Monday, December 29, 2008

On Cell Phones, and the Deterioration of Interpersonal Skills

My dad is an accountant, and for as long as I can remember has always worked in an office during the day, and did people's taxes on the side (this paid for our vacations). Since he would get business calls from tax clients at the house, I learned very quickly to sound professional and confident on the phone - I recall taking detailed phone messages with ease as early as second grade. For a long time, I took for granted the comfortability I had talking on the phone with strangers. The dichotomy between my phone skills and those of others well-highlighted by a memory that begins with me walking into a friend's dorm room freshman year...

L, E, and S were in L's room, and, in some combination, were holding a white Bible and a cordless phone, the latter of which was thrust at me within seconds of my entrance. It was explained to me that L had been wanting to buy a new Bible, and she really liked E's, but this particular company could only be reached by phone, and L did NOT talking to strangers on the phone! Neither E nor S had such a professed dislike of phone inquiries, but the arduous task of calling the company, inquiring the price, and giving credit card information fell to me (which I did without trouble). I think I'd known these girls less than a month. :)

Perhaps that story is better at bringing a smile to my face than demonstrating my point, but I'm not sorry I told it.

Switching gears - I've had a cell phone for less than three years now. Before that time, I spent 5 or 6 years calling friends' houses, receiving their calls through my parents or sister, and other such things. I never knew for sure whether the recipient of my call would be there, or whether her parents would have to give her a message, but that never stopped me from calling, even if it wasn't for any particular reason at all. But recently I've found reasons to call some friends at their homes - like, where their parents pick up the phone, and you have to say, "Hi, may I speak to M please? This is C," and then you wait while they yell for M that he has a phone call.

And yet, despite my years of telephone experience, both professional and social (including answering phones and screening calls for pay), I find that I am calming my nerves before I make those calls. I find that I want to verify whether said friend is online, or might be otherwise reachable, or whether I have any reasonable alternative to taking a shot in the dark and calling a family I don't know to see if their son or daughter is home.

And it's sad. Because I want to someday hear the voices of my childrens' friends on the telephone before I pass the phone along. And I want to see the faces of the boys who will take my daughters out on dates. And I want that opportunity to develop relationships with those whose opinions will matter so much to them. And things are changing so fast, I can't even conceive of what that might look like.

I am forced to simply hope that God will provide for the important things. I guess it's not so bad after all.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On Christmas Gifts

I left home for Mass a little later than usual this morning, due to a changed Mass and confession schedule. As I turned that first corner, I was greeted by a beautiful golden orange sky, and was taken aback. I'm usually not one to be stunned by the colors the sun paints in the clouds each day, but the coloring of this particular view of the heavens was just breathtaking. As I drove on, I found myself desiring to drive east, just so that I could gaze longer upon this magnificent skyway. But alas! my road to work lies southwest, and as I merged onto the highway the sun behind me was so bright that the green road signs glinted orange in reflection.

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
This morning's sunrise truly gave me a glimpse of what a radiant dawn looks like: its light thoroughly illuminates everything and brings a natural sense of joy and goodness. What a gift, in this octave of Christmas, to receive a deeper understanding of those O Antiphons that prepare us for Christ's coming in Bethlehem, in the parousia, and in our hearts.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Liturgical Latin (and Becoming a Trad by Accident)

I'm sure you've all heard many of the arguments before for Latin over the vernacular language in the Roman Catholic Liturgy: continuity with centuries of tradition, universal liturgical connection with the rest of the world, etc. You've probably also heard at least one "practically, it just works out better!" argument: The one with the foreign priest whose accent is so thick you can barely understand him if you're straining all your energy to hear (which most people aren't)...

What about our listening skills? Compare three alternatives an intelligent person has to choose from: 1) listening to a Liturgy (even one well-celebrated) in English (which will here stand for "the vernacular", as English is our vernacular); 2) listening in English and reading along in English; or 3) listening in Latin and reading along in English (though there are many differences, for my purposes I include the silent canon with this Latin to differentiate it from heard English).

1) When's the last time you truly listened and prayed along with the Eucharistic prayers? I'll be honest - the Liturgy is the backbone of my spiritual life, and this morning I was thinking about this blog post as much as the sacrifice that was happening at the altar! And I try to pray along! (And this is presupposing a priest who says the prayers lovingly, as opposed to one who rushes through or shouts through the whole thing). No, the modern human mind is much too good at not listening. Next!

2) Perhaps reading along with important things like the Eucharistic Prayers might help in paying attention (setting aside the sheer inconvenience of four plus prayers to choose from) - but after about a week of so doing, most people feel (or at least, I feel) this is a poor use of one's energy, because the same words are being spoken as are being read, thus this reading actually makes one feel bored. Thumbs down.

3) Latin &/or silence. The idea here is, you're reading along (or praying along however you like), and you're not bothered by the priest praying his prayers. Yes, your participation is an important part of the liturgical action, but here your participation is your own! You're not bullied into doing things one way or another. You read along and pray at your own pace. Because you're fully in charge of your prayer here, it can be much easier to pray deeply, especially if you're inclined to do so.

So there's my argument (for listening) against always using the vernacular.

But wait - there's more! Next comes my argument for vocal prayer against always using the vernacular! I have two examples to prove this point (and, predictably, I save my favorite for last).

On Sundays, when we say the creed... Who else finds their brain checking out somewhere between "I believe in God, the Father almighty" and "I believe in the Holy Spirit", even though the mouth continues to recite by rote the same powerful, easily ignored words? And this profession which should be a mental revisiting of the basic tenets of our faith?

Even better - think of the last time you prayed the rosary in a group setting. Imagine a theoretical passer-by who is unfamiliar with Christianity but fluent in English, who tried to figure out what was meant by this prayer, repeated over and over again. Don't you think he would be most puzzled by wondering what a "wombjesus" is?

Think about it, and think about how we pray, especially as a group. Prayers are poetry in a certain sense, sure, but do we ever consider their actual meaning, or whether we should perhaps say them in a way that reflects that?

Another classic example is the grace before meals. Punctuated as it is usually spoken, it runs like this:
Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive.
From thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Little wonder people have been known to change the words! Do we really consider when we say that prayer that our meal is a gift that we receive out of the Lord's great bounty? Of course not! But we rarely question it, because we understand what each individual word means.

I'm ranting. The point is: Latin makes sense, precisely because it doesn't.

On Passive-Agression and Other Things

Yesterday morning, I put up a facebook status that was vaguely politicalish. Yesterday evening, upon returning from work, I discovered 11 comments on it (they read like arguments between blunt, conservative Catholics and our liberal secular peers). I addressed comments individually that bore answer (by wall post), but when I was indirectly accused of being a one-issue voter, I couldn't handle it and gave a simple but clear explanation of the points in question, swearing to leave it at that.

Why do I bring this up? Because I was being passive-agressive in my take on politics and facebook. I used to hate passive agression (back in high school). I saw it as unnecessarily cowardly, and the inevitable explosion of that pent-up emotion seemed hardly worth it. But rooming with Liz last year showed me that one could be passive-agressive and still be a good, likable person who's in control of herself as much as is anyone else. And so I think I became a little more passive, a little more laid-back.

And these sorts of things cause me to realize: So much about the person I've become has subtly changed from the person I was in high school. So many of the things I prided myself on are no longer really even a part of me. I'm still stubbornly solid in my opinions, but I'm no longer confrontational. I'm still well aware of my unique gifts and strengths, but I no longer have the "I am woman; I am awesome!" attitude I once enjoyed. I'm still certain the rest of the world would be better off if they subscribed to my ideas, but now I'm just not interested in explaining why (it would take far too much work to bring a stranger around to the hermeneutic through which I look at life/the world).

I know I'm better off for most of these changes that God has made as He's led me to Himself. But I miss some of the old ways - especially that fun, obnoxiously endearing attitude, and (in a different sense) the ability to wear my opinions on my sleeve and not worry about who cares about what.

I think that's what's been the strangest for me. Because I'm so conscious of scandal and detraction, I am nearly always guarded (save with my closest friends, of course). And that's weird. I loved just being free and unconcerned with the expression of my feelings, but now I have always to be concerned about spreading negativity or being uncharitable or giving a bad impression... I just feel like I'm fake much of the time, like I've finally understand the phenomenon I've been reading about for years about putting up walls or putting on a mask. Not that I'm keeping myself and everyone out of the inner regions of my heart, just that I'm keeping the outside world at bay.

But how am I to show others the attractiveness of Christ if I keep Him hidden behind a wall?

I haven't figured that out yet. Any thoughts?

As more and more of me has become interiorized, I have to consider whether to share or hide my fasts even from my believing friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On Weight Loss

Disclaimer: Gentlemen, if you're uninterested in discussion of female body size/shape, you may want to simply skip on down to the next post. I don't get graphic here, but I do speak comfortably, as if to just my lady friends.

I've been going to the gym for a few months now, doing some combination of pilates, cardio, and weights between once and thrice per week. It began just for fun and to get into shape a bit, but the more I've gotten into it, the more it becomes, well, more than that!

Because you can see muscle when I now flex my arm, and that's exhilarating, I've had to fight against the desire to increase the amount of weight I lift in an unhealthy manner. My general goals are less easily observable, and seem even like they're hardly happening: getting into shape (I can still hardly make it 20 mins on the running machine without dying) and reducing the size of the fat deposits on my stomach (looks about the same to me).

My body has become sleeker and more toned, yet my overall shape has been retained (supporting my feelings all along that it's the fault of the manufacturers, not my own, that I sometimes have to shop in plus sizes). However, this brings me to my reason for writing this post:

My hips have shrunk.

Only by an inch or two, I'm sure, and it's quite clear that all that's happened is fat has disappeared. Still, I find myself wondering if my treasured hourglass figure is now going to be lopsided - for which to happen it would take a lot more than a couple inches of shrinkage (I think it'd take some reshaping of bone, actually).

Yes, I know this is pretty much the opposite problem of most American women, but just bear with me. Even in middle school, as puberty loomed large on the horizon, I looked at women and decided that I had no interest in being stick-thin. I want to be curvy, like Topanga, I remember deciding to myself after one of many Boy Meets World-a-thons.

And that's what happened. Before the Rolfes wedding two summers ago, my whole household measured ourselves together (since five out of seven were in the wedding party), and my hips came in at a whopping 43". Forty-three inches! Let me put this in context for you: As far as waist size, our stick-thin sister measured barely a few inches below our most pleasantly plump (similarly, our F-cup girl had at best three inches on our A-cup girl). But everyone else's hips fell in the mid-30's range, to my 43. So really, I have nothing to worry about.

But I still want to measure my hips again. Just to see.

And then maybe sign up for that abs class. To keep myself well-proportioned, of course.

I asked one of trainers at my gym to measure my hips tonight - 43 1/2". I've got nothing to worry about.

Just for kicks, I checked my score on the "Body Mass Index." I am a 30, which is the low cutoff score for obesity. Seriously!?

On Politics

Well, I suppose Emperor-Elect Obama will make as good a leader as any of the Socialist States of America, where the right to abortion is more fundamental than the right to free speech.

I believe that sentence about sums up my dissatisfaction with the results of this year's election. So on to other political topics...

I find that I am afraid that my co-workers will make election-related comments to me. I am certainly not happy with the outcome of most anything I voted for or hoped in, but I am loath to express it to any but my closest friends. I don't even want to put something partisan on my facebook, for goodness' sake!

So why have I such fear of being perceived as partisan? Is it because I feel guilty that I, a twentysomething American, am not a raging liberal on all the controversial social issues of our time? Or is it perhaps because I'm not sure I'm really a conservative on any but the moral issues?

Yes, I'm a registered Republican (something I've repeatedly considered changing), but nor for more than the fact that at least I can make a splash in the primaries that way (as opposed to as an independent). And yes, I have tended to consistently dislike the Republican candidates less than the Democratic candidates. Still, I fear being labeled a Republican - or even a conservative! Perhaps this is largely because I don't know the length and breadth of what those classifications mean; perhaps I fall into the category of postmodern post-label people. Perhaps I just don't want to put my name to something I'm not in full agreement with. I don't look at politics like those good Yankee fans who love the team but disagree bitterly with the administration; I'm just not interested in that depth of knowledge and self-investment.

Perhaps my real problem is that I, like many, have little to no faith in the system that's now running our country.

Switching gears a bit: I commented to my dad last night (thinking of the many apt comparisons between America and Rome) that perhaps, if Obama won, it might speed the downfall of America as a world power, which would probably not be a bad thing. He disagreed, and it was with his answer that I realized the fatal flaw in those comparison-arguments: When Rome fell, there was no scarier budding world power to take its place. When America falls, who will take our place? Russia? China? Venezuela? As my dad pointed out, at least we're trying to do the right thing. Scary.

This may be a multiple-post day. I'll try not to binge so much in the future.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On Eowyn, and the role of women

Wow - it has been a long time. I do not intend to let this blog lapse for more than a couple of weeks at best. As much as this is fun and a release, it is also a discipline and a training I desire to enforce upon myself.

So I've been rereading the Lord of the Rings, and this week I've been very struck by the battle-part of Eowyn. I looked for some essays that address the role of women in Tolkien's epic work, but none of them address quite the nuances I'm looking for, so here I am, though I haven't yet finished the book (the siege of Gondor is nearing its end, I believe, but it is still going at the point where I last stopped reading).

Eowyn is a strong, powerful woman who has grown up in a society where strength and valor in battle are most valued. She has learned these things and learned them well, though warfare is a man's place, and swordplay a man's art. When the time comes and every man is needed at arms, she waits at home, dissatisfied with the governing noncombative role assigned to her. Still, she fills the role without complaint once. A second time she begs to leave, but remains behind to her duty. When all those she loves are about to leave her behind for a third time, where she knows a lesser man could do her work, she decides to throw convention to the wind and masquerade as a man, and she rides into battle with the all King's forces.

I see how this decision can be seen as selfish. She doesn't want to wait; she wants to be in on the action, but she also wants to give of herself in the valuable, valiant way she knows she can do.

But in the throes of battle is when it gets difficult - for as she remains near to her beloved uncle-king, it is not only her bravery but her unique position of femininity upon the fields of battle that allows her (with the help of Merry, who also was supposed to be far from this battle) to slay the King of the Nazgul, and to protect her Uncle Theoden King from a most ignominious moment of death. (Ignominious may not be the best adjective to use there, but it's what I've got.) Even Merry's part in the small yet great triumph of this moment is inspired by Eowyn - Merry's spirit is roused to valor by the great deeds of the beautiful woman before him, and he rushes to aid her in whatever small way he can (and it turns out that his blade, because of its history, does more damage to the fiend than could have any other on the field of battle).

Her brother Eomer and his knights rue the sight of fair Eowyn lying as slain upon the field of battle - but how much of their pain and outrage is because they think she is dead? How much will their minds and hearts change when they learn of her great works upon the battlefield?

I shall have to revisit this subject once I've read farther. I see now that my reading is incomplete to make a true judgment. Still, I do hope for intelligent responses from you folks in the comments. I am sure that, despite my attempt at being objective, I have projected quite a lot of myself into Eowyn. And I do wonder about her embracement of the masculine battle role with the glad proclamation of her womanhood that enables her victory once there.

Why does she fight? I'm sure there are a thousand reasons (Tolkien's characters are nothing if not well-fleshed out). To impress Aragorn? As an extra guard upon her uncle the king? To prove to herself that she is worthwhile, after all? To put to good use these skills she's been taught since her youth? To fit in with the men she loves by partaking of the same activity? To give what truly is her all in this desperate war that requires everything of everyone?

I don't know. Please, talk to me - about the morality of Eowyn's actions as regards her role as woman of Rohan.

UPDATE: 11/5, 10:14am
Now I've read a bit further, and can reflect upon Gandalf's comments as Aragorn comes to heal Eowyn in the Houses of Healing. He seems to suggest that the heavy weight of darkness brought to the royal house by Wormtongue has helped to poison for her the role of staying behind and holding down the proverbial fort. Still, he greatly honors her valor, and says that it owes her a place of honor among the great queens. Hmm.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Human Nature

Fr. Dr. Dan Patee, TOR, PhD (hereafter Fr. Dan) once said in class to be careful about the phrase "only human." He pointed out that humanity was created for union with God and would return to such a state. When saying someone is "only human," you're putting their fallen humanity at odds with the perfect humanity once held by Adam and Eve, eternally held by Jesus and Mary, and to be held by all the blessed in heaven. At the time, I thought he had a point, but not an incredibly important one.

This morning's homily was a long thirteen hours ago, and I no longer remember his point, but Msgr. repeatedly referred to human nature where he meant fallen human nature, and I began to see the importance of Fr. Dan's point.

The author of The Cloud of Unknowing differentiates between two kinds of humility: imperfect humility and perfect humility. Imperfect humility is what we're all used to - knowledge of our own wretchedness, especially through knowledge of our sins. But perfect humility is all the more important for true union with God, as it is a knowledge of God's glory as it shines through in us - not through any merit of our own, of course, but simply because we are human. He points out that were humility merely the knowledge of our own sinful weakness, how could our Blessed Mother and her divine Son be humble?

I've come to agree with Fr. Dan. Humanity was created for heaven, and that is where we will again find perfected human nature; thus to say one is "only human" in reference to an error or a failing is greatly mistaken, and an intellectual offense against our own hope of heaven.

Next time you're tempted to dismiss a transgression with the phrase, "It's ok, you're only human" - think about this idea. Think about heaven. And hope.

On Scary Things

Our society loves Halloween. Haunted hayrides, amusement parks-turned-gorefests... These things are a major fuel to the October American economy. It shows that we are a seasonal people, perhaps, but that's a topic for another post. What I'm concerned with now is why. What is it about "getting scared" that America's collective "we" love so much? Alternately, what is it about scaring others that gives us such a charge? A bit more broadly: Why do we take such pleasure indulging in the perverse each October? That last one's probably the simplest - because dark things have their own seductive attraction, and the abberation is dispensed because of the 'holiday' season.

Why do we love scaring others? Well, at base I'm sure it's the same as why we do many things to each other - because we love seeing their reactions. And it's not something we'd dislike to receive ourselves, so we're not bad people for doing this.

That brings us to the heart of the matter: Why do we so enjoy being scared? Is it the rush of the fear without actual danger? Is it the pleasant feeling of building up a higher and higher tolerance, so that one is more and more 'sophisticated'? Or is it simply harmless fun?

Now I understand why ComBoxes are used. Please, give me your feedback. My mind is far from settled, but my interest is piqued...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

On Food and Fasting

I've begun to realize recently how integral food really is to our lives. Duh, you think. Ok ok, but besides the whole we-need-nutrition-to-survive bit, food really is an essential part of things. When it's time to celebrate, what do we do? We eat. When we want to feel better (be it because of a death, a breakup, or just hormones), what do we do? We eat. When we're struggling to stay awake during a difficult day at work, what do we do? We eat (and sometimes drink a hot beverage). When welcoming someone new to our home, to our organization, to our church, what do we do? We feed them. When we want to fast, or give something up (e.g., for Lent), where are our minds first drawn? To thoughts of eating less. I think you get the point.

None of this is bad. Eating is an essential part of both our life and our culture. But we can't let it become the focal point of our lives (that is, after all, where Gluttony gets its steam, eh?).

Has anyone else had the feeling lately that their "fasting" is more like dieting - or even budgeting? For instance: I can't skip a meal because my body would shut down halfway through the work day, but I'll refrain from eating that midafternoon bag of M&M's from the vending machine, and I'll offer that up for so-and-so... and besides, that's so many fewer calories migrating to my gut, and an extra couple bucks saved to boot! Seriously? Do I really allow myself to be duped so easily by my own clumsy sophistry?

I thought about this briefly this past Lent (well, the days before Lent, to be precise). I wanted to give up something really hard, something that was unmistakably me sacrificing something good for sake of a greater Good (and we're not talking about sacrificing chocolate for a trimmer figure here). It took me nearly a week of constant brainstorming and prayer, but I finally found it: for an extrovert like myself, restricting my social interaction (by specific rules I'd previously decided upon) was one of the most difficult - and eventually most rewarding - things I've ever done.

After all this time, it's like I'm back where I started in February - inadvertently focused on food so much so that I have to work hard to remove the horse blinders and see all the other, more beneficial options that are out there.

I look forward to exploring more creative penances. Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Saints and Symbols

Admit it: When you were standing outside those magnificent French gothic Cathedrals with saints linings the outside, St. Denis is the only one you could identify. How hard is it to mistake a guy holding his own head?

But think about this: It didn't used to be that way! Catholics used to be able to recognize all sorts of saints from their symbols (not just St. Denis, St. Thérèse, St. Patrick, and St. Anthony).

I think it's irrelevant to ask "What happened?" That's been answered so many times, I don't imagine I could bring anything new to the table. No, what I wonder instead is "How to fix this?" (Not that this hasn't been answered a million times as well, but bear with me.)

Even when I was younger, my mom and I discussed the idea of designing a saints matching game - where St. Agnes matched the lamb, St. Peter matched the keys, etc. We never actually made such a game, but as I got older and more interested in Church architecture, I found myself playing this same game almost constantly! There's a nun holding a monstrance - St. Clare. What about that monk with the dog? St. Dominic, of course. But those are the easy ones. Is there a resource where it's explained which saint is depicted with which symbols and why? This is reportedly the most comprehensive saint resource on the web, and while I haven't examined it thoroughly, I somehow doubt it has such information. Certainly it would be nigh impossible to search by symbols.

So those few of us who really care will have to keep plowing on through, playing the guessing games, though we have no one to bounce our ideas against, and hoping to learn more brick by brick, as the saying goes. Perhaps I'll learn more when I take Liturgical Art and Architecture with Dr. Denis McNamara. *swoons* Look at that - just thinking about my future classes at the Liturgical Institute makes me weak in the knees!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On Life After College

I returned to my alma mater, Franciscan University, for Homecoming Weekend a few days ago. Amid a flurry of campus-wide activities, I saw many people - those nearest and dearest to my heart, of course, but also quite a lot of others who will probably never know how much joy their mere presence brings to me. Nearly every one of these people asked me, the newly-graduated, how life was and what I've been doing - a very sensible question to ask someone you haven't seen in months.

As with any social gathering with people you're not in regular contact with, I formulated the answer to that question repeatedly. The more I answered "So what have you been up to?" the more I realized what I really have been up to, and not only how different that is from college life, but also how that is different from college life. (Thus this post.)

College life is primarily social. No matter what you do, you can hardly help but come into regular contact with many, many people - and at a small school like my alma mater, extroverts like myself tend to make a large circle of acquaintances. Now that I'm out of school, I do still see people, but it's very different. My socializing is now on my own terms - which is great for when I want to take care of myself (I've been to the gym more these past two months than the previous twenty years), and to keep in meaningful touch with those long-distance friends who are most important, but less so when I'm feeling sad or insecure (whether those feelings have hormonal causes or not). Days after returning home from Steubenville, I felt that I shouldn't reach out to friends who were still in school, friends who had put aside everything else they were doing on Saturday to hang out with me, because they were busy and I shouldn't bother them. Certainly this train of reasoning is faulty at best, but my point is that it's very hard while living on campus to seclude yourself in the way that you're naturally secluded at home.

Perhaps this is what DB meant when he told me in response to my inquiry about living off-campus that it was a good way to learn how to be part of the community without living in the community. I think only two of my readers have experienced such a thing, but I'd love to hear your take on it. How much of this reaction is really just a response to the off-campus lifestyle?

The other obvious thing that's different about post-college life is the intellectual side of things. Passing conversations on campus that merely took for granted past intellectual discussions stirred into flame latent passions in my heart that I had nearly forgotten about in my day-to-day life of work, exercise, reading, prayer, phone calls, eating, and sleeping. This just confirms that I need to make an effort to go to those theology lectures from the Dominicans at St. Vincent Ferrer, to those mornings of recollection from Opus Dei, to anything that will keep the intellectual part of my brain engaged! It's great to read critical essays online, but that's hardly the same. My brain longs to continue working, and it's my job to keep it going.

Now that I researched those two links, I've found hordes of other ineresting web-things to keep me busy 'till my self-imposed log-off time two hours before bed. With the luxury of time that no social engagements and no homework affords me, I'm off to check them out!

EDIT (8:30pm):
I wonder whether this thirst for the intellectual is the reason why I've felt such thorough enjoyment for the few works of theater I've been able to see these past few months. I'll bet they're absolutely related!

Monday, October 6, 2008

On Long Blog Posts About Both Forms of the Roman Liturgy

I wrote this a few weeks ago but never posted it:

It's so tempting for a trad like me to just run from the mediocrity, strange music, abuses, and lack of reverence often found in the Ordinary Form (OF) of the Mass and take refuge in the ethereal quality, dependable structure, and vertical focus usually found in the Extraordinary Form (EF) - but is that really a good reason to switch forms? Is it really a virtuous thing to run from the normal and mediocre that causes you pain and instead hide away in the special, where you're mostly protected from ever having to prayerfully interact with those who do not share this particular part of your worldview? Or is it okay to seclude yourself from the chaff in the world and be refreshed in a place where you know you can trust the spiritual food that's being given to you, where you can just relax into prayer as opposed to keeping your defenses up?

Come to think of it, switching from your territorial parish to the local EF parish is really little different than switching to the local charismatic parish or the local Franciscan parish. We're different parts of the same Body, with different strengths and weaknesses. Each spirituality has its own incredible blessings and heresies to watch out for. Does a liturgically traditional spirituality carry with it obligations much different from those of the rest of the Church?

But let's think evangelization here. Every Christian shares in the baptismal call to evangelize. Again, we're different parts of the same body, and a foot obviously can't evangelize in the same way an ear does. Still, when the foot and the ear get together, it's very easy for them to try and bring each other around to see things their way - for the foot to chide the ear on its stumbly walking, and the ear to chide the foot on its bad listening skills. In most cases, the foot and the ear can't very effectively judge how well each other is doing things. But the ear can tell that something's not quite right with the foot if, for instance, its skin is rotting (since the ear has skin, too).

Pardon my affinity for analogies and extended metaphors. The challenge for traditionalists is that because we have such a deep, often intellectual understanding of the Liturgy, and a knowledge that the treasures of the Church's tradition are meant for all, it's very difficult for us to accept that other parishes have accepted less of these beautiful traditions that are so fruitful to us.

Sure, I see the subjective and objective value in sacred, contemplative, oriented traditional Liturgy, but if Joe and Suzie down the block are spiritually fed by the Liturgical Dance-A-Thon at Mary, Mother of the Earth parish downtown, who am I to judge? (I am exaggerating.) Sure, I know that Rome and the Liturgical documents are on my side, but how am I to convince them that the "dispensations for pastoral reasons" probably shouldn't be given in every possible case?

It's certainly not my job, as a lay woman, to be the Liturgical Police. It's probably not even my job to convince Joe and Suzie down the block that their parish's Liturgy could probably be more God-centered. But I know that it's my job not to disown Joe and Suzie. I know that it's my job not to hole myself up in a small, possibly elitist community. We are all called to evangelization. Maybe my job is not to speak but to love.

But I still need to take care of my own soul.

Since these musings, I have effectively switched parishes. I mostly consider my local Institute of Christ the King apostolate my parish. But more and more, I'm feeling two tensions: the question of generalization (i.e., this is clearly best for me. Is it best for everyone?), and the divergence of calendars. These I will address now.

As mentioned above, it seems clear to me that, theologically speaking, the EF is superior to the OF. Not that it's perfect, mind you (the Second Vatican Council did produce a Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy for a reason), but that it's objectively superior to the OF. I tend to judge liturgical appropriateness in part by the laughability factor: If an outsider were watching this, would they laugh? In the EF, it is very clear that the Liturgy is about God Himself coming down to mankind. Still, there is some validity to the fact that many are not reached by the EF who are reached by the more pastorally-friendly attitude with which the OF is often celebrated (by "pastorally-friendly" here I mean reaching out to meet people where they're at; I don't mean to imply that the EF is not pastoral). This then begs the question: is a greater amount of tradition and ritualism important for the arm of the Church in which I reside, or is it for the Church as a whole? And if it's for the whole Church, how much?

I'm sure part of my dilemma here comes from my background. I've been involved in Liturgical ministry (mostly singing, but others more recently) since I was ten. My last two years at Franciscan, I was on Liturgy Committee, a group of people who were chiefly responsible for the Liturgies on campus - keeping them in union with the desires of the Church, reaching the campus spirituality, and drawing our fellow students ever deeper into communion with the God of the universe. So it was partly my job to see these beautiful traditions and to bring them to my peers by way of the whole campus. But now I'm back in the real world. My Liturgical ministry is at an all-time low (about once per month), I've only just found a parish where I can truly pray (and where I'm not just running away from abuses), and I meet few who are dissatisfied with the Liturgies at their own parishes, which are mediocre at best (in my opinion). How much of my feeling that what I've been given is for the Church at large is the natural experience of projecting my needs and desires onto others, of thinking they'd be so much better off if they just did things the way I do?

This leads into my second point. I fight feeling cut off from the rest of the Catholic world because of the dichotomy in calendar. Generally speaking, I attend the EF on Sundays and the OF on weekdays, and I pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the OF. So I celebrated the feast of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux on Wed, Oct 1, with the knowledge that my parish would celebrate her feast two days later, on Fri the 3rd. This may not seem like a big deal to most, but I have an extremely Liturgical spirituality. My penances and indulgences center around the solemnity of a given day (in gradations, ranging from a Lenten feria to an Easter solemnity), and even my devotions are somewhat cyclical, based upon the traditional devotions of the day. In this way, I know that I am in union with the Church universal (or at least clergy and religious), and I know that my religious observances are not just a private thing but are one drop in a vast bucket of Christians giving honor and glory to God, and petitioning Him on behalf of their fellow humans.

But the calendars are different. Some awesome feasts have been suppressed; some equally incredible feasts have been added. Celebrations have been moved - some far, some near. How can I live in the Liturgical heart of the Church if she is divided? Do I celebrate St. Monica in August or in March? Do I invite others to fast on Ember Days? Do I go to a more solemn Liturgy on Low Sunday, knowing that I desire to pray the propers for the Feast of the Divine Mercy?

I trust our holy father, especially on Liturgical issues. And I know that any process of change, especially one of healing, is painful. Well, I hurt. May it be for God's greater glory and for the salvation of souls. Amen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On Witch Hunts and Theocracies

So I've decided to change things a little - to make this somewhat less of a strictly-essays blog, to stray more into subjective, personal things... It was to be a personal thing anyway. Sometimes I think I draw the line between myself and the rest of the world a little too thickly.

Anyway! My first goal is to avoid starting paragraphs with meaningless transition words like "so" and "anyway." Starting now.

My sister's high school put on The Crucible last night, and I went to see it - she was ushering and needed a ride, I retained a fairly strong affinity for the play from high school discussions, and her school's drama department never fails to put on superbly acted/directed shows, and my plans had been cancelled by the rain anyway. Well, once I got past the distractions of being seated immediately in front of the lighting booth (read: it wasn't dark by me, even when the theater was dark) and being surrounded by texting high schoolers (even though they threatened to throw out audience members who were texting! What gall!), I found myself engaged in the play intellectually as much as emotionally.

This is a new thing for me, watching a story and considering the philosophical ramifications, but I like it. It certainly made watching the play alone amidst a sea of people a much more pleasant experience.

What first struck me was the caricature of the Christian faith that seemed to be speaking to me in most of the characters. Then I thought about the historical time frame and realized that Puritanism is really very unlike Catholicism (and I considered the pleasing liberality in Catholicism - but more on that another day, perhaps). Instead I tried to consider what my response would have been were I any of the characters depicted.

Say what you will, Arthur Miller has a knack for making nearly all of his characters destestable. At the very least, each person's flaws were clearly visible. I tried, as in reality, to see Christ in each character, to be forgiving to their personality flaws and instead see things from their perspective, to give each character the benefit of the doubt that they really tried to do the right thing... but it was so hard! The "Christians" were so prideful, and once the established order of things was turned completely upside-down, it became painfully clear who was lying and why. Still, it's so much easier as a detached audience member to see that the people in power were obviously being duped than it is to be such a person, admit your own wrong, and turn the system on its head for the greater good of everyone. (Mary Warren tried this, and couldn't hold to the truth.)

Which brings me to my next topic: When government is combined with religion, bad things happen. Here I saw surprising parallels with Zamyatin's We, Orwell's 1984, Moore's V for Vendetta, etc. Perhaps I'm just more sensitive to this because I'm a person who values my faith and religious practices very highly, and who believes that the separation of church and state is being carried out here in a way contrary to its original intention, but it seems clear that whenever the two are combined, both are weakened, and fallen human nature is allowed free reign over both. I think this might be leading me into a brief diatribe about how some form of atheism has become the new culturally dominant minority religion, and anti-Catholicism the trendy new anti-Semitism (not that it's new, but that it's fashionable, and socially acceptable although technically politically incorrect)... and that's not really where I want to go right now. More on that when I finish Michael Novak's No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers.

Sorry to leave this conclusionless, but my musings were interrupted at length by both my sister and my mother, and my brain is in a thoroughly different place now than when I began, and I'm exhausted.

In other news: I think it's easier to write nonfiction. No wonder there's so much more of it out on the market.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Screens and Boxes

It's amazing how sitting in one place in front of a screen for eight hours a day makes one so tired!

I've been working temporary jobs (mostly just when someone needs a fill-in receptionist or whatever for an afternoon or a few days), and the workload's been low as of late. But this week I've been working full-time, and on Tuesday I noticed this pattern that I'd fallen into:
  • 8am-5pm: at work, surfing the 'net and answering the phones (save half an hour's lunch break)
  • 5-5:20pm: driving home
  • 5:20-7pm: watching TV with my sister
  • 6:15-6:45pm: eating while watching TV
  • 7-10:30pm: sitting in my room, on the computer
  • 10:30pm: start getting ready for bed and for work tomorrow
I compare this experience with other working friends and find that they're in the same predicament. Why is it that we are so drawn to technology, to machines that engage our brains (and maybe our fingers) but little else? Why is it so difficult, in today's fast-food / instant-communication society, to be disconnected? Why must I fight the feeling that it's essential to have read through all the latest news articles and blog posts before I can tackle cleaning my room? Is something disastrous going to happen if, at any moment, I'm not fully aware of the far-reaching implications of the latest insult Sen. Obama has leveled at Gov. Palin?

Of course not. But being aware of the goings-on of the world, and even simply being in constant communication with one's friends and peers, give one a sense of intellectual power and unity of purpose. Even having watched the latest episode of American Idol gives one a strong sense of solidarity with the rest of the nation.

Maybe it's just because my generation is so comfortable on computers that we look to them for refuge even when we're seeking refuge from too much time spent on computers. Maybe it's also connected to the vast reaches of the internet. I'm reminded of one bullet-point from the fantastic Evil Overlord List:
Finally, to keep my subjects permanently locked in a mindless trance, I will provide each of them with free unlimited Internet access.
That does sound something like working as a receptionist, except that I have the interruptions of the occasional phone call or doorbell.

None of my jobs were ever fancy enough to give me
a headset, but this gives the general idea.
And as for the TV, I'm reminded of a scene from Stargate: Atlantis in which two men from earth (Sheppard and McKay), are discussing with two crew members who are not from earth (Ronon and Teyla) what their respective peoples do for entertainment. For sake of clarity, earthmen are blue and aliens are green.
Ronon Dex: So people just sit and watch this box for hours at a time?
Maj. John Sheppard: Yeah, people do.
Teyla Emmagon: Is it that engaging?
Sheppard: Depends what's on it. There are lots of programs on dozens of channels, every day, all day.
Dr. Rodney McKay: Most of which are fictional representations of ridiculously attractive people in absurd situations
Sheppard: There are educational programs, all sorts of documentaries. Not many people watch 'em but, uh, well, they're on.
Ronon: And that's what everybody on your planet does for entertainment? Watch a box?
Well... Kind of. Humbling, isn't it? Makes me want to stop in at the health club on the way home fromwork and go for a run on the machines. I know, that still has me inside an air-conditioned building using a machine, but it's progress. Baby steps.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On Balance

(I know this is somewhat after the initial splash, but I took my time to process this fully. Cut me a break - I'm new at this, ok?)

St. Thomas de Sales often said, in much prettier words, that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar - "truth tempered with charity," or something like that.

This sounds great in concept, but in practice, where does one draw the line? Bishop Niederauer of San Francisco initially got some flak for inviting Nancy Pelosi to a conversation, rather than giving a diatribe about the obviousness of her error, after her notorious recent comments about abortion. While I usually agree with the juggernauts of the Catholic blogosphere, I found myself staunchly on Neiderauer's side: unpopular as his statement may have been, his responsibility is for the souls for his flock, including hers. Perhaps he didn't excoriate her because he knew that wouldn't draw her to Christ (and besides, over two dozen other bishops had made the issue abundantly clear already).

You can't compromise the truth! People have a very real right to know the truth. But you can't convert people with a sledgehammer, as my professors frequently reminded my classmates and me. The hardcore road may be very attractive to many of us, especially when beaurocracy and politics and red tape make life needlessly difficult. But that doesn't mean that it's necessarily the best way to do things.

So what's the balance? How do I avoid being an overbearing charismatic, a bitter traditionalist, a liturgical terrorist, on the one hand, but equally to avoid being lukewarm, a sellout, jaded and apathetic? How do I compromise neither Christ's Truth nor my Christian responsibility to usually not be a jerk to other people?

I don't have an answer here; just questions. I think this whole post can be summed up in the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá that I read between beginning this post and finishing it:
The charity of Jesus Christ will often lead you to make concessions. That is very noble. And the charity of Jesus Christ will often lead you to stand your ground. That too is very noble.
He has a wonderful way of stating things in an obvious, simple, and very challenging way. The question now is simply one of discerning when to concede and when to stand firm...

Monday, September 8, 2008

On Opening Doors

Last week, as I was walking towards the door of my health club, I heard the voice of a man walking a few paces behind me.  "Hold on, let me get that for you,"  he said, skipping ahead to reach the door first.  I thanked him demurely and slowed down, allowing him to gracefully open both doors for me, and appreciating greatly this small token of respect that come to I miss since leaving college.

But the more I thought about this innocuous-seeming event, the more I realized how singular it truly was.  Had he done the same thing merely four years before, I would've brushed him off, saying, "No, that's fine," or perhaps letting him hold one door for me while I held the second for him - and I was of the more polite, moderate brand of feminist!

I recognize that I live in a different world from most of my peers, in a sense, because God truly is at the center of everything I do (that's what I strive for, at least).  I feel that I'm definitively in the minority, however (especially among twentysomethings) of women who are more into traditional chivalry than modern feminism.  What courage it must take for a man like this to go out of his way like he did, to step out of the "safety zone" and open a door for a perfect stranger, with no hint as to her receptivity to such an action!

Look at that face! She was perhaps less receptive...
I'm sure my door-opener has forgotten all about our little interaction by this point, but it is emblazoned upon my memory: a reminder of how men have been pressed between a rock and a hard place by the rise of radical feminism - and it only increases my respect and admiration for those men who do treat women with more respect simply because we're ladies.

To all you door-openers out there: Thank you.  We women may not always show it, but we do appreciate you.  Keep on changing the world, one door at a time.

Why Keep Christ in Christmas?

First posted on Dec 24, 2007, on a different blog

The Christmas season has come to mean a time of presents and of spending time with loved ones, a time of happiness and warm fuzzy feelings - except for when it becomes the stress of getting done all the things that need to be done in the time they need to be done by, and a depressing reminder of who and what you've lost. "Keep Christ in Christmas," they say. Aww, that's real nice, but get real - what has He got to do with my crazy life now? Credo ut intelligere, in the words of St. Augustine: Believe, that you might understand.

Believe what? Well, let's start with creation (yes, I know many things start at creation, and perhaps you're sick of hearing it, but the beginning of humanity is a very good place to start). "God created man in His image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27 RSV). We were created out of love by the Being Who is perfect love - and we were created "in the divine image." Love finds its perfection in communion (as is clearly seen in the Trinity), and as we were created to be perfect, it's no great leap to say that we were created for communion in love with that perfect Being Who created us.

However, our original parents screwed up. Whether you account it as pride, disobedience, or something else altogether, they nonetheless fell from God's grace and were cursed and exiled from the primordial paradise they'd been given. From that moment when sin entered the world, things were no longer the same between man and God. God no longer walked with Adam in the garden; instead they communicated mainly through the sacrifices Adam offered to God. Their sin was passed on to their children and to their children's children. The essential goodness of man's nature had been compromised and was getting harder and harder to see.

But it wasn't all bad. "O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, / which gained for us so great a Redeemer," proclaims the priest in the exsultet at the Easter Vigil. For amidst all the curses laid upon our first parents as they were kicked out of Eden, there is found a promise: "I will put enmity between you (serpent) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel" (Gen 3:15 NAB). Because of this great sin of Adam and Eve, God promised to one day send a redeemer to bring humanity back to the communion He created us to have with Him.

Many years passed. God made covenants with his people, who, in their sinfulness, successively broke each one. These covenants were for the people's redemption; because they were now unable to keep from sin, God gave them laws (so they would know what was sin), but they had not the strength to keep them. Abiding by God's law is impossible without supernatural grace.

And so, in the fullness of time (i.e., when God so fit to do so), God sent to mankind a redeemer. In order to share this redemption with all humanity, this redeemer had to be fully man. However, history had made clear that no mere human, no matter how holy, had the grace or the power to effect this redemption. So, in a shocking and unexpected move, God sent His divine Son, mysteriously joining His perfect divinity with sinless humanity, to redeem the world.

But it doesn't end there! This redeemer exemplified virtue, spread the Truth of God's Love to others, and liberally distributed healing (both external and internal) for years. He allowed Himself to literally be the scapegoat for his people, the creature on which everyone's sins are cast and which is sacrificed to God to abate His wrath for their transgressions. Holding nothing back, this God-man received from His fellow humans a death that was brutal and torturous to His Body and His soul. He accepted this for our sake, and was Resurrected from the dead for us as well. In this, He accomplished the redemption we so desperately needed and made it available to all of us.

What does it mean that He made redemption available to all? Simply that He has undone, in a sense, the sin of our first parents, and has opened for us the gates of salvation, of perfect communion with God. When He sent His Holy Spirit among His disciples at Pentecost, He opened the floodgates to the last thing they needed: grace! For while God's law, which leads to true freedom, is unfollowable by mere mortals, we are now gladly given the grace to see it through, thanks to Jesus.

So what do we celebrate at Christmas? Christ's coming - in the Incarnation, at the end of time, in our hearts, in the Eucharist. Because He came in carne ("in the flesh"), the riches of heaven of everlasting communion with God and each other, are available to all - even, in a lesser way, here on earth. When He comes again at the end of time, the redemption that He has brought us will be fully realized. In the meantime, He comes to us in many ways, but two of principal importance: 1) When we welcome Him into our hearts and give Him control of our lives, we are brought that much closer to living the perfect life He has planned for us, and 2) In the Eucharist, the Liturgy of heaven on earth, in which we literally ingest into our bodies the God of the universe in the humble forms of what to all appearances are bread and wine. This is our closest earthly glimpse into that communion with Him that is heaven - how awesome it is to have God - Body, Blood, soul, and divinity - inside of us!

And that's why everyone needs Christ in Christmas: Because this season is not about a superficial sense of, "It's time to feel happy and loving now," but is instead a celebration of the fact that, through the birth of Jesus the Christ, the gates of heaven have been opened to us by a God Who loves us more than our tiny brains can fathom, and that real happiness - even on earth - is available to all who ask. Merry Christmas, my friends.

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