I Am That I Am

TBM Topic 26: Instruct the Ignorant

“I Am That I Am” by Julie Robison
Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion on Facebook and Twitter!


During Lent, we will be discussing the Spiritual Works of Mercy every week.



Ignorant is not a word I particularly care for, yet most people are culpable. It comes from the Latin words in (not) and gnarus (knowing).

New Advent defines ignorance as “lack of knowledge about a thing in a being capable of knowing. Fundamentally speaking and with regard to a given object ignorance is the outcome of the limitations of our intellect or of the obscurity of the matter itself.”

Today, we Catholics (and fellow orthodox Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters) face bigotry based on ignorance of our faith, religion and history. The greater good would be served, society is led to believe, if God was kept in the pews and within the walls of our homes. God is good as long as God is contained.

But our God is an awesome God – awesome in the “awe-inspiring” way. God is not our bro. God is not our homeboy. God is the Almighty one – the Alpha (first) and the Omega (last) – the one who is, the one who was, the one who will be (Revelation 1:8).

And he will not be contained. We cannot limit his power, his mercy, his goodness or his Kingdom Come. Our reasons are not his reasons, and this is the first step to instructing ignorance: discernment of our own vocation.

Flannery O’Connor wrote that “Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an ax, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed.”

For many, the best reason to be a Christian is the joy and fellowship of other Christians. For others, Christians are the best reason not to be a Christian – their small-mindedness, their inability to compromise, their, well, ignorance.

And so, who has the high ground here? The miserable Christians who pray, “I believe – help my disbelief!” Or the one who discuss God’s take on a few things, would certainly invite him over for a drink, and then be done with the old chap. He’s not really our kind of man, if you know what we mean.

We certainly do. Which is ignorance on their part. I truly this many people intentionally stay ignorant of God – learn things about him, sure, and learn about things that surround him. But not him. After all, it is hard to look at God on the cross and really know that he knows our hearts. He can touch and change our lives, if we only get to know him. Our God is the God of all; our path towards God will never be repeated for another.

While discussing a struggle with my sister last night, she told me I had to believe the consequences would be bad if I continued. She did not mean in the short term, or even in human terms: she meant, if I really wanted a change of heart, I’d have to care more about offending God. The kind of caring that shows considerations for another feelings. In short, I need to know God on a much more personal level, the kind that changes my actions and words in the long-term as well as the short.

We Catholics have a prayer for that: the Act of Contrition. We say it after the sacrament of Reconciliation. It goes, O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

This prayer is not said or meant lightly. Humanity is like a heat-seeking missile: it seeks Truth. It is not pretentious to claim to know Truth, as the Catholic Church does, for example. 2,000 years of bad press and still the truths found in the dogmas and sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, resonate across every color and creed.

No one has it easy. No one knows (or can know) “everything.” Ignorance infects the best and most brilliant among us. It is the humility to ask God, to knock on his door, to seek his guidance, that really begins the journey. Some times, people need other people to help them get there, be it in books, blog posts, or conversations.

Perhaps more importantly though, a person needs to be self-aware where they are ignorant. One can always instruct where they know and understand, but they must also be willing to learn. That way, knowledge leads to wisdom, and not a higher level of ignorance.

There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy, And No Measuring Tape Can Reach

TBM Topic 13: Fr. John Corapi and the importance of Christian witnessing

“There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy, And No Measuring Tape Can Reach” by Julie Robison
“Believe Me If You Like.” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“What do John Mayer and the Catholic Church have in common?” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

There is something to be said for, what Graham Greene said in Brighton Rock, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has certainly seen its share of sin and scandal in the past 2,000+ years and, most recently, with the latest exposure of John Corapi’s inappropriate escapades, to fuel the opposition’s cackling fire.

In the April 2011 issue of First Things, Gerald McDermott wrote “Evangelicals Divided,” which resulted in many responses, a few of which were published in the June/ July 2011 issue, including from the author himself. Towards the end, he reproached his Papist brethren. “At the same time, I wish the Catholic critics were a bit less triumphalistic,” wrote McDermott. “When the clergy abuse has sent multitudes of Catholics to swim the Tiber away from Rome to either liberal or evangelical Protestantism, and the church is beset with both clergy and parishioners who ignore or defy Rome, one would hope for a bit of ecumenical modesty.” I let out a contented sigh upon reading this- that his protest was but a finger point; in short, our strand of Christendom has its own problems, and gawking is not welcome.

We’re not gawking, we’re taking a break
“Now, it’s perfectly true that in a way this unholiness of Catholics is a compliment to our religion,” wrote Ronald Knox in a lovely volume of lecture apologetics, In Soft Garments. “Because it does mean that a Catholic does not necessarily cease to be a Catholic because he is a rogue. He knows what is right even when he is doing what is wrong. The Protestant as a rule will give up his faith first and his morals afterwards with Catholics it is the other way round. The Protestant only feels his religion to be true as long as he goes on practising it; the Catholic feels the truth of his religion as something independent of himself, which does not cease to be valid when he, personally, fails to live up to its precepts.”

When news first came out about John Corapi, people were wary. This is a sign of mercy, not blind allegiance. He has shown himself to be an amazing defender of the faith; it is a shame to see such a man go wayward.

In Catholic doctrine, the seven spiritual works of mercy are: counsel the doubtful; instruct the ignorant; admonish sinners; comfort the afflicted; forgive offenses; bear wrongs patiently; pray for the living and the dead. How many people remember these when comparing one Christian witness to another? My siblings made a joke in the car yesterday about how ignorant people are “people who know they know everything already.” I thought this an astute observation from a 13 and 15 year old.

As Americans, we should believe that all people are innocent until proven otherwise. As Christians, we know no one can escape final justice. Therefore, as Roman Catholics, all voluntarily professing believers in the same dogma and equal participants in the sacraments, we must especially pray for mercy and grace, for ourselves and each other. Pope Benedict XVI, during his inauguration on April 24, 2005 to become the 265th Bishop of Rome, said, “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.”

Pray for him! We’re so blessed to have him lead us.

Holy people are not exempt from temptation, though they rise above the occasion. Fr. Joseph Esper, in his excellent book Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems*, opens the chapter on “Temptation” as such:

What is the one thing every human being throughout history who has reached the age of reason has shared in common? It isn’t the reality of sin, either Original Sin or personal sin. Jesus and Mary never sinner, and neither was touched by the sinful inheritance of Adam and Eve. No, the one reality we all share is the experience of being tempted to sin. Even Jesus (and surely Mary, although Scripture doesn’t record it) experienced temptation. Three times the evil one approached Jesus during His forty days of fasting and prayer in the desert… In each case, Jesus rejected the Devil’s suggestions. Not only did He wish to remain true to the will of His Father, but He also desired to provide us with encouragement to face and, with His help, to overcome our own temptations to sin.

Corapi, for all his positive work in the advancement of the faith, has reassured me of something with his moral failings and betrayal of his vows: Truth prevails. The Catholic Church is a vehicle of God, not man. His personal actions were sinful, but the Church’s teachings do not change. I am not Roman Catholic because of one man’s persuasiveness, nor do a thousand-billion people’s personal sins lessen the truths given to us by Jesus Christ, the divine revelation from God the Father or the works of the Holy Spirit.

St. Thomas More would know a thing or two about this
As Pope Benedict XVI told journalist Peter Seewald in Light of the World, “But we must also note that in these matter s [sexual abuse scandals] we are not dealing with something specific to the Catholic priesthood or the Catholic Church. They are, unfortunately, simply rooted in man’s sinful situation, which is also present in the Catholic Church and led to these terrible results.”

After all, as Knox later jokes, “If all Catholics were saints, the truth of our religion would become too glaringly obvious, and there would be no real exercise in making one’s submission to the Church.”

In these times, I pray. Pray for mercy. Pray for help. Pray for hope. Pray for repentance. I also stand my ground. This is what witnessing is; no one is convinced by otherwise. I show mercy. I give help. I tell of my hope, and my reason for it. I repent of my sins, in my heart and in the confessional. To witness, one must believe in the tenants of Christianity, which give cause for virtuous actions, and thus the heart will be sanctified, so that the burning love for God will be kindled and the Holy Spirit’s fire will spread to many more, for the glory of the Kingdom to come.

The one fact of life we must never forget is that all people matter; all people have souls worth saving. Corapi’s life is not over in the Church. The one lost sheep is worth looking for; the Prodigal Son’s return is worth celebrating. There is much to feel blessed about, when one sees good come from bad situations, wrongs rightened, and perseverance through the darkness. In that vein, I particularly like this question and answer from Light of the World:

Seewald asked,

The scandal of sexual abuse could cause us to ask about other cases of abuse of well. For instance, the abuse of power. The abuse of a relationship. The abuse of a commission to educate. The misuse of my gifts. In ancient Greece a tragedy was supposed to cause strong emotions in the spectators, a “cathartic” or cleansing effect that made them think in a new way about their life. Only catharsis makes people ready to change their deeply ingrained behaviors. Couldn’t the current crisis of the Church become a new opportunity also?

Pope Benedict XVI replied,

I think so. Indeed, I have already mentioned that the Year of Priests, which turned out quite differently from what we had expected, had a cathartic effect also. That the laity, too, became grateful again for what the priesthood really is and saw its positive nature in a new way, precisely in the midst of the disturbances and the threats to it. 

This catharsis is for all of us, for all of society, but especially of course for the Church, a call to recognize again our fundamental values and to see the dangers that profoundly threaten not only priests but also society as a whole. Knowledge about this threat and the destruction of the moral framework of out society should be for us a call to purification. We must acknowledge again that we cannot simply live in any way we please. That freedom cannot be arbitrariness. That is imperative to learn to exercise a freedom that is responsibility.

As such, each of have a responsibility in this lifetime to discern and properly seek our purpose, to live according to the Word and Catholic doctrine, and to be a witness for how our relationship with God-in-Three has and continues to profoundly change our hearts and shape our souls. As was proclaimed in the Gospel on Sunday, weeds will grow up beside the harvest, but it is not for us to pick them out before the whole crop comes to fruition. In the sin of scandal, our ruffled feathers help us straighten out our own lives, examine our own actions and thoughts, and more earnestly seek to live more faithfully.

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Pope Benedict XVI explained this best in his brilliant Introduction to Christianity, with the reminder to use our fallen natures as the stepping stone upwards to God, for we are not called to a flawless, never-tripping-or-making-mistakes holiness, but perfection through sanctification:

On the contrary, this holiness expressed itself precisely as mingling with the sinners whom Jesus drew into his vicinity; as mingling to the point where he himself was made “to be sin” and bore the curse of the law in execution as a criminal– complete community of fate with the lost (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). He has drawn sin to himself, made it his lot, and so revealed what true “holiness” is: not separation, but union; not judgment, but redeeming love.

Is the Church not simply a continuation of God’s continual plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at the table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight? Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man’s expectation of purity, God’s true holiness, which is love, love that does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order to thus overcome it? Can, therefore, the holiness of the Church be anything else but the bearing with one another that comes, of course, from the fact that all of us are bourne up by Christ?

No one escapes temptation’s siren call, but how one responds to it determines the course. We should mourn Corapi’s decisions, pray for him, and hope for him, as we should for all people. No one is outside the realm of God’s mercy and we should witness for Christ accordingly, in our unwholly holy way.

So I find words I never thought to speak/ In streets I never thought I should revisit/ When I left my body on a distant shore./ Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us/ To purify the dialect of the tribe/ And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,/ Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age/ To set a crown upon your lifetime’s effort./ First, the cold friction of expiring sense/ Without enchantment, offering no promise/ But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit/ As body and soul begin to fall asunder./ Second, the conscious impotence of rage/ At human folly, and the laceration/ Of laughter at what ceases to amuse./ And last, the rending pain of re-enactment/ Of all that you have done, and been; the shame/ Of motives late revealed, and the awareness/ Of things ill done and done to others’ harm/ Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
— T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding”

*This book is perhaps the borrowed the most from me and then subsequently bought; it is really stupendous, and now there is a second volume. Published by Sophia Institute Press.

Ecce Nostra Feminia

The Bright Maidens‘ Topic 9: Mary, Our Guide

“Ecce Nostra Feminia” by Julie Robison
“Simple Things” by Trista at Not a Minx, a Moron, or a Parasite
“Mary’s vapor rub” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day

We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

Last night, Dad and I went to the grocery store after work, to pick up vegetables, bread, cheese and a few more gallons of milk. We were in the bakery section, and Dad was looking at the bread called “Ecce Panis.”

“Do you know what ‘ecce’ means in Latin, Dad?” I asked.

“What is that,” he replied, humoring me.

“‘Ecce’ means ‘look’ in Latin, so ‘ecce panis’ is ‘look, bread!’ The word for bread looks like it is in the nominative case, but really it’s the vocative, which is supported by ‘ecce,'” I rambled on to him.

“I think it also can be translated as ‘behold,'” said Dad. “As in, ‘behold- bread!'”

I liked that translation, but more because I began thinking about Mary, the Theokokos, the Mother of God.

Behold, Our Lady! Loving and sanguine, I always imagine Mary half-smiling at Jesus at the wedding in Cana, when he told her his time has not yet come, and she, gentle mother, flicking her wrist and saying to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Just as Jesus is our Savior, wholly part of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, who will come back to earth to judge the living and the dead, Mary is our mother, and de facto, our liaison to God. Her earthly comings are always with the purpose and intent to bear messages from Jesus. She is a reminder of our need for the spiritual, through her vibrancy and consistent persuasion for us to follow her Son, who is the way, the truth and the life. Mary always points towards Jesus, which makes her our own guide in this life, if we are to play the role of Dante.

Marina Warner wrote, in her 1976 book Alone of All Her Sex, “Whether we regard the Virgin Mary as the most sublime and beautiful image in man’s struggle towards the good and the pure, or the most pitiable production of ignorance and superstition, she represents a central theme in the history of Western attitudes to women. She is one of the few females to have attained the status of myth– a myth that for nearly two thousand years has coursed through our culture, as spirited and often as imperceptible as an underground stream.”

So good!

I have been reading Judith Dupre’s Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life and give it cannot be more highly recommended. Dupre offers 59 meditations, equal to the number of beads on a rosary. She writes, “This text is a three-part invention: narrative, visual narrative, and marginalia. In the main text, I offer short essays, sometimes personal, sometimes theological or historical, on Mary’s place in our everyday lives. The imagery and captions form a ‘book within a book’ that traces Mary’s influence on Western art. The selections from history, poetry, and prose in the margins offer additional insights into Mary and are formatted after the midrash commentary on the text of the Hebrew Bible, which is used also but to a lesser extent in the New Testament and the Qur’an.”

One of the most beautiful elements this book has truly brought to light for myself is Mary’s ability to penetrate the hearts of many religious traditions. Charlene Spretnak says in Missing Mary that, “Mary saves us from denying the kinship among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: All three live in her spiritual presence.”

Though I wrote in my last Mary post that many Protestants reject Mary so as to reject the temptation to idolatry, the very idea that one would idolize such a woman is apt evidence of her power. Dupre writes,

In a 1952 essay, Archbishop Fulton Sheen opined that Mary chose to appear in the sleepy backwater of Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 as a “pledge and sign of hope to the Moslem people.” Despite the evangelical nature of Sheen’s opinion at the time is was made, the idea of reconciliation through Mary is worth considering anew. Muhammad, who has tirelessly warned Muslims not to deify him, embodied his faith, virtue, and surrender to God so wholeheartedly that he forged in his own person a living link between heaven and earth. Like Mary, his will was only to do God’s will. At a time when the need to reconcile differing culture traditions has never been more urgent, there has probably been no symbol or concept in Christendom that can mediate and build bridges with more success and amplitude than Mary.

It should not be surprising then that Catholics so whole-heartedly take on a devotion to Mary, Mother of God, and our Mother in Heaven. I’ve always been amused by the viewpoint taken in True Devotion to Mary, when St. Louis De Montfort states that the Devil fears Mary more than all angels and men, and in a sense more than God Himself, because it is mortifying to be overcome by such a small woman.

Mary cannot forgive sins, but she teaches us how to live without them, as she did. She guides souls to God by teaching them how to love, and anyone who loves God cannot be taken by the Devil, even if they will be tempted by him. Even Jesus was tempted by the Devil, so, in many ways, our trials are compliments. And Mary is there to help.

Behold, Mary! Full of grace, help us also to be filled with grace, to say “yes” to God, and to accept our trials. Let us never forget that Mary was not spared from the worst kind of suffering, be it scorn from neighbors or watching her son unjustly put to death. Still she stands benevolent, the Queen of Heaven, with her hand outstretched. As the Rev. Patrick Ward said in a 2008 homily, “When Mary says, ‘Let is be with me according to your word,’ what she is really saying is, ‘Lead me on, Lord. You have more in store for me than I can possibly imagine.'” Behold Mary, joyfully and lovingly guiding us souls to God.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgins of virgins, my Mother! To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me.
–The Memorare prayer, attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Is Blogger Back?

Blogger deleted my last post and I’ve been pouting about it. I’ll re-post the poem soon, and tomorrow is another Bright Maidens post day: “Mary, Our Guide.” Please join us!

Here’s a TIC post I wrote a while back: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Here’s a bit of my weekend; while my college was sending off the new graduates, I was enjoying the scenery:

Sick today, but I expect a full recovery by tomorrow. If not, then I can’t babysit my baby cousins, Thing 1 and Thing 2! Please pray for another cousin, who badly broke his collarbone this past weekend.

Loving on this song — “Rumour Has It” by Adele:

She, she ain’t real. She ain’t gonna be able to love you like I will. She is a stranger – you and I got history, or don’t you remember? Oh Adele. So much soul.

Happy Monday!

I’m Younger Than That Now

I have a fair share of editing to do, so today’s week 15 actually will be fairly quick…

one

Yesterday, I gave Eli the gospel according to The Black Keys. Join him in love them as much as I do:

He says I’m his new best friend. What says you?

two

At Mass this morning, Fr. George said St. Gertrude’s oldest parishoner, Marge, died last night at age 100 years and 10 months. Please join me in praying for her soul!

And for Japan and everyone affected by the tsunami and earthquake.

Finally, for my sisters Muffy and Kato both have two big tests today, and B. has a big pathology test. So for everyone taking tests, or preparing for examinations, or writing big papers (like Leah!), many prayers and happy thoughts- you can do it! I know this is the last weekend before my alma mater’s spring break, and life looks bleak up North: but sleep is so near!

Extra help is on the way:
St. Joseph Cupertino, patron saint of test taking
St. Thomas Aquinas, patron saint of academics
And all the patron saints of students!

three

Much to the delight of we Bright Maidens, our Lenten blog post series has picked up some steam!



Many thanks to Tito Edwards for posting our pieces to National Catholic Register and The Pulp.It, Lisa Graas and Stacy Trasancos for the gracious plugs, First Thing’s Elizabeth Scalia for The Anchoress shout-out, and various re-tweets and comments.

This week was “Women and their relationship to the Church”: here is my “How It Feels To Be Catholic Me” post, Elizabeth’s “Grandmother Kaleidoscope” post and Trista’s “A Relation to Love” to tie you over to next week, when we discuss contraception. After that is dating, patron saints, our issue(s) with the Church, saving sex for marriage and then a surprise post! They will be posted every Tuesday morning of Lent. I hope you join us!

four

My Lenten sacrifices are going well, thanks for asking! This morning, I even got up extra early to go to 8 a.m. Mass, inspired by Mary‘s husband, who goes to 6:30 a.m. Mass every day. I also ceremoniously gave Dad my last two Girl Scout cookies I forgot to finish off on Fat Tuesday and my pack of gummy snacks (another pre-Lent remnant in my office). Sad.

I want to be THIS GUY and drink beer for the entirety of Lent. No really, I do! Maybe next year?

five

It’s snowing here in the Midwest (I know, lamesauce) and, as part of my almsgiving for the season, I helped my mother scrape off her car so she could scurry off to the hospital faster and more safely. In a family Lenten offering, my family is focusing on almsgiving, in words and deeds. So, not being mean or saying mean things to someone in the family, just because you happened to have a bad day, for example. It’s only been two days, but two wonderful days, to be sure! It really makes us put other’s feelings before our own, as a way to model Christ to each other.

This also is being flowed into regular life too. While kibbitzing with two seminarians last night (one is a friend, one I had just met), I was reminded of the purpose of the good life, that is, not just living for yourself, but others. Moreover, the importance of treating all people with kindness and respect, especially when they bother you.

six

What is everyone reading lately? I have a couple books I am reading right now, plus books for work. My latest National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, First Things and The New Criterion recently arrived too, so I am going to devour those this weekend. My Dad’s weekend edition of the Financial Times will arrive early Saturday morning and I can’t wait to dive in; best weekend editon of any paper out there, hands down. I prefer WSJ on the day to day reads, though. Any favorite sentences or reads you’d like to share?

seven

Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m turning (dare I tell you?) 23! Trista gave me the best (early) birthday wish ever! She says, As our Irish ancestors would say, “May you live to be one hundred years with one extra year to repent!” A-men!

Also, I am now being tormented at home by birthday cards and a birthday package, which I am not allowed to open until tomorrow. Lent really is about sacrifices! Speaking of which… I bought five books yesterday at the seminary book store. No regrets! Including one called God: The Oldest Question which is really, really fantastic so far!

See Conversion Diary for more! Happy, happy Friday!