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.
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