Monday, June 8, 2015

Chasing Authenticity

So often I see posts on social media regarding what young Catholics truly want from their Church. No, it's not a hip young guy in a hoody, rock music, or fluffy and sentimental niceties. No, in a world full of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, what young people are searching for is an ever elusive "authenticity." We are devouring the Catechism, reading Aquinas and Church fathers, and wading our way through books and blog posts by other Catholics, searching for the Truth and for God. Some of us go so far as to veil or attend a Latin Mass, reviving what the last few generations tried to do away with. We know that something is missing from our Catholic heritage as it was taught to us. Some beauty and wonder was robbed from us, so we dig and dig into the past to hopefully find that something that we crave.

To complicate matters, our beliefs become ever more unpopular with the modern world. Balancing between concepts of sexism and homophobia, we look for the Truth while making sure it really does make sense in a modern context. We bring our wounds, our hopes, our apprehensions, our misconceptions, and hope to find Him so we can lay it out before Him, finally home.

We try to bring the authenticity we find to our children. Craft projects, encyclicals, activities for the liturgical years, saint feast days, and traditions of old. We try to reconnect and help them connect and have the strong basis for our faith that we never felt we were given. We try and try, not sure if what we do will work. Unsure if they will remain faithful as adults. We wish we had  a better idea of what we were doing. A guideline. A rule book. A tried and true methodology to being authentically Catholic in this modern world. Something to pass down to future generations. An identity rooted in Truth, Tradition, and also traditions that brings joy and peace to those who practice it.

It doesn't exist for us, though.

We have to be the ones to strike out and create it.

We are the pioneers. The ones who need to help implement Vatican II correctly. The ones who need to bring Catholicism back to life. The ones who must show others the way.

My family has dealt with some hard news lately. At least one of our children has a developmental delay that will cause lifelong hardships. Another is about to be tested for similar delays. I have found the idea of my children suffering absolutely repugnant. I cannot begin to explain the despair that a mother feels when she knows she can't take away the suffering of her children. I found myself contemplating if I still believe in God. After much reflection, I realized that I do even more than ever. I am just so angry with Him.

I've spent the past month feeling like I'm screaming to the heavens with my middle fingers raised in rebellion.

What do you want from me?

What do you want from my child?

What possibly can this mean?

How can I possibly handle all this and find the Truth? Where is my authenticity? How am I supposed to juggle caring for four kids, my husband, a home, and have to figure out this elusive concept?

I'm grabbing at straws, stabbing into the darkness, unsure if I am actually going to succeed. Fueled by my anger, barreling forward solely on the heat it causes.

It's the only way I can keep going forward with this search.

What do you want from me? Why won't you send me more help? Why am I so alone in this?


We are the pioneers.

I hope we manage to find what we are looking for.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Should We Approach Health?

Please hear me out on this. I know it’s an emotionally charged issue, but I think I have some insight that will prove helpful.

We in the West (and in many other places in the world) live in an age of plenty. Modern farming practices allows most of us of moderate means to have access to a wide variety of foods in all seasons. We can even buy ready prepared foods. We have an abundance.

We also have a more technologically advanced society, one that lets us be more sedentary. Many jobs require sitting behind a computer most of the day. We drive most places. The majority of us increasingly have to go out of our way to be active. It becomes harder and harder to move our bodies in a way we love.

Then there is the ever present need to do more with less time. We must produce more at work and work more hours in order to keep our jobs in this job market. We are stressed and constantly plugged into our career. To rest and to have time where you aren’t available to your company is to put yourself at a disadvantage for your career. We aren’t sleeping as much. We are putting our emotional and physical needs aside to be able to keep our jobs to provide only the most basic necessities of shelter, transportation, utilities, and food. Those of us who are lucky enough to afford more than that are so miserable from working so much that we invest our extra money in things we think will make us happier, and we are too stressed out to even think about our health.

Compounding this, we have a population that has more modest means, one that will go for higher calorie foods with the money they have because it is more filling and faster to prepare than a home cooked meal from scratch. They are working many jobs to survive. They don’t have time to cook, and, if they did, they wouldn’t know how. Some people live in food deserts and don’t even have access to affordable, healthy options if they want them.

We have a population in an environment that lends easily to health risks, be it obesity, inactivity, or a lack of healthy dietary options.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading about nutrition, diet, and exercise. I’ve also looked a lot into weight loss. The entire world seems to think there is an easy solution. The perfect diet.  The perfect exercise. Don’t eat carbs. Don’t eat fat. Go Vegan. Go Paleo. Many people blame those who are unhealthy, deeming them simply too lazy to Do It Right™.

The truth is, the only way to really be healthy is to be active. If you are thin but still inactive, you still are at risk for many diseases. The only way to lose weight is to consistently consume less calories than you burn off. It sounds so simple, but the reality is that, for many reasons, it isn’t simple in practice.

If you’re like me, then you’ve always been pretty effortlessly thin. I don’t have to think about my meals. When I was stress eating and gained too much while working, I switched some of my snacks to fruits and vegetables, started exercising, and easily lost 10 pounds. Based on my experience, I thought I knew how easy weight loss was. I thought other people just weren’t Doing It Right™. I didn’t realize then that I was basing my view from a pretty blind perspective without realizing the physiological and psychological factors that play into trying to lose weight. I also didn’t realize how lucky I was to have time to exercise, sleep, and prepare meals for myself.

I hadn’t heard back then that babies whose mothers were pregnant with them during famines were at an increased risk of obesity, Diabetes, and heart disease, suggesting that our weight can be heavily influenced by hereditary factors beyond our control, putting some people in a harder starting place than I had. I didn’t know the extensive devastation that depression, abuse, and mental illness can bring to someone’s weight loss efforts. I didn’t know about sensory issues that could cause people to gag over vegetables and have huge anxieties around food. I was young, and I didn’t know how stressful and exhausting being an adult and caring for yourself and your family is. I didn’t know how silly and uncompassionate I was being. I knew practically nothing.

I notice that a lot of people use their diet and lifestyle as a way to feel superior to others. We like to feel like we have everything figured out. We’re afraid of disease. We’re afraid of dying. Some of us project these fears onto others. We feel the need to shame people who are fat in order to try to help them be motivated to lose weight, even if we ourselves aren’t active! We pretend that we are bastions of good saving people from themselves. If a heavy person dares to express comfort with themselves, we are quick to try to rip that comfort from them for their own good.

The thing is, though, health is more complicated than weight, and positive, healthy habits come from self-love instead of self-loathing. Shaming someone and acting like they are a stupid and lazy glutton will probably make them feel less like taking care of themselves rather than more. Why care for someone who isn’t worthwhile? Beyond that, a fat person who is active greatly increases their own health, even if they are never thin. Study after study shows that the majority of people who do manage to lose weight do not manage to keep it off, and many gain back even more weight than they lost to begin with.

After knowing a lot of people who have tried to lose weight both successfully and unsuccessfully, I know some of the struggles that come along with actually losing the weight. Some people cannot psychologically handle all the effort that goes into weighing and measuring all of their food (I know I can’t.) They don’t have the time or they don’t have the energy due to all the stress their life or mental illness keeps them under. Some people feel so worthless that they take any “failure” in their diet really hard and binge on calories or stop exercising because they think they cannot actually change. Some people cannot mentally get the energy up to exercise. Some people suffer from Binge Eating Disorder. Some people cannot handle the feelings of hunger due to having been destitute as a child. Some people obsess unhealthily about food when they are trying to lose weight. Some people have a really disordered relationship with food and desperately need counseling before they can create a healthy one and lose weight. Some people don’t have time for that therapy. So many people do not have the tools for a healthy life available to them, and then, on top of that, they are constantly shamed for it.

Based on the reality of all these factors, I guess what I’m calling for is a different approach to health.

First of all, we need to stop obsessing so much about weight and, instead, focus on healthy habits first. We need to be supportive of people for the healthy habits they can manage to do, and try to support them in the ways they need in order to start and maintain those habits. We need to make better access to more affordable and healthy options. We need to makes awareness regarding mental illness and eating disorders and remove the stigma associated with them so that people are willing to seek out help for them. We also need to give people the space to be loved and cherished as they are, no matter what habits they can manage to do at the moment, with a huge dose of sympathy and understanding of where they are in life.

Healthy habits are sleeping enough, being active, eating fruits and vegetables, stress management and eating as wide a variety of foods as you can. Anything we can do to help each other achieve these habits will make us all healthier and happier. Any way we can help develop community gardens and other programs to bring healthier options should be looked into. We really need to think outside the box.

Not that aesthetics cannot be a worthy goal for exercise and diet. It can, but it obviously is not working in regards to making us all healthier to have that be the main goal.

We have to start somewhere reasonable. Somewhere attainable. We can’t heap a bunch of shame on people and then leave them struggling without the tools they need to take care of themselves and pat ourselves on the back like we’ve done the right thing.

Collectively, we need to shift how we treat ourselves and each other. We need to empower one another. This means letting us all be comfortable in our own skin and lending a helping hand and a sympathetic heart in the journey together. We’re so isolated nowadays. We really need to reconnect with one another and strive to work together to help us all.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Christian Men, Are You Up For The Challenge?

Just to note: Marriage is a vocation of mutual submission and service to one another. I hope to write about the female side of this dynamic someday, but today I am focusing on the male side as my husband inspired me to do so with a comment he made last night. Please don't think that I don't think women also have a role of service and submission, as they definitely do. I just want to make sure I give justice to the role of a "husband" by focusing solely on his mission right now.

Last night, just like most nights, my husband and I were deep into a conversation about our days, children, and family life. During this conversation, when we were talking specifically about family, he said something that was full of so much wisdom that it really reminded me of why I fell in love with him way back when I was fourteen years old. He said to me, with a humble air that he always has,
"Being the head of the household doesn't mean I get to do whatever I want, when I want, without having to answer to my wife and family, it actually means I have more responsibility. I mean, providing for the family is important, but it can't be the only thing you do as a husband. I go to work, but when I am home, I am PRESENT and actively involved. If someone thinks it is license to let their wife take care of everything else, then they are wrong."
I think his words really ring true to the heart of one of the most contentious subjects in the Bible.  There are a lot of misconceptions regarding the dynamic and structure of a Christian household as outlined by Saint Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33. Many women balk at the direction to be submissive to their husbands. I think this might be because, due to the fallen nature of man, and thus the fact that we can all be selfish and prideful, a misconception about what it actually means for the man to be the head of a Christian household has come about. Visions of a man lording over his family, having his way no matter what, while a woman tends to his every whim come to mind, but, if you read the whole context of what Saint Paul was saying and his description of a husband's role in the family, you see that this is really a perversion of a really beautiful concept. First, let's read the whole text of what Saint Paul said:
Wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord,23 since, as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife;24 and as the Church is subject to Christ, so should wives be to their husbands, in everything.25 Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her26 to make her holy by washing her in cleansing water with a form of words,27 so that when he took the Church to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless.28 In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself.29 A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church,30 because we are parts of his Body.31 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh.32 This mystery has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church.33 To sum up: you also, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself; and let every wife respect her husband. 
While women are to be subject to their husbands, if you read what is expected of husbands, it is obviously no easy task. Being head of the household is no excuse to just do whatever you want, In fact, a husband has many responsibilities to his wife. As my husband pointed out, it is more than just being willing to die for her as Jesus did for His Church, it is also a call to live in service to her and his children. To lead actively, but kindly. When I read this, knowing what I know about the vocation of marriage, this is what I hear Saint Paul calling husbands to do: to help their wives be holy in order to help her get to heaven, to keep the spiritual life of his family healthy, to help her when she needs it as he should love her as he would love himself, to lead without dominating as she is to be like a part of his own body, and to make sure that she feels respected, honored, loved, and valued as he would value his own person. Being the head of the household is not a position of power, but of extreme service and sacrifice to your wife and family. It isn't license to get your way all the time. It means busting your butt and taking responsibility for the health and well-being of your household. To give all you have to God and your family.

I know that humanity isn't perfect, and we don't always manage to live our vocations in a perfect way, but the point is to try and aim for the vision God had for marriage as best as we can. If a man can accomplish this 80% of his time, think of the benefits it could bring to the spiritual life of his spouse and children! I am known among my friends for being very stubborn, but I am perfectly willing to say that I submit to my husband. This is because I know he respects and values my opinion and will not abuse my trust in him. He takes his role as head of the household so seriously, I never doubt him. I trust him implicitly because he puts his family before himself, so I know he will do everything in his power to do right by us the grand majority of the time.

Sometimes I step up and tell him to relax because I can see he is burning himself out trying to care for all of us. I do it joyfully because I know that he will do the same for me when I need him to. I do not fear being taken advantage of as my husband acts like a husband and not like another child I need to care for. There is no running tally of who is contributing more to the relationship. We both contribute all that we can, and neither of us is bitter when that isn't exactly "equal." To sacrifice and to serve is to do so without expecting something in return.

Saint Paul's words need not be explained away or seen as outdated in modern society; they simply need to be read without our fallen natures getting in the way, free of pride and selfishness. We must be sure to remember that we die to ourselves and live in service to God and one another when we take our vows at the altar to one another. If we try to always keep that in mind, then we know that neither spouse is given license to be selfish, cruel, or demanding based on Saint Paul's directives for a Christian household, but rather to always try to do the opposite.

Being the head of a Christian household is no easy task. It comes with a rather hefty list of responsibilities.

Christian men, are you up for the challenge?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On Rabbits and Breeding.

I believe the majority of my followers are single and significantly younger than my 30 years. Even so, I think that there are some married folks closer to my age who also follow, so I'm writing this in hopes that it reaches some other "old" people like me.

I just wanted to say that I'm really sorry if the reference to the stereotype of the irresponsible Catholic parents being "like rabbits" and having more kids than they "should" that the Pope referenced in his interview, even if it has been taken out of context, hurt you. It seems to me that His Holiness was perhaps a bit tired from his trip, and thus he was less concise and pastoral than usual. Even if he meant no harm, I can see how this would be very painful to hear coming from a Pope and also how it would bring up old and perpetual wounds.

We do have a definite social bias against large families in America. I can't speak for other countries, but I know we do here. Even being pregnant with only my fourth, I get a lot of questioning eyebrows and shocked expressions. For example, some of my husband's coworkers recently found out that I am once again pregnant, so one remarked to him, "You need to leave that girl alone!" as a joke. It isn't outright offensive, and I tend not to get hurt by it, but I can see that there is definitely a sense that people with large families have no sense of self-control sexually, and they are looked down upon because of it. My understanding is that having five or more children gets many, many more off color remarks.

Even if Pope Francis said nothing unorthodox and simply conveyed the teachings of the Church, albeit it in a bit of a clumsy manner, I completely and totally understand your feelings. I can only imagine how people are going to take the words of Pope Francis and use them to hurt people who they think in their unerring wisdom are being irresponsible and having "too many" kids. I know the truth, though. I know that the grand majority of you discerned that you are physically, financially, and emotionally stable enough to have as many as possible unless your circumstances greatly change. I know you can handle it. I know you are not being irresponsible. Even if I use NFP, you have my total and complete support. Please remember when others try to bring you down that many of us completely and totally trust you.

Please also remember to try to forgive Pope Francis. He obviously did not mean to give people ammo to berate you with. He's asked us to pray for him from day one. He knows he isn't a perfect man. Let's pray for him. I'll try to remember to keep all of you in my prayers as well. I can only imagine how lonely it is to live in such a radically counter-cultural way. Please also try to pray for me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Please Don't Tell Catholics With Same Sex Attraction That You Will Try to Pray Their Gay Away

I was fortunate enough recently to see a public testimony on a popular Facebook page of a young man who said that he was a homosexual who chose to remain faithful to Catholicism and was thus celibate.

From what I've been told, many Catholics who identify as gay, homosexual, or same sex attracted (SSA) feel as though they are not respected by the LBGT community.  To choose to believe that their attraction is not something they should act upon makes them a spectacle.  To choose their religion over the chance of a lifelong partnership and maybe a family is seen as foreign and completely unreasonable.  If we look at the major cause of the LBGT community right now, same sex marriage, it is obvious that the gay community is looking for a chance to not feel so alone in the world.  To know that they have the chance at a lifelong partnership.  The idea of anyone, even clergy, deciding to be celibate for God is extremely counter-cultural.  We all fear loneliness.  We all want intimacy.  Many of us cannot see how this is possible without a romantic relationship.  While homosexuals who embrace their homosexuality have the acceptance of the LBGT community, SSA Catholics who embrace celibacy tend to be the odd people out for their choice.  I can understand given the current push for same sex marriage why this happens in the LBGT community, but, I cannot for the life of me figure out why heterosexual Catholics also tend to make our own feel like they are not wanted by us just as they are.

You see, after I saw the brave testimony of the young man on that page, I saw a comment towards him that filled me with uneasiness.  You see, even though the commenter commended him for choosing Catholicism, she then went on to tell him that she prayed that God would take his homosexuality away so that he could have the joy in his life of a marriage and family.

Listen, I know that these sorts of comments are made with the best intentions.  Many of us are very adverse to any sort of suffering, and we want to help others not to suffer, we just cannot take away every burden and every cross of every human.  As Catholics, we especially believe this.  We have no guarantee of an easy life, even if we do everything God asks of us.  Given the amount of martyrs we honor in our faith, I think it should be pretty obvious that comfort and pleasure in our earthly lives is not our reward for being "good."  Catholics believe that the sin of Adam and Eve (Original Sin) brought suffering into this world, and it (and the tendency to sin), is not something that we can escape.  According to the Catechism,

405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

Beyond the fact that it is theologically inaccurate to say that God will reward us for our devotion with a removal of our deepest earthly suffering, there are also some very harsh implications made when we say that we are going to try pray that someone changes so that they can get married.  Since when is marriage the only way to live a fulfilling and happy life according to Catholics?  We have celibate clergy and religious, and we also have singles who are consecrated virgins.  Marriage is only one way to live our lives and only one choice of vocation that God can have planned for us.  Surely we believe the single, heterosexual Catholics who choose to remain celibate can have a fulfilling life by living out their vocation and an intimacy with God.  Why can't we believe that single, homosexual Catholics can have just as fulfilling a life and intimacy?  Isn't part of Catholicism acknowledging that sex, while a beautiful part of God's plan, is far from the only source of happiness in life?  When we act as though a person with SSA can't possibly have a happy and fulfilling life without becoming a heterosexual and getting married, we immediately undermine their decision to remain celibate.  Family is wonderful, but an intimate connection with God is the first priority of all of our lives. 

Essentially, we all have our crosses to bear.  Some of them bring us great spiritual fruits.  To suggest that God should reward a SSA Catholic with the removal of their cross is to undermine the cross and the sacrifice of their celibacy.  Further down in the comment box of that conversation where the prayer was offered to remove someone's SSA, another Catholic with SSA chimed in and said,
"Instead of praying for someone's same-sex attraction to go away, please just pray for God's will to be done in their life. We all have a cross. For some of us, that cross is same-sex attraction. Some people have that taken away -- but many, many do not. Ask God to do His work in us. Don't tell Him what to do.

Pope Francis rather famously said in an interview, "Who am I to judge?"  Now, if you are a stickler for reading quotes in context like I am, then you know that he was talking about celibate priests who have SSA who are faithful to their vows.  He expressed in very simple language that he wasn't going to try to change them, and that he didn't see anything inherently wrong with them.  He dismissed the paranoia of there being a "gay lobby" at the Vatican.  He affirmed their personhood.  He acknowledged that we have no reason to judge or try to change them.  Please remember the words of the Holy Father when you deal with celibate homosexual Catholics.  Remember not to feel pity for them.  Remember not to act as though their life is "less" because of their particular cross.  They are not less.  They are whole and made in the image and likeness of God.  Just as we shouldn't pray that a nun's vocation changes to marriage, nor should we suppose we know what would make a Catholic with SSA fulfill God's plan for them and express a wish to change them.  Some SSA Catholics do make the choice to enter into mixed-orientation marriages, but, honestly, that's between them and God, and not something we should impose upon them.

In many ways, our society makes homosexuals feel like they are the outsider, the "other."  Our Catechism teaches us against doing this, but many people of other faiths and backgrounds still do it, unfortunately, as do many Catholics.  From the pulpit, preachers will talk about "the gay agenda," not realizing that people struggling with SSA are in their audience.  Homosexuals are people, and the assumptions made about them separates us and makes evangelization and, honestly, any civil conversation, nearly impossible.  Compassion for the fact that they have felt unaffirmed their whole lives, probably at least partially due to bad theology like the assertion that we will not suffer if we follow God, must be felt.  Empathy and understanding, while staying true to our faith, is imperative.  I fear, however, that we are so used to treating homosexuals as outsiders that, even when they are orthodox members of our religion, we still treat them that way.  We should try to be more like Pope Francis and take them as they are.  We shouldn't treat them like they need fixing any more than the rest of us do.  The truth is, we all have a spiritual disorder thanks to the fall.  Please remember that, if we treat them as outsiders, we run the risk of pushing them away from God.  They really deserve our love and our respect, and we must make sure that, given the conversation of current culture, that we are excessively careful in every word we use towards them. 

Remember the context of, "Who am I to judge?" and please, please, please, try to live it.  Be the community that our celibate SSA Catholics desire.