Rest In Peace! And Keep In Touch

TBM Topic 32: Pray for the Living and the Dead

“Rest In Peace! And Keep In Touch” 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.

Why pray for the living and the dead?

This Lent, we Bright Maidens have been discussing the Spiritual Works of Mercy. This topic is a good one for Lent because

1. The spiritual works of mercy are reminders of our unofficial duties as Christians (verses the precepts of the Church); they’re ways people can attempt to better their spiritual lives through daily graces verses physically abstaining from foods or forms of entertainment, too.
2. The marriage between the spiritual and earthly world can be tangibly shown.
3. The marriage between grace and works can be manifest in writing, as well as in thoughts and actions.

The last point is an important point: some Christians say praying for the dead is useless and unbiblical. If that’s the case, then so is praying for the living. If our fate is so fixed, why ask God for help? Why seek a relationship with Jesus if believing in him is enough?

Praying is how we communicate with God, be it in praise, penitence, thanksgiving or petition. It can be freeing and intimate. It can also be humbling and intimidating. Life is overwhelming, and even starting prayer may be difficult. Luckily, even sitting quietly in the presence of God is praying. Taking time to listen to God is just as important as talking with him. In this way, we can pray without ceasing! (1 Thessalonians 5:17) This is how all relationships work at a human level.

When Blessed John Paul II was asked how the pope prays, he responded, “You would have to ask the Holy Spirit! The Pope prays as the Holy Spirit permits him to pray. I think he has to pray in a way in which, deepening the mystery revealed in Christ, he can better fulfill his ministry. The Holy Spirit certainly guides him in this. But man must not put up obstacles” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope).

At a convent’s cemetery in Salzburg

Praying for others is just as important as your personal relationship with God. As we humans are all interconnected, it is an act of fraternal charity. Moreover, not praying for a person because “they are dead” insinuates that there is not a communion between Heaven and Earth. People departed from this life are not gone; they are at a higher level of communion with God.

This is why Catholics pray to saints; not “to” them, as one would pray to God, but to them like we ask our family and friends to pray for and with us. I pray to St. Anthony (patron of lost things) fairly often. I could pray directly to God, but I like including my saintly friends in my daily tasks. If a person work in a big corporation, would they go to their boss for every little thing? Or do you ask a co-worker to help you out with a minor problem?

This is not to imply that we should not pray to God for the little things: but remember, he already knows all. So he might be sending an angle to watch over you, or a new friend into your life, to help guide and shape you. In the Gospel of John, a story is told in which Jesus gives Peter the power and strength to continue his ministry:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 

He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

So, we too must continue this ministry, out of love of God. So, too, we must pray for the living and the dead, out of love for self and neighbor. Praying for all people is biblical, as well as being part of a Christian’s core mission.

Prayer is an act (work) of love. Even Billy Joel got that in his scandalous song, “Only the Good Die Young”: You said your mother told you/  All I could give you was a reputation/ Ah she never cared for me/ But did she ever say a prayer for me?”

There is one mediator between God and humans, and that is Christ (1 Timothy 2:5); but there are billions of helpmates to be found on earth and in heaven, continuing the mission of Christ, peacefully and together. This is why we pray for the living and the dead: to partake in this life, an extraordinary one, and rejoice in the hope with encapsulates all of us as members of the body of Christ, the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).

Church in Munich, Germany

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 


For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11)

Let the Rain Fall

TBM Topic 20: Moments that remind us God fully exists

“Let the Rain Fall” by Julie Robison
“Little Moments” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“The Mount” 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 on Facebook and Twitter!

You could say I was lookin’ fly. Rain boots with sailboats; orange soccer shorts; a navy blue raincoat pull-over. Correction: I was lookin’ super-fly. I was all set for an impromptu walk in the rain with my boyfriend and his family’s dog.

We walked around his neighborhood, talking and occasionally calling to his dog. We returned to the house wet and happy. It was the end of another fun weekend together. We talked about our future and its possibilities; we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company; we looked at each other and knew we are blessed.

In this past week, I’ve read a couple Why I’m Catholic stories. When non-believers read such conversion stories, they are generally unconvinced. The responses I usually see are “lame” and “unbelievable” and “that person probably wasn’t a real atheist.”

When our Protestant brethren talk the Real Presence of Christ, they are not referring to Transubstantiation. They are talking about knowing Christ and thus recognizing his presence in the sacredness of the ordinary.

My sister taking pictures on the Marienbrucke in Germany

Take rain for instance; it can often have a negative connotation. For instance, the phrases “raining on my parade” and “It was a dark and rainy night,” Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” and the Allman Brothers’ “Bad Rain”, and the fact that rain’s usual company, overcast weather, tends to depress people.

Rain can also be renewing. Rainbows come after the rain, as does puddle jumping, more vegetation and horticultural growth, and, as one 11 year old optimist put it, “It makes you appreciate the sunny days that we get and makes them more enjoyable!”

I happen to love the rain. I love walking in it, I love being in it*, I love listening to it, and I am grateful for it. Rain is a blessing, literally from above.

My senior year of college, in my last few weeks, my beloved Aunt died. My thesis was due and the time crunch was too severe, so my family told me not to come down for the funeral. The day of the funeral, I wrote a poem entitled “The Rain.” It rained in Michigan the day of my Aunt’s funeral. I imagined it was God’s tears. (Sentimental, I am.) It is not a great poem (the blog published version is its first draft form), but these last lines partly captures my appreciation and love of rain:

and here I am, still at school, no time to think about leaving,
no more time to cry while my heart still mourns,
but instead relish in the rain: people are running
from building to building and all I think
is how she can no longer feel the rain hit her face
or get cold, or smile, or walk, or skip,
and so I do all of these as I move through the rain,
my funeral procession of one,
the still living.

As I walked through the rain with B. last weekend, I could smile because I am alive. In the rain, I am reminded of God’s covenant with his people. In the rain, I can understand why grace can hurt. Every year on Good Friday, my family prays together on the steps in Mt. Adams for two hours, and every year it rains. Not always exactly at noon, but between the hours of 12 and 3 p.m., the time of Jesus hanging dead on the cross, the sky grows dark and the earth shakes. And then it rains.

My sister and I in the rain as wee tots

It is when it rains that I know God fully exists. It is when I am praying, eyes closed and hands clasped; asking, seeking, knocking – I come before God in faith alone. There is nothing more I can often do but trust. There is nothing to be gained through holding the weight on my shoulders, when Christ already paid the price to have such pains airlifted. In the rain and the discomfort of being wet, I am most receptive and aware of the importance of offering it up to God, whatever “it”** may be for each individual.

Without trying to disconnect my theology from my naturalistic experiences, I’d like to add that rain reminds me of God because we cannot know the ways of rain. It can just as easily be a foe and turn to sleet, hail or ice as it can beautify one’s garden and grass. Rain gives no reason for its coming and going, nor offers sound logic for its patterns. But rain does not answer to me, and neither does God.

During the times when studying theology becomes more theory and less love affair, it is the physicality of rain that appeals to me, just as my physical reception of Holy Communion is necessary, and spending time with our Lord in Eucharistic adoration. It is in Christ that I am alive, and his presence – made actual through the Liturgy or apparent through his world – I cherish, as I grow to know him deeper and in different ways, and so have more Love for him.

Edith Stein once said that God shows himself too much; that he offers too much proof of his existence. I believe that. I think the power and grandeur of God really is too overwhelming for us to truly comprehend. God shows himself, as Jesus said in the Gospel on Sunday, in the poor, sick, homeless, and imprisoned. I think he also shows himself through the beauty of art, music, science, the wideness of the galaxy, and the intrinsic complexity of the world. This world says to me, there is a God and he is good, because he made this for us. God did not make evil, which taints the world, but he can sanctify it.

In this same vein, I believe rain is a sanctifying agent in the world. It renews. It revives. It gives hope. It can tear down in order to make us build up again. It takes away so that the Lord may giveth. Rain, so ordinary, is so sacred. With every drop of rain comes a blessing to be counted, and I’m thankful the rain reminds me of God’s graciousness and from whom all blessings flow.

What do you think of the rain? What kind of moments is God fully alive to you?

*My sister may correct me here; walking up a huge hill to a castle in Germany in a downpour with our tour group was not an overly agreeable experience; if only I had remembered my rain jacket!
**For some, it is shrubbery!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, dear readers! Here is some extra reading: “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis

Mel Gibson and Me

TBM Topic 18: Scapulars

“Mel Gibson and Me” by Julie Robison
“I Feel Weird” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“Suspicious Superstitions?” 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 on Facebook and Twitter!

Mel Gibson, hot mess extraordinaire, wears a scapular.

Now, I’m not one to dig into celebrity gossip, but it’s hard not to ignore the facts:

1. Mel Gibson is a Catholic.

“We’ve seen worse.” –The Catholic Church

2. Mel Gibson has said and done some pretty dreadful things since producing The Passion, including divorce his wife.

3. Mel Gibson has [recently] been spotted wearing a scapular.

My personal pet theory is that we’re all living within appalling strangeness of the mercy of God, and Mel Gibson is just another soul in need to redemption, sanctification and help against temptations from the Devil. Everyone Else on the other hand, has taken up drinking haterade around Gibson. Fortunately, Robert Downey Jr. has come to his defense of late, asking Hollywood to forgive Gibson’s trespasses.

But back to scapulars.

I like that Mel Gibson wears a scapular. Correction: I like that the Mel Gibson who has royally messed up his public, private and career life still wears a scapular. If Mel Gibson was still married to his wife and making quality films, everyone would still be mumbling about what a religious fanatic he is. Instead, he’s been labeled a twit.

Romans 4:16 says, “All depends on faith, everything is grace.” That scapular, to me, is evidence of God’s grace still working in Mel Gibson’s life. Is that scapular a fact that grace is in Mel Gibson’s life? No. But we cannot see God’s ways. We can only see the scapular.

Scapulars are considered sacramentals in the Church, and are meant to enhance the faith. Sacramentals come from the Church; they “are indicated by the word Sacramentalia, the object of which is to manifest the respect due to the sacrament and to secure the sanctification of the faithful” (New Advent). Sacramentals are common things (i.e. relics, water, incense) that are another way to help people open up to receiving God’s grace. The physical sacramental (in this discussion, for example, the scapular) does not possess any power. That being said, like all passing things in this world, sacramentals may be occasions for God’s miracles.

There are a number of examples of sacramentals (specifically, relics) in Scripture: the hemorraging woman who touches Jesus’ cloak (Matt. 9:20-22); the use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs. 13:20-21); sick people cured when Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:14-16); and, of course: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and sweet baby JC

That being said, sacramentals are easy targets for non-Catholics to “prove” Roman Catholics are heretics, which is why the scapular is such a hot topic. The brown scapular in particular, passed down from Our Lady of Carmel, bears these words: “Those who die wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”

Wow. That’s quite a promise. It’s also, however, not an assurance of salvation. The only assurance anyone has of salvation comes in the personhood of Jesus Christ. Scapulars are devotions. Oftentimes, people feel so strongly about their faith that they argue the scapulars’ salvation legitimacy through the Blessed Mother. That argument is a red herring. Even worse, it can distract a truth seeker from the road to Rome, and can distort another’s understanding of Mary’s role within God’s plans for the Kingdom. She only and always points to her son, period.

FAQ: Whenever you (Julie) fly on an airplane, your father insists you wear a scapular. Why do you listen to him?

That’s my discretion. The Church does not have any teachings on scapulars. I choose to respect my father’s wishes.

So you wear a scapular?

Yes. I mean no. Not usually, but yes while traveling. I do carry it around with me too.

Why?

Good question. My answer is not impressive; I enjoy keeping the reminder of our faith close to me. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not from you; it is the gift of God. It is not from works, so no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). With eyes so dimmed by sin, the scapular is a reminder to me. I see it and think, My God! Am I prepared to meet you now?

Which brings me full-circle back to Mel Gibson. It’s easy to judge a man by his earthly actions, especially when they have been less than honorable.

But let the scapular be a lesson in humility to you: there are interior reasons why people wear scapulars.

Behind closed doors, people pray. Behind brave faces, people despair. In moments when life seems like too much, I find myself staring at the crucifix or even just holding a rosary. When I can barely find words, I take comfort in the material reminders of my faith as much as I do a hug from a friend.

My bestie boo’s husband gives great hugs

The scapular is a gift and, aided by a genuine faith, the wearing of such a religious item may lead to a true change of heart for some people. Others may find it a distraction and that is okay; if this is the case, I imagine God would prefer the absence of scapulars rather than a fake piety or bitterness.

“But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”… And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9,13).

I’m pulling for you, Mel Gibson! Praying for you too.


A special guest post by B.! “Scapulars are Distractors from What’s Really Important”

Guest Post: Scapulars are Distractors from What’s Really Important

TBM topic 18: Scapulars

Join the discussion!

Guest post by B.

“Take, beloved son, this scapular of thy Order as a badge of my confraternity, and for thee and for all Carmelites, a sign of grace. Whoever dies in this garment will not suffer everlasting fire. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, and a pledge of peace and of the covenant.” 
–The Mother of God, 1251 AD

Among many Catholic traditions, scapulars have always been a source of confusion. At first, they seemed to me a cop-out. Simply wear this piece of cloth around your neck, and get a free ticket to heaven, no matter what you did in your life! It was an amulet that shielded you from your own crimes. Who needs sacraments when you’ve got a scapular? I never wore one in high school because I decided I wanted to get into heaven based on my faith and works, not on what I was wearing when I keeled over.

However, I later learned a much deeper problem with scapulars. Driving home with a few friends of mine, salvation of non-Christians came into the conversation. One Protestant friend asked if Catholics believed if non-Christians automatically went to hell.

 “No,” I replied, “Catholics believe that if a non-Christian leads a good moral life to the best of his knowledge, Jesus will have mercy.”

 The Protestant then followed up with, “Well, if that’s the case, why would you want to evangelize? If you just let them stay in their ignorance, they’ll have a greater chance of getting into heaven, because if a person doesn’t know about Jesus, he won’t be held to the higher standard than a Christian would be.”

I was confused by this as it seemed quite reasonable. A maximal chance to get to heaven made sense to me. Another Catholic friend spoke up and said, “Life’s not about getting to heaven.”

Whoa.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel: Jesus > scapulars

Life’s not about getting to heaven. I now embrace this idea whole-heartedly. When we’re children, all we understand is punishment/reward. We know if we don’t do our chores, we’ll be punished, but if we do our chores, nice things happen! Later, however, we find out that those chores, be it cleaning your room or washing the dishes, are actually good in of themselves, not because we receive a reward from doing them! We mature and begin to do these things because we want to, not because of a reward we’ll receive.

Life is the same way. When we are immature in our faith, we focus on our reward (heaven) and our punishment (hell). However, as we mature in our faith, we don’t do the right thing so that we can go to heaven; instead we do the right thing because it’s our purpose in this world! We do the right thing because we realize that it’s the best way to glorify God with the life and rationality He gave to us.

Heaven and hell should be the last thing on a Christian’s mind. We need to be focused on why we’re here on earth, and how we make the world a better place than how we found it. Scapulars distract from this as it focuses on what comes after instead of what is in front of us right now. Whatever comes after we die, that’s just extra. We’ll all die someday, and when we do it should be our desire to answer for what we did and what we failed to do. We should be proud to answer for whether we fulfilled our purpose. I don’t want to hide behind an amulet; I want to be exposed.

Judge me, O Lord.

Made in the Image of God?

TBM Topic 15: Feminine Genius – The Interior Edition

“Made in the Image of God?” by Julie Robison
“Peace Within” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“She reigns” 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!

[Second disclaimer: I wrote this in the wee, dark hours of the morning on a train to Berlin while drinking a wee, not-as-dark cup of coffee. Enjoy! I’ll be back in the country soon.]

A stumbling block for many people is the notion that women are made in the image and likeness of
God. How can this be? We’ve seen God; Paul wrote in 1 Colossians 1:15, “Brothers and Sisters, Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.”

Ow-ow!

Hm. Well, there goes my “God-showed-himself-as-a-burning-bush-ergo-women-are-made-to-be-smokin’-hot” theory.

Then the question is raised: how is it then that the world’s population do not look more like the bearded man from Nazareth?

Only a small percentage of people come from the tiny town of Nazareth and, besides, I’ve been to Asia—the men there can’t grow facial hair. Despite what a former professor at my college liked to quip, God is neither black nor a woman either. The wrench in this whole matter is that God the Father has never seen in toto.

In the Old Testament, the litmus test for God’s calling card was usually clear:

Did you see a physical sign (i.e. oversized finger writing on stone tablets, wall falling down because of trumpets, a large body of water parting down the middle, a relative turning into a pillar of salt, the world flooding, etc.) and/ or hear a booming voice?

Were you visited by an angel?

Did your prayers and faithfulness to the God of Israel result in a child/ a victory/ not dying?

If you can answer YES to any of the above, the invisible-to-us God the Father was more than likely involved.

What does this have to do with women? Everything, if we truly believe that the God of one is the God of all. If women do not superficially look like God, then they must interiorly look like God.

Our very soul mirrors God! The genius of our femininity is not encapsulated by our charm, curves or womanly ways, but the way we yearn for communion with God, to love and be loved, and are given equal and indiscriminate dignity. These manifest both spiritually and physically; the body plays a distinctive role, as does the mind. We women are not amorphous beings for a reason!

Here to fulfill our purpose in God’s plan!

Women are good because they are part of God’s creation; gender is the primary indicator of their role and purpose in this world. It is the first objective a person is given to discern one’s relationship to self, God, and other humans. There is no room for a “better than” comparison between the genders. God made the two to complement, not compete.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk from the 20th century, wrote, “Life is more than submission: it is creation.” Man and woman together can create a new life, in marriage and having children, as well as participating in the community, in communion with the Church and individual participation in the sacraments.

The criticism of St. Paul’s instruction for women to submit to their husbands overlooks his next point: husbands, love your wives, as Christ loves his Church. Submission, whether it be to one’s husband or one’s God, is never intended to be a controlling mechanism. Rather, submission is the greatest act of love. Jesus himself submitted himself to false accusations, horrible suffering and even death in order to save us from the heavy weight of sin and open Heaven’s gates. So, too, must women overcome such growing pains.

The genius of this instruction is even more marveling than a once-over read: St. Paul understands women’s importance in the Kingdom of Heaven, and thus urges them to model Christ for their husbands, and any others watching. St. Monica’s goodness, prayers and pious submissiveness, for example, helped convert the heart and mind of her pagan husband and famous son, St. Augustine.

It stands, of course, that any misuse of the term “submit” mangles the loving objective and devalues any expression freely given. Nonetheless, this easily tossed about and abused verb is another opportunity for women to lovingly correct any misinterpretation, if the occasion arises.

Women have a great role to play in this world, whether their vocation is religious, single or married. To shirk one’s purpose to evade happiness. Too many women today see the need for emancipation in order to thus prove their worth and equal standing among men.

The message of woman’s feminine genius is that such a worth is intrinsic to our very female personhood, and our equal standing is not determined by a side-by-side salary comparison, but the confirmation of what women actually want: to be loved and respected, encouraged in our work and cherished as ourselves, just the way God made us.

The heresy of modern womanhood is the false claims that freedom can only be achieved through our own-will-be-done, lipstick, contraception, a satisfying career and an individualism that oftentimes denies males the chance to step up into manhood; instead, the modern woman’s view of love infantilizes man through an accessorizing attitude (“Aaaaand I’ll take one of you!”).

I think this about sums up the modern womanhood ideal.

For women to experience the very revelation of the feminine genius, they must first want to reject the temptation to bite the apple, and not just avoid the tree or company of snakes.

Woman is made in the image of God in her humanity; she has the likeness of God through the logos. The divine nature of womanhood is sweet, filled with joy and sorrow, which are merely accidents of the human life, like tasting bread when consuming the Eucharist.

Women have an equal share in the Kingdom, and are thus given their feminine genius in order to claim it.

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.

Ain’t Tat Something

TBM Topic 12: Tattoos

“Ain’t Tat Something” by Julie Robison
“In Memory Of” by Trista at Not a Minx, Moron, or a Parasite
“Needle and the damage done” 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 Tuesday, I drove my brother north to his interview with the Navy. I was struck by the number of times the Lieutenant asked him if he had any tattoos. I found out later that the Navy allows tattoos if they are covered by conventional clothing (i.e. chest, back), but not otherwise. I am not sure why this is, but it made me think of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Parker’s Back.”

O.E. Parker, the protagonist, had been in the Navy. Nearly his entire body is covered with tattoos, with the notable exception of his back. Parker was “as ordinary as a loaf of bread” and began getting tattoos put on his body after he saw a man at a fair who was tattooed from head to foot. “Until he saw this man at the fair,” wrote O’Connor, “it did not enter his head that there was anything out of the ordinary about the fact that he existed.”

Parker later falls in love with Sarah Ruth, who was “forever sniffing up sin.” She was the daughter of a “Straight Gospel preacher,” and was the first woman he met who did not approve of his tattoos, calling them “a heap of vanity.” He is not religious or interested in it, but still wants to make an effort to please his wife, who constantly threatens his lax language with references to Judgment Day.

The Christ

And so, Parker decides to get a tattoo of the Byzantine Christ on his back for her. It takes the artist two days and Parker pays $20. The tattooist (and later, men at the pool hall) asks if Parker has gone and “got religion” and if he is “ saved” now. “Naw,” Parker replied; “I ain’t got no use for none of that. A man can’t save his self from whatever it is he don’t deserve any of my sympathy. …I married a woman that’s saved, ” is his defense. Parker believes she’ll like it because “She can’t help herself… She can’t say she don’t like the looks of God.”

Sarah Ruth, in  fact, doesn’t like it. She takes a broom and whacks him on the back again and again, screaming “idolatry!” at her husband; “I can put up with lies and vanity but I don’t want no idolater in this house!” When she sees the face of the Christ, she says she doesn’t know him. When Parker says it’s God, she asserts that God “don’t look. He’s a spirit. No man shall see his face.”

I love this short story. Mainly for its mockery of the assertion that God is merely a spirit, which is practically a denial that Jesus is the Word made flesh and lived on this earth, but also for its social commentary. Parker’s mother, for instance, “wept over what was becoming of him” after he got his first tattoo (and then began to drink beer and get in fights). She will not pay for his tattoos (except for the one with her name on it) and attempts to drag her son to a revival, before he runs away from home and joins the Navy. His wife barely tolerates the tattoos, and prefers him his sleeves rolled down and fully covered. Before her, he found that women were attracted to his tattoos and men liked to gawk at his new tattoos. He never felt satisfied for long, and always yearned for another tattoo, filling the space, searching for his next one. It’s a beautiful and physical image of a man looking for personal fulfillment.

I do not think tattoos are an issue of morals or faith. The argument that one should respect one’s body can easily be countered by examples of people who disrespect their body by overeating and/ or drinking, indulging in sexual appetites, and violence. In terms of my Catholicism and tattoos, there is nothing in my beliefs which sway me here or there on tattoos.

There is no right or wrong answer on tattoos. My own opinion, of course, generally thumbs its nose down at tattoos. There are, of course, exceptions and double-standards. I don’t mind them on males nearly as much as I despise them on girls. There are also industries where outside appearance matters– in banking, law, and medicine, for instance– visibly noticeable tattoos would not be tolerated.

For me, the bigger question is why: Why are you getting that tattoo? Why are you putting it there? Why are you inking something permanently to your largest organ?

a depiction of Parker’s back

Apparently tats are big chick and/ or hipster magnets. I’m sorry, I meant “tattoos.” I was trying to sound hip, which I am not. In all seriousness, tattoos do hold a fascination for many people. I cannot suppose why, but O’Connor gave me an inkling into such a sentiment.

Near the end of “Parker’s Back,” O’Connor wrote, “Parker sat for a long time on the ground in the alley behind the pool hall, examining his soul. He saw it as a spider web of facts and lies that was not at all important to him but which appeared to be necessary in spite of his opinion. The eyes that were not forever on his back [of Jesus Chris] were eyes to be obeyed. He was as certain of it as he had ever been of anything.”

In the end, in the Resurrection of the body, God-in-Three will not be concerned with the marks on our body, but the state of our souls, our pursuit of truth and our love of God and each other. A tattoo is not going to disrupt our journey towards God, and it should not be a distraction to believers or non-believers alike. One day, when we see the face of God, that will be something to stare at; but for now, tat’s tat!

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In addendum: If you want to know why this post is late, read here. If you want to read Will’s guest post, click here.