Sunday, August 28, 2011

The State of Catholic Marriage

While Catholics have somewhere between a 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 divorce rate and gay marriage is legal in 6 states as well as the District of Columbia, people are concerned about the state of marriage in the Catholic Church. This opinion article by Russell Shaw and the comments that follow it, however are way off the mark. Here I will break down the article and give my take on Catholic marriage as someone who has recently been married in the Catholic Church. The highlighted is quoted from the article (blue) or the comments (pink). The plain text beneath is me.

A word of caution at the start. Don’t read what follows as a suggestion or even a veiled hint that the Catholic Church and other defenders of traditional marriage should abandon the fight against legalizing same-sex marriage. Yes, the New York state legislature, strongly lobbied by Catholic governor Andew Cuomo, voted in June for legalization, making New York the sixth state where same-sex couples can marry. And yes, there are an awful lot of people in New York.

Thank you for the clarification, but I wouldn't have read that much into this article.
But let’s be clear about what happened. The legislature and Cuomo imposed gay marriage on the state without consulting the voters, and there are an awful lot of people who remain opposed. The widely repeated line that this marks a decisive step in the campaign for legalization is part of the propaganda — eagerly seized upon and parroted by media that support gay marriage — aimed at bullying opponents into throwing in the towel.
I agree with this assessment of what happened in New York. I also agree that this is not a decisive step. Where New York goes, others states do not necessarily follow. For example, New York has had a "Bottle Bill" (refund for recycling cans, plastic and glass bottles) for 26 years, and still only 10 other states have them.

...That said, however, recent events do underline the fact that the Catholic Church needs to do some fundamental rethinking on the subject of marriage. I don’t mean the Church should approve gay marriage. I mean making it crystal clear what a sacramental marriage sanctioned by the Church really is — and why the secular state’s version of “marriage” isn’t the same thing at all.
I would agree that we need better catechesis on the sacramentality of marriage. Some people just don't get it. As someone who has recently did all the tests, classes, and meetings herself, I can honestly tell you I got a better education in my theology classes about the importance of marriage than I did in any of the marriage prep programs.

...A new addressing this problem would involve a two-step procedure. First, a couple seeking to enter into sacramental marriage would be required to go through whatever civil ceremony the state might insist on in order to be recognized as legally married. Then, and only then, the couple could proceed to sacramental marriage — a church wedding — with the blessing of the Church.
This is where Shaw loses me. Two weddings? What?

Yes, [there] are problems with that. Some people would resist what they’d see as “getting married twice” and would settle for the civil ceremony alone. But many do that now anyway. If those who said no to “getting married twice” were, by and large, people like those who now get “married in the Church” without understanding what they’re doing, what difference would it make?

As for the pluses, the procedure outlined here would have the huge practical advantage of educating couples to the fact that civil marriage and sacramental marriage are two vastly different things. Catholic marriage, like marriage generally, is in crisis, with the push for gay marriage adding to the confusion. Something needs to be done. If not this — what?
Okay, so this would make a clear statement that state and sacramental marriage are two vastly different things. Yeah, I would agree that it would make a profound statement. But what about the couples?

They would face two wedding budgets, two wedding guest lists, two ceremonies to organize. I can tell you that planning one is enough work. Yes, weddings have turned into self-indulging, self-promoting circuses in recent years. That is a far cry from what Our Lord would like to see. It's a far cry from what our Church teaches. But two ceremonies are not the way to go.

(I understand that civil ceremonies don't have to be that complicated. But there will be people who are offended that they aren't invited to both. Also, you have to get the bride and the groom together on two separate occasions to do the ceremonies. I'm thinking of couples like my husband and I who lived half-way across the country from one another when we were married. Also, another catechetical nightmare: I can see people asking, "When is the couple actually *married*? Is it at the civil or the religious ceremony?")
And let's take a trip down to the comments:

I think for those states that allow gay marriage, the Catholic church should decline signing a civil marriage license. The state redefines marriage, and then the state wants a priest to sign their marriage certificate?

Thomas More wouldn't even sign such a document.

Seriously?!?! The state doesn't care if the couple gets civilly married or not. You aren't telling the state anything by refusing to sign the civil marriage license. You aren't "sticking it to the Man" because "the Man" doesn't care! You're only punishing the faithful couple who now has to go find someone who will sign it or face not getting their full rights as a married couple in their state.

Now to quote my comment to the article:

As someone who has recently gotten married in the Catholic Church, I find Shaw's suggestion and some of the comments completely ridiculous. All that you are doing is making a Catholic wedding more difficult and expensive for well-meaning, faithful Catholics. Instead of splitting the civil and the church wedding or making priest refuse to sign the marriage contracts, how about we...I don't know....BETTER CATECHIZE OUR PARISHIONERS!!!! I know, it's a crazy idea! Why don't we use our creativity to come up with a way to help Catholics understand the importance of a Catholic marriage through better catechesis rather than making life more difficult for the faithful Catholics who already want to do the right thing.

I still stand by this comment. And now I pass the torch on to you. Do any of you have any ideas on how to better catechize couples looking to get married?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stop the birth control mandate!

Please sign the petition found here.

To quote the affore-linked website:

"On August 1, 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services directed by Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, adopted the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that “the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods” be determined a “preventive care service for women.” Under these new guidelines, mandatory coverage will be provided for surgical sterilization, all prescription contraceptives approved by the FDA - including drugs like Ella that can cause abortions in the early weeks of pregnancy - as well as counseling to promote them. This directive from the Affordable Care Act initiative will be supported by tax payers without a conscience clause exemption, violating the civil and religious liberties of millions of Americans."

Please defend religious liberties and sign the petition.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

...and the Impact of the Dying

The title of the article is quite melodramatic, but this article from the CNA last week reminds me of another topic near and dear to my heart.

Let me start us off with a true story:
I have been a nursing assistant for 6 years. As a nursing assistant, my job can and does include caring for the basic needs of people who are dying. One particular death I’d like to share with you.
This is one of the more recent deaths I've seen. This lady, we’ll call her Joan, was somewhere in her eighties. I’m not sure of all of the details of her condition. Between her and her family it had been decided that she would not get a feeding tube. As of this night, that I will never forget, she had been living off of lemonade for over a month. She refused all other forms of nourishment (except for sometimes she’d let her daughter give her some root beer).
She was skin and bones. As soon as you entered the room where she was, you could hear her struggling to breathe, but we couldn’t suck out the gunk out of her lungs because it would have done more harm than good. Every time an aide had to do something for her, clean her up, change her clothes, anything like that, she would look at us, completely terrified. She was paranoid about falling out of bed when we rolled her. Kind of crazy given that she had been a small woman to begin with and she was just getting smaller.
That last night, I was the aide that gave her her last drink of lemonade 20 minutes before she died. She took the drink willingly, it was through a straw, and I had the head of her bed all the way up, but she coughed every other sip like the liquid was going into her lungs not her stomach. And she looked at me with eyes I will never forget: She was hurting, she was scared, and she just wanted me to do something, anything, to take it all away. To this day, when I think of desperation, when I think of despair, all I have to do is think of those eyes. Thank God, she died 20 minutes after that moment. As I told everyone at the nursing home, “She arrived just in time for a huge dinner with Jesus.”
I think that the handicapped have much to offer us. The dying have even more. Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors and I respect him. But if the time comes and he does commit assisted suicide, he is robbing the world of an immense gift of caring for him and standing witness. He would only be contributing to a mindset that "People are only worth what they can physically contribute to society."

My work with the dying has taught me a lot about living. It has taught me to appreciate the time I have on this earth. It has taught me to look at everything through the eyes of eternity, not through the eyes of the here and now. It has taught me the importance of love and relationships, as those are really the only things that we can "take with us." Love and relationships are really the only things that matter in the end. All 25 of the deaths I have witnessed have left their mark on my soul and I wouldn't trade them for the world.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Dignity of the Handicapped...

It was a bad day in my Mythology class. The teacher made a scene in front of everyone, pointing out that I shouldn't be in that class. He said I was too dumb and I had apparently not read the readings. I went home after class. I had some time between class and going to work. I didn't want to go to work, I was so humiliated, depressed, and angry. I tried to call in, but my charge nurse that evening wouldn't accept it. So I reluctantly got dressed and made my way to work.

When I got there, I was greeted by a sight I will never forget. We had a resident there who had the most beautiful green eyes and red hair. His body was so badly deformed, he had to use a lying-down wheelchair. His body was permanently in the fetal position. He could not move anything on his own except for a few of his face muscles. The only time we heard his voice was when he was having a seizure when he would sometimes scream. As a walked in the door that evening, he was there, lying in his wheelchair, right in front of the front doors with a ceiling light right over him like a spot-light.

Like Someone in the Great Somewhere wanted to make sure I saw him. Like Someone wanted me to know I was blessed, at least I could go to school. Like Someone wanted me to know I was needed, I had a job to do. My residents at my first job working with the severely handicapped taught me many things. Here are just a few:

1) How to appreciate the small things in life: Like laughing at a silly face or throwing around a soft ball. (Or throwing around silverware and food when some of them got particularly feisty)

2)How to accept differences: My dozen residents had differing levels of ability in many different areas. One was only moderately MR (Mentally Retarded) and blind. She could pretty much do for herself with constant instruction and supervision. Others were wheelchair-bound and non-verbal but you could tell by their facial expressions that they knew exactly what was going on. A few could not walk, but could surely throw things across the room if they wanted to. Working with them, one has to work with and recognize their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Helping them to use their strengths is really the only way that a small staff can care for so many residents.

3)There are many ways of communicating: One does not need to speak to get one's point across. The eyes can tell stories. Your facial expression and gestures can articulate pretty much everything that words can.

4)There are many ways of knowing: Even if you don't know all of the words someone is saying, you can understand exactly what they mean. My residents were very much in tune with subtleties of tone and expression. They knew when people were angry, hurt, or sick. They knew when one of my co-workers were pregnant. They might not have understood that she was going to have a baby, but they knew to be gentle and kind to her.

This is just the beginning of the list. My residents taught me many more things. They made me who I am today. It pains me when I hear statistics like 90% of babies diagnosed with Down's Syndrome prenatally are aborted. A Down's Syndrome diagnosis isn't a death sentence, it isn't even an indicator that the child will have a diminished "quality of life" (there are people who live perfectly normal lives with Down's). And even if the child has a diminished "quality of life" there is still much that the child can give the world. I know my residents gave me an abundance.

And stories like this warm my heart.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A "Fright Night" Review

Sometimes this blog will get way off topic to talk about a certain Scottish actor who I greatly admire. Bear with me......

There are few things in life that gets me more excited than seeing someone do something they are very good at. In this movie, Colin Farrell and David Tennant are amazing. No question, this is one of their best performances.

Colin Farrell's vampire is classic; The good-looking charismatic man who is pure evil. Fans of classic, real vampire films would surely enjoy this movie. His character is smart and slick. He does sexy evil very well. I didn't know that eating a granny smith apple could be menacing.

David Tennant's character has nothing in common with the original Peter Vincent except for their name and their hobby. An angry, alcoholic Criss-Angel-like illusionist, he becomes the film's reluctant hero.

As a huge David Tennant fan, I'm disappointed that his name hasn't been more prominent in the publicity here in the states. However, I did not come away from this movie disappointed. He puts 110 % into his real American debut and it shows. He steals every scene he's in. He masterfully delivers all of the one-liners he's given. I look forward to buying the movie once it comes out; I'm looking forward to seeing what scenes didn't make the final cut.

I understand that this movie did not do very well this weekend. I'm frustrated with Dreamworks (or whoever makes those decisions) for releasing this movie well before the Halloween season. Also, it has been advertised as a horror movie. While there were a couple of moments that would make someone jump, it was principally a cheeky comedy. Also, I hardly saw any commercials for this film. The publicity for this film was insufficient and inaccurate. The release date was poorly decided.

I hope and pray that as people walk out disappointed by the film, they are impressed with David Tennant's performance. I didn't walk in expecting to be scared, so I didn't have that disappointment. I did, basically, only go to the film to support Tennant. And I came out impressed by both Tennant's and Farrell's performances. I did enjoy this movie.

David Tennant rocks!!!!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why do you stay? Response to "Staying Power"

In response to Staying Power by Cynthia Reville Peabody:

Why do you stay?

The question seems to come with the assumption that something is wrong with the Catholic Church. I won't argue. There are some things wrong with the Church. If there weren't, it wouldn't be an organization made up of human beings. The author of this article, however, seems to consider the main problem being the status of women in the Church. How can women stay in a Church that considers them second-class citizens?

Why do I stay?

The fact that I cannot officiate the sacraments does not make me feel like a second-class citizen. While I would not be against women being allowed to be priests, this is not an issue that I feel passionately about. This is not an issue that makes me love the Church any less.

Just because a priest can't marry or have children like I can, doesn't mean he's being prejudiced against. Similarly, just because I can't officiate the sacraments does not mean I'm being prejudiced against.

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, "Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body," it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, "Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body," it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? -1 Corinthians 12:12-19

This passage in 1 Corinthians continues by expounding on how the parts of the body of Christ cannot do without one another and even the least honorable parts of the body are important.

I cannot be a priest. I can be a wife and mother. I could have gone into religious life. These options are just as honorable as the priesthood.

Of course, when I think of the Church, I think of it's priests, but I also think of the catechists I know (who are predominately women). I think of women like the author of the aforementioned article who work as activists and prophets in the name of Christ.

I don't feel like women are denigrated into the church basements or each others' houses. We are very visible as lectors, cantors, and Eucharistic Ministers. When I go into a parish office, the first face I usually see is a woman working either as a secretary or a parish administrator.

It may be high time for the Vatican to recognize our efforts again, but the Vatican has recognized us before. We are blessed! We have dignity! God works in and through us! To dwell on the issue of women in the priesthood is wasting all of our valuable time and energy. There are many other issues deserving of more attention.

Why "The Syrophoenician Woman"?

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon."
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
He said in reply,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters."
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
"O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour. -Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28

This past Sunday we heard Matthew's version of the story of the Syrophoenician Woman. Matthew calls her a Canaanite, but the point of the story is the same. Here is a woman, a *gentile* woman, pleading Jesus for help. At first, he doesn't seem to want to help her. She's not one of his people, the Jews, and he came to help his own people. But she argues with him. With her wit and her perseverance, Jesus is persuaded to heal her daughter.

This story inspires me in two main points:

1. The strength and the courage of a woman fighting for her daughter.

2. God can change His mind.

Put yourself in her shoes: Your daughter has been acting strangely for months. She never feels well and rarely gets out of bed. She apparently has no control over what she says or does. She randomly screams and throws herself on the ground. She threatens you. You've done all you can to watch over her and care for her, but you're at your wits end. You hear about a Jewish man coming through your neighborhood. He's healed many people. He seems to have some authority over demons. You go to see if he can heal your daughter, too.

When you get there, the apostles all around him glare at you. You fight for the miracle man's attention, but it's clear that the crowd around him does not want you there. You're not a Jew, you're a gentile. The crowd wants nothing to do with gentiles. The miracle man ignores you. You watch him heal other people in the crowd. That only makes you more desperate for his attention. When he finally looks at you, he tells you he won't help you because you're a gentile.

After months of stress caring for your daughter, this finally pushes you over the edge. You know he can heal your daughter, he just doesn't want to. You beg him for his help. He calls you a "dog." So be it, you think, he can call me whatever he wants as long as he heals my daughter. In one last act of desperation, you turn his argument on it's head. "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." He finally grants your request and your child is healed.

I'm sure there are people out there that can relate all too well to this woman. We can all relate to the feeling of being at one's wits end for one reason or another. There are definitely parents out there who can relate to this sense of desperation, looking for someone to help their child. I am impressed by the Syrophoenician woman's courage, standing up to a crowd who didn't want her there. I am inspired by her perseverance, there are many times I just want to give up. I admire her wit. I know I couldn't have thought that well in the heat of the moment. I'm not the only person inspired by her, she's in two gospels and a search for her online yields over 56 thousand results.

This is a gentile woman who argued with God and won. People typically have difficulty with that idea. If God is all-perfect, God must be never changing because change is imperfect. God, Who is perfect love, must have been intending to help this woman all along, because it would be cruel to not help her. God knows no prejudices!

The story of the Syrophoenician woman is not the only time in scripture that someone argues with God. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we see Abraham argue with God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities are ultimately not spared because God does not find 10 righteous people in them, but God does spare the righteous people that God does find. Later on in Genesis, Jacob even wrestles with God, being consequently renamed Israel. Just because God is all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect doesn't mean humans can't argue with God and it doesn't mean we can't sometimes change God's mind. I like an analogy I saw somewhere. It's like children arguing with their parents. Just because parents are wiser and more powerful than their children, it doesn't mean that children can't argue and sometimes even win.

While God does not know any prejudices, the human Jesus may very well had. Christians hold that Jesus was truly God and truly man. So he knew our faults. He knew that it was not customary in this time for a Jewish man to have anything to do with a gentile woman. At that time, he may have honestly thought that his mission was only to the Jews.

Being perfect does not mean not changing. My experience with perfection does not support that hypothesis at all. But that is definitely a topic too big to tack on to this post.

I love the Syrophoenician Woman

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Religious Person's Response to the Premiere Episode of "Curiosity"

In a special event Saturday night, all the channels under the "Discovery" umbrella showed the first episode of a new series "Curiosity." It seems as if the series is based on viewers submitting questions and they take an hour-long show to explore it. The first question is one of the ultimate questions, "Did God create the universe?" Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you see it), they used the work of Stephen Hawking to delve into the issue at hand.

Being the religions nerd I am, as soon as I heard God, I had to DVR it. So I did, and I watched it yesterday. I gave myself a day for my thoughts to form into some sort of coherency and here it is:

There only continues to be a conflict between science and religion because the extremists on both sides insist there must be one. People who worship at the altar of science seem to have a compulsion to break down religion, to prove religion is false. Meanwhile, people who are obsessed with their religion seem to need to insult science whenever they can, to bash new discoveries and refuse to listen to new ideas. And then there are folks like me in the middle who just don't see what all the fuss is about. Science can't prove or disprove God. Religion can't nullify all scientific inquiry or discovery (although there needs to be a reservation for judgment when it comes to the morality of some scientific progress, but that's another topic).

In showing the "history" of the conflict between science and religion, Curiosity rehashed the old story of Galileo (which the Pope apologized for a few years back) and also mentioned Pope John XXI. According to Stephen Hawking, Pope John XXI met an ironic fate, denouncing science and then dying due to gravity and a crumbling building. I don't know where this accusation comes from. I can't find any reference to any denouncing of science by John XXI anywhere. John XXI was a physician. He asked for an extra room to have a quiet place to study medicine. How could a scientist denounce science?

In the last half hour of the program, we get to the nuts and bolts of Stephen Hawking's ideas. He points out that quantum mechanics shows that sub-atomic particles can and do appear out of nowhere and disappear just as mysteriously. Based on this, he postulates that the Big Bang could also appear out of nowhere. He shows that time did not exist prior to the Big Bang. God could not create the universe, according to him, because there was no time for God to exist in. I have two problems with this simple "proof" for the non-existence of a creator God.

1) It limits God. Is God really limited to the laws of nature? Is God really limited to our concept of time? I feel very uncomfortable saying "God can't do something." I don't even feel comfortable saying "God can't sin." In this "proof," Hawking seems to be running on the assumption that God is some sort of physical being that is ruled by all the laws that we are. I don't see God in such simplistic terms.

2) Where is nowhere? Okay, I admit, quantum mechanics does challenge our human assumption of cause-and-effect. We assume that everything has to come from somewhere, that everything has to have a cause. But I ask him, where is your imagination? Do you really hit a brick wall? Are you forced to say the universe comes from nowhere?

In the end, he says he is grateful for the time he gets to see the beauty of the universe. I ask, "Who are you saying 'thank you' to?"

I want to end this post with a story I've heard a million times:

"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries." - Robert Jastrow

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Judas Iscariot as a literary device?

So, it's always dangerous to watch shows on the History channel that touch on religious topics. I know this very well. As a theology and world religions student, I've seen many specials on television that I could tear apart for inaccuracies and for simplifying things that can't be simplified. This particular special was about Masada. Judas' name came up because there is a theory that he was a member of the Sicarri rebels. The expert being interviewed argued that Judas' name had nothing to do with the Sicarri but his last name actually means "from the place," making his full name meaning "the Jew from the place." Now, I haven't heard this theory before. Looking at my textbooks, this idea doesn't come up. It's entirely possible that it's a case of a History Channel "expert" saying nonsense. However, this made me wonder, what if Judas is a literary device? Could this be true? What would it mean to me as a Catholic?

This idea is not a new one. Scripture scholars as of late have played with the idea for various reasons. They see that some of the earliest Biblical materials don't mention him (i.e. Paul and the disputed Q). They see some very good reasons to make a character like that up. The one reason that I find to be the most provocative is that Judas draws even more blame away from the Romans. The early Christian church was in a difficult position. They didn't want to emphasize that the Romans killed Jesus because they wanted to be in the Romans' good graces. Rome was already persecuting them, they didn't need to make more barriers between themselves and Rome. They were also very angry at the Jews who had recently kicked them out of the synagogues. So, what better way to deflect blame from the Romans than to blame the Jews for Jesus' death.

Now let's look at the story of Judas from that perspective:

Here we have a clearly Jewish disciple of Jesus who betrays his rabbi for money to the Jewish leadership who aren't painted in a very positive light either. This group turns Jesus over to the Roman leadership. The Roman leadership are not portrayed as the good guys, but they aren't portrayed as the bad guys either. Pilate washes himself of his guilt, and the crowd is given a second chance to free Jesus from his fate.

Seeing the story of Judas' betrayal in light of the situation of the early Christians does not make a convincing case for Judas being a real person. It would make sense for the early Christians to make such a character up in order to place blame for Jesus death on the Jews.

What does this mean to me as a Catholic? I don't think that questioning the existence of Judas is heretical. Judas isn't in the Nicene Creed. The important thing for Christianity is the belief that Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified and resurrected. [Edit: Joe Heschmeyer has corrected me as far as the previous flawed 2-3 sentences: His blog is here.] The story of Judas still has some value as a reminder of the dangers of greed and the importance of trust and friendship. It also brings about fruitful reflection on questions such as, "If a particular sin is preordained by God, is it really a sin?"

Also, it serves as a reminder of the painful history of Jewish/Christian relations. May we never forget that the Jewish people are our brothers and sisters. The Christian faith does not supersede the Jewish faith. The Jews did not kill Jesus, the Romans did.