on March 25. This made it the date of the world’s creation, and the start of the world’s redemption (and therefore the new creation).

 

It’s easy. If the Lord Jesus Christ was conceived on March 25, then he was born nine months later on December 25. The date for Christmas is therefore determined by the date of the Annunciation and has nothing to do with the Roman celebration of the Saturnalia or the celebration of the birthday of Sol Invictus.

And for Tolkien fans…

What about Frodo Baggins? Tolkien fans the world over celebrate March 25 as a day of celebration by the reading of Tolkien’s work. Why is that? Because the day Frodo Baggins saves his world by delivering the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom was (you guessed it) March 25. Ladyday–the feast of the Annunciation and the beginning of our world’s redemption.

That aside, there is something far more important about the Feast of the Annunciation – its a celebration of Mary’s ‘yes’. Not only was her ‘yes’ important for human salvation, but it also sets a beautiful example for the rest of us as to how to say ‘yes’ to God’s call.

Mary was young woman living betrothed to Joseph. They were not yet married and had yet to receive the concluding rite of marriage. During this time, she was visited by the angel Gabriel.

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee calledNazareth, 27 to a virgin [r]engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the [s]descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was [t]Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, [u]favored one! The Lord [v]is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and youshall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How [w]can this be, since I[x]am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the [y]holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and [z]she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For [aa]nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the [ab]bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

If it had been me (and it *wouldn’t* have been for obvious reasons!) I would have been pretty overwhelmed at even the idea of an angel coming and speaking to me! But, to have it tell me that I would a) become pregnant without having had intimate relations with a man and b) that the child born as a result of this visit from the angel would be the ‘Son of God’ would have had me in absolute disbelief. I’m pretty sure I would have had a *lot* of questions. Mary, on the other hand says ‘…may it be done to me according to your word.’

What isn’t included in the scriptural references, but is important to understand is the vast implications of this ‘yes’ that display the tremendous courage and trust shown by Mary. At this point in history, a woman who committed adultery would have been subject to the possibility of being stoned to death for her actions. While Mary had not yet completed the rite of marriage to Joseph, she would have been subject to these same laws. For Mary to take this incredible risk, it showed an unshakable trust in God’s plan for her. Her actions called upon her to trust that God would also see fit to convince Joseph of her story.

Mary had to explain to Joseph what had happened and that she had conceived the ‘Son of God’ by way of a visit from an angel. The comical side of me can only imagine how that conversation played out…

We revere Mary for her ‘yes’ and her trust in God, but we cannot overlook the importance of Joseph in the story of Salvation as he had his own ‘yes’ to make. After his conversation with Mary, I’m sure he too had a lot of questions. But, the Bible tells us that Joseph was a righteous man.

And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned [t]to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for[u]the Child who has been [v]conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for [w]He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this [x]took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME [y]IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24 And Joseph [z]awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25[aa]but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Initially, Joseph wanted to send her away. He couldn’t imagine the idea of her being stoned to death as an adulterer – but he clearly wasn’t sure he could bear the responsibility. He too was visited by an angel and asked to ‘not be afraid’ (recurring theme in the Bible, isn’t it?). Joseph had his own ‘yes’ to make and – thankfully – for all of our sakes, he did so.

The human skeptical side of me asks – “Hmmm, what would have happened if either Mary or Joseph had said ‘You know what, that all sounds great – but a little bit *big* for me to handle so I think I’m going to pass.’?” Silly thought? Perhaps. But God had helped form the hearts of Mary and Joseph so that they would be prepared to say ‘yes’. He had prepared them with a love and trust for Him so that they would be ready for this moment in time in which He would call upon each of them to do something that would change the course of history.

If we fast forward 2000 years and look at our own lives – how many times has God asked us to say ‘yes’ to him in our lives? Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? There are the bigger and obvious ways in which He calls us to Him by accepting him as our Lord and Saviour. There are the bigger ways in which He calls us to chose to accept His gifts of life in the children with which He graces us when we are married. There are the bigger ways in which He calls us in committing to attend Mass on Sundays. There are the bigger ways in which He calls us in committing to raise the children in which He entrusts us as Catholics. There are countless ‘bigger’ ways in which He calls us to say ‘yes’, but there are just as many – if not more – ‘smaller’ ways in which He calls us to say ‘yes’ in the day to day aspects of our lives.

Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by talking with the cashier at the grocery store who is clearly overwhelmed and exhausted and needs someone to stop and acknowledge her and ask her, ‘How are you doing today?’. Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by putting down whatever it is we are doing and cuddle our children? Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by spending an hour of our time in Eucharistic Adoration? Do we say ‘yes’ to Him by offering a smile to the homeless person on the corner of the street? The list goes on and on and on.

We have the chance to change history in our own way as each we are called upon by God to say ‘yes’. We have no idea the impact our ‘bigger’ or even our ‘smaller’ yes can have on others and their lives – and yet we’re all given the chance over and over and over again to do so.

There are so many times I look around and see the ways in which I am presented with the opportunity to say ‘yes’ and have missed it – or even chosen not to do so. But, alas, that presents another opportunity to say ‘yes’ – an opportunity to pray to be reminded of those opportunities to say ‘yes’ and to be made aware of them so that I *can* say ‘yes’ and recognize the importance of doing so in the big ways AND the small ways. Isn’t that also what He wants from us – a chance to ask Him into our lives and acknowledge where we need His help?

A confession…

I have a confession to make. Its not really that juicy, but its not something that I openly share with people. I am addicted to a daytime soap opera. Yes, its a daily addiction. Its so much of a daily addiction that if I miss it during the day, I watch it online at night – usually while making dinner. I know, I know – that’s pathetic.

My addiction was formed at an early age. I began watching this soap opera when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old. I watched off and on while in college and gave it up again when I started working full-time. I’m not really sure when I started watching again, but after I did most recently I found it terribly difficult to consider giving up. Every Lent I’ve pondered the idea of giving up my daily habit, but – no – that would be *too* difficult. I really didn’t want to – shouldn’t that have made it the perfect thing to give up?

Aside from the ‘addictive’ part of my habit, there is the basic underlying idea that I have spent a great deal of time watching fictitious people who are morally hollow – an idea that directly conflicts with my faith and beliefs. Sound harsh? Perhaps. But is it untrue?

My husband came into the kitchen one night while I was making dinner and caught a few minutes of my habit. He asked ‘Do you like any of these characters? Would you want to be friends with any of these people?’

I had to stop and think about it. Did I really like any of the characters? Would I want to be friends with them? In some ways, yes. There were some likable characters who seemed like nice people. Every now and then they made poor choices – like infidelity, secretly stealing someone’s sperm and impregnating themselves, conducting illegal bid fraud during the sale of a company, swapping babies between women (one baby dead and one alive), and sometimes even murder – but the rest of the time they were pretty decent I suppose. Those are actual story lines that took place. I thought about how sad that was. What was even more sad was that I wasn’t willing to give it up.

I thought about why and realized that I enjoyed watching these people. It was entertaining. But did that make it right? I started to think more and more about the idea that I had started watching this when I was in my mid-teens. I was at an impressionable time in my life and was being fed the idea that all of the crazy story lines I noted above were somehow ‘normal’. I had an epiphany today when I realized that I likely related to these people because my life has also been a soap opera of sorts.

Both my natural mother and father have each been married three times. Their respective husbands and wives had all been previously married. I was adopted by my step-father at age 8, but spent my vacations with my natural father and his wife and son from her previous marriage as well as my step-sister and step-brother’s mother who was also married (to a man significantly her junior). One of my grandfathers (I had many give all the divorce and remarriage) had an affair with his housekeeper who was my mother’s age and had married her. Toward the end of his life their relationship faltered and there was some question as to whether or not he wrote her out of his will on his deathbed. This is just the readers digest version and I’ve often thought the real thing, if ever written, wouldn’t be believed to be true. I have been used to chaos in my life from an early age, so watching others smoothly transition throughout similar chaos seems fairly ‘normal’ to me.

But again, is it ‘right’? There is an entertainment value to watching these types of shows. I have spent much time in the past few years really taking a close look at the way in which television and movies have spiraled so far downward in terms of quality and, particularly, moral values. Music has gone the same way. Things that would have been considered rude and vulgar 50 years ago are now regularly seen on prime time television – sometimes in commercials. Would anyone 50 years ago believe that we’d have commercials for sexual lubricants shown on television? Would they believe that we have shows on television that regularly show fairly steamy interactions between women and men – sometimes women and women, and also men and men. 50 years ago we had married couples on television sleeping in separate beds. We are told that this is ‘progress’ – but is it?

Today more than 50% of marriages will end in divorce. More babies than ever are born out of wedlock. The abortion rate – thankfully – has dropped since the early 1980s, but still hovers around 20%. One in four African American babies is killed in the womb – 25%! Read the statistics here regarding adolescent sexuality and, if you are a parent, tell me if you don’t shudder when you think of your own children. Yet, in some cities – like Austin, we have hired Planned Parenthood to conduct our sexual education training in schools. If they are using brochures like this, its not difficult to understand why the statistics regarding adolescent sexuality are where they are. Isn’t this akin to hiring Philip Morris to conduct anti-smoking programs?

With the barrage of moral relativism surrounding us in the world of entertainment, its no wonder we are where we are.

So, how do we get out? We stop watching. We stop giving our money to people who produce the crap – and, yes, it is crap – that is sucking us into a moral black hole, and instead give it to those who produce entertainment based on a system of values that encourages us to live lives where we treat one another with respect and dignity. We spend it on watching entertainment that provides us with individuals who make poor choices and suffer consequences – but learn from their mistakes, instead of those who make poor choices and instead come out a hero. I sound like everyone’s mother (except, perhaps, for Madonna) including my own – or, even worse, a grandmother. But maybe they were on to something.

Where does that leave my soap opera? Out in the cold. Unfortunately, I chose not to give it up for Lent again this year (I did, however, give up Facebook and am enjoying it so much that I may not go back!), but I have given my soap up – hopefully for good. We went away on Spring Break last week and I didn’t watch it once. I thought about this upon my return and relished in the thought of having five hours on which I could catch up – but, then I thought again and realized that I’d survived five days and might just survive a little longer. I have been tempted to tune in and see what’s happen in the land where half of a dialogue is awkwardly spent explaining the details of who everyone is. Thankfully, I’ve resisted. Instead I’ve taken to watching streaming movies on Netflix while making dinner. Its been a welcome change.

Sadly, I’m not 100% free of watching ‘crap’ since my husband and I both got hooked on ‘Downton Abbey‘ this winter and have to admit that we are both excited about Mad Men starting this weekend.

Baby steps. I’m trying.

A great piece on hypocrisy… my pet peeve.

One of my pet peeves in life is hypocrisy. This piece was written last week by Msgr. Charles Pope on the blog at the Archdiocese of Washington (always a great read!) and covers the idea of hypocrisy beautifully.

In the modern age we have tended to reduce the notion of hypocrisy to duplicity. The modern notion is that a hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another, a person who is two-faced, who is inconsistent or phony. Jesus’ teaching on Hypocrisy does not exclude this notion but is far richer.

Its a great read on how we have a tendency to hide our true beliefs for fear of not being accepted.

Let's just get this out of the way, shall we?

It seemed as though now is as good a time as any to address the elephant in the living room. Like anyone who has a sense of what’s happening in this country – but particularly Catholics, I’ve been following the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate situation very closely. Like most, I’ve been appalled – but not surprised – at the media mischaracterization of the objection of not only each and every Catholic Bishop in the United States (yes, we’re up to 100% now!) but also roughly 2500 other Christian and Jewish leaders too. It seemed a good time as any to debunk the media misrepresentation and general misunderstanding of the general public as it relates to this issue.

First, to clarify – the HHS mandate will require that each and every health insurance plan offered by each and every insurance company provide coverage for contraception (this includes class one carcinogen birth control pills and IUDs), sterilization (this includes tubal litigation and vasectomies), and abortion inducing drugs (this includes drugs such as RU-486 - which is made by the Roussel Uclaf who is in turn owned by Hoescht AG, formerly known as IG Farben who made Zyklon B and conducted medical experiments for the Nazis – and Ella). Because each and every plan is required to cover these products and services – at *no* cost to the person being insured – each and every resident in the United States will be required to pay for these services regardless of whether or not they a) need them b) use them or c) find them morally objectionable. This isn’t just about religious entities, this applies to everyone residing in the United States. The overall health insurance mandate requires that every individual carry health insurance or pay a fine, so outside of objecting to the mandate by paying the fine and not being covered – there is no ‘choice’ for those individuals, religious entities or even companies who find these products morally objectionable. The only choice that exists is a) pay for coverage and put your conscience aside or b) pay a fine and not be covered (which leaves us pretty much where we are today with people losing their homes and lives being bankrupted by skyrocketing health care costs).

Let’s set aside, for the time being, the argument as to whether or not one believes that the Church and others should or shouldn’t believe in the moral objections of contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs because the issue at hand isn’t one’s beliefs, but rather the idea of whether or not the government has the right to do the following:

  1. mandate that an individual or business entity purchase a particular product in the private marketplace using their private purchasing power
  2. mandate that an individual or business entity purchase a particular product in the private marketplace using their private purchasing power to which they have a moral objection based on religious beliefs

The Department of Health and Human Services has states that the reason for this mandate is that it is ‘less expensive to prevent an illness than to treat it.’ The first glaring issue with this particular mandate is that the Department of Health and Human Services is classifying pregnancy as an ‘illness’. I’m pretty sure that I speak for every mother out there when I say that – even at the moments I have been most frustrated with my children – I have NEVER thought of my children as diseases to be cured. Moving beyond that glaringly obnoxious categorization as declared by the HHS, there are a number of inconsistencies with this argument.

The first inconsistency is that insurers have come out since the contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drug mandate (‘You keep using that lengthy term – why?’ – because this isn’t just a contraception issue as the media would want you to believe) and indicated that they are unable to provide contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs at no co-pay or cost to clients without recouping the cost elsewhere. Contrary to the belief of the Dept of HHS, insurers do not a) have a money tree in the backyard upon which they can pick continually regenerating supplies of cash to pay for services b) have a deal with providers of the aforementioned services and drugs to receive them for free (hence, doctors and drug companies are also lacking the money tree in the backyard) and c) are also not able to pay for these services and drugs by way of Unicorn droppings. Here’s a big lesson in life – ‘Nothing in life is free, ‘free’ only means that someone else is paying for it.’ With that in mind, we know that the insurers will cover the costs the only way that they know how – by rolling the costs into the premiums charged to their customers. Who are those customers? Ultimately, you and I (‘But wait – my company pays my insurance – not me.’ – True, but the insurance they pay is part of your compensation package and is related to the company employing you. Indirectly, its the company using money allocated to ‘you’.). As such, the so-called ‘accommodation’ by the White House is really an indication of how stupid they think the general public is by trying to tell them – ‘No, you won’t be paying but the insurance companies will.’ making the accommodation an insult to the intelligence of the voting population.

The second inconsistency is that by doing this the insurance companies save money. The average cost of ‘treating’ a pregnancy is $7500. The average annual cost of the birth control pill is $600. If a woman is on the pill for the majority of her child-bearing years (18-40), it would cost the insurance company roughly $13200 for the cost of her contraception. And this is a cost savings how?

A third and most glaring inconsistency is in what the Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t tell you about the fact that the birth control pill with its doses of synthetic hormones is considered a class one carcinogen. This means that it presents a risk in increased instances of certain types of cancers.

modifies slightly the risk of cancer, increasing it in some sites (cervix, breast, liver), decreasing it in others (endometrium, ovary).

Yes… it does decrease some cancers, but did the HHS factor in the cost of treating cervix, breast and liver cancer in their overall cost savings to the insurers because I’m willing to bet that chemotherapy, radiation and extended hospital stays are not inexpensive as are mammograms etc…

Finally, there is an even more obvious and glaring inconsistency in the HHS mandate. We are told that it is a ‘cost saving’ measure. Given that there were roughly 4.1 million babies born in the US last year and the average cost of ‘treating’ that pregnancy was $7500 we can ascertain that the cost of delivering those babies totaled $30.8 billion. Its hard to find statistics on the money spent on birth control pills alone in the United States, but a NYTimes article referring to the sale of Bayer’s ‘Yaz’ pill noted that at $616m a year in sales it represented 18% of the marketplace of the pill which puts the total market at roughly $1.2 billion. Of course, that number doesn’t include the cost of sterilizations and abortion inducing drugs. But, we can determine the that government wants to ‘save’ insurers roughly $26b per year (if we assume that the cost of all services and products to be provided for ‘free’ total $4b per year). Is it a savings? Yes. Will it be ‘free’? No. But if its all about cost savings then why didn’t the HHS mention the annual costs to insurers associated with obesity? According to the CDC, in 2008 we spent roughly $147b per year on obesity and obesity related illnesses here in the US. Our obesity rates are on the rise so we can assume that this amount is higher today and we are less than four years later.

If the HHS was truly concerned about ‘saving’ money for the insurers, wouldn’t they want to help target the health care costs of obesity? $26b may be a lot of money saved by not having to deliver those pesky little ‘diseases’, but if we could lower the obesity rate we could save up to $147b. $147b is larger than $26b right? So why not implement mandates that would target obesity?

Consider this idea… what if when you went grocery shopping, you were required to purchase – at a minimum – foods that would provide your family with a perfectly balanced meal plan for the week. You could purchase products you wished to have, but you would need to purchase the ‘healthy’ items first. We would all carry a card that would track our purchases that would need to be presented at the check out with each purchase and it would have a record of our purchases. If you’d purchased the healthy quota for the week, then you could purchase the yummy stuff – if not, you’d need to buy the remainder of the healthy stuff before you could purchase the Coca-Cola, the chips, the chocolate bars etc… If you didn’t like the food you were required to buy, that’s okay – you wouldn’t have to eat it. You could, if you wanted, leave it in a large bin outside the store that would pick up food and take it to the homeless. If you didn’t want to purchase these items, you could pay a fine and then be free to purchase the items you wished to purchase. Wouldn’t this help combat obesity?

‘Wait a minute. You can’t tell people what they have to buy!’ – you exclaim. Why not? That’s exactly what the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate says. It says that anyone – because of the mere fact that they are living breathing human beings residing in the United States – must carry health insurance with a minimum of coverage as outlined by the HHS. Keep in mind that the overall insurance mandate exists because the government knows that by legislating that insurance companies are no longer able to restrict based on pre-existing conditions and people will not pay for the insurance until they get sick – it forces them to buy in and cover the costs. Hence, they are requiring everyone to purchase a pre-defined government product from a private enterprise. Isn’t this ultimately the same as the grocery store example? The products you would purchase from the grocery store would be pre-defined by the government and purchased from a private enterprise. Seem far-fetched? Not really. Health insurance is now mandated by the government and we need food to survive, so the grocery store example is actually *less* invasive because they don’t mandate that you go to the grocery store, they just say ‘if you do… you will purchase this’ in an attempt to promote healthy eating in the United States and to save money.

Keep in mind that all of this ruckus over the contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs issue could have been avoided if the HHS had simply offered two basic plans: one with the objectionable services and one without. Why didn’t they do that? Simple, the premiums would be higher for the one *with* the objectionable services (remember, insurers need to recoup the cost somewhere and the Unicorn poop just wouldn’t cover it) and people would figure out that they were, in fact, paying for these services after all. Insurers and the HHS need everyone to pay premiums in order to offset the increased cost of providing services for ‘free’.

I recently saw a quote that said:

If what happens in your bedroom is none of my business, then please don’t make me pay for your supplies or consequences.

Thought that quote provided a little levity and honesty in an otherwise heavy discussion.

In reading several pieces about the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drugs mandate, I came across a piece by Marc John Paul at ‘Bad Catholic’ in his ‘Open letter to Barack Obama Concerning Recent Tyranny‘. Marc John Paul is an 18 year old Catholic man who is wise beyond his years. He raises several wonderful points regarding the exercise of religious freedom and is extremely articulate. Perhaps one of the most significant points he makes is that this mandate is extremely insulting to women:

I know our world is idiotic and sexist to the point of the embarrassing belief that women cannot prevent pregnancy without pills, but as it turns out, they can. In fact, if you’re a woman reading this, chances are you’re preventing pregnancy right now. (If not, rethink your sex life.) Thus a health-care provider not providing free access to artificial contraception does not damn women to pregnancy — oh, the horror — any more than not providing diet-pills would damn them to obesity.

Let’s clarify one point he makes above to counter the misleading media representation – the objection to the mandate is NOT the Catholic Church or anyone of the 2500 religious leaders of the US trying to restrict access to birth control for anyone. To date, over 90% of women have reported that they have had access to birth control when trying to prevent a pregnancy. This isn’t about access to birth control and an attempt to restrict it in any way – its about individuals saying ‘That’s fine if you want to use it, but please don’t make me pay for it.’ Right now roughly 90% of insurance plans cover it, but the fact is that with this mandate no one will have a choice any longer as to whether they choose to cover it or not.

Finally, as this mandate pertains to religious freedom – the HHS contraception/sterilization/abortion inducing drug mandate clearly flies in the face of the US Constitution. The First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

If the government will not permit me to ‘opt out’ of paying for drugs and services against which my religion has a clearly defined moral objection – how is government *not* ‘prohibiting the free exercise thereof’? Quakers are not required to serve in the military as it violates their religious beliefs. The Amish are entirely exempt from carrying any health insurance and even Muslims may also find themselves exempt from the overall insurance mandate – both based on religious beliefs. The same individuals, however, are not will to recognize my religious beliefs and that of millions across the country. The Fourteenth Amendment provides ‘equal protection under the law’. If we are willing to allow for the exemptions based on some religious beliefs, but not others – aren’t we then allowing our government to violate the Fourteenth Amendment by allowing for religious discrimination?

I will continue to pray that those of us who believe that these products and services are morally objectionable will be given the choice to not have to pay for them as part of our health insurance. If allowed to stand, it sets a precedent in allowing for the government to mandate any product be required to be purchased by individuals from private entities. I hear the sales of Chevy Volts have been dwindling, perhaps we could mandate that every family making over $170k purchase one of those next!

Today’s writing wasn’t exactly ‘Lent’ related… but I did want to get it out there as it pertains to religious liberty in the US and it does help open the door as to further writing as to why I believe in Natural Family Planning as a viable family planning method.

God Bless.

"I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals."

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. We had a wonderful homily about preparing ourselves for His coming. I am particularly fond of today’s readings as I took St. John the Baptist as my Patron Saint when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church. I had always been a big fan of St. Joan of Arc and my husband and I were both convinced that I would take her as my Patron Saint. I loved her courage and determination – and that she was a WOMAN!

I decided, however, at some point that I identified more with St. John the Baptist. He was a little odd and a little outspoken. This suited me just fine. Like St. Joan of Arc, I also appreciated his courage and conviction. I suppose what struck me about St. John the Baptist is that he would never witness the resurrection of Christ and his beliefs stemmed from his trust in his faith and what he knew from scripture. He is, of course, said to have ‘leapt’ in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary entered and was present while pregnant with Jesus.

I like to think of the need for honesty and trust in my faith much like St. John the Baptist displayed. Additionally, St. John was unafraid to express his faith and his need for the utmost in humility. Its a wonderful lesson for each and every one of us.

I also loved today’s readings from Isaiah 40:

A voice cries out:

In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!

Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!

When I was in my early thirties, my grandmother on my Mother’s side of the family died and was hospitalized before I could get to see her. I was located in New Orleans and she was living in Toronto. I did, however, have the opportunity to speak with her prior to her passing.

I recall the last words she said to me were:

Keep on the straight and narrow.

In my late teens and early twenties, I had been pretty much off the straight and narrow for some time. For her to say this to me was a confirmation of her belief that I was – finally – ‘on the straight and narrow’. I drift from time to time, but I like to think that overall I’ve managed to keep on the path of decency as a human being. Thankfully, my faith has helped keep me there and be my compass. I am always reminded of these last words of my Nana when I read this passage from Isaiah.

Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come – finally!

For the past three years I have been leading a series of Great Adventure Bible Studies at St. John Neumann Catholic Church. It has been a wonderful journey along a path of deepening faith. There are three foundational studies – The Bible Timeline, Matthew: The King and His Kingdom, and Acts: The Spread of the Kingdom. You can read more about the studies here. I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent reading and learning more about the Bible and how it pertains to my faith. I should preface my writing by noting that I am NOT a paid employee of Ascension Press or Great Adventure Bible Studies. I am simply a woman on a journey who found a key to unlocking the doors of understanding in these wonderful studies!

I have, however, been very keen on one study in particular – Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come. Learning more about this little known book at the end of the Bible has been something of which I have been curious about for some time now. I really wanted to be committed and dedicated to the idea of completing the foundational studies before taking on Revelation in order that I had the necessary background upon which to learn.

I am so very excited to have FINALLY started the Revelation study just yesterday! It is always so exciting to receive the new materials for each study and Revelation didn’t disappoint. The study guide includes a wonderful introduction outlining the *way* in which we will study Revelation as well as an overview of the relevance of numbers, colors and symbols in the Book of Revelation. This is exactly what I’ve been waiting to learn! I know there is much much more to the Book of Revelation, but we have already seen so many references to significant numbers in the studies thus far – though have been limited in our ability to go deeper into their meanings as there has been so many other significant and important things to focus on in our studies. Having the opportunity to reflect on these in great detail will be truly fascinating.

While far from an expert on scripture, I have managed to learn in the past three short years that when reading scripture it is important to read it in its ‘literal sense’, but also in its ‘spiritual sense’. When considering the ‘spiritual sense’, we can break this into three categories. The first is the allegorical sense – or how it relates to Christ. The second is the moral sense – or how it relates to me and how I live my life. Finally, the third is the anagogical sense or how it relates to ‘things beyond this world’. EWTN provides a great article regarding how all scripture is inspired by God.

While providing a great overview of the history of the Book of Revelation, Jeff Cavins also provided a great outline of  the different ways in which the Book of Revelation has been interpreted by various Biblical scholars. He spoke of how there have been interpretations that followed the seven stages of Church history and have mapped out historical events. He also outlined the approach that looked at the past and how it related to events that took place in the first century. He then noted the interpretation that notes that Revelation is an outline of the last days of mankind. Finally, he spoke of the ‘Idealist’ view which doesn’t reflect on past or future events and focuses on an allegorical interpretation concerned with ideas and principles and timeless truths.

What struck me most was the idea of the Book of Revelation as an ‘unveiling’ of both the Lamb (Jesus) and the Bride (the Church and us). The first eleven chapters will cover the unveiling of Jesus and chapters 12 – 22 will unveil the Bride.

I cannot wait until next week and to start reading this wonderful scripture! The women in our study are also very excited and almost all of them have completed at least one other Great Adventure study and have noted how the studies have become ‘addictive’. We are all excited about this next step in our journey.