Friday, March 27, 2015

Beauty Will Draw Them In

I have heard it frequently said that we must evangelize through beauty, and I wholeheartedly agree. My definition of beauty is a broad one.  Actually, beauty has been of great interest to me since I was a child.  I have always been able to see beauty in everyone, some feature, some sign, some unnamed energy even.  Have you ever looked at the face of an elderly person and seen someone more beautiful than a painted runway model?  Have you ever encountered a difficult person and somehow despite their seemingly purposeful mission to hurt you, you have seen a salvific beauty there? Beauty is truth, and truth beauty.  We should meditate on these words often.  Creating interest in the Catholic life is something we all want to do, and I'm grateful that God has provided us so many and various beautiful helps.  If these earthly things are but a minuscule foretaste of Heaven, then we are in for unspeakable ecstasy if we are blessed someday to see the Beatific Vision. 

This is what most Catholics and even many seculars mean when they refer to the beauty of The Catholic Church.  Soaring Cathedral ceilings, the unspeakable beauty of The Mass, the pageantry that our Lord fully present in the Eucharist deserves.  Few people can resist the smells, sounds, and vibrations in the air that are experienced during the Mass.  If you don't find this beautiful, you may not like Heaven very much, since the Bible and Tradition tells us that Heaven will be nonstop worship of God. The Mass, in a very real way, is Heaven on earth. And to think, you can have it every single day, no matter where you are in this world. 

I can think of few things as beautiful as serving others.  This is what we were conceived for -- to help, hold, feed, wash, instruct, and love the other. 

Our Blessed Mother is beauty personified.  No one knows exactly what she looked like on earth or now, as Queen of Heaven.  In my heart and my dreams she appears as a healer, a mother, a friend, sometimes very young and sometimes, her face etched with pain. 

The sorrow of Mary has its own tragic beauty.  Anyone who has mourned a loved one, or suffered deeply in any way, should cling to Mary.  She is not a distant icon.  She is as close to you as you allow her to be, beloved Mama of the boy Jesus, the woman who carried Jesus inside of her for nine months, felt his kicking inside of her, and finally watched him slowly die on a cross.  She can take your pain, too, and share the burden of it with you.  Hers is not a superficial beauty, but a supernatural one. 

Life is beautiful.  FIghting for life is our mission as the Body of Christ, because one of the tenets of our faith is that every life has dignity and beauty.  The least among us is not always a beautiful child awaiting adoption.  Sometimes the least among us is what the secular world calls a blob, or a parasite, or a "product of conception." To us, this life is beautiful, because God made it and endowed it with His presence from the second of fertilization. 

Laughter is beautiful.  God wants us to be joyful, silly and easily fascinated like little children.  Many of us are just about beaten down with pressures and pains.  If we can show the world joy in spite of that, then truly we are witnesses of Christ's redemptive love. 

Peace is beautiful.  Keeping silent instead of having the last word.  Protecting someone else when it will reduce your own popularity to do so.  Nurture peace in your own heart instead of discord, competitiveness, and jealousy. 

So many times, what the world calls ugly is really beautiful.  Beauty, as we have heard ad infinitum, is in the eye of the beholder.  This is true in the Catholic life.  As the beholder, you have the opportunity, the responsibility, and the God-given gift to see beauty where others are limited to only seeing deformity, disability, weakness, and imperfection.  The secular world has fooled itself in to believing that beauty is something that man can make! How silly and prideful we are! How arrogant!  How fervently you should pray that your eye can see the beauty of the all knowing, all powerful God's hand in every creature rejected by this dark, cynical, materialistic world. 

Evangelize through beauty?  Yes! But don't put beauty in the one box that you are comfortable with at this point in your spiritual journey.  Let Christ show you, through His words and through humble receiving of the Eucharist, how very near to you true beauty is, and how far above you you have convinced yourself it resides. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Prodigal You Love -- Review of the book by Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP

Before I moved to Ohio and began my conversion process, I knew more fallen away Catholics than active, adherent ones.  Catholicism in New York City and the surrounding suburbs appeared to be strictly a childhood religion that people abandoned as soon as they left the restaurant after their Confirmation party.  A good number of Catholics I knew still wanted very much to marry in the Catholic Church and have their own children receive the Sacraments therein, but weekly Mass was OUT of the question, too big of a demand on their time and their wallets. They resented the offering plate heartily, and disagreed with many of the Church's teachings, especially those that Protestant ecclesial communities have long since caved on like abortion, contraception, and extramarital sexual relations.  

Noble's book, The Prodigal You Love, deftly weaves the author's own spiritual journey to the fullness of the faith with an instruction manual on how to invite your own friends and family  members back to Catholicism without being too heavy handed, nor so passive that you seem not to care a whit for their souls.  

One theme Noble covers that I see almost every day is the Catholic challenge to the fallacy that one's religious beliefs must needs fly out the window once a certain level of education is reached.  The false choice here is: you can be an intellectual or you can be religious.  Pick one.  This is so obviously inane to anyone who knows the history of the Church, her contributions and the contributions of her members to science, to art, even down to the initial model of the university.  But many laypeople and secularists buy into this, and the poorly catechized Catholic may begin to feel self-conscious when her religious faith is seen as the only stumbling block in a room full of serious and sophisticated, politically correct folks attempting to justify the latest aberration of the natural law. The fact of the matter is that if you know the WHY behind the Church teaching, you need never feel awkward amongst ANY group of people, regardless of how progressive and anti-Catholic they show themselves to be. 

What do both "sides" need to find, according to Noble?  Humility.  She writes:
"Humility is a virtue that is not afraid to play in the dirt.  The very word derives from the Latin word for dirt or soil, humus. . . humility speaks regularly to God, as one would with a friends, but also sees clearly that God is above human understanding. . . Everyone has dirty toes; the humble person is just aware of it." So Noble suggests that we approach our loved ones with humility if we ever hope to get a response in kind.  If the friend or relative feels like you are simply saying "My way is right and yours is wrong," he or she is likely to have a less than gracious response.  Author Theresa Noble states, "We need to become humble because our false selves do not know how to evangelize; they are too busy focusing on themselves!" 

One of Noble's most intriguing formulas is, "Establish trust, attract, then challenge." Now how many of us have that completely backwards in our attempts to evangelize? I know I see it on an almost daily basis! Armchair apologists are starting with the "challenge" and it is NEVER received well by the person they are seeking to evangelize! How could it be? How will you draw someone into The Church if you seem as arrogant and intolerant as the world does? Then you are no different from the world, so what is attractive about you and your religion? Remember: Jesus is attractive.  He is love. He is beauty.  If you are being rejected, you are not showing enough of Jesus; you are showing yourself.

Noble tells us from experience that if a fallen away Catholic is very much into New Ageism, secularism, Eastern practices, or a charismatic Christian community, they may not have ears to hear you because they believe they are being "fulfilled" where they are.  Until the novelty wears off, you must be patient.  Noble says, "We have a responsibility to share with our loved ones the beauty of salvation within The Church, wherever they may be in their spiritual journey.  We do this with words if possible, but sometimes we are called to communicate it in other ways, namely by the witness of our lives . . . our faith speaks when WE live it to the fullest, when we abandon ourselves to God's plan." 

I loved Noble's book because she touched on the theme of unconditional love, which is a constant thread in my writing and in my life.  Having lost my mother and suffering from complicated grief syndrome, I wasn't quite sure why I wasn't getting any better.  What I was missing was the unconditional love my mother offered me, and I didn't think anyone else did. Noble points out that the people we are trying to evangelize must see our sincerely unconditional love. "If our love for others is contingent rather than unconditional, it will most likely lead to a breakdown in our relationship with that person. The root of the difficulty often lies in a lack of respect for the free will of the person we love . . . . shown through manipulation, by ceasing contact as a kind of punishment, or showing constant displeasure with the person, believing our disapproval will change him or her.  When we fall into manipulative tactics, we can be sure that this typically ineffective behavior grows out of a desire to control another person, which does not come from love. . . although it can certainly be said that God doggedly pursues our souls, he does so in complete respect for our free will."

The most poignant and important section of the book for me is the one on prayer (and in fact, Noble provides an addendum with some beautiful, key prayers  at the end of the book).  She establishes that prayer DOES make a difference, and is an essential part of evangelization, perhaps the cornerstone of it!  Here Noble recalls C.S. Lewis' idea that God created us so that we would be able to make things happen through both physical and spiritual action, or prayer.  "When we pray," Noble writes, "we are opening a door for grace.  We can count on this reality, just like we can count on opening an unlocked door if we push it open."

In the past, I have reviewed and recommended several books for the seeker.  But if you are looking for a book to aid you in evangelizing someone who is NOT seeking right now, but to whom you would love to give the gift of the fullness of the faith as manifested exclusively in the Catholic Church, then this book is a necessary tool for you.  Noble's style is friendly and readable, but extremely well-researched.  Parts of the book serve as an ideal examination of conscience, one in which we must participate before we go about the business of trying to get ourselves involved in someone else's spiritual life!