Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lawn Chair Catechism Session One

The Holy Spirit knows just what to send into my life and when.  Today I have been given an opportunity to answer some reflective questions about my faith walk and my parish life, two things you never have to to twist my arm to do!  I want to thank Jen Haganey and Sarah Reinhard for welcoming me into the fold. This is a great project and I hope to contribute in any way possible in the future to Lawn Chair Catechism and to Catholic 

In your own faith:
  • How would you describe your lived relationship with God to this point in your life?  The first word that comes out of my heart is "consistent."  As I age and change, as I suffer losses and gain blessings that I never could have anticipated as a child or a young woman, I see only one element of my life that stands completely immutable, and that is the relationship between me and God, the Truth, Being Himself.   My faith life certainly has gone through some important evolutionary steps!  I became Catholic in 2010, and that has been the defining moment thus far in my faith life.  But since my earliest memories as a toddler in a home where the Bible and prayer were present to this very day when I read my morning devotional as I hold my son on my hip, the presence of God in my life has never been something I've doubted or lacked. So, the way I LIVE this relationship out has looked different at different times, and my level of obedience has definitely increased.  The liberties I take with His Word and His instruction have decreased.  The vague fears and concrete disasters in my life have increased, but God has always been a reference point, the beauty that I know I am striving for.  The face of Jesus has always been before me.  Always, as long as I have memory, I have held the image of Jesus' face in front of me as I received any earthly praise or any earthly scorn.  Now, as a Catholic, my relationship with Christ has obviously deepened indescribably as I have been blessed to partake in the Real Presence.  But Jesus has not changed; only my level of commitment to Him, my willingness to get on my knees, on my face, on the floor, and tell Him to take over have increased.
  • What does the word “discipleship” mean to you?  Do you perceive a need in the Church today to help lay Catholics become more fervent followers of Jesus Christ?  Sometimes I don't think I have the nerve to call myself a disciple.  For what men am I fishing?  Am I salt and light?  There are days I feel more like sand and darkness, all cozied up with my faith to comfort me.  Other days someone will tell me I have shown them Jesus in some way, and I know, I know as surely as I can see my hand in front of my face, that I must keep persevering to earn the title of Christian and the job of disciple.  This is a rough audience we have to present to, fellow Catholic Christians. In many, many cases, you will be working and mothering and shopping alongside people who have received lifetimes of indoctrination in three areas: secularism, materialism, and Christophobia.  If you're lucky, you won't get outright virulent hate, but  you'll find cafeteria Catholics, lukewarms, Republicatholics and Democatholics who put party politics before the Magisterium, and fallen-away Catholics who are SURE they know the Church is thoroughly corrupt and you are a fool for buying into it.  So what approach do I use?  Well, I only have two rules.  As I get older, I find I can't remember more than that anyway.  Rule number one is never, ever let them see or hear you do anything that is not Christlike ( I didn't say these rules were easy, I said they were few in number!).  Rule number two is pray.  Truly pray for people.  If you can be an example of an adherent Catholic Christian and you can pray fervently for these folks, you are halfway there.  You will be unimpeachable and you will be effecting real change by prayer.  You never know which prayer of yours is the one, in the great quilt of time, may be the stitch that holds someone's life together when it lined up with God's pattern. 
In your parish:
  • How would you describe your parish’s current efforts at discipleship?  A hotbed of discipleship?  A weekly gathering of spiritual sleep-walkers?  Or perhaps something in between? My parish is currently in a "cluster" relationship with a much more liberal parish.  That makes some goal setting and event planning difficult. But I think we are very strong in the person to person stuff, and in the example setting.  There are families in my parish who amaze me with their pure devotion to Christ's Church.  That inspiration is catching.  They are examples to me and to my children.  We have business owners in our parish who run their businesses honestly and with charity always in the forefront.  When we DO have "formal" evangelization events, speakers, and the like, they are generally well received and fairly well-attended.  I think, though, that we are a stronger SERVICE parish than anything else.  We do a lot for the poor of the community and the poor in downtown Cleveland.  We meet our fundraising goals easily and always exceed them.  It is my hope that when the community hears about these programs, that our discipleship is evident.  They know we are Christians, after all, by our love. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Different Kind of Top Ten

When I first began immersing myself in the study of Catholicism,  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I have already cited here on my blog The Catholic Truth Society, publishers to the Holy See, as a great resource.  My neighbor and friend Sandy was a great boon as well, with her casual dropping off of books and offers to answer questions.  But the Catechism was really the turning point.  Of course the Didache, the Church Fathers, EWTN, the many adherent and well-written blogs, and my RCIA education were keys to the door, but reading the Catechism was like finding a road map to my own mind and body, a treasure map that had been hidden underground for thirty nine years.  My most emotional moments, the ones where I had to put down the book and compose myself, came from reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Since then I have also read the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the Baltimore Catechism, but the definitive Catechism for The Church, the one that grew from these and addresses every modern issue we will confront in our day is the Complete Catechism bearing the signature of Blessed Pope John Paul II.  Herein I have compiled for you what for me are the ten most impactful passages from our Catechism. These tenets shape my thinking, my behavior toward others, my opinions on how to heal our broken and continually breaking world, my attitude toward my marriage, and how I approach my vocation as a mother. I hope they enlighten and educate you if it is your first time seeing them, or serve as a refresher if you have read them but let them get away from you.

1.  66. No new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.   . . . yet it remains for Christian faith to gradually grasp its significance over the course of the centuries . . . Private revelations . . . have been recognized by the authority of The Church, but they do not belong to the Deposit of Faith. This was a huge relief for me.  As I explored the implications and manifestations of this , I found it to be true over and over again. Catholics were not adding anything to the Scripture and Tradition left by Christ; they were guarding it FROM additions.  That Deposit of Faith and what it precisely contains was a sacred pearl of great price.  The entire structure and personnel of The Church now struck me as a fort armed by soldiers, protecting The Truth from the many assailants from within and without who would seek to undermine, change, add to, subtract from, finesse away, politicize, and altogether pervert Her.  I soon learned about what Martin Luther *really* did and I was horrified.  As my research continued and I read from sources closer to the time of when Jesus and the earliest members of His Church walked, studied, worshipped, and preached, I was left without doubt that THIS was The Deposit of Faith He left, and that the guiding body, the Pope and the Magisterium, were divinely led by the Holy Spirit (God Himself) in order to answer modern questions that are not addressed specifically in Scripture or oral Tradition.

2. 133. The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.  'Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.'  Coming from Protestantism, where it was "me, Jesus, and my Bible," I did have a vestige of false belief that the Catholic Church was less "into" Scripture than were the Protestants.  Again, from hours of research into the history of the Church between the book of Acts and the time of the Reformation (a period which was previously left out of my religious education), I learned that the Catholic Church compiled and canonized Scripture, encouraged the reading of Scripture, and that the Catechism and every encyclical I read was filled with cross references and footnotes FROM Scripture.  The saints fed themselves on Scripture.  This passage from the Catechism uses very exact and purposeful language "forcefully exhorts" to communicate to Catholic Christians that we must immerse ourselves in Scripture.  I learned about Lectio Divina.  I watched as the Gospel was lifted and carried with reverence and singing at Mass.  And I saw how there were more books in the Bible than I had thought there were, not due to Catholics adding books, but to Protestants removing them! Mostly I learned that the Bible was one of the things that would bring me into the Church, because evidence of The Real Presence, Purgatory, and other doctrines, were found therein.

3. 598. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for He is in them) and hold Him up to contempt . . . when we deny Him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on Him.  As a Protestant, I heard too much back and forth about who crucified Christ.  Was it the Jews?  The Romans? Upon whom could we lay blame?  And could we, like Pilate, ever wash our hands of this act, so distant from us in history?  Converting slowly into the Church revealed to me that I joined in with those who tortured and killed Christ every time I sinned against Him.  And it seared on to my brain and heart the idea that I can never, ever, celebrate, condone, laugh at, view with pleasure, tinker with, dip my toe into, encourage and abet, throw parades for, or turn the other way from helping someone repent from the sins that my Jesus suffered whippings and humiliation for.  Never.

4. 1395.  The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church. I took pride as a Lutheran in our open rail communion.  How snobby those Catholics were, not letting anyone and everyone partake in their symbolic bread and wine. If Communion were just a symbol, then why not have an open rail?  If it demanded nothing, no adherence or loyalty, no vow, no fasting, no state of grace, then why not let anyone walk in and eat?  Understanding full communion, finally believing in the Real Presence, was like a punch in my gut.  I had distributed communion to my fellow Lutheran parishioners.  I had laughed at my friends' jokes about getting drunk on the leftover wine we had to finish.  Obviously my view of the Eucharist has changed completely, perhaps more than anything else about my theological perspective and spiritual life.  I could never leave the Eucharist.  I could never walk away from the Real Presence now, and I do not know how anyone does.  I am also acutely aware that the Eucharist must be withheld from people for the protection of their own souls, so that they do not receive it lightly or in a state of grave sin.  And since Scripture backs this up, it was not a hurdle at all to my conversion.

5. 1696.  Unless man acknowledges that he is a sinner he cannot know the truth about himself, which is a condition for acting justly; and without the offer of forgiveness he would not be able to bear this truth. This reads as obvious to many, but I must tell you, my friends, that I have talked with and known rather well people who have told me that they are not sinners and do not sin.  Or, they compare their sins with other people's and feel very propped up and happy that they are who they are and not the wretched sinners they see around them.  I suppose the reason is that the idea of our own sinfulness IS almost unbearable if not for the hope Christ has given us.  But be clear: you will get nowhere in your spiritual life if you do not acknowledge your sinfulness.  You will achieve a shallow sense of being "pals" with Jesus, or worse yet, a sense of superiority over others who simply sin differently than you, but you will never be in the Sacrament of the Present Moment, holding hands with Jesus, if you do not look in the mirror and say, "God have mercy on me, a sinner."

6.  1700.  The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God . . . it is essential to a human being freely to direct himself to this fulfillment. My entire life, before I had any ability to articulate a political position or even read a newspaper, I have been unable to "fit" into a "side."  As I got older, it became worse for me.  Liberals loved me and considered me one of them until they found out I was anti-abortion.  Conservatives loved me and considered me one of them until I talked about the death penalty.  My views on immigration, preferential option for the poor, same sex attraction, lying, the role of the wife in a marriage, child rearing, would have me bouncing from left to right like a fuzzy tennis ball.  When it came time to vote, I registered as an Independent, unable to commit to either political party because both supported some evil practice in their platform.  It was not until I read the Catechism that I could see that my philosophy was by no means unique.  In fact, it was undergirded by the idea of the Imago Dei, that each person held and bore the image of God Himself, and was entitled to certain dignities and rights because of that. Further, he had responsibilities to act and eschew certain desires because of that.  The Catholic Church transcends political loyalties, or should.

7.  2035.  The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility.  This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.  The authority of the Magisterium extends also the the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation. Talk about a misunderstood teaching!  Where, I wondered as  Lutheran and then a dabbling evangelical, did the Catholic Church find these perfect old men to lead them?  Again, after hours upon hours of reading about the earliest Christians, and coming to an understanding about the true definition of infallibility and the Deposit of Faith, I "got it." Infallibility is a protection, not a genetic predisposition or a made-up state that starts when the Pope sits down in a special chair.  Yes, we have a chair of Peter, but no, it's not magical. Yes, we are guided by the Holy Spirit, but the Popes have never been and never WILL BE without sin. The Church will never be without sin.  'Cause it's full of people. See #5.

8.  2267.  If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.  Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm -- without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself -- the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent." I have always been heartbroken by the very idea of a person walking to his death by electrocution or lethal injection.  Even as I type, my friends, I choke up.  I see someone's son or daughter, I see a creation stamped by God, being dragged to the slaughter without necessity.  To find out that The Church, in writing and in spirit, and in TRUTH, knows that the death penalty is wrong and ugly and should only be employed if there is absolutely no other way to protect the innocent from a criminal, was huge for me.  HUGE. 

9.  982.  There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive.  There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.  Christ who died for all men desires that in His Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.  How many times have I thought about these words?  They are so simple and yet there are dimensions to them that require additional reading about invincible ignorance, perfect versus imperfect contrition, and the mystery of the mind of God.  The Church will declare no one beyond redemption, no one IN Hell.  She may warn you that you are on the path, but She will never say that God's mercy couldn't extend to you.  This is a subtle golden thread that wove throughout the whole of Catholic teaching that for me was just so beautiful and rang so true: that the mind of God, of Being Himself, of the beginning and the end who supports all life, is not bound by the Sacraments or by anything that WE understand of Him.  His divine revelations to us are for OUR benefit, and if we follow the maker's directions, and turn from sin, our inner workings will not go haywire and become irrevocably out of order.  But He has the last word. 

10.  2271.  Since the first century The Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.  This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.  Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or as a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law. I first learned what abortion was at about age fourteen.  In my Lutheran school, the teacher made it very clear by her tone and her facial expression that this was something horrific and difficult to talk about, but she gave us the straight story.  I was bowled over.  Who could author such an idea?  How could it be legal?  What schools did these women attend that they didn't know when life began?  Since then, I have been vocally and unabashedly anti-abortion.  I am pro-life from fertilization, when a new person with new and distinct DNA is formed, to natural death.  As a Protestant, it pained me to see one ecclesial body after another crumble under the weight of societal pressure to go soft and iffy on abortion.  Their non committal stance on abortifacient contraception is unacceptable to me.  Now I am Home, in a safe Home where it has always been taught, and always will be taught, and is in writing, that we are officially against abortifacient contraception and abortion.  Again, the research I put in helped me to see that this was always the view of Christians until Lambeth in the 1930's.  And then the weak links broke the chain.  Now it's anyone's guess what the positions on abortion are in over 30,000 Christian denominations.  And even if they TAKE a position, it will be with provisos, language that slithers like a snake through loopholes so that the evil will be okay under certain circumstances.  We're not talking double effect here; we're talking procured abortion with the aim of aborting as its primary purpose.  I cannot ever again belong to a church who would turn a blind eye to the weakest among us when we all know Christ Himself spoke these words to us, "Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you have done to ME." 

Postscript:  There have been moments I have laid my hand on my Bible, or on my Catechism and felt an electric charge go through my fingers.  Here is His love letter to me; here are the Church's bumpers around me to protect me from my own selfish and foolish inclinations.  I become choked up with gratitude and anticipation.  Yes, anticipation, because these words, these images and truths, originated and instituted by Jesus Christ the living Savior Himself, preserved by His Bride the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,  are merely glimpses of the glory to come if the Lord sees fit to grant me entrance into Heaven, which is my deepest desire and my most beautiful dream.