Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Scrupulosity

This morning's epistle spoke about law and covenant (and the distinction between them). See, God made a covenant with Abraham, a promise of salvation, about 400 years before He gave Moses the Law. He gave the Law because the people had a hard time figuring out what was sin and what wasn't - not to say that the Law contained any earth-shattering revelations; He was just reminding His people what not to do. But the Law had little to do with Israel's holiness or status as the Chosen People; that was all about the covenant. Father Munkelt's homily today focused on this part of the reading: God's promise predates the Law; the Law tells us what is sin; we need this because Original Sin has clouded our minds and made it difficult for us to determine that on our own... I carried this train of thought to a natural conclusion and was reminded that the reason we cannot earn our salvation by being good is because our salvation comes from God's promise, which long predates the Law (not that we shouldn't follow the Law... but I'm sure you're all already familiar with the faith/works debates).

A recent friendly discussion of differences between the Eastern and Western lungs of the Church caused me to conclude that the modern Western Church struggles with laws and rules in a way that the East doesn't, and perhaps a way that the West didn't used to. The predominant dichotomous groups within the Church today (e.g., conservative and progressive, traditional and charismatic) seem to be divided over rules: are they supremely important, or of little importance whatsoever?

So, too, does it seem to be very easy for a person striving for holiness (especially one with a duty-bound conscience like my own) to see fault everywhere, and to get caught up in the rules (Commandments) and the "supposed to"s and the "could have been better"s... Admittedly, humility does require that one see one's own faults, but it absolutely does not ask one to be overly anxious about them. Thus the problem: scrupulosity.

Fortunately, Our Lord has blessed me with a liberal trust in His loving mercy, so I am usually quick to accept His forgiveness for the little things I screw up on all the time. But how does one tell conclusively that a sin is venial as opposed to mortal? Oughtn't one to refrain from receiving Communion if ever in doubt, so as not to profane such an august Sacrament, even unintentionally?

Two responses spring to mind. First requires me to define a mortal sin: a sin that cuts you off from God in such a way that you are incapable of receving His graces until you repent and receive His forgiveness through his sacred minister, the priest. Three conditions must be present in order for a sin to be mortal: Grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent (cf. CCC 1857). Or, as they taught us in middle school, it must be seriously wrong, you have to know that it's seriously wrong, and you have to freely choose to do it anyway. In short, a mortal sin is like choosing to spit in God's face and then turning your back on Him. But many Catholics often get caught up in that first condition, grave matter, and count themselves (or others) to be in mortal sin when mitigating factors such as poor education or addiction reduce one's culpability for that sin. In other words: Many good people who are striving for sanctity misdiagnose venial sins as mortal sins.

The second thing that comes to mind is a particularly memorable paragraph I read a few years ago from the Diary of St Faustina, a poor, sparsely educated Polish nun who was blessed with mystical visions of Our Lord on a regular basis (the words of Christ are in bold):

(156) + Once, I desired very much to receive Holy Communion, but I had a certain doubt, and I did not go. I suffered greatly because of this. It seemed to me that my heart would burst from the pain. When I set about my work, my heart full of bitterness, Jesus suddenly stood by me and said, My daughter, do not omit Holy Communion unless you know well that your fall was serious; apart from this, no doubt must stop you from uniting yourself with Me in the mystery of My love. Your minor faults will disappear in My love like a piece of straw thrown into a great furnace. Know that you grieve Me much when you fail to receive Me in Holy Communion.
I don't mean to suggest that I know what anyone else should do with their interior life, but that paragraph did it for me. I told Our Lord that I would no longer fret over whether to receive Communion, but would go unless I know I was fully guilty of a grave fault, which is rare, because His Spirit is with me.

I still go to Confession regularly. Like every other human being (with two exceptions), I sin. But I don't let my sins get in the way of my relationship with Our Lord. I simply apologize, accept His generous, unconditional forgiveness, and move on with my life and His plans for it. It's a beautiful relationship we have, and I look forward to Him continuing to transform me in His love.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Being, and Being Catholic

My inspirational concept here comes secondhand from a homily, so if I get any important details wrong, I hope Isaac will correct me in the comments. Or anyone who knows more Thomistic philosophy than I do (which is several of you).

The initial point which caught my attention was the claim that the popular American Life League slogan "You can't be Catholic and Pro-Abortion" is untrue and contains a logical fallacy. (Mind you, the intended point of the slogan is not in dispute, only its philosophical accuracy.) So the argument goes something like this:

Existence is the first act.* At baptism, our existence is ontologically changed, and we become Catholic in our very essence. Thus things like knowledge and opinions are irrelevant; we ARE Catholic in a much more fundamental sense than we are, say, American or pro-life or traditional. Even partisanship within the Church is false insofar as it separates us based on our thoughts, not our essence.

Damn those Enlightenment thinkers** (well, not really; I'd like to put a little more trust in God's mercy than that, but you know what I mean)! I have had such a thorough, solid Catholic education (thanks to my university, my friends, my parish, my reading material, etc); it scares me when I discover that I've been caught by so fundamental a lie as that.

I would like it if this post inspired some discussion. Pretty please, with sugar and a cherry on top?

*That is to say, the existence of every human being is the fundamental aspect of his personhood and is necessarily first and foremost.

**e.g., Descartes (Cogito ergo sum: "I think, therefore I am")

On Supernatural Humility and Building Friendships

Humility is seeing yourself as God sees you - no more, no less (hence my frustration at people's pious attempts to be humble by degrading or ignoring their own talents, or by refusing to accept compliments). I believe it was St Augustine who said that if we saw each other as we truly are, we would be tempted to fall down and worship. So, all else accounted for, humility includes recognizing that we are awesomely gifted and incredibly blessed.

But it took me years to discover what I will call supernatural humility, which consists of allowing others to trample upon your dignity while holding fast to it inside. This is the humility displayed by the martyrs when they allowed their bodies, precious temples of the Holy Spirit that they were, to be mutilated and destroyed, and by Our Lord when countless calumnies were spoken against Him. They knew their worth was much greater than that, but were happy to suffer these injuries for the sake of our heavenly Father.

This kind of humility is a very practical virtue to work on in one's daily life. Ignore (or even smile at) that kid that ran into you in the supermarket rather than expressing your frustration at his careless disdain for your personal space. Work diligently at your tireless job without expectation of appreciation (also accept without complaint tasks far below your skill level). Quietly pick up and do the forgotten tasks for which other people in your household are responsible (sometimes).

These examples work best with strangers, though, and get tricky when they're with closer people. But building friendships I've found to be a different story. Between the command to love your neighbor as yourself and the analogy between spousal relationships and other friendships (analogous insofar as both are based in love of God), it seems clear to me that the telos (end) of every Christian friendship is to get your friend to heaven. So you want to enable them to persist in vice as little as possible without infringing upon the unconditionalness of your charity.

Scenario One: Road trip with one friend (read: little to no alone time for a full week). Both of us looking out for each others' interests so far above our own that we never stopped to consider whether what we thought the other wanted was really what they wanted. So communication fail, but also humility fail. What was needed from me was not to set aside my own legitimate needs and desires but to trust that my friend loved me enough to want to meet my legitimate needs and desires, and to express those so as to give them an opportunity to do so.

Scenario Two: Went out of my way to make plans with a friend for special quality time before I leave; other plans were then made for this friend over the plans they had with me, but this was not communicated with me until I asked about our plans. On an objective level, this was quite upsetting, but my initial response to this friend was not even one of disappointment; all I said was "good to know!" Sure, humility would just take the injury (which was my initial reaction), but friendship should not. Friendship required me to step up and demand a reschedule, not in the least because I know this friend had no desire to hurt me, and would benefit from the opportunity to develop the skill of being a little less oblivious to such things.

Scenario Three: My children slack off and don't do their chores. How much is it laudable for me to simply pick up after them quietly, and how much of that is simply spoiling them and enabling them to not learn to take care of themselves?

Humility is a tricky virtue, this supernatural kind none the less so. Like just about everything else that's good in this life, it's a balancing act. So the goal is to make sure I balance my humility with charity, not with insecurity. (Why are the worthwhile things always easier said than done?)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Childhood Latin

Today, as part of his Latin-themed 80th birthday present, I took my grandfather to Latin Mass. It was mostly just a pleasant trip down memory lane for him (not that he didn't pray, but that it wasn't an overwhelming spiritual experience), but I found it delightful to be able to bring someone from my family into this spiritual home of mine, which sometimes feels like it might as well be on another planet. And what stories he told! They were pretty cool. I especially like the one where he challenged an old pastor, asking him when he last used the phrase "fear of God" (the priest didn't really have a response).

Anyway. Back on topic. So my mom, in explaining this happening to the monsignor at our local parish, mentioned that "Claire and Pop-Pop have had a Latin connection for years." When she later relayed this to me, I laughed and asked, "Really?" I mean, I've always remembered that my grandfather had some hobby-like interest in Latin whenever I was studying it in school, but that seemed to be a shorter time than her statement reflected. And then she told me a story (which I actually remember!), and that put it all into perspective.

Pop-Pop and Mom had been in our parish choir for as long as I can remember. And I was pretty much ready to join the choir myself for as long as I can remember (it wasn't available to me 'till 4th grade; since then, however, I've not had a break of more than a few months without singing for Mass). So when, at seven years old, I learned a new choir song from my Pop-Pop, it quickly became my favorite (in my memory, at least, the song was definitely "Pop-Pop's favorite song", which may have influenced my proclivity for it). It was a simple round, with words as follows:
Jubilate Deo
Omnis terra!
Servite Domino
In laetitia.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In laetitia.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
In laetitia.
"Rejoice in God, all the earth. Serve the Lord in gladness/joy. Alleluia! Alleluia! in gladness/joy. Alleluia! Alleluia! in gladness/joy." That translation comes more from my memory than from my current Latin knowledge. Now picture the scene:

Claire, age 7
Pop-Pop (grandfather)

All three sing the song together, at Claire's insistence. Then Claire tries to conduct them in a round, with forceful directions, like "Pop-Pop, start!" (Mom gets the second part, and Claire takes the third part). Mom and Pop-Pop look at each other, amused, and sing obligingly.

At seven years old, my favorite church song (probably my favorite song, period) was in Latin. And my family was not traddy at all. Who knew?

Monday, August 10, 2009

On the Danger of Knowing a Little Psychology

One of the classes that was required for my undergrad was Philosophy of the Human Person.  I took this entry-level class as a senior with a good background in philosophy, so I wasn't particularly bowled over by any major revelations in the class, but the one thing that did stick with me was the distinction between self-presence and self-reflection.

Bear with me, you non-philosophers.  Self-presence is just living your life; self-reflection is being aware of the fact that you're living your life (and of how you're living it).  For instance: Picture yourself at a funeral home, alone in the viewing room with your deceased love one, just grieving.  That's self-presence.  Now imagine that someone walks in the room.  You are instantly aware of how you appear and sound, and (unless you have an enormous amount of self-confidence) probably interrupt your grieving because you are aware of being observed.  That's self-reflection.

So I tend to be somewhat psychologically oriented.  This is great, because Our Lord can point out to me that I suffer from this terribly silly insecurity that I'm an overbearing personality (a total lie), and I can look critically at my friendships to see that this is far from the case.  He can also suggest that I need to let Him increase a particular virtue in me, and I do so easily because I'm so aware of myself.

On the other hand: it often makes life more difficult.  When with a group of men, for instance, I usually have to fight the fear that I'm infringing upon guy time, which makes it much more difficult to just relax and enjoy myself / be able to give myself more freely to others.  When I'm not going through a particular crisis or growing period, I begin to ask God what He wants to fix in me next, as if it's all about Him improving me (whereas it's really about Him loving others through me).

Don't get me wrong: self-reflection is important and helpful and all that.  But it's like being that kid from the Wonder Years and always narrating your life.  Sure, it's funny.  But are you really living life to the fullest?  Are you really able to truly be there for the friend crying on your shoulder if you're thinking about the fact that she's crying on your shoulder (as opposed to listening wholeheartedly to her story that is the reason for her tears in the first place)...

For those of us who routinely first examine our motives to be sure we're not manipulating or using others, it's a tough job to trust ourselves to not screw up God working in us, and to just be present to those around us and to what's going on.  Like most things in life, however, difficult only really means entirely worthwhile.

* * *

Special thanks to Emmy for awarding me the Anti-Muffin Award in the sidebar to the left!  Reading her blog and corresponding occasionally with her has made me feel like I've made a new friend, which is a really novel and awesomely cool feeling.  :D

Friday, August 7, 2009

On Control, Independence, and Marriage

One of the things I've enjoyed most about being home and single this past year has been the independence and flexibility.  I can make last-minute snap decisions as to whether I want to go out (and if so, where) on a given night.  I can drive forty minutes away to go to Sunday Mass at a parish where I really feel at home, where my soul is deeply nourished.  I can pick up and spend a weekend away visiting friends, and my only concerns are not making plans at home during that weekend.  Even in college I didn't have this much freedom.

But I'm going back to school next month.  And while it's fantastic that I have my own room, parking on campus is free, and a load of laundry in the washer or dryer costs only $.50, my life will have a new structure to it.

See, this program is an M.A. in Liturgical Studies, and the school believes that one cannot be Catholic and merely study the Liturgy without being steeped in it, and for that reason all students are required to live the liturgical life of the campus: praying together for Matins, Vespers, and Mass each day.  The Sunday Mass (on campus!) is explicitly the liturgical highlight of the week, the packet I received this weekend reminded me, so much so that priest students are encouraged to not have weekly duties at nearby parishes.  This is serious business.

And while it absolutely makes sense for liturgical scholars to pray together, and while I had known that this was an integral part of their degree program, I had forgotten.  Instead, I was getting excited about spending Sundays with friends from my undergrad who are in the area, about taking Sundays to explore downtown Chicago, and about assisting at Mass at such beautiful places as St John Cantius and the Shrine of Christ the King.

The hardest part is that conforming to these campus liturgical norms (as required in obedience even just to my vocation as a student) means leaving behind a favorite part of the spirituality the Lord has developed in me this past year: my adherence to the old calendar and living in the spirit of traditional liturgy.  That spirit will remain, but I will be thoroughly rooted in the modern calendar and practice, which is something I find extremely disappointing.

But as Anne pointed out over the weekend, this is simply another case of preparing for my vocation as a wife and mother.  When married, I will not have the freedom to do things my way simply because I prefer them that way.  I will need to do things in a certain manner for the good of my family, and I'm sure I will have to compromise even on issues I consider to be important.

St Faustina had mystical visions of Our Lord, in which He gave her specific instructions (for things like forming a new religious order or getting the Feast of the Divine Mercy put on the liturgical calendar).  When she took these to her confessors and superiors, they nearly always said, "You're crazy.  No."  (Not always in so many words, but they rarely believed her.)  She knew that the instructions Our Lord gave to her were good and holy and His Will, but even so she submitted to the will of her superiors, of those to whom she'd sworn obedience, and simply trusted.  And Our Lord told her how much He valued her obedience.  It wasn't until after her death that these particular things were accomplished, but one of the crosses Our Lord wanted her to bear was His unfulfilled desires.

And so I say: even if I must set down my joy in the glories of Thy tradition for Thy Will and the good of my future family, may Thy will be done on earth - in my heart - as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Love and Consolation

I imagine that most of us have a small group of people who reside extremely close to our hearts completely undeservedly. Though one is occasionally blessed enough to develop a lifelong friendship with one of these people, usually the people in question are ones we don't know well, or haven't known long - the sort of relationships about which the sheer volume of love we feel is quite disproportionate to the knowledge of persons exchanged.

Yesterday, just before Mass, I was thinking about and praying for just one such friend. As my mind wandered gratefully over small affirmations by which he had gifted to me the love of God - objectively they were small, but to my heart they were overwhelming - I was struck by a powerful realization.

Back story: Months ago, I was filled with desire for greater closeness with another of this kind of friend, and especially for the desire to pour myself out more fully for his sake (as he clearly needed more graces than simple prayer and fasting could provide). Suddenly, an epiphany: the very emotion I was feeling, this fierce desire to lay down everything I had for the good of this other, was but a shadow of the love Our Lord has for me, of His great desire to bring me, undeserving, to sanctity by virtue of His sacrifice. Oh.

Yesterday's realization is almost part two: the great joy I feel at this friend's smallest gesture of love is akin to how Our Lord feels when I make an act of love for Him, be it as simple as not eating that piece of chocolate, rearranging my plans to be where my family needs me, or stopping by the adoration chapel for an unnecessary visit just 'cuz I was in the neighborhood.

I find it hard to think about that - about the fact that Our Lord receives consolation from my actions, feels joy from my love.

For the forgetfulness and ingratitude of men, We will console You, O Lord...
For the sacrileges that profane Your Sacrament of Love,
We will console You, O Lord...
For our own unfaithfulness, We will console You, O Lord...

UPDATE: I nearly forgot to link to this post by the Crescat, which muses on the other side of this same issue.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...