Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Old Order Has Passed Away: Reflection of the Fifth Sunday of Easter

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away. -Revelation 21:4
A major component of my internship with Spiritual Care at the hospital was to have some kind of ritual to "enter in with the patient and their family." I had a hard time coming up with one. For one thing, I was in the ER so sometimes I didn't really have much time between visits and I definitely had no privacy to have a ritual. For another, except for things like the Rosary, I really didn't have a prayer life. The Rosary, even just a decade, was too long for a pre-pastoral visit ritual. Usually, I was lucky just to remind myself of the patient's name and what their presenting condition was.

About halfway through the semester, after being asked a half dozen times to get a ritual, I settled upon memorizing Bible passages. Every evening I'd pack an index card on which I'd have a passage written and between visits I'd work on memorization. This quote from Revelation, found in the second reading this week, was one of the quotes I used.


Someday all of this is going to end. The mother mourning her dead child will hold that child again in God's kingdom. The person with the debilitating, fatal illness will finally feel healthy and whole again. The person born with a severe mental disability will be able to sit down and chat with you. Whatever is bothering you will finally be resolved.

While I wouldn't necessarily share this quote in a pastoral visit, it does give me comfort when I see so much suffering in the world. The person you're visiting might not be able to see that far into the future. Caught up in their pain, they just want their lives to go back to normal now. They don't care about some future world, they want relief now. I think we've all been there. As a part of the staff, I have more of an outsider view. From the outside, it's easier to take the longer view. It's easier to remember as I'm driving home that this is not forever.

This too shall end.

The old order. The society in which disease runs rampant. In which people go broke paying medical bills. In which uninsured can't get care until it's too late. In which car accidents happen. In which people shoot one another. This old order will pass away. Then God Himself will wipe the tears from all of our eyes and we will no longer suffer.

And in the meantime, we got cat pictures!

Friday, April 26, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday (#4)

--- 1 ---
My baby turned 1 yesterday! He had a rough night the night before. As my husband said, he was trying to help us relive our last night before he was born when we couldn't sleep because we were both terrified. But we weren't terrified this Wednesday night. We were angry because my son wouldn't stop crying unless he was nursing and he wouldn't nurse without biting me. I wonder in retrospect if his teeth were hurting him, but I wasn't able to think clearly at 3 AM.
--- 2 ---
Yesterday was a pretty normal day, except we went to Applebee's for dinner. James couldn't eat anything there yet. We brought some baby food for him, but he wouldn't take it. We considered telling the staff that it was his birthday just to see how he'd react if they all started singing to him. The service wasn't great though. The waitress made us angry so we decided we wouldn't bother with the singing after all.
--- 3 ---
In a couple weeks we will have the obligatory messy cake face picture. I'm kind of bummed he won't be able to eat any of it. Unless there's a miracle and he suddenly decides that food that doesn't come from Mommy isn't so bad after all.

Baby's first diabetic coma

--- 4 ---
It really appears that James is going to be walking before he's crawling. Earlier this morning, he tried to stand up on his own using my footstool.

Someday James will be able to stand and make that exact face without his Dad propping him up
--- 5 ---
Not a whole lot else happening in my corner of the world. My Confirmation kids shared this video with me:

--- 6 ---
On a related note, am I the only person in the northeast whose heard of a teaching Mass? It's a Mass where the priest stops every once in a while to explain why we're doing what we're doing. I went to a couple of them in MO. The RCIA program did one annually. My Baptism/Confirmation/First Eucharist was one. My wedding was supposed to be one (it kinda was). I really think my Confirmation students would benefit from having one. If anyone reading this is from central New York and knows a priest who does them, please let me know.
--- 7 ---
James is having his one year check-up this afternoon. Here's to hoping there is no shots involved!
She looks so excited to be there.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

3 Christian Images for the Boston Marathon Bombings + 1

Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that I think long and hard before I say anything about major news stories. I decided to cover this story using the same concept I used with the Newtown shooting, but I had a much harder time coming up with images. I could see the faults in every image that came to mind. So, please, know that I do not intend to be offensive in any of these.

1. The Good Samaritan

Speaking as someone who watched it all unfold on the news, I was among those struck by the sheer number of people who ran toward the blasts instead of away. By now, we've all seen those iconic photographs of people pushing wheelchairs and caring for the injured. One of the things that touched me most was the stories of runners running to the hospital to give blood. I think the longest I've ever run in my life was a mile. I can't imagine how tired these people were, but they literally went the extra mile and gave a pint of their own blood.

2. Paul's Running Metaphor 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

There are runners and spectators that are not going to walk, much less run, again due to injuries. Amputees and others are looking at long, hard therapy to return their lives to some semblance of normal. They need our prayers to support them through all of the work they have to do. They, in turn, will serve as an inspiration for those who watch them fight against the odds. They will truly be embodying the kind of discipline that Paul describes in this post. The last thing any of them need to be worrying about is the massive medical bills that will be coming from this. You can donate here.

3. "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith" 2 Timothy 4:7 

There were three fatalities. All three were way too young to die, especially the 8-year-old. He had just had his First Communion. Our prayers are also with them and their families. I really have nothing else to say.


+ 1 "Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart." Hebrew 4:12

 I saw on a number of news outlets the dead Boston bombing suspect said that the Bible was a "cheap copy of the Koran" and that it was used to justify the US invading the Middle East. It is very disrespectful to say disparaging remarks about another faith's holy book. The Bible is very important to me and to many other people in the United States, just like the Koran was important to him. We need to stop attacking one another's faith. (That also goes for the idiots who burned a copy of the Koran and who said the Koran should be flushed!)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jesus: "The Original Hipster"

The priest in this interview with the Huffington Post really knocks it out of the park.

The diocese of Brooklyn has developed a new ad campaign that has people talking. In as series of ads, they try to reach young adults who aren't coming to church. They are releasing ads specifically aimed at parents, joggers, and people of different ethnicities. And hipsters? The ad campaign is called "All faces. Everyday understanding" and it is doing it's job at getting people's attention.

So, what do you think about this ad campaign? Is it appropriate to talk about Jesus like this? Was Jesus really a hipster?

I think that this campaign is absolutely brilliant in that it is getting everyone talking, especially the very group the Church is looking for. The Huffington Post is talking about it. Gawker is talking about it. Salon is talking about it. The Observer is covering it. Opposing Viewpoints is covering it. Yeah, not all of the reviews are positive, but it's got their attention.

It is also appropriating a meme that has been used and abused for years.

I'm all for anyone taking back something that is used to mock them and twisting it into their own. Way to stick it to...well...whoever you're sticking it to.

The priest in the above video makes the valid point that every culture that Christianity has come in contact with has made Christ into their own image. What ever is considered beautiful and good in your culture, you apply rightly or wrongly to Christ. That's the reason why this Middle-Eastern man is often depicted here in the west as a good looking Caucasian with blue eyes.

 At least the Bible miniseries gave him brown eyes

But, just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it right. So, is it right? Jesus came into our world as a Middle Eastern Jew around the year 4 BCE. Is it okay to depict him as anything else? Well, unlike St. Paul, we don't have a detailed description of what Jesus looked like. That's not any excuse. Forensic scientists have been trying to work around that. And this "hipster" label isn't really talking about His looks anyway. It's about His beliefs and we have plenty of literature and 2000 years of Tradition to tell us about those.

Urban Dictionary defines "hipster" as:

Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20's and 30's that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter...Hipsters reject the culturally-ignorant attitudes of mainstream consumers, and are often be seen wearing vintage and thrift store inspired fashions, tight-fitting jeans, old-school sneakers, and sometimes thick rimmed glasses.

Jesus was certainly counter-cultural. Let's take two prime examples:

  • The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)- An angry crowd comes to Jesus with to ask him if it is okay to stone a woman caught committing the sin of adultery. After making them stew for a moment as he wrote something on the ground, he dared that "whoever among you that is without sin can cast the first stone." This is in direct contradiction of the rules and practices of the time. Now, he doesn't let the woman go scot-free, he tells her to sin no more. But he does save her life. And notice something else about the story. It's only the woman who was going to be stoned for adultery. The last time I checked: it takes two people to have sex. Where was the man? I like to think that this played a role in Jesus' judgment of the case.

  • The question of divorce (Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:2-12)- Jesus is asked if divorce is permissible. Jesus says, essentially, that it shouldn't be. His questioners argue that they believe it is permissible because Moses said so. Jesus responds saying that it was only because of their "hardness of heart" that God has allowed it to occur. Again, very counter-cultural and very pro-woman. The wife usually got the raw end of the deal in divorces because they were seen as their husband's property and they typically didn't have anything of their own. So women abandoned in divorce would often have to resort to begging or prostitution simply to stay alive. So, in addition to affirming that "what God has put together, let no man put asunder," he's also, once again, protecting women.

Now we wade into the murky waters of progressivism. As I have argued before, I truly Catholic outlook would not jive with either the Republicans or the Democrats. I don't think Jesus would fully support either one.

Like our new Pope, Jesus seems to have been a doctrinal hard-ass who loved the underdog and the outcast. If you don't believe me, see his teaching on divorce above. His questioners bring up Moses, Jesus points them all to Genesis. Jesus is trying to point them all to the very beginning, how God made everything before any man, even the venerable Moses, had any say. You can't get more conservative than that.

That seems kind of counter-cultural in and of itself. Going down the street, you see people wearing their identities on their tee-shirts. The United States is becoming ever more divided into our respective camps. People proudly announce their labels from the rooftops. To refuse to be put into a box is against the norm.

While Jesus might not have necessarily agreed with all that the current progressive movement stands for, he was completely counter-cultural.

  • He was completely against hyper-consumerism (Matthew 21:12-13).

  • He followed God regardless of anything people said (Mark 12:14-17).

  • He would feel at home with the bohemians (Luke 9:58).

  • Jesus made ironic statements and used sarcasm (examples include Matthew 19:23-26 [camel through eye of needle], Matthew 7:3 [plank in your own eye], John 1:46-47 [Jesus being snarky to Nathanael], and Luke 14:16-24 [the really lame excuses the wedding fest guests give for not showing up]).  

Yeah, I think Jesus could be considered a "hipster" as long as you are lenient on your definition of "progressive." 


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Response to "Outlawing Abortion Won't Help Children With Down Syndrome"

There are never simple answers to complex problems.

About a month ago, North Dakota became the first state to outlaw abortion due to genetic abnormalities including Down Syndrome. Of course, this has been widely praised by pro-lifers and widely condemned by pro-choicers. On April 1st, an opinion article about it appeared in the New York Times. Written by a pro-choice mother of a child with DS, she expresses deep sympathy for the women who abort their children to spare them a life in a world which is "difficult...for people with disabilities."

I can sympathize with these women as well, but continuing to allow abortions is not the answer either. She rightly points out that society needs to treat the disabled better. They need to have better housing for the adults, better health care and early intervention for the children. We need to protect better those with intellectual disabilities from abuse, sexual, physical, emotional, and financial. Caring for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40 and 45) should take priority over setting money aside for lawyers to CYOA.

Keep your priorities straight, people!
North Dakota can't stop there. There is the obvious reality that this law is completely unenforceable. It's great to have it on record that disabled people are human beings, that their lives are valuable and they are loved and respected. But you need to go beyond that. So, women can't abort them unborn, we need to treat the ones that are born better. We need to educate pregnant women about the realities of DS instead of letting the myths reign. We need to let them know they are supported. This law needs to be a first step toward treating the disabled like the valuable members of the human family that they are.

Otherwise, you are just putting a Band-Aid on a great injustice. You're just giving lip service to the rights of the disabled without actually doing anything to help them.

North Dakota has made a good first step. They are demonstrating that their heart is in the right place. They need to go all the way if they hope to reverse the trend. Keeping it legal will only support the status quo, but making it illegal isn't enough to change the status quo.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Devil in Perelandra Part 2

The second point I want to talk about is: Absolute individualism and independence is the goal of human existence. At first he argues that this is God's will: "...Maleldil [God] is beginning to teach you to walk by yourself, without holding you by the hand....You are becoming your own. That is what Maleldil wants you to do."(pg. 99) He then repackages it as her disobedience is her duty to future generations. How can your children have a better life if you don't disobey now? He then introduces her to the sin of vanity. He encourages her to disobey for her own good, regardless of anyone else.

To summarize the previous paragraph

You can see both of these arguments in the world today. Our society values individualism and independence at all costs. It's seen as a virtue by some to completely neglect family and devote oneself to your career. You have to be "true to yourself" and you can shirk all responsibility to "find yourself."
"Everything in moderation" counseled Buddha. "For everything there is a season," says the Bible. "Everything in moderation, including moderation," said Oscar Wilde among others. This absolute proposed to us by the devil is not virtuous, but neither is it's opposite "absolute conformity."
We need to strike a balance. There has to be the individual and the community.
The only thing we have to conform to is God. We need to be true to what God wants from us. "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." (Romans 12:2) We can trust that anything that God wants us to do will not ultimately hurt society.

We need to be "true to ourselves" but not to the denigration of our responsibilities to society and, most of all, our families. The family is the fundamental unit of society, not the individual (CCC, 2207). As such, we cannot shirk our responsibilities in the face of some kind of hedonistic impulse.

We also have the freedom to reject community when community is going against the will of God. Even though we cannot put ourselves above our communities every time, there will be times when it is necessary. Jesus had to go by himself to the mountain to pray, we also need our alone time to recharge. Also, we are obligated to follow our conscience when society tries to lead us astray.

So, absolute individualism is wrong, but so is absolute conformity.

Life of Brian- "We're all individuals"

The Devil in Perelandra Part 1

I split the post "CS Lewis on Gender" into two because upon rereading the post for the umpteenth time I saw that 1) it was long and 2) I kind of changed topics midstream. So, again, I am talking about Perelandra, the second book of CS Lewis' Space Trilogy.

Perelandra by James Lewicki

Throughout the book, Dr. Ransom looks on helplessly as the devil tempts Venus' Eve with basically the very same thing he used on our first parents. He tempts her to become like God. He tells her about Earth women and how they courageously went against social norms and the very teachings of God. He tells her about the honor of martyrdom for a cause. There is one rule on Venus that makes no rational sense: There is one island in which Eve is not allowed to spend the night. The devil tries to capitalize on that and talk her into spending the night on the island.
The devil argues two main points. I will be discussing the first one here because it's hard to cover them both simultaneously.

Progress for the sake of progress


"That is the fundamental paradox. The thing we are reaching forward to is what you would call God. The reaching forward, the dynamism, is what people like you always call the Devil. The people like me, who do the reaching toward, are always martyrs. You revile us, and by us come to your goal." (pg. 81-82)

To him, God and the devil are the same thing, the same Force. He sees them as two sides of the same coin. Therein lies his first lie. The devil cannot be equated with God because he is a fallen angel. Since he is a fallen angel we know he isn't nearly as powerful as God. Also, God is all-good, the devil is not. So there is a qualitative and quantitative difference between the two.
Not all change is bad. We are morally obligated to make what changes we can to alleviate the suffering of others. We are called to change each and every day to better reflect God and His will. "Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day," says Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16.
One should be skeptical, however if the change could be called the "devil." I couldn't imagine something perfectly good coming from something so obviously bad. "By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?" (Matthew 7:16) Not that the imperfect good should always be rejected. Sometimes it is better to do some good than no good at all, especially in matters of life and death.     
So, one must be prudent in making changes. That doesn't mean no change. Things can't improve if there isn't any change. But that does mean not making changes recklessly. The ends do not always justify the means. And history will likely not absolve the devil. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Cloud of Witnesses: Reflections on the 4th Sunday of Easter

All who were destined for eternal life came to believe,
and the word of the Lord continued to spread
through the whole region. - Acts 13:48b-49

Apostle Andrew spreading Gospel in what is now known as Russia

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. - Revelation 7:9

Jesus said:
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.” - John 10:27-30

There is one clear overarching theme this Sunday: The spread of Christianity to people of every nation and the great cloud of witnesses that proceeded us to Heaven. There are 2.18 billion Christians in the world, around half of them are Catholic. This is all from a relatively small band of Jewish men and women from Galilee. How crazy is that?

The vision from Revelation that we read about this week (Revelation 7:9, 14b-17) is a view of the martyrs in heaven. John sees that these martyrs dressed in white robes carrying palm branches, both of which are traditional symbols of martyrdom. Someone explains to him that they are now happy and fulfilled in Heaven. Now, when we think of martyrs, we will think of St. Stephen being stoned (Acts 7) or St. Peter being crucified upside down.

We don't think about the fact that Christians are being killed for their faith today. In the history of Christianity, about 70 million people have died for their faith. Sixty-five percent of those martyrdoms have occurred in the last century. Let me repeat that: 65%. That's around 45.5 million people! Most of these martyrdoms have occurred under Communist and fundamentalist Islamic regimes.

Christians in the countries colored red on this map face persecution   

The modern face of the persecuted church: A bombed out church in India
We have an ever growing cloud of witnesses. Not to belittle our current issues with the HHS mandate and stuff like that, but here in the United States we at least have the freedom to go to church. We have the freedom to pray and to read the Bible. We can get together in public places with other believers. We can protest governmental policies we don't like. There are many, many Christians in the world who cannot do any of those things.
Think about that the next time you are too tired for church on Sunday or you don't feel like doing your prayers. (Just like you think about the starving kids when you throw away your leftovers.) 
Read more:
Recent news stories about the persecution of Christians (Each word is a link. All of the stories are from this month)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Response to a Deranged Sorority Girl

Here is the original article on Gawker. Warning, the language is very explicit. I mean very. @#%!^&$. explicit.

For those who don't want the language, let me summarize for you. Apparently, this sorority (Delta Gamma) is matched up with the fraternity Sigma Nu. They are in the midst of Greek Week and are partying quite a bit with Sigma Nu. The women in this sorority aren't really mingling during the parties and are keeping pretty much to themselves. In this obscenity-laden, all caps e-mail rant, one of the members of Delta Gamma's board lets her disappointment with her sisters be known.

The most disgusting part of all of this is one of the main parts of the board member's complaint. She is angry with her sisters because they won't have random sex with the Sigma Nu. Since they aren't hooking up, they are quote [language censored] "f@#king awkward and boring" and "frats don't like boring sororities." They are preventing other sisters from having random sex. The sisters also claim that they have to be drunk before they can talk to boys.

As a commenter on the article said, "As I read it, this is all about Sigma Nu not getting laid effectively. So [the board member] is.... a pimp. Got it."

So, here it is:

Dear "Deranged Sorority Girl,"

We've all been there. You hit send on an e-mail and the second it goes, your stomach sinks. Or maybe you were drunk and didn't realize your mistake until the next morning. Or you were really, really angry and you're still angry so you stand by what you said, but you regret the way you said it. My point is, we've all been there. In this wired world, we've all sent messages that we have later regretted.

What bothers me most in your e-mail is your equating fun with sex. Fun women flirt with guys and put out. Women who don't do that are "retarded" and "losers" and "faggots" (your words, not mine). You want to hang out with women who hook up with guys at parties. Chaste women better stay home because they give your chapter a bad name.

Yes, in the media we see that college is supposed to be a time of experimentation and wild abandon. Sure, there are women out there who genuinely don't care and enjoy the rush of having a new partner every weekend. But they are a minority and the media is wrong.

There are women who act like they don't care, but they are hurting inside. They continue the act because they don't want people to think they are weird and they don't want to disappoint role models like you. You don't want to put another woman through that, do you? I'm sure you don't want to hurt another woman like that regardless if she's your sister or not.

I'm sure that you and your sisters want a real man. Someone who cares deeply about you and thinks you're the best woman in the world. I can assure you that hooking up with random guys will not help you find that perfect one. While a one night stand can lead to a relationship, it rarely does. Guys who have one night stands on a regular basis do not commit. 

Sex does release all sorts of feel-good chemicals in your brain and you might feel good the day after. But, what about a week after? A month? A year? What about when you do find Mr. Right? Men still prefer to marry virgins. They prefer virgins because they take that as a sign of self-control and self-respect. (Unfortunately, all I have is anecdotal evidence of the two previous statements.)

And that is what this all boils down to: respect. A guy who just wants to get in your pants does not respect you. It also bugs me that your girls need to be drunk to talk to guys. So, presumably, they would be drunk when they got into bed. Do you know what that's called? Rape. Having sex with a woman who cannot or does not consent is called rape. Plain and simple.

I know you're not stupid. I know you care. Give your sisters the freedom to do what they want. Respect their decisions and respect their bodies. You're not a pimp.

Lots of love,
Your friendly Catholic Feminist
Bethanie Ryan
PS: Do us all a favor and get something like Google Mail Goggles?

7 Quick Takes Friday (#3)

--- 1 ---
The weather has been beautiful all week here in upstate New York. James and I have managed to go on a couple walks. Even today, although it's windy and the sky looks like it could open up at any moment, I still have the patio door open because the temperature is fabulous.


--- 2 ---
I'd like to take the time to thank you all for reading my posts about my healing from my C-section. It felt good to get that all out in the open. Thank you for being so understanding. In case you missed them, here are some links:

My first Ignitum Today article

How getting sick again helped me

How my son's baptism helped me

--- 3 ---
Spiritual direction was pretty much required at my grad school for everyone in my program. Upon graduation, they highly recommended that everyone in ministry have a spiritual director. Now, I don't really have a ministry right now unless you include motherhood or this blog, but I do have a spiritual director. My meetings with her have been very good. She challenges me a lot to let God in to places of my heart or my life that haven't been opened in a while. I mention all of this because I would  recommend that anyone in ministry have a spiritual director. I got in contact with mine through the Spiritual Renewal Center. Yes, this future lay Dominican is getting spiritual direction from a Franciscan Sister. Don't knock it. It works for us.

--- 4 ---
It's official, my son likes blonds. We've already noticed that he stares at blond haired women and gives them his best smile. He watches intently TV shows that feature them. Once, during Holy Week, I put on EWTN and there was a blond woman playing the keyboard and singing. My son silently watched her until the credits rolled and then he started yelling at me like, "What just happened? I was watching that!"

What makes it all official though was yesterday at Mass. James tried the entire service to talk to a two-year-old blond girl. Every time he faced her, he looked straight at her jabbering away so, of course, I tried to keep his face pointed the opposite direction. I also tried not to crack up. It was too freaking cute. She kept saying "baby, baby," staring completely fascinated by my son and my son tried so hard to talk back. I didn't know you could have such a preference when you aren't even a year old.

--- 5 ---
When we got home from church yesterday I tried once again to get my son to eat baby food. I told him, "I'm sure that cute little girl is eating real food by now." My son didn't care.

Actually not James. Looks a lot like him though.

--- 6 ---
My son doesn't care. Just like a honey badger. (explicit language warning)

--- 7 ---
Seriously now, researching for the post I'm gonna publish later, I came across some cool stuff:

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

The Vatican Diaries: A Review

I just finished The Vatican Diaries by former CNS journalist John Thavis.

Disclaimer: I don't know very much about the inside workings of the Vatican. Some of the things he discusses in the book predate my entry into the Church and other things predate my interest in the Vatican. So, I cannot speak to the accuracy of anything he writes.

But, I can speak to how much I enjoyed the book. When I first saw the title, I flinched. Is this book going to be bashing the Vatican? Then I saw that the author used to work for CNS. That gave me comfort. And then I read it.

(In 4 days. Impressive for a mom. Also a testament to how easy and engaging the book is. Very entertaining read.)

It's very even-handed. It depicts the Vatican as it is, a bunch of humans trying to do God's will and led by God. People make mistakes; the people in the Vatican are no exception. People are full of...ummm... personality (yeah, that's the word!); the Vatican isn't any different. I remember all of the PR flops, like the one with the lifting of the excommunication of Williamson. I remember the issue with the bell when Benedict XVI was chosen, but only because they talked about it during the recent conclave. It was fascinating to hear the background stories of these headlines. I would be interested to see a review by someone more informed than I.

I think that it's important that we acknowledge and embrace our imperfections as a Church. It takes fodder away from our enemies. It keeps us humble. It shows the world how God can use imperfect humans to do His will. It reminds us all that we are all pilgrims on a journey, making the choice everyday to follow Christ.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

CS Lewis on Gender

A transgendered friend of mine came across the following quote from a book of CS Lewis quotes:

"Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply on of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity." -Perelandra, pg. 171-172

She got excited because she thought this quote would help her son understand her better. Now, I saw this and thought something fishy is going on here. C.S. Lewis was a very orthodox Christian. This quote in context could not possibly be saying all that my friend hoped it was. And so, I sat down to the Space Trilogy

Overall, I would say this is an excellent, thought-provoking series, but do not sit down to it if you're looking for a light, mind-less story. These books are crammed full of explicit and not-so-explicit theology, especially theology in regards to the nature of evil. I read the first two books back-to-back and I'm going to wait a while before starting the third because my brain needs a break.

Back to the quote: The quote is found near the end of the second book, Perelandra. Spoiler alert: Dr. Ransom had just saved Perelandra (aka Venus) from unimaginable evil. Before leaving the planet, he meets the gods of Mars and Venus. The god of Mars is male. The god of Venus is female. Both of these gods are body-less spirits. This leads Ransom to reflect on the fact that gender is more than the body. There are inanimate objects that have an undefinable feminine-ness or masculine-ness as illustrated in many of the world's languages. One cannot truly put their finger on exactly what feminine and masculine means.
If this is what my transgendered friend wants to use the quote for, she is exactly right. She can tell her son that some of the greatest minds in history recognized that gender is more than biological sex (Including but not limited to JPII, the authors of the Catechism, St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle). One of the things I appreciate most about my Catholic faith is the recognition that we are more than our bodies, we are more than our spirits. We are both. We will see that in the end of days in which we will all be resurrected body and soul. A dualist mentality is truly inconsistent with a Roman Catholic worldview.  You can see all the way back to Christ that dualism is not Christian. Jesus didn't reject the physical world, he embraced it. As Christians, we cannot disparage the physical nor can we ignore the spiritual.

This is a far cry, however, from saying that CS Lewis would be supportive of transsexuals. The key concept here is that we are both body and spirit. God created each one of us in our mother's wombs. God created us to be male or female. Our gender, while it is not solely a matter of our physical characteristics, is defined by both our natural characteristics and our spirit. Our physical bodies are completely and intricately linked to our souls. We are embodied souls. 
The Catholic Church considers it a mutilation of the body to remove perfectly functioning sexual organs and replace them with something that looks right, but cannot function. It is a psychological disorder requiring a psychological treatment, the Church argues. Someone changing their sex does not only affect the transsexual, but also their families, friends, and communities. It breaks relationships. It has been judged that sexual reassignment surgery can be used if it will cure a person of their emotional and psychological pain, but many in the Church are not convinced that surgery is the only answer.
All of that said, some of the language used by Church leaders in regards to these issues have been very hurtful and not pastorally sensitive. I am reminded frequently of Benedict XVI's Christmas address in 2008 in which he seems to accuse transsexuals of simple rebellion and equate sexual reassignment surgery with the destruction of a rainforest. (May be a misinterpretation) I hear from transsexuals and other transgendered that they feel as if the Church considers them "deformed" and "disordered."
I'd ask you to put yourself in their shoes, but you cannot know what they go through if you are not yourself transsexual. It is completely outside of our experience to feel like you're in the wrong body. Most of us don't know what it's like to feel so completely uncomfortable in your own skin that your willing to endure major surgery and alienate half your family to alleviate your own pain.
My friend mentioned earlier has a strained relationship with her own son over this. Her son is a devout Christian and she's looking for a way to explain herself in his terms. In this quote, she has found a way to poetically describe the complexity of gender, but she hasn't completely defended herself. Especially if her son happens to be Catholic.
Here is another quote to ponder:

"Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day."-Gaudium et Spes

Read more of many different views:
For more about Perelandra:


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How My Son's Baptism Helped Me Heal from My C-section

My son was baptized when he was around 3 months old. I know that's kind of late for a Catholic family, but we had to schedule it so that family could be there and both of his godparents were from Missouri. We had it toward the end of July which worked because my gallbladder surgery was scheduled for the beginning of July. I was pretty much healed up by the time the baptism came around.

My husband's family came into town. My son's godmother had some flight troubles, but she made it there. We had his baptism as part of one of the Sunday Masses because 1) we didn't have very many guests and 2) I think it's more...theologically appropriate. He is being welcomed into the Catholic community after all. Yes, that is only one aspect of baptism and it isn't even a major one, but it is an important one.

Adam Ryan (Godfather), Matt Ryan (my Husband), Deacon Greg Cross, me, Beth Yount (Godmother)
We didn't get a lot of directions ahead of the Mass as to what exactly was going to happen. Maybe since I'm the theology student, deacon assumed I'd catechize everyone. I don't know. We fumbled through the beginning of the ceremony. I ended up holding the baby because he wasn't too happy about all of this.

We finally got him to go to sleep when the big moment came. Time to walk him to the back of the church to the baptismal font.
He was in for a rude awakening as the water was poured over his head. He was delivered out of a deep sleep to a deep sense of "what the...?!?!" But as his cry echoed through the silent church, I gained another piece of the puzzle. There was the magical cry I had missed the day he was born.
Not that he didn't cry when he was born, but I was so drugged and the operating room was so noisy, there was no magic to it. It seemed rather anti-climatic. I went into the hospital pregnant and I came out again with a baby and a hole in my gut. I felt like I missed an important step there somewhere. I still feel that way.
On a lighter note: I have an excuse to share this meme again.
I read somewhere about a woman like me who had a hard time getting over her C-section. She was giving her child a bath one day and she started to cry. There was just something about seeing her child nude and soaking wet that filled in a gap for her. She got to hold this vulnerable child and know that he or she was hers. It was a tender moment for her seeing her child like he or she was the day they were born.
I know it's not kosher for the birth mom to hold him as he was baptized. It should've been the godmother. But he would've been even less calm if it wasn't for me. And here was something I did. Here was something I chose. His physical birth was taken away from me, but I got to hold him when he was spiritually born. I chose the time and place for that birth. I carried him to the baptismal font. I held him as his original sin was washed away, he was initiated into the Church, and his father, godparents, and I promised to raise him in it. I held him when he became a Christian.
I'm still not healed. I have a very long way to go. This month has shown me exactly how much more I have to go. But I think it's going to have to be time that heals this wound. There isn't a whole lot else to do except maybe pray. James is an awesome kid. He's pretty easy going, although he's also really clingy. The clinginess kind of goes both ways. I love that little guy more than words can say. I just don't love the way he was born.
More reading about my journey: